Trolita was pleased with her progress. GreenSheen (the name she'd chosen for her cosmetics line) had become a profitable niche company. Trolls would never outnumber non-trolls by a long shot, but there were more people of odd skin tones than she'd thought, and most of them were very happy to give her products a try. She had a real chance at becoming a regional power.
Which meant, of course, that she'd better see about getting the interior of the house revamped, and figure out what to do about her relationships with Dumont and Gary. If it were an apartment building, that would be one thing, but right now the sole bedroom held three single beds, and that might not look good when the inevitable interview came.
Dumont wasn't a problem, really. He was a nice guy and rising fast - if she needed him to be scarce for a day, he'd just go golfing with his business friends. Gary, though... none of them were very sure what Gary did for a living, but it couldn't be good.
And actually it wasn't good, as Gary got implicated in the recent crime wave plaguing the Outskirts, and he disappeared suddenly. His clothes were gone and he left no note, but Dumont suspected the big troll had returned to Paragon, where he could successfully blend into the network of trolls there.
This left the slight problem of rent, actually. Trolita and Dumont could've lived quite happily sharing the house, but both of them wanted to spend cash fixing the place up... so somewhat reluctantly, they took on a boarder, Terecito, who'd been in the Aligned with Dumont (and Gary, it turned out).
Times had changed since the old days of the Aligned, though. Dumont didn't run around in Fifth Column gear any more, and Trolita had left her gangsta past behind too. Terecito, with his visible traces to the Outcasts... well, he just looked scruffy. Trolita couldn't believe he was fast-tracking in the restaurant industry.
"You need to fix yourself up," she told him bluntly. "Dumont and I have left our pasts behind us. If you intend to do the same - and ever get anywhere in business - you need to stop looking like a street kid."
"I'm not a kid," Terecito said. "I just look like one."
"My point exactly," Trolita said.
Nonetheless, after the failure of Lapis Lizard's restaurant (Terecito said he'd always been against Vahz & Cheese as a menu item), Terecito appeared to take their words to heart. He spiffed up his wardrobe for a more "hipster" look and, on advice of both Trolita and Dumont, began distancing himself from Lapis professionally.
"You don't want to look like you're abandoning him," Dumont said. "But you want to stand on your own, right? Not always be in his shadow? And have you thought about doing something with your hair?"
"That's kind of a weird thing for a guy to say," Terecito said.
"Nah, I told it to Trolita too, and it worked," Dumont responded. "All people need is just the right look."
"By the way, Dumont, what do you, like, do? For a living?"
"Don't worry yourself over that."
All right then, Terecito decided, he wouldn't.
He was under a lot of stress career-wise. A quick focus-group session later and Terecito decided they were right - he needed an image makeover. Avoiding both his roommates and their inevitable advice, he changed his hair and - on a whim - chose glasses he didn't need.
Eh. Could be worse, I guess. It was the kind of look you could only get away with if you were a rising star, really. Or rich, which he wasn't.
Trolita definitely approved. Okay, so it was still a household of two men and one woman, but at least they all looked nice and none of them were actually sleeping together, not that people would likely make the distinction.
More importantly, it was time to improve the place and look for potential clients or backers. Trolita took to reading the Financial Times, keeping an eye on business and fashion trends and noted notables. An idea came to her one day as she read: she should have a test run, find someone to practice on, before she invited any of the big financial names over.
So it was that they invited Doc Rayvn over for dinner. He knew what his role was to be, so he made the most of it, showing up early, for instance. Trolita's laundry wasn't dry yet so she was stuck hosting dinner in her nightclothes. Well, that's what a test run was for, wasn't it?
Terecito did the cooking (goat-cheese and venison burgers with heirloom tomatoes and Andean onions, on quinoa-wholewheat buns - he'd heard Doc liked hamburgers and figured he could get creative with the concept) and there was much polite schmoozing all around. It became apparent that all three roommates might be interested in someone funding their careers at some point - another good thing to know, because they probably wouldn't want to step on each others' toes when the real deals started happening.
After the dinner, Trolita went to collect her laundry while Terecito cleaned up and Dumont took Doc aside for a friendly game of chess.
"So, that gaydiation ray of yours. Is it single-target or area effect? And can it be delivered subliminally? And can it deliver another message?"
Nothing specific was decided that night, but it looked very possible that Doc's pet project - presuming it was real and not just an urban myth - might have some very valuable advertising possibilities.
Yes, things were definitely looking up in the household. Trolita had never felt better. She was doing things on her own and she had two decent roommates who paid the rent on time and at least sometimes cleaned up after themselves ('cause she wasn't doing it, no sir!). Soon she'd be on magazine covers - she wasn't sure if she was big enough yet for TV interviews. But overall, things were great, for her at least.
~ ~ ~
Terecito had just come home one afternoon from the restaurant. He'd more or less parted ways with Lapis now - they still talked, still got together, Lapis' weird blue kid kept following him around, but they didn't work together any more. So now he had his own place to work at, figure out the menu, and so on. Half the time he put together "joke" entrees but people seemed to like them, so who was he to argue?
That day someone was waiting for him. Terecito only vaguely knew him, but the stranger called himself Mitch Indie and was actually a friend of Doc's. Doc's wife had referred him here.
"Uh... okay," Terecito said, when Mitch had explained all that. "Your wife need cosmetics, maybe? Or you want a catered dinner?"
"I'm not married - yet," Mitch said. "But, well, my partner Win and I, we've been talking about it. But the thing is, see, we'd heard that there was a way for - well - for two men to have kids together, and it's got something to do with crystal shards."
Terecito laughed. Okay, it was wrong, but that whole thing was just too-frickin-'larious. "Dude, I don't know who told you that, but that'd be pretty messed up," he said. "Some of us got shards, yeah, but they're all broken up. They just keep us healthy and granted us some powers an' stuff. Back in the day we had to do what the shards said, too, but that's over with. But make men have babies? No way!"
"It's not a joke," Mitch persisted. "It's happened right here in the Outskirts, according to Dr. Rayvn. And it happened because of exposure to the shard, or to a shard. So we wanted to ask you - "
"Wait, wait, wait," Terecito interrupted. "I know none of the Ali - none of the people with shards had a kid." Unless it was that Skull who kinda came in late. He's got, what, a dozen kids? "I think it would've been in the news, yanno?"
"The couple in question like their privacy." It sounded like Mitch was directly quoting something he'd been told. "Look, Mr. Alvarado, my partner and I are interested in, to be honest, purchasing one of the shard fragments from you." When Terecito didn't immediately respond, Mitch continued hurriedly, "We can afford to pay for everything, and it means a great deal to us - "
"NO. No, no, no, no, no!" the former Outcast snapped. "It might be little broken bits in me, but those bits keep me alive! They keep me healthy! You're asking for, for, like me to donate a lung or something. Except you won't die if you don't get it! And I might!"
"There's other former Shard minions around, ask one of them, maybe they're hard up enough for money to take you up. But not me." Terecito turned on his heel without waiting for an answer, and marched inside the house.