Dena stared unhappily at her reflection in the vanity mirror. She knew she was not pretty, but tonight was the Homecoming dance and she felt particularly ugly. She was supposed to go to Bobbi Jo's house to prepare with some other girls from the basketball team, but she felt shy and terrified. They were all so pretty, especially Bobbi Jo, who was radiantly beautiful.
When Sheldon had asked her to the dance, she froze, taken completely by surprise. Dena watched his face fall in crushing disappointment when he misinterpreted her silence as rejection. He started to backpedal and stammer out an apology, but Dena recovered from her shock and saved him from embarrassing himself too badly. She'd said yes on impulse, partly because she didn't enjoy watching his disappointment and embarrassment, and partly because she wanted to. If she was being brutally honest with herself (which she usually was), she'd also said yes because she was flattered both by his proposition and by his disappointed reaction when he thought she was saying no. She was curious, and nobody had ever asked her on a date before. Besides, she thought there was something charming and even cute about Sheldon. She liked how he'd stood up to his bullies even when he had no chance, and she'd had a lot of fun teaching him how to climb.
Yesterday he had come up to her after school before the homecoming game. "You sadist," he'd said with a groan. "You didn't tell me day 3 was even worse than day 2." He was still recovering from their climbing session.
"I guess you're really out of shape," Dena said, then immediately regretted it. But Sheldon didn't seem to take offense. He smiled and shrugged.
"Guess so," he'd said lightly. "But you'll fix that, right?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean it," Dena tried to explain.
Sheldon laughed. "No, you're right, I am out of shape! Too much gaming and snacks, not enough exercise!"
Dena smiled shyly. "Do you want to try climbing again?"
"Heck yeah!" he said enthusiastically.
Then he came to her Homecoming game and cheered her on. She'd felt unstoppable after their win, Sheldon's cheering, and Cheryl's surprising (though not entirely unwelcome) proposition.
Now in her room she was filled with insecurity and doubt. There was a knock on her door. "Can I come in?" her father asked.
Mr. Shepherd was a big man at six feet six inches. But even he felt small next to his giant amazon daughter. Dena was a mutant, not in the X-Men sense (though her size and strength bordered on superhuman), but she was unusual in being taller than either of her parents, and she was genetically pre-disposed to extreme muscularity. Her father looked at Dena sitting in front of the mirror and at the expensive black dress lying on the bed. It had to be custom tailored for her unique size and slim yet muscular, broad-shouldered, V-tapered physique.
"What's wrong, baby girl?" he asked gently.
Dena shrugged. "I don't know," she lied.
"Are you homesick? I'm sorry we had to move here and uproot you for your senior year."
"I'm not," Dena said fiercely, surprising her father. "I like it here. Everything about Pittsburgh just reminded me of Mom." Her eyes glistened and her voice caught in a choke. "It's just... Jefferson High was all I knew. This new school is... confusing."
"How do you mean?"
Dena wiped her eyes and managed a smile for her dad. "Jefferson was like a cliche. Jocks and nerds and stoners didn't talk to each other. Here, I don't know, it's just like everyone is more of a real person. There are bullies too, but also nerds can be popular. Jocks can be smart."
"You're smart," her father said proudly. He had dropped out of high school to help earn money for his family, and he dreamed of more for his daughters. Dena worked hard at school and got straight A's in advanced placement classes.
Dena smiled. "I think I can fit in here. Even the other girls on the varsity teams seem to like me. And I... I miss Mom less, somehow. Is that bad?"
"No, it's not bad," her father whispered.
"Besides," Dena continued, "nobody ever asked me out before. Somebody told me once all the boys thought I was a lesbian, but I don't know if that's it. I think I'm just not pretty. No guy wants to date a freak." She said this flatly, as if it were self-evidently true.
Her father was secretly relieved when Dena told him about Sheldon asking her to the dance. He had wondered if she was a lesbian, too. "Oh, baby girl," he said fondly. He brushed her coal-black hair affectionately. "You're beautiful, just like your mother."
Dena looked skeptical. "Gina's the pretty one, Dad, I know that," referring to her younger sister Regina, already an athletic six feet tall and blossoming into a stunningly beautiful, willowy young woman. "Everyone says so. It's not fair, she's only 13 and already has boobs. I wish I had boobs." She stared critically at her muscular chest.
"If you had big boobs you couldn't wear this beautiful strapless dress," her father pointed out. "Besides, you have some cleavage," he said, nodding at the line between her full hard pectorals reflected in the vanity mirror.
Dena snorted. "That's just muscle, Daddy. Don't be silly. Boobs are supposed to be soft." She punched herself in the chest, hard, making a loud crack with her huge steely fist and dense heavy pectoral muscle. "I'm not soft."
"You'll always be my smart, strong, beautiful baby girl," her father said. "I bet this Sheldon guy thinks you're pretty. Sounds like he has good taste. Maybe you'll bring him by some time, if you want."
Dena looked insecure and uncertain, and his heart broke for his daughter. "I don't know," she said. "I've been wondering... I just think maybe he's grateful."
"Yeah... I saved him from some bullies and then gave him a climbing lesson. Maybe he just wanted to thank me."
"That's not how boys work, dummy!" Gina piped up from the doorway. She jumped onto Dena's bed and bounced on her back, kicking her long coltish legs up in the air and giggling, delighted to know more about something than her older sister.
"Ok, know-it-all, how do boys work?"
"He wasn't grateful. He's totally into you! He was terrified you'd say no!"
Dena looked over her shoulder and glared at her sister. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "How do you know?" she finally asked.
"Luanne told me!" Luanne was Bobbi Jo's younger sister, in the same grade but almost a year older.
Dena got up and gathered up her dress. "Time for me to go," she told her father and sister.
"Have fun!" Gina said, giggling.
"But not too much fun," her father added.
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