Justin hated making deliveries to the local college.
It wasn't just that he had to hand deliver most of the stock to vending machines crammed into old buildings with shoddy elevators. That was frustrating enough that he had long done anything he could to avoid the college but Dave was out sick and Henrique had taken all the far flung spots Dave normally did so Justin really didn't have any other choice.
What really made Justin hate it was the students.
When he had first gotten the job a few years back, it hadn't been so bad but something had shifted in that time. Justin wasn't sure if it was that his twenties had gotten steadily further away or if there was something about Gen Z that made them extra strange but for the first time in his life he had started to think of the old MCR song 'Teenagers' as honest rather than comedic.
Lugging sodas up a narrow flight of stairs on a handtruck, Justin tugged a little harder on the safety strap he never used to ensure it was firmly in place. He didn't want to trip and watch his stock fizzing around the building only to see it remixed later on Tiktok to some dad rock song kids had just discovered.
Safely on the second floor of the old ivy covered academic building, he let out a sigh and went to the small alcove where the soda machine was. Unlocking it, he was met with the same surprise he always had on seeing just how depleted it was. Justin thought of young people these days as pretty health conscious but that didn't seem to stop them from chugging down sugary sodas like everybody else.
Thinking about the girls who had jogged past him on his way in, he wondered if it was easier to drink lots of soda when you put in as much time at the gym as all young people seemed to.
Another cruder thought passed through his head as he thought about the trio of girls again.
“If I were a hell of a lot younger,” Justin muttered to himself before suddenly feeling a faint blush of embarrassment come over him.
Not only did he feel a little creepy for even thinking something like that, Justin also remembered the other reason he got nervous around college kids and teens and really any young person these days.
They weren't merely more health conscious than his generation, they were more everything conscious. Socially, culturally, racially, and probably extra self-conscious too.
Filling row after row of Pepsi and Diet Pepsi, Justin suddenly wondered if they'd 'cancel' him for talking about what he'd do if he were their age. Hell, he might get in trouble for calling them all girls, after all they might have been non-binary or gender fluid or something else.
Justin moved on to the Starry, the new lemon-lime drink Pepsi was pushing, and wondered when he had lost track of all that kind of stuff. He had never been the most political guy or hung out with people on the fringes or anything but he swore he used to know better about what things were and weren't ok to joke about or say in mixed company. It wasn't like he had any hate in his heart and he felt like everyone should be allowed to live their lives the way they wanted without anybody saying otherwise but one time when he had been a little drunk and talking about that in a bar, a friend had winced at one or two of the words he had used.
That had just been a bummer of a way to learn what wasn't ok to say anymore.
“Fuck, I'm tired...” Justin muttered to himself.
The realization that he just wanted to avoid embarrassing himself washed over him. Sure, he wanted to do the right thing too but he reasoned it'd be better to just know what the right thing was rather than make everything awkward for a moment and then have to walk something back and just hope to do better next time.
Not that there was any shame in that, Justin reasoned, it was just dang embarrassing.
Not as embarrassing as if he dropped a bunch of soda and got caught on camera though.
Justin forced himself to chuckle at the idea of such an absurd possibility since he figured laughing about it would be the only way to get over it and he needed to make peace with having to do the college route for as long as Dave was out.
Since if Dave was sick, that meant either he was the caboose on one of his kids bringing home a bug or he would be patient zero for everybody else in the house getting sick. If it was the latter, Justin might have to make more than a few trips to the college and run the risk of seeing himself on Tiktok running after a bunch sputtering Pepsi bottles to Fleetwood Mac or Bon Jovi.
Or maybe someone would make a whole little song of his grunts and curses.
That might be fun.
“... that one?”
“Yeah, looks good.”
Justin had been so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he hadn't even noticed that there had been students in the hallway. He had thankfully timed his visit late enough in the day that most classes were done and it was well before any of the kids were using the academic buildings for club meetings. Glancing over his shoulder, he expected to see someone standing there waiting for him to finish stocking the machine.
Instead there were three young men walking toward him from down the hall and there was something about the way they carried themselves that set him on edge.
They all clearly worked out, though based on the slight beer belly one of them sported Justin doubted any of them were on anything beyond an intramural team. All three of them were dressed casually, two in jeans with a hoodie and a polo differentiating them and the third in sweatpants and a hoodie. All of them wore nice sneakers on their feet, the kind of limited edition collabs that Justin occasionally thought about buying before deciding it wouldn't be worth the money because he wouldn't even know where to wear them.
Even though they were walking right toward him, Justin pushed the strange discomfort out of his head by telling himself that they must have been scouting out classrooms for a study group and turned back to work.
Then he felt a sharp flick to the back of his ear followed by a chorus of immature laughter.
Justin couldn't stop the shout that left his lips at the surprising pain and he immediately whirled around to confront the three boys. He felt like he was in slow motion as he went, the world spinning and wavering around him as he stood to his feet.
Then everything snapped back as he gruffly said, “Hey, what's the big idea, pal...”
Justin was well over six feet tall and a solid two dollars and change in the weight department but he found all three of the young college guys looming over him, which made him suddenly wonder if he had misjudged them and they were all on the basketball team.
“Big idea,” the one in a t-shirt with the beer belly slapped his knee while he laughed.
“I can't get over the fact he just said 'pal',” chuckled the darker skinned guy in sweat pants.
The third one stood there with a smug smirk on his blocky face. His square jaw and thick brow were offset by soft brown hair flecked with blonde that fell down to his floppy looking ears. He reminded Justin of bullies in movies or tv shows about high school; rough and mean looking while still being handsome.
All of that would have been strange and frightening enough but as Justin stood there staring up at the trio, he couldn't help but notice that they were getting larger and larger. He craned his neck back and expected to see the ceiling breaking above them but instead he noticed that the ceiling was getting further and further away too.
“What the fuck?!” His voice cracked in fear and surprise as their voices grew deeper and louder, their laughter making his ears ring as he literally shrank down.
He found himself even with the middle guy's shin when a shudder went through his body and he stumbled.
“Damn, bro,” the chubbier of the three leaned forward, casting Justin in shadow while his blue eyes narrowed to take him in, “How did you get him down to the perfect size with one touch?”
The silent young man in the center shrugged his shoulders and then stepped forward.
Justin shouted in terror as the toe of the soft purple-and-green sneaker rushed toward him, which provoked another rumble of dark laughter above him. The sneaker crashed down beside him and he stared at the N sitting in the center, a little lower than his hip. He tried to shout but all that Justin could do was pant from the fear that gripped his chest.
Massive fingers wrapped around his body, pressing his clothes painfully tight against his skin before he was suddenly being hauled into the sky toward a backpack that looked like it could hold a couple of SUVs inside it.
The sudden disorientation made Justin want to vomit but he held the bile in check so he could smack his hands against the huge fingers and shout, “Stop this! Put me down! Let go of me!”
His frantic pleas only made the enormous giants laugh louder while he was held in front of the huge backpack. The Jansport logo had a patch stitched over it that bore the letters AXP that left Justin wondering what the hell 'axp' meant.
As he was shoved deep into the shadowy confines of the backpack though, it finally hit him.
They were Greek letters.
Alpha Chi Rho.
He had just been shrunk down and kidnapped by three fraternity brothers.
Kendall huffed as she sped from the law campus to the main campus.
She had been proud to go directly from undergrad to L1 until the first time she had to go the college's main library and been mistaken for a lost freshman by a friendly sophomore. It was better than someone thinking she was a high school kid who had wandered off from a tour but not by enough.
It didn't seem to matter how professionally she dressed for class either, if she got turned around on the sprawling main campus, someone would inevitably approach her and ask how she was enjoying her first year. Even when Kendall took it in stride and said something along the lines of 'I am really enjoying my first year of law school' the person would just politely nod like they hadn't heard her before giving her directions and reminding her about the campus's blue light app.
She wondered if a few years working in the real world would have changed anything.
Pictures she had seen of her mom and aunts in their late twenties looked little different than when they were teenagers though. None of them had really aged until they had kids and her youngest aunt who never had them was a testament to that fact; she was fifty-one and barely looked a day over thirty.
So there really had been no hope for her. If she hadn't wanted to not look like a freshman when she entered law school, she'd have had to wait until her late thirties or forties like some of her classmates had done. Of course, seeing how difficult it had been for some of them to get back into the rhythm of marathon study sessions, Kendall felt the indignity of being mistaken for someone too young to drink was probably worth it.
Especially since she was staring down her second all nighter for the week.
Torts was kicking her ass like no class ever had in her entire education and of course the one book that she desperately needed was already checked out of the law library. The librarian had told her she was in luck though, since it was published by a faculty member that meant there was a copy in the main campus branch's special collections.
It meant she'd be locked up in the same room where people used white gloves to handle centuries old books with only a few legal pads to work with but that was better than nothing.
Having already done this frustrating dance twice before, she knew that she wouldn't be allowed to bring any liquid into the room, which meant she needed to pound as much caffeine as her petite frame could handle on the way there. Her thumb was already shaking slightly from the Red Bull but she didn't care as she tapped in an order for an iced venti red eye with four shots into the Starbucks app. Kendall needed to be able to read and write as quickly as she could until they kicked her out of special collections and still have the energy to type everything up when she got back to her apartment.
Her order was confirmed and the ETA lined up perfectly with when she would arrive at the Starbucks that sat just opposite the undergraduate campus's library. Humming to herself, she hustled down the unfamiliar pathways as fast as she could with a backpack full of legal texts weighing her down.
Stepping into the bustling coffee shop, she rolled her eyes at the handful of people who were standing in the slow moving line and looking around as if they hadn't been to a Starbucks in the past four or five years before heading toward the mobile pick up area. Grabbing her towering cup from where it sat amid the PSLs and frappes, Kendall slammed a green straw into it and rushed out to an unoccupied table outside.
She barely registered the taste on her tongue as she sipped her coffee, her eyes were locked on the immense library across the street and her mind was already racing through the arguments and case studies that she would need to focus on if she wanted to get her paper done by morning.
“What I really need is, like, a tutor?”
“Oh my God, yes, that's such a good idea?”
The mixture of vocal fry and uptalking that came from the table next to Kendall rattled her caffeinated brain in a way she was certain no one could get used to. Glancing over, she saw two girls sitting beside her, swirling their straws through the deflating whipped cream that sat atop their drinks.
The girl with her back to her had long inky black hair tied up in a high ponytail with bright pink acrylics on her fingers that complemented the baby blue pastel hoodie she wore. Her long legs were wrapped in dark cargo pants that sagged down around a pair of pristine all white Air Force 1s with a slight lift to them.
Kendall glanced from the girl's Forces to her own, which had long ago become dirtied and tired looking in comparison. Even though she told herself it was because of law school that she hadn't found the time to clean them recently, she realized that she had barely touched up any of her shoes since before her LSAT prep. The sudden thought made her grimace as she realized how badly some of her boots and heels needed to be polished.
“Do you think anyone in the house is, like, good with this stuff?” The warbling fried sound of the other girl's voice drew Kendall's gaze back to the adjoining table.
The first unbidden thought that came to Kendall's mind was that the girl's glossy pink lips were too plump to not have any filler in them. The rest of her face was contoured enough to present a camera ready image to the world that she almost wished she had the time for. The girl's hair was also amazing, a perfect wet look that created a curtain of dark blonde ringlets that fell out of a black bucket hat and down across a sleek motorcycle racing jacket that was slightly too big to create a boxy look. The simple white tee and denim skirt beneath it came just to the edge of clashing with the jacket to create the kind of unique 'who gives a shit' style that made Kendall think of friends who had moved to New York City or Los Angeles. A pair of tall black cowboy boots with red and white trim that matched her motorcycle jacket were inexplicably the right pair of shoes to go with the whole outfit.
“No, probably not,” despite her dark haired friend's seemingly definitive response, she pitched her voice up just enough that it left room for interpretation.
The blonde let out a faint huff of annoyance before she angrily sipped on her drink and then her big dark green eyes looked up and caught Kendall watching the pair.
Sudden embarrassment over how much Kendall had been eavesdropping on the pair's conversation and judging them filled her petite frame. Turning her attention to her phone, she began to furiously study the stupid notifications that she rarely looked at it in an attempt to appear busy and disinterested.
Of course, no amount of pretending not to notice or care could combat the blonde's grating voice, “What about her? She looks smart.”
Kendall could hear the girl's weight shift in the seat before she giggled.
“I think she looks perfect.”
Sitting there, keeping her attention on her phone, she watched as dark shadows fell over her from the pair surrounding her table. Kendall definitely felt like a freshman again though not a freshman in college but a freshman in high school, hiding in the bathroom stall from the mean seniors who were smoking cigarettes outside while she was trying to take the quietest pee known to humankind.
“Hey, I know you were listening,” the blonde purred and her warm sunkissed fingers rubbed against Kendall's shoulder in an oddly comforting way, “It's ok...”
“Yeah, we just wanted to ask you a question.”
“Huh, oh,” Kendall felt suddenly lightheaded when she looked up from her phone, “Sorry, I...”
The blonde's plump lips were spread in a wide grin that showed her too-white teeth and her Asian friend stood beside her, her own grin covered by her hand as she giggled. Another wave of dizziness hit Kendall but when she tried to brace herself against the table, her hand missed it by a solid foot.
“What,” her voice cracked, “What's going on?”
The already tall girls were growing larger and larger in Kendall's vision while the seat she was on seemed to be stretching out in every direction. Stumbling about, Kendall barely managed to get to her feet when an enormous hand stretched across the sky to grip the back of the chair.
Everything shuddered and a great metallic clatter made her cover her ears in fright.
Both girls stood like skyscrapers over the chair, so incomprehensibly large that Kendall had difficulty processing that they were actual living beings and not strange statues. She pivoted from the enormous blonde whose soft looking tanned hand was stretching down toward her to the other girl who was watching the scene while swirling the straw of her frappe.
When the girl lifted her drink to her own plump red lips, Kendall got a clear view of the bright pink letters that were stretched across her chest: Gamma Phi Beta.
White acrylic nails pinched her by the back of her law school hoodie and Kendall screamed as her limbs flailed wildly in the open air.
“Goodbye, academic probation,” the blonde announced as she swung Kendall over an enormous cream colored Telfar bag, “And hello to my first slave...”
“Let's hope this little freshman is as smart as she looks,” the other girl boomed while Kendall descended into the dark depths of the fashionable bag.
Landing astride an enormous tampon, she cried out, “I'm in law school!”
But the bag's walls simply closed in above her and then there was a sharp thunderclap as the same white acrylics that had just plucked her up snapped a button into place.
“Guys like you are going to kill it in college,” Grant bitterly whispered to himself as he dumped the dirty mop water into the slop sink.
No matter how hard he had tried or begged, Grant had found himself slotted back into dining hall janitorial for his work-study again. He had hoped that it was a job that only unlucky freshman ended up with due to some arcane interview process but as it turned out, just like in the real world the best work-study positions were all about who you knew. Everyone he met who had an on campus job that didn't leave them reeking of chemicals and the sickly melange of unfinished dining hall fare had ended up with the gig thanks to a friend.
Thankfully it was his early day and that meant that he didn't need to do the post-dinner deep clean that left him bone tired and reeking of ammonia. He gave the bucket a quick rinse in the slop sink, wiped down a few patches of dirty water that had managed to splash over the sink's lip, and then wheeled the mop back into its proper place.
The dining hall's lead janitor, a heavy set guy with a pushbroom mustache and graying hair, gave him a thumbs up when he waved goodbye on his way to the back. Grant did wonder, considering how much the man had complimented him the previous year, if he had ended up back in the job at Armando's suggestion. He had even told the freshman when they started that they should be like Grant who was a 'good boy' and a 'diligent worker' which had made two girls, who had quit after the first and third weeks of the semester respectively, giggle in a very unflattering way.
It was bad enough being the guy who had to clean up crap spilled by hungover frat bros, it was somehow worse to be the best guy at.
Grant scrubbed himself as clean as the thin pink soap, which had been the standard at every school he had ever attended, would allow while doing his best to push the thoughts from his head.
His father had always told him that there were no small jobs, just small people.
Of course, when he asked his father if he had taken an on-campus job while in college, his dad had gone on about how great it had been to be a secretary in the admissions office, which was one of the first places at his university in the deep south to get air conditioning. When Grant had asked how he had managed that, his dad had sat there for a moment before snapping his fingers and announcing that it was thanks to a girl he had dated in his Freshman year. She had got him out of the misery of landscaping, which had basically meant hacking away at the kudzu invading campus.
Stepping out into the late afternoon sun, Grant fumbled with his vape pen and sighed.
He would have killed for a landscaping gig but apparently some alumni who made it rich thanks to green energy had donated a lot of money to ensure the campus would switch as much space over as possible to native flora that could grow wildly.
It made the campus a bright place that smelled of wildflowers and was filled with the faint buzzing of insects, which attracted birds and other creatures that cut down on pest species, but it meant that the landscaping was contracted out to a serious company that could maintain the prized rose garden and immaculate great lawn.
Not students like Grant driving around in a little cart filled with fertilizer and tulip bulbs.
Jobs off campus were even tougher and they didn't have to give a crap about your class schedule either. Taking another drag off his vape, Grant let the pleasant taste of smokeless weed roll across his tongue and fill his lungs.
Checking his phone, he realized that it was about time for the only silver lining about his job at the dining hall. Glancing west down the wide path that circled the older parts of campus, he caught sight of the same three sorority girls that he always saw running in the afternoon.
And thankfully it was still warm enough that their clothing was barely existent.
The biggest part of the lie that his life would really begin in college was that all the girls who wouldn't give him time of day in high school would suddenly be interested in him three months later when they arrived at the hallowed halls of some college campus.
Thinking about it now, he wondered how he could have really believed that because nothing magically changed about him either.
Grant was still just as awkward and uncoordinated as he had always been. He was still more interested in talking about his favorite Twitch streamers and D&D actual plays than whatever else was going on in the world. And no matter how many muscles he packed on between the gym and pushing a mop around, he was still pale with a touch of acne and curly hair that turned into a poofy unmanageable mess in any humidity, which meant every time he worked in the dining hall it turned into a curly cloud atop his head.
He had hoped that maybe the obvious life of success he was being set up for through his computer science major might make him look better but the tech industry had become so volatile over the past few years that he was wondering if it was the golden ticket he had been raised to believe. Besides, only the other guys in his computer science major seemed to care about how he got such high marks and what he might be planning to do after school. The girls he had met in the program were either already doing work as good as him and didn't want to hear from him or they were doing worse and definitely didn't want to hear from him.
So that meant all he really had in terms of a love life was the same thing he had in high school; watching girls go by and wishing he was the guy they were complaining about.
The three sorority girls he saw were almost always talking one girl through her latest fight with a guy, though Grant had no idea if it was the same guy or a different one week to week. He wondered how a girl with her soft dishwater blonde hair, big blue eyes, and cute features couldn't just find a better guy, which is why he figured it had to be different ones. Despite being the shortest of the three, and the one struggling the most given how she always seemed to be on the verge of tears, she was always pulling slightly ahead of the other two.
Grant often wondered what she sounded like when she wasn't about to cry, since she seemed to have a beautiful soprano voice.
The pair that ran with her were a true angel and devil on her shoulder.
The angel was a tall lanky girl with rich olive skin and thick dark tresses of hair that always bounced around her shoulders with every stride named Tiffany. Her warm alto always preached that Cassidy, the blonde girl with boyfriend troubles, should examine the situation from all sides, remember that her partner's emotions were valid, and find a way to reconcile. Despite how annoying Grant sometimes found her rambling on about love languages and attachment styles to be, he had to admit that it all sounded like Tiffany knew what she was talking about.
In contrast, the devil on Cassidy's shoulder was a redhead named Sadie who had gone from a one sided undercut to a fully shaved head at the start of the semester and it was now coming back in to a close pixie cut. Sadie almost always advocated for Cassidy to 'dump his ass' and reminded Tiffany that 'love languages were created by a deranged pastor' as she casually jogged beside them, the growing field of tattoos on her arms and legs dancing in the sunlight.
The conversations were always good but watching them run by in clingy athletic wear was even better.
Grant often found his thoughts wandering to the trio during his early shifts; guessing which of their workout clothes they'd be wearing, trying to imagine what Cassidy's crisis would be, and wondering just how sweaty they would get under the waning sunlight.
It was, somewhat embarrassingly because it was more than a little gross, the highlight of his day.
The first thing that Grant noticed was that Cassidy wasn't in the middle that day.
She was on the near side where Sadie normally jogged wearing hot pink shorts, pristine white and purple Asics, and a blue pastel shirt advertising last semester's 'Gamma Phi Beta-cue' that was two toned from perspiration. Tiffany ran on the far side in a matching blue set that paired well with the blue Adidas on her feet, long white crew socks stretched up her calves with the tops just beginning to be tinged with sweat. Sadie ran in the middle in her usual black crop top and black shorts with white ankle socks that barely crept out of her black and white Hokas on her feet.
“No one's saying you have to,” Cassidy's voice was for once not near tears and he found himself smiling as he realized that it was as bright and sweet as he always imagined.
“I kind of feel that's what you're both saying,” Sadie snapped.
“Well, almost everyone else in our rush class picked one out last semester. It's just you and...” Tiffany's warm alto rattled with nervousness, “Abigail.”
“It's really not a big deal...”
“I feel like it's a big deal.”
“But it doesn't have to be.”
Grant's eyes bounced across the trio as they talked, struggling to make sense of what they could be talking about. He assumed it was the obvious topic; that Sadie was having trouble picking a major. Something about that didn't sit right with him though, since the conversation seemed to be shockingly fraught.
“Fine! What about him then?!” Sadie's voice cracked with exasperation and Grant's eyes went wide as he realized she was pointing right at him.
“I mean, uh,” Cassidy stumbled over her words as she was forced to awkwardly stop because Sadie crossed directly in front of her, “Wait, really?”
Tiffany jogged a little further down while glancing in Grant's direction. Her dark eyes ran over him and she gave a shrug, “Sure, why not?”
Grant's blood was pounding in his ears as a girl he had watched run by almost every week for a year was coming right toward him. His tongue was dry and heavy in his mouth while he struggled to come up with something to say, something that would be cool and interesting and would actually work. All his sputtering brain managed was to raise his hand in a weak wave and go, “H-hey.”
And then she clocked him hard in the jaw.
The world spun and time seemed to stretch in slow motion while he heard Cassidy's soprano shriek in his ears.
Then he hit the hard concrete beside the dining hall and everything came into focus.
The ground quaked and his hand naturally rubbed the sore spot where Sadie's knuckles had connected with his jaw. “What the fuck,” he managed to say, unable to rise to his feet as the shaking seemed to only get worse.
The late afternoon sun was completely blotted out as the largest sneakers he had ever seen crashed down on his right. He stared at the running shoes and his throbbing jaw hung open in disbelief. He recognized the pristine white and purple pair as belonging to Cassidy but they looked to be as big as a car, which would make Cassidy-
His thoughts were interrupted by an even larger pair crashing behind him; the fading blue Adidas that belonged to Tiffany.
The world had finally stopped shaking as he glanced over to see two monstrous black and white Hokas sitting in front of him. His neck craned back to take in the pale milky white legs that rose up above them and then finally the annoyed looking redhead who was glaring down at him with her hands on her hips.
“Sadie, you didn't have to,” Cassidy's once high pitched voice now rumbled across the sky, still recognizably bright and femme but with a power Grant could have never imagined the petite blonde possessing.
“Are you even sure you want him?” Tiffany stared down with her arms crossed, like a Greek Goddess sitting in judgment of him.
“I thought it didn't matter who I picked,” Sadie replied snottily, as she started to bend down and her hand lifted off of her hip, “Everyone else already picked one, so I picked one.”
Grant's brain finally processed the enormous fingers swooping in around him and accepted the preposterous situation he found himself in: he had been shrunk to the size of an action figure.
He kicked at the huge fingers with all the fight he could muster as they closed in but then the hand pivoted and he watched the index finger balance against the thumb right before it snapped forward.
Grant found himself suddenly transported back to when he was eleven years old, his last year of peewee baseball, when one of the kids who also played in a league designed to train kids for college or even professional leagues took the mound. The kid had lost control of the sinker when it left his hand and had actually shouted 'duck' at Grant as it zoomed toward homeplate. The next thing that Grant could remember was just the intense pain that radiated across his chest after that and this was much the same.
He had no memory of Sadie's finger hitting his chest, just of skidding a few inches backwards while instinctively curling into a ball and clutching the spot she had struck.
“Whatever,” the redhead thundered, “It's done. I'll need a brand when we get back to the house.”
Grant was dimly aware of being lifted into the sky and shoved into a cramped dark space that reeked of sweat but he just remained curled into a ball, too terrified to do anything else.