Ovid IV: The Bank Robbers
by The Professor (circa 1998)
Bobby Joe’s long lost and almost forgotten bad brother
For the Captain
The light breeze that blew up my skirt as I crossed Main Street on my way to Susan’s office was almost warm. One pleasant surprise for me in Ovid had been that spring came much earlier to Oklahoma than it did to Indiana. Here it was, only the last week of February, and already the sun had gained strength and the air was warming. We all knew it could still snow again before spring truly came, but the days would continue to get warmer in spite of further snows.
I had now been a woman for over four months, and I was starting to really think like a woman, I realized, as I contemplated a little expedition after lunch with Susan and Diana to March’s Department Store to scope out the latest spring fashions. Maybe I could find something for Easter for both me and my daughter, Michelle. It was hard to imagine thinking this way just a few short months ago, but I had learned to be happy in Ovid. I had a wonderful loving husband and two great kids. So what if they had all once been my fraternity brothers at Notre Dame? They didn’t know that; they remembered nothing of their past lives.
Besides, I had a great job, too. Being Administrative Assistant to the Roman God, Jupiter, was one heck of a job. Of course, officially, I was secretary to the Judge, but the growing community of changees in Ovid who remembered their previous lives knew what that really meant.
The Judge had cleared his calendar for the day, and since it was Friday, that meant an easy start to the weekend. Diana had called and asked me if I’d like to have a lunch of takeout Chinese in Susan’s office. She had already cleared it with Susan, who had given her secretary, Dori, the day off. I had told her it sounded great to me, so we made the date. Now, here I was, hurrying up to Susan’s office.
The outer office was empty, but I heard Susan call, “In here, Cindy.”
Susan and I had gotten to be good friends, and our husbands were starting to get chummy as well, but until that day, I had never been in Susan’s office. It looked very... well, lawyerly. The furniture was conservative and the walls were a nondescript tan, as was the carpet. One whole wall of her office was lined with law books. I was sure, as nice as it was, that it was nothing compared to the office she must have had in Dallas when she was a he and one of the top criminal lawyers in the country.
“You look nice today,” she said with a smile, motioning me to a small conference table she had obviously cleared for lunch.
“Thanks,” I said, taking the offered seat. After walking over from City Hall in heels, I was glad for the opportunity to sit down. I still forgot that high heels weren’t made for long walks and my feet ached. “So do you.” She did, too. She was wearing a very professional looking gray suit with a rose silk blouse. I, by contrast, was wearing a dark blue sweater dress, but then again, I didn’t have the image of being a lawyer to maintain.
“Am I late?” a voice called from the outer office.
“No,” Susan called. “Cindy just got here. Come on in, Diana.”
A tall, stunningly beautiful American Indian woman, coal black hair in braids and wearing a traditional deerskin dress and moccasins entered the room. Incongruously, she was carrying a sack with a couple of bottles in it under one arm and a brown sack with Chinese characters on it under the other arm. “Princess Diana Wintermoon at your service,” she said with a grin. As we watched, the dress resolved itself into a smart tan suit and the moccasins became three-inch heels. The braids unwrapped themselves and resolved into a mane of black, wavy hair. She asked, “So what do you think?”
“Do Indians really have princesses?” I asked.
She shrugged. “I think so. If they don’t, they should. Now let’s get this bottle of wine open. I really need a drink.”
“So what have you been up to this morning that you need a drink?” Susan asked. As a teetotaller, I suppose Susan couldn’t really imagine why anyone, especially the Goddess Diana would ‘need’ a drink.
“Because I’ve spent the entire morning in a Council meeting.”
“But City Council doesn’t meet until Monday,” I pointed out.
She frowned. “Who said anything about City Council? This was the Olympic Council.”
“You’re on the Olympic Committee?” I asked without really thinking. There was still enough male in my mind to think of ‘Olympics’ as only sports.
Diana looked at me with a patronizing smile. “Was that a joke, or are you being uncharacteristically dense today?”
“Oh,” I said, abashed. “That Olympic Council.” It certainly explained where the Judge had been all morning. He had mentioned the Olympic Council to me shortly after I went to work for him. It was like a corporate Board of Directors meeting where all the gods got together to discuss the affairs of Ovid and whatever else came to mind.
“Yes, that Olympic Council,” Diana agreed. “We met this morning in San Francisco at the Fairmont. Thankfully, the meeting got out in time for me to get over to Celadon in Chinatown and pick up the food.”
I had wondered where she had gotten it. There wasn’t a Chinese restaurant in Ovid. I considered that a serious oversight on the part of the gods.
“Anyhow,” she continued with a tired smile, “the meeting was a particularly tedious one.”
Knowing Diana as I did, I realized any meeting which she was not in charge of was probably, to her, a tedious meeting. I think I would have found it very interesting. Apparently even many of the gods who had little to do with Ovid attended, so I imagined it would have been a very enlightening meeting for humans like me. Had I been there, I might even have learned why they were doing all of this.
“What happened?” Susan asked, removing a bottle of chilled white wine and a plastic bottle of Diet Coke from the bag. She then produced three tumblers from her credenza and poured for each of us, reserving the Diet Coke for her own glass.
Diana gratefully accepted her wine and took a satisfying sip. “Well, of course, some of it I can’t talk about. You two are my best friends in Ovid, so I’d love to tell you everything that went on, but the Judge would have my head on a platter if I did.”
Given the Judge’s background, that was more of a potentially real penalty than an outsider might have imagined.
“I can tell you, though, that both of you are on Marty Bachman’s enemies list,” she confided.
“Why?” I asked, taking a sip of my own wine. I hadn’t read the label, but it was an excellent Chenin Blanc. Diana had excellent taste.
“Because of Myra Smithwick,” Diana explained. “You helped her out, and Marty had his sights on her. He thought she’d be a fine waitress in his little place.”
Marty Bachman ran a dive called Randy Andy’s. Being recently cast in the role of a proper wife and mother, I had never been in the place. I had heard it was pretty tame by big city standards, but in Ovid, it had the reputation of being a den of iniquity. It was basically Hooters with even less class, if one could believe the stories.
“All we did was help Myra get pointed in the right direction,” Susan explained. Actually, I had done very little for Myra, but Susan was even considering having her work in her office over the summer.
“That’s the point,” Diana said. “Marty was at the meeting, and...”
“Wait a minute,” I interrupted. “What was he doing at a meeting of the gods?”
Diana frowned. “You mean you didn’t know?”
Both Susan and I shook our heads.
“Oh, well, there’s something you need to know,” Diana continued. “Marty is one of us. He’s a god.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” I blurted out. “There’s a Roman god running a sleazy bar?”
“It’s really not as unusual as you might think. On the whole, we’re a pretty earthy bunch. Besides, Marty is known as Bacchus in mythology. Do you know who he was?” Diana asked.
“Sure,” I replied. “Wasn’t he that fat little drunk god in Fantasia who kept falling off his donkey?”
Diana leaned forward. “If you ever talk to him, never under any circumstances should you mention that movie to him. He hated that movie so much that he completely destroyed all traces of the Disney movie, Hansel and Gretel.”
“But there is no such Disney movie,” Susan protested.
“Exactly,” Diana said with a sly smile. “Not anymore.”
Susan was still thinking about that when I asked, “Okay, so tell us about Bacchus.”
“Well,” Diana began, settling into her chair. She was really enjoying this. “Marty Bachman is the Judge’s illegitimate son, so he indulges the little idiot. Marty wanted a bar and strip joint, but the Judge wouldn’t go that far. Instead, he offered Marty a bar and, as long as it stays discrete, permission to do what little prostitution Ovid has.”
“He’s the Judge’s illegitimate son?” Susan echoed. “Our Judge? He has a bastard?”
“You sound surprised,” Diana observed with a wicked grin. “You must not have read much mythology when you were a kid.”
“Then you wouldn’t realize,” she went on, “that the Judge and all the other gods around here were not exactly paragons of virtue. There was more philandering and incest on Mount Olympus than in a Mississippi trailer park. The reason the Judge went along as far as he did with Marty is just to keep the little shit where he can see him. He’s been nothing but trouble for centuries. Susan, you’ve been doing more reading about us lately. What’s your impression of Bacchus?”
“Well,” she offered, “if half the stories I’ve read about him are true, he’s someone to steer clear of.”
“Not only are half the stories true, but the stories don’t even tell the half of it,” Diana said darkly. “He’s the flimflam man of the gods. He can talk someone into doing almost anything, appearing to be a friend, only to lead them to destruction. If you think about it, that’s what happens to a lot of heavy drinkers. They do things under the influence of alcohol—or Bacchus—that they would never do if they were sober.”
“He sounds like a pimp,” Susan commented.
“He’s been that,” Diana agreed, “and worse.”
“Well,” I said hoisting my wine glass, “here’s to the God of Wine. May he stay on his side of town.”
Two other glasses clicked mine in agreement.
“Now, to other things,” Diana said primly.
“Yes,” I agreed. “You want a story, and I’ll bet I know which one you want.”
“I’ll bet I know, too,” Susan added. “Things were a little slow around here before the bank robbery.”
“So let’s get to it!” Diana exclaimed.
“Uh, will Susan be able to watch, too?”
“She just needs to position herself looking over my shoulder,” Diana told me.
I relaxed in preparation for falling into the trance which would allow them to see the story. It started on a damp Saturday almost two weeks ago...
“So what do ya think of the family business, Little Brother?”
The brown landscape of an Oklahoma winter shot past us at eighty miles an hour as the nondescript ten-year-old white Dodge strained to keep at speed. It was hot in the car. Jimmy Ray liked it that way, so the searing heat from the engine pumped raw hot air into the car causing me to sweat. Or maybe it wasn’t the only thing causing me to sweat.
“Waddaya say, Bobby Joe?” he said cheerfully though tobacco-stained teeth.
“Keep your eyes on the road,” I suggested with a quaver in my voice.
“Don’t you worry none about that, Little Brother. Old Snow here practically drives hisself. He’s gotten me out of a scrape or two. It’s really Enos’s car, and he keeps her purring.”
Enos, half asleep in the back seat, grunted at the sound of his name.
I didn’t want to think about what he called a scrape or anything else my brother had been up to for the last fifteen years. I didn’t even want to know what he was up to now. I just wanted to go home, but I knew deep down that home was probably not an option. I could never go home again.
The last time I had seen my big brother had been when I was only seven. Mom always said he took after my dad, and I knew now it was true. That last time, when Dad had left for good, taking Jimmy Ray with him, my last thoughts of them had been how much he really was like dad. He was tall and lanky, with a mean look in his eyes and a devilish grin stamped permanently on his face. If he hadn’t been my big brother by five years, I would have hated to see him coming down the street toward me. I would have run the other way.
But for all of his faults, Jimmy Ray looked after me when we were boys. None of the other kids dared bother me, because they knew Jimmy Ray would have them for breakfast. When Jimmy Ray got a little bigger, even Dad thought twice about beating on me when Jimmy Ray stepped in the way. Of course, he never stepped into the way to help Mom. No surprise there. I knew even then that Jimmy Ray would most likely grow up to be a wife beater like our father.
Gus Malone, my Dad, was about the roughest of the rough on the near South side of San Antonio. In an area populated mostly by Hispanics and troubled by gang activity, most folks gave Gus Malone a wide berth. Sure, he was slim, but he was quick and deadly. One move in his direction could get you cut in a hurry. I think he actually delighted in seeing the fear in a man’s eyes when he went at them with a knife. He made his living doing mostly odd jobs, including being muscle for some of San Antonio’s most notorious underworld figures. He never talked about his work, for which I was later grateful. If I had known what he was capable of when I was a small child, I would probably have died from fright.
Jimmy Ray was probably the only thing that saved my mother and me from some awful fate at the hands of my father. If there was anything in the world that Gus Malone could be said to have loved, it was Jimmy Ray. They were just too much alike, and even as a small boy, I could see that my father wanted Jimmy Ray to be just like him.
Dad split on a rainy night fifteen years ago. He came home that night, his shirt covered in blood, and a look of disgust on his face. “Goddamned piece of shit up and died on me,” he muttered to my mother. “Now every fuckin’ piece of shit cop in the state’ll be looking for me. I’m out of here.”
“But, Gus, where are you going?” my mother pleaded. “What are the boys and I going to do?”
“I don’t much care,” he said without any emotion. I was actually pleased and frightened at the same moment. I was pleased Dad was going to be out of my life. That meant no more beatings. But I was frightened because Mom was frightened. I was too young to know why.
Mom was frightened because as poor a provider as Dad had been, he was better than nothing. Mom had gotten pregnant when she was sixteen, so she had dropped out of school to get married and raise a family. Dad was the old-fashioned kind. No wife of his was about to work, so Mom had no education and no work experience. The sole support of her life, as poor as it was, was walking out the door, leaving her destitute with two boys to raise.
Then Jimmy Ray did something which probably saved Mom’s life, although he didn’t do it for that reason. At twelve, he was already man-sized, and he was proving himself to be, if not smart, at least sly. “Dad, take me with you,” he said. In most twelve year olds, it would have been a plea. With Jimmy Ray, though, it was a business proposal.
“You’re too young, boy,” Dad said with a note of regret in his voice.
“I ain’t that young,” Jimmy Ray argued. “‘Sides, I can watch your backside. Ain’t no cop gonna be lookin’ for two. They’ll think you lit out by yourself.”
Dad was seriously considering it, I knew, even at seven. At last he nodded his head. “All right, boy, you get to the car. We gotta go now.”
Jimmy Ray winked at me and bolted out the door, Dad right behind him, leaving me and Mom behind. It was the last time I ever saw my father.
Mom and I managed to get by after they left. The police did, indeed, visit us not an hour later. According to them, Dad had beaten a man to death over gambling debts. Mom told them truthfully that she didn’t know where he had gone. When they left, life settled into something almost normal. In fact, it actually improved a little. Jimmy Ray had become quite a handful for Mom, so when he left, she seemed to actually have more energy than before. She did her best, getting a job as a waitress at a local coffee shop. It wasn’t much, but it kept a roof over our heads.
For a while, life got better. Mom was a lot stronger inside than she looked. She took care of herself and me. She got neighbors to look after me while she worked as many hours as she could. Then, when she came home, she only had time for me. It was a hard life, but a happy one. We were a family, just Mom and me.
After a few years, though, the hours and the standing took their toll on her. She got more and more tired. By the time I was in high school, I could see the toll of the years in her face. It was lined with age, framed by prematurely gray hair, and by the time I had graduated from high school, she was a thirty-seven-year-old elderly woman. I know how that must sound, but anyone who had known her would have known what I meant. Her shoulders were stooped by the weight of the world, and her feet were so crippled from long hours standing and inadequate medical care that she hobbled rather than walked.
She died the summer after I got out of high school, just before her thirty-eighth birthday. The doctor said it was a weak heart, but I think she just got tired of living. She had forced herself to go on until she saw me safely graduate from high school, and I think that then, she decided she had done all she could in this life and gave it up gladly.
I had grown up to be more like my mother than my father. I don’t mean that I was effeminate or anything. I was a normal boy with a healthy sex life. Of average looks and just six feet in height, I was slender with nondescript brown hair, and I got my share of girls, but not more than that. I ran a little track and played a little basketball, mostly sitting on the bench, but wasn’t big enough or strong enough for the rigors of high school football in Texas, where it’s more of a religion than a sport. I exhibited none of my father’s dubious qualities, as I was neither strong nor cruel, and I had made the decision early in my life to get a decent education and make something of myself.
That proved hard to do for many reasons. College is expensive, and although I was a good student, I wasn’t scholarship material. When Mom died, she left nothing behind but debts, so there was not even a modest inheritance to further my goals. I moved north after being accepted at Wichita State University in Kansas. There, I found a job as a bellhop at a local hotel and began to slowly further my education. I had decided to try to get by on as few student loans as possible, so my job was my primary source of funds. By the time I was twenty-two, I had managed to make it to the equivalent of my junior year. I figured I would be able to work and go to school with the goal of graduating by the time I was twenty-five.
My life came crashing down on a rainy February Friday night, but I didn’t know it at the time. I had decided to stay home that night. I didn’t have to work, I was between girls, and the weather was lousy. It was one of those storms that strikes the central plains in the late winter that begins as a cold rain which changes at nightfall into freezing drizzle, making the roads into a skating rink. I ordered a pizza in and decided to get ahead in my schoolwork. I was a business major, and business statistics was killing me, so it was a good time to buckle down.
About ten minutes after I ordered the pizza, there was a knock on my door. They were fast with the delivery, I thought, swinging the door open. To my surprise, there was no pizza man at the door. Instead, there was a man, just a few years older than me, who looked very familiar. He was tall and lanky, but at a glance, I could see strong arms and powerful hands. His hair was fairly short and the same color as mine.
The man grinned at me, hands in his pocket and freezing rain dripping from his hair. I could see he had a two-day growth of beard and a gold earring in his right ear. “Bobby Joe?” he asked suddenly.
I hadn’t heard that name in years. I had gone by the name of Rob ever since junior high. Suddenly, I knew who he looked like. He looked like my father, only younger. There was only one person in the world he could be. “Jimmy Ray?”
“In the flesh, Little Brother,” he laughed, pulling his hands out of his pockets and throwing them around me.
I had thought I would never see my brother again. As a child, I had fantasies about him coming back to see me. Then, the fantasy always turned into a nightmare as Dad would be with him. Remembering that, I looked over his shoulder, but the hallway was empty. He was alone.
I invited him in, of course. We had been close in spite of the difference in our ages. I had no illusions about being close again. I was sure we had grown well apart, but he was my only brother. In the words of our South Texas forebears, kin is kin.
In looking back on the events of that night and the day to follow, I can’t say I was really happy to see Jimmy Ray. Time had healed the wounds of life with my father and Jimmy Ray, and his return had reopened those wounds. I had no illusions about what kind of a man Jimmy Ray had grown up to be, and I wanted him out of my life before whatever troubles surrounded him became my troubles as well. But to repeat myself, kin is kin.
The pizza came minutes later, and over pizza and beer, we got down to catching up at the kitchen table.
“So where’s Dad?” I ventured. I might as well get that one out on the table, I thought.
Jimmy Ray shrugged. “We parted company a long time ago, Little Brother. Last I heard, he headed west. Denver is what I heard. Somebody told me he’s doing time in Canon City.”
“State pen, Bobby Joe. Armed robbery.”
There was more to the story than Jimmy Ray was willing to tell me. Of that, I was certain. Had he been in on the robbery with Dad? Probably, I thought. I decided I didn’t want to know any more. I would enjoy my evening with Jimmy Ray and send him on his way in the morning. I remembered that evening long ago when Dad had left with him, and how the police had come to the door hours after he left. Would they come to my door after Jimmy Ray left? It was possible. No, it was more than possible. It was probable. I wanted him out of my life quickly.
I brought him up to date on my life and on Mom’s death. He was interested in my life, but Mom’s death meant nothing to him. It rated only a disinterested shrug. He told me about his life as well, but I suspected little of it was true. He bragged of places he had been and things that he had done, but none made any sense nor was there any pattern to them. I was sure in my own mind that he had spent most of those years with Dad, involved in one illegal activity after another.
“So where are you off to next?” I asked him, hoping that he would take the hint and be gone quickly.
He grinned. He knew what I meant, I was sure. “Don’t worry, Little Brother. I’m just passing through. I’m heading south—maybe even back to San Antonio. First, I’ve got to hook up with a business associate down in Ark City.”
Ark City was Arkansas City, a small town an hour south of Wichita. Kansans pronounced it as if it were “Ark Kansas” instead of like the state. “So when do you have to go?” I asked as casually as I could.
“Going tomorrow if you can take me,” he replied. “I took the bus to Wichita and a cab to your place. I’d sure appreciate the ride.”
Why not? I didn’t have to work until Saturday evening, so I had the time. Besides, it guaranteed that he’d be out of my life again. I agreed to take him in the morning in time for a ten o’clock meeting with his partner who had gone on ahead of him to visit his own relatives in Tulsa. I didn’t ask what he and his partner did for a living. Whatever it was had to be illegal. The less I knew, the less I had to forget.
We got up early the next morning, stopped off for a big breakfast, which Jimmy Ray paid for, expansively leaving a nice tip for the waitress. He could be charming when he wanted to be. I thought he was going to charm the waitress right out of her uniform, and given the tip, maybe that’s what he had in mind. That was the last thing I wanted, though. I didn’t want him hanging around Wichita. I wanted him back on the road again.
The drive to Ark City was pleasant enough, taking us through several small towns along the way. Traffic was light since the weather was cold and gray. At least the ice on the roads had melted, but the clouds were threatening. A difference of only a few degrees might turn the roads into ribbons of ice. It was the perfect kind of Saturday morning to stay home in front of a warm fire with a cup of coffee and a good book. I thought when I got back home, I would do just that.
“Here we are, Little Brother,” Jimmy Ray said, indicating for me to pull into the parking lot of a small bank. “There’s the car over there, so Enos is here.” He had indicated an old white Dodge, maybe ten years old. “Come on in before you go, Bobby Joe. I’ll introduce you to Enos.”
“That’s okay,” I replied, anxious to get away. “I’ll meet him some other time. I...”
I looked down to see that Jimmy Ray was holding a pistol. It was aimed at me. “I want you to meet him now,” he said with a malicious grin.
Never in my life had someone held a gun on me. I felt my knees go weak. I didn’t really know this man. The Jimmy Ray I knew left home when he was twelve and I would never know him again. The man holding the gun on me was someone else. Jimmy Ray had become just like my father, I realized. “Why are you doing this to me?” I asked him, a quaver in my voice.
“Don’t be such a pussy, Bobby Joe. You’re my brother, and I want to show you what you’re missing.”
“I’m not missing anything,” I said.
“You’re missing everything,” he retorted. “You’re wasting your time going to school and waiting tables when you could be with me. I always looked out for you when we were kids. I’m gonna look out for you now. I’m giving you a chance to take Dad’s place in the family business. Shit, boy, I make more on a good afternoon than you’ll make in a year with that fuckin’ degree. Come on.”
The gun hidden in his jacket, we walked across the parking lot to the old Dodge. “I didn’t cab it to your place. I had Enos drop me off at your place last night,” Jimmy Ray told me as we walked. “We need three to make a team. Two of us can hit the bank while Enos stays in the car with the engine running. That old Dodge of his may not look like much...”
But she’s the fastest ship in the galaxy, I thought. Sorry, Jimmy Ray, but you aren’t Han Solo.
“...but she’s a hell of a fast car. Enos has had her for years, he tells me. He even gave it a name. He calls it ‘Old Snow.’ Now ain’t that a kick in the ass? He loves that car like it as a woman, and he keeps Old Snow in prime condition.”
“So you’ve been working with him for a long time?” I asked.
As we walked across the parking lot, Jimmy Ray laughed. “Naw. We just been workin’ together for the last couple of months. Ain’t too many long term partnerships in this business.”
I imagined that would apply to me as well.
Enos got out of the car. He was a tall heavy black man with a dark complexion and a scar across his face. When Jimmy Ray had introduced us, he said, “I don’t like for Enos to go in the bank. With his size and that scar, there’s just too much of a chance someone will ID him. ’Sides, he don’t like guns. Now I ask you, Little Brother, what good is a big ol’ boy like Enos here without a gun? Well, I’m gonna tell you, old Enos here can drive like the wind, so he’s gonna stay with the car while you and me knock over a bank. Now put on this mask.”
He handed me a black ski mask. “Jimmy Ray, I don’t want any part of this.”
“You put on that mask or I’ll put a slug in you right now!” Jimmy Ray growled, sticking the gun in my ribs for emphasis. “You got raised too long by our mama. You’re nothin’ but a mama’s boy. Today, Little Brother, were gonna get you a set of balls. Now put on the fuckin’ mask!”
I obeyed. He seemed just crazy enough to shoot me. I knew this was a turning point in my life. I don’t know what would have happened if I had told him no. If he had shot me then and there, he would have had to make a run for it without robbing the bank. But I didn’t want to take the chance. If I was wrong, I would be dead.
“That’s better, Bobby Joe. Now here!” He thrust two large cloth sacks into my hands. “I’ll do all the fancy work. You just keep your mouth shut, go over to the tellers and fill these bags with money. Now you understand?”
I nodded nervously.
“And don’t get any ideas about being a hero. I’ll shoot you down where you stand, Little Brother.”
Enos stood by the car while Jimmy Ray and I, masks in place, walked into the bank. My life was going to change in that moment, I knew. Eventually, we would be caught, and no one would ever believe that I was as frightened of being shot by my brother as any of the innocent people in the bank. The charge would be armed robbery, and I would spend the next twenty or thirty years in jail, being rehabilitated for a crime I never planned to commit.
In that moment, I almost bolted. So what if my brother shot me? It might be merciful compared to the fate that awaited me when we were caught. Or maybe we would be gunned down by the police. Then, I would go to my grave as a criminal. No tears would be shed for me.
I was still feeling sorry for myself, trying to think of some course of action that would save me from the fate that eventually awaits most if not all bank robbers, when Jimmy Ray yelled, “All right, you mother fuckers! Get down on the floor and do it now!”
A guard wheeled around, fumbling to get his pistol out of its holster, but to no avail. Jimmy Ray shot him on the spot. The guard dropped in pain, holding his side as the gun slid from his hand. I was thankful it didn’t appear to be a mortal wound, but I don’t think it mattered to Jimmy Ray. He was shooting to kill and just aimed a little wide. I could see a look of malicious glee in his eyes. He lived for moments like these, I realized. I was afraid he would finish off the guard just watch him die, but he didn’t. I think he just didn’t want to waste another bullet.
No one else crossed us. Everyone got to the floor as quickly as possible, many making loud plops as they threw themselves down before Jimmy Ray could fire at them. I could hear soft crying from a couple of the women, and a baby was crying out in fear.
Jimmy Ray vaulted over the teller line and grabbed a young teller up by her hair. She screamed in pain and fear, nearly crumbling to the floor again in sheer panic. “Listen, bitch!” Jimmy Ray growled in her ear. “You help him fill these bags with money.” He pushed her head around so she could see me standing there with the bags. I tried to convey through my eyes a feeling of sympathy, but I think she was too frightened to realize it. I was just one murderous robber wearing a ski mask.
Trembling, she went from cash drawer to cash drawer, emptying the money and dropping it into the bag I held. I wasn’t able to see how much cash she had collected, but I knew it had to be substantial.
“Get the drive-up window too, bitch!” Jimmy Ray yelled as he glanced furtively around the room to make sure no one tried to be a hero. “And if I find a paint bomb in that sack, I’m gonna waste you right now!”
The bag was getting very heavy by the time we were done. I glanced at the clock. We had been in the building for less than ten minutes –minutes which would spell ruin for the rest of my life. I stood there stupidly, the bag drooping from my hands like the Halloween bag of some tired child.
“Let’s get out of here!” Jimmy Ray whispered to me with a sharp punch on my shoulder.
Together, we bolted out the door and piled into the waiting car. Enos slammed the car into gear and we screeched away from the curb at a speed greater than I would have thought possible from the old car.
“Head south!” Jimmy Ray ordered as he pulled himself up off me. We had both jumped into the back seat at almost the same moment, landing in a pile in the center of the seat.
Enos kept his eyes on the road while Jimmy Ray looked out the back window. “First farm road south of town, head east,” he ordered.
Enos grunted in reply. At the first opportunity, he skidded into a left turn and we disappeared from the view of the main highway, shooting down a dusty gravel road at seventy.
“You see, Little Brother,” Jimmy Ray told me, “they’ll have seen us heading south. They’ll figure were on our way straight down toward Oklahoma City, so they’ll cover all the roads in that direction. They’ll never figure us to go east until it’s too late.”
“Jimmy Ray, you’re a worthless bastard,” I murmured, practically in tears of fear and hatred.
Jimmy Ray laughed to my surprise. He held up the bag. “Worthless, Little Brother? Why, I ain’t worthless at all. I’d say there’s about a sixty to seventy grand in this here bag. That makes me worth a bunch!”
Enos chuckled, too. “Where we goin’ Jimmy Ray?”
“Bartlesville,” Jimmy Ray said. “We can hit another bank before noon. Then, we make it look like we’re goin’ on east, but we’ll head south. We’ll be in Texas in time for supper.”
And so I was introduced to a life of crime. I thought it couldn’t get any worse, but when we got to Bartlesville, I found out how wrong I could be. Bartlesville was maybe three times the size of Ark City. I figured it was maybe thirty thousand people or so. We got there by a quarter after eleven, and like most small Midwestern cities, it was doing a brisk Saturday business. The bank Jimmy Ray wanted to hit was right on the main street. He had Enos discretely park the car around the corner and wait. Then, he and I strolled casually to the main door of the bank where we put on our masks.
“Same rules, Bobby Joe,” my brother warned. “You fuck this up and I’ll blow you all over the lobby. You understand?”
I nodded that I did. I was convinced now that he meant it. He was one sadistic bastard. There was no way I would cross him and live.
“Then let’s go.”
The robbery was a replay of the one in Ark City, except this time, the guard had the good sense to drop to the floor with everyone else. In less than ten minutes, we were on our way, speeding out of town. Once safely away from Bartlesville, Jimmy Ray took over the driving chores while Enos napped in the back seat. I could see no pattern to where he was going. It was as if he were compelled to go the directions he was going. He drove the old Dodge hard, heading first east and then south into the part of the state dotted with lakes, rolling hills, and small towns that all looked alike.
It was nearly one thirty when Enos roused himself in the back seat and mumbled, “Hey, Jimmy Ray, you gonna ever stop for lunch?”
“That’s all you ever think about is that big gut of yours, Enos.”
“Well, when we gonna stop?”
“It looks like there’s a little town up ahead there,” Jimmy Ray said. “We can stop and get gas there. Then we’ll get you some lunch, Enos.”
I wondered if this small town would be my opportunity to get away. Maybe if I could run out on them while they were eating or getting gas, I could make my way to the police. It was the only way I could think of that they might believe me. Otherwise, it was only a matter of time before I got caught with them. Then, no one would believe me.
The sign on the highway said ‘Ovid - 2 Miles.’
“I ain’t never heard of Ovid,” Enos muttered, “and I was born and raised in Tulsa.”
“Well, we can’t expect a man of your culture and breeding to know the name of every little pissant town in the state, can we?” Jimmy Ray laughed. “How ’bout you, Little Brother? You ever hear of Ovid?”
“Only the poet; not the town,” I replied.
“Yeah,” I told him. “He was a Roman poet. He lived about the time of Christ. He’s the one who said ‘the gods have their own rules’.”
“So ain’t you the educated boy? Tell me, Bobby Joe, what does that shit mean about the gods having their own rules? We’re the ones that have our own rules. Fuck the gods.” Jimmy Ray laughed again.
The rolling farmlands of Oklahoma gave way to the town of Ovid. The highway widened into four lanes as we came upon a strip of gas stations and fast food restaurants.
“Not a fuckin’ McDonalds in sight,” Enos mumbled.
“Well, that’s okay, Enos,” Jimmy Ray laughed. “Since we got us a college boy for a partner, maybe we should be a little more high class and sample the local cuisine.”
His idea of local cuisine turned out to be a modest place with a neon sign out front that proclaimed ‘Rusty’s Best Burgers.’ We locked up the car. I kept thinking about the money in the trunk. There had to be over a hundred and fifty thousand dollars of stolen money in there, and here we were, loping into a burger joint as if we didn’t have a care in the world. I realized that beyond being a basically honest person, I could never rob banks for a living. I’d always be frightened and insecure, looking over my shoulder at every opportunity.
The place was clean, at least, and somebody had actually fed the jukebox, so we were to be serenaded with the sounds of Waylon Jennings while we ate. If this place couldn’t be a poster for Small Town America, I didn’t know what could. Jimmy Ray had me sit on the inside of a booth—I guess so I couldn’t make a run for it—and slid in beside me. Enos plopped down nonchalantly across from us.
The waitress was a chipper-looking blonde, the kind you would expect to have saunter up to the table, chewing gum, and say “Wat’cha guys havin’ today?” She broke the bimbo stereotype when she smiled a friendly smile and said brightly, “Hi! Welcome to Rusty’s. I’m Myra. Can I get you something to drink?”
On second appraisal, Myra looked far too bright to be a bimbo. She wore a white blouse with the name ‘Myra’ sewed on it, a short black skirt which showed off sensational legs, and black flats that had a lot of miles on them, and her hair was as blonde as any bimbo I had ever seen. But there was intelligence in her eyes. Behind the friendly smile, there was a calculating mind. She had sized us up as trash. I wanted desperately to tell her that I wasn’t like them, but I knew she’d never believe me. No one would.
“Yeah, honey,” Jimmy Ray said with a glance at the menu. “These Rusty Burgers real good?”
“The best,” she replied.
“Okay, bring us a round of those—no onions on mine—and coffee all around.”
Apparently, I was not to be allowed even a choice of what I would eat when I was with Jimmy Ray. My brother hunched over the table and said in a loud voice, “What I’d really like is the sheepherder’s special. You know what that is, Little Brother?”
I shook my head, not really caring about the answer.
“It’s a glass of goat’s milk and a piece of the waitress.” He roared with laughter while Enos chuckled. I made no outward display, instead watching our waitress draw the coffee. From the red on her face, I was sure she had heard the joke. Surprisingly, the red looked to be more from anger than embarrassment. This Myra seemed pretty sharp.
“She too young for you, Jimmy Ray,” Enos mumbled. Yeah, I thought, and way too good for him, too.
“If they’re old enough to bleed, they’re old enough to butcher, Enos,” he laughed evilly. “You need to always remember that.”
Myra delivered the burgers and coffee quickly, agilely swerving to avoid Jimmy Ray’s lecherous butt pat.
The burgers were as advertised. I couldn’t remember the last time I had enjoyed a burger so much. So far, it was the only positive thing to happen to me on that day. And I don’t usually drink coffee in the afternoon, but the coffee was hot and flavourful—so much so that I gladly took a second cup. Myra poured us each an extra cup, again deftly gliding past Jimmy Ray before he could pinch her ass.
We were just finishing our coffee when Enos, facing the door, got very quiet. “Cop,” he muttered under his breath. Jimmy Ray casually reached up under his coat, ready to pull out his gun if the cop recognized us. I was determined that I wouldn’t let him shoot the cop, even if my brother shot me. Fortunately, that didn’t become necessary. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the cop saunter over to the counter and take a stool. Myra smiled at him and poured him a cup of coffee.
We tried to be as casual as possible, leaving a nice tip for the girl. Jimmy Ray stood up at the counter and calmly paid the bill, but I noticed his hand never got very far away from his concealed weapon.
I actually got a good look at the cop. He looked professional, in his blue-gray shirt and blue trousers. I couldn’t see his eyes, as he never removed his sunglasses, but just as I was getting ready to turn away, he turned toward me and, to my surprise, actually smiled. It wasn’t just a friendly “Hi, how are you?” kind of smile. It was more of an ironic smile, as if to say “Next time.” I smiled back, but inwardly, I shuddered.
“Why, this certainly is a friendly little town,” Jimmy Ray said as we walked to the car. The sun was actually trying to come out, and the temperature was, if not warm, at least not terribly cold. “Let’s go check this town out.”
I had a bad feeling about this. “Come on, Jimmy Ray,” I begged. “We’ve done enough damage for one day. Besides, it’s Saturday afternoon. The banks are probably closed.”
“Why, Little Brother, this is the nineties. Banks stay open longer. I wouldn’t mind finding just one more before we head south. Sides, you worry too much. You’re gonna like the family business just as soon as your balls grow a little bigger.”
It wasn’t hard to find the main business district. Like most small towns, all we had to do was follow the street we were on until we came to a traffic light. There was even a sign pointing to the business district. The Main Street of Ovid (yes, the main business street was really called Main Street) was bustling with activity, but as I looked around, I could see there was something not quite right. Jimmy Ray didn’t seem to notice, but Enos did. “Spooks,” he said.
“Why, Enos,” Jimmy Ray laughed. “You ain’t callin’ yourself a spook, are you?”
Enos’s face clouded. For the first time, I began to realize that Enos didn’t really like Jimmy Ray. I had a feeling not too many people did. I knew I didn’t.
“No,” Enos said, “I mean look at some of those folks. They’re like ghosts.”
He was right. Some of the people looked perfectly normal, but the majority looked almost transparent. It wasn’t like in the movies, where you can see things on the other side of a ghost. Rather, it was as if you could almost see through them, but not quite.
“You need more coffee,” Jimmy Ray said. “You’re seein’ things. Keep your eye on us, though, ’cause I think I just spotted us a target.” He nodded at a gray stucco building on the corner with a simple sign over the large brass and glass doors declaring it to be the Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank.
“Saturday afternoon and the bank’s still open,” Jimmy Ray sighed. “Ain’t the nineties wonderful, boys?”
Enos pulled up near the front of the building, but not right in front. A casual observer would have thought that he was waiting for someone to come out of the Radio shack next door, or out of the offices over the bank. He parked directly across next to a glass office door on which black letters had been freshly painted proclaiming it to house the Law Offices of Susan Jager.
Jimmy Ray handed me my mask and smiled. “It’s gonna be just like the last two times,” he told me. “I’ll get their attention and you fill the bags. Then, we’re off for Texas, Little Brother.”
The bank lobby was a carbon copy of the last two we had visited that day. It was conservative and tasteful, but not as extravagant as city banks. Farmers and small town merchants never felt comfortable putting all their money in a bank that ostentatiously proclaimed wealth. They expected the bank and the bankers to be as goldarned Midwestern conservative as they were.
Being Saturday, many of the desks were empty, but the teller lines were doing a brisk business. Three were busily accepting transactions while a fortyish, distinguished man in a suit chatted with a fourth teller. I didn’t blame him. She looked to be early twenties and very attractive, although I noticed she had that almost-transparent look about her. She was certainly coming on to him. Several people in the bank were too busy watching the little soap opera to worry about us.
My appreciation of the teller was interrupted when Jimmy Ray yelled out, “All right! Everybody down on the floor now!”
Again, there was momentary confusion, but in seconds, all of the customers and employees of the bank had dived for the floor. Again, the earlier scene was repeated. Jimmy Ray strode over to the attractive teller, yanked her to her feet, and ordered her to fill the sacks I was carrying. Up until then, everything had been working right for my brother, but as the last of the money was stuffed in my bags, we heard a shot outside and the squeal of tires.
Jimmy Ray looked out the main window of the bank in time to see his old white Dodge fishtailing away from the curb and down the street. “What the fuck?” he yelled.
“Drop the gun!” a voice demanded. Jimmy Ray and I looked in the direction of the voice, near the main door of the bank. Standing there, gun at the ready, was the same cop I had seen at the burger joint. Had he followed us? He must have, or he would never have zeroed in on us so quickly. It looked as if my life of crime was going to be much shorter than even I had suspected.
I could see from his eyes that Jimmy Ray didn’t plan to give up. Even with his car gone and a presumably trained law officer holding a gun on him, he still thought he had a chance. I didn’t think so, though. I dropped the bags and raised my hands.
When I yelled, “Jimmy Ray no!” my words were cut off by three quick gunshots. He fired point blank at the officer, but somehow, he missed. I thought for a moment that I could see the officer actually move out of the way of the bullets. It was like one of those subliminal studies you participate in during a psychology lab where a single frame is placed in the middle of a scene. In that single frame, the officer seemed to dodge out of the way of the oncoming bullets.
Jimmy Ray couldn’t believe it either, but as he prepared to fire again, one well-placed bullet fired from the officer’s gun struck Jimmy Ray’s gun, sending it flying in a wide arc across the room. It was the first time since I had hooked up with my brother that I found him at a loss for words. He slowly raised his hands, completely dumbstruck.
The officer led us out to his cruiser, parked almost directly behind the spot where our car had been parked. Enos must have seen the cruiser come up behind him and hauled ass before the officer could get the drop on him. No, that didn’t sound quite right. If the cop had wanted Enos, he was fast enough to stop him. It was us that he wanted. Enos could wait.
“Dumb jig,” Jimmy Ray muttered under his breath as we were pushed into the caged back seat. “Wait ’til I get my hands on that nigger.”
“Yeah,” I returned. “In about twenty years.”
“Jails can’t hold me,” Jimmy Ray told me as we pulled away from the curb. “That’s the difference between me and Daddy. He let hisself get caught. Me? I got away.”
Not this time, I thought to myself. It would be a couple of days, though, before I realized how prophetic I had been.
We were ushered into adjoining cells in what had to be the strangest jail I could ever imagine. The only police officer I saw was the one who had captured us. There was no one at the front desk, and no one in the halls or offices. I knew this Ovid was a small town, but surely it had more than one officer working at any given time.
“I’m Officer Mercer,” the policeman said when we had been safely locked in our cells. “The Judge will see you both first thing Monday morning. Until then, if you need anything, you can talk to me.”
“I want a lawyer!” Jimmy Ray snapped.
“You’ll have appropriate legal counsel when the Judge thinks it’s necessary,” Officer Mercer said crisply.
“What the hell are you talkin’ about?” Jimmy Ray exploded. “That’s un-American. You gotta read us our rights and get us a lawyer if we demand it. I’m demanding it!”
Officer Mercer merely smiled and walked away.
“I’ll be outta this two-bit jail so fast it’ll make your fuckin’ head spin!” Jimmy Ray yelled at the departing officer, who appeared not to notice.
Jimmy Ray chuckled, “These local yokels don’t have no idea what they’re doin’. They didn’t read us our rights or nothin’. I’ll tell you, Bobby Joe, this Officer Mercer is gonna look plumb stupid when this judge has to let us go on procedure.”
I was sure Jimmy Ray knew what the proper procedure would be, but as I sank back onto the clean bunk in my dimly-lit cell, I thought to myself that procedure in Ovid might be very different. I was soon to find out how right I was.
Jimmy Ray finally stopped his ranting and raving, so the rest of the day went quietly. Officer Mercer even provided me with a few magazines to pass the time. I wasn’t happy to be in a jail cell, but anything was better than being an unwilling participant in a crime spree with my psychopathic brother. I was just thankful no one had been killed in our little crime spree, including me. I had had visions of the last scenes in Bonnie and Clyde where their bullet-ridden bodies jumped in slow motion as round after round was poured into them.
I wasn’t looking forward to jail time, though. This had been my only experience in a cell, and although the room was clean and the bed actually more comfortable than I expected, I still lived with the knowledge that if I went to the steel-barred door and pushed with all my might, nothing would happen. I was going nowhere, except to another cell. Midwestern states are the home office of law and order. I could expect no mercy from the courts. Jimmy Ray and I would probably serve the same long sentence, in spite of the fact that I was a neophyte at the armed robbery business and Jimmy Ray had been doing it for his entire adult life.
I had had a decent life to look forward to, but now, I had nothing. No one would believe me when I told them I had nothing to do with the robberies. How could I make them understand that I was as much a victim as the people lying on the floor in the banks we had robbed? I would just have to do what I could. I would tell the truth and hope for a miracle.
After a surprisingly good dinner of roast beef and potatoes and a little more reading on my bunk, I fell asleep. I dreamed of the past; I dreamed of my mother. She had been a wonderful woman, deserving of more than the hard life she had. How had she linked up with my father? I had never really known, and the dream did nothing to tell me. In the dream, my mother was back at her old job at the coffee shop. She was wearing that terrible pink waitress dress seen in half the coffee shops in the country. I was there, too, on one of the stools, drinking coffee and watching her work. She looked tired, almost worn out.
Then, I looked down at my coffee cup as she poured me another cup. I watched as the dark brown liquid cascaded down into my cup, swirling as it hit. It seemed to be moving in slow motion, as if the cup would never fill. Then, I realized suddenly that I was the one pouring the coffee. I was pouring it for someone else who was sitting at the stool where I had been. I had seen him before, but I couldn’t remember where. He was about forty or so, balding slightly along the front, his hair a mixture of brown and gray. He was wearing a dark gray suit. Where had I seen him before? Then I remembered. He was at the bank. He was the one talking with the attractive teller.
He looked up and smiled. “Thanks,” he said, then looked back at his coffee.
I turned and looked in the mirror, but all I could see was my mother’s reflection looking back at me in shock, and...
“Seven o’clock. Time to get up.”
“What?” I mumbled, stirring in my bunk. Where was I? I wondered. Then I remembered. I was in jail.
“What do you hafta do to get a cup of coffee around this shithole?” Jimmy Ray yelled from the next cell.
“Watching your mouth would be a good start,” the cop said. I realized it was the same officer who had arrested us. Didn’t he ever sleep?
Individually, we were led to take a shower and given fresh clothes, if orange prison coveralls could be called clothes. When we got back to our cells, breakfast was waiting for us. Again, the food was surprisingly good, consisting of orange juice, steak and eggs, and coffee. I really hadn’t eaten this well as a student. The Ovid Police department must have an incredible budget, I thought.
It was nearly noon when I was interrupted again. I had thought my lunch was about to be delivered, but Officer Mercer was empty handed. “Your lawyer is here to see you,” he told me.
I was puzzled. I hadn’t called a lawyer. I wouldn’t even know who to call.
“Where’s my lawyer?” Jimmy Ray demanded from the next cell. Had I detected a note of concern from him? It did seem odd that the lawyer had come only to see me. What did that mean?
“It’s been taken care of,” Officer Mercer told him.
I was led to a small, Spartan conference room where a very attractive woman was waiting for me. She had long brown hair and wore a beige silk blouse and a camel skirt which, as she rose to meet me, I could see was quite short, displaying a fantastic pair of legs. I was in love. She straightened her glasses and offered her hand. “Susan Hen... er, Jager.”
She wore, I could see, a sparkling new wedding ring. That explained her confusion over her own name, I was sure. I offered my own hand, surprised to find her grip was strong like a man’s. Most women I had known offered only a limp hand, as if I was supposed to take it to my lips and kiss it gently. I found myself liking Susan Jager at once.
“Now,” she began once we were seated, “what’s your side of the story?”
She sighed, “Mr. Malone, you and your brother have been charged with three counts of armed robbery. If we’re lucky, I might be able to get you less than twenty years, but I don’t know. Your brother tried to use an Ovid police officer for target practice, so it won’t be easy.”
“Is that why you’re not representing him?” I asked. “Is he being brought up on additional charges?”
She looked at me very seriously. “Your brother robbed a bank in Fremont, Nebraska, three months ago, killing a teller who tried to press the alarm. A week later, he was involved in a robbery in Pueblo, Colorado, where he murdered a bank customer. It appears that he told everybody to get down on the floor, but a customer who was deaf didn’t understand. Your brother shot him in the back.”
I was sick. I knew my brother was a bad apple, but I had no idea he was the man he was. Man? No, he didn’t even deserve to be called a man. He was a monster. I had seen it in his eyes. He wanted someone to challenge him, just so he could watch them die. He even wanted me to challenge him, and I had no doubt that if I had, he would have shot me where I stood.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Not really,” I replied. “I just... didn’t realize... I mean, he’s my brother.”
She patted my hand. “Look, Mr. Malone, the Judge knows you didn’t have anything to do with the murders. If you had, we wouldn’t be talking now. You’d be... Well, let’s just say you’d be facing a different fate.”
“So what happens now?” I asked.
“You’ll be taken into court tomorrow,” she told me.
“Yes, and trial.” She noticed the shocked expression on my face. “Justice is swift in Ovid. You’ll be tried and sentenced tomorrow. That’s what makes this meeting so important. I have to see the Judge first thing in the morning if we’re going to have any chance.”
I told her everything I could think of. I knew I was fighting for my freedom. Who would believe a bank robber? I had been caught red-handed, and now I was going to be the recipient of justice that seemed to come out of an old western movie. ‘Come on, boys, let’s take him down to the judge for a fair trial and then hang him! Drinks are on me!’ I shuddered at the thought.
“What do you think?” I asked my attorney after I had told her the entire story.
“I think we have a case, but I’m not sure what the results will be. Justice is a little different in Ovid. Sometimes, it isn’t what you’ve done that gets you in trouble, but rather what you haven’t done.”
I scowled. “I don’t think I understand.”
She gave a slight smile. “You will.”
I was taken back to my cell after that. Jimmy Ray was leaning into the bars, obviously anxious to talk to me. “So you saw the lawyer, Little Brother. What did he say?”
“First of all, he was a she,” I told him, “and she told me you’re a murderer.”
Jimmy Ray actually laughed. “You don’t really believe that, do you Bobby Joe?”
“Yes, I do.”
He was silent for a moment. Then, he said, “Bobby Joe, robbin’ banks is a dangerous business. Sometimes, people get in your way.”
“Like a deaf man who didn’t know he was even in danger?”
“So? It happens, Little Brother. I started robbin’ banks when I was fourteen. Then, it was Daddy and me. In all that time, I only had to shoot three people. Now, that ain’t bad.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My own brother was justifying murder, and he actually believed he could make me understand. I couldn’t. I never would. He had taken the lives of two innocent people, and now he was taking my life, just in a different way. Yet he still thought I would understand what he had done. There were actually tears in my eyes, but they were tears of anger.
“So what did the lawyer say, Little Brother?”
“Go to hell, Jimmy Ray.”
To my relief, he said nothing. Me? I just slumped down on my bunk, feeling sorry for myself. I was too upset to eat lunch, and I just picked at my dinner. I went to bed early but didn’t sleep well, worrying about my trial. Finally, I fell asleep and dreamed of my mother again, only this time, I was at her funeral. The service was apparently over, and I was standing before her casket, the only mourner.
Given my dream of the night before, I wouldn’t have been surprised to suddenly find myself in the casket looking up. But that didn’t happen. Instead, as I watched my mother at the start of her eternal sleep, her eyes suddenly opened wide. They searched the room, falling upon me. I wanted to run, but my feet refused to move. My mother was looking at me with tears in her eyes. Her lips formed words, but I couldn’t quite hear them. Then, as I leaned down to hear her, a cold arm rested on my shoulder, and I heard my mother’s voice saying, “Don’t let it happen to you.”
I was suddenly awake. It was morning—the morning of our trial. Today, I might be sentenced to many years behind bars. I was the accomplice of a hardened criminal—a murderer, no less. I hoped for some mercy, but I expected little.
We were given new clothes for our court appearance, consisting of white shirts, gray trousers, and black loafers. At least it felt good to be out of the jail coveralls, but I suspected it would be my last time in street clothes for many years.
The courtroom was at the opposite end of the long hall leading from the jail. Handcuffed and shackled, Officer Mercer led us past the city employees, bustling through their Monday morning. There was the smell of coffee in the air, and the sounds of conversation and even laughter. I longed to be one of them, living a boring life in a small town. I would have even been one of the transparent people, whoever or whatever they were. I would have been anyone right then, except myself and my brother.
Jimmy Ray affected a casual swagger, as if he didn’t have a care in the world. There was even a grin on his face. I wondered if he had managed to ‘beat the rap’ before, and how he planned to do so having been caught with his hand in the cookie jar, as it were.
The courtroom was far nicer than I would have expected in a small town. It looked very much like the pictures I had seen of larger courtrooms in the big cities. Expensive wood panelling was in evidence, and everything from the carpet to the paint on the walls looked fresh and new.
Susan Jager was waiting for me. She looked to be the picture of the professional attorney in her navy blue suit, white silk blouse, and two-inch black patent heels. I fell in love with her all over again. She put on her glasses and motioned me to sit next to her. Jimmy Ray started to slide in on the other side of her, but Officer Mercer grabbed him and pulled him before the bench.
“Hey! Where’s my lawyer?” Jimmy Ray whined.
“Quiet!” Officer Mercer snapped.
Jimmy Ray looked frightened, probably for one of the few times in his life. He slouched down and said nothing.
Officer Mercer than called for all to rise. That didn’t take long. The only spectator in the gallery was a very attractive blonde woman in a lavender suit. I had no idea what she was doing there. Maybe she was a reporter for the local newspaper, or maybe she just had nothing better to do.
The Judge was an impressive figure. He was, perhaps, fifty with hair that was mostly dark with just a hint of gray. Even from where I stood, I could see his gold rimmed glasses were expensive. He was tall, certainly over six feet, and walked with the confidence of a man who knows what he is doing.
“First case is the people of Ovid versus James Ray Malone.”
“Very well,” the Judge said in a deep voice. “How do you plead?”
Jimmy Ray’s look of nonchalant confidence changed to one of confusion. “How do I plead? Ain’t you supposed to read all the charges? And where’s my lawyer?”
The Judge sighed. “In the first place, reading all of the charges would be a waste of time. There are simply too many to mention, starting with killing that little girl’s cat back when you were thirteen.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” Jimmy Ray ordered defiantly. “How did you know?... I mean, you don’t have any proof about that.”
“You want proof?” the Judge thundered. “Your presence in this courtroom is all the proof I need. You see, I know you, Jimmy Ray. I know you better than you know yourself. I know you are a thief, a bully, and a murderer, and I only wish it were within the power of this court to bring back your victims. from the dead. I know that what beats in your breast isn’t a human heart. You don’t deserve to even resemble a human. Now, it’s time for your sentence.”
What kind of a trial was this? I wondered. There was no prosecutor, unless you considered the Judge to be one, and no defense attorney, as the only lawyer in the room was Susan Jager who sat wordlessly beside me. There was an atmosphere in the room that was building by the minute. It was an atmosphere of something out of phase, as if reality were being swept down the drain, replaced by something else.
I looked at my brother. Gone were the swagger and the self-confidence. Except for his face, he seemed unable to move. His face had contorted into a mask of fear. Perhaps for the first time in his life, he really had something to be afraid of, and that something was an unlikely middle-aged Judge who, perched on his bench in starched black robes, seemed to be imbued with an unearthly power.
“You have forfeited the right to be human,” the Judge decreed, following this with something which sounded like Latin, but not like the Latin I had heard in school. This Latin had the sound and inflections of a living tongue, as if the way we had pronounced it for years was nothing but a pale imitation of the true sound of the language.
“Do you know the difference between a steer and a bull, Jimmy Ray?” the Judge asked.
Jimmy Ray managed to shake his head in fear.
“Of course you don’t. You were raised on the streets of cities,” the Judge commented. “I was raised in a more agrarian world, and I know the difference well. You see, Jimmy Ray, a bull is a male bovine, capable of reproducing his own kind. Dull and uncaring, he serves a purpose, but there can be few bulls in a herd. They are too possessive, too unfriendly to other bulls. So ranchers castrate many of them when they’re young. These are what we have come to call steers.”
The cloying air was pierced with an inhuman scream from my brother as he doubled over, clutching at his groin in pain.
The Judge continued his lecture. “In this way, they are useful for only one thing. They are raised to maturity where they are taken to the slaughterhouse. The men there who kill and butcher them, have no more concern for the lives of the steers than you did for your victims, Jimmy Ray.”
My brother’s body was beginning to warp in ways the human body was never designed to be. He fell to the floor, trying to stand, but unable to balance on his legs. As his clothing disintegrated, I could see that his legs were no longer human. Instead, the joint had been reversed, and his feet were merging into a solid mass. Similar changes were occurring to his hands, and his entire body was sprouting short, wiry black hair.
“Do you remember the other day, Jimmy Ray, when you said ‘if they’re old enough to bleed, they’re old enough to butcher’? A prophetic statement, I must say,” the Judge laughed.
How could he have known that? Jimmy Ray had said that to us after we had admired the young waitress in the restaurant.
Officer Mercer slipped a rope around Jimmy Ray’s thickening neck. He left it loose enough that it wouldn’t choke him in his changing state. My brother already looked more bovine than human.
“Enjoy the rest of your short life, Jimmy Ray,” the Judge said. “Think of this as if more traditional justice had sentenced you. You would be sentenced to die, and after years of appeal, they would eventually execute you. You just wouldn’t know when. The same is true for you now. You will be a steer, munching grass and dreaming of satisfying heifers you can never have. Then, one day, you’ll be led to a truck and taken to the slaughterhouse. But there will be no last-minute call from the governor to commute your sentence. All this you will know and continue to know until the end, but you will be able to do nothing about it, for you are a steer, and you will act like a steer until the slaughterhouse ends your life as thoughtlessly as you ended the lives of your victims.”
The thing that had been my brother let out a plaintive wail that was not quite bovine, but was certainly not human. With a jerk of the rope, he was led from the room, walking as best he could on newly formed legs. A tail was pushing its way out as he left, growing steadily longer and beginning to swish. It was the last I ever saw of Jimmy Ray.
“And now, it is your turn, Mr. Robert Joseph Malone,” the Judge intoned.
Was this to be my fate as well? My attorney rose, gently pulling me to my feet as well. I was afraid I would not be able to stand, but somehow, I managed.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Malone?” the Judge asked, his voice still intimidating. I tried to speak, but nothing came out. “What’s the matter, Mr. Malone? Don’t you want to tell us about how you had no part in these robberies. Don’t you want us to know that you knew nothing of your brother’s murderous past? Don’t you want us to believe that you are just an innocent victim of your brother’s nefarious schemes?”
Yes, I did, but I couldn’t speak. No supernatural agency was preventing me from speaking; I was simply frightened. I knew in my heart that I would never be allowed to return to the life I had known. The only question was what shape my life would now take. Was I to become a steer like my brother, condemned to a short, meaningless life? Or would my sentence be lessened by mitigating circumstances, perhaps allowing me to be—what?
“Your Honor,” my attorney was saying, “I would like to point out to the court that my client has no record of previous arrests. There is sufficient reason to believe that he may have been an unwilling participant in these activities.”
“I suspect you are correct,” the Judge said calmly, much to my surprise, “but the Court must examine the consequences of these unwilling activities.” He turned to me and asked in a calm, almost friendly manner, “Mr. Malone, if you had not been apprehended on Saturday, what would have been your fate?”
What an odd question, I thought, but I managed to reply, “I’m not sure, Your Honor, but I prefer to think that I would have managed to get away from my brother.”
“But you had opportunities to get away on Saturday and didn’t take them,” he pointed out. “I doubt of he would have shot you down when you stopped for lunch. In fact, the only place you were probably in any danger of being shot by your brother was during the actual robberies, wouldn’t you agree?”
I didn’t want to agree, but he was probably right. Jimmy Ray was too sly to bother to shoot me in a place where he couldn’t make a clean getaway. In the restaurant, if I had made a move to get away, I could have gotten help from the police officer. But I hadn’t. Now, I stood accused of the crime of indecision as well as that of robbery.
“I have heard your attorney speak on your behalf. She has presented valid arguments for mitigating circumstances,” the Judge said more gently.
My heart skipped in the hope of a dismissal, or at least a light sentence, but then, the Judge continued, “In light of these arguments, I sentence you to a loss of fifteen years. Sentence is to be carried out at once. Officer Mercer, you will escort the prisoner to the appropriate place where the sentence will be administered.”
“Yes, Your Honor.”
I looked at my attorney. “That’s it? I have to do fifteen years in prison? Isn’t there any way to appeal?”
Ms. Jager shook her head. “We can talk about it some time when you’re settled in.”
“Settled in? Where are they taking me?”
My questions went unanswered. As the Judge’s gavel rapped the adjournment of court, I was led by the iron grip of Officer Mercer out of the courtroom. No one would say a word to me. I suppose I should have felt grateful. I had seen the strange magic the Judge could perform. I could have been on a truck with my brother, facing a short life as beef on the hoof. Fifteen years in jail was certainly more preferable, if somewhat more mundane than I had expected.
I was led out of the building to Officer’s Mercer’s waiting patrol car. As I was pushed gently into the back seat, I fully expected to be driven immediately to a prison. At least, I was still human. What possible agency could change my brother from a human to a steer? It was beyond anything I had ever imagined. It was... magic. There could be no other word for it. I was majoring in biology, and I knew what it would take to change a human into another creature. It was beyond the realm of any scientific process that could even be imagined. Yet, it had been done. Perhaps, I thought, consoling myself, my sentence to prison was not so bad after all.
As Officer Mercer pulled out of the parking lot and onto the streets of Ovid, I began to realize that I was not feeling well. At first, I thought it was just the aftershock of my brother’s transformation and my sentence, but then, I began to realize it was more than that. Every part of my body seemed to be undergoing minor spasms, as if it was undulating like molded Jell-O. I lifted a hand to my face with difficulty. It was as if my limbs would no longer obey my commands. Was I having a stroke, brought on by the intense pressures of the last few days?
To take my mind off the spasms, I looked out the window of the car. We were travelling through a residential part of town with very nice middle-class houses. Surely this was not the way to the prison. Prisons are never built in pleasant residential areas, and the street did not look like a main thoroughfare leading to another part of town. In fact, the street got narrower, more like a country lane, and the houses became even larger and more opulent.
At last, we came to a halt in the half-circle driveway of one of the largest houses. It was a white two-story, with columns in front. Although a fairly new home, it had obviously been designed to remind one of the days of Southern plantation homes. If this was to be my prison, I thought with an ironic smile, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections was given too much money.
Officer Mercer opened the car door, allowing fresh, cool air to wash over my face. “I don’t think I can stand,” I told him, trying without success to pull myself out of the car.
“I’ll help you,” he replied, gently taking my arm. It was as if a sudden burst of energy coursed through my system, and I was on my feet, albeit unsteadily, in moments. He escorted me up the stairs to the large double doors. He then pushed open the door, which I was surprised to see was unlocked, and led me into the house.
If the exterior of the house had been impressive, the interior was even more so. Everything about the house, from the carpets and drapes to the ceramic figures on walnut tables, spoke of money, and not just new money, but generations of money.
Officer Mercer led me to a large, circular staircase. I shook my head, though, and said in a voice which cracked oddly, “I don’t think I can make it up the stairs.”
“Yes, you can,” he said confidently. “Here, let me help you.”
To my surprise, he put his arm around my waist, much as he might have with a woman. Again, I felt a small burst of energy course through me, and with his help, negotiated the stairs. He led me to a bedroom which was larger than my entire apartment. With the last of my strength, I fell onto the large king-sized bed with a sigh. Officer Mercer carefully straightened me out on the bed, until my head rested on a large, fluffy pillow.
“You’ll feel better in a little while,” he predicted with the first smile I had seen him give since the restaurant. I didn’t reply, though, for my eyes closed and the world became dark.
I awoke to the sound of a slamming door. As the sleepiness retreated, I felt... different. There was a tickling sensation at the sides of my jaws, extending down to my neck, and I felt a strange weight on my chest. Slowly, I opened my eyes. In what I was to discover was late afternoon light, I looked down at myself. Two large mounds stood like symmetrical hills on my chest. I knew at once what they were. I gasped, hearing a higher pitched voice than I was used to. I pushed myself upright and saw the rest of my body. I was wearing a pale blue dress of some silky material, and my breasts as gravity pulled on them looked even bigger than they had when I was lying down. I looked below the dress. From the bottom of the knee-length skirt, two well-proportioned, slim legs covered in nylon dangled, barely touching the floor.
I raised my hands and stared at them. My hands were small and patrician, with long graceful fingers ending in long shaped nails painted a delicate pink. As if this wasn’t bad enough, there was a wedding ring with a large brilliant diamond on my left hand.
I jumped to my feet and rushed to a full-length mirror, feeling the odd sensation of my breasts swaying inside the cups of my new bra. I stared into the mirror, and an attractive older woman looked back at me. She—I—was perhaps forty, with medium length dark blonde hair, laced here and there with a silver strand of hair. My face was attractive, the makeup subtle, with just a hint of crow’s feet at the corners of my hazel eyes. I was well built, and I realized that as a younger woman, I would have turned heads. Unlike many women of forty, I had kept my figure, it appeared. I looked to be about five six or so.
There was a purse on the bed. I walked over to it and withdrew a wallet from it. There it was, my driver’s license. I looked at it, seeing my new face smiling back at me in a reasonably decent photo. My name was Rachel Tilton, and I was not forty, but only thirty-seven. I thanked god for the three years. It was better to lose fifteen years than eighteen.
Lose fifteen years—where had I heard that before? Then I remembered. The Judge had sentenced me not to fifteen years in prison, I realized, but rather to the loss of fifteen years. He had taken away my youth as surely as a prison sentence would have done. He had not only changed my sex, but my generation as well. I was practically as old as my mother would have been if she had lived. I shuddered at the sudden realization that I was now the age she had been at her death.
I grew up listening to Depeche Mode and Smashing Pumpkins. Now, I was part of a generation that had grown up with ELO and Steely Dan. I was a Baby Boomer. Instead of growing up with Mad About You and Seinfeld, I belonged to a generation that had been weaned on shows now seen only on Nickelodeon. It was ironic. If I had been turned into a girl my original age, I might have been able to cope, but now, how could I pass myself off as an older woman? I simply lacked the experience.
My wallowing in self-pity was interrupted by a sudden knock on my door. “Are you all right?” It was a girl’s voice, young and sweet. I didn’t really know how to answer her. Was I all right? Hell no, I wasn’t. I was supposed to be a man. I had done nothing to deserve this fate. Even fifteen years in jail didn’t seem so bad to me now as long as I had those fifteen years to live and kept my penis as well. On the other hand, if I lived in this house—and I assumed that I did—I was very well off. I might be a woman, but I was apparently a very well-to-do one.
The door opened. I turned and saw a young girl of thirteen or fourteen staring at me. She looked like a younger version of the woman I had become, perhaps three inches shorter than my new height, her hair short to mid length and blonde surrounding an angelic face. She wore only a minimum of makeup, but she didn’t need much. Even the ragged jeans and the red and white University of Oklahoma sweatshirt she wore could do little to disguise the fact that she was a beautiful young girl well on her way to becoming an even more beautiful young lady.
She looked at me, eyes wide, and blurted, “You’re real!”
“I suppose I am,” I replied with a sigh, then added, “whatever real is.”
“Do you...” she began hesitantly. “Do you remember who you were?”
Anywhere else but Ovid, it would have been an odd question, but here, I knew what she meant. “Yes,” I responded with trepidation. Was everyone in Ovid originally someone or something else?
The girl sat down on the bed. “Well isn’t this a kick in the ass?” she muttered to herself, quite out of character for a young girl, I thought.
“What’s going on here?” I asked, sitting on the bed next to her.
“Well, for starters, you’re my mother,” she responded with a sly grin. “Of course, you know you’re not my mother. That’s better than the shade who was my mother before. She thought she was really my mother. That was a pain in the ass, I can tell you.”
“Shade? What’s a shade?” I asked.
“The people you can sort of see through,” she replied.
So that was what Enos had called ghosts just a couple of days before. “But what are shades? I mean, where do they come from?”
She shrugged. “Who knows? They’re sort of like zeroes in a big number. They’re just placeholders until you put a real number in their place.”
“That’s pretty good math for –what?—a thirteen-year-old?” I observed.
“Please,” she said sarcastically, “I’m no more a thirteen-year-old girl than you are my thirty-seven-year-old mother. And besides, I’m fourteen and a freshman in high school. At least that’s what I am now. Before, I was majoring in education in college with plans to be a high school football coach and math teacher. So much for that idea, huh?”
“But how can this be happening to me?” I wanted to know.
“The question should be how can this be happening to us? You know the answer to that. You’ve already been introduced to the Judge.” It wasn’t a question. Apparently she had met the Judge well before I had.
“So how can the Judge do this to me—us?” I asked. “How can he have magic powers? This isn’t possible.”
She stood up and pulled me to my feet, leading me to the mirror. “Just take a look at yourself, sweetheart, and tell me again how this is impossible. You know damned good and well that it’s possible. Oh, you’ll wake up a morning or two and hope before you open your eyes that it was all just some weird nightmare brought on by too much pizza and beer, but then, you’ll open your eyes and see those breasts in front of you and look down to see what’s missing between your legs and you’ll know it wasn’t just a dream.
“As to your questions about the Judge, you’ll have to figure out that for yourself. The Judge doesn’t like his real identity discussed by anyone. I can’t tell you any more than that. It won’t take you very long to figure it out.”
“All right,” I agreed. I suppose it didn’t really matter for the moment anyhow. “So I assume you’re supposed to be my daughter?”
She actually smiled at me. “Hey, I like that. ‘Supposed to be.’ That fits. Yeah, you’re supposed to be my mother. In this little fantasy world the Judge has cooked up, I’m Jennifer Tilton, only child of Charles and Rachel Tilton, one of Ovid’s finest old families. But I remember who I really was, even if the poor person who became Charles Tilton doesn’t remember a thing of his past life. It’s been enough to drive me crazy, with that shade of a mother and my clueless imitation father constantly wringing their hands and demanding that their dear little daughter be more feminine.”
“I assume you don’t want to be more feminine,” I commented, sitting once more on the bed.
“Of course not,” she said, hands on her hips. “Before Ovid, I wasn’t even a girl. I was twenty-one and about to graduate from college. I played football for Northwest Missouri State. I was a starting tackle for the team, so you can imagine my size as a male. Then, our plane got forced down in Ovid a little over a year ago last fall. The next thing all of us knew, we were changed into other people. I really got the short straw, though.”
“How do you figure?”
She looked at me, startled. “What do you mean? Haven’t you been listening. I was a man.”
“So was I,” I countered.
“And you don’t mind being a female?” she asked derisively. “What were you—a fruit?”
I felt my face turn red. “No, I wasn’t a fruit. I was completely heterosexual. What I meant was that you’re healthy, attractive, well off, and young. You actually gained a few extra years to live,” I said, feeling the bitterness creep into my voice. “I got the same dose you got, only I’m fifteen years older than before.”
“How about that,” she muttered softly. “That means you and I must have been about the same age before Ovid. Were you in college, too?”
“Wichita State,” I replied.
“We were supposed to play you in football sometime.”
“Next year, I think,” I agreed.
“Isn’t that weird?” she said, shaking her head. “We both go from college guys to cunts in the wink of an eye.”
I winced at the word ‘cunt.’ I had never liked the term; I had more respect for women than to use the word loosely. Also, I didn’t like the fact that I now had one of my very own.
“What’s the matter?” she asked, seeing my displeasure.
“I don’t like to think of myself as a cunt,” I told her.
“But that’s what you are,” she countered. Then, her shoulders sagging, added, “and so am I.”
“Wait a minute. When you were a guy, did you call yourself a dick?” I asked.
She looked a little startled. “Of course not! If a guy is a dick, he’s... he’s...”
“Something of an asshole,” I finished for her with a laugh.
She grinned in response. “Well... yes.”
“So why should you consider yourself a cunt?” I asked seriously.
She was silent, but I could see she had never stopped to consider this line of reasoning before. I broke the silence for her.
“Look, I’m going to need your help. You’ve been here for more than a year. I guess that means you’re stuck being Jennifer forever and I’m stuck being Rachel and your mother. Why don’t we try to help each other?”
I sighed. Jennifer had been so busy being angry for the past year that she had never considered the positive side of things. I would have given anything to take her place. True, I would have still been a girl, but I thought I could have coped with that in exchange for having my teen years over again as the privileged offspring of a wealthy family instead of the underprivileged son of a woman who was killing herself just trying to keep her family fed. For that matter, there were probably others in Ovid who would have gladly exchanged the life the Judge had given them for Jennifer’s life. I couldn’t tell her that, though. She was too bitter to accept the truth.
“Well,” I began, choosing my words carefully, “I think you can help me to understand who Rachel Tilton really is. You can help me fit in. You’ll have to help me be a woman. I mean, I don’t know the first thing about being female.”
She studied me for a moment before asking a little defiantly, “Okay, if I do that, what’s in it for me?”
“A fair question,” I replied. “I gather you haven’t gotten along very well with your shade mother.”
She snorted, “That’s an understatement. She was nothing but an aging bimbo.”
I felt an uncomfortable turn in my stomach as I visualized what that must have meant. I don’t know which bothered me more—the bimbo part or the aging part.
“She wanted me to be the same way she was when she was my age,” Jennifer went on. “She wanted me to wear dresses and more makeup and defer to all the boys. She even tried to pick out the right sort of boy for me. Do you know who she picked?”
“She picked Chester Thurman! Can you imagine? No, I know you can’t. Chester is really Chester Martin Thurman the Fourth, son of Ovid’s richest man. And he’s an idiot! He thinks he’s... he’s god’s gift to women. He thinks a girl should just fall down on her knees in front of him and suck on his dick! I can’t stand him!”
“What does he think about you?” I asked.
“Think about me? I don’t think he ever thinks about anyone but himself. Barry says it’s a good thing he’s just a shade or...”
“Wait a minute!” I pleaded. “You’re going too fast! Who is Barry?”
“Barry is one of the guys I played football with before Ovid. He’s one of the lucky ones.”
“Lucky? How?” I prompted.
“Well, for starters, he’s still a guy. Even though his dad is just an assembly worker out at Vulman Industries, he got to be a guy instead of a little Miss Rich Bitch like me. And, he remembers who he was.”
“Nope,” she said. “Maybe one in four or five people remember who they were. Charles Tilton, your husband, is one of the ones who doesn’t have a clue who he was before. I don’t know either. I just came home one night and he was real, but he acted just like the shade he replaced.”
“So what’s he like?” I wanted to know.
“Wait a minute. I asked what was in it for me, and the next thing I know, I’m giving you all of this for free.”
“Okay,” I sighed, “here’s the way I see it. You’ve been changed into a thirteen-year-old girl, and you...”
“Okay, a fourteen-year-old girl. Anyhow, that means your parents still pretty much have control of your life, especially in a small town like Ovid. Am I right so far?”
She nodded carefully.
“So,” I concluded, “I can make life a lot easier for you. I mean, we were both young men and now we’re women, so we should be natural allies. I don’t want to be a bimbo, aging or otherwise, and I’m not going to turn you into one either.”
“That sounds fair,” she agreed, sitting beside me on the bed again. “I just see one problem in all of this.”
“Well,” she began slowly, “I think you should know, Charles may be about ready to break up this happy home of yours.”
I felt that sinking feeling again. “What do you mean?”
“You two aren’t exactly on the best of terms. Rachel has her own life of women’s groups and too much wine at dinner, and Charles has his work and probably has a girl friend. You two don’t even sleep together anymore.”
She shrugged again. “It’s a big house. He took one of the other bedrooms last fall.”
I wasn’t anxious to play the dutiful wife, fulfilling my husband’s every sexual fantasy, but I wasn’t ready to play the aging, drunken jilted wife either. I had watched my own father leave my mother, and although Mom and I were glad to see him go, there were many difficulties as a result.
“If there’s a breakup, who would get custody of you?” I asked cautiously.
“Well, Charles has all the money and all the power. He’s got the sharpest lawyer in Ovid, he plays golf with the Judge, and he thinks he loves his dear little daughter, so figure it out.”
I could figure it out with ease. I would be portrayed as the drunken wife, a poor mother who couldn’t control her daughter, and I would be out on my ear. It wasn’t a pleasant prospect, and I didn’t really have a clear game plan as to how to prevent this worst-case scenario from occurring. I really knew only one thing: if I was to succeed in my new role, I would need not only information from Jennifer, but her cooperation as well.
“Look,” I began, “we can really help each other. If I’m going to be able to help you, I need to be here. If it looks like you and I have a good mother-daughter relationship, my case is strengthened. Then I can concentrate on keeping Charles in check. Do you agree?”
“I think so,” she said slowly, tossing her head in an unexpectedly feminine manner to sweep her hair away from her face. “You think that if I play along and act like a good girl, you can make my life a little more pleasant.”
“That about sums it up. I think we really need each other. Is it a deal?” I asked, holding out my hand.
She thought about for a moment. Then, a reluctant smile came over her face and she gripped my hand in her smaller one as strongly as her feminine muscles would allow. “It’s a deal.”
Our eyes met. She had soft brown eyes, and I could see the pain in them. There were actually small tears forming in them. She broke her grip and looked away suddenly. “Well, okay then,” she said with a little quaver in her voice. She gulped and brought her voice back to normal. “If I’m going to help you, I need to know more about you. I know you were male and in your early twenties, but what did the Judge bring you to trial for?”
“Well,” I answered reluctantly, “do you remember the bank robbery last Saturday?”
“Of course.” Her eyes suddenly became wide. With a gasp, she said, “You mean you were one of the bank robbers?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
To my surprise, she began to roar with laughter. “This is rich!” she said between spasms of laughter.
“What’s so funny?” I demanded.
“Well, for starters, you’re married to the president of the bank you robbed!”
I couldn’t help it. I began to laugh, too.
It turned out that Charles would be home late that night. The monthly Board of Directors meeting for the bank was being held at the Ovid Country Club, and spouses were thankfully not invited. That meant Jennifer had plenty of time to brief me on a number of subjects, from feminine personal hygiene to makeup and clothing to hairstyling. In spite of the fact that she had done everything in her power to deny her femininity, she was surprisingly knowledgeable on each of the subjects.
“There were about half a dozen of us who were changed into girls and remembered who we had been,” she explained. “We each knew we’d have to do what we could to fit in. Some did a better job than others. It’s hard for me to understand, but I think a couple of them actually prefer being girls.”
“So you worked together to figure out how to be girls?” I asked.
“Pretty much. We had been teammates, so it was natural for us to work together. Sam Wallace was pretty much our leader.”
“It’s short for Samantha,” she explained. “She’s one of the ones I told you about who actually seems happy to be a girl.”
“Well,” I ventured, “if she’s going to be one for the rest of her life, I guess she figures she might as well enjoy it.”
“Is that what you plan to do?” There was suspicion in her voice. She didn’t really want me to be happy being a woman. Misery loves company.
“I really don’t know,” I told her truthfully. “I guess all I want right now is to get through the first few days without making an ass of myself.”
She relaxed, accepting that answer. “I felt the same way. Then after a while, I realized it wasn’t going to work for me. The rest of my teammates starting talking about clothes and boys and giggling just like the ones who didn’t realize they had been changed. It was scary. By Christmas, none of them even wanted to talk about their old lives. I was pretty much alone.”
“It must have been hard for you,” I sympathized, instinctively putting my hand on her shoulder.
“It was,” she agreed, making no move to get away from my comforting hand. “Oh, Rachel, you have no idea how hard it’s been to... to...”
Her voice was breaking and there were big tears in her eyes. “Damn these female hormones anyway!” she snapped. “Everything I think about seems to start me crying. And if I don’t keep on my toes, I find myself acting like a girl.”
“What do you mean?” I prompted.
“I’ll give you an example. Your lipstick is smeared a little. Here.” She handed me a tube of lipstick.
“What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked.
“Just let yourself go. Don’t think about anything. Just relax.”
I did as she suggested, allowing myself to ‘veg out.’ I just stared at my reflection in the mirror. I found myself looking critically at my face, and without a thought, I had uncapped the lipstick, and carefully reapplied a thin coat to my lips, blotting it daintily with a tissue. The spell was broken when she said, “Do you see what I mean?”
“Wow!” I breathed. “It all seemed so natural to me. I felt as if I had been doing that all my life.”
“It’s part of the spell on you,” she explained. “At first, it helps you over the rough spots so you can function like the person you’re supposed to be. You’re actually thankful for it at first. But I think after awhile, it becomes the master instead of the slave. You start to actually think like the person you’ve become. You start to lose yourself in your new role.”
I could hear the fear in her voice. She didn’t want to lose her old self. Maybe she didn’t have to, I thought. After all, self is nothing more than the sum of all of our experiences and how we deal with them. I was still Robert Joseph Malone, and all of the things that had made me that person were still there. I was one of the lucky residents of Ovid, I realized. I knew who I had been, and I had nothing to be ashamed of, except for my sorry performance that had led me to this fate. I planned to keep on being who I was, even if I was now called upon to be Rachel Tilton.
“Tell me about your old life,” I suggested.
“It might make you feel better to know you still remember it,” I explained.
“Well,” she began, “I grew up in Iowa, around Des Moines. My name then was Jason Albright. I was kind of a big kid from a big family. Dad was a farmer. So I grew up on a diet of hard work and beef and potatoes. I was a pretty good student, too. I was especially good in math, so when I graduated from high school, I decided to be a math teacher. I had played a lot of high school football, so I was able to get an athletic scholarship at Northwest Missouri State.”
“It sounds like a pretty good life,” I commented.
“It was,” she sighed, “and I really miss it.”
“What do you miss the most?” I asked.
“I don’t know,” she responded. “I’m just too little and weak now. I think I could deal with this girl stuff if I were bigger.”
I said honestly, “I don’t think you’ll get much bigger. Maybe you’ll be as tall as me, but that’s about it. What about the other stuff?”
“Are you still a good student?”
“Sure, I do well in class.” She suddenly looked uncomfortable. “Oh god! I forgot to tell you, though. The school psychologist wants to meet with you tomorrow morning at ten. I said that was just before your Ovid Women’s Club meeting at the Country Club, but she insisted.”
“Do you know why she wants to see me?” I asked.
“Why do you think? I’m a square peg in a round hole,” she said evasively.
“All right,” I agreed. “But you’ll have to write down instructions so I can find your school.”
She did, and then we went over a few other details of my life. Apparently I had a college degree, which was a pleasant surprise for me. Of course, I didn’t feel like I had earned it, but at least I had it, and from a good school, too. It turned out that I had gone to Tulane and majored in Psychology. I had been raised around Houston, so my Texas accent hadn’t changed much. It was in college that I had met Charles, and we were married right after school.
She told me about Ovid as well. By the time she was finished, I at least had some idea of where things were in Ovid and who was who. I was grateful for her help. I was sure most people who were transformed had to learn everything the hard way, or at least those people who remembered who they were before.
After another hour or so of briefing, I was beginning to think I could pull off the masquerade. Of course, I had yet to meet Charles, and Jennifer wasn’t much help in determining what was going wrong with the marriage. Apparently, Charles and Rachel Tilton were already having difficulties when she was placed in her role.
“I feel as if my head will explode if I learn another thing,” I said with a groan. It was already dark outside, and the nearest clock said it was six o’clock. “Maybe we’d better get something to eat.”
“Sounds good to me,” Jennifer agreed. “Uh, you can cook, can’t you?”
I grew up cooking. Since Mom often had to work late, I had become a pretty decent cook. With my limited budget, I had been able to whip up some pretty decent meals when I got to college, too. I didn’t want to let Jennifer off the hook, though. “I can cook a little,” I finally answered uncertainly. “I mean, mostly what I cook comes out of a box.”
“Well, I guess the two of us can figure out something,” she replied reluctantly. “I had to take Home Ec this year, so I can do fairly well in the kitchen.”
She could, too. She prepared a great chicken dish with just a couple of chicken breasts, bottled salsa, and plain yogurt. I thought it smelled great as I made up a couple of simple salads for us. In short order, we had a very tasty meal in front of us. It was one of the most fun dinners I had had in a long time. We talked about everything we could think of. Both of us liked sports, so we avidly discussed basketball, both of us agreeing that Utah would knock off Chicago in the NBA Finals later that spring. But it was football that was Jennifer’s real passion. I began to think she knew the name of every guy who had ever played the game.
“Were you a pro prospect?” I asked over the last bite of chicken.
She shook her head with a shy smile. “No, not me. I was just a big old farm boy who was too strong to get pushed out of the way. That’s why I was on offense. All I had to do was stand there and make sure nobody got to the quarterback. I was good at it, but not good enough to make it to the pros. Hell, Northwest Missouri State was the biggest school to offer me a scholarship. Barry was about our best pro prospect. Of course, his name wasn’t Barry then. But he was a great halfback. He still is, the lucky stiff. He’s still good in all sports. He’s the same year in school that I am and he’s already playing varsity football and basketball.”
“What’s this Barry like?” I asked, pushing back from the table so I could cross my legs. I remembered to do so in a demure, ladylike fashion.
Her smile got even wider. “Oh, he’s really nice. We were good friends in college, and now he’s about the only friend I’ve got. Sometimes when I’m with him, I sort of forget that I’m a girl. It’s just like old times.”
“Jennifer, I’m very new at this,” I confessed. “What’s it going to be like, being a girl?”
“Well,” she said, the smile growing a little mischievous, “it’s going to be a little different for you. I’m still a sweet young virgin and you’re a married woman.”
There was a question I wouldn’t be able to ask her: what was it like to have sex with a man? It was the first time I had even asked it of myself. Of course, deep down, I had known that if I was to make this marriage work, there would be a time in which it had to be consummated. I didn’t look forward to that time.
“Okay, but besides that,” I clarified. “You don’t seem to like it much.”
“I don’t like the helplessness of it. I don’t like being tied down on the railroad tracks by the villain and have to wait for the hero to show up and rescue me.”
“Is that the way it is for girls in Ovid?” I asked. “It sounds like the way it was a couple of generations ago.”
She shook her head. “Don’t be fooled. Ovid is just like any other town in that regard. When I was a guy, I thought there was equality of the sexes, too. I mean, you heard about it all the time. There were women doctors and lawyers and even women jet pilots. But the prejudices are still out there. Look at me. I’m a natural at math, but do you know what happened to me when I turned in my first A math paper? The teacher said it was so good he wanted to know which of the boys in the class had been helping me. Hell, I was helping most of them!”
Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of a garage door going up.
“Oh-oh,” Jennifer said with a start. “It’s time to go into our act. Charles is here.”
Moments later, a dapper man of about forty stepped into the house from the garage. He wore a well-tailored dark blue pinstripe suit and conservatively patterned red tie over a still-crisp white shirt He had receding light brown hair just starting to go gray at the temples. He was very distinguished-looking, and a new part of me that had never been there before noticed that he was quite attractive as well. He was also the man I had seen in the bank talking in such a friendly manner to the attractive young teller. So this was Charles Tilton. “Hi,” was all he said, to no one in particular.
“Hi, dear,” I said in as casual a manner as I could muster. I was trying to hide the fear that he would look at me and scream, “Imposter!” He did look at me quizzically. I suddenly realized that it had probably been a long time since Rachel had called him ‘dear.’ I found myself wondering if the attractive teller at the bank was his mistress.
“How was the board meeting?” Jennifer asked. I noticed she didn’t call him ‘Dad.’
“All right,” he said noncommittally, resting his brief case against the kitchen island. He looked at the remains of our dinner. “Rachel, are you feeling all right?”
Now what had I done wrong? “I’m fine. Why?”
“I don’t see any wine out on the table. I thought you always had wine with your dinner,” he explained.
I shrugged. “I just didn’t feel like drinking anything tonight. Jennifer made a great chicken dish, and...”
“Jennifer made dinner?” I think this was a greater shock for him than the absence of wine. “Did I walk into the wrong house?”
I don’t know what possessed her to do it, but a wicked flash shot through Jennifer’s eyes as she got up from the table and gently hugged Charles. “Oh, Daddy, I love to cook. I learned this recipe in Home Ec. There’s more chicken if you want me to fix it for you.”
She said it in such a dreamy, little girl voice that it was all I could do to keep from laughing. I knew she had never treated him this way in her short existence as Jennifer.
“Uh no, thanks, honey,” he stammered. “I ate at the club. I’ll be in my study if anyone calls.” He rushed out of the room before we could reply.
I grinned at Jennifer. “What do you think you’re doing?”
“Just helping you out,” she grinned back. “If this whole idea of yours is going to work, I probably need to play the perfect daughter to your perfect wife. It was actually kind of fun to see him squirm like that. This could be the most fun I’ve had since I came to Ovid.”
“Then why don’t you do the dishes?” I suggested. “That will really blow his mind.”
“That’s a dirty trick!” she laughed, but she started loading the dishwasher anyway.
I made good use of the time. We had Charles off balance. That was a good start. It was time for me to confuse him even more. I hadn’t changed out of my skirt yet, so I decided to give him the full treatment. I tiptoed up to my bedroom and put on a pair of two-inch heels. Jennifer had made me experiment with them earlier, so I was fairly confident of my ability to negotiate the stairs in heels.
Charles was busily entering data on his computer as I walked in. He looked up, almost in amazement as I slowly walked across the room, trying not to look too obviously sexy. I walked behind him and put my hands on his shoulders. His muscles were tense, like my Mother’s muscles had been after a long day of waitressing.
“You shouldn’t still be working,” I told him in a low voice as I rubbed his shoulders and neck. I was surprised to find that this activity was actually causing some interesting reactions in my own body. I felt my nipples stiffen and an unexpected tingling between my legs. I had no idea this body could get turned on so easily. I would have to be careful. “You’ve been working all day.”
“I know,” he agreed gruffly, “but I have to get this done tonight. I’m meeting with Eric Vulman of Vulman Industries in the morning. He wants us to finance a big military contract for him. It’s the biggest deal we’ve ever done with him, so I need to get this finished.”
“Well, would you like some hot tea?”
He turned and looked up at me. I thought I could sense his expression softening. “Yes, I would. That would be very nice.”
I turned to go. “I’ll get it for you right now.”
He suddenly, gently, grabbed my arm. “What’s with Jennifer?” he asked as I turned back to him. I was sure he really wanted to ask what was with me as well.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, she never calls me ‘Daddy.’ Hell, she never calls me anything. It’s as if she doesn’t even consider me to be her father. Now, here she is, fixing dinner and hugging me. If she had been wearing anything but those rags she always has on, I would suspect that someone had replaced her with the Stepford Daughter or something.”
“I think that was Stepford Wives,” I smiled. At least he had a sense of humor.
“That’s another thing,” he went on. “There’s something different about you, too.”
“Me?” Little old me?
“Yes,” he continued. “You seem more... affectionate—more alive.”
This was a critical moment, I knew. I needed to tell him to come upstairs and I’d show him just how alive I really was, but in that moment, I froze. I just couldn’t do it. I knew in my heart that I was physically a woman, but I hadn’t seen what was between my legs with my own eyes yet. Hell, I hadn’t even gone to the bathroom yet. The thought of having a man down there was just too much for my overloaded mind to take.
The, suddenly, the moment was gone. The light that had begun to shine in his eyes retreated, and he gently released my arm. “Well anyhow, I like it. Now I have to get some work done.”
“Okay,” I said meekly, and I left him to his work.
Back in the kitchen, Jennifer was just finishing the dishes. “How did it go?”
“How did what go?” I asked.
“You and Charles,” she said softly so as not to be heard by him. She frowned. “It didn’t go all that well, did it?”
“I wouldn’t say that,” I replied, sitting down at the kitchen table, relieved to not be standing in heels. “It’s just that... just that...”
Now I knew how Jennifer had felt that afternoon. I could feel tears welling up inside me. Softly they spilled out. Jennifer rushed to my side and took my hand. “Come on, Rachel, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t think I can do it, Jennifer,” I sobbed softly. “To save this marriage, I’m going to have to go to bed with him, but I just don’t think I can.”
“I understand,” she said, squeezing my hand. “I’m not supposed to be going to bed with guys at my age, but I’ve thought about how I’m going to handle that when I’m older. I don’t think I can do it either. But what are we going to do? If you don’t—can’t—we’ve lost our chance. He’ll take me away from you, Rachel, and I couldn’t stand that. I’ve felt better having you around today than at any time since my transformation.”
I knew what she meant. In the short time that I had known her, I had felt myself becoming very close to her. Without her near me, I was afraid I would become just like she had been—bitter and resentful over what had been done to me.
With nothing better to do, we sat together in the den and watched television. As two former males, we sought out the sports channels and had soon lost ourselves in a basketball game. The game had just ended when Charles stepped in the room. “What are you two watching?”
“A basketball game,” we said together, then started giggling at our identical answers.
Charles shook his head in confusion. “Well, I’m off to bed. Tomorrow will be a busy day at the bank. Good night, ladies.”
We both mumbled good night and sighed as he left. “This evening could have gone better,” I commented.
Jennifer patted my leg. “Tomorrow will go better.” Then she was off to bed.
I stayed up for another hour, idly surfing through the channels. The Tilton home was equipped with a satellite receiver, so I had more channels to surf through than I had even known existed. The Tiltons lived well, I realized as I shut down the set and headed off for bed. They lived well, but not happily. That had to change, I understood, and I was going to be the only one who could do it.
Using the toilet for the first time was a new experience for me, and really the first time I had a chance to be completely aware of the strange absence between my legs. Sitting to pee wasn’t so bad; every male did it occasionally. The odd sensation was that of having liquid practically spill from my body like an overturned glass rather than the pressure of liquid I had felt as a male.
As I got ready for bed, I finally took the time to privately examine this body I had been given. Whatever misuse this body had experienced from too much wine, there was no apparent damage. I suspected the drinking was part of a vicious circle. Perhaps Charles began to ignore Rachel and she was forced to find solace in a bottle. As the drinking got worse, he began to ignore her more. Add to this the strain of a daughter with problems of her own which the parents couldn’t even imagine and you had a runaway truck about to hit a brick wall. Dysfunctional didn’t even begin to describe the Tilton family.
I stood naked in front of the mirror carefully appraising my assets. My breasts were still round and fairly firm with little evidence of middle age sag. Likewise, my hips were maybe a bit wide and the waist an inch or so thicker than I might have wished for, but it was a body which would still turn a few heads if you dressed it in a two-piece swimsuit.
When I had been a young man in my early twenties, late thirties had seemed like the age to buy a walker and check into cemetery plots. I even had personal evidence of that. I had seen my mother hobbling about in her last year or two, and she never lived to see forty. Now that I had suddenly been advanced to my late thirties, I didn’t feel as if I looked all that old. I wondered if I was just unusual or if most women in their late thirties were still somewhat young in appearance.
I slipped on a nightgown and got ready for bed. I still wasn’t tired, so I looked around for something to read until I got sleepy.
Then, on a bookshelf in my bedroom, I spotted an almanac. I had always enjoyed thumbing through them, and I knew they usually had a list of the birth dates of famous people. It wouldn’t hurt, I thought, to take a look at who my new contemporaries were. Demi Moore was a little older, I thought. I looked her up. No, she was younger, but only by a year. Then I spotted Michelle Pfeiffer. To my amazement, she was actually over forty. How could that be? Catwoman was over forty? Jane Seymour was even older. She was a good ten years older than me. And what about Meg Ryan? Everybody’s favorite girl next door was my age!
I wasn’t sure who my competition was for Charles, I thought as I drifted off to sleep, but a woman Meg Ryan’s age certainly should have a fighting chance.
Who was Rachel? I didn’t care. I was warm and cozy in my bed, although something didn’t seem quite right...
“Rachel, wake up!”
“Huh?” I mumbled, suddenly remembering in the back of my mind that I knew someone named Rachel. I sat up, feeling the odd sensation of my breasts dropping and my nipples running across the silky nightgown I wore. Oh yeah, I remembered. I was Rachel.
“I didn’t want you to oversleep,” Jennifer explained, smiling as I opened my eyes. To my delight, she was holding out a glass of orange juice for me. And to my surprise, she was attired in a very feminine fashion. She wore a white cable knit sweater, a gray skirt which came a couple of inches above her knees, white tights and gray shoes with just a small heel. She even wore a gold necklace and matching earrings.
“A new image for you?” I asked, sipping my juice. It was sweet and cold, just the way I liked it.
“Pretty much,” she admitted. “Old Charley actually seemed to like my little girl routine last night. I thought I’d give it a try at school. I suppose if I look like the nice feminine daughter, it makes you look like a more fit mother.”
“I suppose it does,” I agreed, standing up and stretching. “Is Charles up?”
“Up and gone,” she replied. “He had a breakfast meeting. Don’t worry, though. Rachel never got up to fix breakfast. Charles is a cereal and juice kind of guy in the mornings.”
“Did Rachel and Charles ever talk?” I asked, searching through my closet for something to wear. How did women ever choose the right outfit when they had such a variety of clothing to pick from?
“Not very often,” Jennifer said, picking a tan two-piece suit and a brown blouse for me. “Wear the two-inch brown heels over in that blue box on the shelf.”
“You know,” I observed, “for someone who doesn’t like being a girl, you seem to have figured out how to be one.”
“I would probably have been locked up if I hadn’t,” she countered, selecting a beige bra and panties and tan pantyhose for me.
I slipped off the nightgown and picked up the panties.
“Uh,” Jennifer began, “before you put those on, you probably should shave your legs.”
I looked at my legs. There was only a tiny trace of stubble there. “Do I have to?”
“Only if you don’t want to look like the Bride of King Kong,” she grinned. “The easiest way is in the bathtub. Then, you can take a bubble bath. I hate to admit it, but I’ve come to like bubble baths. You probably will, too.”
“All right,” I sighed, turning on the water and adding some bubble bath. It smelled like lilacs.
“I’ll see you after school,” she said, tossing her hair back. “Do you have the directions to the school?”
“In my purse. Oh, is this psychologist real or a shade?”
“Just a shade,” she said over her shoulder. “Got to go or I’ll miss my bus.”
I heard the door slam just as I stepped into the tub. This was really my first time to be completely alone and reflect on what had happened to me. The day before, I had been practically in shock, and the long sessions with Jennifer had stuffed my brain with so many new facts that I hadn’t had much time to reflect.
As I eased my new body down into the tub, I could feel muscles I thought were permanently tight begin to loosen. As I sank into the water, the weight of my new breasts seemed to lessen, and I felt a pleasant sensation between my legs as the warm water caressed my vagina.
What would it feel like to have a man enter me there? I wondered. The water washing against my new sex actually felt pleasant. Would a penis be a pleasant sensation as well? I touched my clitoris and felt a sudden shiver of pleasure. I had touched a clitoris on several occasions as a man, but of course, it hadn’t been mine. I wasn’t the most experienced male lover in the world, but I suspected I had gotten my share. The girls I had been with had enjoyed being touched there. I now understood why.
Would I be able to play my new role all the way and make love to Charles? I still wasn’t sure. I doubted if Rachel and Charles indulged in sex often if at all, but I knew I would have to do it if I was to save the marriage. Was it really that important, though? I was now a college graduate. I wasn’t helpless. Even though Charles was a powerful man in Ovid, I might be able to get custody of Jennifer. We could leave him. Let him have his girlfriend, whoever she was. The more I thought about it, it had to be that young teller I had seen him with at the bank.
As I slowly stroked my new clitoris, I reconsidered those thoughts. Charles didn’t seem to be a bad man—just a preoccupied one. Who could say what had driven him to be so distant with his family? Between Rachel’s drinking and Jennifer’s reluctance to play the role of his daughter, perhaps he had been driven to seek comfort elsewhere. Perhaps deep down inside, he was really a sensitive, caring lover and... oh god!
A wave of pleasure washed over me, and I felt my entire body melt into the water. I felt my face flush. I had just given myself an orgasm. I hadn’t really intended to do it. It was a new experience to accidentally masturbate. As a male, when you masturbated, you did it on purpose.
Was that what it would feel like to have Charles in me? Would I feel such pleasure? If it was like the male experience, the real thing was always more pleasurable than Rosy Palm. If that was true for me now in this new form, I had something to look forward to. But enough for now, I thought. There were other things to be done that day. I had to go to Jennifer’s school and then attend a women’s luncheon Jennifer had told me about. I was going to have to play the role of Rachel Tilton, I realized, picking up a razor, and I might as well do it with smooth legs.
I had to use the technique Jennifer had shown me to get ready. If I let myself go, my body seemed to function automatically, shaving legs, donning clothes, and applying makeup. It wasn’t hard to reassert control, either. As I was running a brush through my hair, I took control once more. Now in control, I gave myself one last critical look in the mirror. Not too bad for an old broad, I thought to myself. Maybe being thirty-seven wasn’t being old after all.
I got to Ovid High with time to spare. After living my entire life in San Antonio and then Wichita, I was used to the distances in cities. Ovid was small, though. I guessed it was probably no more than fifteen thousand people, most of whom seemed to be shades. I parked my car—a nice little Chrysler Cirrus—in front of the high school. The school had a fifties look to it. It was a one-story building which sprawled out over the better part of a city block.
Inside, classes were in session, so I found the administration office with no trouble. A shade secretary seated under a black and gold banner which proclaimed ‘Go Eagles’ smiled at me and directed me to the school psychologist’s office. I was relieved that the secretary didn’t seem to find anything amiss about me. I looked like just one more mother going to check on her child.
“I’m Hanna Williams,” the psychologist said, offering me her hand. We shook in a light, feminine fashion. I was relieved to find that although they were semi-transparent, shades were solid to the touch. I didn’t want to have to be careful not to pass through them. Apparently, that wasn’t to be a problem.
Hanna Williams was about my age—my new age. She, too, was quite attractive, her mostly brown hair graying only a few strands at a time. She was slim and well built, dressed in a tailored gray suit. She reminded me of an older version of Susan Jager, my lawyer.
“Would you like some coffee?” she asked, motioning me to a seat.
“I’d love some,” I replied with a smile. I meant it, too. It had taken me so long to get ready that I had had nothing but the glass of juice Jennifer had brought me.
“Well,” she said primly when I had my coffee, “I suppose you’re wondering why I asked you here today, Mrs. Tilton.”
I smiled. “Please call me Rachel.”
“Yes, thank you, Rachel.” I noticed she didn’t ask me to call her ‘Hanna.’ Apparently, it was Dr. Williams who was going to give me the bad news.
“Several of Jennifer’s teachers have noticed for some time now that Jennifer does not seem to be... happy,” she began, her hands folded in front of her on the desk.
“Is she doing poorly in school?” I asked with mock concern. I knew from Jennifer’s briefing that she was an A student.
“Oh no! In fact, her grades have actually improved over the last year or so—particularly in math and science. Her grades aren’t an issue; rather, she doesn’t seem very happy with her life.”
Dr. Williams fidgeted in her chair. “That’s right. Here she is, a very attractive, intelligent young girl from a presumably well-to-do family.” She looked up at me, as if to confirm that we were well to do. I gave her no visual clue and said nothing, so she went on, “She just seems to be unhappy being who she is. She affects very unfeminine attire and manner. If I didn’t know better, I would assume when I talked to her that I was talking to a boy.”
“She has always seemed to be something of a tomboy,” I admitted. If only you knew the truth, I thought to myself. I wondered what she thought of my performance. After all, in a way, she was talking to a boy now.
She shook her head. “It goes beyond that. Many girls are tomboys at her age, but she seems to think she would be happier being a boy.”
“Did she tell you that?” I wanted to know. Surely Jennifer had more sense than to confide in this woman.
“Not exactly, no,” Dr. Williams backpedalled. She stopped for a moment to collect her thoughts. “Sometimes in my profession, we see patients who would seem to want to be the opposite sex. The most chronic of these seem to be males who want to be female. A little of this is just natural curiosity—men who would like to know what it’s like to be a woman, and women who are curious about what it must be like to be a man. Everyone imagines what it must be like. Have you ever thought what it must be like to be a man?”
“Of course,” I answered smoothly. Until yesterday, I had thought about it all the time.
“But with Jennifer, the need to be male seems stronger,” she continued.
“Are you suggesting that my daughter is a—what do you call them? —transsexual?” I asked, trying to sound indignant. In truth, I was rather enjoying this. I wondered what the good doctor would have said if I had told her that until a year and a half ago, my daughter had been as male as male could be. Given what Jennifer had told me about the Judge’s proclivity for changing the sex of his victims, I imagined Dr. Williams would be dumfounded if she knew how many of her acquaintances had changed sex. Transsexual indeed!
“I don’t know,” she said, surprising me with her candor. “But I do know that sometimes girls feel powerless. They question their worth in society and think it might have been better if they were born male and more in control of their lives. This can be especially true if they don’t have any strong female role models in their lives.”
Whoops. I knew now where this conversation was going. Rachel Tilton had been anything but a strong female role model. From what Jennifer had told me, she drank too much, spent most of her free hours either with equally frivolous women at the Country Club or shopping for clothes she didn’t need and seldom wore. When it came to her marriage, she was oblivious to the danger that she was about to lose her husband, probably to a girl who reminded him of all the things that had originally attracted him to Rachel: intelligence, poise, and good looks.
“Are you suggesting,” I asked quietly, “that I am not a suitable role model for Jennifer?” I was sure it might someday be suggested in a custody battle. I had visions of this woman being called to the witness stand to infer that I was not a fit role model. Her testimony would be damning.
“Please, Mrs. Tilton,” Dr. Williams said sympathetically, “I’m merely making you aware of a problem I see in Jennifer. Perhaps if you’re aware of the problem, you and your husband can do something to alleviate the situation.”
It was actually good advice, I thought as I made my way back to the car. I doubted if the shade who had been Rachel would have paid much attention to it. She would probably have stuck her head in the sand and continued her bad habits. I resolved to do better. Rachel wasn’t, in reality, my daughter, but she had quickly become my friend. I knew—as did she—that she would be female for the rest of her life. It was up to me to ensure that her life was a pleasant one.
That meant it was more important than ever that I provide her with the positive sides of being female, but to do that, I would have to discover what they were. At that moment, I thought as I slipped into the car, consciously being careful to keep my legs together and my skirt down, I would have gladly given up another fifteen years just to be male again. In fact, if the Judge would do it for me, I would be happy to be transported to a prison cell as my old male self and cool my heels for fifteen or twenty years. But since that wasn’t going to happen, I would have to try to be the best Rachel Tilton I could be.
I looked at my watch. The appointment had only taken half an hour. It would only take me ten minutes to get to the Country Club. I decided it was time to visit Charles and beard the lion in his own den. As I pulled up in front of the Farmers’ and Merchants’ Bank, I remembered all the old clichés about the criminal returning to the scene of the crime. It seemed like an eternity ago when Jimmy Ray, Enos and I had pulled up in front of the bank. I wondered what had happened to Enos. I couldn’t imagine him being able to get away. Maybe the Judge just considered him to be too small a fish to catch. Or maybe he was out in some pasture chewing grass with Jimmy Ray.
As I got out of the car, I noticed Susan Jager’s law offices were located over the bank. I wondered for a moment if Susan could be Charles’ girl friend. If I were Charles (and I wished that I were), I’d be interested in her. Of course, she had that new wedding ring, so I doubted if she would interested in him. My money was still on the teller.
Judy Cartwright was Charles’ secretary. Jennifer had given me a rundown on her. She had been his father’s secretary when he had been President of the bank and had been Charles’ secretary for the three years he had been President since his father’s death. Of course, how much of that story was real, I had no way of knowing. She was a shade, about fifty-five or so, I guessed. She had the gray hair, patrician manner, and conservative dress which made her the textbook example of a bank president’s secretary. She smiled pleasantly when she saw me. “Mrs. Tilton, how nice to see you. We don’t see you nearly often enough here.”
It was said as a pleasantry, but she emphasized the correct words just right. She was waving a red flag, warning me to be careful. “It’s nice to see you, too, Judy,” I replied. “Is Charles in?”
“Just a moment,” she said, touching the intercom key. “He’s in a meeting.” She looked delighted to have an excuse to break up his meeting.
The meeting involved a closed door. I wondered who was in there with him. I was pretty sure I was going to find out soon.
Charles rushed out of his office. “Rachel?” he asked. “Is something wrong?”
“Oh no,” I told him pleasantly, grabbing his hand in a loving fashion. “I just had some time before my meeting and thought I’d see how your morning meeting went.”
He was on familiar ground, so he visibly relaxed. “It went very well. Come in and I’ll tell you about it.”
As I entered his office, I wasn’t surprised to see the pretty young teller I had seen on Saturday. She looked up at me from her seat across the desk from Charles’ seat. She was about my old age, with long brown hair that shined with vitality. Her blue eyes were alive and sparkling. As she stood, I could see that she was not just pretty—she was beautiful. Her outfit was businesslike, but fit tightly in all the right places, and if I thought my skirt at an inch above the knees was short, hers seemed to go practically to the top of her thighs. She smiled what was meant to be a pleasant smile, but I was reminded of the smile you see in the horror movies when the vampiress looks up from her prey.
“Rachel, I don’t believe you’ve met Courtney,” Charles said smoothly. “Courtney Francis, this is my wife, Rachel.”
She extended her hand and gave me a smile so artificial she could have earned an award for poor acting. “I’m pleased to meet you, Rachel. Charles has told me so much about you.”
I took her hand, returning her smile with as much venom as I could muster. I was sure Charles had told her all about me, starting with my wife doesn’t understand me. There was no doubt that this was my competition. The only question running through my mind was had he taken her to bed yet? She was obviously playing the you’re so wonderful game with Charles, and he was obviously falling for it. Well, why not? As nearly as I could tell, Rachel hadn’t done much to save the marriage. That was about to change, though.
“I’m glad you dropped by, Rachel,” Charles said, unaware of the contest of wills that was shaping up in front of his desk. “I was just getting ready to call you. Eric Vulman wants us to have dinner with him and his wife, Grace, tonight at Winston’s. We’re going to celebrate. He has a new military contract that we’re going to help him finance. He wants us to meet them there at six thirty.”
I smiled a loving smile at him, as much for Courtney’s consideration as anything. “It sounds like fun.”
“Fine,” he said formally. “Now, if you’ll both excuse me, I need to get ready for my next appointment.”
“Of course, darling,” I practically breathed at him. From the corner of my eye, I could see Courtney silently fuming. I suspected I might have interrupted her next move in the game.
Charles came up and took my arm. When Courtney was out of hearing range, he turned me to face him and said sternly, “I just wanted to make sure you were careful at your luncheon today.”
“Damn it, Rachel, I mean watch the wine. This dinner tonight is very important.”
I leaned over and kissed him gently on the cheek. It was my first experience kissing a man. I must admit I wasn’t sure I liked it. “Don’t worry,” I told him softly. “I’m not the same woman anymore.” Truer words were never spoken.
I waved a cheery wave at Courtney on the way out and caught Judy’s knowing smirk. Judy and I exchanged friendly goodbyes by looking gratefully into each other’s eyes.
Even with my stop at the bank, I was early for the luncheon. What I didn’t realize was that Ovid’s leading women always arrived late for events so they could make a suitable entrance. The Ovid Women’s Club was an exclusive body, Jennifer had told me. It consisted of only twenty-five members, all leading Ovidians. Most were there because of whom they had married, but there were a few exceptions.
Since I didn’t really know any of the women, I was forced to fake it, echoing cheery greetings and making small talk. Most of the women were very much like I suspected the original Rachel Tilton had been. They were snooty and shallow, caring only about being lauded due to the status of their husbands. I hoped Charles didn’t need me to befriend any of the women in the club, for I found almost all of them boring.
There were two exceptions, however. The first was an attractive, matronly woman roughly my new age. She had short brown hair, just beginning to gray and a pleasant smile which radiated both humor and intelligence. By listening carefully, I determined that her name was Betty Vest. She was the President of Capta College, a small liberal arts school I hadn’t realized existed in Ovid. I made it a point to move into the circle that was talking with her. It was like being back on campus at Wichita State, listening to someone who could think without straining something.
The other exception was our guest speaker. She was Dr. Carolyn Miner, the Superintendent of Ovid’s schools. Like Betty Vest, she was poised and friendly, exuding an air of intelligence. She was a little older than Betty, but equally vibrant. I resolved to age as gracefully as she was.
When we were all seated for lunch, a young waiter, about my former age, set a martini in front of me. “What’s this?” I asked.
“But Mrs. Tilton, you always have one,” he explained, confused. “You told me last fall to always place one at your table without being asked. Is there something wrong with it?”
“No,” I sighed. “Nothing is wrong. I just don’t believe I care for one today.”
This statement was met with surprise from most of the women, but I noticed that both Betty Vest and Carolyn Miner, sitting down and across the table from me, had pleased smiles. There was more to them than met the eye, I thought.
The waiter then took our orders for lunch. The choices were a chicken breast or a luncheon steak. Given what had happened to Jimmy Ray, I had decided to swear off beef for a while. Of course, I realized grimly, there was an equal chance that the chickens in the area hadn’t always been chickens, either. Maybe I would become a vegetarian. It would be good for my figure if nothing else.
I survived the luncheon small talk, and even managed to cull out the names of the women seated around me. Most were shades, and I began to realize that their identities would probably eventually be taken by more victims of the Judge. I suspected he would not rest until he had populated the entire town. One of the women seated across from me was real. She was the wife of the mayor of Ovid, and she seemed to have no memory of her previous life. I found myself wondering who she had been. Maybe she had been a man as I had been. In any case, she seemed as vacuous as most of the other women in the group. What had Rachel ever seen in these women?
She did do one thing for me though. She introduced me to Betty Vest, who was sitting on her left. “Yes,” Betty said, “Rachel and I worked together on the United Way campaign two years ago, didn’t we, Rachel?”
“Yes,” I replied glibly. I could see in Betty’s eyes that she somehow knew that I was not the Rachel Tilton she had worked with before.
“I haven’t seen much of you at civic functions lately,” Betty went on.
“I’ll have to get involved again,” I promised, picking up my cue.
It was obviously the answer she wanted, for she suggested, “If that is the case, I have something which may be of interest to you.” She handed me her business card. “If you could make a meeting in my office tomorrow at nine, I’d like to discuss it with you.”
“I’d like that,” I said, taking the card.
After lunch, I rushed home and wrote out notes on everyone I remembered at the luncheon. As one of Ovid’s leading women (at least by marriage), I would be expected to know them all. Frankly, I found them all dull with the exception of Betty and Carolyn. Carolyn had actually been the luncheon speaker, and I had found as I listened that she was, indeed, an intelligent woman. She spoke of the need for providing an education for Ovid’s children which would prepare them for the real world, learning real world skills and preparing for life. I had heard it all before, but when Carolyn spoke of those things, I believed she would really do them and not just talk about them like so many educators did.
I was excited about the opportunity to do something at the college. I could see already why Rachel had turned to a life of shopping and drinking and attending boring women’s meetings. There had been nothing else for her to do. Oh, I realized that was at least partially her fault, but it was easy to see how a woman could fall into the trap of meaningless activity. I actually felt sorry for most of the women who were there. Shades or not, their lives seemed empty. That wasn’t going to happen to me.
It was nearly four, and I was in my bedroom wondering what outfit to wear. I had simply too little experience and resolved to ask Jennifer. I heard the front door close. “Jennifer?”
“Yeah, it’s me, Rachel.”
“I need your help,” I called.
She walked into my room, still looking absolutely lovely. I don’t think she had any idea just how attractive she really was. She looked at the three outfits that I had laid out on the bed.
“I need to know which one I should wear,” I told her.
“Oh. Your fa—Charles and I have to go to a dinner tonight at someplace called Winston’s,” I explained. “Since I didn’t know anything about the place, I wasn’t sure how fancy it was.”
“Well,” Jennifer told me, “it’s not all that fancy, but it is the best place in Ovid. They have fantastic steaks. I just wish this little body I have now could do justice to them like my old one. I can barely eat half of their smallest steak now.”
Steaks! I hoped they had something else on the menu as well. I didn’t think I could ever eat another steak.
“So who are you going with?”
“Someone named Vulman.”
She nodded. “That would be Eric and Grace Vulman. Vulman Industries is the biggest business in town. So did Charles’ meeting with Vulman go well?”
“Apparently so,” I said. “That’s the reason for the dinner.”
“Well, then none of these outfits will do,” she told me, scooping them up by the hangers and hanging them back in my closet.
“But they all looked nice,” I protested.
“For day wear, yes,” she called from the closet, “but you need something for evening wear. Here.”
She had returned with a dark blue cocktail dress which had a subtle sparkle to it. It appeared to be about the size of a large handkerchief.
“Where’s the rest of it?” I asked, only half joking.
She gave me her wicked little smile. “This will look great on you. You know, for an old broad, you look pretty good.”
“Thanks,” I said dryly, “I needed that.”
She was right, though. As she helped me get ready, it became apparent that the dress really did look great on me. It was the shortest thing I had worn in my short time as a woman, but I had to admit, I had the figure for it. It was questionable what part of me men would notice first in the dress—the full breasts that peeked out over the top of the dress or my long, slim legs which looked great in the black heels and smoky nylons Jennifer had convinced me to wear.
“Charles will jump me the minute he comes in the door,” I told her as I finished off my outfit with a pair of diamond earrings and a gold necklace with small diamonds in it.
“Isn’t that the idea?” she giggled. “If this outfit doesn’t save the marriage, Charles must be gay.”
“I’m sorry to leave you alone tonight,” I said.
She shook her head. “Don’t worry about it. I was going to go over to Barry’s and study. We planned to split a pizza. Now, go ahead and get ready to wiggle your little ass in front of Charles when he gets home. I know he’ll like that outfit.”
Charles did appreciate the outfit. In fact, his mouth dropped open when he saw me in it. He slipped his arm around me and said, “You know, I don’t know what’s come over you the last day or so, but I hope it keeps on coming over you.”
“What do you mean?” I asked innocently.
“Well,” he began, “I notice you haven’t been drinking. It seems to have changed your whole personality. Now, you’re more like the girl I married.”
I didn’t know about that, but I had been until the day before about the age Rachel had been when she married Charles. I began to realize that I had brought to Rachel a youth in spirit which she had apparently lost. I also began to realize that Charles wasn’t such a bad guy after all. In fact, he was really nice looking.
Now what had made me think that? I wondered as I leaned into his arms and gently kissed him. It wasn’t like the kiss the night before. This one was more meaningful, and I had to admit, it wasn’t as bad as I had thought it would be. In fact, if I was completely honest with myself, it was rather enjoyable.
Charles broke the mood, though, when he said, “We’d better go or we’ll be late. Is Jennifer going to be all right by herself?”
“She’s already gone,” I told him. Then I explained that she had had an invitation from Barry to have dinner at his house and study together. “She said she’d be home about ten.”
Charles frowned. “Jennifer is with a boy? I didn’t think she was ever going to be interested in dating. Now that she has a date, I’m not so sure I like the idea.”
I laughed, “You’re going to have to get used to it, but she doesn’t think of it as a date. She and Barry are just friends. Besides, they’ll just be studying at his house.” I was sure I was right. Jennifer had mentioned that Barry was one of her old friends. If she said she was going to Barry’s to study, then that was what she was going to do—nothing more and nothing less. I just wondered to myself if studying was all that was on Barry’s mind.
As we drove to Winston’s, Charles was in a very good mood. And why shouldn’t he be? I thought. Business was going well, and for the first time in recent memory, he seemed to have an ideal family. I found myself hoping it would be enough to overcome Courtney’s machinations, but I knew I had a long way to go.
Winston’s was a modest little steakhouse on the edge of town. Situated on a small wooded hill, it enjoyed a view of Ovid spread out in the valley below. I hoped they had something besides steak on the menu. I didn’t know when Jimmy Ray would meet his fate, but my stomach turned at the thought of steak. The restaurant was surprisingly fancy inside, complete with carpet, drapes, soft music that sounded classical and table linen.
The Vulmans had just arrived, so Charles introduced us before we were seated, or I should say re-introduced us since apparently Rachel knew them but not well. That seemed odd to me for a moment, but as I was introduced to them, it became obvious to me that Eric and Grace Vulman were not the type of people Rachel Tilton would enjoy. They were too bright. There was something else about them as well. They weren’t shades, but it was almost as if they were larger than life. I got the same feeling around them that I got around Betty Vest or Carolyn Miner—or for that matter, around the Judge. What was going on in Ovid anyway?
Eric Vulman was perhaps fifty, tall and a bit on the heavy side. He was not handsome by any means, but he was absolutely charming. Although he was dressed in an expensive suit, he looked as if he would be more at home in less formal attire. He walked with a pronounced limp, but seemed to have no trouble walking to our table. He was very friendly and very down to earth, and I could see how Grace, or any other woman for that matter, could be attracted to him. I found myself being attracted to him, too, much to my remaining masculine chagrin.
That was the oddest thing I had noticed yet in my new identity. I still considered myself at heart to be a heterosexual male, but something was subtly changing my outlook. I was starting to notice women less for their sexual attributes and more for how they deported themselves. Rather than viewing them as potential mates, I was starting to size them up as potential friends. Men, on the other hand, were more... stimulating to me. Well, to be honest, they were becoming more attractive to me. I was starting to see Charles now not as just an obstacle who had to be overcome, but as someone I might actually enjoy going to bed with. It was still an odd thought, but no longer a completely repugnant one. It was more like the feeling I had the first time I went off a diving board. The idea of diving was not so bad. What was bad was taking that very first step.
Grace Vulman was one of those women I sized up as a potential friend. She was attractive—one of the most attractive women I had ever met. She appeared to be about my age, but I looked like a hag compared to her, and I was no slouch. The way she talked and moved reminded me of the old song ‘Poetry in Motion.’ Grace was not simply her name; she was grace itself. We made an interesting contrast at the table—me a blonde in my dark blue cocktail dress and dark shoes and stockings, and Grace, a stunning brunette, in an equally revealing white dress with pale stockings and winter white shoes. I was thankful the weather was fairly mild for February, or we would have probably both be shivering while trying to look sexy. I take that back. Grace would have found a way not to shiver, no matter how cold she was.
Fortunately, there was a variety of non-beef dishes on the menu. I chose a chicken in a wine sauce. After we had all ordered, Grace announced she needed to make a trip to the ladies’ room. I realized as she looked expectantly at me that this was my cue to join her. I was about to be initiated into the strange ritual of going to the ladies room with another woman.
Once we were in the ladies’ room, she said, “Your dress is really terrific. Did you get it at March’s?”
“Uh, I really don’t remember,” I replied evasively.
She then surprised me by giving me a knowing look and a sparkling laugh. “Oh, that’s right. You’re a little new at this being a woman thing, aren’t you?”
“You know?” I gasped. How many other people knew? Was I the laughing stock of Ovid—the man who had been turned into a woman? Was it a headline in the local paper? No, that couldn’t be. Jennifer said there were many others who had suffered the same fate, and she had mentioned that it was usually not talked about. “How?”
She laughed again, but it was the sort of laugh that made you feel comfortable. “You’ll figure it out before long. Everyone does. Let’s just say that there are four types of people in Ovid. There are the shades, people who don’t remember who they were, people like you, and people like me.”
“So you are—what? —like the Judge?”
She smiled warmly. “No one is quite like the Judge. But yes, my husband and I are something like him. You’ll meet others like us as well.”
“But who are you?” I asked.
She shook her head. “That’s something even I can’t tell you. You have to discover it for yourself. But don’t worry. You will. I do like the dress, though. Since you didn’t get it from me, you must have gotten it from Vera.”
“Vera March. She’s the wife of the owner of March’s Department Store. Since I own a women’s clothing shop, she and I are something of competitors. She and I go way back.” She smiled enigmatically. “Way back.”
“So how do you like it?”
“It’s a nice restaurant,” I replied.
There was that beautiful laugh again. “No, silly, I mean how do you like being a woman?”
“I don’t know,” I said truthfully. “It happened so fast, and it’s all been so new to me.”
She placed her hand lightly on my arm. Even her touch had a quality that was hard to describe, but I felt as if something of her was suddenly infused in me. “You’ll get used to it. You’re the son of a strong mother. Ovid needs women like you.”
As we returned to the table together, I had a feeling (woman’s intuition?) that Grace and I would be good friends. I even promised to drop by her shop sometime. Charles sensed it, too. On the drive home, he told me, “Eric Vulman likes you very much. He said that his wife liked you very much, too. The two of you were chatting like old sorority sisters.”
“I liked them, too,” I said truthfully. My opinion of the forces that controlled Ovid had gone up a notch or two. Of course, I had really had only the example of the Judge to form an opinion. It wasn’t that the Judge was bad in my estimation. He was just so... omnipotent that it was hard to think of him as less than a god. A god? Was that what he was? Then that meant...
My thoughts were interrupted as we pulled into our garage. The house was dark, so Jennifer must still be with Barry, I thought. I looked at my watch. It was nearly nine. That meant Charles and I had an hour to ourselves. I wondered...
It was now or never, I thought as we climbed the stairs together. I had faked a turned heel to get him to put his arm around me as we went up the stairs. He held me closely, and when we got to the top, I smiled and said, “Do you want to come in for a little nightcap?”
His eyes lit up and he smiled as he caught my meaning. “Yes, Rachel, I’d like that very much.”
It would, of course, be my first time to make love as a woman. I was still not certain I would be able to go through with it, but I had to give it my best shot. We held each other closely, feeling the friction of our bodies through our clothes. Charles kissed me, his tongue in my mouth, and I found I liked it very much. I was beginning to feel my nipples becoming erect, and there was a strong sensation of something wet between my legs. I pictured myself on that diving board again, trying to step off the end. We started to grab at each other’s clothing.
It was then that we heard the front door slam so hard that I thought it must have pulled the frame loose.
“Jennifer!” I whispered, releasing Charles. He let go of me as well as we stood there, looking like two young children who had been caught raiding the cookie jar.
“Maybe later?” he said shyly.
“Definitely,” I breathed, turning to see what was wrong with Jennifer.
I heard her storming up the steps, but she didn’t turn toward my room. Instead, she made a beeline directly for her own room and slammed the door.
I rushed to her door, but paused before opening it. “Jennifer?” I called softly.
“Leave me alone!” she sobbed.
I didn’t obey, of course. I slowly opened the door to see her lying on her bed, her face buried in a pillow. She was still wearing the sweater and skirt she had worn to school. If ever there was a vision of a lovely young teenage girl in emotional distress, it was Jennifer. I sat next to her on the bed and put a hand on her quaking body. “What’s wrong, sweetheart?”
I couldn’t imagine myself talking to her this way just after we had met, but the image was too strong. I was her mother now, whether I liked it or not, and it hurt to see the girl I was rapidly beginning to think of as my own child crying so.
“Oh, Rachel,” she sobbed again, “it’s Barry!”
“Barry? What did Barry do?” I imagined the worst, but the answer was almost laughable.
“He asked me out on a date!” she wailed. “And I thought he was my friend!”
“A date, eh?” I prompted, rubbing her back.
“Yes,” she sniffed. “There’s a dance at the Country Club Friday night. Barry’s folks don’t belong, but it’s a dance honoring the basketball team, so they’re all invited. Barry... Barry asked me to go with him!” Another sob heaved through her body.
“But why should that upset you?” I asked, truly puzzled.
“It means he thinks I’m a girl!” she moaned. “And I thought he was my friend! I knew I shouldn’t have dressed in a skirt today!”
“You know,” I told her, “if you lift up that skirt, I think you’ll find you are a girl.”
I sighed, “Look, Jennifer, like it or not, you’re a fourteen-year-old girl and Barry’s a fourteen-year-old boy. Just because he does the normal thing and asks you out for a party doesn’t mean you have to marry him. Friends date friends all the time.”
At least the sobbing had stopped. Finally, she turned over and looked at me, her beautiful eyes red from crying. “Do you really think he’s just asking me as a friend?”
“Of course,” I assured her. “Why not just go to the party with him and have a good time?”
“But what if he tries to kiss me?”
“That’s up to you. You’re in control. If you don’t want him to, tell him so. Didn’t a girl ever tell you no?”
“Yes,” she replied softly, “but lots of times, I didn’t listen. I kissed her anyway.”
So here was the real problem. She was afraid to be at the mercy of someone who was like her male self. This was the control issue that the school psychologist had talked about. I knew there were men who wouldn’t take no for an answer, but most would. From what she had told me about Barry, he wasn’t the kind of boy to do anything she didn’t want him to do.
“Do you think Barry would?” I asked.
She shook her head. “I don’t think so. He had a girlfriend when we were in college together, and he seemed to have a lot of respect for her. Come to think of it, I even look a little like his old girlfriend. He seems to be the same kind of guy now, just a little younger.”
“So what did you tell him?”
She sighed, “I told him I’d think about it and tell him tomorrow evening before I go over to Sam’s.”
She had another boy on the hook? “Who is Sam?”
“Oh! I told you about her. Samantha Wallace. She’s a friend of mine—an old friend, if you know what I mean. She was one of the guys who became girls who accepted it that I told you about. She’s two years older than me. I mean, she’s two years older than I am now. We used to be the same age. Damn! This gets so confusing sometimes.”
“Why are you going to her house tomorrow?” I asked. I knew it was off the subject of Barry, but I wondered why Jennifer was suddenly developing girl friends. Not that I minded, I thought. It was just—what? —a mother’s curiosity. I seemed to be falling into a ‘mom’ routine. I wondered why it was so easy for me.
“Sam has asked me to be one of the freshman representatives on the prom committee,” Jennifer explained. Even though the tears hadn’t quite dried, she managed an ironic smile. “Sam was so surprised to see me in a skirt today, I think she decided to work on me again before the mood went away. Working with her on the prom committee was the best way she could think of to do it since we don’t have any classes together. See, she was one of the first to really accept what had happened to all of us. I mean, there she was one day, a football player with the girls hanging off of him. Then the next day, he’s Samantha Wallace and dating Danny Mitchell and everybody’s vision of the girl next door.”
“Gee,” I mused, “I wonder why she accepted it so fast and it took others so long.”
“Others like me?” To my relief, she was smiling as she asked.
I smiled back. “Well, I wouldn’t want to mention any names.”
She sighed, “I don’t know, and I really don’t think I’ve accepted it yet. I have to admit, though, it’s been a big help talking to you, Rachel. I mean the way you’ve accepted it is... well, great.”
I didn’t know if I had really accepted it or not. I still had a long way to go before I considered myself to be Rachel Tilton, thirty-seven and female, but I knew I could do it. I guess it helped that I had been raised by my mother. I knew, as Jennifer didn’t, that a woman could be strong. I watched my mother keep a roof over my head and food in my stomach all by herself, in spite of a limited education and a background of spousal abuse. If that wasn’t strong, what was? I knew if she could see me, she’d be proud of what I was trying to do. I only hoped I was up to the task.
We gave each other a gentle hug, and to my relief, Jennifer headed off to bed with a confident smile on her face. I still didn’t know what she would tell Barry the next day, but I knew that whatever she told him, she could be comfortable with the decision.
Charles was still in my room, only his coat and tie on the bed. There would be no sex tonight, I thought. The mood had been broken. Besides, Jennifer might pop in any minute. We didn’t have to explain it to each other; we both knew our sexual reconciliation had been postponed. I just hoped I would be able to muster enough courage to go through with it the next time the opportunity presented itself.
“Well,” Charles said, “I guess I’d better go back to my room.”
“You don’t have to go,” I told him. “You could sleep here tonight.” If he did, we might still be able to get back in the mood.
But he shook his head. “I’d better not. Not tonight. Besides, I have to get up early tomorrow for another meeting, so I’ll be up before you.”
I tried a brave smile. “Come back any time, sailor.”
He gave me a tired smile. Then, to my surprise, he bent over and kissed me gently but meaningfully on the mouth. Putting my arms around his neck, I returned the kiss, and to my bewilderment, I found that as good as the kiss was, I wanted more. I was still pondering that thought when I fell asleep twenty minutes later.
The house was quiet when I got up on Wednesday. Charles had already left for his early meeting and Jennifer had left for school. I looked outside. It was a beautiful morning, the skies blue and the sun bright, and as I opened the window, I smelled the brisk clean air which held a hint of spring. I felt good—perhaps better than I had felt in a long time. Sure, I was fifteen years older than I had been a few days before, but I was starting to learn that thirty-seven wasn’t really very old at all. Maybe age was more in the mind than in the body.
I showered and dressed in a forest green suit and beige blouse for my meeting with Betty Vest. I was getting everything down to a routine, for even with all the new things I had to do to get ready as a woman, I found myself half an hour early for my appointment.
Capta College was pretty much what I expected it to be. It was a small, tree-lined campus with a collection of buildings which looked to have been built at least seventy five years ago. The Administration Building where Betty had her office was located near the center of the campus, right next to the library. Since I had a few minutes, I decided to check out the library.
Wichita State’s library is pretty modern, but Capta’s was quite old, though inside, it seemed to be fairly well stocked. On a whim, I decided to look in the mythology section. The Judge had godlike powers, so I thought I might find something on a god who resembled him. I know it sounded crazy to think of the Judge as a god, and I might have thought it was a terrific leap of logic, except for the fact that who but a god could have changed me into a woman and my brother into a steer with a wave of his hand and a few incomprehensible words.
I didn’t have to look long. I decided to start with something fairly familiar—the Greek and Roman gods. No sense in getting bogged down with Hindu or Norse gods. Those peoples had never had a poet named Ovid, but the Romans did. I only had a few minutes to read, but I scanned Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, Bullfinch’s Mythology, and Graves’ Heroes of the Greeks and Romans. Allowing myself five minutes to reach the Administration Building, I learned enough to be confident that I was dealing with the Roman gods. I thought I took the revelation calmly, but I guess when you wake up from a nap to discover you have breasts and a vagina, not much can shock you.
The Judge had to be Jupiter, the most powerful of the gods. Officer Mercer owed his ability to dodge bullets to his powers as Mercury, the messenger of the gods. Eric Vulman had to be Vulcan, and his wife, Grace, was the personification of the three Graces. Carolyn Miner was apparently Minerva, and the woman I was about to meet was probably Vesta.
The books weren’t much help in learning about Betty Vest, though. It seemed although she was an important goddess, little was known about her. I would just have to get to know her the old-fashioned way.
Betty Vest’s office was a stereotypical college executive’s office. Oak panelling and thick carpets gave the room a warm, almost homey touch, and the large oak desk and tan leather chairs made it look almost like an English gentleman’s club. It was no gentleman who sat behind the desk, though. Betty Vest rose and greeted me warmly. When I had been given a cup of coffee and her secretary departed, we got right down to business.
“I’m very pleased with the way you’ve adapted to Ovid,” she told me.
“Did I have a choice?” I asked calmly.
She only smiled. “You were in the library a short time ago. I assume you know who we are. Don’t worry, you can talk about us freely as long as we permit it.”
I shifted in my chair, remembering at the last second to pull my skirt down. “Yes. It wasn’t that hard to figure out. But shouldn’t Minerva be in charge of the college?”
She shook her head. “No, she thought it was more important to be in charge of the public schools. Several of us have had to stretch our abilities to fit in our roles—not unlike the situation you’re faced with.”
“So the Judge assigned you a role, too?” I asked.
“No, not really. Jupiter counselled each of us as to which roles he felt would be best for us.”
“But why bother?” I asked. “What possible reason would the Gods of Olympus have for taking on roles in a small town in Oklahoma?”
“That will be discussed at the proper time, Rachel,” she replied. “Now, enough about us. I asked you to meet with me because I would like to offer you a job.”
“A job?” I asked, truly surprised. “What kind of a job could I possibly do for you?”
“I would like you to teach here at Capta. Of course, I would have to enhance your skills. I could easily give you the equivalent of a Masters in Psychology. Then you could teach for me. You would, of course become Rachel Tilton entirely.”
“I thought I was Rachel Tilton entirely,” I replied. What was she getting at?
She peered at me. “What about the part of you that is still Bobby Joe Malone?”
“What about it?”
“That part is making your task much more difficult.”
“But I’m learning to adjust,” I protested. “I’m trying to fit in as a woman. It’s just that it’s difficult sometimes.”
“Rachel,” she began, folding her hands and leaning forward toward me, “you have done an excellent job. We’re all proud of you. Most of our changees who remember their past lives are given something a little closer in age than you were, and the ones with a drastic change in age are usually not saddled with a sex change as well. I talked to the Judge, and he agrees. If you allow us to change you completely, you will really be Rachel Tilton. You will have a past that you remember and which will serve you well in attempting to save your marriage. Without the change, you may lose in your efforts to keep Charles. We’re proposing to do you a favor. You won’t be like the Rachel Tilton who existed before you came to Ovid. You’ll be a strong, confident Rachel Tilton.”
“But what about the old me?” I asked. “You’re proposing to make the old me go away completely.”
She nodded. “That’s true, but would that be so bad? Think of your situation if you lose Charles. There aren’t many opportunities for a woman approaching middle age with no useable skills and a history of being an aimless drinker.”
Is that how Rachel Tilton was really perceived? The Judge had changed me into this woman as a punishment. I suddenly realized that losing fifteen years wasn’t my only penalty. He had intended that I be the weak Rachel Tilton, losing her husband and having no control over her daughter. What he hadn’t reckoned with was my experience growing up as my mother’s son. I knew what a strong woman could be like. I had a role model that served me well when my sex was changed. Now, my punishment wasn’t any fun for them anymore. They knew even if I did lose Charles, I would find a way, just like my mother did. They couldn’t stand that. It was time to erase all trace of Bobby Joe Malone and his mother’s memory from Ovid. Well, it wasn’t going to happen.
“I appreciate your offer,” I said as calmly as I could, “but I must decline.”
“Would you mind telling me why?” she asked quietly.
“Well, for one thing, Jennifer needs me. She can talk to me, but she couldn’t talk to the Rachel Tilton you are proposing to turn me into,” I explained. “The other reason is that I am content to be who I am. I’ll admit I’m still not that comfortable with the idea of sex with Charles, but I’ll find a way. As Bobby Joe, I made a mistake. I should never have followed my brother, even at the risk of being shot. I ran away from who I really was, just to be safe. You’re offering me the same fate in a different package. Now, I can run away from who I really am—or have become—just to be safe. I can’t do it.”
To my surprise, she smiled. “You really are strong—stronger than I had imagined. I hope it works out for you, Rachel. I really do.”
She actually gave me a parting hug. I felt that she really respected my decision, but I wondered if the Judge would. I had no doubt that he could change me into the woman Betty Vest had proposed without my consent. I only hoped that he wouldn’t.
Before going back home, I decided to explore March’s Department Store. I had an idea for helping Jennifer, and March’s probably had a sporting goods section. I felt that one of the biggest reasons she was down on herself was that as a male, she had seen herself as an athlete. Even though she knew she’d never make the pros, there was a status to be gained from displaying athletic prowess. Now, as a weak girl, she felt that facet of her life, with all the status that implied, was gone. True, her football days were over, but there were other sports open to her. Women’s basketball was starting to take on a life of its own around the country. Schools which had mediocre men’s teams might suddenly rally behind a successful women’s team. In basketball, she might find at least part of that status she felt she had lost.
March’s Department Store was small by city standards. The Dillards in Towne East in Wichita could have swallowed up all three stories of it and had plenty of room left over. But the store was at least adequate. I had no trouble finding the small but relatively complete sporting goods section. Although there wasn’t a wide variety, there were two brands of basketballs to choose from.
“The Wilson is our best basketball,” a woman said from behind me. I turned, expecting to see the usual pert, young, and from her voice, good-looking sporting goods clerk. Instead, I saw one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen in my life. If I were still male, I think I would have proposed to her on the spot. I could easily have lost myself in her deep blue eyes. Her hair was the color of spun gold, looking incredibly lush and warm even in the mediocre department store lights. She was perhaps five six and magnificently proportioned. She was wearing a conservative navy suit, but I noticed little about it, imagining the incredible body it did little to hide. A small store nametag identified her as Vera March.
“Uh, yes,” I managed. Good lord, I was a woman myself now, and yet I couldn’t help but think that I would give anything to make love to her, even without a penis. For her, I’d find a way. I felt less like a married woman and more like a young schoolboy. “I think I’ll take it.” I fumbled in my purse for my wallet.
Vera March gave an amused laugh, making it seem like the most romantic sound a woman could make. “I’ll just charge it to your account, Rachel. I realize you’re new at this, but you do have an account here.”
I stopped fumbling in my purse and looked at her amused face. “Then you know who I am? Who I was?”
“Of course,” she replied without elaborating.
The gods ran Ovid. As I recalled my mythology readings, the most beautiful of the gods was Venus. There could be no doubt that I was in the presence of the most beautiful goddess of them all. Where the Judge had an intimidating presence, and Betty Vest had an aura which made her seem like an old friend invited into my home, Vera March—Venus—exuded an aura of pure passion and desire. Whatever she asked of me, I would do.
“Before you go, though, I’d like to show you something new; it’s just arrived,” she said almost hypnotically.
“Surely,” I replied from a nearly dreamlike state, following her without question into the women’s department.
She gently pulled something small and pink from one of the racks. It was a baby-doll nightie, accented in white lace and sexy—the kind of nightie I had seen on the models in Playboy. “This would look terrific on you,” she told me. “You don’t even have to try it on. It’s a perfect fit.”
“Yes,” I agreed, not really understanding why.
“With these stockings and shoes,” she continued, pulling them seemingly out of the air, “Charles won’t be able to resist, will he?”
“No,” I said in rapt agreement.
I have never determined exactly what happened next. The next thing I remembered, I was sitting in my car, staring out into space. On the seat beside me were several March’s sacks. I examined them briefly, finding the babydoll that Vera March had shown me, as well as a garter belt, white stockings, and a pair of high-heeled shoes. The heels were four inches high, and I had no idea how I would ever balance on them. Well, I supposed I had managed on two- and three-inch heels. Four had to be the limit, though.
Oh, and the basketball was in its carton on the floor. I moved it to the trunk when I got home and dropped the other packages from March’s on my bed.
It was only noon, so I went made myself a quick lunch. I noticed as I ate my tuna on whole wheat, accompanied by a banana, that my eating habits were quickly changing, and it wasn’t just to avoid unknowingly finding part of Jimmy Ray on my plate. My new body actually craved foods that were good for me. Well, that was all right with me. If I had to be a woman, I planned to be a healthy woman.
I puttered around the house for most of the afternoon, peering out occasionally to make sure it was still sunny. I planned to take Jennifer over to a nearby park I had discovered and surprise her with the basketball that was now in my trunk.
She knew something was up when she walked in the door from school. She was wearing jeans, as was I. She was back to wearing sneakers and a sweatshirt, but this time, I was actually glad. For that matter, I was wearing a similar outfit.
“Doing your Jennifer Tilton imitation?” she asked, looking at how I was dressed.
“It’s for a reason,” I told her, walking toward the garage. “Come on.”
She did, out of curiosity rather than obedience. We drove to the park where I pulled up to the curb and opened the trunk.
“Just what are you up to?” she asked, following me to the rear of the car.
I didn’t answer. Instead, I pulled the ball out of the trunk and threw it at her, yelling, “Think fast!”
She did. Two small, delicate hands wrapped themselves around as much basketball as possible. There was nothing wrong with her reflexes.
“Did you play basketball in high school or college?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Not me. I was too big and bulky for that.” Then she grinned. “I guess I don’t have that excuse anymore, do I?”
“I’m afraid not,” I replied. “How about a game of horse?”
Actually, we played four games before the February sun dropped so low in the sky that we were beginning to get cold, in spite of our physical activity. I won the first game, but I had played a little high school basketball. Even in my new oddly balanced body, I found I could make most of the basic shots without much trouble. It was an odd sensation to feel my breasts bounce with each shot. If I did this more regularly, I would have to invest in some sports bras.
Jennifer won the second game, but just barely. Then, after that, it was a walk away. Apparently, some of her old athletic talent had survived the sexual transition. By the fourth game, she was making shots I would have found difficult even if I had been in my old body.
“I’m impressed,” I told her, gasping for breath as she finished me off in the fourth game.
She wasn’t even breathing hard. Of course, although we had started out in life as about the same age, she was now less than half my age.
“I thought age and treachery could beat out youth and talent any time,” she chided me with a contented smile as she bounced the basketball as we walked.
“It can,” I gasped. “I just wasn’t feeling very treacherous today.”
“You can’t win them all.”
“True,” I agreed. “Now I’m too winded to fix dinner. You’ll have to do it.”
“Aha! Your treachery is returning,” she observed.
I wasn’t really joking. She had worn me out. I guessed losing fifteen years in an afternoon would do that to you. I still felt good, and I was beginning to realize that thirty-seven was still relatively young, but I didn’t have nearly the stamina of the twenty-two year old man I had been.
We fixed dinner together, though. It was a simple meal of pre-packaged turkey breast with the usual quickie stuffing and cranberry sauce. I made a vegetable while Jennifer took care of the turkey. Charles would be home any time, I realized, unless he worked late, or whatever he did with little Courtney.
“You haven’t asked about what I told Barry,” Jennifer said while setting the table.
“I figured you’d tell me when you got ready,” I explained without looking up from the green beans I was fixing. Actually, I was dying to know. There was no way I was going to be the prying mother, though.
“Well, I said yes.”
She said it in a neutral tone. I think she knew I had wanted her to accept Barry’s invitation, and I may have influenced her. What she was afraid of was that I would gush about her acceptance and become the matchmaking mother she had experienced before my arrival. I was determined not to do that, though, even though I was pleased.
“Are you comfortable with that decision?” I asked nonchalantly.
“Not entirely,” she said truthfully, “but I guess I have to try sometime.”
I had never been around teenage girls much before my change, but I suspected that there were a lot of tomboys out there roughly Jennifer’s new age who had reacted to a boy who had been a friend suddenly asking them out on a date in the same way she had reacted. They didn’t have to experience a sex change to be confused by female hormones.
Before I could answer, we heard the garage door go up. Charles was on time! That meant he hadn’t stayed to work or to be with Courtney or for any other reason. I found myself being unexpectedly pleased by that.
We ate a stereotypically family meal that evening for the first time since my transformation. I found I actually enjoyed it. I was getting used to being Rachel Tilton, and a family dinner was part of the normalization process. I could see Jennifer felt it, too. She treated Charles as if she considered him her real father. He seemed to beam with pride when she told him about her day in school and the prom committee meeting she was getting ready to attend.
Charles told us about his day. It sounded as if it was both productive and interesting. The Navy was apparently sending someone to look over Vulman’s new product, but Charles could only speak of it in generalities since the government had already classified it. I hoped whoever the Navy sent was careful in Ovid. There was no telling what the Judge would do if the town allowed a stranger in who wasn’t under his control.
We had just finished dinner and the dishes when the doorbell rang. “Could somebody get that for me?” Jennifer asked, bolting up the stairs. “I need to get a jacket.”
Since Charles had already settled in his favorite chair to go through the day’s mail, I was elected. I opened the door to find a very attractive girl of perhaps sixteen. Her hair was auburn and flowed in slight curls half way down her back. She was dressed in a sweater, jeans and sneakers, but she still managed to look very feminine.
“Hi, Mrs. Tilton,” she said with a bright smile. “I’m Samantha Wallace, Jennifer’s friend, but you’re supposed to know me already.”
“I’m pleased to meet you, even if I’m supposed to already know you,” I returned.
“I offered to give Jennifer a ride over to my house because I wanted a minute to talk to you. I’m glad we’re alone,” she said. “Otherwise, we couldn’t be talking about this. I just wanted to thank you for what you’ve done for Jake. I can’t believe the change in him over the last couple of days.”
She blushed. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t do that. Jake was Jennifer’s old name. We were very good friends back in college, but she just couldn’t accept her new life here until you came. I think you’ve given her a good role model.”
“Well,” I said modestly, “I’ve done what I could.”
Jennifer shot down the stairs. “I’ll be home by ten,” she called over her shoulder.
As Samantha’s car drove away, I realized now was my opportunity to seduce Charles, but I was having a hard time bringing myself to do it. As Charles puttered around in the family room, I found myself retreating upstairs. Maybe if I thought about it for a while, I told myself, I could work up the courage. The thought of having someone’s penis thrust into my body was still difficult for me.
In my room, I decided to find a book to read. Maybe, I thought, that would relax me. But before I could find a book, I noticed the sacks from March’s. I had absently dropped them beside the bed when I had gotten home for lunch. The sight of the sacks triggered something in my mind, and I found myself opening them, nearly in a trance.
I opened the sack with the baby-doll first. At a glance, it seemed almost too small for me. It looked like just a handkerchief-sized piece of pink nylon accented with white lace. I held it up in front of me in the mirror and tried to imagine what it would look like on me. Without another thought, I found myself peeling off clothes and slipping the nightie on. It fit snuggly, but it fit. I was amazed at the way it showed off my figure, accenting my significant breasts.
I slipped on the garter belt next, then slipped on the matching thong. As I slipped on the white stockings and attached them to the garter belt, it was as if I had done this all my life. It seemed natural and... right. I felt my nipples and crotch tingling at the feel of the material. My body wanted something, and my mind had been pushed aside to let the body have its way.
Finally, I put on the high heels I had bought. They were the highest I had ever worn, and I fully expected to fall over in them, but I wore them as naturally as if I had been wearing them my entire life.
I looked at myself in the mirror. I might have been thirty-seven, but I thought I looked much younger. My skin was smooth and my hair soft and shiny, and my figure betrayed little evidence of childbirth or the abuses of alcohol. I was thankful I had been placed in this role before the shade I had replaced had had a chance to wreck this body. If I had to have a word to describe what my new body was, that word would be desirable.
With a little kiss to the image in the mirror, I walked with purpose to the room where Charles sat, still going through the mail. He couldn’t see me come up behind him, but he felt my touch when I put my hands around his shoulders and began rubbing his chest. He turned and looked up at me. I returned his look of surprise with one of adoration. It was as if this was the most natural thing in the world for me.
I know as I look back on that night that Vera March put a spell on me. What would have been more natural for the Goddess of Love? Believe me, it helped. I don’t know if I could have gone through with it without that extra help.
That seems silly to me now, for I have learned to approach sex as a woman not with trepidation, but rather with joy. Charles was not the staid banker I had come to know over the last couple of days. Instead, he was a thoughtful and gentle lover. When Charles entered me, it felt different, of course. I was used to doing the entering. But the feeling of exhilaration was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. Charles was amazingly good at foreplay—much better than I had been as a man. Maybe that’s one more reason why young women are attracted to older men. Too many young men know only how to please themselves, while older men have learned the extra pleasure to be obtained from pleasing their partners. In any case, by the time he actually entered me, I would have done anything for his love.
We managed a second time as well, and if anything, it was even better than the first. We fell asleep on my bed, his penis still in me. Well, I thought to myself as I drifted off into a euphoric sleep still warmed by not one, or two, but three orgasms, I had a penis again, all of my very own. It just didn’t happen to be permanently attached to my body.
When I woke up, Charles was in the shower. My god! I realized I hadn’t even heard Jennifer come in. What must she have thought? I was to find out soon. When I threw on a robe and went down to the kitchen to get a glass of juice, Jennifer was already there, a playful smile on her face.
“So you guys got it on last night,” she said. It wasn’t a question. I noted she was wearing a skirt, and a short one at that.
“Should I be parental and tell you it’s none of your business, young lady?” I asked lightly, pouring a glass of juice for myself and sitting opposite her.
“So what was it like?”
“It was... different,” I said, sort of staring out into space.
“Uh-oh,” Jennifer muttered. “It sounds like you’re getting into this.”
“I might as well,” I agreed. “It appears I’m stuck with it. I might as well enjoy it.”
“But do you have to enjoy it so much?” she asked with mock innocence as she backed away from the table to get ready for school. “I’ll see you tonight. And by the way, any problem with me inviting Barry over after dinner? He and I need to study for a math test.”
“So what made you decide to go out with him?” I asked.
“It appears I’m stuck with it,” she said parroting me. “I might as well enjoy it.”
“Just don’t enjoy it that way for a few years,” I warned her.
“No danger of that!” she said, laughing all the way to her room.
I was glad she had decided to go with Barry. It was a good sign that she was getting used to being a girl. I think she had really gotten used to it long before she knew me, but my acceptance of the new sex allowed her to do the same thing.
Charles was in a good mood, too. “I was surprised to find you up,” he said with a gentle kiss on my cheek. He was all ready for work in his banker blue pinstripe and conservative tie. It was hard to believe that just a few hours ago, this paragon of conservative businessmen and I had been rutting like wild animals on my bed.
“I decided mornings aren’t so bad after all,” I told him. “Do you want me to fix you some breakfast?”
He shook his head. “No, I’ll just get some cereal and juice. I have to watch my waistline.”
“And you have your dinner at the country club with the guys and your card game tonight,” I reminded him. Jennifer had briefed me on that. Every Thursday, Charles ate dinner and played cards with some of the other town movers and shakers.
“Not tonight,” he said. “I asked Tom Watson to sit in for me, so I’ll be home on time.”
He said it casually, but I knew there was more to it than he was letting on. He had said nothing about not going before. It was as if he had planned something and was now going to cancel it. What was it? Probably an evening with Courtney. Did that mean I had won? I didn’t really think so, but it was a step in the right direction.
Charles left for work, leaving me alone again in the house. I decided to make good use of my time. I spent the morning moving Charles’ stuff back into my room. I was on the offensive, and I planned to make the most of it. It was time Charles and I slept in the same bed.
I was pleased with myself for getting the hang of this married woman role so quickly. I guess being a man before meant I had a better idea of what made guys tick. I knew that women faced with losing their husbands to another woman often withdrew from them, which made the problem even worse. I had just done to Charles the very thing that would have made my male self follow the girl who had done it anywhere. I had shown I was interested in him. With a little help from Vera’s spell, the rest had been easy.
It was time for the next part of my plan. I called the bank late in the morning and asked for Charles. Judy answered the phone. “I thought I’d take Charles to lunch,” I told her, “if he’s not busy.”
She caught my meaning. “Oh, he’s not really busy at all, Mrs. Tilton. I’ll tell him to meet you at the Greenhouse at noon. I’ll make sure they keep a table for you.”
“Thanks, Judy,” I said. “I appreciate your help.”
“And I yours, Mrs. Tilton,” she said, hanging up.
I wondered if poor little Courtney knew she was losing ground. I needed to make sure. I decided to pick Charles up at the bank so Courtney could see the two of us together. According to the phone book, the Greenhouse was only a couple of blocks from the bank, and it was a beautiful early spring day in Ovid, so we could walk there from the bank.
I got to the bank about a quarter until noon. Charles was just getting ready to leave for lunch. Courtney was hovering in front of his office, ostensibly reviewing something with Judy. I breezed past them with a friendly “Hi” and walked into Charles’ office. “Hello, darling!”
Before he could reply, I wrapped my arms around him and kissed him deeply, making sure I did it in sight of Courtney. Just for the fun of it, I even lifted one high heeled foot like they do in the movies. As Charles happily returned my kiss and hug, I could hear a small gasp from Courtney’s direction.
Lunch was fun. Charles was relaxed, and we talked about a number of things. He even blurted out, “You know, Rachel, suddenly you seem younger. You act more like you did when we were back in college.”
I smiled. “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
He placed a hand over one of mine. “It was meant as a compliment. You know, we bankers are supposed to be serious people. But deep down, I really haven’t changed since college. Remember when you and I made love in the library?”
“Who could forget?” I said with a giggle. Of course, it was just acting. I didn’t have Rachel’s college memories. But it was interesting to learn that Charles wasn’t really a stuffy banker after all. As we talked more, I realized who he was—or given the nature of Ovid, who he thought he was. He was a third generation bank president, running the bank founded by his grandfather. He never really wanted to go into the banking business. He had really wanted to be a history teacher, but his father gave him no options. That’s why he worked so hard. He tried to make up in effort what he lacked in interest.
I learned more about Rachel, too. She was a college sweetheart, and the more Charles talked, the more I realized they were supposed to have been a fun-loving couple. She had followed him back to Ovid as his wife, but quickly became bored with Ovid and, since he was a part of Ovid, bored with Charles. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn that Rachel had had an affair or two on her own. I hoped I never found out, either. Thank god her drinking problem was a relatively new one. It had kept her from ruining a body that I was beginning to appreciate more with each passing day.
We embraced and kissed in the lobby of the bank before going our separate ways. I took a moment to look around the lobby. As hoped, there was a frown on Courtney’s face and a smile on Judy’s.
I spent the rest of the day walking down Main Street, greeting people I was supposed to know and just looking in the windows. I actually did see two people I knew. The first was Grace, who was hurrying back to her shop from lunch. She smiled and waved at me. The second was the Judge. He had just parked his large white Lincoln in front of March’s. He greeted me with a slight nod of his head, just saying, “Rachel.”
“Judge,” I returned with equal reserve, and we went our separate ways. The less I had to do with the Judge, the better I liked it, I thought.
After dinner, Charles and I settled in to watch a movie on TV. Jennifer had taken Barry to the kitchen, where the two of them were studying for a math quiz.
“That Barry seems to be a good kid,” Charles remarked as we snuggled together on the couch. We had decided to watch The Sting on cable. It was a movie we were supposed to have watched in the theaters when we were in high school. I had seen it, but it played in the theaters about the time my male self had been born.
“He is a good kid,” I agreed. Alone with Barry in the kitchen earlier, he and I had had a chance to talk about Jennifer’s acceptance of his date. He admitted to me that had long forgotten Jennifer’s male self, and was infatuated with the young woman she had become. It had taken a lot of nerve on his part to ask her out, knowing that it could have ended their friendship as well. I told him I was glad he had taken the chance.
Charles and I headed upstairs after the movie, leaving the family room to Jennifer and Barry, who had just finished studying. While the two of them watched a movie, Charles and I quietly closed our door and went to bed together, but for about an hour, we didn’t get any sleep. Sex as a woman was getting to be habit forming.
“I haven’t got a thing to wear!” Jennifer’s voice carried all the way down the hall from her room. I opened my eyes. Charles had another early morning meeting, so Jennifer and I were alone in the house. She came rushing into my room and repeated, “I haven’t got a thing to wear!”
“Do you have any idea how feminine that sounds?” I asked her sleepily.
“But Rachel, I looked in my closet. I just assumed there would be a party dress there—something I could wear tonight.”
“Nothing like any of the other girls are wearing. They’re all going to wear something short and sexy. I mean, I don’t really want to look that sexy, but I’d like to fit in.”
I could see her point. Highschoolers were very conformist. If she wasn’t wearing the same type of outfit as the other girls, she would be viewed as not one of them. For the first time since her change, it was becoming important to her to be just like them.
“I’ll call Grace Vulman and see if she had something for you. I’ll pick you up after school and we can go get it,” I told her. I thought I’d give Grace’s shop a try. Given what Vera March had done to me, I didn’t think I wanted some sort of love spell cast over Jennifer, so March’s was out.
I got a hug for my efforts. “Thanks, Mom!” she gushed. Then, she broke the hug and looked at me wide eyed. “I’m sorry, Rachel, that just kind of slipped out.”
“Don’t be sorry,” I told her with a smile. “To be honest, I kind of liked it.”
The grin was back. “Okay... Mom!”
A call to Grace after the stores were open confirmed that she had a nice selection for Jennifer. I was sure she did. Grace was not in the same league with the Judge, I knew, or even her husband from what I had been able to read. She was certainly one of the Graces, or maybe all of them in one body. The three Graces of mythology were supposedly inseparable.
After school, as promised, I picked Jennifer up, and we were off to Grace’s shop. Like most of the businesses in Ovid, it was on Main Street, just a block up from the bank. A tasteful sign in front said simply ‘Grace’s Fashions.’
“Are you sure about this?” Jennifer asked. “I hear this shop is pretty expensive.”
“Let’s see what they’ve got,” I replied. It would be worth the price to avoid Vera March’s spells.
Grace was pleased to see me, but she seemed particularly pleased to see Jennifer. As I had hoped, she had just the thing for her. It was black and actually crocheted with a scooped neckline that was revealing without being too revealing. Jennifer rushed to try it on.
“I can hardly believe the progress you’ve made with her,” Grace remarked when we were alone. “I could have never imagined her in here trying on a dress like that before you became Rachel.”
“I think she was just tired of fighting it,” I told Grace.
“But you didn’t fight it,” she noted.
“No, but after the escapade with my brother, I think I was just happy to be alive and free, even if I had to be an older woman to do it. Besides, I get the idea that I didn’t have a choice.”
“You could have been a different Rachel, though. I would guess that you could have gotten by without turning into a proper wife and mother.”
“I suppose,” I said, “but Jennifer quickly became a friend. I didn’t want to see her hurt. Maybe that’s what motherhood is really all about. Mothers and daughters should be friends.”
Before Grace could reply, Jennifer was back in the room. Even without heels or accessories, the dress looked perfect on her. She was a lovely young woman, and from the expression on her face, I could see she was proud of the fact. We ended up buying the dress, dark hose to go with it, and a pair of pumps with a two-inch heel. On the way out, Jennifer spotted a necklace that went with it, so before we left, we had added that and a matching bracelet and earrings.
“Not bad for somebody who didn’t even want to be a girl,” I commented on the drive home.
“If I’m gonna do it, I’m gonna do it right,” she said with a grin.
She did it right. When Jennifer came down the stairs to meet Barry for her date, no one would have ever dreamed that she had once been a beefy lineman on a college football team. She moved with an almost supernatural grace, but of course, given Ovid’s background, that probably wasn’t very unusual. She still had some filling out to do, but the girl in the short black dress showed more than a hint of what she would be in just a few more years. The look on her face was the look of a girl who was proud to be beautiful. She had come so far in the few days that I had known her. I was proud to be her mother, for that’s what I had become.
As we watched Jennifer take Barry’s arm, I suddenly realized that only Charles didn’t realize the magnitude of this moment. Yet even he was pleased. In his mind, changed by his transformation in Ovid, he was a concerned father who had suddenly watched his tomboy daughter emerge into a beautiful young woman. I suppose his joy at her psychological transformation was none less than mine or Barry’s—or Jennifer’s for that matter.
Charles and I had our own party while Jennifer was at the dance. Every time I made love with Charles, I began to feel a little more comfortable in my new role. I was actually enjoying being a woman. Now, if I could just eliminate the Courtney problem, life would be a dream.
Charles had gone to bed (still my bed) by eleven, but I had stayed up, sitting in the den in my robe with a book, waiting for Jennifer to come home. I suppose it was a natural thing for a mother to do. I remembered my own mother staying up to be there when I got home from a party. Even more importantly, I wasn’t sure what would happen to Jennifer. Her female persona was still fragile, and I had not had the chance to talk to Barry alone to determine what kind of a boy he was. If he tried to push Jennifer too quickly, she could easily return to fighting her sex.
Jennifer had told me that Samantha Wallace and her boyfriend would bring her home. I didn’t know Samantha’s boyfriend, but I trusted her, so I was sure it was all right. It would be interesting to be in the car with them. Since according to Jennifer, only two transformed people could discuss their changes, the four of them in the car would be limited in what they could say or do. Yet all four of them had been football teammates at one time. Here they were, still friends, but the social dynamics had changed so much.
I heard a car pull up in front of the house at eleven fifteen. There was suddenly the sound of high heels clopping on the sidewalk to the front door, and a girlish giggle followed by a lower male chuckle. Then, there was silence. I could still hear the car engine idling, but there was no sound at the front door. What was going on? I wondered. Then, I heard a feminine “G’nite” followed by a male one, and the front door opened.
She seemed surprised but pleased to find me up. “Hi, Mom.” The title came naturally to her now. “Why are you still up?”
I smiled at her. “I think you know why.”
“Worried about me?”
She sat next to me, not bothering to pull the dress down to cover her magnificent legs. “It was fun.”
“Okay,” she allowed, “it was great. Barry was... different. I mean, I still felt like he was my friend, but it was as if he was more than that. Does that make any sense?”
Actually, it did. I was beginning to feel that way about Charles. Maybe that was what a successful marriage was all about. To be a successful wife, you had to be a lover and a friend. “Yes, it does,” I replied knowingly.
“Well, anyway, he asked me to go to the movies with him tomorrow night, so you and Dad can have the house to yourselves again.”
So it was ‘Dad’ now as well.
I gave her a hug. “I’m glad you had a good time,” I told her truthfully.
“I did,” she replied, just a little dreamily.
I went to bed feeling very confident. One of the two problems threatening to pull my adopted family together had been solved. Now, if I could just solve the other one.
I woke the next morning to the sound of the phone ringing. I looked at the clock. It was eight. Who in their right mind would call at eight o’clock on Saturday? As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I could hear Jennifer rushing to the ringing phone. I heard her pick it up and say expectantly, “Hello?” This was followed by some unintelligible words and a couple of very feminine giggles. Then I heard her say, “Bye!”
Within moments, Jennifer was in my room. She gave me a warm hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Good morning, Mom!”
“What are you so happy about?” I asked.
“That was Barry. He wants to hang out with me downtown this morning.”
I found myself suddenly thankful that Ovid was too small to have a mall. Downtown Ovid was still a little brisk in February to encourage much ‘hanging out.’ Still, I was glad to see her acting normally.
“So what time?”
“About ten. Can you drive me down to meet him? He wants to meet at Porter’s,” she pleaded.
“What is Porter’s?” I asked, getting up out of bed and slipping on a robe.
“It’s a drug store, only they never took out the soda fountain. You can even get lunch there. It’s like something out of the Twilight Zone,” she explained.
“Show me something in Ovid that isn’t out of the Twilight Zone,” I pointed out.
“That’s for sure,” she said, “but at least this is one of the happy Twilight Zone episodes.”
Unless you’re a steer waiting for the slaughter house, I thought to myself. Well, Jimmy Ray had brought it on himself. Maybe all of us in Ovid brought our fates on ourselves. Some of those fates were just more pleasant than others.
“Okay. Let’s get a bite of breakfast and I’ll take you downtown.”
We ate lightly. Jennifer expected to join Barry in a soda, and I was going to try to talk Charles into taking me to lunch. Every hour I had him away from Courtney was a little victory. I dropped Jennifer off at Porter’s, parked the car closer to the bank, and entered the bank. It had been exactly one week since Jimmy Ray and I had strode into the bank to rob it. Now, here I was going into the bank again, only as a very different person, complete with a dress and nylons and high heels. It was a little overkill for Saturday, but I wanted to look good when I was standing next to Courtney.
I looked out at the curb. There was a large white Lincoln that looked like the Judge’s car parked just where Enos had parked Old Snow the week before. I wondered if he had gotten away, or if Officer Mercer had captured him later and taken him before the Judge. If that had happened, he might be anyone or anything in Ovid. He might not even remember being Enos. I secretly hoped he had gotten away. Otherwise, he might be out in a pasture munching grass with my brother.
Charles was out on the bank floor and had just finished talking to a customer. “Rachel! What are you doing downtown this morning?”
“I had to drop Jennifer off to meet Barry,” I told him honestly while giving him a kiss.
“It’s a little early, but did you want to stay for lunch?” he asked. My thought exactly!
“I’d love to,” I replied, looking around for Courtney. I was disappointed that she was nowhere to be found. It took the triumph away of taking Charles to lunch. Saturday looked like a short staff, though, so maybe she was off. I couldn’t leave it at that, though. I had to ask, “Where’s Courtney today?”
“She’s no longer with the bank,” Charles said very matter-of-factly.
“What? I thought you thought very highly of her.”
Charles shrugged. “She was all right, but yesterday, she came to me with an ultimatum. She demanded Judy Cartwright’s job. Can you imagine? Judy had been with the bank eight years and is doing a terrific job. I couldn’t run the bank without her. I thought Courtney was happy as a teller. She wasn’t ready for a promotion.”
I wondered if she would have been considered ready for a promotion if I hadn’t brought Charles back to his family. I suppose it was possible that there never was anything between Charles and Courtney. Maybe I was just being paranoid. Maybe I had nipped the relationship in the bud before it had gotten out of hand. In any case, Courtney had overplayed whatever hand she had been holding, and now she was gone. I had won!
I agreed to go shopping for an hour or so and meet Charles back at the bank for lunch. Lunch would be a victory celebration, but Charles would never know it. I also knew that I had won only a battle and not the war. I knew it wasn’t enough to just be Charles’ wife. I would have to be his lover as well. Oh well, I thought to myself with a smile, it was just something I’d have to put up with. It was a good thing sex was so much fun.
I was thinking about getting something slinky for our night together and wasn’t watching where I was going when I reached the street. As a result, I almost ran into the Judge who was just coming in the bank. To my amazement, this wasn’t the stern Judge who had sentenced me to a life as Rachel Tilton. He was actually smiling as he gave me a slight nod of his head. “And how are you today, Rachel? Is everything going well?”
“Very well, Judge,” I replied coolly.
“I’m pleased,” he said. Then, before I could respond, he put up his hand for me to be silent. “I know, you think I changed you so you would fail as Rachel. That was a possibility, but I’m glad you didn’t fail. That’s why I changed you into someone who could use your strengths and not be hampered by your weaknesses. Consider it a second chance.”
“You know everything that’s happened to me, don’t you?” I asked, knowing the answer.
He nodded. “Yes, and I know everything that would have happened to you had I not intervened. I am, in fact, your friend, Rachel, in spite of what you think.”
I was puzzled. “What do you mean when you say you know what would have happened to me?”
He shook his head with a slight smile. “Now, that’s not something you really need to know, is it, Rachel?”
I supposed he was right. I was happy the way I was. Why worry about could have beens?
“Can I offer you a ride?” he asked, motioning to his car.
“No, thanks. I’m parked just a block away,” I replied. Then, with a smile of my own, I added, “Besides, a woman my age needs the exercise.”
“Then have a pleasant weekend,” he said, opening his car door and stepping in.
“I will,” I promised, meaning it.
As he drove away, I did a double take. Just for a moment, I thought it was an older model Dodge pulling away from the curb instead of the Judge’s Lincoln. And inside the car, I could have sworn it was a tough looking black man who waved at me instead of the Judge.
But that couldn’t have been, could it?
I blinked and was back in Susan’s office again as Susan and Diana stared at me.
“Wow!” Susan suddenly said. “It was as if I had really experienced everything Rachel Tilton did. It’s weird to see myself through someone else’s eyes. Do I really crinkle my nose like that in court?”
“You do,” I told her, “but keep it up. It’s cute, and I think the Judge likes it.”
Diana laughed, “You two had better both be glad he’s changed his tune over the last few centuries. There was a time when that old reprobate would have had both of you in bed at the same time for intentionally doing something cute in front of him.”
“The thing I don’t understand,” Susan said, “is if the Judge was Enos, why didn’t he stop Jimmy Ray before he picked up his brother? As Enos, he was an additional intimidating factor. Bobby Joe might have been able to get away from his brother, but it was two against one when you consider Enos.”
“Because,” Diana said, “it was Bobby Joe that the Judge really wanted. Jimmy Ray wasn’t suitable material for Ovid. That’s why he’s out in the south forty waiting for the butcher’s cleaver right now. And in case you haven’t figured it out, he only takes people when their lives are nearly at an end. And only people with real potential get to keep their memories. That isn’t random. Bobby Joe had been raised by his mother. Even though he was as male as male could be, he had a female role model he could easily emulate. The Judge knew that once Jimmy Ray hooked up with Bobby Joe, they were both going to be killed. If Enos hadn’t caused them to drive to Ovid, they would have gone directly to Tulsa where they would have been killed in the next robbery, along with two innocent bystanders.”
“Okay,” Susan said slowly. “I think I understand.”
I realized what she was really coming to understand was that her old male body would not have survived much longer if she hadn’t been lured to Ovid.
Susan continued, “But if the Judge had already decided what to do with Bobby Joe, why did he order me to defend him? It seems like it was a waste of everyone’s time.”
“Who knows?” Diana shrugged. “Maybe he wanted it to look like a real trial. Or maybe he wanted to make sure about Bobby Joe. If you argued eloquently enough for him, the Judge would know he had the right man to be Rachel.”
“Is that what he’s using me for?” Susan wanted to know.
“Sometimes,” Diana admitted.
“So what about Courtney?” I asked. “Was Charles really having an affair?”
“Yeah,” Susan chimed in. “Was he, or was that just Rachel being paranoid?”
Diana rolled her eyes and sighed, “Spoken like former men.”
Susan and I both blushed.
“Look,” Diana said, pouring herself more wine, “all men are vulnerable to the lure of a sweet young thing who tells them how wonderful they are. If they weren’t having one, they would have had one shortly. The only thing that matters is that sooner or later, Courtney would have won. The old Rachel forgot that wives should be lovers, too.”
“Like the old song,” Susan offered.
“What old song?” I asked.
“You’re too young,” Diana said to me. Then, turning to Susan, she sang, “Hey little girl, comb your hair, fix your makeup. Soon, he will open the door.”
Susan got into the spirit of thing by singing back, “Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger, you needn’t try anymore.”
“It’s an old Jack Jones song,” Diana explained. “It’s older than your old self was.”
Together, pointing at me, they sang, “For wives should always be lovers, too. Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.” Then, they both broke out laughing. I joined them in their laughter.
Finally, I asked, “So what happened to Courtney?”
“Oh,” Diana said dismissively, “she got a job as a checkout clerk at a supermarket.”
My heart leaped into my throat. “She’s working at Duggan’s, isn’t she?” That was the store my husband managed.
“I think so,” Diana said slowly, unable to hide an impish smile.
“Okay,” I said, putting down my wine glass and grabbing my purse. “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Susan asked.
“We were going to March’s, remember?” I replied. “I want to see if Vera has any more of those baby-dolls left!”
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