It was…surprisingly pleasant. Low-key.

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Montgomery perched on a stool next to Mica, trying to pretend to care as he made a character for her, then showed her how to bash a level-one goblin.

“See, look! Now you’re level two!” he said proudly, indicating the willowy elf-thing on the screen that had hair and eyes sort of like the cheerleader.

“Yay,” she stated flatly. “What now?”

“Now we go get you some new armor, because you can wear light leather. And a helm, and some boots…”

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“Wait, what? We’re going shopping for new clothes? In this game? Are you serious? Can I choose different kinds?” She leaned closer into the screen, putting her hand on Mica’s shoulder to get a better look. If he noticed, or enjoyed it, he didn’t let on.

“Dig the cheerleader loving the virtual shopping. Too much.” David cracked up, his last laugh sounding unfortunately very porcine.

“Oh my gosh,” the cheerleader said, turning around slowly in her stool. “You snorted. You actually snorted.”

“I’m a geek, whatever, like you’re always calling us,” he said, shrugging.

“Hey, Pom-Pom, you were just getting excited about buying a pink shield for your game character,” Mica pointed out.

“Okay, okay, phasers down, everyone,” she said, putting her hands up. “Let’s just get back to work.”

Ezra and Ellen were just entering the doorway, mini-eggrolls and drinks in hand.

“Did she just say what I thought she said?” Ezra asked, amazed.

“By George, I think she’s got it,” Ellen said with a smile.

FINALS

“What are you so stressed out about?” Ryan asked, not looking up from his phone. He was deeply texting.

“I want to be completely prepared for the conven—uh, this big test, and oh…never mind.” Montgomery wore her big comfy sweatshirt and fat jeans, which were normally great for studying in but for the fact that her boyfriend found the outfit unbearably sexy. Tonight, however, he didn’t even seem to notice. Unusual for him, but lucky for her.

“Mmm,” Ryan chuckled at something someone sent him. For a while there were no sounds other than the tapping of his keypad and the turning of notebook pages.

“I’m really glad you’re going to Locacon with me,” Ryan mentioned, not looking up from his phone. “That’s awesome of you.”

“Really?” Montgomery glowed in the praise. She squeezed his arm and lay her head back on his shoulder. He patted her knee.

“Hey, what do you call the vampire who makes someone a vampire? Like, the vampire daddy?” she asked dreamily.

“Sire,” Ryan answered without looking up.

Then he looked up.

“Wait, what?”

“Nothing,” the cheerleader said quickly.

THE GRADUATION

“Um, I don’t know what to say,” Montgomery said honestly.

David, Ellen, Ezra, and Mica stood before her—accidentally in descending order of height—dressed in, well, what she supposed they thought was formal. Ezra wore a jacket and tie, both of which were flashy, expensive, and ridiculously out of place in high school. David wore a jean jacket with all of his pins on it. All of them.

(They made, Montgomery was sort of delighted to realize she knew, a kind of scale-mail armor over his chest.)

Mica wore a vintage T-shirt that was printed to look like a tuxedo, but had a real carnation pinned to the fake lapel. Ellen wore a skirt. And a sweater. And what looked like Ferengi ears. For someone who apparently didn’t know the first thing about makeup, she had done a spectacular job blending the prosthetic into her own skin.

Ezra cleared his throat. Pompously, of course. “On this day we would like to formally congratulate you on achieving the rank of graduate proto-geek….”

“Sub-lieutenant commander,” Ellen corrected.

“Monty the Grey,” Mica suggested with a grin.

“Level Four Cleric,” David stated matter-of-factly.

“Why cleric?” Ellen asked, surprised.

“It seemed like the most scholarly, least violent of all the other kinds of classes. Think of her as a student-monk,” David explained.

“Makes sense,” Mica nodded.

“PEOPLE!” Ezra said, exasperated. “As I was saying. Today we are gathered here to formally congratulate you. Your hard work and near-endless toil have finally accomplished what you set out to do….”

“Good job, Monty,” Mica said, ignoring him. He stepped out of line and kissed the cheerleader on her cheek. She was surprised by the casualness of his socially-appropriate action; he neither blushed nor tried to turn it into something else.

And then he handed her a little figurine of an elf. Blond hair. Legolas, probably. Maybe Haldir.

No, it definitely looked a little Orlando Bloomy.

“You can put it on the shelf next to your American Idol posters,” Mica suggested with a mischievous smile.

“Nice paintwork,” David said enviously. “Um, this is from me. It’s like a diploma.”

He handed her a scroll with a lot of calligraphy on it, and a bright, big-eyed picture of herself. As kind of a blond Japanese cheerleader.

“Did you draw this yourself?” Montgomery asked, trying not to sound like a mom. It was actually quite good. Maybe she would even frame it.

“Yeah, and inked and colored it, too,” he pointed out.

“And from me, something to inspire you,” Ezra said grandly, holding his hand out with a flourish.

Montgomery was expecting something ridiculous, expensive, and shiny, an embarrassingly lavish gesture.

What she got was a ball of fluff.

“A tribble?” she asked, confused.

“Don’t girls love them?” Ezra asked, also confused.

“Thirty years ago, maybe,” Ellen snorted, rolling her eyes. “Here, this is from me. For all of the thousands of bad guys in your life.” She gave a meaningful look to Ezra. Then she smugly held up a case.

Montgomery popped the catches and opened the top.

“Oh, my gosh,” she said.

Inside was a single piece of sharpened wood.

“MR. POINTY!” she screamed in delight.

“You gave Buffy’s weapon…her stake…to the cheerleader,” David said with a whistle. “Sheer genius.”

“Ohhhhh, sweet,” Mica said with admiration.

“Nice,” Ezra said grudgingly.

“I win,” Ellen said happily.

“Thanks, you guys, all of you,” Montgomery said, clutching the stake to her heart. She felt an actual tear forming. “I thought this was going to be horrible. But it wasn’t. Much. Sort of. You guys made it a lot of fun. I’m going to miss you. You most of all, Scarecrow,” she sniffed loudly, pointing at Ellen.

But her eyes darted over to Mica.

He smiled quietly back.

THE CON

“Where is she? Do you see her yet?” David whispered. He was crouched down behind Mica and Ezra, who were sharing a pair of binoculars. All three were hiding behind a shelf of books at The Neverending Story’s booth. Mica wore a pith helmet.

“No—wait, there’s Ryan and Reese…there she is!” Ezra said excitedly.

“What’s she doing?” David whined.

“They’re by the Knight’s Arms. She’s…she’s picking up a d’k tahg.”

“Let me see!” Mica grabbed the glasses. “No, it’s too small, you moron. That’s totally a Klingon throwing knife, or maybe B’Etor’s….”

“Oh, come on, look at the blood gutter….”

David tapped them on the shoulders. “Guys, where’d she go?”

“Hey, Montgomery.”

“Oh my gosh, Ellen!”

The cheerleader’s eyes popped out of her head. So did Ryan’s.

The geek girl was in a yellow and black iridescent catsuit, holding a mask with what looked like giant pointy ears. An iridescent red-black cape hung from her shoulders, matching her boots.

She looked, in a word, great.

“Ellen Epstein?” Ryan said, backing up to get a better look. He was grinning in shock. “Really? You look hot.”

Montgomery gave him a quick frown.

“Ellen, you really do look great,” she said honestly. “You should…”

“What, wear this more often?” Ellen said with a giggle. “Have you seen the guys around? They promised to escort me to the masquerade.”

“Oh, yes. Dumb, dumber, and dumbest are ‘hiding’ over there,” Montgomery said dryly, pointing at the bookseller’s stall. Three awkward shadows ducked down. “Who are you supposed to be, anyway?”

“Who cares?” Ryan said.

“Um, Kathy Kane? Batwoman? From the sixties? I’d better put the mask back on before Kim sees me without it. She spent weeks working on it. She’ll kill me,” Ellen said, fitting the unwieldy thing on. Ryan kept staring.

It should have been a little triumph for the geek. The quarterback was obviously drooling over her, and ignoring his pretty little cheerleading girlfriend.

But Batwoman hopped nervously from one foot to the other, obviously looking for an escape.

“You should totally do spandex more often,” Ryan said, circling around her to get a better look.

“RYAN!” Montgomery growled.

“Hey, guys!” a perky voice said. A completely inappropriately cheery and busty vampire skipped up to them, tossing her raven-black hair and cheap capelet over her shoulders.

“Susan?!” Montgomery demanded.

The other cheerleader gave her a pouty smile that was not at all impeded by fangs. “My idiot brother loves this stuff. I told Mom and Dad I’d chaperone.”

She batted glittery eyelashes at Ryan, whose eyeballs couldn’t decide which costumed girl to look at.

THE INEVITABLE CLIMAX

When you’re a cheerleader, even an unusual cheerleader who seeks knowledge beyond her normal ken, you’re still bound by cheerleader laws. One of which is that everyone in the school knows gossip about you and yours before or exactly at the same time as you.

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