Chris's sister Diane is coming home from college... and she will want her clothes back!
"You don't usually see girls playing that game. Especially cute ones." I took a very brief glance to my right to look at the speaker. It was the boy I'd seen playing one of the fighting games earlier. He was tall, about Jeff's size, and had sandy blond hair. He probably should work on his opening lines.
I was playing one of the latest arcade games with futuristic styled guns attached by a cable to the game console. I blasted another bad guy on the screen before answering, "That's because I'm not really a girl."
He just looked at me funny and then laughed, "Yeah, right! Like anyone'd be stupid enough to believe you were a guy!"
Right then, there were just too many bad guys on the screen to handle and I got blasted. The guy standing next to me saw his opening and said, "You mind if I play with you? With both of us, we might make it to the next level." I nodded and as we both plunked in our tokens, he continued, "By the way, I'm Kyle."
As the game intro played, I assumed my ready stance and said, "Hi Kyle. I'm Christine."
As we started popping bad guys, I felt a little guilty about leaving Mom shopping alone in the mall. I guess my boy-upbringing was still evident as I still tended to shop like my Dad. Just go in, get what I was after and leave. Mom and my sister, Diane, would spend, literally, hours tediously going through the mall, examining everything and occassionally trying on things. I came along with Mom to the mall just so she'd have shopping pal.
We had been at the mall for about two hours when I decided that I was about shopped out and needed a break. I told Mom I was going to play a few games at the arcade and I'd catch up with her in about half an hour. I knew she wouldn't get too far away in only thirty minutes.
Kyle and I both used up the last of our health moments after making it to the second level. My score was quite a bit higher than Kyle's.
"Wow, you're good... For a girl." Kyle said. "Want to play another round?"
Before I could answer, a voice called from behind us. "Chrissy!" We both turned to see Jeff entering the arcade. "I'm surprised to see you here. I would have thought you'd rather be with your Mom, looking at dresses. She told me I'd find you here."
Jeff worked part-time at one of the shoe stores in the mall. I glanced at my watch and noticed it was almost time for him to go on duty.
"Hi Jeff! Sometimes it's fun to do something other than shopping."
He took my hands, kissed my cheek and said, "You smell nice. And you look great today!" Kyle, looking a little crestfallen, had returned to his fighting game.
"Thank you, Jeff!" I blushed. I looked at our image in the wall mirrors of the arcade. My hair was the longest I've ever remember it being as it hung down well past my shoulders and the large silver hoop earrings sparked little metallic highlights. My dark green sweater was rather snug fitting as were my jeans. Even with high heeled boots, Jeff still towered above me and my hands looked so small when he held them.
I'd been living as a girl for almost two months. And to be honest, I was beginning to forget what it was like to be a boy. Jeff was starting to become a fixture at our house. Our pretend dates started to feel more like real ones as he started taking me out more and Mom was inviting him over for dinner (which I'd have to help prepare.) And Dad finally had a football watching buddy again. He'd missed that a lot after Diane left for college and there were no longer any boys coming over who would watch football and other sports with him. Even his eye had stopped twitching.
Jeff also had a lot more free time now that he was benched after his injury and would probably never play football again. The team washed out just this last Saturday in a play-off. Still, everyone was happy we'd gotten into the play-offs at all. And, I wasn't out of the cheerleading business since we were still cheering for the basketball team and the hockey team and later there'd be the baseball team. The golf team was on their own.
Jeff said, "I just wanted to see if you wanted to go out tonight and my Mom wanted to know if you'd like to have Thanksgiving dinner with us. I checked with your mom, and she said it was okay with her." Thanksgiving was this week and we were off from school the whole week.
"I'd love to have Thanksgiving dinner at your house!" I said. Actually, in a way, it kind of disturbed me. This was starting to feel like a real boyfriend/girlfriend thing. For a few weeks after the Homecoming game, Jeff had behaved, keeping public displays of affection to the minimum needed to maintain the ruse that we were dating. But lately, he'd started being much more affectionate with more kissing, and holding me, and things like snuggling by the fireplace. I admit, I haven't exactly been pushing him away and that's what has been worrying me. I've become far too comfortable with my role as a girl.
Jeff looked down at his watch and said, "Crap! I'm going to be late for work unless I leave right now. I'll see you later tonight. Wear something nice...I've got reservations for Gladstone's." He bent down and gave me a quick, full on the lips kiss and then he was gone. He didn't even give me a chance to say if I wanted to go out that evening or not. I walked over to the wall mirrors and checked my lipstick.
As I walked back toward the video game I'd been playing, Kyle turned from his game and asked over his shoulder, "Is that your boyfriend?"
I just smiled, more than I had intended, and said, "Yep, that's my boyfriend."
"Is he in college?" Kyle pressed further.
I started to plunk in my last tokens for a final game and said, "No. High school. We're both seniors."
"Maybe you should give college men a try." Uh oh, here it comes. "A fine girl like you shouldn't be wasting her time with boys."
"Ah. Don't tell me, you're in college." I hazarded a guess.
"County College for now. I came home a little early for the holiday." I could tell Kyle started to feel a bit more confident as he stood straighter and walked toward me, leaving his game still running. "You really are the nicest looking girl I've seen around this town in a long time. You have the prettiest eyes," he said, staring at my chest.
I closed my eyes and asked, "What color are they?"
"Uh...um...I...ummmmm...blue?" stuttered Kyle.
I opened my eyes and said, "Bzzzzt! Sorry! But thanks for playing." I dropped the tokens into my purse instead of the game's coin slot, deciding it might be better to play later. To Kyle, I said, "Thanks, but I really am happy with my boyfriend. Thanks for the game." And with that, I turned and left the arcade.
I found Mom about half-way through the mall. She'd gotten a lot further than I thought she would. As I approached her, she was holding a blouse under her chin, trying to figure out how it would look on her.
She looked up and said, "Oh, hi honey. Did Jeff find you?"
I nodded and asked, "Are you sure it's okay for me to go to Jeff's for Thanksgiving? "
"Of course, " Mom replied. "I wouldn't have said it was otherwise. Why?"
"I was just thinking...it'd leave you and Dad alone for a holiday for the first time."
Mom shrugged, then looked thoughtful and said, "Well, your father and I have been expecting an empty nest one of these days. I'm sure this isn't the last holiday you won't be home for."
Sounding annoyed, I said, "Mom. You make it sound like Jeff and I are practically married!"
Mom just smiled and said, "And what a lovely bride you'd make!"
"Mom! Cut it out!" I squealed. She was joking of course. At least I hoped she was.
After looking at a few more dresses, I turned to Mom and said, "Mom, Jeff wants to take me out to dinner tonight at Gladstone's." Gladstone's was the most hoity-toity restaurant in town.
"Oh really? Sounds like Jeff's no longer just pretending to be your boyfriend."
I nodded and said, "That's what it's starting to seem like to me too."
Mom lowered her voice and asked, "And how do you feel about that?"
I thought for a moment. How did I feel about that?
"That's really hard to say, Mom. Confused, mostly," I said, staring at a dress on a rack, but not really seeing it.
Mom put the blouse she was looking at back on the rack and stepped closer to me. She brushed her hand through my hair and said, "It's become hard even for me to remember that you are my son, and not the beautiful daughter I see in front of me. I know it's easier on you if you let yourself believe that you really are a girl. But, you're not one. So be careful. Don't start down a path unless you're sure it's really the one you want." Mom definitely doesn't pull any punches.
Before I answered, I was momentarily transported back to that fateful summer night three years ago with Ed. I shuddered at the memory. But Ed was no Jeff...
I was still brooding thirty minutes later as we drifted past the shoe store where Jeff worked. I didn't see Jeff right away. I assumed he was in the back. I told Mom I'd be right back and stepped into the store.
"Oh, hi Chrissy." said one of the other salesmen. He looked at me and pointed toward the back of the store and said, "He's in the back on the can. He'll be out in a minute."
"Okay," I said. "I'll wait a few minutes for him to come out."
"I'll let him know you're here. Just let me know if you want to buy any shoes..." he said as he disappeared into the back room.
When Jeff came out, he could tell something was bothering me and said, "Hey babe! What's up?"
I motioned for Jeff to get closer and said quietly, "Jeff, about tonight..."
"Oh yeah, the reservation is for seven p.m." he said as he put his arm around me and walked to the front of the store.
I hesitated a moment then said, "Jeff. About tonight. This seems an awful lot like a real date to me. I..." My voice trailed away as I could see Jeff becoming rather agitated.
With an edge of hostility to his voice, Jeff leaned in close to me as he said harshly, "Look, I'm really tired of being reminded constantly that the girl I'm in love with isn't a real girl. I'm having a hard enough time dealing with this as it is."
His anger took me by surprise and I guess my face showed it as Jeff's expression softened suddenly as he brushed his hand through my hair. Looking at the ground then back up at me he said, "I'm sorry. It's just that I look at you and I see this very pretty girl. I try not to, but I find myself thinking of you constantly." I started to say something, but with a wave of his hand, Jeff shushed me and continued, "No, don't say anything. Since we have to be together anyway, and since we both seem to like each other, I've decided I don't want to pretend anymore. "
He lowered his voice, cast a glance over his shoulder and said coldly, "Every time you remind me of what you really are, I get this knot in the pit of my stomach. Honest to God, I'm not one bit interested in boys and it really bothers me when I'm reminded that I'm dating one."
"It's no picnic for me either," I whispered with a growl. "I have guys hitting on me for a date all the time and I find I'm enjoying their attention. You think you're confused! I'd like to get back to being normal. I don't want a boyfriend. But I love it when we're together even though it bothers me when I think about it. I don't know how to handle the fact that when I'm with you, I want to be a girl, not just pretending. Trust me, it's really hard to deal with that!"
We just stared at each other for a moment, then Jeff bent down and kissed me, very gently. It was a long, soft, dreamy kiss. I stood there for a second with my eyes closed after he'd pulled away. He brushed his hand through my hair again and said softly, "See you tonight, Chrissy. Is six-thirty okay?" I nodded, and he just said simply, "I have to get back to work."
I stepped out of the store and back into the mall's wide hallway. I felt all gooey inside. I walked through the mall, totally oblivious to my surroundings with a goofy expression on my face.
I was brought back to the real world by the sound of an irritating voice in my ear, and as my eyes focused again, I could see it was a girl from school.
"Earth to Chrissy! Hello!", the girl said.
"Hi Karen. What's up?" I asked.
She raised a bucket with money in it and said, "Would you like to make a donation to the Nikki Fund?" Again? I thought.
"I donated last month." I wanted to catch up with Mom.
"Oh, I guess you haven't heard, then." Karen's eyes dropped to the floor and she shuffled her feet uncomfortably.
"No, I guess not. What happened?"
Karen looked up and said, "You remember they moved her to that big hospital up state? Well, apparently there was an oxygen leak in her room and her room exploded and caught the hospital on fire. Then they were going to airlift her to the burn center. They're not sure why, but the engine failed on the helicopter she was in and it crashed in a field. No one got too badly hurt, but when the ambulance came out to get her, on the way heading back to the city, the ambulance hit a cow that was loose and totalled it. There was an Air National Guard transport in the area and they agreed to make an emergency airlift to take Nikki to a special treatment center on the East Coast."
Great Scott! Feeling a little breathless, I asked, "Well, where on the East Coast is she? Is she okay??"
Karen shrugged and said, "Unfortunately, the transport got emergency orders and they couldn't land at their intended destination."
"Well, where is she?" I asked again.
"She's in Afganistan. They're trying to make arrangements to ship her back."
I dug around in my purse and pulled out a five dollar bill. I handed it to Karen who just kind of shrugged as she dropped it in her money bucket.
Annoyed, I asked, "Is there a problem?"
Karen said sheepishly, "Well, everyone else has given at least ten dollars."
I rolled my eyes as I dug through my purse again and handed Karen another five dollar bill.
Mom and I were both back in a dressing room trying on clothes. The news about Nikki got me thinking about my own future and about the paths I was following. I slipped on a dark blue sweater dress with a short skirt that I was thinking about getting for my date tonight. As I was smoothing it out, I said to Mom, who was in the adjacent booth, "Mom, you know we have a whole two weeks off this year for Christmas? You know what I think I'm going to do?"
"No dear, what?" Mom said between grunts while trying to squeeze into a dress a size or two too small.
"I'm forgetting what it feels like to be a boy. I think I might be getting too caught up in being a girl." I said as I looked in the mirror and tossled my hair while striking sexy poses in the short, tight dress. "I think I'm going to spend the whole Christmas holiday as a boy. I don't plan on going anywhere where people will see me anyway."
Mom asked, "Are you sure you can handle being a boy?"
I'm sure she thought she was joking, but I replied seriously, "That's what I need to find out. I think I've had a complete disconnect with my masculinity."
I stepped out of the booth wearing the sweater dress. "Mom, take a look. Do you think Jeff would like this dress?"
Mom exited her booth and looked up and down at me. "Jeff will most definitely like seeing you in that dress." She paused for a moment then added, "Does it really matter to you if Jeff likes your dress or not?"
I glared at Mom as I stated, "Of course it matters to me! He's my boyfr..." My voice suddenly trailed away. I stood there in silence for a moment or two, taken aback by my sudden declaration. "See Mom? That's why I need time being a boy again."
I tossled my hair again, posed, and asked Mom, "I was thinking of wearing my boots with this dress. What do you think?"
Finally! The shopping expedition was over! We'd reached the far end of the mall and the only place left was the movie theater. Unless Mom wanted some popcorn from the theater, our shopping had finally come to an end.
I thought just before we left, I'd check in at the theater to see if Gwen was working. A glance through the glass front of the theater showed that she was indeed working. I told Mom I wanted to go say hi to Gwen for a minute.
"Don't be too long. I'm exhausted and I'd like to get home." Mom said. Then added, while pointing, "I'll sit on the benches over there and wait."
"I won't be long." I assured her.
I hadn't talked to Gwen since that one night several weeks ago. Gwen looked up from a cash register a moment or two after I entered. She motioned for me to head for her office. A minute later, she was shutting the door and sitting down.
"What brings you here today, Christopher?" Gwen looked at me and shook her head. "My God you look so much like Diane it's just plain scary."
"Well, I wanted to ask you something." I said, settling down in my chair.
Gwen waved her hand and said, "Ask away!"
"You know, Christmas is coming up and this year I was going to be needing a little more Christmas money, and...ah...well..."
"Don't tell me," Gwen interrupted. "You want a job at the theater."
I leaned forward and said, "Yeah, kinda. Since you know that I'm not really a girl, I thought it might be easier on me mentally to work here than somewheres else."
"The way you look, I don't think you'd have to worry about being found out." Gwen looked thoughtful for a moment, then continued, "The only real problem I'd see with you working here is the little issue of going to the bathroom."
"I just won't go, then."
Gwen laughed at me and said, "Yeah, right! Hmmm...We're always looking for new help. The turnover is pretty high since all I can get to work here are highschoolers — no offense. Can you start tonight?"
"Tonight? Geez, no. I have a date!"
"That would be an automatic kiss of death to a job applicant, Chris. But since you're the cause of the guilt I'm going to carry to the grave, I'll give you a break. If you can avoid getting into trouble using the bathrooms, I'll let you start Saturday afternoon. How's that? I'm kinda busy right now, but come by tomorrow morning and we'll fill out the paper work and go over what you need to buy for your uniform."
"Thanks Gwen!" I said as I stood up to leave.
"Okay, see you tomorrow. Have fun on your date...I guess..."
The phone rang while I was getting ready. I hoped it wasn't for me as I was in the middle of putting on my make-up. I heard Mom pick up the phone in the living room and begin talking excitedly to someone. The conversation lasted until I finished getting ready.
I walked into the living room and asked, "Mom! Well, what do you think?" I posed and strutted around, showing off my new dress. I thought the short dress and the tall boots looked good together. I let my long hair frame my face and my sister's diamond stud earrings sparkled in the light.
Mom smiled and said, "You look absolutely beautiful!"
Just then, Dad came in from the garage, took a look at me and said, "You're not going out dressed like that, are you? Don't you have any longer dresses or maybe some pants?"
Mom turned to Dad and said, "Honey, this is her first real date. She needs to look nice for it." Those words rang in my head: "First real date." And she said, "she".
My head started to spin, and so I tried not think about the implications. Changing the subject, I said, "Mom, who was on the phone?"
"Oh! Yes. It's good both of you are here." Mom looked from Dad to me and back again. "That was Diane."
"Diane actually called home?" Dad was incredulous. "Should we notify the press? Are you sure it wasn't a pod-person?"
"If I may finish..." Mom interrupted. "Diane said she's going to graduate this semester instead of at the end of the spring semester. The second Saturday of December is her graduation ceremony and she wants us to come up for it. She's also coming home. She'll be home before Christmas."
Diane is finished with school? I didn't think she'd ever graduate. She and Gwen had both gone off to college at the same time, but after Gwen got her degree, she came back home. Diane stayed on to get her MBA. And now she was coming home. She would be wanting her room back. And her wardrobe.
End of Part 1
To Be Continued...
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