Connections, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 20: Speculative Constructs
I hugged Mom and Marilyn came back in. “Money’s wired. Alice, I’d like to set up a bank account for Melanie later today. I’ll be able to transfer money in as soon as she earns it.”
Mom nodded, but I asked, “What will I be doing to earn it?”
“You’ve already earned some,” she chuckled. “At first I thought I’d help you find work at a store somewhere to earn spending money for the summer.”
“That sounds good,” I said. I had a sudden vision of me working in a boutique at the mall. It could be fun.
Mom said, “It would be a good opportunity for her to meet other people, other kids.”
Marilyn said, “Well, if she goes to the classes we talked about, she’ll meet lots of new people. And being as pretty as she is, she’ll meet lots and lots of boys!”
She grinned while I blushed and Mom nodded, a little uneasily.
Marilyn got serious. “But I realized that Melanie is truly the only person who instantly understood what I do. And she grasped nuances. Her IQ is the elephant in the corner we never talk about, but all three of us know that her intelligence is exceptional, and she’s amazingly well- and widely-read for a thirteen-year-old—even for an adult! Just this morning she managed to reference not only a Pulitzer Prize-winning play but the autobiography of Beatrice Lillie. Few adults have the breadth of knowledge—and even those that do lack the ability to link as she does. It’s a highly valuable skill—she’s highly valuable! If she were to assist me, I would pay her proportionately to her contribution. That way she’ll have plenty of time for classes, and still earn.”
Mom was puzzled. “You said, ‘proportionately to her contribution’. What could her contribution be?”
Marilyn chuckled. “Melanie knows already, because she gets it. Each fact, if recognized and properly assembled with the others, carries great weight. The conclusion, assembled from the various data, is relayed to the client, and they pay accordingly.”
She was right; I understood, but Mom shook her head. “I’m a fairly bright woman, but I’m still no closer to understanding exactly what you do. But you think Melanie can help you? I mean, truly help you; not a form of … ”
“Charity? Or a sinecure?” Marilyn asked, and shook her head. “That’s not it at all.”
“And you think she might help?” Mom asked again, sounding doubtful.
Marilyn nodded. “She already has. She provided information I needed—the MTV data was the missing link, so to speak—and I provided it to the client, and the client has wired the money to my account. I will put Melanie’s share in the account we set up today. After that, I can transfer the money to her over the internet.”
“But the main thing is, Melanie could earn some pocket money from all this?”
Marilyn startled us both by throwing her head back and laughing, full and loud. “That depends on what kind of pockets you’re talking about!”
We waited for her to calm down. She wiped a tear with her napkin. “Oh, dear; oh, dear. Pocket money!”
Mom said, “Just exactly ...how much money are you talking about, Marilyn?”
Marilyn settled down and beamed at me. “Melanie was my source, but she didn’t know she had the data until I asked her about it. So I valued that less than I will when she finds the data on her own, realizes the significance—”
“The fit?” I volunteered.
She nodded and her smile got larger. “The fit, exactly. See, I told you she understood!” she said to Mom. “So when she finds the data that fits, her payment will go up. As she starts to assemble conclusions—and I have no doubt she will, and very soon—her compensation will go up considerably. At some point she’ll be able to work on her own, and set her own fees.”
I was excited by the prospect and suddenly realized that I had a future. Marilyn had shown me the road, like the Yellow Brick Road, and to keep up the metaphor, I would be the pretty girl in the dress, skipping down the length of the road.
Okay, maybe too gooey, but that’s the way my mind works. Or was it just my mind?
Marilyn leaned to me and said, “Follow the Yellow Brick Road!” like a Munchkin.
Yes, we were very much on the same wavelength. I nodded, but Mom was still confused.
“So, Marilyn,” Mom said in her tone that meant she wasn’t sure of the propriety of her question, “You laughed at me asking about pocket money.”
Marilyn nodded assuringly and put her hand over Mom’s. “Alice, for the data Melanie provided, she earned $1,000.”
Mom and I both snapped our heads back, astonished.
Marilyn waved away our surprise. “I would easily have paid somebody that amount for the information. I suspected it was there, but didn’t quite know where. Melanie had the data and the corroboration.” She beamed at me again. “I told you she’s a smart girl!”
A thousand bucks? For that little MTV squiblet?
Mom shook her head. “No, Marilyn, you’re being much too generous. She didn’t really earn it; you’re being too kind. A girl her age doesn’t need that much money—”
“I agree,” Marilyn said calmly. “But be perfectly clear on this; this wasn’t a charitable donation. Melanie knows what she’ll be doing, but I know you still aren’t entirely clear on the matter. But the information was worth that much to me, and so I’m paying for it. To her. But you’re right, Alice, that a girl her age doesn’t need that much money, but she might in the future. Isn’t that right, Melanie?”
I nodded, amazed again by how clearly we were both on the same wavelength.
Mom wasn’t. “I’m not sure I ...”
“Medical expenses, Mom,” I said, calmly. “It’s going to take a lot of money for surgery, medication—”
“Therapy,” Marilyn said.
Mom said, “Therapy? Do you think she needs it?”
Marilyn nodded while I said, “Yes, I do. I’ve got to deal with Michael, if I’m going to learn from his responses but not be ruled by them.” I said this last part to Marilyn, who nodded again. “And ...and ...I never had a girlhood! I never had a childhood, really, because I was always so miserable that I just wanted to hide.”
I saw my mother’s stricken face. I rushed to tell her, “No, Mom, you were great! But I’ve probably got enough junk between my ears that I’ll need to deal with, not to mention handling the whole transition thing.”
Mom nodded, and squeezed my hand. “I’m so proud of you; you’re so mature. I don’t know how ...but thank God; I love you so much.”
“And I love you, Mom.”
We hugged, and then Mom broke away.
“But, Marilyn, a thousand dollars is too much!”
Marilyn quietly said, “I know it’s rude to talk about money, Alice, but how much do you think I just made?”
“With the addition of the MTV data from Melanie, yes. I made money this morning. Do you have any idea how much I get paid? For that single recommendation to a client?”
“Well, I always assumed ...I don’t know.” I could tell from her shoulders that she was making a wild guess. “Five thousand dollars.” She deliberately chose a figure that she thought was too high.
Marilyn chuckled. “Uh ...no. I trust that you will keep this information to yourself.” We nodded and she cleared her throat. “For providing the information this morning, Miyoshi Securities paid me $50,000. It’s already in my account.”
Mom’s mouth flapped. “Fuh ...fih ..”
Even I was taken aback by the amount, but I already had an inkling that Marilyn worked at that level.
Marilyn went on. “The six pieces of data formed a construct that allowed the formulation of soybean futures. Within six months, the clients of Miyoshi Securities will have a net profit of approximately $350 million. The fifty thousand paid to me is tiny by comparison. So the thousand paid to Melanie is proportionate.”
There was silence, broken by me. “Five.”
Mom said, “Huh?”
It was Marilyn’s turn to be confused. “Five?”
“Months. Well, twenty two weeks, probably.”
Marilyn’s eyebrows shot up. “With the little I told you ...?”
I started slowly, feeling my way. “Rwanda. The new solvent, the Iowa rice hybrid. Um ...the Mercedes lawsuit and the pipeline in the Yukon. That was five facts, and you said you provided six, so I imagine it was the MTV data.”
Marilyn nodded slowly, her mouth slightly open. Mom was still in the dark; it must have seemed to her that Marilyn and I were talking in code.
I went on. “You mentioned soybeans earlier. That led me to the rice hybrid. I don’t know how all of the pieces fit, exactly, but the MTV announcement information is for six months from now, but it was announced two weeks ago. So I figured that it will all come down before that date, twenty-two weeks from now.”
Both women stared at me, Mom like I was from another planet; Marilyn like I was a star pupil. Then Marilyn surprised me by holding up a finger.
“Don’t do that again,” she said, seriously.
“Um ...sorry. But ...what?” I asked.
“Don’t state your conclusion until you’ve assembled the facts, but don’t assemble the facts until you verify and understand them. You were precisely right, but you admitted that you don’t know how they fit; you got the five items from me.”
“I’m sorry, Aunt Marilyn,” I said, chastened. “I wasn’t showing off or anything ...well, maybe a little.”
She waved her hand. “No, don’t worry about that part; that’s not what I meant. I meant ...what you did is like I gave you ten song titles that you’d never heard before, and you put them in the same order as a Sinatra album. If you understand how the songs go, you’ll understand how the producer arranged them in their order on the album. They were in that order to produce a certain emotional response. Follow me?”
“But it’s like you took the titles and hit on the same order, just out of chance. I’m not mad; I’m incredibly proud of you—and in awe that you did it so fast!—but in the future, understand how the data fits before assembling.”
“Know how the song goes? How the album flows?”
“Exactly!” she beamed again.
I thought I’d offended her, but she was just giving me a lesson in professionalism. Mom, sadly, was looking from Marilyn to me. Her expression said she was resigned to being in the dark.
Mom finally said, “Well, if you say she earned the money, and it’s the proper amount, so be it. But I insist that she save that money, although I think she wants to save it, too.”
I nodded. “It’s my future, Mom.”
She smiled. “Good for you, dear. And if you’re as good as Marilyn says, you may be earning your college money, too.”
Marilyn said, “And then some. With what she just showed us, I’m excited by what Melanie may be capable of, and I know she’s going to earn big.”
I blushed. “Just as long as I get the medical stuff covered, and college.”
Mom said, “But I do think a teenager should have an allowance, to learn thrift. We haven’t really discussed it …” She looked at me, then to Marilyn. “But I believe some small amount could be—”
“Girl’s gotta have some ‘Mad Money’!” Marilyn chuckled.
Mom seemed startled and said, “Oh, no, no; not to …to go mad with, but a reasonable amount for incidentals …” She looked to Marilyn. “Fifty?”
Mom said, “You will be allowed to draw an allowance of fifty dollars per week for spending money.”
That seemed kind of low. “Mom, what about—I mean, thank you ...that’ll be great for going to the movies and buying books and things, but what about clothes? I don’t want you to have to pay for my clothes if I can earn enough. And the classes ...if I can earn enough, I want to pay my own way.”
Mom and Marilyn exchanged looks. “She’s right, Alice,” Marilyn said.
Mom nodded, then said, “I’m very, very proud of you, honey. I’m just amazed at how level-headed you are.”
“Comes from good breeding,” I said, innocently.
Marilyn guffawed and Mom sputtered a laugh and then said, “Maybe, maybe ...Well, a decision has come to me. See how you like it. The thousand you just earned will pay for your classes this summer. That should cover it?” She looked questioningly to Marilyn, who nodded. “You’ll also have the fifty bucks of …Mad Money weekly. You will have no living expenses because Marilyn has already insisted that she will cover them this summer.”
I turned and hugged Marilyn. “Thank you!”
“My pleasure, honey. But that doesn’t cover the matter of clothes. I’m assuming that you want to start working with me tomorrow?”
I nodded, excited.
“Then you’ll probably be earning again in ...three or four days.”
That surprised both Mom and me.
Marilyn went on. “Based on the brochures for these classes, we can figure some deductions immediately. By the way, it says there are extra expenses for the photography class. I don’t think a ten dollar disposable will cut it. And you’ll need dance gear ...Oh, and ...”
She grew silent as her mental calculator fired up. Mom and I were silent.
Marilyn looked at the wall, then nodded. “Okay, I’ve got some roughs. Expenses will be tuition for classes, extras for classes, clothes, Mad Money. Later, of course, she’ll need a car, but we’ll cross that bridge when she’s old enough. So, minus these deductions, everything else goes into the Melanie account, right?”
I knew she meant it as the account holding the money for my medical expenses to be surgically changed into a female. I was glad she named it. “The Melanie Account; I like that.”
Marilyn said, “You never struck me as a spendthrift, but I think it’s better to establish ceilings. As a gift, a thank you for finding a collaborator, if you will, I will pick up your clothing bill. Don’t protest, Alice, you know I can afford it, I want to do it, and she needs it. And with her abilities, as she learns more, we’ll both earn more!”
Mom was silent.
“Her classes will be paid for by what she earned today, as will her Mad Money. I will buy her camera gear—”
Mom leaped in. “No, Marilyn, please.”
I joined her. “You shouldn’t have to—”
Marilyn held up that finger of hers. “Let me continue my statement. I will advance you the cost of your camera gear so you’re ready by the first class, alright?”
I nodded. “Thank you.”
She smiled. “You’re welcome. Pay me back at $250 a month, or sooner. I suspect it will be sooner, because of what you’ll earn. I figure that your camera gear—to do it right—will run you about a thousand dollars.”
“That’s got to be too high,” I said.
“Factor in a good camera, lenses, filters, case, tripod, and so on. Well, we’ll either get a dedicated camera and computer system, or use one of the ones here.”
“One of the ones …?” Mom asked.
“I’m …kind of high tech, Alice. I have to be.”
Mom said, “I’m sure you’ll find out what you need at the first class. Get good quality but don’t go crazy. Don’t feel compelled to spend more just because you have the limit.”
I grinned. “Joseph Kennedy told JFK, ‘Never spend more than enough votes to win’.”
Mom said, “Joseph Kennedy ...?”
Marilyn laughed. “You only need that one extra vote to win the election, so why buy more than that?” She shook her head. “You quote from Samuel Johnson and Joe Kennedy. At thirteen! It’s going to be fun working with you, Melanie!”
I looked from one to another; they obviously expected me to give a reason for knowing this stuff. “Look,” I said, “if you were so unhappy you didn’t want to leave your room, what would you do? I read.”
And I dreamed of becoming Melanie, but I didn’t need to tell them.
Chapter 21: Setting Up Business
I hated to see Mom leave, but I knew I could see her whenever I wanted. She approved of me, she was proud of me, she loved me! She loved Melanie! It made saying goodbye bearable. If things had worked out differently, I probably could have returned home with her, after this dream weekend. But I knew that she still had some serious work to do on her own psyche; Marilyn had dropped enough hints that for my mother’s sake, we should be separated. Marilyn had mentioned that Mom had started therapy, and it was just better that she not have to deal with me. And now that I’d shown a chance to make some serious money, it made perfect sense that I would stay with Marilyn through the summer, working with her, learning from her. And learning to be a girl.
I was right about Carol; she’d gone to call Eric earlier. After Mom left, I was hungry, so after lunch, I asked Marilyn if I could check my email. She looked at me strangely.
“How could I have forgotten?”
She asked me what kind of computer I had at home, my internet hookup, and detailed questions about my whole setup, did I like it, and so on. She also asked what software I used, and jotted things down on a pad.
Finally she asked me, “If you could have anything else, like a different mouse or trackball, or keyboard, monitor, peripheral, whatever, what would you have? You know what I mean—what makes you drool when you look at ads in the computer magazines?”
Well, heck, everybody’s got a Wish List of their Dream Machine. I told her, glad that she understood the terms, while she jotted them down. She only looked at me once with a raised eyebrow and said, “Really? Nineteen inches?”
I thought I’d asked for too much. “Well, it’s a Dream Machine, right? Not that I need a nineteen-inch monitor. I’m fine with smaller. And …”
The eyebrow was still raised, but now there was a quirky smile with it. Then she motioned for me to follow her into her office, and I was dumbstruck by her setup. She had three 27" monitors—twenty-seven inches!—and two towers big enough to be servers. An ergonomic keyboard, trackball, high-end scanner, and what looked like the newest bulk storage media. I knew the prices, and I had to be looking at $25,000 worth of hardware, minimum. Maybe a lot more, depending on the innards of the towers.
She sat and her main screen absolutely blazed. To answer my unasked, astonished question, she said, “Gig E. Nothing else quite suits; you’ll see. I’ve also got cable, fiber, and a satdish—I’m big on redundancy!—and everything’s on a separate generator if there’s a blackout. Data never sleeps.”
I didn’t think I’d get any sleep if I spent as much time here as I knew I was capable of; I didn’t want to get addicted, but there was just so much incredibly fast hardware here ...
Marilyn said, “Pretty cool, huh? The only thing is, you’re the first person I’ve shown it to who can really appreciate it. My girls don’t get excited by teraflops,” she said, referring to seriously fast computing iron. Then she smiled. “Well, two of my girls don’t care, but one of my girls understands!”
I smiled back, but she’d revealed something very important. All through her generosity, I’d been feeling both guilty at being the recipient, and confused as to why I was receiving it. Now, I think I understood. Marilyn lived a dual life. One Marilyn was the well-to-do divorcee, apparently living off the spoils of her divorce, with two healthy, normal daughters. It would seem to be a life of country clubs, golf or tennis, volunteering for docent work at the museum, liposuction, facelifts, and flings with the pool boy. Maybe I was being too harsh, but there were many women who would appreciate that life and consider it heaven.
The other Marilyn was almost a cyber-sleuth, hunting the data jungles for raw facts. And, she was a cyber-chemist, combining the facts like chemical solutions, creating compounds out of virtually nothing—her ‘Speculative Constructs’. This other Marilyn was much more masculine than the other, fluffy Marilyn. Not mannish, not butch, but I’d noticed when she was talking about her work—and correcting mine—there was a masculine speech pattern. Certainly a different part of her brain than she used playing bridge with the ladies!
Perhaps that duality in Marilyn made her more sympathetic to my boy/girl duality. And, perhaps, the fluffy Marilyn had two daughters and the cyber Marilyn wanted one, too. I resolved to stop wondering why things had occurred, stop feeling guilty, and learn as much as I could from this fascinating woman.
While I was looking at the computing equipment and thinking my deep thoughts, she’d been doing something and spun around in her chair.
“Tomorrow at ten. Whew! Do you want to check your email or do you want to shop?”
I had no friends, anyway, other than maybe Cheryl Ferguson, and I hadn’t received email but still treasured her letter. Email could wait! My clothes were fine; I freshened my face and hair and grabbed my purse. On the drive to the mall, she told me that she’d enrolled me in the summer classes we’d agreed on, and that she’d ordered what I wanted. To my astonishment, she’d ordered my dream computer rig, and it was going to be delivered—and set up—tomorrow morning.
“You’ll want to install your own software, but believe me, let them install the network. I don’t have the patience for debugging, and you shouldn’t have to.”
She told me that she’d gotten involved with computers when her first husband’s company became fully computerized. She’d started with an early Dell PC and worked her way up. She was as comfortable with computers as she was with makeup or fabrics.
I thought we were going to the mall, but she pulled into a small set of shops several miles from the mall. We entered a dance store, and she was right, as usual—no mall store could possibly hold as much inventory as this store. They had a gigantic assortment of leotards, shoes, slippers, scarves, bags, accessories, for every kind of dancer.
Based on the brochure information, I was shown some leotards, and settled on a royal blue and white combination. I was asked if I wanted to try it on, but a glance from Marilyn made me tell the shopkeeper that it was okay, I didn’t need to. I did try on several types of slippers until we found a white pair that worked. We added a short skirt, and Marilyn muttered, ‘what the heck’ under her breath and threw in a scarf and a dance bag. We got two leotard tops and four bottoms. We were back on the street in twenty minutes.
“Well, that’s what I call efficient shopping!” Marilyn said, satisfied. “And I’m sorry I told you not to try on the leotard.”
“I know you wanted to, and it usually would have made good sense to, but I’d forgotten to tell you not to do it before we went in.”
“And why ...?”
“Because she’d be reaching into your crotch, pulling it this way and that way to fit snugly, and I thought that might just be a little too close for your comfort.”
I chilled at the thought of the shopkeeper’s hands smoothing material over my crotch. “No apologies needed. Whew! Thank you for warning me!”
“Well, I am your godmother, you know!” she said like a Disney character.
We were still laughing when she pulling into another set of shops. Ah, I saw it—Camera Center. Before we got out, she said, “Don’t let on that you know anything about cameras. I’ll do the talking, okay? You’ll get a lesson in how the sexes relate.” She got out, and I heard her mutter under her breath, “And not too damn well.”
I wish I’d had a hidden camera filming the whole thing. We went in, she asked for a ‘good starter camera’ for her niece, and was shown an automatic piece of garbage. She upped her financial ceiling, and we were shown overpriced, under-featured non-brand name cameras that the salesman assured her were ‘every bit the equal of the Nikon’. She asked, sweetly, to see a Nikon, since he’d mentioned the name. To my surprise and disgust, he did the ‘oh, it’s too much camera for such a little lady’ shtick. Unbelievable!
She’d had enough, and so had I. She asked to see ...and she rattled off the Nikon body model and lens. His jaw dropped, then I could see anger in his eyes battle with the hope of a fat commission. The greed won, and he went into ‘man-to-man’ speak, talking as an equal. Marilyn handed the camera to me and I felt it, sighted through it and worked it, while she asked, in detailed terms, for a new Canon. After she’d checked it, I placed the Nikon on the countertop pad, then hefted the Canon. The salesman stuck a Sony on the pad and I tried that after the Canon and then tried the Nikon again.
Meanwhile, in what I now knew was her ‘what-the-hell’ mode, she had him pull out a Hasselblad. We talked seriously about the four cameras, trying each on in turn and talking about lenses and accessories and studying prices lists and brochures.
Marilyn turned to me. “Have you made a choice?”
I nodded. “Yes, I think—”
“Omigod, is it that late? Thank you very much! We’ll be back soon!” Marilyn cut me off, swept up the brochures, and hustled me out of there.
To my unasked question, she said, “Because he was a macho jerk. I wanted you to see that so you don’t think everything about being female is peachy-keen.” She cooled down a little. “And because whatever you want, I can get a better price. I just wanted you to see what felt best in your hands; you can’t do that on the internet. Yet.” She grinned.
I told her the Nikon was my favorite, but to keep under the limit and have enough for all the accessories, I said the Canon would be better for the budget if I could get a couple of extra lenses and all things considered, I’d take the Canon. She just smiled.
“I do love shopping with a girl who knows what she wants and isn’t afraid to save money getting what she wants!”
Then we hit the mall ...
Chapter 22: Book Chat
Actually, the Barnes & Noble bookstore joined to the mall, next to a Starbuck’s. Marilyn told me I’d probably rather shop for clothes with Carol, but that I should probably get some books on dance and photography. I started to mention the library, but she pointed out that the newest information wouldn’t be there, and that in time I’d learn the trustworthy photography websites, but it was good to have hard copy.
We browsed for a bit, occasionally winding up on the same row and smiling. I found the books I wanted, an introduction to modern dance techniques with the terms and names I would need to know, and a good mid-level instructional book. I also picked up a camera catalog. I found Marilyn looking through a thick reference book.
I tilted my head to read the cover. “Probabilities and Computational Structures. Ah, some light bed-time reading.”
She smiled at me over the top of the page. “It wouldn’t hurt you to start working with statistical analysis, honey.”
I went serious. “Any recommendations?”
She smiled and pulled two books out of a stack near her, and plopped them on my little stack. “Oh, Melanie, here’s a list of magazines I’d like you to get.”
I laid my stack next to hers and went to the magazine section. Okay, Foreign News Digest, International Business Ventures, SEV—whatever that was. I found them and looked at the rest of the list. Well, she said she wanted me to get them ...so I added Cosmopolitan, Seventeen, Girl’s Life, American Girl, J-14, TeenVogue, CosmoGirl, and ...Butterick’s? Geez, Marilyn!
I rejoined her and we had to get baskets because of the haul. I was following her, lugging my basket, when a male voice said, “Can I help you?”
I assumed it was a store employee, but the voice belonged to another customer. A male customer. Maybe seventeen or eighteen, thick curly brown hair, green eyes, well-dressed, one hand out.
“Thanks, I’ve got it, though,” I said, as politely as I could without encouraging him.
“Hmm ... Foreign News Digest and Analytical Statistics. Light bed-time reading, I see.”
It was exactly what I’d said to Marilyn; it was too much coincidence and I laughed.
“I just said that to her,” pointing to Marilyn with my shoulder.
“I noticed that she had Cosmopolitan. Please tell me that you didn’t switch baskets.”
I had to laugh again, because it was way too complicated to explain. “I’m not sure what ‘Miss Manners’ has to say about snooping in shopping baskets,” I said, lightly, to change the subject.
“We could check her together; she’s in Aisle H along with Ann Landers and Emily Post.” He grinned. “And I wasn’t snooping, honestly, I just noticed ...okay, I was snooping, ya got me,” he said, like a crook on TV, holding up his wrists to be handcuffed.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I do the same. But you haven’t picked out a book yet, so I can’t snoop your selections.”
He chuckled and said, “My stash is over there.” He pointed to a stack of books laid flat on a shelf a few feet away.
“May I?” I asked.
I set my basket down to hear his muttered, “SEV?”
He was still looking in my basket, so I gave him a stern look, a ‘harrumph’, and looked through his stack. I said, toughly, “SEV. You got a problem with that?” At least as tough as I could in Mary Janes.
He said, “No. But Russian agriculture magazines are not your typical fare for pretty girls.”
Aw, damn, there it was, the sex thing. He was trying to pick me up. I realized in an instant that it was Michael talking in my head, but that it had been Melanie speaking out loud. On my own, without Michael’s presence, I’d been flirting, and pretty good, too, now that I’d recognized what I’d been doing. As soon as I realized that, I also realized that he was kind of cute, and that I could feel my heart in my chest. I kept as still as I could.
The boy misunderstood my silence. “I’m sorry, that was too clichéd. Don’t get angry. You really are pretty, but I’m curious about how you’re reading SEV. Especially because it’s in Russian.”
I smiled in spite of myself. I said, “The statistics book is mine. The others are for my aunt,” keeping the relationship that she’d established in the dance shop. And part of me wondered, did Marilyn speak Russian?
I looked at his books. James, the Brother of Jesus. The Coming Plague. Ten Days That Shook The World. Advanced Lighting Techniques. Goodnight, Moon.
“Actually, that last one’s for me,” he said, taking Goodnight, Moon out of my hands and reading the first line out loud. Then he grinned. “Naw, it’s for Natalie, my sister. Birthday.”
I was impressed by the breadth of his selections, if they were for him. “Well, I’d guess that you’re a theology major with a thing for genetic and political revolutions. The lighting thing throws me, though.”
“For a class I’m taking this summer.”
Hmm? You don’t suppose he and I could be in the same class? I found I was thrilled and scared at the same time.
“Melanie’s going to be studying photography this summer,” Marilyn’s voice said behind me. Damn! I thought, she was reading my mind as easily as this guy read my books!
He gave me a knowing smile. “Melanie, is it? A wonderful name.” Seeing my exasperation at such a line, he held up both hands, palms up. “No, really! It would have been horrible if Ashley had married Scarlet; so much better that he married Melanie. She was wonderful.”
“Yeah, but she died young,” I said.
“Well, she had to,” Marilyn said.
The boy said, “Of course she had to. Otherwise Ashley couldn’t have so totally shut down Scarlet and she feel his pity. God, I hated that woman.” He’d said this last part almost to himself, then realized it. “I know, I know; I’m supposed to say, ‘oh, isn’t she beautiful’ and she’s the center of the story, but she’s a spoiled ...brat.”
I said, “Better if Rhett wound up with Belle Watling, too.”
“Got that right,” the boy said.
Marilyn went formal. “I’m Marilyn and this is Melanie, my goddaughter.”
“I’m Matt Haines, pleased to meet you,” he said, formally as well. He looked at me and said innocently, “And you said your aunt ...?”
I fumed slightly but Marilyn chuckled. “That’s my fault. When we’re shopping I introduce her as my niece, only because after The Godfather movies, people don’t understand the whole ‘god parent’ concept.”
“Well, you’ve got to admit that it is a somewhat antiquated concept, but still can provide a healthy relationship if people really honor their obligations.”
Oh, great! Now he was flirting on her level, too?
Marilyn said, “You’ve put your finger on it—it really is about obligations. Well, Melanie and I have an obligation to pay for all this,” she said, lifting her basket. “It was nice meeting you, Matt.” She turned to go and I picked up my basket and followed.
Matt said, “Uh ...ma’am? If you don’t mind my asking, is the copy of SEV for you?”
Marilyn turned slightly but kept walking. “Um-hmm.” She paused and stopped, and our little caravan stopped. “Is there a problem?”
I realized that she was testing him, to see if he took the same approach as the camera store idiot had taken when she asked for the big cameras.
Matt chuckled, “No, of course not. It’s just that I’ve noticed it before, and remember thinking to myself, is there really a large-enough market for Russian farm tools in this area that would justify keeping a copy of SEV in the local Barnes & Noble? I thought I’d never see a copy go out of here, but that didn’t make sense, either, because why would they stock it?”
Marilyn smiled, and I knew he’d satisfied her. “Yes, I read it. A lot of my work involves international agriculture.”
I remembered the Brazilian soybean futures that were paying for my summer classes.
“Do you speak Russian?” Matt asked.
“Why do you ask?” Marilyn asked, as if he was getting too personal.
“Because I’ve got a copy of John Reed’s book, and there are a couple of words that I’d like to know how to pronounce correctly.” He held up Ten Days That Shook The World.
Marilyn’s smile went into positively high-beam. “These baskets are heavy, Melanie, I think we should pay for them right now and go to Starbuck’s and rest for a time.”
She’d obviously said it for his benefit, so he smiled, nodded, and said, “A pleasure meeting you both,” and walked back down the aisle. We walked to the counter and paid, then at Starbuck’s we grabbed a four-chair table and I sat while Marilyn ordered for us. She just returned with our drinks when Matt passed by.
“Why, Matt Haines, is that you?” Marilyn called, innocently and playfully. Watching her at work, I realized no man on Earth stood a chance.
Matt turned as if surprised by the call, pretended to search the tables, then brightened when he saw us. “Why, Marilyn and Melanie, hi, howya doing?”
Marilyn had, of course, gotten that four-top so we could put our bags on the other chair as Matt sat down at her welcoming gesture.
“So, how long has it been?” Matt said, playing along.
“Okay, okay, you two, knock it off,” I said gruffly, like an old traffic cop. “All this banter between you two has put me right off my biscotti.”
Even Marilyn laughed at that. She asked Matt what words he wanted, and she looked at them and gave him the pronunciations. She warned him that she didn’t actually speak Russian, but was familiar with the words. At his look, she explained that she scanned SEV, used optical character recognition software, and then a translation program and into a program that she could edit.
Actually, she said, “I scan it, run it through OCR and a custom translit program that saves it plaintext in a Word doc.”
I’d have been as impressed as Matt was if I hadn’t already seen Marilyn’s computer power.
That began a pretty darned good conversation, actually. It ranged from Russia to computers to viruses to microbes to photography—Matt was not taking my class, but another, more advanced one—back to Russia to the internet and we all seemed to realize how long we’d been there. We decided to exchange email addresses, but Marilyn said I was getting a new system installed so Matt gave me his and asked me to send him a note when my system was up and running.
We shook hands and left, and once we were out of earshot, Marilyn said, “Interesting young man.”
That could have meant anything, so I said, “Yes,” which could have meant anything.
Marilyn chuckled. “How times change; email addresses instead of telephone numbers. Just a recommendation, Melanie; after you contact him, try to use the phone more than email. Voice is so important in a relationship.”
“We don’t have a relationship!” I said, startled. “We just met. He was checking out my basket.”
I realized instantly how foolish that sounded, as well as the double entendre. Marilyn just gave me a look and said, “Uh-huh.”
I was blushing.“Look, I ...uh ...well, yeah, he’s cute and all, but still ...”
“Oh, so you admit he is cute? I was worried that you hadn’t noticed,” she said playfully.
“I noticed,” I said quietly, but thought, ‘boy, did I notice!’
Marilyn took a few more steps and said, “By the way, Melanie, you were great.”
“Great? How was I great?”
“I heard his first comment to you, although I didn’t let on that I’d heard it. I was eavesdropping because ...well, partly to protect you, but also because I was nosy. And I wanted to see how you’d handle it. And you did great.”
“Thank you, but again, how was I great?” I wasn’t fishing for compliments; I truly didn’t know.
“You responded with just the right amount of flirting, while appearing matter-of-fact. You both played well; it was like a good tennis volley. You displayed your wit and intelligence while allowing him to display his without showing off. You acknowledged his charm and humor but deflected it to another subject. And you left him wanting more.”
“You did. And very well, too. In fact ...this may sound strange, but in many ways you handled him like a professional geisha, minus the flattery. Almost as if ...” she turned and leaned closer, lowering her voice. “Almost as if you had been born a girl. And yet many naturally-born girls lack the ability you displayed.” She straightened and gave me a proud look. “But you performed admirably; you are a natural female. It’s your natural instinct. And that makes me so happy for you.”
I hugged her by way of thanks, but wondered again, ‘I did all that?’
The moment passed and we walked on to the car. In a more casual tone, Marilyn said, “I knew that you’d introduced yourself as a niece and I said ‘godmother’, because I wanted to see how he handled the shift in relationships.”
She nodded. “Handled it well. I meant what I said about him being an interesting young man. He reminds me of someone ...” she trailed the riddle, like a cat.
“Who?” I was really slow today.
“Well, can you think of another boy who reads anything and everything, and can extrapolate and correlate data from one source to another?”
I shook my head. I was really slow today!
“You really don’t know? He reminds me of Michael.” She got in the car while I gaped, open-mouthed.
I got in the car. “No way.”
She chuckled. Like a Valley Girl, she responded, “Way!”
“Wait a minute; you don’t think ...you’re not saying he might be transgendered, too?”
She gave me a disappointed look. “Honey, was there anything, any slightest thing, that made you think there’s a female inside Matt Haines?”
“Darned right. He’s all male and you know it! Don’t you?” She peered at me. “Don’t you?”
I lowered my eyes, fumbling with my seatbelt. My face was flaming. In a very small voice, I said, “Yes.”
She softened immediately. “Oh, Melanie, honey, I’m sorry you’re so confused on this. I know that Michael is inside there,” she said, gently tapping on my head, “but in here,” she tapped on my chest, “you’re all girl. And you are here, too,” she tapped my head again, “but you just don’t admit it.” She leaned back.
For some stupid reason, my eyes burned. “Aunt Marilyn, I’m scared.” I felt cold and I rubbed my arms.
“Oh, honey,” she said, and leaned across to hug me.
My seatbelt was fastened so I couldn’t lean back, but I loved the hug just as the dam burst and I began sobbing.“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry; you’ve been so kind and wonderful and we were having such a good time and I go and ...spoil things ...” I couldn’t continue because of the sobs.
Marilyn pulled away from me, reached behind the front seats and produced a box of tissues. Gently, she said, “Go ahead and cry, honey. It’s one of the perks of being female.”
“This ...this is a perk?” I grabbed a handful of tissues and began blotting.
“Of course it is. Why do you think men die younger? They can’t release their emotions. And mood swings are part of the feminine psyche. You’ve been on the medication a short time, but you remember those first shots?” I nodded with remembered pain in my hips. “Well, chemically your brain is being rewired. Maybe that’s not the right description.”
She thought for a moment, kindly ignoring my racking sobs and occasional snorts. “You do know that brain scans have shown that males and females process in different areas of the brain?”
“Uh …huh,” I said, still gasping between sobs.
“Your thought processes, emotional responses, are shifting from the male areas to the female areas of your brain. That’s a biochemical fact, but despite the presence of a Y chromosome, there has been very little effect on your thoughts and emotions, or you could never be as naturally feminine as you are. I think that only some—and very tenuous—male wire-routing was done in your brain, so to speak. Based on my knowledge of you for your entire life, I firmly believe that most, if not all, of your thought and emotional processing have always been in the female area of your brain, with masculine responses sort of grafted on. And weakly. So your brain, I am certain, has been female, feminine, all along, and that’s why your transition seems so quick and complete.”
I was listening, even though I’d passed into the silent-but-with-teary-outbursts stage. I kept dabbing at my eyes, and as the tissues became damp and shredded, Marilyn patiently handed me more, took the used wad, and put it in a plastic bag.
Maybe she was just trying to distract me, or maybe she was talking out loud to make things clear to herself, but it was helping me.
“Melanie, you know that none of this is your fault. I mean, we’ve gone through all that fault business, I hope. What I just said about wiring ...that was done before you were born. Remember, becoming Melanie is not strange and it’s not wrong. The fact that you were Michael at all is strange and wrong.”
“I know,” I sighed, surprised that my voice worked. But I sounded so sad!
She patted my thigh. “I know you do, honey. But that little bit of wiring that’s left, or listening to what you think it’s telling you ...that’s going to just hurt you, until you can deal with it.”
“I know. That’s why I told Mom I need therapy. I just hope I get it under control soon. I don’t want to feel like this; I don’t want to question my own thoughts. And it comes up at the worst times!”
Marilyn grinned. “He was cute, wasn’t he?”
I threw my head back, staring at the ceiling. “Oh, God, yes. Was, and is!”
She patted my thigh again, then put on her seat belt and started the car. “Relax, honey, even girls without your personal history still get scared by their reactions to a cute guy!”
End of Part 7
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