On the morning of my first day of human school, I faced the full-length mirror practicing shifting through different forms. I’d gotten better at controlling my shifts during the two years since I’d arrived in the Fringe. In the beginning, when I was in my girl body, they called me Mercy. When I was in a boy body, I was Mercury. Eventually, it was shortened to Merc to avoid confusion and slipups in front of others. Today, I had to choose.
Nat, my adopted mom, brought in a pile of folded clothes. “Hey, Sweetie. Which one are you thinking?”
“I like this one.” My hair was a layer of fuzz on my scalp because the temperature was already in the 90s, and I had on a cute sundress.
“Are you sure? I know you usually like your hair long.” She put the clothes to the side and sat behind me at the foot of the bed. “And whatever you pick, you’ll have to stick with every day while you’re at school.”
“Ugh, why?” I whined.
“We talked about this, sweetheart. Whatever body and name you choose will have to stick, at least when you’re not at home. Most humans, and some changelings for that matter, won’t understand your shapeshifting. It will confuse them.”
“That must suck, being in one body all the time.” I grew out my hair into an afro not quite hitting my neck. It was too hot.
She chuckled. “We lesser beings get used to it.”
I shrank down and shifted into a small greyhound but left my face as it was and nestled under her arm to lay my cheek in her lap.
She kissed the top of my head. “Don’t worry. You can come home every day for lunch. If it’s ever too much and you really need to shift, we have things in place so you can come home whenever you need to.”
“What if I hate it there?” The restriction already felt like the shackles Rebus had me practice escaping from.
“If you hate it, we go back to homeschooling. But at some point, Merc, you will likely have to live among humans and adjust to their ways. So, we’d like you to try.”
“Fine.” I hopped off the bed and shifted back into a nine-year-old girl. “I guess I’ll just wear these.” I picked out jean shorts and a green T-shirt from the freshly washed pile. “Human girls can wear pants or dresses, right? My hair can be long, but I can braid if it’s too hot.” I drew all my hair back in and then grew it out again in two long braids. “You promise I can come home every day to shift? What if the kids bully me like on all those TV shows or I get nervous and change by accident?”
“Merc, would we put you in a situation we didn’t think you could handle?”
I gave a strong shake of my head in reply. They were always way more careful with me than I was with myself.
“Your teacher is a changeling—a friend of ours. The main reason we picked this school. If she notices you struggling, she’ll help you.”
I sighed. Changeling kids all had to hide their powers when they were around humans too. I could do this. Then at home or around changelings, I could do and be whatever I wanted.
“One day when I’m big, Nat, I’m going to be able to shift into whatever body I want, whenever I want.” I slid the shirt over my head.
“I believe you will, love.”