Twisted: The Milky Way
A young man, stuck in an orphage, suddenly twists into a girl, and not just any girl, but a girl with special powers and compulsions with infants. He's thrown out of the orphanage and taken to a women's shelter, where he makes two new friends,one of whom is also Twisted. Unfortunately, the clinic's doctor suspects that the girl's is Twisted, and now their lives are suddenly very interesting - and a bit perilous.
The author would like to thank Morpheus for letting me play in the sandbox he created, Sir Lee, Maggie Finson, and the other volunteers who helped me add some editorial polish and offered their suggestions. Your efforts are more appreciated than mere words can say.
This story is copyright by the author. It is protected by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
As usual, few of the guys were managing to stay awake. A lot of them had given up even trying. It was difficult, bordering on impossible, because Ms. O'Neil was the epitome of boring. The joke was that she'd put an insomniac to sleep in twenty seconds flat. Her history lectures were agonizing to sit through, not that I had anything better to do. Here at the orphanage, there wasn't much to do for fun. I think all orphanages run by the Siblings of Peace were like that. As usual, I was daydreaming about science, and more specifically, astronomy. Since I could remember, I'd been fascinated by space. I enjoyed stargazing, peering into the heavens in awe and wonder at the marvels they held. My first memory of the stars was looking at the sky and thinking on a clear night and thinking there was a band of clouds. Someone told me, no, that was the Milky Way galaxy, the home f our sun, and its billions of stars. Daydreaming wasn't great for my grades, but it did help pass the time.
Like just about every other one of the guys, I would have preferred to be in a foster home, or _any_ of the few other remaining orphanage, but it wasn't my choice, and besides, there weren't a lot of options in our state. The state's goal had been to close all orphanages in favor of foster care, but a few of the relics still clung to life. For one thing, if a baby was abandoned at an orphanage under the so-called 'Moses Law', the orphanage had the option to care for that child according to something called "implied preference" of the parent. Orphanages were well-known as places where desperate mothers could abandon their child and know that he or she would be cared for. Another factor was that some orphanages still managed to operate cheaper than foster families, and politicians loved saving money to spend somewhere else.
A few groups, like the Siblings of Peace, saw an opportunity to practice their own brand of charity and education, especially since many of the order were retired and could thus teach and do administrative work at minimal expense. As a result, this branch of the Siblings had purchased an old convent that had been a small boarding school, and they moved their orphanage into the convent, squeezing the students quarters as tight as the law would allow, thus freeing up space in the buildings. Because of the additional room, they successfully argued that they could house all the orphans and have plenty of room for a school — and at low cost to the state welfare agency. The Siblings operated several orphanages because of this confluence of circumstances.
The Siblings of Peace were a very backward, fundamentalist organization that believed in austere living, firm discipline, and abstinence from fun. Their education seemed to be more oriented toward brainwashing us into their peculiar beliefs. Between the rules of the order, and our housing arrangement, we jokingly referred to ourselves and 'monks', because life was as Spartan as some textbooks described in the old monestaries of the Dark Ages. At least the Siblings didn't still believe the world was flat, or that the sun orbited the earth, so they let me spend free time in the evenings with a small telescope stargazing — as long as I was inside by 'lights out'. It was one of my guilty pleasures, the other of which was the very personal activity common to pubescent teenage boys thinking of girls.
When Ms. O'Neil asked about what we knew of the Twisted, I quit daydreaming and took interest in the topic.
"That'd be so cool — having some kind of superpowers," I whispered to Jerrod, my best friend.
"Not in this place," Jerrod whispered back. "You know what the order thinks of the Twisted."
I nodded grimly. The Siblings espoused the philosophy that the Twisted were cursed by God, and therefore damned. We all could hear the disdain for the Twisted in Ms. O'Neil's voice. Nonetheless, she was required to teach the subject, since it was mandated by federal and state curriculum standards. Because federal law prohibited discrimination against Twisted, education about Twisted, and their origins, was required.
"Who can tell me something about the Twisted?" she asked, glaring directly at me. "Lowell Hansen?
I gulped, knowing that she'd seen or heard me talking to Jerrod. "Um," I tried to stall while I was mustering my facts. "They've got powers because of the Antarctic flu," I stammered.
"Not quite," she said, scowling at me. Ms. O'Neil was a hawkish-looking older woman, with her hair in a severe bun, and not a trace of makeup on her face. In many ways, her unpleasant, severe looks were more intimidating than her harsh voice, but strangely, given the philosophy of the Siblings, it didn't seem out of place. The other guys were struggling to keep from snickering at my plight and lame answer.
"Those who survived the virus had some kind of genetic mutation," I tried to recover. Even as I spoke, I knew that I'd waded further from their doctrine, and had probably earned an extra assignment on what the 'truth' really was, at least according to the Siblings.
"That's the prevailing _secular_ theory," she said with contempt in her voice. "We all know that, just as the scriptures say, those cursed by God are cursed unto the seventh generation. The original survivors turned their backs on the Almighty and made a deal with Satan to spare their lives. As a result, the survivors and their descendants are cursed."
"Don't the scientists say that it's some kind of quantum field that changes them and gives them their ... abilities?" Eric Matteson was a very sharp kid, a few years younger than me, but three years ahead of where he should have been in school. He was popular with all the guys because he didn't pretend to accept the Siblings' biased, fundamentalist viewpoints the way everyone else did, but instead, he argued, with facts to back him up. As a result, he frequently backed the teachers into a logic trap and left them looking foolish. He got a lot of extra assignments as a result, but it didn't seem to faze him. He could complete the average extra assignment in less than ten minutes. Eric was, as usual, deliberately baiting Ms. O'Neil. "The flu caused a mutation which enabled the genetic descendants of the survivors, able to tap into that field, which causes their changes and powers."
"And there's a theory that it's caused by space aliens who exert mind control over the Twisted, too," she countered with contempt in her voice. We knew, from the way she answered, what she expected to see on the test next week, regardless of what the textbook said.
Fortunately, the bell rang before the discussion became even more heated, and before Eric and I could get extra work. I sighed with relief at my escape as I grabbed my notebook and textbook and joined the other eleven in my class making a rapid exodus. The Siblings weren't wealthy enough to provide us with modern individual computers, and even if they had been, they really frowned on more modern teaching methods and tools, believing instead in instruction by early twentieth-century methods. The standing joke was that the reason we got notebooks was because papyrus was impossible to find, carving stone tablets left too much mess, and animal rights folks frowned on parchment.
"I thought that was going to get weird," Jerrod said to me as he caught up in the hall. We trudged through the halls of the connected buildings back to the 'dorm', if you wanted to call it that. Eric, because he sat further from the door, had to trot to catch up to us. The halls were quite crowded because there were far more boys than should have been housed, or schooled, in this ancient building complex. It had once been a small convent school, with a dorm for about seventy to eighty students, a school, and a residence for the nuns. With two hundred orphans and the resident Siblings, the facility was really crowded way beyond its design. Because of their beliefs and the lack of facilities, the orphanage was run as boys-only. The state didn't like it being gender-separated, but they couldn't argue about the facilities.
"Yeah, but by her standards, we're done with the Antarctic flu and the Twisted," I countered. "If it's not in their scripture, it's not worth spending time on. It's a curse from God."
"Yeah." We watched the other students hustling about. It should have been loud and chaotic, especially since we'd just got out of the last class for the day, but even with so many boys, the halls were unbelievably quiet. The rules of the orphanage were very strict — no talking in the halls, even after school was over.
"I got an off-campus pass," I whispered to Jerrod and Eric. "Wanna come?"
"Shh," Eric hissed back. We shut up and put on dour expression as we passed the principal, Mrs. Lowrey. She was glaring at us — she probably suspected that we'd been talking in violation of the rules. I hoped she hadn't heard; I didn't want to lose my precious pass. Even the slightest discipline violations resulted in loss of privileges such as the occasional pass off-campus, or the hour of computer game time we got each week.
A couple of times a week, those who were high-school age or above were given our 'spending allowance' and allowed — if our behavior had been satisfactory — to go out of the orphanage to buy personal supplies, go to a park, or even, in Eric's case, go to the library to read modern science books. If it hadn't been a state law, the Siblings would never have let us go. As it was, they found every excuse to curtail the privilege. Occasionally, someone would slip in some contraband from a shopping trip, like candy bars, comics, or worse. Rumor had it that one junior had a girly magazine hidden in his personal effects that the Siblings hadn't found. Supposedly, he charged by the minute to gawk at nude girly pictures.
"I'm overdue for a pass, too," Jerrod whispered after Mrs. Lowrey had passed.
"Me, too," Eric chimed in.
"You're lucky you didn't lose yours today," I whispered back to Eric. Jerrod chuckled, which made Eric blush from embarrassment.
We got back to our room — Eric, Jerrod, and I shared it with three other students. It had been a tiny attic room of the old convent; now it was a dorm room. Three of us would have been crowded; with six, it was like sardines in a can, even stacked in bunk beds. The ceiling was low and steeply sloped, so that if you weren't careful, you could really whack your head getting into or out of the top bunk. I'd done it many times when I first got to the room. It was the reason that, unlike most bunks, the bottom bunks were highly preferred.
"Let me grab a jacket," Jerrod said, "and we'll go sign out." I hadn't planned on getting my jacket, since it was bright and sunny, but I remembered that it was mid-autumn, and that, once the sun set, the temperature would drop to the thirties, and any breeze would be brisk. I grabbed my jacket, too.
A few minute later, the three of us were walking happily through the main gate, free for up to two hours. I had about half of my spending allowance — a small monthly stipend from the state child welfare agency that the orphanage was forced to keep in separate individual accounts for each of the children. I wanted to save what I could, so that someday, I could buy a real telescope, and I knew that having the money in my pocket would make it more tempting to spend.
"Where to?" Jerrod asked as soon as we got off orphanage property. All our voices shifted from hushed whispers to rambunctious boy volume practically the minute we were out of the gate.
Sometimes, when we got a pass, we'd just walk to a park and enjoy the vistas around us, since the city was nestled in the western foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Some of the guys, like me, especially admired the scenery of the majestic splendor of the mountains. Once in a rare while, we could get a pass and actually hike among the foothills of the mountains, temporarily away from the chaos of the city and the strict rules of the orphanage.
"The mall," I answered firmly, and Eric nodded his agreement. I liked going to the mall, mostly because we could watch girls. It was hard to live in an all-male orphanage while going through puberty. We almost never saw girls; only the old, dour women of the order. We all joked that the women in the order were all spinsters or widows, because they all looked over sixty. I could understand that; their concept of fun living would be boring to anyone who wasn't comatose. Looking at them was no relief to a boy who's started to wonder about the opposite sex.
We caught the bus, and rode to the mall. Inside, we walked slowly, watching the girls strolling past as we joked and laughed about what it would be like to be in a public school where we could interact with these delightful creatures on a daily basis. It was a common conversation topic in the orphanage school — at least to those of who realized that girls really _didn't_ have cooties. Because he was a few years younger than Jerrod and me, Eric wasn't quite as enthusiastic about girl-watching, but he was acquiring the desire quickly.
One of my stops was the bookstore; I hoped, once more, that I could find a source of plans or kits for a telescope. I _knew_ that I could build myself a telescope better than I could buy — and that it would be an activity which the order would permit. Unfortunately, just about every book which addressed the topic was an electronic book, and without good e-book readers at the orphanage, I had to keep trying to find a hardcopy book. Besides, if I had hardcopy, I could read even if the computers and electronics were powered off for the night. While I was looking, Jerrod and Eric sat down outside to continue their study of other heavenly bodies. Even the astronomy magazines were electronic, and thus of no use to me. Disappointed, as usual, I trudged back out of the store to rejoin my friends.
"Nothing?" Jerrod asked needlessly.
"No," I replied glumly. "I'm going to have to spend one of my passes at the city library. Maybe I can find something there."
"Better chance of that than convincing Lowrey to buy an e-reader," Eric said with a snort. He loved science, but most magazines and books on the subject had long-ago been converted to electronic format, so he shared my frustration.
"I wonder if they'd let me spend my own money for one," I asked softly, mostly to myself.
"No," Jerrod answered with a grin. "You know they think computers are evil!"
"Yeah, I know," I answered glumly. The order's objection to modern technology had even allowed them a religious exemption from the e-identity program, which was extremely rare these days. Still, I could dream that I might get an e-reader someday.
When Jerrod had to use the restroom, Eric and I sat down on a bench in a courtyard of the mall. There were numerous benches around a fountain in the center of the sitting area, to provide some atmosphere. I was gazing about lazily, not looking at anyone in particular, but just taking in all scenery. That changed when I saw a piece of 'mobile scenery,' an attractive girl, who really caught my attention.
"Look at her," I nudged Eric while I looked at the girl. He noted where I was looking, and followed my gaze.
"Wow!" he said softly, his eyes nearly bugging out. It was easy to understand why. The girl was very attractive, with long legs, short shorts, and a crop top with spaghetti straps, exposing lots of skin. Compared to the frumpy concealing clothing of the sisters of the order, the girl was practically naked. She knew that she was attracting attention; her butt swayed seductively with every step, accentuated by her stiletto-heeled shoes. Her hair was quite daring — cut short and sassy like a rock singer and tinged with pink and purple. She had tattoos on both ankles, on one shoulders, and another centered in the inviting valley of cleavage. She wore three stud earrings in each ear and a matching jeweled piercing in her navel, too.
"Old Lady Lowrey would have a heart attack if she were here," Eric chuckled.
"So would O'Neil," I added with a grin.
Eric's head tracked her like radar, while I let my eyes wander more. While the girl was quite attractive, with a lot of rebellious edginess that was appealing to us 'monks', I'd seen more and better. I laughed to myself as I wondered whether I had been like Eric on my first outings.
While I was girl-watching, I started to feel a little sorry for myself. It happened on every outing. Even the rebellious kids had something that I didn’t — parents and family that cared about them, even if it was only just a bit. I envied them. It wouldn't have been so bad, but I still had some faint, hazy memories of a man and a woman, smiling and happy - probably my parents. The other kids were lucky; they'd been abandoned when they were too young, and didn't remember. I did. I was between two and three when I'd been abruptly abandoned, left on the step of a social welfare office. I had memories; the others didn't. It was ironic; the others envied me because I actually remembered parents, while I envied them because they didn't have the pain of those memories. It made a huge difference, mostly causing me to feel depressed. In my heart, I was convinced that there was something very wrong with me that had made them not want me. If there were records, no-one had told me. That was a mixed blessing; I wanted desperately to know, but I feared finding out what was so wrong.
Eric continued to gawk, fixing his stare on a pair of attractive girls walking hand-in-hand through the mall. I'd learned — from older boys and watching — that some people were gay, and publicly showing their affection for their partners was common-place, unlike what the order taught in the orphanage.
"Waste of time," I joked to Eric. "They're not into guys."
"What?" he asked, surprised by my comment. He was almost entirely fixated on the girls; I chuckled to myself. It obviously was his first encounter with homosexuality, and he couldn't help but stare, both because the girls were attractive, and because they were lesbians.
I laughed. The Siblings didn't even acknowledge homosexuality because it was so 'sinful'. "Some guys like guys, and some girls like girls. They try to pretend it doesn't happen when they teach us. They really scrubbed the sex ed class of things like that." I was struck, for the first time, that perhaps the Siblings were withholding information on other subjects as well. I thought about the way Eric had defended the Twisted in class. "What do you know about the Twisted that they're not teaching us?"
"You know about the Antarctic Flu, right?" Eric asked solemnly.
"Yeah. They teach that part without their religious bias," I answered. History was history; the Siblings couldn't really teach other than what was recorded about that devastating outbreak. A scientist at the Antarctic research station had accidentally become infected with a new strain of what everyone called flu just before he returned to North America. It wasn't really influenza, but it spread like flu, so it picked up the name. While he was infectious but before he was showing symptoms, he'd traveled to present a couple of papers at universities, which communicated the virus widely across the country. By the time symptoms began to show, it was already a pandemic. Death was widespread because the survival rate wasn't high. The entire country was quarantined, travel was completely halted, and in some places martial law was declared. In a miraculous fluke, against staggering odds, no-one who was infected had traveled outside the US before the travel restrictions were in place. The Centers for Disease Control very hastily developed a vaccine, and an emergency campaign inoculated everyone against the virus. The outbreak was quashed, but not before over two million people had died and countless others had survived the infection.
"You know that some people survived the Antarctic Flu, right?"
I nodded. "That's where the Siblings say it was a deal with the devil."
"Hardly," Eric snorted. "It's just normal biology. Genetic diversity means that not every organism is vulnerable to every pathogen. Otherwise, one virus or bacterium could wipe out a species."
"Careful saying that back at the school," I laughed. "They'll brand you a heretic and burn you at the stake!"
"I'm non-flammable," Eric replied with a grin. "Anyway, like I said in class, those who survived had a genetic mutation caused by the virus. When the children got old enough, they suddenly got a connection to what's called the Darrington Field. It's some strange quantum thing scientists didn't know about until the first Twisted started to appear. Because of the field, people who are Twisted have the ability to tap into the field and do things we'd call super-powers."
I shuddered visibly. Super-powers sounded scary.
Eric noticed my discomfort. "Not everyone who's Twisted has powers. The bad thing is that when someone who has the mutation first experiences the field, it can change them."
"Change? How?" That sounded disturbing. What must it be like for Twisted to know that, when they first encountered the field, they were possibly going to change?
"Physical, mental. According to the articles I read, it's kind of random. The scary thing is that it can change behavior — sometimes, pretty radically."
"That's why there was the mass murderer who was Twisted," I said, finally seeing how things were connected. I would have never learned that in the orphanage.
"Yeah. That's why the Twisted scare people, because the Twists are so unpredictable." Eric was quite somber at this point, and the entire spirit of girl-watching had dissipated.
I'd learned enough of what they didn't teach in the orphanage. Perhaps ignorance really was bliss; not knowing details about the Twisted made it easier to pretend they didn't exist, or to assume that I'd never interact with them. Thinking about the Twisted made me nervous. "Hey, look at her," I said, looking and quickly pointing at a girl strolling down through the mall.
Eric looked where I had briefly pointed. His eyes nearly fell out of their sockets. "Wow!"
Wow wasn't an understatement. The girl I'd noticed had long, flowing, wavy hair that hung down to the small of her back. Despite the cool autumn weather outside, she wore shorts that couldn't have been any shorter, and her top looked like it was spray-painted onto her moderate, perfectly-shaped bosom. She walked with a hypnotic sway, with her hair bobbing about seductively. The most interesting thing was the color of her sexy hair — it was electric blue on the left half, and silver on the right half. It was a startling — and sexy — combination. Both Eric and I gawked openly at her, and I suspected that many other guys were doing the same. There was something about her that demanded our attention.
After she went into a store, we continued watching other girls walk by. Sometimes, Eric or I would make a wishful comment or observation, as I supposed was normal for teenage boys. When the silver and blue-haired girl came out, we were again immediately attracted to her, like iron to a magnet. Eventually, she departed from our view, and we went back to gazing at 'regular' girls. As I glanced around, I spotted a very attractive young woman with a stroller sitting down on a bench across from Eric and me. She pulled a shawl out of the stroller, and draped it over one shoulder, following which she picked up her baby. After she fiddled a bit with her shirt, she draped the shawl over the baby, too. It took me a moment to realize that she was nursing her child.
I tried not to stare, but it was difficult. I was fifteen, and had been not around women much — certainly not around older women with babies. And here was a woman breast-feeding right in front of me. It was something that I knew a little bit about; even in the very sterile biology classes of the orphanage-school, the boring teachers couldn't disguise the fact that breasts weren't just ornamental, but had a functional purpose. In fact, that was about the _only_ thing they acknowledged as a purpose for breasts.
The woman glanced my way, and I know she saw me staring. She just gave me a slight smile and turned her attention back to her infant. Public breastfeeding was, I learned later, so common as to not be worth mention or embarrassment, except to orphans like me who lived inside a prison wall of the order, isolated from the world. When she switched breasts, the shawl shifted, and I could very clearly see her very ample breast, with the baby suckling.
"Hey," Jerrod called over my shoulder, interrupting my gawking. "Let's go."
I tore my gaze from the woman, and left with Jerrod and Eric, glancing back over my shoulder at the woman. The expression on her face had really caught my attention; she appeared to be entranced by what she was doing. Some of that, of course, had to be from her love for her infant, and her instinct to care for her infant. Being a teenager, and having heard 'locker room talk' from older boys, I couldn't help wondering if part of her smile was from some hidden pleasure of having a baby suckle her breasts. Whatever it was, she looked totally peaceful attending to her child. It was a picture-perfect image of a mother and her precious baby.
We continued to wander through the mall, even after we'd made our purchases. We were just walking aimlessly, staring more at girls than anything else. It was tough to not be conspicuous as we ogled and gawked; we were obvious enough that we got more than a few angry glares from boyfriends. Despite the plentitude of attractive girls, I couldn't get my mind off the mother nursing her baby. Had my mom nursed me? Had she held me so lovingly while I fed at her bosom? And if she'd done that, how could she possibly have turned her back on me and abandoned me? I fought the stinging in my eyes; I didn't want to cry in front of my friends or the people bustling about the mall. I'd save my tears for later, in the middle of the night, when everyone was asleep. I always did when I got in a melancholy mood.
Not quite two hours after we'd left the orphanage, we walked back through the gate with a couple of bags each. I'd gotten two new shirts and some new socks. Jerrod had gotten a new pair of pants to replace the ones he'd torn trying to play football in the hallway. Eric hadn't spent any of his 'allowance.'
"You're almost late," Mrs. Lowrey said with a scowl as we signed back in. "Let's see."
We sighed. Every trip off the grounds followed the same ritual — rigorous sign-out and sign-in time, followed by an inspection of our packages. Occasionally, one of the brothers did a more 'personal' inspection if it was suspected that contraband was being smuggled in. Because he didn't have any packages, Eric got a minor frisking to be certain he wasn't trying something funny.
"I hate this fucking place," I said with a sigh as we trudged across a small courtyard and into our dorm.
"You say that every time you get back from a trip off-campus," Jerrod laughed.
"I say that even when I _don't_ go off campus," I retorted sharply. Everyone felt the same. This time, though, the return trip was more painful. In that brief encounter in the mall, I'd had a brutal reminder of how defective I was.
The rest of the evening sucked. We could either do our tedious and boring homework, read from the order's very limited library, or watch a few very old, boring, and 'safe' movies on the television. Yes, the order was so cheap that they still used that antique television instead of a modern holo-screen — not that it would have helped with most of the videos. Some were even, unbelievably, 2-D and monochrome!
Once my homework was done, it was early night-time, so I went out to the courtyard and sat on the cold stone ledge of a fountain in the courtyard of the orphanage. I could see the stars, my heavenly friends, twinkling at me reassuringly. No matter what else happened, they were a constant. We weren't in a huge city, so light pollution wasn't a big issue. Because of that, I could see the hazy band of the Milky Way across the sky, our galaxy with its countless stars, wrapped across the sky like a warm blanket. I began to inventory the stars and constellations I knew, testing my memory. I paused when I noted Mars in the night sky, which distracted me to look for other planets. Jupiter was visible, but I couldn't find Uranus or Neptune. I knew it was far too late to even think about seeing Venus. Still, it was pleasant to think of the stars. I wanted to become an astronomer — someday. First, though, I reminded myself, I had to survive the orphanage, and then figure out how to pay for college. I wasn't such a good student that I would easily get a good scholarship. Maybe, I pondered, it was time to start applying myself a little more.
Eventually, the evening breeze and temperature got cold enough to slice through my jacket and make me start shivering. I fought the discomfort for as long as I could, because time star-gazing was one time I had all to myself. It was tranquil time. A couple years earlier, I'd tried to start an astronomy club, in hope that we could persuade the order to buy a decent telescope, but none of the other guys shared my interest, and the idea fizzled.
I trudged inside, glancing at the clock as I walked in. Mrs. Lowery was at her desk — still — watching me with an eagle eye as I came through. I gulped when I saw the clock; I was within a few minute of being late for curfew and earning some type of punishment. I hurried to my room, so I could be in bed.
After 'lights out', I tossed and turned a bit before I opted to read a book that I'd picked up on my previous outing, a collection of science fiction stories called "The Past Through Tomorrow". I didn't think that Lowery or any of the other Siblings knew the book, since it had a few stories that were not exactly complimentary of religions like the order. It was a huge book, and at times, difficult to stay focused, but at least it occupied my mind while I wasn't in class or sleeping. It was also on the 'approved' list of the order - barely. Many books I _wanted_ to read weren't.
Much later, after curfew and lights out, I was still trying to read under the covers, using a small reading lamp. I'd had to smuggle that in, because the only reason one would use a reading lamp was for reading after curfew and lights out. Several times, I'd almost been caught in the illicit activity of reading late at night.
For some reason, the pages seemed blurry. Despite my efforts to focus on the words of the book, I couldn't get my mind off the woman, and the thought that I'd once had a mother like that, but that she'd abandoned me. From the look on the woman's face as she cared for her infant, I could see how much she loved the baby. I wondered if my real mother had ever looked at _me_ that way? Had she nursed me, cradling me tenderly while she saw to my needs? Those questions made the sting of abandonment all that more painful. I tried to focus on my book again, and noticed that there were drops on the pages, tears which I hadn't even noticed had run down my cheeks and dripped onto my precious book.
Sometime around two in the morning, I closed the book, giving up on reading. My eyes were too misty, and I was in too melancholic a mood, probably as depressed as I'd ever felt about being an orphan. I was alone in the world, unwanted, rejected, defective. I'd been abandoned by my mother — a woman who should have loved me like the woman in the mall did with her infant. Fighting tears, I sat up, and then crawled cautiously down from my bunk, my reading light and book in hand. I was ashamed to admit it, but I had to put them away so I could crawl back up in my bed and cry myself to sleep — again.
I'd just put my light away in the back of a tiny drawer, behind a false back I'd fashioned, when I felt a powerful tingling sensation through my entire body. My hair felt like it was standing on end. It was uncomfortable and disturbing, and my muscles were twitching as if something was interfering with my nervous system. "What the fuck?" I said aloud in surprise. The tingling quickly got stronger and more uncomfortable. "Jerrod!" I tried to call out. "Eric! Help ...." My vision faded very quickly, and before I blacked out, I felt like I was falling.
Slowly, light crept back into my world, dimly at first. I didn't know how long I'd blacked out. Every muscle in my body hurt — badly — and I couldn't move. I became aware that people were hovering over me, staring in disbelief, with the room light on. My first thought was that we were going to get in serious trouble for violating lights out.
I realized that Jerrod was staring at me, his mouth open in astonishment. "Get ... get whoever is in the office," he nervously ordered one of the other boys, a lad even younger than Eric. The boy stared at Jerrod, looked at me in disbelief again, and then darted out the door. The way the boys were looking at me made me nervous.
Slowly, feeling started coming back to me, like the tingling of Novocain wearing off at the dentist. It felt creepy, because it involved my whole body, not just part of my jaw. I tried to move, but I still couldn't — yet.
"What ...?" I tried to ask. Even speaking was uncomfortable. "Jerrod," I pleaded, "what ... what happened?" Something seemed wrong with my voice.
Jerrod looked around the room, then back at me. "Who ... who are you?" he asked, his eyes wide.
"It's me," I countered weakly. I saw the look on his face at my response, and I felt fear. My best friend didn't know who I was. I glanced around at the other faces, and I realized they had the same expression — no recognition of who I was. "It's me, Lowell," I added. Something was wrong with my hearing; my voice sounded strange echoing in my head.
I wanted to push myself up, but found that my limbs weren't responding like they should have. "What happened?" I stammered again. The tingling was slowly fading, but what replaced it was the sensation of a cool draft on my body. That made no sense; I was in my pajamas, and the order, while cheap, kept the temperature in the living areas reasonable. I _couldn't_ be cool. As sensation returned to my body, it began to feel strangely like I was cold because I was naked — which was impossible.
There was a commotion at the door, and then I heard Mrs. Lowery. She must have had the night shift in the office. "What's going on here?" she growled. The guys hovered above me, staring wide-eyed, parted like the Red Sea. "What's going on?" She saw me on the floor, and her expression darkened. "Who are you?" she demanded angrily. "How did you get in here?" Her scowl deepened, and she turned to one of my roommates. "Give me a blanket," she demanded. She impatiently snatched it from the boy who was hesitantly handing it to her. Curiously, she squatted down and pulled the blanket over me. Almost instantly, the drafty sensation disappeared, but I was left feeling uneasy by the way she was glaring at me. She stood up and turned to the other boys, including many from other rooms who were gathered in the doorway to stare. "Out!" she barked. Immediately, the boys scattered in fear.
Lowery turned back to me. Her glare, which had been just angry, became a fear-inducing thing. "Who are you, and how did you get in here?" she demanded again.
I was able to roll over from my side, but the sensation left me unsure of trying to sit up. "I'm Lowell," I replied, as if the answer was blatantly obvious.
"You are obviously _not_ Lowell," she snapped. "Young lady, I don't know what your game is, or how you got here, but if you don't start providing some answers NOW, I'll have to call the police."
I was dazed. She didn't recognize me. "But ... I _am_ Lowell," I said again. Once more, I flinched at the way my voice sounded. "I was putting away a book, and I must have passed out." Based on her lack of recognition, I wondered if I'd changed somehow, and my muscles were still too stiff and sore for me to look at myself. Besides, I was covered with a blanket.
"You'll see that this is nothing to joke about," she hissed at me. She grabbed my arm and effortlessly pulled me to my feet.
Something was wrong. She shouldn't have been able to pick me up so easily. My mind belatedly registered that she had called me 'young lady'. And the blanket slipped off my body again.
I managed to look down, and promptly screamed before I fainted. It may not have been what I wanted to do, but it was what my brain selected as the best course of action to minimize my shock.
Consciousness returned rather abruptly when acrid smell of ammonia irritated my nose and lungs. I coughed to rid myself of the unpleasant smell while I tried to pull away from its source. I was on the floor again, and covered in a blanket again.
"Can you get up?" Mrs. Lowery asked, a little less harshly. The fact that I'd fainted had obviously caused her some concern, if only for liability reasons. "Who are you?" she asked again.
I sat up, very unsteadily. Things felt ... wrong. That matched what I'd been hearing in my voice, and what I saw when I glanced down at myself. "I'm Lowell," I insisted again. "What the hell happened to me?" I cried out, remembering the sight that had greeted my eyes when I'd looked down a bit ago.
"You can't be Lowell," Mrs. Lowery retorted with a scowl. "And don't swear!"
I looked up at her, hoping to find some sympathy in her weathered face. "I'm ... I'm a girl? How? How did I turn into a girl?" I was fighting the urge to panic, but some crept into my voice.
"Mrs. Lowery," I heard Jerrod's voice calling from the doorway, "Lowell is missing."
Her eyes widened. "What do you mean, missing?"
"I did a check," Jerrod answered uneasily. "Lowell is missing."
In all the time I'd been at the orphanage, I'd never seen Mrs. Lowery express disbelief or surprise. "But ... that _can't be_!" she said, her mouth agape.
Eric pushed his way through the throng of boys crowding the doorway, staring wide-eyed at me. "Are you really Lowell?" he asked, incredulously.
I turned and looked at him, and saw the same expression I'd seen a few hours ago when he was staring at girls in the mall. "Uh huh," I said weakly. "How ... what happened?"
He frowned. "Did you feel like static electricity was going through you before you passed out? Did you have uncontrollable muscle spasms?" Eric asked. His tone of voice was unnerving. He sounded like he knew what had happened to me.
"Yeah," I answered nervously.
"Look at the floor," he pointed toward where I'd been lying.
I glanced down, too, and saw that the hardwood floor was slightly blackened around where I was sitting. "So?"
Eric bit his lip. "I think ...," he started to say, hesitating. "I think ... you're Twisted. Those scorch marks are ... common when someone goes through ... an extreme Twist. It's the effect of the quantum field during a change."
"What?" I couldn't believe what he was saying. "I _can't_ be Twisted!" I looked up, my eyes pleading, to Mrs. Lowery. Her expression had changed from merely angry to full-blown furious. "Mrs. Lowery, tell him that I'm not Twisted!"
Mrs. Lowery shook her head, her lip suddenly trembling with rage. She turned to Eric and Jerrod. "Bring it to the main office," she said with a disgusted sneer before she turned and stomped out the door, her demeanor showing nothing but contempt for me.
"Oh, shit," I muttered to myself. If I really _was_ Twisted, then I was in deep trouble. The order believed that Twisted were devil-spawn. I didn't miss that Mrs. Lowey had called me 'it'. To her, I had instantly become less than human. I suddenly knew that I wasn't going to be welcome in the orphanage any longer.
Eric and Jerrod hesitantly stooped beside me. "Are you really Lowell?" Jerrod asked hesitantly.
I just nodded. I was a girl. Impossibly, inconceivably, I was somehow a girl. And Twisted? It suddenly dawned on me — one or both of my parents must have been Twisted, and when they figured that I might end up the same way, they abandoned me. And if they'd have done that, would they have stayed together? No wonder I'd been abandoned. I was a mutant freak. They didn't want a Twisted monster for a child. I felt like a knife had torn through my heart, rending every hope or wish I'd ever had, or thought of who I might be, or that I might someday find my real family. I started crying uncontrollably.
Jerrod and Eric helped me, still wrapped in a blanket to cover my nudity, down to the main office. Mrs. Lowery was there, her back to the door, working furiously at the computer in the office. Without looking up, she ordered, "Sit down."
I sat down in a chair, holding the blanket tightly around me. I knew what I'd become, and I'd seen Eric and Jerrod gawking at girls a few hours ago. I felt myself blush when I realized that they might be staring at _me_ that same way. Only, I'd been nude, and they had gotten a full peep show.
"You may go," Ms. Lowery ordered Jerrod and Eric.
Eric gave me a sympathetic look as he went out the door. Of all the guys, he was the one who seemed least biased against Twisted, and most knowledgeable about what had happened to me. Jerrod just looked confused. I could tell he wanted to stare at me, which was my first clue that I was probably at least a bit cute, but he was torn because I had been his best friend. "Sorry, Lowell," Jerrod whispered to me as he left the office.
Mrs. Lowery sat at the computer for several long, awkwardly silent minutes. I knew better than to speak; her gaze was so fiery that it could melt steel. She finally turned from the computer. "There are two women's shelters within reasonable distance. I'll have one of the Brothers take you."
I was stunned. It was the middle of the night, and they wanted to get rid of me immediately? I should have known, based on how the order felt about the Twisted, but this? "I ... I can't go," I tried to protest, ignoring the girl's voice echoing in my ears.
"We will NOT have someone like you around here to corrupt the others," Mrs. Lowery snapped. Their teachings said that I was an evil presence and they had to be rid of me, and the sooner, the better.
"You ... you can't discriminate against me because I'm Twisted," I protested feebly, trying to use what I'd read in our civics textbook. Laws had been passed to assure the rights of Twisted. They weren't always enforced by locals, but there were _supposed_ to be federal teeth to the laws. If I hadn't read the book, but had relied only on the biased lecture, I wouldn't have known anything about civil rights for Twisted.
Mrs. Lowery's scowl deepened, if such were possible. "Maybe not because you're ... one of _them_," she hissed, "but this is a boys' boarding school, and I _am_ allowed to keep girls out!"
"So ... you're going to send me away — in the middle of the night, like this?" I said through my tears. My voice trembled at the desperate plight I was in already, and the thought of being cast out of the orphanage in the middle of the night was making me tremble with fear. "Naked? With nothing?" I was hoping to appeal to whatever smattering of humanity and charity was left beneath her crusty, heartless exterior — if any.
She flinched at what I'd said. "I'll have one of the boys get your things," she said. "Some of your clothes will probably ... cover you." She was going to force me out at two in the morning, but at least she wouldn't do so with me naked and without any possessions.
I could tell she wasn't happy that I'd forced her to relent a bit, but I had no choice. "And the allowance from the state — that's legally mine."
"Fine!" she snarled. She turned back to her desk as though glad to get me out of her sight. She pushed a button on the phone. "Brother Martin, get a couple of the boys to bring ... Lowell's ... belongings to the main office." She went to the back office, where I knew the safe was kept. Since I'd had a pass the night before, she probably hadn't yet reconciled the books, so she was going to have to make sure my 'allowance' account was properly balanced. She may have hate what I'd become, and didn't want to give me anything, let alone my money, but she didn't want to get in trouble with the state for having her books not balance properly.
Jerrod and Eric, escorted by Brother Martin, came into the office. Brother Martin was a pudgy, older man with a scruffy salt-and-pepper beard, which matched the graying rim of hair around his balding head. He also had no moustache, which made him look like the Amish sect we'd learned about that still lived in Pennsylvania and completely shunned technology. Not all Brothers wore beards, but Brother Martin seemed proud of his — it was scriptural, after all, he always said. Jerrod and Eric just stood, holding my clothing and books, not quite knowing what to do.
"Put that on the chair," Brother Martin said tersely. I could tell that he already knew about me, and was equally indisposed to civility, since I was, in his eyes, cursed by the devil. He barely looked at me. "Go to the restroom and get some clothes on," he ordered sternly. Without another acknowledgement of my presence, he walked into the inner office.
"Damn," Jerrod said, wide-eyed, as he stared at me. "I can't believe it's you, Lowell! This is ... weird!"
"How do you think I feel about it?" I snapped back at him. "I don't want to be Twisted! I don't want to be a girl!" I looked at Eric, and I know my teary eyes were begging for information. "How ... how do I cure this?"
Eric shook his head, tracking me with his eyes, which had that appreciative stare. "From what I've read," he explained, "twists are permanent. You _can't_ go back."
"There _has_ to be a way," I complained, sobbing as I spoke. It was pretty overwhelming to discover, in the span of a few minutes, that you were Twisted, and had to spend the rest of your life as a girl. And then to be kicked out onto the streets? "I don't want to be a girl!" I was fighting back tears, and losing the battle.
"At least you're cute," Jerrod tried to lighten the mood. The glare I gave him let him know that I wasn't amused in the least.
"You better go get some clothes on before you get old-lady Lowery any madder," Eric prompted.
I knew he was right. "Yeah. And you guys better get back to your rooms before _you_ get in trouble, too."
"Yeah." I could see that Jerrod was torn between shaking my hand and giving me a 'guy hug' like we'd done so often over the years. He ended up doing neither. "Try to let me know where you're at, okay?" he said. "You may be a chick now, but you're still my best friend."
"Me, too," Eric chimed in.
"Okay," I said, fighting back tears. Maybe the order was going to treat me like an outcast, but my friends were trying to be supportive — even if it was going to be difficult once I left the orphanage. "I'll try." Eric and Jerrod left quickly, with Jerrod glancing over his shoulder at me once before they went around a corner. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. Since I didn't like the thought of being naked, I picked some of my clothes from the chair beside me, and then, careful to keep the blanket around my body, shuffled awkwardly into the bathroom across the hall.
In many ways, I was lucky. The bathroom by the main office was designed for a single person, and it had a locking door. I didn't have to worry about any staff members — or other boys — coming in and seeing me naked. I didn't even want to see myself nude, but the thought of someone else seeing me sans clothing — again — made me shudder. Enough people had already had a good look at my naked body. Once I locked the door, I dropped the blanket and most of my clothes so I could slip on my underwear. I was careful not to look at my rearranged crotch. I was in enough shock without having to confront a girl's sex between my legs. I knew, that if Eric was right and this was permanent, I'd have to face it sooner or later. I preferred later.
When I lifted my head as I pulled up the shorts, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. I gasped — the reflection _couldn't_ be me. It just couldn't.
The girl in the mirror was cute. There was no denying that, even reflected in the old, dirty mirror, the image was of a cute girl. Even with disheveled hair, she was attractive. Transfixed, I stepped closer to the mirror to stare.
My hair had turned from sandy-blonde to medium brown, and it was now long, draping over my shoulders. My eyes were brown, warm and inviting, and they looked so large and innocent on my smaller face. I had to force my gaze away from my new face, which both transfixed and horrified me. As I scanned down the image, I started. I now had breasts. Large breasts. They looked enormous, hanging off my chest proudly, capped by large, dark nipples that, in the cool air, were erect like pointy little nose-cones. Whenever I moved, I could feel them bob and sway, tugging in an unfamiliar manner on my chest. I wanted to scream at what I'd become, but I was numb, most likely still in a state of shock at what had happened to me. Maybe it was something about the Twist, too, that left me feeling emotionally empty like I was. I felt a shiver when I thought that maybe I'd changed mentally, and wasn't bothered by being a girl, like Eric said happened sometimes. But if I _was_ comfortable because of mental changes, would the thought of having mental changes bother me?
I couldn't see anything below my flat abdomen and narrow waist; a pair of boys' boxer shorts fortunately hid all the changes further down. I felt my guts twist in anguish when I contemplated the magnitude of the changes. I knew that my male parts were gone. I didn't have to look to know that. I was going to have to face what _that_ meant — things we'd barely covered in the restricted, sanitized biology class, things like having a period, hygiene, and ... sex, with all _that_ brought. I shuddered to think that'd I ever have to use birth control - the thought of having sex in my new body was almost enough to make me faint again. I clutched at the rim of the sink with both hands to steady myself, while taking some small measure of comfort that the thought of sex made me so uneasy. It might be a sign that I hadn't had mental changes, or at least not profound ones.
The insistent knock on the door interrupted my self-study. "Hurry up. It's time for you to go." Mrs. Lowery wasn't going to cut me any slack.
Sighing, I pulled on my pants, and discovered that the legs were too long and the waist too large because I was physically shorter and smaller, but the seat was very tight. My first guess was that I'd lost at least five or six inches of height. I was actually afraid of moving for fear the seam would split wide open. I pulled the belt as tight as it would go, but even on the last hole, it was too large, and then rolled up the legs into cuffs so they didn't drag on the floor. I cautiously pulled a shirt over my head and arms, and then down over my chest. At my waist and shoulders, the knit fabric hung loose, because the shirt was too large, but two spots of my new anatomy stretched the fabric tight. I shuddered again involuntarily. I'd attract a lot of attention dressed the way I was, and not because I was wearing boys' clothes.
I left the blanket lying on the bathroom floor. Given the order's prejudice, they'd probably burn it anyway. I found myself hunching my shoulders forward as I left, trying to do anything to minimize my new curves. When I walked back into the office, I saw a glower on Mrs. Lowery's face as she stared at my shapely upper torso. The part of me that was defiant, angry, and rebellious had a mental image; for the briefest of moments, of stepping face to face with her, thrusting out my chest, and asking her if she was jealous. I didn't wait for that thought to die; I put it down mercilessly, even as I realized that such behavior was part of my old personality. That much hadn't changed, despite what Eric had told me was possible. But I feared that I'd even _had_ such a thought. What if it wasn't from my old self, but was a change? Did my mind now think I should strut around like a stripper or porn star? Is that where the strange thought had come from? It was scary to not know how I was different, or even how or if I would even know.
Looking down to avoid the angry stare, I picked up my jacket and pulled it on, letting its bulk help disguise my new anatomy. "Do you ... have a box or something I can put my stuff in?" I asked hesitantly. Considering how she'd treated me in the minutes since my Twist, Mrs. Lowery definitely wasn't on my Christmas list, and I wasn't on hers. I really didn't care what she thought after I left, but she still had a lot to say about my fate, at least until I got somewhere where I wouldn't be rejected — again. She glared at me, but got a small box from the inner office.
My emotional numbness was wearing off as we drove, replaced with self-loathing and anger. I hated what I'd become. I was a damned girl — with big hooters. By the estimation of my friends, I was also cute, too, which only made me feel worse. And I was very conscious that Brother Martin, as he drove, kept stealing glances over at my curvy figure. I was a mutant, a Twisted, and because of that, an orphanage had rejected me. I knew in my heart that was why my parents had rejected me, too. I was unwanted. With every passing block, my mood darkened, until by the time the car pulled up in front of a dilapidated building, I wanted to die. I could see no reason to live.
Brother Martin was at least polite enough to carry my box of belongings — what few there were — as we walked toward the entrance. Over the double door entrance, a sign read, "Mercy Crisis Shelter". It fit — I'd had a crisis. As a Twisted outcast, I definitely needed mercy. And I needed temporary shelter, until I could figure out what to do with myself. I wondered if they felt like the order, and would reject me as well, because I was Twisted. Based on the limited bias I'd encountered, I feared suddenly that the whole world was prejudiced against Twisted. Against me.
Brother Martin rang the buzzer, since it was still way before normal business hours. Eventually, a speaker beside the door clicked. "May I help you?" a woman's voice asked.
Brother Martin glared at me uneasily. "I'm from the Siblings of Peace orphanage," he said in a calm but clipped tone. "We found ... a young lady ... at our doorstep, and we brought her here for shelter." He was lying, and his expression darkened, as if having to lie was entirely my fault. "The orphanage is a boys-only facility," he continued quickly, "and we can't accommodate her, even in an emergency."
"I'll be right out," the woman said before the speaker clicked off. In a moment, true to her word, she was at the doors, unlocking one. "Please step inside," she urged us. As soon as both Brother Martin and I were inside, she relocked the door. Her caution, and the state of the neighborhood, didn't inspire my confidence any, especially since I _knew_ what I looked like. If I'd felt vulnerable before, it was nothing compared to the sense of vulnerability that was quickly overtaking me. I was a small, helpless girl.
She must have dealt with the order previously. "I'm Marge Ericson. What happened to you?" she asked me. She didn't sound suspicious, but friendly.
"I ... I don't ... remember," I stammered. In truth, I did, but I didn't want to make the woman hate me as much as the Brothers and Sisters did. From the corner of my eye, I saw Brother Martin frown — he wondered if I was going to make him lie even more. "I ... woke up outside the building. I ... don't remember, but ... I think I was naked. The ... orphanage got me some clothes."
"We got her a few things ... from one of our former students," Brother Martin added quickly. At least that wasn't a lie. I was still waiting, though, for him to tell them about me being Twisted. "It's all she's got." I suddenly realized that he wasn't going to take a chance and tell them I what I really was, for fear they'd reject me as well, and the order would be stuck with me a bit longer. Between a lie of omission, and being stuck with evil incarnate in their midst, stretching or omitting the facts was an easy choice for Brother Martin.
Marge gave me the once-over. "Well, since it's a boys' orphanage, I can understand why they don't have anything that fits. We'll have to see if we can help with that." Marge grabbed a data pad from a secretary's desk near the doors. "Let's get some information. Name?"
"Uh," I stammered, wide-eyed. I couldn't tell them that my name was Lowell. That'd tip them off, and probably get me tossed from _there_ as well. "Hansen," I said slowly. "Allison Hansen." As soon as I said it, I knew it sounded stupid, but it was the first name that came to me.
Marge didn't even look up. "Age?"
"Fifteen — and a half," I said. I answered too quickly; I should have had to think if I was pretending to not know a lot. "I think," I added, trying to sound uncertain to give credence to my story of not remembering much.
Marge looked at me at that answer. "Any ... abuse of any kind? Physical, sexual, emotional?"
"Not that I can remember," I answered slowly. I had to keep up this silly pretense if I didn't want to be rejected yet again.
"Any issues with substance abuse?"
"No," I answered firmly. "I'm sure of that one."
"Okay," Marge said after another dozen questions. "Let's get your retinal scan and a thumbprint." She held up the data pad very close to my left eye, a digital camera from the data pad focused in my eye. The area around the camera glowed softly, and a moment later, Marge pulled the data pad away. "Now your thumbprint." She extended the data portion of the pad to me, with a highlighted box. I dutifully pressed my right thumb against the pad, and after a moment, the print was digitally scanned. Marge put the data pad on the desk. "I hope you understand, we have to check against known criminals and substance abusers," she said apologetically. "We can't be too careful, you know." Even as she finished speaking, the data pad beeped. I could see the words "No Matches Found," on the screen, although I suspected that I wasn't supposed to see. She looked at the screen again, and a frown flitted across her face, but then she hid her emotions. I had a bad feeling about what had caused her to frown.
"We normally have a doctor check our ... ladies ... when they arrive, but he's not present at the moment, so we'll have to get that in the morning when he gets to his office. I've got an open bunk in one room with three other girls around your age," Marge said with a smile that appeared to me to be forced. "Let's get you in bed, and then tomorrow morning, we'll see about finding something more appropriate to wear."
Brother Martin nodded curtly. "If you're through with me, I'll need to get back to the orphanage."
"Very well. Thank you for bringing Allison," Marge said, extending her hand to Brother Martin. "It's very charitable of you to watch out for a young lady in trouble, even though that's not your main mission."
I had a sudden, unpleasant thought. If I didn't give Marge the money for safekeeping, it might be stolen, and I wouldn't be able to do anything with it. If, however, I told them about the money, they might think I'd stolen it, possibly from the order. A third possibility presented itself. "Mister Martin, can you please vouch to Marge that the orphanage gave me some money from ... their excess student funds ... to help me try to get back on my feet?"
I saw a scowl flit across Brother Martin's features, but then he forced a smile. "We occasionally have some funds left by students when they leave. According to the law, we can't use it directly, but we could use it for charity cases, like ... Allison," he said. He was gritting his teeth as he spoke, knowing that he was stretching the truth a bit, but I needed to have him say that. It _was_ from a former student — me.
I looked at Marge, who was looking at me. "I didn't want you to think that I'd stolen the money," I added quickly.
Marge smiled, nodding. "I understand. A wise thing, too. If you'd like, I can put the money in the safe so you don't have to worry about losing it." She let Brother Martin out the door, locking it behind him, and then she took my elbow and guided me away from the front door and down a hallway. "In the safe, we have individual deposit boxes available to those who stay here. You have the inner key, so it'll be safe, and since we know who has what box, even stealing the key wouldn't do anyone any good." I walked with her into a sparsely-furnished office, lit by a dimly-glowing bulb, since it was night-time. She turned her back on me and opened a large safe, then opened a box inside the safe. With a quick glance at Marge, I pulled the wad of money from my pocket and put it into the box, which she shut, and then she handed me the key. "Let me close the safe, and then I'll show you to your room."
Compared to the orphanage, the bedroom was enormous. A nightlight made a feeble effort to pierce the darkness inside the room, and the night-time emergency lights from the hallway through the open door added a bit more. I could see four beds, three of which were occupied by sleeping women. Beside each bed were a night-stand and a tall cabinet. I guessed that the cabinet was a wardrobe. Since I had nothing to wear, the wardrobe was useless to me.
"Your roommates are Deborah, Tanya, and Julie. I'll introduce you personally in the morning," Marge whispered. "If you need anything, you know where the front office is. Someone is always on duty there. And there's an emergency button by the light switch. You can't hit it accidentally; you have to lift a cover before you can press the button." It was as if she was reading my mind.
"Good night, Allison," she said with a smile, pulling the hall door shut behind her.
The nightlight was more than bright enough for me to see my way around the room. I carefully set my box down by the cabinet, taking care not to make any noise, and then I pulled back the blanket and sheet. For a moment, I thought of putting on pajamas, but I knew that, somehow, my own PJs had somehow vanished with my Twist, and the spare pair I had in my box wouldn't fit anyway. There was no way I was going to sleep in the nude, not like this, so I kicked off my shoes and slid between the sheets, pulling them up over my head.
It had been a hell of a day. In a few hours, I lost who I was, and where I was. I'd lost my identity as Lowell Hansen, fifteen year old growing boy. I'd lost everything that I wanted to be. I was a girl, and not just any girl, but a cute Twisted freak with big tits. I'd been kicked out of an orphanage, and brought to this shelter. At least I had shelter for the night — or at least until _they_ figured out I was Twisted and kicked me out, too.
I'd lost my life. Years ago, I'd lost my family and parents. Then, without warning, I'd lost everything else— my identity, my sex, my home. I started bawling into the pillow as a tidal wave of emotion swept over me, totally overwhelming me. I cried myself to sleep.
I woke up at six o'clock out of habit. I was exhausted, and for a few seconds, disoriented. My mind told me that there should be five other guys scrambling to get dressed, with the overhead light glaring to help dispel the sleep. That wasn't happening, though. Slowly, though, it came back to me — I wasn't in the orphanage, but in a shelter, and in particular, in a room with three other women. Early dawn sunlight was trying to filter through the cracks and gaps in the window shades. None of the other three women were stirring. I let my head flop back on the pillow, and closed my eyes, fighting back tears as the jiggling breasts on my chest reminded me of my plight.
A while later, I wasn't sure how long, I heard someone else in the room moving about. I pried an eye open, and saw a girl, maybe seventeen or eighteen, stretching and yawning in front of her cabinet, wearing her nightie. As I quietly watched, she took out some clothes and placed them on her bed, and then got underwear and socks from one of the two drawers, likewise placing them on the bed. Then she peeled the nightie off over her head.
Eight or ten hours ago, I would have given anything for a show like she was putting on as she disrobed. Now, though, I felt nothing. No feeling of anything but mild curiosity of what her routine was like, and how it differed from what I'd been used to. A part of my brain was telling me that I was still a boy inside, and that I should be excited by the exhibition, but the logical part of me told me to pay attention because I was going to have to perform similar routines, and that watching would help me learn. The feud between the halves of my brain was annoying. The logical half was winning, since I found absolutely nothing arousing from watching the girl's show. I couldn't help but wonder if this was a sign that my personality had been changed by my Twist. The emotional half of my brain decided to retaliate by being bitter and distraught, because my lack of interest in a girl was yet another brutal reminder of how much I'd lost.
As I watched, I slowly became aware that my chest felt a little uncomfortable, like my boobs were being gently squeezed. It wasn't painful — more like mild pressure — but I knew that it was a different sensation than I'd felt the night before. It felt the way a small blister felt — mild pressure that was noticeable but not painful. I tried to shrug it off — I had enough changes to deal with, and focusing on one minor detail wasn't going to help me pick up the shattered pieces of my life.
For quite a while, I lay in bed, thinking about what I was going to do. I had nothing. I had no future, no home, and no family. I didn't know who I could trust anymore. How many people or groups hated or rejected the Twisted? In my state of mind, I _knew_ that the answer was everyone. I was down in the dumps, really feeling sorry for myself, and starting to wonder if any of this was worth it. I rolled over to my other side, and all of a sudden, I felt wet. My shirt felt like it did when I used to get caught outside in a thunderstorm — clinging and cool at least in a couple of places. My heart was in my throat — what was wrong with me now? I sat upright, let the covers slide off my body, and stared down at my rearranged anatomy.
The front of my shirt _was_ wet. Quite wet. Even in the faint light coming from the bathroom, I could see the difference in the fabric color caused by some wetness. What was more, in the center of the wet areas I could see my nipples — my nipples! — poking out like pencil erasers. I reached up tentatively to touch one of my boobs — not really sure I wanted to, but not sure what was happening, either. My hand cupped the breast, and I felt a lot more wetness on my hand. I stared at my front in shock, one hand still holding my breast.
"You're new here, aren't you?" a voice sounded from the bathroom entrance.
I looked up, startled. I hadn't heard the girl coming from the shower. "Yeah," I said hesitantly. "I got here very late last night."
"Hi. I'm Tanya Larson," the girl said pleasantly. She noticed that I was cupping my breast, and that the front of my shirt was wet. Her eyes widened in surprise. "Um, are you leaking?" she asked hesitantly.
I wanted to cry. This was yet another change in me. I stared at her, dumbfounded. "Leaking?" I stammered.
Tanya glanced around quickly, looking for something, and then looked back at me. "Did you lose your baby? Or have to give her up?" She seemed genuinely puzzled.
"Yeah, your ...." She stopped suddenly, staring at me with her mouth agape. She seemed to notice, for the first time, that I was wearing boys' clothes, and that I was confused about what was happening to me. "You're ...." She stopped, and then grabbed my hand, pulling me forcefully from the bed into the bathroom. As soon as the door was shut, giving us a little privacy, she looked evenly at me. "You're Twisted, aren't you?" she said, more accusingly than questioningly.
"Uh," I stammered to stall, not knowing what to say. "Uh, I ... don't know what you're talking about," I lied, but not well.
Tanya grinned and she pointed a finger at the light. It flickered on and off a few times. "Don't worry. I am too." She eyed my clothes. "Did you ... change? When you Twisted, I mean?"
I stared a few seconds, and then lowered my gaze and nodded, ashamed. "Yeah." There was no point in denying the truth — especially since Tanya was Twisted, like me. "How ... how could you tell?"
"The clothes gave you away," she said with a smile. "And having no clue about lactating — unless you'd been raised in an abbey."
"Close," I spat bitterly. "Until yesterday, I was a guy, living in a very strict boys-only orphanage. Then ... I twisted, and now I'm like this!"
Tanya grinned. "If you had to change to a girl, at least you're cute."
"I don't want to be cute!" I hissed angrily. "I don't want to be a girl, and I don't want to be Twisted!"
"Sorry, but you're stuck on both counts." She glanced at the door. "This place isn't too bad, compared to some, but if I were you, I wouldn't advertise that you're Twisted. Most people don't care, but a few... aren't very understanding."
"No shit! That's why I was abandoned by my parents as an infant, and why I was kicked out of the orphanage in the middle of the night."
"Wow. That's harsh." Tanya pulled me close and hugged me; the feeling of comforting arms around me was overwhelming, and I began to cry on her shoulder. "It'll be okay," she said soothingly. As I hugged her, I could feel my shirt getting wetter and wetter. When Tanya let me go, after I'd cried for a minute or two, she looked down, and chuckled. "Now it looks like I'm leaking milk, too!"
"I ... I don't know what's happening to me," I said, feeling sorry for myself again.
Tanya got an idea. "Go to the bathroom, get on a dry shirt, and we'll go somewhere ... private ... where we can talk more, okay?" I just gawked at her suggestion. "Well, go on! It's just us girls here."
Reluctantly, I gave in to the call of nature and went into one of the two stalls. "How ... how does this work?" I asked, feeling humiliated — yet again.
Tanya laughed. "You just let go," she answered. "I suppose it's just like going as a guy. I'm going to get something for you to wear that doesn't look so ... boyish, and isn't soaked with milk!" I heard her unlock the door and leave. She was back in a few moments, about the time I finished my business and came out of the stall. The simple act of going to the bathroom was an embarrassing reminder of how radically I'd changed, and that I knew nothing about being a girl. It was the first time I'd confronted my new sex, and it depressed me.
Tanya had a knit top and a pair of pants. "I hope these fit," she said, glancing at the pants, and then at my waist and hips. "But I _know_ my shirt won't fit you very well," she added as she held out the top. Compared to her modest breasts, mine were rather large.
By now, the front of my shirt was almost totally soaked. I pulled it over my head and simply dropped it on the floor. My boobs still felt kind of heavy, and there was still some pressure. Almost instinctively, I reached up to cup them. With just the slightest pressure around my breasts, my nipples erupted like miniature geysers, shooting milk in tiny streams. Then the emotional half of my brain kicked in again, trying to send me back into despair because, if being a girl wasn't bad enough, I was also giving milk!
Tanya, bless her heart, was trying to keep from laughing. "If you put this on, you're just going to get it soaked, too." She thought for a moment. "Why don't you take a shower, and while you're there, see if you can't squeeze out enough milk so that you aren't leaking all over? Then you can put on some clothes, and you won't be quite so ... conspicuous."
It was a good plan, save for one thing. "I don't have a towel," I noted with a frown.
"No problem. I'll get a couple from the supply room. They have a lot of things, in case women and families show up with only the clothes on their backs."
"Like me," I added bitterly.
"I was more thinking of me," Tanya said, her voice betraying some pain. "Look, um, ...." She frowned. "I don't even know your name."
"Allison?" She seemed surprised.
I sighed. "Until a few hours ago," I confessed, "it was Lowell. Then ... _it_ happened." I looked down, embarrassed. "I had to make up a name last night when I came here. It was the first thing that came to mind."
"I'm sorry," she said, hugging me again, but from the side so my dribbling milk wouldn't get her wet again. "I know what it was like when I twisted, but I can't imagine how much worse it is for you, changing gender and all."
I felt embarrassed to strip and reveal my naked body to someone else, especially since I was now a girl. I just swallowed hard and peeled off the rest of my clothing, dumping it in a heap on the floor. Gritting my teeth, I turned on the shower, and after making sure it wasn't cold, I stepped into the warm spray. It felt refreshing on my back, and it felt good to have the sticky milk rinsed off my front. After luxuriating in the relaxing water stream for a few moments, I remembered what I had to do. When I looked down, I could see that milk was dripping steadily from my nipples. I cupped them, and, not knowing what else to do, squeezed again. I know my imagination was exaggerating everything, but it seemed like I'd turned on a faucet.
I glanced to the side, and saw Tanya staring at me, wide-eyed. "Wow!" she said. She sounded a little bit in awe and even a little bit jealous. She tore her gaze away from my tits. "I'll go get towels while you finish emptying those monsters."
It seemed like forever, but after six or seven minutes, the milk flow slowed. I figured I had to be doing something wrong, because my nipples really hurt. If nursing a baby hurt _that_ much, then no-one would ever do it, and the human race would have died out eons ago. Maybe it was different when a baby was sucking. As soon as I thought that, the milk flow surged again, and it took another few minutes to get the flow slowed. By that time, my nipples felt raw.
After my shower and milking myself, which sounded both funny and revolting, I followed Tanya's advice and wrapped my hair in a towel, dried my body, and pulled on the clothes Tanya had loaned me. I was a boy — at least in my head — and I'd just spent nearly twenty minutes squeezing milk out of my boobs. If I hadn't felt overwhelmed up to that point, such action would have done the trick. The other girls in the room were stirring; they gave me a glance that was a mix of "oh, it's a new girl," and "I'm glad she's done hogging the bathroom."
After I dried and combed my hair, again with Tanya's advice and guidance, she and I started out of the door, but we almost ran over Marge.
"I'm glad you're up," Marge said with a smile. "Doctor Stone is in a little early, and I told him you'd be by to get checked out first thing."
"Doctor Stone?" I asked, puzzled. I didn't think the shelter was big enough to have a full-time medical staff. The name sounded unsettlingly familiar. "There's a ... full-time doctor?"
"Doctor Stone does some pro-bono work for charitable organizations." She lowered her voice. "He can come across as looking down on charity cases, and he's kind of a snob, but .... personally, I don't like him, and I think it's a tax dodge for him." She shrugged, and I knew the meaning. Free was free to a struggling charity. "He needs to do some tests before you have anything to eat. Breakfast is already being served, and the kitchen will be open until eight thirty."
"Uh, thanks. I _am_ a little hungry."
"We don't want anyone to starve, so the sooner you get to the doctor, the sooner you can eat."
"I'll show Allison the way," Tanya volunteered.
"After breakfast," Marge continued, "stop by the office, and one of the staff will help you find some clothing that's more suitable than what you came with. There's also a thrift store a couple of blocks away."
"Okay." I don't know if it was because of her cheerful attitude, or the shower, or sleep, or because Tanya was so nice to me, but I felt a tiny bit relaxed. Maybe, I thought, just maybe, I could manage to get through this. I caught myself, though. Every time I'd felt happy, or comfortable, I'd been hurt or abandoned or rejected. I couldn't take that again. I felt my psyche retreat behind a well-constructed wall, a shield to block pain and rejection.
As Marge had said, he _was_ a snob. He acted as though I was far below his station in life. What was worse was that I recognized him, and his arrogant attitude, from the orphanage. That had to have been one of the other charities where he did volunteer work. I was terrified that he might recognize me, but he didn't seem to. I said as little as possible, giving him direct, clipped answers to his questions to minimize the chance that he _might_ piece together who I was. Then again, part of my mind told me, since he thought himself so much better than his charity patients, he probably didn't spend any mental effort to remember us. Still, I kept my mental shield up.
It was a good thing I had my wall in place; the exam was thoroughly humiliating. The doctor operated a bare-bones office with minimal equipment. He didn't have one of the new scanning tables, so I got a gynecological exam the old-fashioned — and highly intrusive — way. I had blood drawn for testing. Finally, when I figured I couldn't take any more humiliation or poking and prodding, he let me go.
Tanya had waited for me outside the exam room. She saw my expression. "Did you get ... you know?"
I simply nodded, feeling my cheeks burn.
"One of the down sides you've got to deal with now," Tanya chuckled.
"What are some of the other ... surprises ... I'm going to get?" I asked sarcastically.
"A few," Tanya said with a smile. "We'll talk about them later. Right now, let's go get some breakfast."
I expected the same boring institutional fare I'd had for years at the orphanage. Instead, I was quite surprised to see that they were serving a variety of fare like breakfast burritos, pancakes and waffles, and even eggs Benedict. Unlike the orphanage's strict ration of beverages, milk and juice were self-service. It was good.
Tanya noticed how I was relishing the food. "A little different from the orphanage?" she asked, to which I nodded because my mouth was full. "Wait until it's your turn to help in the kitchen. That takes a little of the magic off the meal."
I swallowed a large bite before I was finished chewing it, so I could reply. "We were slave labor in the kitchen all the time at the orphanage," I snorted, "so I don't think it'll bother me to take a turn helping."
Tanya laughed. Despite my fears of rejection, I found myself starting to like her. She was very helpful and friendly, and since I knew she was Twisted as well, I didn't feel quite so alone.
Tanya led me to the second floor of the shelter, away from the communal areas, into a smaller office room. From the look of the room, it wasn't well-used. "So," she said as she sat down in an old, leather-upholstered office chair, "tell me your story."
I sank into a smaller chair, similarly upholstered and comfortable. "Oooh," I purred. "This is better than anything we ever had at the orphanage."
"You had your twist last night?" Tanya asked.
"Yeah, sometime around one or two," I said with disgust in my voice. "I went to bed a boy, woke up feeling weird, and then, bang, suddenly I'm a girl." I shook my head. "I didn't even know I was Twisted."
"That's really rough. I had an advantage," Tanya said, trying to sound sympathetic. "My mom is Twisted, so I knew I might be. I was ready for it. I can't imagine having your Twist as a total surprise."
I shook my head, and suddenly found myself tearing up again. Damned emotions — I'd never had a problem controlling myself before. "I ... was abandoned sometime before my third birthday. I ... still have ... memories — of my parents, I think."
"Wow!" Tanya mouthed. "That's really gotta suck."
"Yeah. Now I know why. I must have been adopted or something, and when they found out I might be Twisted, they got rid of me." I shook my head sadly. I still wasn't used to long brown hair waving around when I moved my head, and I swatted at it. "The orphanage I was in is run by a very backward, superstitious, religious order. They think Twisted are evil. So ...."
"... when you Twisted, they couldn't wait to get rid of you?"
Tanya sat silently, not knowing quite how to respond. "You know what my trick is — I can kind of fiddle with electricity. Do you have one?"
"No idea." I looked down at my chest, at the round protrusions. "Apart from having big tits that leak a lot."
Tanya frowned. "I don't think that's a trick. That's just what you twisted into. What were you thinking about before you twisted, anyway?" She saw my confused look. "When you have some kind of new or really emotional event, it can influence what happens when you twist."
"Oh." I thought a moment. "I guess I was thinking about my parents, and why I'd been abandoned." I thought a bit more. "Earlier in the evening, my friends and I went to the mall. They have to let us out for shopping and personal time once in a while," I explained quickly, "no matter how much they want to keep us locked up. While we were at the mall, I saw a woman with a baby." I sighed, closing my eyes, still able to vividly picture the woman tenderly nursing her infant. It had been an event which made me very emotional last night. "I ... I guess seeing her nursing her baby made me think about my parents, and whether my mother had held me like that — before she abandoned me."
"I guess that makes sense." She paused a moment. "That might be why you're full of milk, too, since you were thinking about the mother nursing her infant."
"Oh, shit! That's all I need — to be a nursemaid or something."
Tanya laughed. "I think the term you're looking for is 'wet nurse'. But yeah, you might be." She saw my expression. "Twists are permanent. If you started producing milk because of your twist, you'll probably always have milk."
"Just great. Not only am I suddenly a girl, but I might be stuck with big, leaking tits."
"They're not that big. I've seen bigger," Tanya tried to sound cheery. "And there is an upside."
"You might get a real cool trick," she said with a grin. She pointed her finger, and the lights flickered off and on.
"With my luck, it'll be something lame or useless." I decided I'd answered enough questions. "Your turn. What's your story?"
Tanya shrugged. "Nothing big. I just had to run away from my husband because I was afraid he was going to beat me up or kill me. The usual abuse shit." Despite trying to appear nonchalant, she sounded very bitter, and a bit frightened.
"Wow!" I know my mouth hung open. "You ... don't look old enough ...."
"To be married?" Tanya laughed. "How old do you think I am?"
"Seventeen or eighteen?"
"Try twenty-three. One of the things about my Twist — I don't look as old as I am. The doctor figures I age about a third or a fourth as fast as most people."
"I could see where that could suck."
"I figure it's a plus," Tanya said with a grin. "I'll look like I'm in my twenties when I'm pushing fifty. But right now, yeah, it sucks. I have a special ID card that tells people what my real age is. The problem with that, though, is that it also tells everyone that I'm Twisted — and as you found out the hard way, not everyone is accepting of us."
I winced visibly at that. I'd had very recent experience with discrimination against Twisted.
Tanya saw me flinch. "It's not that bad — mostly. Federal law protects our rights, but there are still some superstitious and bigoted people who don't like anyone different." She shrugged. "I guess it'll always be like that. Just because the government passes a law, they can't make idiots accept differences in their hearts and minds."
I decided to change the subject. "How'd you end up married? And divorced?"
"I'm not divorced," Tanya's smile was gone; she had a pained look in her eyes, almost haunted. "Not yet, anyway. Just separated, and scared for my life." She looked at the ceiling, and her expression became far-away and sad. "I was young and stupid. I thought Jim was the right one. My parents didn't like him at all, though, so we ran off the day I turned eighteen," she volunteered. "Things were great the first few years, but then he started getting really mean. He accused me of flirting with younger men — guys who looked more my age." I saw a tear in the corner of her eye. "A couple of times, he got really drunk, and he beat me up pretty badly."
"Didn't the police do anything?"
Tanya stared at me in disbelief for a moment, and then shook her head sadly. "You don't know how things work in this city, do you? Jim's great-uncle is Terrence M. Wittington the Third." She saw that the name didn't ring a bell. "As in the man who practically owns the city. His money talks pretty loudly with the city government. Nothing gets done without his okay. Everyone does what Terrence Wittington wants — or else." She sighed. "All I could do was to run away, because they weren't going to charge him with anything, especially when Dear Uncle Terry decided to make it sound like I'd used my trick to attack Jim."
"I thought that kind of shit happened only in movies."
"Well, it doesn't," Tanya answered, her voice tinged with anger. "I found that out the hard way. Now, I'm hiding here so Jim and his great-uncle don't find me. If they did ...." She couldn't completely hide her shudder of fear. She abruptly changed the subject. "What are you going to do now?"
I dropped my gaze, shaking my head. "I don't know. Until yesterday, all I wanted was to get out of the orphanage and go to college."
"What are you interested in studying?"
"_Was_ I interested in, you mean," I said bitterly. "Now, there's no way I can go to college. Not like ... this!"
"Don't be so quick to give up. You can keep studying."
"Yeah? What for? I wanted to be an astronomer," I spat. "Now, I'm just an unwanted orphan, without a home, or a family, or a future! And stuck as a girl! How am I going to go to college, let alone even finish high school?"
"Lots of women are scientists. Madam Curie, for example. And there's the woman who studied apes. A German woman who won a Nobel prize for atomic research? The English woman who got a Nobel for her genetically-engineered treatment of cancer. Don't give up on yourself just because you're a girl. Some of us were born this way, and we don’t' see it as a handicap!"
I decided to change the subject. Despite Tanya's stern rebuke, I thought my future looked too grim to think about. To be honest, I didn't _want_ to be cheered up. "I'm supposed to go by the office to see if they can find me some clothing. Since I'm kind of new to this whole 'girl' thing, I was wondering if you could help, so I don't end up looking stupid or something."
What I thought would take ten or fifteen minutes ended up taking Tanya and me the rest of the morning. First of all, they didn't have much in the way of bras that would fit me, so I got the best I could manage, which was embarrassing as hell, because it was pink and lacy and too girly. I'd had to try on dozens of the confounded things before Tanya settled on the best fitting one. By the time we finished, I had a knit shirt and a blouse, a skirt, and a pair of pants. Then there were the panties. I was quite embarrassed to have to pick out panties. Tanya was having fun teasing me with the lacier, fancier pairs, too. I even had a pair of shoes that she called flats, and a pair of tennis shoes.
Lunch was interesting. Most of the women in the shelter also worked, so there were maybe a fifth as many having lunch. There were a lot of children, though - mostly babies and toddlers. Consequently, the lunch line was really short. I was surprised to find that lunch was grilled chicken sandwiches with fries. We _never_ had such fare at the orphanage. It was usually cheap slop, like tuna-noodle casserole or grilled-cheese sandwiches.
Right after lunch, Tanya and I intended to go to a thrift store so I could get some more clothes, especially underwear. From the way my bra was pinching, I knew I needed a better-fitting one, even if I didn't want to admit it, because that would be admitting that I was a girl, probably for the rest of my life. I wasn't ready to give up yet.
Fortunately for my mood, Tanya was good company, and I found myself quickly liking her. A lot of that had to do with the fact that she was Twisted, like I was, and that I wasn't the only one with a major life problem. At the same time, I sorely missed my best friends Jerrod and Eric. I wondered if I'd ever see them again.
Before we left, I stopped in the rest room — another of those tasks where the magnitude of my change confronted me. I'd been feeling some pressure building in my boobs again, and though I now knew that meant they were getting full again, I didn't know how often I was going to have to empty them. As I tucked my shirt back into my pants, I found out the answer when my shirt suddenly got wet again. By the time I emptied them, got cleaned up, and changed clothes, our shopping trip was delayed by almost an hour.
I got some of my money from the safe, and the two of us walked a few blocks to a nearby thrift store. It was run by a different charitable organization, but it served the same need — providing clothing and household goods to poor and needy people — like I was now. Somehow, we took most of the rest of the afternoon — and I got a few better-fitting shirts and blouses. I found two pair of jeans. Tanya tried to convince me to get another skirt, but I refused. I had the one from the shelter, and I was only going to wear it if there was no other option. More importantly, even though I hated it, I found three bras that fit me. Tanya tried to tell me the strange code for bra sizes, but it didn't make any sense. I found out that I had D-cup breasts, which didn't thrill me because it sounded big — which they actually were. The logical half of my brain told me that I'd figure it out eventually — if I ever managed to pick up the pieces of my life, that is. My dreams of being an astronomer were in tatters. I didn't know how I'd even finish high school, let alone go to college, given how my life had so suddenly and drastically changed. And here I was, trying to decipher a formula for bra sizes while I also picked out panties!
Tanya teased me when she saw an older-model breast pump. If my tits were always leaking, as seemed to be my fate, having that gadget, she said, would make my life easier. It would certainly be a lot less painful than the way I was squeezing out my milk at that point. But I couldn't bring myself to buy it. I was still in denial.
We got back to the shelter a little before dinner, so Tanya and I went to one of the study rooms, to a computer. I was thoroughly embarrassed when she started searching for how a woman got milk out of her breasts. "If you keep doing it the way you are, you're going to have blisters," Tanya reminded me. I grudgingly admitted that she was right. It didn't take long for me to find lots of articles on how the proper technique to 'express' milk — that was a new term for me.
Tanya was reading along with me, and she giggled and said, "I told you so," when one article pointed out that pumping was more efficient than hand expressing. I stuck my tongue out at her, which made her giggle even more. Damn, but that was a girly thing to do, I chided myself. And after only a day? What next? Dating guys? Sleeping with them? A shiver ran up and down my spine at the thought.
"If you're going to have to do this several times a day, your nipples are going to be very sore, and your hands will get tired pretty quickly."
"Yeah, I was thinking that, too," I admitted reluctantly. I reread an article, and then we shut off the computer so we could go to dinner. I almost tried the technique, but I was afraid that if I expressed milk too often, I'd have more milk. That's what one article had said. As it was, any was too much, in my opinion.
By the time we got to the dining area, most of the women who had day jobs had returned. As we walked toward the lunchroom, Marge stuck her head out of the office. "Allison."
I stopped, my heart leaping into my throat. What did she want? Was it bad news, like I had the previous night? "Yes?"
"I want you to stop by tomorrow morning to talk. You're not eighteen, so we need to make arrangements for you to continue your education. And there are a few things we need to get into our records."
I groaned. "Okay." As we walked off, Tanya laughed. "I bet you thought you wouldn't have to worry about that for a bit."
"Yeah," I answered. "I thought I'd have a little time off. And I was kind of scared that she knew who I'd been, and what I am."
"Don't be so paranoid. Marge is pretty cool. Besides, you've got a lot of laws on your side," Tanya reassured me.
"So did you," I reminded her. As soon as I said it, I regretted the words. Tanya didn't need any reminders of what she was running from. "Does she know about your twist or trick?" Tanya flinched, and I knew that she hadn't told Marge. "That's what I thought."
"Oh, crap!" Tanya whispered as we picked up trays in the serving line. She nodded toward a young Hispanic mother ahead of us in line, cradling an infant with one arm. My guess was that the baby was not more than two or three months old. "Once that brat starts crying, we won't be able to hear ourselves think."
The mother was trying to juggle holding the baby with getting her plate of food, not entirely successfully. As she struggled to balance a plate and a baby, the baby started to fuss a little.
"And here we go," Tanya said, disdain in her voice. "Shit. If I wasn't so hungry, I'd leave. That kid is loud!"
Without thinking, I broke out of line and stepped briskly to the mother. "Let me help," I said, holding out my arms toward the baby. I was surprised to find myself doing what I was. I couldn’t stop myself. The baby was in some distress, and I _needed_ to help it. Somehow, I knew he was a baby boy even.
The young lady turned to me, surprised, and I could see relief in her eyes. Without knowing how, because I'd never done it, I took the baby and cradled it in my arms. It was like I had an instinct for caring for the baby. The mother started to say thank you, but the baby started fussing. I glanced and saw Tanya roll her eyes, but I looked back at the baby. I couldn't help myself. "Is your baby okay?"
The girl started to cry. "I don't know," she said in heavily accented English. I figured she was a very recent immigrant. "He no can drink formula," she said, "and I have no leche," she added, her cheeks reddened at having to make that admission. The baby was fussing quite noisily at this point. "Even when he drink, he no can drink mucho." I could see that the baby looked thin as she cradled it in her arms.
All of a sudden, my shirt was wet again, as in really wet. I looked down in shock. From what I'd read earlier with Tanya, I realized that it was my let-down reflex causing my milk to flow. The sound of the baby must have been the trigger. I rolled my eyes. Was I going to start leaking every time I heard a baby crying?
The girl saw me look down, and her eyes followed, widening in surprise when she saw my wet shirt. "You ... you have baby?" she asked.
"No." I suddenly knew what I wanted desperately to do. It was like a compulsion — I wanted to nurse him. "But I have lots of milk," I said, not quite believing what I was saying.
The girl stared at me. "Can you ... would you feed my niá±o?" she stammered. "He need leche, and if you have ...?"
Guided by some force I didn't understand, in front of everyone and not particularly caring, I lifted my shirt with one hand, and then slipped a breast out of my soaked bra, while cradling the baby in the other arm. I knew, in my mind, that I should be humiliated at what I was doing, but the strange compulsion was driving me, even in this semi-public place. The girl looked at me for a few seconds; I could see her indecision, but her desperation at her little boy's plight won. She simply nodded.
It was as if I'd handled babies all my life. I guided his mouth to my nipple. In moments, I had him suckling at my breast like I was an experienced mother. The feeling was unlike anything I'd ever felt — I was nursing a baby, providing him life-giving sustenance. It felt extremely satisfying, and somewhat pleasurable, just as I'd imagined that it would when I saw the mother nursing in the mall. But there was something else, too — like some kind of pressure building up in my whole body, a tingly sort of feeling. All of a sudden, before I could do anything, I felt it surge out of me, into the baby at my breast.
The girl looked at me, gratitude in her eyes. I could tell she felt guilty about not being able to provide milk herself. "He only drink poquita," she said cautiously. "Doctor say he have problem with estomago."
I nodded, barely looking up from the baby nursing from me. He seemed content, and was drinking steadily. I walked with the girl to a vacant table and, with the baby still suckling, I sat down beside her. It wasn't nearly as awkward as I thought it should have been. After a few minutes, I knew — somehow — that he needed to switch breasts. Again, like I'd done it all my life, I gently pried him free of my left nipple, and then, holding him gently, freed my right breast from my bra, and switched his position so he could nurse on the other side.
The girl's eyes were wide. "Too much!" she protested insistently. "Only poquita!"
I didn't want to stop, but I heeded her protests. I gently removed the baby from my breast, and then, without thinking, took a napkin, placed it across my shoulder, and placed the baby over my shoulder and began to pat his back gently.
"No, no!" the mother was protesting frantically. "He... spit up all leche! He has problem with estomago!"
I heard her words, but my newfound compulsion was in high gear. I continued to pat his back, until finally he gave out a good burp, without spitting up on me. I saw her eyes widen in shock when the little belch — and nothing else — came out of his tiny mouth. Then I cradled him in my arms. "Are you still hungry, little one?" I cooed to him. He fussed a little, so I guided him back to my breast, enjoying the feeling as he resumed feeding. His mother sat, astonished, while I fed her son. After a bit, I switched breasts again, and then I burped him once more. Following his second burping, I could somehow tell he was full; he was quiet and snuggled on my shoulder. I looked at his mother. "I think he's full."
The girl sat, astonished. "He ... he never eat like this," she said, awestruck. "The doctor say estomago no hold mucho."
I didn't know what to say. Around me, I could hear murmuring from the other women, and some giggling from children. I glanced around and noticed a few boys in the mix. I'd just given them a show, but I didn't care. To me at that moment, the most important thing in the universe was the baby I was cradling. "Your food is getting cold," I noted to the girl with a smile.
"Gracias," she said. "Muchas gracias. My name Rosa. Rosa Carillo, y my niá±o name Francisco."
"I'm Allison," I replied, still cradling and rocking the baby. He wasn't asleep, but was content at being held. From the astonished looks I was getting from practically everyone around us, and from Tanya's comments, I gathered that the other women had expected a loud, fussing baby that would ruin their dinners.
Rosa was giving me a curious look. "If you no have niá±o, how you have leche?"
I winced, deciding that I'd rather not answer that question. "I'd rather not talk about it," I said. I watched her expression as she thought about what I'd said, and I could tell from her sympathetic expression that she figured that I'd lost my baby. I wasn't going to tell her differently.
"I take my niá±o now so you can eat."
I handed the baby back to his mother, straightened my bra and shirt, and then stood and rejoined Tanya in line. She was just staring at me, just like everyone else in the cafeteria. "What?"
Tanya gave me a quizzical smile. "We'll talk later."
As I ate, I realized that I kept looking around at all the infants in the room. I couldn't help it. They were all tiny, helpless babies, and whenever any of them fussed, I wanted to hold them and help them. "Okay," I said nervously. If Tanya wanted to talk privately, it was probably something about my twist, or something she'd observed that might be related to it.
My chance to talk with Tanya was delayed because she had to help with dishes after dinner. I just sat in the cafeteria until she was done; it wasn't like I had anything else to do. Once she finished her chores, we found a quiet room. "What's up?" I asked, curious.
Tanya smiled. "I was going to ask you what was up when you helped the noisy brat," she said, "but then I saw the look on your face, and I figured that you probably got a bonus with your twist."
"What kind of bonus?"
"A compulsion. When a person twists, their personality can change, in some cases kind of radically. Twisted sometimes get compulsions, like the need to exercise, or an irresistible craving for a food item. I heard of one guy who became so charitable that he's absolutely broke and homeless, and he still gives everything he can to help other less fortunate people." She flinched. "Once in a while, a compulsion can be ... dangerous."
"Shit," I swore softly. "You're just full of cheery news about being Twisted, aren't you?" I asked sarcastically.
"You might not notice your compulsions," Tanya added, "at least, not right away. Most Twisted parents have their children psychologically tested when they're young, so they can see if there are any personality changes or compulsions that come with the twist. In your case ...."
"Nobody knew _what_ I was, so I didn't have any testing."
"And you might have accidentally discovered your trick, too." She was scowling at me, and the way I kept referring disparagingly to myself now that I'd discovered I was Twisted.
"A trick? Like what?"
"Did you notice how calm the brat was after you fed him?"
Tanya shook her head. "The kid has some kind of medical problem with his stomach. When he's hungry, he screams. When he eats, he just screams louder — and throws up anything he eats. But he didn't do that today."
I felt my head spin. "So ... that's why Rosa was so surprised?" I stammered. Rosa had tried to warn me that he couldn't eat much, and then was surprised when he ate well, and when he didn't throw up, and again when he was so calm and settled after feeding. "And that might be why I felt ...." I let my voice trail off.
"I don’t know," I answered with a frown. "It felt ... kind of like pressure inside that suddenly burst out of me while he was nursing." I shook my head. "Does that mean my trick is calming down nursing kids?"
Tanya shrugged. "Might be."
"Great. Not only do I turn into a girl with big, leaky tits, but it turns out I've got a compulsion to nurse kids, and my trick is to calm them down when they eat." I couldn't keep the sarcasm out of my voice.
Tanya shrugged. "It could be worse — a lot worse. But maybe there's more to your trick than that."
I steered the conversation away from being Twisted, mostly because I was uncomfortable with all I was learning about my Twist and potential trick. Instead, Tanya and I talked about life in the shelter, what I might do for schooling, and the city in general. When I was living in the orphanage, I hadn't had much chance to explore, apart from a few trips to the mall shopping. Now, the whole city was mine to explore — if I dared. Tanya sensed my nervousness about being a girl and going out in public, so we talked a whole lot about that topic, too. Because of her fear of being recognized by her ex or someone related to his family, she was equally nervous about going out. It was a lot later than we realized — almost ten — when we walked back to our room.
I was startled to see Rosa and her baby waiting in the room. Rosa looked a little frantic, and Francisco seemed a bit fussy. "Hi," I said. I suspected I knew why she was there.
"I want to say again gracias for helping my Francisco," she said. The gratitude in her eyes was genuine, but there was another emotion hiding there — uncertainty, or nervousness.
As soon as I saw little Francisco fussing, I felt something in my chest, and my bra started feeling wet again. "Would you like me to feed Francisco again?" I asked, already knowing the answer. I knew what _I_ wanted, what I _needed_.
"Please, if you can," Rosa answered, visibly relieved that I'd offered so she wouldn't sound selfish with such a request.
I took the baby and began to nurse him. Once more, I felt something strange pushing out from me, like a warm wave of pressure originating in my breasts and rippling outward to the baby. While I was nursing, I talked a bit with Rosa. She was eighteen, and came from a small village in Guatemala. She'd immigrated with her boyfriend — illegally, probably — at the age of fourteen. She'd spent a few years working as a maid at a chain motel, eking out a living with her boyfriend. Then she accidentally got pregnant, and he dumped her. Without his income to help pay bills, she was kicked out of her apartment, and ended up coming to the shelter. She had her baby in the shelter's clinic, and soon discovered that he had a problem with his digestive system; he couldn't drink much, and he tended to throw up whatever he did manage to eat.
Eventually, Francisco was full, and Rosa went back to her own room. As I was lying on my bed, Tanya sat down beside me. "I think there's more to your trick than just calming down a baby," she whispered.
"Oh?" I sat up, scooting my back against the wall so we could talk.
"Did you notice how he looked tonight?"
"He ... looked like a baby to me," I answered, confused.
"I thought he looked ... not quite as thin." She shook her head. "It's hard to describe, but he looked, I don't know ... different?" Tanya didn't sound certain. "Maybe a bit ... healthier?"
"He did drink more tonight, I think," I observed. "What do you think my trick is, then?"
"I don't know," Tanya said quietly, "but maybe you helped him with his stomach problem?"
"So I've got some kind of magical healing power?" I asked, astonished at the suggestion. "Nurse from my magic titties, and it'll cure whatever ails you," I said in a snide tone.
"Don't scoff like that," Tanya retorted. "Tricks can be very ... interesting. Some of them seem like magic."
"And I've got this stupid compulsion to help fussy babies," I added with a frown. "It's ... like I can't control myself. I _have_ to hold them and comfort them."
"And feed them," Tanya added with a grin.
"Yeah, that too," I said, feeling my cheeks burning.
"You enjoyed it, too," Tanya said, watching my expression carefully. "Didn't you?"
I simply nodded, looking down at the sheets so she wouldn't see my embarrassment.
"You'll learn to accept your twist, just like every other Twisted. Pretty soon, this will be as normal as breathing — unless you try to fight your compulsions." She smiled sadly and shook her head. "If you try, though, you won't win. Nobody can. It'll be easier to just 'go with the flow.' Most Twisted just accept their changes and move forward."
"So what you're saying is that I'm going to spend the rest of my life needing to care for babies?"
"Do you have a compulsion?"
Tanya looked away. "Yeah," she said softly. "It's really hard, too." She was obviously hoping I wouldn't press, but I didn't drop it. "I need to be near something electrical."
"Oh? Like what? Major appliances?" I said with a grin.
Tanya scowled at me, a hurt expression on her face. "I knew you'd make fun of me." She looked down again. "Anything, even something small, works. A radio, or personal music player. Anything with electricity or electronics."
I leaned forward and hugged her. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to sound like that." I half-chuckled. "Like I have room to talk!"
"I wish we were in Spiral," Tanya said after a moment. "They have specialists there who could help us both understand our twists, and help you understand what your trick is."
"I've never heard of Spiral. It's not surprising, though, after being cloistered in a monastery for most of my life." I shook my head. "Is that a place for Twisted?"
"It's a large town — or small city, depending on your perspective — that has a lot of Twisted. I hear that it's almost half Twisted. It's supposed to be a wonderful place for people who are ... like us. No discrimination. Schools that understand. Specialist doctors and clinics." She sounded like she was speaking of the mystical land of Oz or something.
I didn't know what to say, and I could see that this city called Spiral was a place that Tanya felt would be better for her. If that was true, it would be better for me, too. "Maybe we should _both_ go there," I suggested.
Tanya broke her reverie and smiled broadly. "Yeah. That would be nice." She sounded like she was talking about a fantasy.
"I'm serious," I said, surprising her. "We need to find a way to get to Spiral."
"How? And what would we do once we get there?"
"How? I guess we'll have to earn some money for bus tickets," I sighed. "And I don't know what we'd do there, but it has to be better being around more people who understand."
Tanya thought for a moment. "Yeah. That sounds nice. Let's figure out how." She glanced around. "Meanwhile, it's late, and our roommates should be returning any time, since they have to work tomorrow. Let's get some sleep." She gave me a quick hug, and then climbed into her own bed, while I picked up a few things and went into the bathroom.
I hadn't thought to pick out pajamas while I was at the thrift store, and I really didn't like sleeping in my clothes. It didn't seem right for me to sleep in my underwear, either, though. After I brushed my teeth, I compromised and wore a loose-fitting T-shirt and a pair of panties. By the time I finished my bedtime duties, the other two girls were in in the room, waiting for their turns in the bathroom. I slipped quietly between my sheets, turning so the bathroom light was at my back.
Sleep came hard to me. I couldn't help but reflect on the long day I'd had. Less than twenty-four hours previously, I'd gone to bed a fifteen-year-old boy, and awakened a short time later to become a girl through my twist, which was especially traumatic, since I hadn't even known I might be Twisted. Then I'd been kicked out of the orphanage, had ended up at a women's shelter, and had discovered that I was lactating significantly. As if that wasn't enough, apparently I had a compulsion to be motherly toward kids, and I had some kind of trick that calmed down fussy babies. It was a lot to take in, especially for a kid who, not a day ago, had only a dream of being an astronomer. When I did drift off to sleep, I had a nightmare that I hadn't fully Twisted, and that I woke up and changed even more. I woke in a sweat, and then tossed and turned trying to get back to sleep.
It must have been about six that I felt the pressure in my breasts becoming noticeable. I knew what was about to happen — I was going to start leaking soon. I reluctantly dragged myself from my bed, grabbed a towel, and trudged into the bathroom. Once more, I stood in the shower, expressing my milk to get rid of the pressure. After the previous day's experience, I marveled at how much difference the proper technique made. It was still hard work, and my hands tired quickly. But the milk was coming much more steadily, and my nipples weren't nearly as sore. All I needed was some balm — called nipple butter, according to one web site — to help with my skin. Tanya and I had both giggled when we saw the name of the product, and I hadn't given it much thought, but now I knew I was going to have to find some. I also considered that I'd have to find a breast pump. I shouldn't have laughed at Tanya in the thrift shop the preceding day when she'd suggested I get one. All the references I'd found strongly suggested using one. As I finished milking myself, I figured that I should make a return trip and get the pump — if it hadn't been bought by someone else. If I was going to be a milk cow, I'd have to take care of myself, so I didn't get too tired or sore.
I toweled myself off and put on fresh underwear, and then wrapped the towel around myself. I tiptoed out of the bathroom and tried to lie back down, but I was too wide awake. It had always been a problem — once I woke up a little, I couldn't get back to sleep. After tossing and turning a bit, I decided to get up. I dressed as quietly as I could, and then slipped out of the room. Not knowing what else to do, I wandered down to the 'common room', sort of a large family room.
The news on the television was boring, and the morning shows were just repeatedly highlighting the day's weather forecast and the local traffic. I was so tired that I was a little mesmerized by the video, and I sat down on one of the sofas and sort of zoned out. The next thing I knew, I heard Marge calling, "Allison? Are you okay?"
It took a few moments for me to collect my thoughts. "Uh, yeah," I answered. "I ... couldn't sleep, so I came down here so I wouldn't wake up my roommates."
"Well, you looked like you were out of it." She smiled. "The early shift for breakfast has started, in case you want to get a head start on the day."
"Why?" I snorted angrily. "I don't have anything to do."
Marge came in and sat beside me on the sofa. "I know you had a very hectic day yesterday," she began.
"You have _no_ idea!" I snapped. I was tired, and my manners weren't exactly up to their usual standards, and I felt like wallowing in self-pity.
"Actually, I think I do," Marge said with an enigmatic smile. "How about if we go to the office and have a chat?"
Red flags went up; there was something in her tone and words that made me nervous. With trepidation, I followed her to her office. She gestured to a chair, and I sat. I expected her to sit across the desk from me, since her words had sounded rather ominous. Instead, she sat beside me, which was a total surprise. Her pose and expression were friendly, and relaxed, which was also quite unexpected.
"How was your first day," Marge asked, "besides busy?"
I shrugged. "That sums it up pretty well," I answered. I had the feeling that she was waiting to spring a surprise on me. I didn't have to wait long.
"How about if you start by telling me who you really are, and how you came to us?" Marge prodded gently. From the amused expression in her eyes, I could tell she knew how astonished I was at her question. "It isn't Allison, is it?"
I shook my head, flabbergasted. I didn't know where the conversation was going, or how much trouble I was about to be in.
Marge smiled. "I didn't think so. Are you curious how I knew?" It was unnerving how she was reading my expressions. I simply nodded. "I was busy yesterday, too. Since you're under eighteen, I had to find out if there was some ... background ... that I should know about." I understood exactly what she was saying. "Do you know how many records there are for Allison Hanson?"
I shook my head again. "Uh, I don't know."
"Zero," Marge said. "Which, you know, is impossible. There should be birth records, public vaccination records, school records, and so on. But you have none."
I didn't know what to say, so I sat silently.
"Needless to say," she continued, "you piqued my curiosity. How could a young lady exist without _any_ government records? What really got me, though, is why the Siblings of Peace seemed so anxious to get you here." She grimaced. "They are usually quite charitable — except toward one group of people." She stared straight into my eyes. "You're Twisted, aren't you?" It was less a question than a statement of fact.
"Um," I muttered hesitantly. I knew what people thought of Twisted. I was about to be booted again. "I'll go gather my stuff," I said despondently. I started to rise from my chair, my face toward the floor in shame.
"Whatever for?" Marge asked, quickly grasping my hand pulling me back down into the chair. "And your real name isn't Allison, is it?" Marge's hand lifting my chin was a total surprise. Her actions and words weren't what I expected; I thought she'd be as offended as the Siblings, but she looked sympathetic. "Not all of are as bigoted as that misguided group," she said softly.
I was overwhelmed with relief that she was sympathetic to my situation. I couldn't help it when I started sobbing.
Marge pulled me onto her shoulder, comforting me in much the same way I'd comforted little Francisco. My tears wouldn't stop. "There's more, isn't there?" she cooed as she gently stroked my hair. "When I couldn't find records for Allison, I had a friend in the police department do a match on your retinal scan. Do you know what I found?"
Still sobbing on her shoulder, I nodded slowly, knowing with dread certainty that she had uncovered my secret.
"When you twisted, you changed from being a boy named Lowell to a girl, didn't you?"
"Yeah," I cried. I wasn't just sobbing anymore; I was bawling. It was like all a dam holding all my emotions from the past day and half burst.
"Shhh," Marge repeated as she held me close. "It's going to be okay. You're safe here."
I probably cried for twenty minutes, all the while Marge held me. Finally, I lifted my head. "What ... what now?" I asked hesitantly. I wiped futilely at one of my cheeks.
Marge shook her head. "You're going to stay here, and we'll help you get back on your feet. You've had a lot of disruption, and you'll need some time to adjust — to lots of things." She smiled. "Like suddenly being a girl."
I nodded, not trusting myself to speak, for fear that I'd upset Marge and what looked like an accepting relationship.
"I was going to get your transcripts and get you back in school as quickly as I could, but I think that's going to be a bit more of an effort now, don't you? It'll take time to do the paperwork to get you proper identification, and then to have your old male transcripts changed to your new identity." She smiled. "Since we're not in the twentieth century, it's a lot easier to process a name and gender change through the courts. You've at least got that going for you."
"Okay," I said softly. I wiped my cheeks again; my tears had nearly stopped.
"One question, though. Two actually," Marge said, trying not to alarm me. "Do you know if you have any other ... changes ... with your twist?"
My cheeks reddened. "I'm ... giving milk," I said, looking down again. "Quite a bit. If I don't do anything, it just starts hurting, and then leaking and making a mess."
"I'm sure _that_ was a big surprise, especially for a boy," Marge chuckled softly.
"And ... like yesterday, when I saw Francisco fussing, I couldn't stop myself from holding him and comforting him. Ta..." I stopped myself; I almost told her that Tanya understood my twist. That would have made Marge suspicious of Tanya being Twisted as well. "A ... friend ... said it might be a compulsion. Sometimes, people get them when they go through their twists."
"That friend would be Tanya, right?" Marge said.
I looked up suddenly, startled by what she'd said. I saw her knowing smile. "Uh ...." I stammered.
Marge's smile broadened. "There's not a lot that goes on around there that I don't know about," she explained. "I always strongly suspected that Tanya is Twisted, but she's never told me directly." She patted my arm. "Did you nurse Francisco yesterday?"
I gulped, and nodded slowly. "When he started crying in the lunchroom, I ... started leaking."
"It's called a letdown reflex," Marge interrupted gently.
"Yeah. I found out last night on the computer. His mother ... Rosa ... saw that I was leaking, and she asked if I could help. She said she doesn't have any milk." I sighed heavily. "I couldn't help wanting to nurse him."
Marge shook her head. "She's a strong girl, but she's had a pretty tough time. If she wants you to help," she said, sounding a little nervous, "then it's her concern — and yours. We have to respect the rights and privacy of our residents. But if I were you, I'd be careful. Francisco has a very serious condition in his esophagus. The bottom is constricted, and it doesn't let a lot of food pass. He needs surgery, but we're waiting for the government medical bureaucrats to okay it. If he gets too much to eat, it could be very serious, or even fatal."
"Rosa told me that he only ate a little. And that he can't have formula?" Something didn't make sense. "But ... last night, he ate pretty well."
"If you're going to help, please make sure you don't overfeed him."
"Okay." To my surprise, I was actually disappointed that she seemed reluctant to let me help Francisco.
"From what the other women told me, you were a natural with him yesterday. If you wouldn't mind, I could use some help in our nursery while paperwork gets sorted out. We provide daycare service so the mothers can work, but we're always short on funds and staffing. If you could help, it'd give you something to do. I can't promise that we'll pay, though."
The idea really appealed to my new compulsion. "I'd like that," I answered eagerly. I wanted to do something so I didn't get bored and feel sorry for myself all day. "I think I'd do it even if you don't pay me. Are there ... other infants?"
Marge laughed. "You're the first person who's seemed eager to care for infants. You know what they come with — feeding, burping, spit-up, dirty diapers, and sometimes, non-stop crying."
I gulped; I hadn't considered the downsides. Then again, with my compulsion, I'd probably enjoy all of those problems. "I guess I can try." The thought of working with infants was becoming overpowering. "I want to try. I _need_ to help with the infants, if I can."
"If you really want to, we won't turn down the help. Just remember that you asked for this when you're changing the sixth dirty diaper in one hour!" She glanced at the clock. "Come by after breakfast, and one of the staff will get you oriented
Marge stood, offered me a hand, and then walked with me to the cafeteria. Most of the early shift, the women who had jobs, had already eaten, which meant the room was almost empty. Tanya looked up when I came in, and she smiled. "I wondered where you were," she said.
"I had to get up to milk myself," I said with a wry smile. "I didn't want to make too much noise and wake up the rest of you."
Tanya laughed. "Grab a plate and sit down." Marge had left to attend to the business of running the shelter.
I got a tray, and helped myself to some eggs and an English muffin. A glass of juice and a small bowl of mixed fruit rounded out my morning meal.
"Where were you? Having a talk with Marge?"
I shrugged and nodded, because I had a bite of muffin in my mouth.
"What were you talking about? Are you in trouble? Or is she trying to get you to work around here, too?"
I nearly spat out the muffin at her words. A quick sip of orange juice washed down the rest so I could talk. "Actually, she did offer me work, in the nursery."
"Poopy diapers, crying kids — no thanks! Not my style. But _you'll_ probably love it!"
I blushed. "Actually, when she mentioned the nursery, I wanted to volunteer. I just ... need ... to help kids."
"I knew it!" Tanya said with a grin. "Rosa came by this morning looking for you."
I shook my head slowly, but I still smiled. "I guess I _am_ a wet nurse, aren't I?"
"Yeah, and you love it! Admit it!"
My cheeks turned even redder. "Yeah, I guess I do." I put a forkful of eggs in my mouth.
"What else did you and Marge talk about?"
I finished chewing and swallowing — again. "Would you let me eat, for Pete's sake? I'm going to starve if you keep asking me questions while I'm eating!"
Tanya just grinned. "Well?"
"She ... knows that I'm Twisted," I said very softly. I saw Tanya's eyes widen at the revelation. "And she figured out who I was ... before."
"Holy crap! Now what?"
"I think she's okay with it," I said, wincing a bit. I didn't want to jinx myself by getting my hopes up that Marge accepted my condition. "She seemed pretty understanding. I told her that I was giving milk, not that it was a secret after yesterday anyway. She said she was going to see if there was a breast pump around here that I could use."
"No kidding. It takes forever to do it manually, and my hands get all cramped up." I started to take another bite of the muffin, but stopped. "Oh, and she knows you're Twisted, too."
"You told her!" Tanya accused me angrily.
"No," I shook my head, quickly denying her accusation. "She said she figured it out quite a while ago. Like you said yesterday, she's pretty sharp."
Tanya was about to say something when Rosa came into the dining room. She was carrying Francisco, and he was fussing. Her face lit up when she saw me. "Allison!" she said enthusiastically. "Can you help feed Francisco?" she asked bluntly.
I couldn't have stopped myself if I had wanted to. Even so, I winced. "I ... expressed my milk earlier. I don't know if I have any." Nonetheless, I reached up toward the baby, eager to take him in my arms. In very short order, I was nursing him again — and loving it. It was the most wonderful feeling I'd ever felt. I got the impression that the other women in the lunchroom liked the way I kept Francisco quiet, too. The funny thing was that I didn't feel the strange pressure and tingling when I was nursing him like I had the first two times I fed him.
After I burped the little tyke for the second time, I turned my attention back to the table, toward my now-cold breakfast. Instead, I was surprised to see a fresh plate of hot eggs and a hot, steaming muffin. The eggs looked unlike what had been in the steam table. I glanced at Rosa, who was smiling. "Your food was cold. I use kitchen to make you fresh huevos, like my mama make. You like them, I hope?"
I hesitantly took a bite, expecting spicy, Tex-Mex food. Instead, I tasted a wonderful mix of flavors that were heavenly. "This is really good!" I complimented Rosa. She beamed with joy that she could give me something after I'd helped nurse her little boy. I took a forkful of eggs and held them out to Tanya. "You _have_ to try these! They're fabulous!"
Tanya cautiously took a bite, and then she had the same reaction I'd had. "Wow! These are the best eggs I've ever had! Where did you learn to cook like that?" she asked Rosa.
"I spend mucho tiempo in kitchen with mama and mi abuela," Rosa said proudly. "They teach me to cook many comidas ... foods."
The rest of breakfast was pleasant conversation with Tanya and Rosa. For a moment, I felt a pang of guilt that I was making two new friends, essentially abandoning my old friends Jerrod and Eric. Then again, since I was a wet nurse, it would have been weird to keep two teenage boys as friends — even if it were possible. They were in a different world now, separated from me. All the good times we'd had — in spite of the orphanage — were now just memories.
Tanya noticed when I wiped my eye. "What's wrong?" she asked softly.
I shook my head. "I was just thinking," I mumbled, "that I'll probably never see my old friends again."
"You can always keep in touch with them," Tanya suggested.
"No. I'm the kind of girl that we used to talk about," I said with a sigh. "The things we used to do — we can't ever get that back." I remembered very clearly how Eric and Jerrod — among others — had stared at me right after my twist. Their expressions were pure lust, like any normal teenage boy. "And they saw me naked after I .... after." I'd almost slipped in front of Rosa.
"Oh." Tanya understood without further explanation. "That'd make things awkward."
I was still feeling melancholy when Marge showed me to the nursery. Even holding Francisco while Rosa ate hadn't broken through my sadness. My eyes were misty. It wasn't fair, I thought — changing like I did and losing what little I had.
My mood changed immediately when I rounded the corner into the nursery room. I could hear a few toddlers and younger children playing, and over all their noise, a couple of babies crying. I felt my compulsion kick in again, and I rushed to one of the cribs. "What's wrong, little one?" I asked as I peered down at the baby girl. Though the baby was only a few months old, and not yet visibly male or female, I could tell — somehow — that she was a girl. I reached down tenderly and picked her up, cradling her in my arms. "Why are you crying? Do you just need someone to hug you?" I cooed.
I felt pressure building in me again, but it wasn't quite the same as what I'd felt with Francisco. I tried to get rid of it, to hold it back, but it was too strong. I felt something flowing from me into the baby girl. Almost instantly, she stopped crying and fussing. I knew, without Tanya advising me, that it had to be related to my trick. I glanced at the other two workers and Marge. "She just needed a hug," I explained quickly. They didn't need to know that I was Twisted and had a trick. "What's her name?"
"Sandy, Denise," Marge was speaking to the two busy women in the nursery, who were staring open-mouthed at me, "This is Allison. She's agreed to help out. And it looks like you can use some help," she added as she glanced around the room at the boisterous younger children.
The older of the two was eyeing me, sizing me up. "You must be the girl I heard about," she said, "the one that everyone is talking about. You seem to have a way with babies."
I didn't know if I should blush or feel defensive at her comment. "I guess so," I said carefully.
"Well, if you can help with the infants, you're more than welcome here," she said with a smile. "Her name is Melissa." She grabbed a toddler that was running past before he could trip and fall. "I'm Sandy."
The other woman smiled as well. "Denise. Glad to have you helping." She eyed little Melissa in my arms. "How did you get her to calm down so quickly?" she asked.
"I ... I don't know," I lied. "I guess it's just a gift."
"Well, if you've got Melissa calmed down, why don't you put her down and see what Mike's problem is?" Sandy said as she corralled another two running youngsters and herded them to a table where they were supposed to be eating.
I gave Melissa another hug, and very reluctantly put the baby down. I was torn between cuddling the precious little girl and attending to the boy. I gave Melissa a smile, and then walked quickly to Mikey's crib. I counted nine cribs in the large room, seven of which were occupied. I wondered if one of the empty ones was for Francisco. I didn't need to guess what was wrong with Mikey — I could smell his dirty diaper as I approached his crib.
I should have been disgusted, but I wasn't. I picked up the baby boy and carried him to a changing table. With one hand holding him down so he wouldn't roll off, I reached up and grabbed a fresh diaper and a couple of wipes. I could tell the two women were watching me, but my attention was focused on Mikey. After I unfastened the dirty diaper, I held a wipe ready, and as soon as I pulled the diaper down from his front, I draped the wipe across his privates. I knew only too well how good a 'squirt gun' a guy's tool was, and I didn't want to get 'christened'. In only a couple of minute, I had him cleaned up and in a fresh diaper. Cradling him in one arm, I glanced around to see where the diaper should go. I didn't think it should go in the regular trash, because the room would get very smelly very quickly.
"The diaper bin is on the right side of the table," Sandy called out, knowing what I was looking for.
Once I'd disposed of the diaper, I cradled little Mikey. He was still fussing a bit, and seemed to be having some trouble breathing.
"You should squeegee his nose," Denise advised me. "It's cold season, and he sounds like he's got one."
I didn't have the first clue how to help with the older kids, but any child under about two I was irresistably attracted to. When one little girl tripped and fell on some blocks, I scooped her up into my arms and held her practically before she started crying. This time, without having to wait for it, I tried to do my trick on my own, and I felt the tingling pressure emanate from me. The girl whimpered a bit, and then settled in and let me hold her and comfort her. Denise and Sandy had looks of astonishment on their faces when they glanced my way to see if the girl was okay.
The rest of the day was very busy, and also very rewarding. I forgot how many diapers I changed on that first day; Sandy and Denise were only too happy to let me handle the babies while they handled the more mobile children. Rosa came by before lunch, and I took a break to nurse Francisco. That earned puzzled looks from both Sandy and Denise, but they were too polite to say anything. Finally, as the mothers began to come back from work, the room began to empty and become quieter.
"I think you can call it a day," Denise said to me as Mikey's mother picked him up. "We appreciate the help. You're very good with babies."
"Thanks," I said, warmed by the compliment. "I like helping."
Rosa had a surprise for Tanya and me; the kitchen was open to those who wanted to cook, and she'd taken the opportunity to make something for us. I think she felt that she needed to do something for the help I was giving her with Francisco. We found a quiet room and sat down, with me holding and nursing Francisco while eating with one hand. After a bit, Francisco stopped eating, and Rosa took him back.
We learned about Rosa while we talked. She wanted to go to find a job to earn her way, and to go to class to learn better English, but with Francisco's health, she couldn't. In exchange for the shelter, she did what she could to help clean the place. Tanya and I agreed that if she had to do a job, it would be far better if she cooked than cleaned.
After I finished nursing and eating, I still had to empty my breasts. I sighed heavily. "Marge couldn't find a breast pump, and I didn't get a chance to go back to the store." Marge had helped me improvise a funnel so I could catch and save whatever milk I could manually express. I got a few ounces of milk, and, as usual, sore hands. I bottled the milk and gave them to Rosa. "In case Francisco gets hungry."
Rosa looked puzzled, and a bit hurt. "You ... no feed Francisco no more?"
"Oh, no, Rosa," I said quickly. "I'm happy to keep nursing Francisco. But if he wakes up at night hungry, you can get him something without having to wake the rest of us up."
Her expression eased when she understood my meaning. "Oh. I thought you no want to help."
"No," I said, giving her a hug. "I like you and Francisco."
"I like you, too," Rosa said with a warm smile. "And I like talking with you. It help my English. And I no feel ... alone."
Tanya joined, making it a group hug. It must have looked strange — two teenage girls, and a twenty-three year-old who looked like a teenage girl, holding a baby, hugging around an improvised dinner table in a women's crisis shelter. I don't think any of us cared. We were bonding. I got the distinct impression that both Rosa and Tanya needed friends as much as I did.
We stayed up late talking, so late that I fed Francisco one more time, and after that, I expressed more milk — probably four to five more ounces. Rosa had plenty if Francisco wanted a midnight snack.
The next morning, I awoke early to pressure again. This time, I pulled on a robe and slippers, and padded down the hallway until I knocked on Rosa's door. Because she had an infant, she was one of the lucky ones who had a private, albeit tiny, room. She looked half-asleep, but her eyes brightened when she recognized me. After I fed Francisco, I went back to my room and expressed some more. "I have _got_ to get a pump," I muttered to myself, surprising myself that, after only a couple of days as a girl, I was actually eager to get a breast pump. Maybe Marge could give me a break from the nursery long enough for me to go to the thrift store again.
I cleaned up and got dressed. It still seemed unnatural to be a girl, but it was getting less awkward and uncomfortable. That bothered me; was it another effect of my twist that I was so rapidly forgetting what it was like to be a boy? It must have showed on my face; Tanya asked if I was okay. I started crying again, and she held me close. "I'm forgetting who I was," I sobbed.
After I got all my tears out, we had breakfast, and then I went to work in the nursery, while Tanya ran a few errands and Rosa tended to Francisco. I know she wanted to find work, but until Francisco was well enough to stay in the nursery, she had to care for him. Before lunch, she came by and I fed him again. As I was doing that, Denise had to tend to one of the fussy babies — Mikey, it turned out. His cold symptoms weren't any better, and because of that, he'd been extra fussy. From the corner of my eye, I could see Denise taking formula from the refrigerator and heating it before feeding Mikey. He was back in his crib for a nap by the time I finished expressing.
"Hey, Denise," I called as I looked in the refrigerator, "where's my milk bottle?" I'd decided to consolidate my milk during the day, and then I could freeze it or give an entire bottle to Rosa. But my bottle wasn't in the refrigerator where I'd left it.
"It should be there," Denise answered as she carried another baby to the changing table.
I looked again. "It's not. I _know_ I put it in here."
"Where did you put it?
"On the left side. In front of the OJ bottle."
"I don't think I did anything with it."
I sighed. "Never mind. I'll just store the new bottle here." I didn't think anything of it until later that afternoon, when I opened the fridge to get another bottle for Mikey. I didn't see any with his name on them. "Where's Mikey's bottle?" I asked Sandy and Denise.
"It's supposed to be there," Denise answered. "The mothers are supposed to have the bottles labeled."
"Unless his mom forgot again," Sandy added, her tone frustrated. "She does that sometimes. She can be a little absent-minded."
I rummaged around the fridge for another few minutes, but came up empty handed. I turned to ask Sandy what I should do, but she had her hands full with a couple of kids who were fighting over a toy. I glanced at the bottle of my own milk, and then at Mikey. His crying was getting more insistent. I took the bottle, put it in the warmer, and picked up Mikey. As expected, he had a dirty diaper. I was torn; if I changed it before he ate, he'd just soil it again. On the other hand, it was uncomfortable for him. I decided to wait, and cradled him, cooing softly to him and feeling some power flowing from me as he calmed down. As soon as the bottle was warm, I fastened a rubber nipple on it and fed Mikey.
After I'd put him back in his crib, I cleaned up the bottle, and discovered, to my surprise that my other bottle was in the 'clean bottles' rack by the sink. I frowned and glanced at Denise; she might have mistakenly given Mikey my milk earlier. I felt a sigh of relief, too; if she'd done that, then I couldn't really get in trouble for giving my milk to Mikey, either.
A few days later, I walked through the brisk autumn air toward the thrift store. It was my first outing without Tanya, and I was nervous. I kept glancing around; I'm sure I looked paranoid. I breathed easier when I walked through the door into the thrift store. The pump was where I'd remembered it, in its neat shoulder tote bag, so I picked it up and walked to the cashier's station to pay. It was going to be a huge relief; I'd manually expressed my milk for several days, and my hands were tired. Because things were busy at the shelter, I hadn't gotten time off right away, but that day, I'd gotten off work at the nursery a few minutes early, and I was going to be leaking soon, since it was near Francisco's feeding time.
"You know you're going to have to get the bottles and hoses and stuff," the cashier said casually as she put the pump into a shopping bag.
"Oh?" I was surprised at her news.
"We don't sell the bottles, nipple shields, and hoses, because they have to be sterilized."
"Shit," I cursed softly. After taking a deep breath, I looked plaintively at her. "Where can I get that stuff?"
The cashier mentioned the name of a department store a few blocks away, but in the opposite direction from the shelter. "I guess I don't have a choice, do I?"
"Write down the brand and model before you get anything," the cashier told me. "You want to make sure you get the right parts, because there are a lot of brands and models, and the wrong parts won't work."
"Thanks." I walked quickly back to the shelter and put the pump in my room before I walked back to the door. "I've got to get the other parts for the pump," I told the girl at the reception desk.
"Okay. You've got the entrance code, right?" The door had a numeric keypad so we could come and go after hours without disturbing the staff. The code was changed at least once a week.
I told her what I thought the code was, and she confirmed that I had the right one. It seemed colder as I walked to the department store, so I hastened my pace. I was glad to get into the warmth of the store. Then I realized that I had no idea where I would find the parts I needed. I glanced around, and I saw only one person in the store's trademarked purple vests — one of the managers. I walked nervously to him.
"Can I help you?" he asked pleasantly.
I was feeling humiliated. I was a boy, or had been. Now I had to ask a man where I could find breast pump parts. "Um," I stammered, "I need some things for ... a breast pump." The last words were softer. I was imagining that everyone was going to turn and stare and laugh at me for my request, or that they'd make an announcement over the intercom so everyone in the store would know what I was after.
The manager simply smiled. "Nursing supplies are at the end of the baby section." He looked toward one side of the store. "Under that sign that says 'Baby'. It's on this end, in the second aisle of the section."
"Thank you," I said before turning and scurrying away. I know my cheeks were red with embarrassment. When I got to the baby section, I found the nursing supplies, but I couldn't find the things I needed. Presently, one of the staff came to me. "Do you need help?" she asked.
I was grateful that the staff was an older woman. "Yes," I said, feeling my cheeks burning once more. "I just got a used breast pump, but it didn't have the bottles and stuff." I told her the brand and model.
"You could get them all individually," she advised me, "but it's probably easier — and cheaper — to get a kit to make sure you get all the right parts."
"I'll take the kit."
The woman glanced among the shelves, and then pulled down a box. "This should do you. Is there anything else?"
"I don't know," I said uneasily. "I'm ... new to this," I said quietly, blushing even more brightly.
The woman smiled pleasantly. "We all are the first time. You probably want some nursing pads, too," she said, glancing at my shirt.
I saw where she was looking, so I looked down. To my horror, I saw that, between the open flaps of my jacket, there were visible wet spots on my shirt. I hastily pulled my jacket together to cover them. "Yeah."
"You might want some salve for your nipples, too," she said, "to keep from getting chafed and sore."
"I was about to ask about that," I said meekly. "I found out the hard way how much I need something like that."
The clerk just smiled at me and led me to the right products. I added some 'nipple butter' to the pile of supplies in my arms. Mentally, I was adding up how much this would all cost; it was less than what I had with me, but it was more than I'd expected. I winced when I paid, knowing that every penny I spent set back Tanya's and my goal of going to Spiral.
I walked back to the shelter, feeling a growing wetness in my shirt, knowing that I was leaking. As I came into the building, I saw the clock, and realized that I was almost an hour past the time I'd been feeding Francisco. I dropped the supplies on my bed and hurried to the cafeteria.
Rosa was sitting at a table with Tanya. I'd expected that Rosa would be near panic, but Tanya must have told her of my errand, because she was feeding Francisco with a bottle of my milk. I actually felt jealous of the inanimate bottle. I hurried to join them at the table, looking longingly at the baby boy, wanting desperately to nurse him myself. Rosa must have read my expression, because she eased the bottle from Francisco's mouth. I felt tension leave me as soon as the little guy latched on. I understood more and more what Tanya had said about compulsions. Not only couldn't I fight mine, but I realized that didn't _want_ to.
After Francisco was full, I handed him back to Rosa and went to the serving line to get some food. Since I'd been out shopping, and then nursed, it was late and the selection was reduced. I sighed and dished up a piece of baked fish and a few vegetables. I wasn't thrilled; all that were left for veggies were zucchini, brussel sprouts, and carrots. Fortunately, the orphanage had trained me well at eating whatever was put in front of me, so I just shrugged and walked back to the table with Tanya and Rosa.
"Did you get a pump?" Tanya asked me.
I rolled my eyes. "You always wait until I have a mouthful, don't you?" I sighed.
"You're onto me," Tanya laughed. "Did you?"
"Yeah," I answered. "It was more expensive than I thought. It's a bit of a setback to get some money saved."
"Maybe Marge will pay you for working in the daycare center."
"I hope so."
After we finished dinner, I went up to my room and unpacked the pump and kit. I thought about just putting it all together, but I decided that I should read the instructions, since I was totally new to the idea of pumping. The first thing I learned is that I had to sterilize the bottles, hoses, and breast cups. After familiarizing myself with the process, I went to the kitchen and put a pot of water on the stove. After the parts were all sterilized in boiling water, I went back up and assembled the pump, following the instructions. I took off my shirt and bra, and, after a nervous shiver, turned on the pump and placed the cups to my breasts.
The sensation was ... interesting. It wasn't as satisfying as nursing a baby, but it was a lot easier and quicker than manually expressing. Sitting on my bed, I leaned back against the wall, and held the cups against my boobs. I was amazed to see milk droplets and then small streams accumulating and dripping into the collection bottles. It was surprising how quickly the milk was flowing. After what seemed an eternity, but was only about fifteen minutes, the flow slowed until it was just a few drops. I was surprised to find that I felt disappointed that the pumping was over, but I shut off the pump. The rest of the routine was tedious; I consolidated the milk into one plastic bag sealed it, and then collected the parts and the milk and went back to the kitchen. I put the bag of milk into the freezer, and then brought the pot of water back to a boil and re-cleaned and re-sterilized all the plastic parts.
After I put the pump away, I sat back, feeling a strange mixture of emotions. The fact that I'd nursed and then pumped was unsettling, but at the same time, I found it satisfying. While we were talking later that evening, we found out that Rosa wanted to escape this city and the shelter as well. She was undocumented, and being a very young mother with a sick child limited what she could do. Plus, her former boyfriend had harassed and threatened her after he left. She felt as insecure as the rest of us.
"I take Francisco to doctor today," Rosa said as I gave Francisco his late feeding. "Doctor say that he no have estomago problem no more."
"That's good news," I said, feeling glad for the little tyke. Tanya hadn't been imagining it; Francisco definitely looked better, and he was eating ravenously, perhaps making up for a couple of months of being under-nourished.
"Doctor was ... how you say, confused?"
Tanya nodded. "That's how we say it."
"Why was he confused?" I asked without glancing up from the nursing baby at my bosom.
"He say that Francisco need surgery. But now he not need surgery. He say is impossible. He ask me what I do different."
"Differently," Tanya corrected her gently.
"Differently." She was genuinely grateful that we were helping her improve her English. "I tell doctor that you give Francisco your leche. Milk?"
I shot a wary glance at Tanya, and saw that she had the same nervous look. "Uh, yeah. Milk is the correct word," I said. Tanya must have had the same thought I had, which was that having more people know about my lactating and possible trick might be a bad idea.
"Good news is doctor say that Francisco can go to nursery now. That means I can look for job."
"That's great!" Tanya congratulated her.
"Yeah." I was still nervous. "But please don't tell others about my nursing Francisco." I saw her puzzled look. "Please?" I realized that such a request would be meaningless, since many other women in the shelter had seen me nursing the boy. Still, anything to minimize calling attention to myself seemed prudent.
Later that night, as the three of us plus Francisco sat in the communal room watching a holovid, a woman carrying a baby came up to us. She was rather nervous, and waited until I spoke. "Can I help you?" I asked, my eyes drawn to the baby in her arms. The baby was in distress; it was coughing and having difficulty breathing, and I couldn't help but be drawn to the little girl.
"I heard ... I mean, someone told me ... that your nursing a baby helped his illness," she said hesitantly.
I gave Tanya a nervous glance. "Uh, I've been nursing Rosa's baby, but I don' t know about helping one that's sick."
"Erica said that her boy Mike had a cold this morning, but when she picked him up from the nursery, he was a lot better."
"I wasn't nursing Mike, if that's what you're saying." I was getting more and more nervous about where she was going with the conversation.
"Yeah, but Denise in the daycare center told her that she'd thought she'd accidentally fed Mike your milk, because she'd forgotten to leave formula for him, and then he got fed again in the afternoon, possibly also with your milk."
I wanted to tell her no, to stop the speculation and rumors. I wanted to deny that there was something special about my milk. But I couldn't. I could feel the baby's distress. I held my arms out to the infant.
"She has an upper respiratory infection, and it's not getting better. The doctor is worried about her getting pneumonia," the woman said. "He said it's settling into her chest, and that she's probably going to have to go to the hospital if it gets any worse."
I swear, I couldn't stop myself. I could tell that she was both hungry and in distress. I gently took the baby from her, and cradling her in one arm, lifted my shirt and freed a breast. From the way she latched on, I could tell she was hungry, but her feeding was interrupted as she had to stop to breath periodically, since her nose was so stuffed up. In the times I'd feed Francisco, I'd gotten used to the tingly pressure, and I seemed to be able to control it — a little. I pushed, and felt it flowing into the girl.
"Her name is Hannah, and I'm Yvonne," the mother said somewhat nervously. She glanced at the sofa I was sitting on. "May I?"
I nodded, and the woman sat down. There wasn't much conversation, because I was occupied by nursing the baby, Tanya was scowling and clearly nervous that Yvonne seemed to know of my trick, and Rosa was rocking Francisco to sleep. By the time Hannah finished feeding, she seemed to be breathing quite a bit easier. Yvonne seemed relieved to take Hannah back from my arms. She awkwardly thanked me, and then took Hannah and left us.
At lunch two days later, I got called into Marge's office. Sitting with her was Doctor Stone. His eyes narrowed and he studied me thoroughly as I sat down. "What's up?" I asked, perplexed, as I sat down.
Marge gazed evenly at me. "I was going to ask you the same thing."
"I've just been working in the nursery," I answered carefully.
Dr. Stone's face was impassive. "There have been a few ... unusual ... occurrences."
"We have an infant boy who had achalasia — that's a problem with the esophagus being able to pass food into the stomach — but now he has no symptoms of the condition and is eating normally. That should have required surgical correction at his age."
I was feeling more and more nervous. "Sounds like a miracle."
"I'm a doctor. I don't believe in miracles," Dr. Stone said coldly. "Second, we have an infant boy who is asymptomatic from rhinitis — a cold — even though he should be showing symptoms for at least three to four days. Infants don't get over colds in twenty-four hours, like he did."
I glanced uneasily at Marge. She was studying me carefully, her face impassive. "So a kid gets over a cold quickly."
"Third, there was an infant girl who had — repeat _had_ — a severe upper respiratory infection that was bordering on pneumonia. It was severe enough that two days ago, I recommended hospitalizing the girl. Yesterday morning, when I checked her, her lungs and upper respiratory system were completely free of infection." Dr. Stone frowned at me. "Three babies, three so-called miracles in eight days. Then there's you."
"Me?" I gulped nervously, feeling panic surging through my body. "What about me?"
"You are, according to two of the mothers, lactating and feeding their infants. You said nothing about abnormal lactation in your exam last week, and gynecological evidence pretty conclusively proves that you have _not_ had a baby."
"Proves?" Marge asked, intervening. "That's a pretty strong statement."
"She has an intact hymen," Dr. Stone answered, as if I wasn't in the room. "Her birth canal is virginal, and has not delivered a baby."
I was both terrified that Dr. Stone knew or was going to find out that I was Twisted, and angry that he was acting like I was unimportant, or even not present. "I know I'm a virgin," I snapped at him. "So what?"
"And you haven't had a baby, have you?"
"No," I scowled.
"But you _are_ lactating, correct?"
I felt like I was in an old holovid courtroom drama, the old mid-twentieth-century black-and-white versions the order let us see. "So what? Is that a crime?"
"Did you have anything to do with those three infants suddenly being cured?" he accused me.
"I think that's about enough, Doctor," Marge interrupted impatiently. "Your ... insinuation and questions border on the absurd. A fifteen-year-old girl, somehow curing infants? How would you explain that?" She saw him start to speak, but she cut him off. "It's my business to know what's going on around here, and if there was something ... unusual, then I'd know. And I don't know of anything that would cause miraculous healing. I think we're dealing with coincidence."
Dr. Stone glared at me, and then nodded slowly to Marge. "If, as director, you're telling me that I should drop it, then I will. But something strange is going on here." He stood stiffly. "If there's nothing else here, I've got more patients." He scowled at me one last time, and then walked from the office.
Marge watched him go, and then stared at me for a few long seconds. "_Did_ you have anything to do with those three babies?" she asked me bluntly.
I nodded. "You know I've been nursing Francisco. The other day, Denise accidentally fed Mike my milk when she couldn’t find any in the refrigerator, and then later that afternoon, I did the same."
I nodded, looking down in shame. "Mikey's mom didn't leave any bottles for him, and he was so hungry."
"But you didn't nurse him?"
"Yvonne came by the other night and asked me to nurse her. Mikey's mom told her about what happened with him."
"You nursed her directly?"
"Interesting." Marge looked at me for a bit. "Do you think that maybe healing is your ... power?"
"My trick?" I asked, flinching at the word 'power'. Tanya had told me that Twisted preferred the word 'trick' instead. 'Power' made people think of superpowers, which sounded negative and ominous. "Maybe. I felt something different when I was nursing Francisco and Hannah. Tanya thinks it is."
"Hmmm," Marge thought for a moment. "So how did you help Mikey? Unless ...." She bit her lip. "Maybe your milk has some antibiotic or antiviral properties. That would be interesting." After thinking wistfully for a moment, she turned her attention back to me. "I want you to promise me that you won't nurse infants, or give them your milk, though."
"But ...." I bit my lip uncertainly.
"I know. Your compulsion." Marge sighed. "Try, please, okay? I can't stop you if a mother asks you to give milk, but I don't want you to without permission. I would discourage even giving voluntarily. If it _is_ your trick, you don't want to advertise, do you? You know why, don't you."
"Yeah," I replied, bitter at the very recent memory of how the Siblings had kicked me out in the middle of the night. "I'll try," I answered in a subdued tone.
"Okay," Marge smiled. "You better get back to the nursery."
I turned, but she remembered something. "Oh, by the way?" I turned back toward her. "I got your transcripts, so we need to get you back in school. There's a school nearby — within walking distance — that we can enroll you in."
She noticed me pale at the mention of school. "I take it you aren't comfortable with the thought of school?"
"It's ... going out in public," I said nervously. "It's being confined to a classroom, when I have to nurse or pump periodically. I ... don't want to stick out."
Marge nodded in understanding. "I'll start setting up an independent study course, then. It's like home-school, but you'll have most of the responsibility for keeping up with what you're supposed to be doing."
"Okay," I said reluctantly. I didn't really want to study a lot; I'd much rather have been spending my time in the nursery.
Things were pretty quiet for a couple of days. I found out that, when she wasn't at the shelter, Tanya was working part-time with an electrical company, using her trick to help troubleshoot electrical circuits. At least, as she told me, she was able to make and save a little money. And Marge found a little in her budget to pay me — far less than minimum wage, but she did remind me that I was also getting room and board at no cost.
Work in the nursery was very satisfying, despite dirty diapers, noisy kids, and general chaos. I frequently used my trick to calm down the kids when they were getting too fussy, or when it was nap-time. I also discovered that my trick worked with older children, too; I could get a fussy five-year-old napping in seconds, but it wasn't as easy as with infants. I got the distinct impression that both Denise and Sandy had figured out that I had some trick, but they were too polite to ask. Besides, I think they were grateful that I could calm down rowdy or ornery infants and children.
The third day after Marge's talk with me, a cute little girl named Melissa got such a bad case of diarrhea that Sandy was starting to worry about her becoming dehydrated. I went to the doctor's office to get him to come and take a look, but when I got back to the clinic area, I found that Dr. Stone wasn't in. I left a message on his desk, and went back to the nursery. Sandy was changing Melissa for the eighth time that morning. I fought my compulsion all morning; by the time lunch came around, I was in physical distress. Denise got the first turn for lunch. After she left, and while Melissa was fussing again, I carried her to the changing table. Before I set her down, I glanced at Sandy. She saw the desperation in my eyes; I had the ability to help the girl, but I'd promised Marge.
"Go ahead," Sandy said softly. "I didn't see anything."
I sat down immediately and pulled my shirt up. I must have set a record for getting a breast in a baby's mouth. It took Melissa a bit to begin suckling, since she was in distress, but as she started feeding, I felt my trick kick in, pushing my healing power into the little girl. She ate a lot, since she hadn't felt like eating much earlier. It was only after she was done that I realized that I needed to feed Francisco, too. At least I had some milk put aside for circumstances like this. I was surprised, therefore, when I fed Francisco and _still_ had to pump a little. By the end of the day, and after another feeding, Melissa no longer had diarrhea, and she looked a lot better.
I got a questioning look from both Marge and Denise at the end of the day; I looked down sheepishly when Marge asked if Melissa was feeling better.
Two days later, I was startled to get a message that Dr. Stone wanted a follow-up appointment with me. Remembering his suspicion when he and I met with Marge, I was nervous.
Dr. Stone seemed a little more haughty than he had been during my first appointment. It seemed he was looking at me suspiciously.
"How long have you been lactating?" he said, sounding more like he was demanding instead of asking.
"Since I ... grew these things," I answered, blushing. It was truthful, even if was misleading.
"Have you been tested for hormone imbalances?"
I shook my head. "No. Unless you did something with your tests."
He scowled at me. "I'll get a blood sample so we can test it, then."
I wasn't sure that having more testing was a good idea, but I also knew it would look very suspicious if I refused. "Okay."
After he drew a few vials of blood, he asked a few more questions, and then asked me to remove my top so he could examine my breasts. I hadn't cared about other people seeing my boobs when I was feeding a baby, but this time, without the compulsion to nurse, I was highly embarrassed. I felt my cheeks burning red. "Uh, do I need to?"
Doctor Stone looked at me with a piercing glare. "I _am_ a physician," he said sternly. He pulled a gown out of a cabinet and tossed it in my lap. "Put this on. I'll come back when you're ready." He left the room abruptly.
I'd decided that I didn't like Doctor Stone. He was brusque and condescending, and rather suspicious of me. I reluctantly took off my shirt and bra and pulled the gown over my arms. In a few moments, he knocked and then came in.
I hated his exam. He pressed my breasts, explaining half-heartedly that he was examining for lumps and such. As he pressed and squeezed, milk oozed and dropped from my nipples. After a few minutes of humiliating examination, he sat back. Without direction from him, I pulled the gown closed to regain a bit of modesty. "How much, and how often, do you lactate?"
"Uh, four or five times a day, depending. I don't know how much, though. I help feed ... a baby ... so I don't measure how much he eats."
"Do you produce any besides what the baby eats?"
"Yeah," I blushed, "I have to pump to empty them, or they get too uncomfortable." I could feel wetness, and I knew that I was starting to leak some. Without my nursing pads, I was getting the gown wet.
"How much extra do you pump?"
I shrugged. "I guess three to four ounces."
"No, from each side."
"I'd like you to bring me a sample for some tests," he said.
"What ... what for?"
"To look for hormones, drugs, or anything else unusual. I want to test for other things that might cause your lactation," he added quickly. It sounded like an excuse, and I didn't believe him.
"Okay. Are you done?" I asked. "I need to get back to the nursery to help with the kids."
"Almost." He sat back on his stool. "Have you ever been tested to see if you're Twisted?" he asked bluntly.
"Uh," I stammered, doe-eyed and afraid, "no." It was true — I'd never been tested. "Why?"
"If you _are_ Twisted," he said, looking suspiciously at me, "it would explain quite a few things, like your lactating, and the 'miracles' that occurred with babies you nursed."
"If I was Twisted," I countered uneasily, "wouldn't I know it?"
"Probably," he answered lamely, "but that's not universally true. It's my understanding that if you twisted at night and it was a minor twist, you might not have noticed." I could tell that he didn't believe my non-answer, but was trying to trick me into admitting the possibility. "Have you had any unusual symptoms, such as tingling all over? Have you fainted or passed out unexpectedly? Have you felt any sensation like an electrical shock?" I shook my head. He thought for a moment, and then stood. "You can get dressed and leave. I want a follow-up when I get the lab results back. And I want you to drop off a sample of your milk by the end of the day." He picked up the blood sample vials and left the room without further ado.
I got dressed and walked out of the room, finding my way back to the shelter. The unexpected checkup had been unnerving, and I really had an uneasy feeling about Doctor Stone. His questions about sensations of a twist were too blunt, too direct. With the earlier suspicions of the 'miracles' that he'd voiced in Marge's office, I was certain that he suspected — strongly — that I was Twisted, and that was behind his questions. And since he wasn't at all personable, at least not to me, I couldn't help but think that he didn't like or didn't trust Twisted. He had some ulterior motive, of that I was sure. I just hoped I was good enough at acting to have put him off the trail, but somehow, I doubted it.
Tanya noticed my mental discomfort during our meal; afterwards, we went to a secluded spot. "What's on your mind?" she asked.
I told her about the unexpected exam, and the blood tests and questions. As expected, Tanya frowned, showing that she was as concerned as I was by the doctor's behavior. "You need to try to control your compulsion, until he loses interest."
"I thought you said it was impossible to fight my compulsion," I said sarcastically.
"Yeah, I guess I did. But you don't want the doctor knowing too much, do you?"
"So what do I do? Let the kids suffer illness and discomfort?" I shook my head. "I can't do that, and you know it. When I see a baby who's sick, I can't stop myself!" I scowled, remembering how I'd nursed little Melissa earlier to cure her of her diarrhea.
"Can't you just pump, and hide it that way?" Tanya suggested.
"No," I admitted slowly. I told her about what I'd done for Melissa, and how I couldn't help myself. "When I see a baby in distress and hungry, I can't stop myself from nursing her. If it's a choice between nursing and using my milk from a bottle, I _have_ to nurse. And ...," I looked down, feeling my cheeks redden, "I like it."
"That means you're getting used to your Twist," Tanya said with a smile.
"And what's next? Getting used to kissing boys? Dating? Sex? Having my own baby?" I asked bitterly. "I don't want those things!"
"Whoa!" Tanya protested. "I wasn't suggesting that. All I meant was that you're not as anxious about all your changes."
I sighed, closing my eyes momentarily. "I know," I said after a moment. "I guess the doctor really upset me."
"I guess this isn't the time to remind you that you'll probably be having a period sometime soon, too," Tanya said wincing.
"Oh, crap! I forgot about that! I hate this! I didn't ask for all of this, and now I'm going to ...." I couldn't say it; I started crying instead.
Tanya gave me a hug. "Well, I found out something that should give you something positive to think about."
"What?" I could tell from her grin that Tanya knew something really good.
"I found out prices for bus tickets to Spiral."
"Wow! How much?" I suddenly felt like celebrating something — two tickets, and we could move somewhere where we didn't have to hide who we were. When Tanya told me the price, however, my dream crashed back to earth. "That's not as much as I was afraid of, but it's more than I've got."
Tanya nodded. "Yeah. But we can save until we have enough."
"I guess. Marge is paying me a little bit hourly for working in the nursery."
"Too bad you can't charge for your healing and milk!" Tanya chuckled.
I stuck my tongue out at her. "You just said I shouldn't do that! Make up your mind!"
Friday, another baby in the nursery became ill, unable to keep any food down. When he became very distressed, I couldn't help _needing_ to help him; I sat down with him in my arms to nurse the little guy. He was trying to suckle, and I felt the pressure building until it passed my power out to him. Almost instantly, what had been feeble attempts to nurse became serious feeding. It was just about that moment that the Marge came around the corner into the room to check up on the sick baby.
"What's going on here?" she asked, looking unhappily at me.
"Uh," I stammered, "I'm feeding one of the babies."
"You _know_ that what you're doing is against procedures and protocols unless you have written permission." She glanced around. "I take it Denise is out?"
"She went to supply to get some more wipes and diapers," Sandy answered without looking up from the children she was attending.
"Denise called Ms. Travis at work around lunchtime. She told her that Donny was having trouble keeping his food down. Ms. Travis relayed a message through me asking if Doctor Stone could look at him."
I felt a surge of panic. "Uh, I've got him right now."
"I noticed that." She sighed and rolled her eyes. "I don't suppose Doc is going to find anything wrong with him, is he?"
I winced. "Probably not."
Marge shook her head. "I suppose you ...?" I simply nodded, glancing down to where Donny was happily feeding. "What am I supposed to tell Doc Stone? He's going to ask to have Donny brought to his office for a checkup."
"Can we tell him that Donny had some indigestion? Or maybe some bad formula?" I suggested. They weren't convincing suggestions, and after what had happened already with my trick, it was going to make Doc even more suspicious.
Marge exhaled heavily, shaking her head. "Well, it's better than nothing, I guess." She turned to leave, but paused and glanced over her shoulder. "If he does send for Donny, you probably shouldn't be the one to take him there."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking, too."
"By the way, how's your studying going?"
"You would bring that up, wouldn't you?" I asked sarcastically.
Marge smiled mischievously. "It's part of my job," she replied. "Part of our permit to operate requires that, for any under-age girls, I have to ensure they're making progress toward at least a GED, if not enrolled in an actual school."
"Okay," I said, admitting defeat. "It's just hard, when I have to pump or nurse five times a day, and I'm working here for six or seven hours."
Denise ended up taking Donny to see Doctor Stone, and when she returned with him, she gave me an impish grin. "He's not a happy person. I think he's starting to feel unneeded and unwanted here." She put Donny in his crib. "By the way, he asked if you'd done anything with Donny today."
"Oh?" I asked, knowing my eyes were bugging out with surprise.
"Don't worry. I didn't tell him about earlier," she said, glancing at my chest. "But the way he asked, it sounded like he thought you were a criminal or something."
"Shit," I swore softly. "That's all I need — having him poke and pry into my life." If he did, he'd uncover the truth sooner or later. From that point, I shuddered to think of what kind of trouble me might cause me.
Fortunately, the rest of the day was peaceful, and the weekend was quiet. I just nursed Francisco and hung out with Rosa and Tanya. In just a few days of hanging out together, Rosa's English was improving rather quickly. She clearly was determined to better herself. It made me think that maybe I should apply equal vigor to my studies. If she could come to this country with nothing, and fight the odds to get a future for herself and her son, then I had no excuse to not try to do the same.
Things started getting 'interesting' the following Tuesday. I was changing a diaper when I realized that someone had come into the room. When I glanced, Marge was looking at me. She appeared a bit pale and nervous, possibly even frightened. The sight was unnerving. "Denise, take over for Allison. Allison, come with me, please."
I winced; what was going on now, especially that had rattled Marge. "What's up?" I asked nervously when I caught up to her in the hall.
"There's someone in my office who asked to see you."
"Who?" I asked. I wasn't sure I liked how this was going.
"He's an assistant for a ... local businessman. He's okay," Marge replied enigmatically. "I know the businessman. Just ... be polite and try not to annoy him." It sounded like she was talking about the mafia, and her demeanor didn't dissuade me from those thoughts. She didn't say anything else.
If I'd have still been a boy, I'd have been nervous by the time I walked into Marge's office. As a girl, I was so frightened I was shaking. When we walked in, Marge walked straight to her desk. I stopped in the doorway, staring at the man sitting across from her desk. He was wearing a very expensive suit, and his posture and disdainful expression suggested that he assumed that he was in charge. He gazed at me like he was measuring me. I gulped nervously.
The man stood, forcing me to look up at him. He was well over six foot tall, whereas I was barely five-foot six. "You're Allison Hansen?" he asked in a deep, intimidating voice.
I glanced nervously at Marge, and then looked back at him. "Ye ... yes," I stammered.
"My boss has requested a meeting with you. The limo is out front. You have two minutes to get your jacket and purse. The meeting is in," he glanced at his watch, "twenty-two minutes." It wasn't a request.
I gulped again, and looked wide-eyed at Marge, my eyes questioning what he'd said. I needed some affirmation from her, because I felt very threatened by the man. It was like something out of a gangster movie.
"It'll be okay," Marge reassured me. The expression on her face, though, belied her words, and didn't make me feel any safer.
I looked up at the man again, but his face was impassive. I gulped. "Okay," I said after a few seconds. "I'll get my purse — and my jacket." Tanya had convinced me to use a purse, and I'd gotten one second-hand at the thrift store. I was trying to save as much money as I could. I turned to leave, desperately hoping that Marge would come with me and give me a little more information about what was going on, but she stayed in her office.
In less than a minute, I was back in the office, with my purse slung over my shoulder and a jacket pulled over my shirt. I glanced once more at Marge, my eyes pleading for information.
The man walked beside me to the front door. I saw a massive Rolls hover-limo out front, and gulped again. Whoever the man worked for was very wealthy or very well connected. Or both. I wondered if money was behind some of Marge's deference to the strange requests, or if it was fear.
The tall man opened the door and gestured me inside the limo. I'd never ridden in a hover-car, let alone a Rolls limo. The inside was more luxuriously appointed than anyplace I'd ever been. Plush carpet covered the floor, and the seats were leather. The entire back was trimmed with what looked like real wood trim panels, accentuated by inlaid gold filigree. I sat down on the rear seat, feeling totally underdressed. The man climbed in, pulling the door closed behind himself. He took a seat by the door, away from me. I was grateful that he wasn't close, because I was very much aware that, compared to him, I was a tiny, helpless, weak girl. If he wanted to try anything, there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop him. It was a very unsettling feeling.
The car noiselessly drove away from the shelter and began to weave through traffic into the dense business center of the city. I'd never been this far into the city, but I'd always looked at the tall office buildings from afar and wondered what it was like to work there. Now I was going to find out.
After a few minutes, the car pulled off the street into a recessed drive in the front of a tall, glassy building. Higher floors hung over the fancy entrance, making it appear that the entrance was a cave.
The man silently waited for the limo to stop, then he opened the door and wordlessly gestured me to follow him out of the car and into the building. A man in a fancy red coat, decorated with lots of brass and braids, opened the door as and held it for us. Inside, people glanced at us and hurriedly stepped to the side of our path, obviously recognizing the silent man and knowing he was of some importance. We walked straight to what appeared to be a private elevator; the man's thumb on a scanner opened the door. The inside was paneled with wood, again with inlaid filigree, attesting, like the Rolls limo, to the wealth and power of the man who used this elevator. Somehow, I knew that it wasn't the silent man. He seemed to be the type that would be a good assistant, or enforcer.
"Where are you taking me? Who am I supposed to meet?" I asked. The silent man didn't even look my way, nor did he answer my question. He just stood like a granite sculpture in a suit. I sighed and resigned myself to waiting. It took a while; my guess was that our destination was at or near the top of the building. That made sense — someone rich and powerful would have a penthouse office.
When the elevator stopped, the silent man led me through a high glass double door into an office area. A woman at the desk glanced up at us nodded. "He's waiting."
The silent man spoke again. "She had to get her purse."
"I let him know when I saw the elevator video feed. Show her in." The woman turned back to her computer. For all she cared, we could have ceased to exist.
The silent man led me through a very large, elaborate, and ornate pair of wooden doors. If anything, they were more elaborately carved and inlaid than either the limo or the elevator.
I gasped softly as I stepped into the room. It was massive, easily twenty meters by ten meters. Wooden bookshelves and wood paneling lined the walls on the sides, and the wall directly in front of us, opposite the doors, was ceiling-to-floor glass windows, arrogantly showing off the cityscape to any in the room. To one side, a large conference table hulked on the floor, its leather-upholstered carved wooden chairs squatting around its perimeter. The other side of the room had similarly leather furniture — a couple of sofas and a few wing chairs — clustered in less formal conversation groups. Overhead, three massive, ornate chandeliers lined up in a row between the door and the desk.
A chair sat between the desk and the windows, its back turned toward us. The occupant was obviously staring out at the city. "Leave us," a raspy voice called out from the chair.
The silent man nodded and stepped silently back through the wooden doors, allowing them to close, leaving me in the ornate office with an unknown man.
"Have a seat at the desk," the unknown man commanded. Not knowing what else I could do, I glided as silently as I could across the floor and eased myself into a chair. Only then did the man swivel his chair to face me.
I'd seen old people at the orphanage. I'd seen lots of movies with rich, powerful people. This man had all of those, and something else. His hair was a white rim around his shiny bald head. His skin was sallow, and his cheeks sunken, but his prominent, sharp nose made up for that, and his eyes burned with a fire that defied his sickly complexion. Like the silent man, he wore a suit which I instinctively knew had to be from a designer. The unknown man seemed to enjoy displaying his wealth. It was hard to know for certain, but I guessed his age at seventy or seventy-five.
"Do you know who I am?" the man asked simply.
I shook my head, not quite trusting myself to speak.
"I'm Terrence Michael Wittington, the Third," he said after he let me squirm for a moment. "I know who _you_ are," he said, adding to the intimidation I was already feeling.
I audibly gasped. This was the man of whom Tanya had spoken, the man who she claimed ran the city with his money and influence. The man who had framed her for assault after his nephew had beaten her. I felt my blood run ice cold.
"I know _what_ you are, too," he said simply. "You're Twisted, aren't you?"
My eyes were wide as saucers. I thought they were going to pop out of my skull. "Uh, I don't know what you're talking about," I stuttered.
"Cut the shit," he commanded brusquely. "Let me tell you why I asked you to pay me a visit." If his 'invitation' was asking, I'd have hated to see an order. "I have something you want. You have something I need. I think we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement."
"What ... what do you have that I might want?"
The man smiled, but it wasn't a pleasant smile at all. It was the smile of a cat toying with a mouse before it ate it. "Let's start with a little taste of what I know, so you can make up your mind if you want to do business. I know that you weren't adopted, but that you were abandoned at two years, seven months of age, at the doorstep of the Siblings of Peace orphanage. Does that whet your appetite for more?"
"I knew all that," I said nervously. If he knew of the orphanage, then he also knew .... My eyes widened.
"And I know that, until recently, you were a young man named Lowell Hansen, right?"
I was physically shaking with fear. This man knew way too much. It terrified me.
"And you _are_ Twisted. Your twist changed you into the pretty young thing that you are now, which is why you're no longer at the orphanage. Am I right?"
"What difference does that make?" I asked in a trembling voice. I feared answering any of his questions, or giving him anything more than the considerable information he already had.
"Would you like to know why you're Twisted when your parents are both normal?"
He'd just scratched an itch that I'd always had. I'd wondered, since I could remember, who my parents were, and why they'd abandoned me. Since my twist, I'd spent a lot of time thinking about how I'd come to be Twisted. But all the records associated with my situation would have been sealed. There was no way he could know anything more than I did, which wasn't much. But then I remembered what Tanya had said; he had money and power, and made things happen. Maybe he _did_ have some information that I couldn't get. "Uh, maybe." I tried to sound non-committal, but I knew I was failing. "After all these years as an orphan, what difference would it make?"
"Your parents aren't really your parents. At least not your father. You were born through a sperm donor." He smiled. "Would you like to know more?"
He knew that I did. But what did he want in return?
He saw my resolve crumbling. "If you help me, I can get you all the information you want about your family, including the name and address of your one surviving parent. And why you ended up in the orphanage."
"What do you want from me? I don't have anything."
The unpleasant smile returned. "But that's where you're wrong, my dear," he said. "You have something that I need."
"I know, through a mutual friend, that you have a unique ... gift. A gift that I need."
I was baffled by his word games. I didn't know anyone that could even come close to the social and money circles of the Wittingtons.
He read my confusion. "I believe you've met one of my lodge brothers, Doctor Henry Stone, who was already 'volunteering' at the clinic so I could keep tabs on someone else?" He grinned wickedly as he saw my expression change from disbelief and confusion to near panic.
"What ... what do you want from me?"
"So you _do_ know Doctor Stone?" I nodded, acknowledging the truth that Wittington knew. "And you know all about the, shall we say, _miracles_ that he said occurred at the shelter? It was a fortunate coincidence that he was there when certain ... healings happened." I had to be paler than he was. "Let me guess — or, rather, let me see if we can confirm Henry's suspicion. Your ... milk — a result of your twist — has some unique healing properties, correct?"
I suddenly realized what he wanted. He looked sickly, even possibly dying. My twist was a way for him to stay alive, and to stay in his position of power and wealth. "Um," I stammered weakly, "that's impossible, isn't it." I suddenly realized that I was helpless if he decided to simply kidnap me for my milk.
"Is it, Lowell?" he asked, chiding me with my male name. I couldn't tell if he was using it to mock me or make me feel threatened. It did both. "The same thing that makes you Allison — your twist — also gives you some ... powers. Powers that I want. Powers that I _need_." He sat back in his chair and stared at me. "As you can see, I'm an old man. What you can't see is that I have pancreatic cancer. According to the best specialists, it's inoperable, and hasn't responded to any treatments. I have only a couple of months to live. Or at least," he said with his predatory expression, "I had."
"So ... you want to trade information about my parents ... for some of my ... milk?" I asked hesitantly. I was too scared of Terrence Wittington to feel the humiliation I knew I should feel.
"Something like that," Wittington answered. "Besides the information, I can make your life a lot more ... comfortable than living in a run-down women's shelter." He scrutinized me as he spoke, reading my reaction. "Even if it weren't for the cancer, I'm suffering the usual ravages of old age. And I'm not ready to give up," he glanced around the room with all its luxurious appointments, "all of this." His expression was carefully neutral, but there was something disturbing in his choice of words and his tone. It sent yet another chill down my spine.
"I need to think about it a bit," I replied slowly. I needed some time to come up with an excuse, because I surely didn't want to help the man who'd been trying to ruin the life of my friend Tanya. If half the things Tanya had told me were true, this cretin didn't deserve to live one second longer than his allotted time on Earth.
"Twenty-four hours," Wittington said sharply. "I'll have my man bring you to discuss your answer." He smiled, but it was a sinister, predatory smile. "I hope you are sensible enough to realize the benefits of my ... generous ... offer." It sounded ominously like a threat. He spun his chair to face out the window, indicating rudely that the meeting was over. As I left his office, I had the sickening feeling that he was toying with me, trying to persuade me to give in. He was a cat toying with a mouse - me!
Back at the shelter, I rushed to my room to see if Tanya was there. She knew more about Terrence Wittington than I could have gleaned in the few minutes I'd met him, and I really, desperately needed her opinion. Unfortunately for me, she was out, so I tried to go work in the nursery to distract myself, but for some reason, Sandy and Denise wouldn't permit me in the room. They wouldn't even let me feed Francisco, despite the agreement with Rosa. Fortunately, I'd stored quite a bit of milk for him, since I was pumping an extra five or six ounces every time I fed him.
I _needed_ to talk to Tanya, to figure out my options and my next move. Instead, all I could do was to pace around nervously and wait for her to return.
As soon as Tanya saw my expression, her brow furrowed. "What?"
"Can we talk ... someplace a little more private?" I asked nervously.
We walked to the unused office that we used as our informal dining room and private discussion area. Tanya shut the door behind herself. "What's going on? You look like you've seen a ghost."
"I had a meeting today, a very unexpected meeting - with Terrence M. Wittington the Third."
Tanya's eyes almost popped from their sockets. "You're shitting me!"
I shook my head, my expression grim. "I wish. He sent one of his men here to take me to his office."
"He knows," I admitted, my voice trembling.
"He knows? How? And how much?" Tanya stammered, horrified by what I'd just said.
"Everything," I confessed bitterly. "Doctor Stone told him."
"Oh, shit!" Tanya swore.
"Yeah, that's an understatement. And I think he's influencing Marge, too." I didn't think she had many more ways to express shock and dismay. "When I got back, Marge wouldn't talk to me — at all."
"That's not like her."
"She looked like she was scared," I said softly. "And they wouldn't let me work in the nursery, or even nurse Francisco this afternoon."
"But ... Marge had approved that since Rosa agreed to it." Her eyes widened a bit more. "You don't think that maybe they're trying to force you?"
I nodded grimly. "That thought crossed my mind."
"Do you think they ... took the milk you've saved?"
"Oh, shit!' It was my turn to swear. "I didn't think of that. Would they ...?"
Tanya nodded. "That bastard has tentacles everywhere. He's not above doing something like that."
"What am I going to do?"
Tanya shook her head. "He's not going to give you a choice. Let me guess — he offered you something in exchange that was tempting, right? Maybe even a life of luxury?"
"Yeah. He hinted that he had information about my real parents." I had a thought, a way out of this web. "Maybe if I just give him some milk ..."
Tanya shook her head, frowning deeply. "That won't be enough. If it does help him, he'll never let you go. You'd be too important to keeping him alive."
I realized what she was saying, and I felt the blood draining from my face. "I'd be ... a prisoner?"
Tanya's expression was grim. "Yes. And if he knew that we are friends, he'd probably take me prisoner, too — or worse — just to make sure you cooperate."
"Shit!" I felt helpless. "But ... that's ... illegal!'
"It's never stopped him before. He _owns_ the police department, and the district attorney."
"What are we going to do?" I felt absolutely helpless.
"We have to get out of here."
"How? We can't afford it yet! We're still a couple hundred dollars short!"
"I don't know," Tanya admitted. "And since you're an orphan, you don't know anyone who could help. And I don't have any connections, either."
"I can't give him my milk," I said firmly. I was as much trying to reassure Tanya as to steel my own nerves. He was very powerful, and if he wanted it, I didn't know how I could stop him — especially if he threatened Tanya.
Later that night, I felt calmed again when Rosa made us dinner, and I got to hold and nurse Francisco. I think it was more calming to me than it was to him. But I had to nurse him in secret; Marge was watching me like a hawk, probably as terrified of Wittington as I was and afraid to anger him. What would he do? See that funding for the shelter was cut off? Have them evicted from the building? Based on Tanya's stories, I wouldn't put anything past him.
I didn't sleep well, and I felt like I was walking to an executioner when I climbed back into the limo the next morning. That day, unlike the day before, I was filled with trepidation. I knew what Wittington wanted, and I didn't want to give it to him. I was visibly trembling by the time I was shown to his office.
"Well?" he asked simply, staring at me like a cat would to a mouse it was about to devour.
I swallowed nervously. "No," I stammered. "I ... can't."
"What do you mean, no?" Wittington demanded angrily. His visage was most unpleasant to see. I got the impression that people didn't tell him 'no' very often.
"I ... I have to give my milk to babies. I ... need to help them."
"I see. I had _hoped_ that you would be more reasonable," he said, visibly controlling his anger. "You may go," he ordered imperiously. I shuddered to think what his next move would be. How long would he try to manipulate me before he wearied of the game and simply kidnapped me?
I shook all the way down the elevator and on the ride back to the shelter. He was a lot angrier than I'd expected. Maybe I was hoping that he'd be reasonable; if so, that was a wasted hope. Now, I had to wait for whatever his next move was. When I got back to the shelter, I was feeling full again. I started to get my pump set up, but then I paused. I didn't know for certain that Wittington hadn't taken the milk I'd been collecting for Francisco. If he did, he'd think nothing of stealing again. I put my pump away and went into the bathroom. Slowly, deliberately, I expressed all my milk into the sink and down the drain, ignoring the cramps in my hands and the pain in my breasts, until they were as empty as I could get them. Wittington wasn't going to get my milk if I could help it.
At dinnertime, Rosa, Tanya, and I were sitting at a quiet table. I wasn't very talkative, and neither was Tanya. Rosa sensed our mood, and was pretty subdued herself. We knew that later, in secret, I'd nurse Francisco, but for now, with Marge watching me, I couldn't. Fighting my compulsion was extremely difficult. The mood didn't improve a few minutes later when, accompanied by a lot of noise, several police officers, two with dogs, stormed into the dining room. Marge came in behind them; I don't know if she was paler than Tanya and I.
"Didn't take him long, did it?" Tanya whispered insistently to me.
One of the police officers got right in our faces. "Quiet!" he barked. His entire demeanor was of someone who wanted to have some trouble stirred up, just so he could demonstrate that he was in charge.
"I need everyone to please go to your rooms and stand quietly in the hall outside your doors," Marge said in a subdued voice. From her tone of voice and her expression, she didn't like this any more than anyone else.
Rosa was frightened that she would be caught and deported, obviously. Tanya and I were scared for another reason, but with the show of force put on by the police, we didn't have any choice other than to obey.
As we stood in the hallways, watching silently, the police searched each room, one by one, with their dogs, with other cops watching the halls to make sure no-one went into our out of the rooms while the search was being conducted. Tanya and I noticed, uneasily, that the police seemed to be scrutinizing each of the women and children before they searched a room. I gulped nervously; they were looking for someone, and I knew it was me.
When the police dog got to our room, the officers got in our faces to look at each of us before entering the room. I was sure that I saw one officer give a tiny nod to the dog handler. That suspicion was reinforced a moment later when a cop yelled out, "Captain, we've got a hit!' The police swarmed into the room, with a couple left in the hall, none too subtle about the fact that they were guarding the residents of the room.
The other two girls were led, one at a time, with a policeman right at their sides, into the room, and then allowed to leave. That left just Tanya and I. Then Tanya was led in. I could hear the commotion inside. They asked which bed was hers. Then I heard them tell her — loudly — that she was under arrest for drug possession, and then they read her rights, accompanied by the click of handcuffs being slapped on her wrists. I turned toward the door to see what was happening, but the policeman in the hall stepped between me and the door, his face scowling angrily as he blocked my move. Through it all, I could hear Tanya protesting that it was a setup. As she was led out moments later, her hair disheveled from being quite roughly manhandled, she looked at me. "Don't," she said before she was slammed against a wall.
"I told you to shut up!" a cop snapped at her, pulling her bound hands up painfully behind her until she whimpered with pain as tears rolled down her cheeks.
"You!" I heard from the doorway. I turned to see an angry-faced policeman glaring at me. "In here."
Nervously, I walked into my bedroom. It was a shambles, or more properly, Tanya's and my areas were thoroughly trashed from the police search. My mouth was agape at the sight; I'd thought this sort of thing only happened in movies. My suspicion that Tanya and I had been very specifically targeted for the search seemed to be confirmed.
"What's this?" an officer demanded, holding my breast pump and its tangle of tubes and bottles in front of my face.
"That's my breast pump," I said softly, feeling my cheeks burn with embarrassment.
"What?" he demanded again loudly. It was as though he was trying to embarrass me.
"It's my breast pump!" I yelled at him, crying at my humiliation and at the shock of the brutal police tactics.
"It looks like some kind of drug paraphernalia," another officer in the room said snidely. "We better take it to the lab for testing."
"It's my breast pump!" I protested again, reaching for it. "The only thing that's been in it is my milk, not drugs!"
The first officer grinned wickedly as he pushed me back. "Are you trying to interfere with a lawful police search?" His threat was clear; if I didn't shut up, he was going to arrest me, too.
"N ... no," I stammered, cowed by his threatening tactics.
The officers carried their 'prize' out of the room, sneering at me as they did so. Not knowing what else to do, I followed them, but when they glared over their shoulders at me, I backed off a dozen or more yards, realizing that they were looking for any excuse to arrest me, too.
I got outside in time to see them roughly stuffing Tanya into the back of the police car. They were being none too gentle with her, and I thought I saw the beginnings of a black eye. I watched helplessly as the cars sped off with my friend.
Marge came out onto the sidewalk beside me. I felt her hand on my shoulder. Angrily, I turned my shoulder aside, rejecting her comforting gesture. "Why?" I demanded angrily.
She shook her head sadly. I could see, in her eyes, a look of defeat and overwhelming sadness. "There was nothing I could do," she said softly.
"Wittington got to you, didn't he?" I snarled at her. The flicker of pain in her eyes gave Marge away. "Did he threaten you? Or the shelter? Is that why you wouldn't let me 'waste' my milk? I suppose you gave them all that I had saved, too." I wasn't being logical, or fair; I was just lashing out in response to what had happened to me in the past day and a half.
I could see that my accusations stung Marge deeply, but I didn't care. My only friend was possibly in grave danger on some trumped-up charges or even planted evidence, I felt betrayed and was being coerced into something that revolted me, and Marge just stood there, staring downward at the sidewalk. "There wasn't anything I could do," she repeated softly.
I turned and stomped back into the shelter, leaving her standing forlornly on the sidewalk. I couldn't trust her anymore. She'd betrayed Tanya and me to Wittington. Less than two minutes later, I was back outside, pulling on my jacket as I turned in the direction the police cars had vanished.
"Where are you going?" Marge asked in surprise as I started walking. She sounded scared of what I might do.
I spun at her, glaring fiercely. "I'm going to the police station to see what I can do for Tanya," I snarled. "Somebody has to!" I turned around and continued stomping angrily down the street.
"I'll get my car and drive you," she offered.
I turned at her again, feeling my face flushing with anger. "No thanks!" I snapped. "I'd rather walk."
"I'll ... I'll get someone else to drive you," Marge countered quickly. "It's too dangerous for you to walk at this time of night." I didn't even slow down. "Besides, you don't know where you're going."
I halted mid-stride. She had a point. In my shock and anger, I didn't particularly care about my personal safety, but I also didn't know where the police station was. Once she knew I was thinking about what she said, Marge went inside. A couple of minutes later, I was in a car with Sandy, driving to the police station.
"We missed you in the nursery today," Sandy said, trying to make pleasant conversation. I ignored her, fuming in my dark, foul mood. "A few of the babies seemed to be extra-fussy without you to hold them."
I sat in the passenger seat, my arms crossed angrily under my leaking breasts. I should have stopped to feed Francisco, or to pump, but I was too furious at what had happened. I didn't want to talk to _anyone_ from the shelter; I felt like everyone had betrayed me. After a few more attempts at making conversation, Sandy gave up on trying to talk with me and just drove. After a few moments, she pulled into a parking lot next to a police station. "I think this is where they'd bring her," she said. "If not, they'll know where she is." She shut off her car and started to climb out.
"I'll go by myself," I snapped. I opened the door and started to climb out.
"Allison," Sandy said, "Marge and I didn't have anything to do with this. You may not believe us, but we didn't."
"Yeah, right!" I snarled just before I slammed the door. I stomped across the street and into the police station, stopping at an information window — probably bulletproof — behind which a policeman sat, looking mostly bored.
"May I help you?" the officer asked cautiously. He recognized the fury in my expression, and was doubtless being careful. He was also staring at my shirt.
"My friend was arrested. I want to know what's happening to her," I said, trying to tone down the anger in my voice, but not succeeding completely.
"That depends. Where was she arrested, and for what?"
"The Mercy Women's Shelter, about half an hour ago," I said. I noticed where his eyes were, and I glanced down, knowing from the cool, wet sensations on my chest that I was leaking — a lot. I'd forgotten that I was wearing a light shirt which was clinging to my bra. As wet as it was, it showed even the lace trim on my bra. I felt my cheeks flush, and I pulled my jacket flaps over my chest.
The officer looked at his computer. "Oh, yes. Tanya Wittington." His eyes narrowed. "She's being booked, and will be held until she's arraigned and the judge can set bail."
"Can I see her?" I noticed that he'd called Tanya by her married name.
"I'll check with the duty officer," he said before he typed in his computer, looking at the answers it was giving him. I saw his eyebrows rise, and couldn't help wondering what was going on. I was unfamiliar with police procedures, having only seen it on old TV shows, and I couldn't tell if there was anything out of the ordinary, or if this was going to be more harassment due to Wittington. I noticed his eyebrows lift in surprise. "The captain will be right out."
A couple of minutes later, I was escorted to a cell, after going through a metal detector, and then being patted down by a female officer just outside the cell area because she was suspicious of my wet shirt. I was once more humiliated to have to lift my shirt and bra and show her that I was lactating, and that the wetness wasn't some kind of contraband substance.
Tanya was in a cell by herself. They let me in to talk to her, and closed the cell door so she couldn't try to escape. The metallic slam of the door was unnerving to me. It sounded too final, and sent a shiver down my spine. Tanya rose — stiffly — to give me a hug. "I'm glad you came, but you shouldn't have."
"I had to find out what they were doing to you." We both sat on the metal-framed bed in the cell.
Tanya looked like hell. Her hair was very mussed, and I could see red marks on her wrists where they'd put the handcuffs on too tight. Her left eye was definitely blackening, and she moved like her arms were very sore. "You can't give it to him," she said firmly.
"This is all my fault," I complained bitterly. "If it wasn't for ... you know, you wouldn't be here, and none of this would have happened."
"You can't blame yourself," Tanya said sympathetically. "It's not your fault."
"I'll figure out how to get you out. Maybe I can post bail?"
"With what? If we had any money, we'd be halfway to ... there ... by now." She could read the anguish on my face. "If the old bastard really has pancreatic cancer, he'll be dead in a couple of months. If I have to, I can tough it out until then."
"I've got to do something!"
"Don't give in to the bastard." She glanced around. "When they were bringing me in, I overheard the captain talking about how they could get you, too, if they got the word." She looked truly frightened for me. "Take the money you've got, get any bus ticket you can, and get out of here. Anywhere," she whispered insistently.
The female officer came back in. "Time," she barked as she opened the cell door.
I gave Tanya one more hug before I stood and walked to the cell door.
"Promise me you won't give in," Tanya insisted before the door was slammed shut again.
The ride back was somber; I didn't know what I was going to do. Sandy tried once more to talk to me, but I wasn't in a talkative mood. She dropped me off in front of the shelter, and as I went in, Marge came out of her office. She had a worried look on her face. "Is there anything I can ...?" she started to ask as I neared her.
"You've done enough!" I practically screamed at her. I pushed my way rudely past her and went to my room. After tossing on my bed for about a half hour, I got up and walked to Rosa's room, knocking on the door. When she answered, she invited me in. I felt my eyes watering, and I just hugged her, repeating over and over that I didn't know what to do. She tried to reassure me — in her broken English — that everything would be okay, but I wasn't sure I believed her. I didn't see how everything could be okay.
Francisco started to fuss, so I picked him up from my crib and held him. Just holding the little boy was calming to me, although I was too distressed to become completely calmed. "Is he hungry?" I asked Rosa.
"Miss Marge say you no feed him," she objected, worried about what Marge had directed. I figured she was more concerned about getting me in trouble than herself.
"To hell with her," I replied angrily. I didn't care what she'd said I could and couldn’t do. I hiked up my shirt and bra, and stuffed my nipple into little Francisco's mouth. As he nursed, I felt my anger flowing slowly away. It was hard to stay angry at anything when a child was latched onto my breast. My frustration and sense of helplessness were still there, but by the time Francisco finished eating, my anger was gone.
I woke early, and went to Rosa's room to feed Francisco before breakfast. I needed to feed him, and I needed to feel calm. I hadn't slept worth a damn, and I really wasn't sure what I was going to do, or even could do. All I knew is that I had to get Tanya out of that jail cell before something bad happened to her.
As the morning wore on, I became more and more agitated. My mind was slowly converging on the only solution I could see. Just before eleven, I went to Marge's office. She was surprised to see me, especially after the anger I'd vented her way the night before.
"Can I help you?" she asked cautiously.
"I ... need a ride," I said, looking down at the floor.
"Oh? Where to?"
"The Wittington building," I mumbled, unable to even look at her. The way I'd treated her the night before wasn't fair; she'd been afraid of the police, too, and she'd probably been heavily pressured by Wittington himself. She had no more power against him than I did.
I rode in silence most of the way to the office building. "Just let me off in front," I said to Marge softly. "Don't wait for me." Wordlessly, she let me out of in the fancy entrance drive. I squared my shoulders and walked into the building, not looking back. I couldn't look at Marge; I was too embarrassed at how I'd acted the night before, too angry at her apparent complicity, and too ashamed of what I was about to do. I walked to the receptionist in the lobby. Before she could ask, I stated, "I'm here to see Mister Wittington."
The woman looked at me unemotionally. "Yes. He's expecting you." She handed me a card. "Use the elevator on the left. It'll take you straight to his office."
In the outer office, Wittington's secretary simply said, "Go in, please. You're expected." Despite her carefully neutral tone, there was something in her eyes that looked almost sympathetic.
As I walked to his desk, he turned around in his chair. "What a pleasant surprise to see you again," he said. Despite his words, he looked like a predatory animal.
"Bullshit," I snapped right back. "You know damned well I was going to come, after what you did yesterday."
"Me? What did I do?" He gestured to a chair. "Won't you have a seat?"
"What are you going to do to her?" I demanded sharply.
"Who?" He was still toying with me. "Oh, you mean my great-nephew's wife. Tanya? Is that her name?"
"You know her name. What are you going to do to her?"
Wittington shrugged. "That's not for me to decide," he said, trying to sound like he was above Tanya's plight. "It's for the judge."
"Who's probably also a lodge brother, or he owes you some favors for some campaign contributions?" I speculated.
"Now that you mention it ...." He was smiling smugly.
"What's going to happen to her?"
Wittington shrugged. I had to give him credit for a good poker-face when he needed it. "I guess that depends. If the drug charge sticks, then she'll either get prison or probation. Which one she gets depends on whether her husband decides to elevate the outstanding charge from simple assault to domestic violence. If he does that, then I doubt she'd get probation."
"You know the charges are all bogus."
"Do I? How would I know that?" he said, feigning innocence. "I suppose that if she gets probation, she'll have a GPS tracker so she can't run away, and she'll be released to the custody of her husband, if he wants her back."
I felt the blood drain from my face. I'd heard from Tanya how brutal Jim had been. There had been no doubt in Tanya's mind but that Jim would kill her, or try, if she had to go back to him. And with the Wittington power and money, and a record of assault and of being Twisted, it'd be easy to get away with. Besides fear for Tanya's safety, I was feeling my rage building again. "You're an evil bastard!" I snapped at him without thinking.
He just smiled. "I've been called a lot worse."
"Let her go," I said firmly.
"What makes you think that I have that kind of influence? And even if I did, why would I do that?" He had a particularly wicked grin on his face.
I glared at him, and then looked down. "I'll ... I'll give you ... what you want," I mumbled softly, feeling my cheeks burning with shame at what I was about to do. I knew that Tanya had said not to give in, but I couldn't let her be hurt. She'd told me that she was frightened that her husband would kill her. No matter the price to me, I couldn't take a chance of that happening. And I knew, with a sickening feeling, that Wittington knew of our friendship, and that he knew I'd do anything to keep Tanya safe.
I couldn't see because I was still looking down out of embarrassment, but I knew that Wittington was gloating. I heard him push a button on his desk. "Mrs. Elkins, send in Yvonne. And call Fred and tell him to call off the hounds." He released the button. "Ms. Hansen," he said, causing me to look up, "my private nurse is coming so you can begin to deliver me your milk. I have an apartment on the next floor down prepared for you. I don't think you'll need us to retrieve any of your ... meager ... belongings. There are new clothes in your size, quiet stylish, I'm let to believe, and adequate personal effects. And if you need more, all you need do is ask for anything you need."
"I'll stay at the shelter," I said angrily, trying to recover at least a little dignity, "with Tanya."
Wittington frowned. He hadn't expected me to push back, even if only a little. "No tricks." I shook my head. "Very well. How many times a day will you need to pump?"
"I'll have a car pick you up, then. My nurse will set up a schedule. You may not nurse any infants at the center, as you have done in the past. Your milk is all for me. Understand?" I nodded mutely. "You are not to take any medications or supplements, unless they've been approved by Doctor Stone." Again, I nodded. "Doctor Stone believes your ... power ... is in your milk. From what I know about Twisted, I think otherwise. But we'll try it his way first. If that doesn't work, however, I will nurse directly, and you _will_ use your power. Do you understand?"
I looked down so he couldn't see my shame. "Yes, sir," I answered softly. Behind me, I heard the door open, and the sound of a something rolling across the floor, accompanied by footsteps. I glanced and saw a middle-aged woman pushing a cart with a breast pump on it. She wheeled it to one of the wing chairs, and then stretched out a cord to plug the machine into a wall outlet.
"It's time to get started. Please take a seat where you'll be more comfortable. Yvonne will attend to your needs." He leaned back in his chair, holding his hands behind his head, that evil sneer fixed on his features.
I walked to the leather wing chair, and started to sit down. Before I could, though, the nurse stopped me. "Take off your shirt and your bra," she ordered. I didn't look at her, but simply nodded and slowly pulled my shirt over my head and handed it to her. Then I unfastened my bra and let it slip to the floor. Without looking up, so they couldn’t see how utterly defeated and humiliated I was, I sat down in the chair. I heard the nurse switch on the machine, and then she put the two cups in my hands. I carefully placed them over my naked breasts, feeling them pull instantly to my nipples.
The pump was not a cheap unit, unlike the one I'd had. It was a very expensive, top-of-the-line pump, probably similar to what would be used in a hospital. Its suction was stronger than my cheap pump, and the action was closer to what I'd experienced nursing Francisco. In a few seconds, my milk started to dribble, and then squirt, into the cups and down into the collection bottles.
I sat in the chair, numb from embarrassment, and feeling violated and wanting to cry. I kept reminding myself, over and over, that I _had_ to do this to save Tanya, even though she'd told me not to. I couldn't let my friend suffer because of what I was. Despite what I was trying to tell myself, part of me wanted to curl up and die from embarrassment.
"How long will this take?" Wittington asked, staring hawk-like at me.
Before I could answer, the nurse replied, "Fifteen to twenty minutes, depending on how much milk she has." She was speaking as if I wasn't here, or as if I was nothing more than a milk cow. I figured that, as Wittington's private nurse, some of his arrogance and condescension had rubbed off on her. Because of the perks that came with her position, she'd probably begun to look at medical matters as either good for her boss, or bad for him. Her employment and paycheck depended on doing what Wittington wanted. She was as much a snob as Doctor Stone. Her bedside manner, frankly, sucked. Tears started to seep from my eyes.
After a few minutes, I heard the doors open again, and I couldn't help glancing up to see who _else_ was going to shame me by watching me pump. I was completely surprised to see Tanya pushed through the door, stumbling as she fought to regain her balance from having been shoved into the room. She looked up, and then she saw me. "Allison," she said softly.
I let my gaze drop, so she couldn't see me. I hadn't done as she'd asked, but had instead made a deal with the devil to keep her safe. I was too embarrassed to even look at her.
"What did you do to her?" Tanya demanded of the old man.
"Nothing. She's giving me what I want of her own free will."
"Bullshit! You used me to blackmail her, didn't you?"
"It might seem that way. After all, it is rather convenient that you had your little run-in with the law — again — and that your friend is quite worried about you," he said with a sneer.
"So she can go now?" I asked Wittington, still not looking up.
"Not quite," Tanya snarled. She held up her arm to display a silver band encircling her wrist like a bracelet. "Let me guess — this ... gift is a tracking device so you can keep tabs on me, just so you ensure Allison's cooperation?" She glanced at me. "And what else? Are you imprisoning her here, too?"
"She insisted that she be allowed to stay at the shelter with you," Wittington said with another shrug. "God knows why, though, when she could live much more comfortably in an apartment here, and with much finer cuisine prepared especially for her by my personal chef."
"In a prison, you mean."
"Since she's not staying here, I figured I should do something to protect my ... investment, so you get a little trinket. And since the two of you are such good friends, I'll make sure she has a matching bracelet before she leaves. You can consider them 'friendship bracelets' if you like." He pushed a button. "Mrs. Elkins, please have George escort Tanya back to the shelter." He let off the button. "And if I were you, I wouldn't try to take those bracelets off. They're alarmed, and if they are cut or removed, they'll send out a homing signal — to the police, and to my personal security detail — instantly. I don't think you want that kind of trouble, do you?"
I looked up at his words, staring wide-eyed and frightened. I was a prisoner, tracked and monitored and probably watched, so that Wittington could get my milk. So was Tanya. She glanced at me, her eyes telling me that she was both grateful for me getting her out of danger, but also indicating that she was unhappy with what I'd done. I couldn't look at her as she was escorted from Wittington's office. I couldn't help wondering what else he'd done for 'security'. Had he bugged the shelter so his spies could listen to us?
After about another ten minutes, the nurse shut off the pump. "I think that'll do for now," she said. She took the cups and bottles from my hands, and turned her attention to the milk I'd supplied. "Take your clothes into the bathroom and clean up. Make sure you properly wash your breasts," the nurse ordered.
Tears continued to roll down my cheeks, dripping onto my breasts, as I walked numbly to the bathroom. I could have tried to cover myself, but I felt like I had nothing left, that all my modesty had been ripped mercilessly from me in the humiliating ordeal of pumping in front of Wittington and his nurse. I closed the bathroom door, and then collapsed against the door, sliding down to the floor, crying hysterically. I felt so cheap, so used, so utterly violated. I was nothing to these people except a pair of milk-producing breasts. They didn't care about my personal dignity or modesty; in fact, the whole process seemed to have been a setup to destroy whatever shreds of dignity I still had, punctuating the fact that I was now nothing more than a milk-cow to Wittington.
I didn't remember the ride back to the shelter. I was so emotionally shattered that I didn't even remember how I got cleaned up, dressed, or out of the bathroom. When I walked in, Marge stuck her head out of her office to see who was coming in. She started to stand, but I just hung my head in shame and fled down the hall. I didn't want to face her, or anyone, for that matter. I was less than a person. I was livestock to Wittington, and I'd walked willingly into that deal. As I stumbled down the hall, crying uncontrollably, I heard noise from my room. I turned, and fled instead, not wanting to face Tanya.
Tanya and Marge found me almost an hour later, curled up in a fetal position in a supply closet, still crying. The two of them pulled me to my feet and guided me to Tanya's and my room, trying to console me as we walked. I was so buried in self-loathing and self-pity that I didn't want to hear any of their reassurance. When we got to my room, I just collapsed, face-first, onto my bed, burying my head in my pillow as I continued to cry. I didn't answer, or even look at, Marge and Tanya. From what they were saying, I knew that they were worried about me, but I didn't care. I just wanted to die of embarrassment.
About four in the afternoon, my bracelet started tingling. The nurse had told me that my bracelet would do that when a driver was ready to pick me up for another round of pumping. Without looking at either Marge or Tanya, who were still trying to comfort me, I rolled over and sat up, my eyes red and puffy and my cheeks moist from tears. I hadn't even taken off my jacket from earlier, so I just picked up my purse and walked stiffly toward the shelter front doors.
"Where are you going?" Tanya asked, concerned by my sudden activity.
I ignored her and kept walking. Naturally, she followed me, trying to get me to speak. When she saw the limo, she understood. "You don't have to do this," she insisted.
I pushed past her and walked to the limo. The silent man stood by the door, and he opened it for me.
They probably figured that they'd humiliated me into compliance. They were right. I meekly took the elevator to the penthouse. This time, though, at the secretary's desk, she directed me to another room. Inside, I found the nurse waiting with the breast pump. The room was much smaller, like a small office, with a plush chair, a holo-screen opposite it on the wall, and a smaller chair for the nurse. They'd set up this small room just for me to pump. It was still quite humiliating to be treated like a cow, but at least it wasn't a degrading display in front of a gloating Wittington. I numbed myself and let the nurse take care of the pumping. When I was done, I got cleaned up, without a total breakdown because I was emotionally numb, and took the limo back to the shelter.
Marge and Tanya were waiting for me when I got back to the shelter — again — but I avoided them. I may have been compliant, but that didn't lessen my profound embarrassment. I couldn't face them especially Tanya. I found a quiet spot again to curl up to wallow in self-pity.
It was much later when I heard Marge, Tanya, and Rosa searching for me, calling my name as they walked up and down the halls. I crawled under a desk to hide. I didn't want anyone to see me. I felt sick to my stomach at what I was doing, even though I knew there was no way out. I was a fly trapped in a spider-web, helpless against the power and wealth of Wittington and his minions. I heard the door open, and Marge's voice calling into the room, but then she went away, closing the door again.
I wasn't aware of time, but eventually, the door opened again and the light turned on, piercing the gloom that I was content to huddle in. "Allison?" I heard Tanya's voice. I tried to hush my sobbing, but I don't think I succeeded. "Allison?" she called again. I wasn't even looking, huddled with my arms around my knees and my face buried. I felt her touch my shoulder. "Allison, are you okay?"
I started bawling aloud. She sat down, half under the desk, and wrapped her arms around me. "Allison, are you okay?" she asked again. I didn't answer, but just shook my head a bit. Finally, I lifted my head and buried in on Tanya's shoulder.'
"Shhh," Tanya cooed. "It'll be okay."
"No, it won't!" I bawled. "I'm not even a person to them! I'm ... just a cow! I feel so ... violated!"
Tanya held me close. "We'll figure something out," she tried to reassure me.
I held up my arm, displaying my silver bracelet. "No, we won't!" I cried. "We'll never get away now! Not after I ... gave in. I messed everything up! We'll never get out of here now. We'll never get to Spiral!"
"Yes, we will!" Tanya said firmly. "We'll get there. You have to believe!"
"But ... we don't have nearly enough for even one ticket, let alone two!"
"Three," Tanya retorted. "Rosa and Francisco are coming, too."
"Rosa is earning a little money. You've got some. We'll get out.*
"If ... my milk ... doesn't work for him," I blubbered, "he said he was going to nurse directly!" I started bawling again. If what I'd done so far was embarrassing, the thought of nursing an evil old man made my stomach churn. It was fair to say that I'd already thought about killing myself before I let him do that.
"I saved you some dinner in case you're hungry. They stopped serving almost two hours ago."
I perked up when I heard that. "Oh, shit!" I swore. I glared at my bracelet again; I knew the cafeteria closed at seven, and that I would get picked up again at nine. Any time, that damned bracelet — my electronic leash — was going to tingle again.
"Let's go talk to Marge," Tanya suggested as she scooted from under the desk. "Everyone is worried about you, especially Marge. We've been looking for you for almost three hours."
I let her pull me from under the desk and help me to my feet. "I ... have to get ready to go again." Without another word, we walked, her arm around my waist, toward the office. We stopped in our room so I could change shirts; the repeated stretching, tugging, and nursing had left me looking like a mess. Surprisingly to myself, I stopped to make sure my hair was presentable, too. I saw Tanya's shocked look. "I guess I've been learning from you," I tried to joke weakly, but I failed.
As we walked toward the office, to where Tanya said Marge was worried, my bracelet tingled again. I sighed heavily. "I have to go."
"At least tell Marge you're okay," Tanya urged.
Marge was very grateful that I was okay, and she wanted to talk more, but I pointed at my bracelet. "I have to go."
"We'll talk more when you get back, okay?"
I nodded, knowing that I probably wouldn't feel like talking, but I didn't want to be late. Who knew what Wittington would do if I were. He might take it out on Tanya, or force me — with a threat to her — to move into the apartment. Then I'd really be a prisoner.
Marge walked with us to the door, where the limo was waiting. Tanya gave me a quick hug for support, and I trudged toward the door that the silent man held open. Before I knew what was happening, Tanya ran to the limo and climbed in beside me.
"Miss," the silent man snarled, "get out."
"I'm going with my friend," Tanya said defiantly. "Otherwise, I won't let her go."
The silent man glared at her and considered her words for a moment before he climbed into the back and closed the door. We drove to the Wittington building again, and then rode the elevator up to the penthouse office suite.
I think it was to emphasize their power, but they wouldn't let Tanya in the room while I was pumping. I had to try to comfort myself with the knowledge that she was right outside the door. It wasn't much consolation. Despite having been through the experience twice, it was still demeaning, and I felt utterly worthless by the time it was done. I was in tears again when I left the room; Tanya immediately gave me a warm, comforting hug and let me cry on her shoulder for a bit.
Back at the shelter, we both went into Marge's office. She was so concerned about my state of mind that she wanted me to meet with a counselor the next day. She said that she recognized symptoms of depression in me, which wasn't surprising, given the things that had happened to me in the preceding two weeks. She did manage to find some money in her budget to pay me for the time I'd worked in the childcare center, too. It wasn't much, but every little bit helped — that is, if we could find a way to escape Wittington's army of stooges, which included law enforcement.
The next day was more of the same. I left for milking at five-thirty, had breakfast back in the clinic, and had my first meeting with the counselor. That was awkward, because The counselor didn't know about my gender-changing twist, and I was too humiliated to talk much about what Wittington was doing to me. i almost felt worse after the session was over! Before lunch, I went back to pump again; after lunch, Tanya took me out for a walk to a nearby park. It was chilly, but the sunshine felt good, even penetrating my dark, gloomy cloud. Every time, Tanya went with me, and even though they wouldn't let her sit with me while I was pumping, it was good to have her there after I finished. By the nine o'clock pumping, I was emotionally exhausted from feeling so violated, and crying uncontrollably on Tanya's shoulder afterward. I came out of the room like an automaton, so emotionally drained that I didn't feel any comfort when Tanya gave me a reassuring hug.
Back at the shelter, I wanted to sit outside for a bit, because between the shelter and the pumping room, I was starting to feel a little claustrophobic. I didn't mind the chilly late-October air — much, but it would have been better if I had a warmer jacket. Tanya sat out with me on a planter ledge by the entrance.
"I don't think I'll ever get used to it," I said bitterly to Tanya. "It ..." I dropped my gaze. "I think I understand a little of what a woman must feel like when she gets raped. I feel ... helpless, and weak, and ... violated!"
"Oh, Allison," Tanya said, wrapping her arms around me. "I'm so sorry."
"Why?" I snorted in disgust. "You're not the one with the magic milk!' I was looking around, and I spotted a van parked across the street from the shelter. "Hey," I said, my eyes narrowing suspiciously, "isn't that the ...."
Tanya had noticed it about the same time I did. She abruptly clamped her hand over my mouth. "I'm getting chilly," she said firmly. "Let's go inside."
I wondered what she was up to, but I decided to go along, even though I wasn't cold. We walked inside; Tanya grabbed a notepad and pen from the office area, and then we walked to our usual 'hideout'. I started to ask Tanya what was up, but she put her finger across lips to signal that I should shut up. She scribbled frantically on the notepad and handed it to me.
"The van was following us today. Our bracelets are probably bugged, too." My eyes widened; this was straight out of a spy movie.
I took the pen. "What do we do?"
"Do you know anyone who could loan us a couple of hundred dollars?" Tanya wrote.
I started to shake my head, but then I had a thought. I scribbled, "Maybe. If I can get ahold of my friends in the orphanage, maybe they can loan me something."
"Maybe. They were my best friends."
"Talk about something so they don't get suspicious."
"What?" I mouthed silently.
"I don't know. Ask for help with your studies maybe!" she wrote.
Tanya started talking about my homework, asking how things were going. I answered back in general terms, and then started asking about some of my literature assignments. In truth, I hadn't done anything for studying since Tanya had been arrested, but hopefully Wittington's goons didn't know that.
While we chattered about my classes, I sat at the computer and typed. If I could get in touch with Eric and Jerrod,
maybe I could convince them to loan me some money so we could get tickets. It was a long-shot, but it was the only thing I could think of. From having lived there, I knew how to get e-mail to the orphanage, and more specifically, to any one orphan there. Then I paused. I knew that one of the Siblings screened all incoming and outgoing e-mail, and if they realized someone was in communication with me, they'd stop any off-campus privileges instantly. Tanya saw me pause and looked quizzically at me. I scribbled a note to her, explaining briefly what I was worried about.
"See if they can meet us so we can talk about it," Tanya scribbled.
I gestured at my bracelet, and then at the notepad. I saw that Tanya understood; we'd have to exchange notes, because if the bracelets were bugged, they'd know what we were up to. I finished an e-mail, asking them if they could meet an old friend the next day, Saturday, at the park. It was within walking distance from both the shelter and the orphanage. I hit the 'send' button; all we could do now was hope that they got the message and could meet us. And timing would be critical; I knew when my pumping schedule was, and I knew the schedule the orphanage ran on. We'd have less than an hour to walk there, meet them, and get me back for my four o'clock pumping. After that, Tanya and I were both so tired; her physically, and me emotionally, that we went back to our rooms. I wouldn't want to wager who was asleep first; I didn't remember anything from the time my head laid upon the pillow.
I was already awake, having set an alarm for five-thirty. That gave me time to shower and get dressed before my bracelet tingled. Tanya, too, was awake, and she was finishing getting dressed. "Time to go," I reminded her, before the two of us took my morning journey for me to be milked. When I walked into the pumping room, the nurse very curtly asked how I was doing.
"Moo," I answered sarcastically, earning a stern, reproving glare from her. If she had any sympathy toward me, my rude answer had destroyed it. She was almost rude to me for the rest of that pumping, and for the eleven pumping as well.
After lunch, Tanya and I walked to the park, braving a brisk, cold wind. If Jerrod and Eric had gotten my message, they might not have had a chance to respond, so I had to go, trusting to blind luck and the fates that they would be there. Tanya and I glanced around like as we walked, like we were out on a stroll, but we had a purpose. We both saw the van following us discretely. Maybe, I hoped, that meant that our bracelets had a limited range and a tracking device needed to be close. I filed the fact away for later use.
As we strolled into the park, I felt my heart racing, wondering if I'd see my friends. I was sure they wouldn't recognize me, since they'd only seen me as a girl once, and that was late at night. My heart leaped, though, when I saw them sitting on a bench under the leafless branches of a large tree, their jacket collars pulled up against the wind. They were doing what guys from the orphanage did any time they were away — they were girl-watching. I had a funny, momentary thought, wondering if they would check Tanya and me out if we sauntered past them. I suspected that they would, and I nearly chuckled at the idea.
"Jerrod!" I called as I began to walk quickly, and then trot, toward him and Eric.
He spun when he heard his name being called, his brow furrowed. Then I saw his eyes widen — either in wonder at recognizing me, or in appreciation of how I looked. I wasn't sure which, and I realized that I was secretly hoping that it was the latter. I didn't know if that was another mental change that had sneaked in with my twist, but I noticed that Jerrod was kind of cute.
I ran to Jerrod and wrapped my arms around him, pulling him into a big hug. Jerrod was embarrassed; his arms hung limply at his sides, as he didn't quite know how to respond. "I'm so glad to see you," I said enthusiastically, possibly with the most enthusiasm I'd mustered in days. I genuinely meant it; I'd missed Jerrod and Eric more than I'd known. "I missed you." I glanced at Eric, who was staring at the spectacle. "I missed both of you."
"How are things going," Jerrod asked when I released him from my embrace, "um, er, Lowell?"
I smiled at his discomfort. I certainly didn't look like a Lowell. "My name is Allison now, and the shelter director got the records changed so it's official," I said with a giggle. "Lowell doesn't seem to fit anymore, does it?"
"No, I guess not," Jerrod said uneasily. I could tell he was a little nervous about talking with me now that I was a girl.
"It's ... interesting," I said, trying to sound as general as possible. If we were being monitored, which both Tanya and I were certain of, I couldn't say more. "I'm getting used to being a girl — slowly."
"Yeah, I suppose that would take some time to adjust," Eric commented.
"Let's sit down," I suggested. Then I remembered something — I hadn't taken care of the social niceties. "Eric, Jerrod, this is my roommate, Tanya. Tanya, Eric and Jerrod."
I almost laughed aloud at the google-eyed stare Eric was giving Tanya. I figured that he'd finally completely realized that girls were an interesting part of the species, and that possibly, he had an instant crush on Tanya. She was pretty attractive, so it was no wonder he was gawking at her. I knew we'd get a giggle out of it later, especially the part where he thought she was only a few years older than he was, when it was really nearly ten.
"So, how are things back at the monastery?" I asked to start some idle conversation.
Jerrod and Eric just shrugged. "Same old, same old," Eric answered. "Lowery is still an old witch."
"I don't miss that one bit," I said with gusto. "She was really mean." I sighed. "And you didn't have to experience her wrath like I did when she found out I was Twisted." I shuddered at the unpleasant memory.
I saw them both blush; they'd both seen the effect of my twist — and the resultant nude female body I now had. I felt myself torn between laughing at their discomfort and blushing because they'd seen me naked.
"What's it like where you're at? Are you in that shelter they took you to?"
I smiled. "Yeah. It's not bad. A lot roomier than the monastery, I can tell you that! And we have a lot of infants there, too. They're a lot of fun."
The boys' eyes widened again. "Fun? Babies? Like in, changing dirty diapers and spit-up and such?"
I nodded, feeling a little self-conscious. "Yeah. I've got kind of a ... thing about helping with kids." I wasn't going to tell them about the second part; that would have embarrassed me and both guys.
"At least you don't have boring classes," Eric said. I was, frankly, surprised that he'd stopped gawking at Tanya long enough to say something to me.
Tanya laughed at that. "Maybe not classes, but Allison is enrolled in school — self-study."
"Yeah. It's a lot harder to study by myself — even with the network — than listening to a lecture. Even a boring one from O'Neil."
Jerrod snorted at that. "Yeah, right. Like anything could be harder than trying to stay awake with O'Neil!"
"Yeah, well, if there's not a computer lecture on the subject, I have to read and teach myself. It's not as easy as it sounds."
We talked for a little while longer before Tanya reminded me that we needed to go back to the shelter. It was going to be close for catching my limo. "I've got an appointment, guys." I stood, and gave Eric a hug, and then Jerrod. And then, I have no idea what happened, or why, but I couldn't resist kissing him. I'd never thought of kissing any guy, and here I was, having been a girl for around two weeks, and I just kissed him. It wasn't a short kiss, either, and after a little hesitation on his part, he started kissing back.
"Allison, we have to go," Tanya insisted to me, trying to get me to stop. I could tell that Jerrod didn't want to stop, either.
"I slipped a note into your jacket pocket," I whispered very, very softly as I hugged Jerrod again. "Don't take it out until you're away from the park. Tanya and I are being followed."
"What?" he whispered back.
"It's in the note." I gave him one more kiss, which I wanted to prolong, but Tanya grabbed my arm and physically pulled me away from my former best friend. I felt all warm and tingly inside from his kiss.
As we walked back to the shelter, Tanya sighed at me. "What's with kissing Jerrod?" she asked.
I felt my cheeks redden. "I ... I don't know. I ... couldn't help myself. I mean, he _is_ kind of cute!"
Tanya laughed. "I never thought I'd hear you say that. I mean, your compulsion is to babies." She frowned. "Unless ...."
"Unless your compulsion extends to wanting your own, in which case you would be attracted to guys."
"That's ...." I stopped mid-sentence. Was it a compulsion? After all, I had initiated the kiss, and it wasn't just a friendly peck, either. "That's not possible, is it?" I asked softly.
"Yeah," Tanya answered. "I've heard of people who changed their sexual orientation when they twisted. I've heard of people who lost all interest in romance and sex. And I've heard of a few who changed ... like you ... and who are strongly attracted to guys."
"Then it's a good thing we live in a shelter where there aren't any guys around," I snorted, trying to disabuse myself of the notion that I was attracted to guys. And yet, Jerrod _was_ pretty cute, and kissing him made me feel good all over.
After I pumped for Wittington, Tanya and I were talking softly over dinner. "It was nice to see the guys again," I said wistfully. "Even though things have changed."
"Yeah," Tanya laughed. "Did you see how nervous Jerrod was when you hugged him, and then when you kissed him?"
"No. I was kind of busy," I said, blushing.
"If I were to guess, I'd say that he thinks you're pretty hot."
"No, I'm not," I protested, self-conscious of the compliment.
Tanya laughed at that. "Girl, you've got a dynamite body, and you're cute. If your clothes were a little more stylish and daring, you'd have guys lining up to eat out of your hand! And from the way you were kissing him, I'd guess you thought he was pretty good-looking, too!"
I still wasn’t confident that Tanya was right; I had a pretty negative self-image, given all that had happened to me. But I also had to consider the way Jerrod kissed me. Once he got over the shock, he was pretty enthusiastic. Then again, he lived in an all-boys orphanage, and seldom interacted with girls. If I was the only girl he'd ever kissed, he'd think I was gorgeous even if I was fat and had bad hair and buck teeth.
We went to our hideaway after dinner. We still didn't dare talk about anything, but we were pretty sure we could exchange notes and communicate our real feelings and plans while making small-talk to keep Wittington's spies from getting suspicious. I had a computer window open to the e-mail site, in case the guys decided to reply. I was desperately hoping they would. About half an hour before my next trip to the Wittington building, I saw an icon flash that indicated I had mail, and it was from Eric. Nervously, I opened it. I was shocked that there was nothing in the mail but a web link. I glanced at Tanya, who just shrugged and nodded.
When I clicked the web link, a new window popped open. I looked, and saw that it was an old-fashioned type-to-chat site. According to the program, Jerrod was on the computer waiting to see if I'd respond.
"Glad you're here," I typed.
"Nice to see you again — but a little weird," Jerrod answered, to which I blushed.
"Is it really as bad as your note said?"
"Yeah. Maybe worse, and dangerous. Can you guys help us?"
"What do you need?"
"We need a loan so we can get bus tickets out of here. We need to get to Spiral."
"How much?" I typed in the answer. "Wow! That's quite a bit."
"Please," I begged into the chat program. "We're in serious trouble."
"I don't know. That'll almost clean both of us out."
"I promise we'll pay you back, plus some. I don't know how, but I promise you'll get every penny, even if I have to wash dishes to earn the money!"
"If you weren't in trouble, I'd ask for a date as collateral," Jerrod joked.
"And I'd take you up on that," I joked back before I realized that both he and I were serious about a date. "You're my best friend. Remember all the things we did, how we promised we'd watch each other's back?"
It took a while, but finally, the screen displayed his answer. "Okay. But I'm going to hold you to that date. Someday, I will take you out."
I smiled, thinking of a date with Jerrod, and also about getting the money. "I owe you. Thanks more than you know. By the way, how did you get this past the order?"
"Eric's doing. Old program, encryption, and a relay site he found. They don't see a thing but normal net management stuff — or so he claims."
"Tell him I owe him a kiss, too."
"Make it your friend, and he says it's a deal." As I suspected, Eric was smitten with Tanya.
"I've got another appointment in a few minutes. Talk to you tomorrow?"
"Okay. Another kiss, too?"
"Yup. Bye." I felt tingly again thinking about getting another kiss from Jerrod. I closed the program, and grabbed the notepad from Tanya. We had plans to make, and the sooner, the better. I remembered Wittington's threat. I didn't know how patient he would be, and I really didn't want the old bastard suckling directly from me.
The evening pumping and the Sunday morning and noon pumping were about as routine as you might call it, when you were having your milk forcibly removed from you under duress. Every time, it seemed a little less nasty, but I was still crying after each session by the time I got back to the shelter, if not before.
Sunday at noon, though, I got a surprise that I'd been dreading. When I finished pumping, but before I could get my shirt back on, Wittington came into the room, startling me. "It's not clear that just your milk is having any effect," he said imperiously.
"It takes time," I stammered, holding up my shirt in front of my bra to gain a tiny bit of modesty.
"That's not what Doctor Stone reported about the children who were sick. I have a checkup with my oncologist Monday afternoon. If there's no change, then we'll take this to the next level. Understand?" He held up a picture of Tanya and her husband, Wittington's great-nephew. The implication was clear. Cooperate, or something would happen to Tanya.
I felt myself cowering in fear. The old bastard was intimidating, and he knew it. "Yes, sir," I squeaked.
When we got back to the shelter, Tanya immediately asked what was wrong. I figured it didn't matter if the spies heard, since Wittington already knew. "Monday, if there's no sign that he's improved, Wittington is going to make me nurse him."
"No kidding." I led Tanya to the hideaway room, where I picked up the paper. "We have to move tomorrow morning."
"But they're following us."
"Can we have Rosa get the tickets? They're not following her."
"Good idea," Tanya scribbled back. "What about the bracelets?"
I frowned. Then an idea formed. "Does your electrical trick affect electronics?"
"I think so. You have a plan?"
"Something I learned in science."
I glanced at the clock. "How about if we walk to the park again? I really enjoy a little sunshine and fresh air," I said aloud.
"Maybe we'll see those boys again?" Tanya speculated, ad-libbing so the spies hopefully wouldn't be suspicious when we _did_ meet them. "But it's kind of chilly out."
"A nice brisk walk is good for you," I replied happily.
Our walk was nerve-wracking; we knew we were being followed, and the means to escape was almost at hand, but there were so many things that could go wrong, not least of which was that the guys wouldn't be able to get their allowance. If they _did_ loan us the money, they were going to have an awkward time explaining why they had no cash when they returned, and nothing to show for it. If I knew Eric, he'd tell Lowery the truth and let her fume.
I saw the guys approaching the bench where Tanya and I sat, and I felt my heart flutter a bit. Did I really _want_ to kiss Jerrod? Was I attracted to him? All the signs said yes. I was feeling like a girl, and getting excited over a guy, like a girl.
When they got close enough, I jumped from the bench, running to Jerrod, and wrapping my arms around him while my lips eagerly sought his. As we kissed, rather excitedly and for a long time, I wondered in the back of my mind whether I'd fallen for Jerrod. As we kissed, our hands rubbing on each other as we pulled together, I felt him slip something into my jeans pocket. I had to work to not show surprise, but to continue to kiss him.
In the corner of my eye, I saw Eric looking jealously at the two of us. I felt guilty, but only a little bit.
"Aw, what the hell," I heard Tanya say before she stepped to Eric, took his face between her hands, and planted a big kiss right on his lips.
After we broke off kissing, we sat down. Jerrod was holding my hand, and it felt thrilling to me. I knew I was going to have to talk with Tanya about these girl feelings I was experiencing. It felt awkward and strange, and yet so right.
Since I'd apparently gotten the money transferred when I was kissing Jerrod, we sat and chatted for a while about school, how we were doing, and so on. For some reason, the guys were a bit confused when Tanya and I started talking about sports. I realized it was due to their living environment; the Siblings believed in old-fashioned early twentieth-century families, with stay-at-home mothers who weren't interested in sports or other 'manly' things. In a way, I felt sorry for their inadequate and antiquated environment and education; it was going to make it very difficult for them to adjust to the modern world where women not only worked, but often out-earned their husbands, if they had one. Single, working mothers, gay marriages, and many other things were part of the world that the Siblings didn't believe, so they simply didn't educate their orphans.
Eventually, the hands on the big clock in the park ticked around to three-fifteen. "We have to go. It's ... another meeting."
"On Sunday?" Jerrod asked, astonished. I hadn't told him what I was being required to do, only that I had to meet frequently at the Wittington building.
"It's a special project. I have a few meetings every day, seven days a week," I admitted. "I don't mind, but it does tend to break up my days."
Jerrod hadn't let go of my hand. "I suppose if you have to go ...." he said wistfully. I could tell that he had fallen for me — hard — and was completely over any feelings that it might be weird.
We stood, and I wrapped my arms around his neck and kissed him again. It was only when Tanya tugged at my arm that I let him go — very reluctantly. "Maybe we can meet next weekend?" I suggested, knowing it was a lie. I could tell, from his reaction, that Jerrod very much wanted to meet me again, but that he also knew that we had to leave, and that visibly saddened him.
The plan was simple. I got my remaining cash from the safe, feigning laryngitis so I would have an excuse to not talk, and using a note and hand signals to the woman at the main desk. I was deathly afraid that she would say something and give away our plan; that was another potential trap we had to get past — one of many. Far too many, in my opinion.
With what I'd borrowed from Eric and Jerrod, plus what I had earned, what Tanya had earned somehow, and what Rosa had, we had enough to buy tickets and still have a few dollars extra. That would come in handy for meals and such as we traveled. Another hurdle we'd have to face, once we got to Spiral, would be finding a crisis shelter while we established ourselves, but neither Tanya nor I wanted to think that far ahead. All we wanted was to get as far away from Wittington as possible.
Communicating the plan to Rosa was difficult, because we first had to convince her to not say anything aloud, and then we had to convey the message when she wasn't good at reading English. The other thing is that I had to really fight the urge to hold and cuddle Francisco, because I knew that would lead to me feeding him. If I did that, the nurse would know immediately by how much milk I produced for Wittington. It was agony to not hold the little guy.
As soon as Tanya and I left for the Wittington building, Rosa was to take the money to the bus station, where she would purchase three tickets to Spiral. It was going to be a long trip, so another task she had to do was to gather anything she could for lunches and snacks from the kitchen — anything to help stretch our meager financial resources.
I was a nervous wreck through the pumping. I was afraid that Wittington knew of our plot and that he'd take Tanya or force me into the apartment / prison. I was afraid that he'd decided to start suckling directly before he went to the doctor on Monday.
The nurse noticed my jangled nerves. "Is something wrong?" she asked. Her voice was harsh, in perfect keeping with the bedside manner she'd already displayed.
"Just ... relationship troubles."
"Is it that boy you were with at the park yesterday and this afternoon?" she asked, confirming that I was being spied on. That knowledge didn't help calm my nerves at all.
"Yeah," I lied hesitantly. I couldn't deny what she knew, but I also had to be careful not to betray anything more. And I realized it wasn't such a lie; I was developing strong feelings for Jerrod, and he for me.
"I would have thought, that having been a boy before you became Twisted, you wouldn't be attracted to boys so quickly. And since he was a friend at the orphanage, I would also assume that it was rather awkward for him. Unless you two were involved before your twist," she added maliciously.
I was a little stunned that she knew that Eric and Jerrod were from the orphanage; it highlighted to me how extensive the network of spies and informants of Wittington were. I began to have doubts about our plan to escape. How much of _that_ did they know already, and were they waiting like a cat to pounce on us mice when we tried?
I was a nervous wreck by the time I finished pumping my milk. Tanya, too, seemed a bit unnerved as we left. I suspected that she, too, was having doubts about our probability of success.
We had dinner back at the shelter, and then we started to feel really uneasy. Tanya communicated to Rosa, via the notepad, that she should take Francisco and whatever belongings she could carry, and meet us at the bus station ten minutes before the bus was to depart. I nervously watched her gather her things into a backpack, and then, holding Francisco, she left the building, careful to not be seen by the worker at the front desk.
Tanya and I signed out, as was normal, and walked to a nearby hyper-department store. It happened to be the same one where I'd bought the accessories for my pump; that seemed ages ago. I noted that the van was following us, as expected. The next part was going to be the really tricky part. After browsing the clothing racks for a while, Tanya took a couple of sweaters to the changing room. After a few moments, I also went into the changing area and joined Tanya in one of the changing rooms.
I knew we had to work quickly, because we had to make it to the bus station to catch our bus, and Wittington's spies wouldn’t be patient forever. We didn't know if someone had followed us into the store, but we had to take that chance. I pulled some supplies from my purse — a nail, some wire, and some aluminum foil. I wrapped one end of the wire around the nail, and pushed it into the ground of an electrical socket. I unfolded the foil and tied the other end of the wire to a corner of it. I wasn't sure if it would work, but according to my science class, it should provide a grounded shield around the bands, cutting off its signals.
I nodded to Tanya. She took a deep breath, and then pointed her finger at her bracelet. The lights flickered as she focused, while I got a pair of wire cutters from my purse. I glanced at Tanya again, who nodded. I winced as I cut the metal band, afraid something bad would happen, like a loud alarm sounding. Nothing did happen, though, so with Tanya still pointing at the band, I pulled it from her wrist and wrapped it in a fold of the foil, making sure I crimped the edges. Tanya then pointed at my band. I snipped it, and wrapped it in another fold of the foil, again crimping the edges.
I dropped the cutters, grabbed my purse, and followed Tanya out of the changing room. We paused to listen for any type of commotion. Tanya made a beeline for a female employee.
"Excuse me," she said, sounding frightened. "There are some men who were following us, threatening to rape us. Is there another exit from the store?"
The woman frowned. "You should report this to security."
"No!" Tanya said, sounding even more terrified. "They were policemen. I think they're waiting outside for us to leave the store. You have to help us get away!"
The woman thought for a moment; she was torn between Tanya's story and her training in store procedures. In the end, her sympathy to us as women won out. Even if it hadn't, we both saw her glancing nervously toward an employees-only sign, cluing us in to where the exit was. "Follow me," she said quietly.
As soon as we were out of the door, Tanya and I began to trot away from the store and toward the bus station, glancing fearfully over our shoulders frequently as we did so. Our route to the bus station had been carefully planned by Tanya; it included going through a couple of coffee shops and fast-food restaurants, and following a winding path, never staying on one street for more than one block, and then only on streets that had lots of trees and things to hide behind.
We stopped across the street from the bus station, hiding in the shadows, checking for any unusual activity. I glanced at my watch; we had six minutes until the scheduled departure. It was our last hurdle — getting on the bus without being stopped by curious police or some of Wittington's goons. We could only hope that they figured we were normal girls shopping, trying on everything we could lay our hands on.
Trying to remain calm, we walked across the street into the bus depot, where Rosa was waiting for us. I scooped Francisco into my arms. I hadn't held an infant for several days, and my compulsion was driving me crazy. I had to hold him and cuddle him.
The clerk behind the desk looked suspiciously at us, but accepted and stamped our tickets. "You almost missed the bus," she chided us. "It's boarding now. Hurry and get on."
Rosa had three backpacks with her; one for herself and Francisco, and one each for Tanya and me. We scurried out of the depot to where the bus was boarding and joined a short line. I felt more nervous with every passing second, since the goons would eventually figure out our deception. No doubt they'd have some story ready for the store, and possibly even call in police. It would take them time to search for us, and then question employees, time that we'd used to get to the bus station and were waiting to board. I was terrified that a torrent of police and Wittington's goons were going to swarm into the station at any moment, blocking our departure and taking Tanya and me into custody. I vowed to myself that I wasn't going to let that dirty, evil bastard ever suckle from me; I'd kill myself first. The more I thought about how I'd been treated, the angrier and more determined I got to stop his sick plan to use me for his own ends.
I was shaking as I sat down in a seat toward the middle of the bus, and I noticed that Tanya was as well. She glanced at me, and clasped her hand on mine. "Keep your fingers crossed. We're almost there."
It was rather anti-climactic when the bus pulled smoothly from the station and began driving through the streets. In a few minutes, we were on the highway. Only then did Tanya and I breathe a sigh of relief.
I sat by the window, Francisco in my arms, feeding from my breasts. It was extremely relaxing to me. I hadn't been able to nurse a child for days, and it felt so good to do so again. Around me, I was aware that a few people were stealing glances at me, but I didn't care. This wasn't the same as being on display for Wittington and his nurse as they forcibly milked me against my will. This was my own doing, and it was what my twist had compelled me to do — caring for a real live baby.
After I finished feeding him, I cuddled him until he fell asleep. It was so peaceful, especially when I let my gaze wander out the window. The highway wasn't very busy, and I could see the billions of stars, my friends, twinkling in the sky, comforting me.
I hadn't realized how physically and mentally exhausting the past week had been; I dozed off to the gentle swaying of the bus as it rolled down the highway, ever further from Wittington and closer to Spiral.
I awoke suddenly, realizing immediately that something was terribly wrong. The bus was stopped. I lifted my head and looked over the seat in front of me, and saw that we were in a long line of cars, ahead of which, far in the distance, were several police cars with their lights flashing.
"Shit!" I swore softly, waking up Tanya.
She glanced at me, wondering what was going on, and then, as she realized that we were stopped, she glanced out the front. "Damn! I should have figured Wittington would do something like this."
"He probably had the police report us as fugitives. Remember, he had me arrested on drug charges, and there's the assault charge against me. He probably had them drum up some kind of charges against you, too."
"My pump," I said angrily.
"They confiscated my pump, claiming it looked like drug paraphernalia. I bet it suddenly tested positive for drugs."
"I bet his men figured out which bus we were on, too."
"How?" I asked, and then suddenly felt dumb for asking. The bus station had security video, like every public transportation system. They would have gotten the police, drummed up some fake warrant, and then gone to the bus depot and scanned the videos. "What are we going to do? I'm _not_ going to let that son-of-a-bitch nurse from me! I swear, I'll kill myself first!"
Tanya looked at me, hearing the desperation in my voice. She sighed. "I don't know." After a moment, she had an idea. "Does your calming work for adults?" she asked.
"I ... I don't know. I know it works on more than just babies, though. I used it to calm down some older kids at the shelter."
"How many people can you affect at once?"
"I ... I don't know. I never tried. What are you thinking?"
"There's a long line. If you can get the driver to nap, then we can slip off the bus, far enough away from the checkpoint that the police won't see us, and we can hide."
"But ... we're still hundreds of miles from Spiral!" I noted. "How are we going to get there? We can't walk, and we don't have any more money!"
"Would you rather go back?" Tanya asked me bluntly.
"No. But ... the other passengers will see us get off, and they'll tell the police. They'll search for us before we can get very far."
Tanya winced at the correctness of my logic. "Damn. I didn't think of that."
Rosa leaned across the aisle toward Tanya and I. "Can you make all sleep like niá±os?" she asked me point-blank.
My eyes widened at her inspired thought. "Maybe. I don't know if I can, though."
"You better try, unless you want them to catch us."
I handed Francisco back to Rosa, and then stood and walked to the back of the bus, as if I had to use the restroom. Fortunately, the bus only had a dozen passengers, counting Rosa, Tanya, and myself. I shuddered to think of how tough it would be if the bus was full.
I leaned over toward an older woman sitting in the back, and I willed some power to build within me. I pushed, and I felt it flowing out toward the woman. She was calmed instantly, but not out. Not knowing what else to do, I cradled her head against my chest, feeling a bit more power flowing. "Nappy time," I cooed softly. I really didn't expect it to work, but I was getting desperate.
Almost instantly, the woman was asleep. I eased her back in her chair, and moved to the next person. One by one, feeling more tired with every passenger, I moved through the bus, pushing my power, cradling them, and telling them it was time for a nap.
The last passenger was a college boy seated near the front, and he was raptly staring at my chest. I tried to push my trick, but it didn't feel very powerful, and the boy was still alert. Desperation took over again. I plopped down beside him, making sure my breasts wiggled and swayed as I sat. "I bet you like these," I purred to him. I saw his eyes widen, surprised by my blatant approach. "I bet you'd like to bury your face in them, wouldn't you?" I was trying to sound as seductive as I could, even though the thought was nauseating to me. "I'd like that, too." I licked my lips slowly, teasing him with every movement and gesture, and then reached up and pulled his head down onto my bosom. His eyes were wide with anticipation and surprise.
I turned on my trick again. Since he was so close, it took almost no effort. "Time to take a little nap," I purred to him as I clutched him to my breast. As soon as he was sleeping, I pushed him back into his seat. I felt a mixture of emotions at what I'd done. It had been fun to tease him, and his head against my breasts was pleasant, but at the same time, he was a complete stranger, and it felt cheap to hold him like I had.
One more to go. I strode confidently to the front of the bus, where the driver turned to me. "What's going on?" I asked, trying to sound sweet and innocent.
He glowered at me a second; I was breaking the rule by standing beside him. "Some kind of search," he said gruffly. "This is really putting us behind schedule, too." The driver was an older man, balding, and a little portly. He was a little repulsive to me, reminding me in a way of the old bastard Wittington, and I didn't think I would be able to get his head in my breasts like I had the college boy. I reached deep inside for my calming trick, and I pushed as hard as I could, standing as close to him as possible while I did so.
I felt the power flowing from me again — weak, but still flowing. When the driver's eyes got a dreamy, dazed look to them, I silently thanked whatever gods had given me the trick for extra bit of power. I clutched his head against my bosom and told him to take a nap, feeling what seemed to be my last bits of energy flowing into him. He started snoring almost immediately.
"Let's go," I hissed urgently to Rosa and Tanya. Tanya grabbed our bags, and Rosa carried Francisco, while I searched frantically on the control panel for the door switch. As soon as I found it, I pressed the button, and the doors hissed open. We all scrambled out of the bus.
"Wait a second," Tanya said suddenly. "If the police find the doors open, they'll know we left and start searching."
Damn. She had a good point. But I got another idea to use her trick. "If I press the button to close the doors, can you stop the electricity for a moment while I get off, and then let it go again?"
I heard Tanya draw in a hesitant breath, since I couldn't see her in the darkness of the night. We'd had another bit of good fortune in that there was no moon; otherwise, it would have been clear enough that the police could have seen us from a few hundred yards away. "I'll try."
The trick worked. I think Tanya was starting to realize that her trick was a lot more useful than just fiddling with the lights in a room. We scurried off the road, through the ditch, and across a fence into a field. I prayed that there wasn't something like a temperamental bull in the field. Again, good luck was with us; it was a field of some kind, not yet harvested, and the tall corn gave us good concealment within a few yards.
We walked for a couple of hours through the fields. Rosa had told us that we should stay within a few hundred yards of the highway so we didn't get lost. I assumed that she'd learned something similar when she'd been smuggled into the country. Since we had no maps, and the area was unfamiliar, her idea was the most sensible thing. I had my backpack on my shoulders, as did Rosa and Tanya, but I was also carrying Francisco most of the time. After such a long time without holding an infant, I _needed_ to hold him. The comfort that carrying him gave me far outweighed the burden. Even so, it was quite chilly, and none of us were dressed for being outside in this state in late October, and we were getting thirsty, since we had no water.
Overhead, the stars were helping guide me, so we didn't get too far from the highway. We knew that the highway ran generally east-to-west, and knowing the patterns of the stars, we kept moving west, even though we weren't too close to the highway.
By midnight, we were all pretty exhausted. We'd covered maybe five or six miles; at this pace, we'd be in Spiral sometime about next July! We got nearer the highway to check, and saw that we were near a rest area. We were grateful for restrooms and the drinking fountain.
We hiked a bit away from the rest area, figuring that police patrols would be by from time to time, and we didn't want to get caught. Then Rosa showed us how we could gather straw and other fallen plant material to make a bed to insulate us from the cold ground, and to pile atop us for insulation from the chilly night air. By the time we settled into our makeshift 'nest', we were reasonably warm.
To add extra warmth, we huddled together, with Francisco between Rosa and me. Rosa and Francisco fell asleep almost immediately, but Tanya and I lay awake for a bit.
"The stars are pretty," Tanya mused.
I looked up. "Yeah." I looked up. "See that bright square," I indicated, pointing. "That's the constellation Pegasus, from the mythological flying horse." I pointed to another spot. "Down below there, to the left — that's Pisces, the fish. It's one of the twelve constellations of the zodiac. To the left is Aries, the ram, and then Taurus."
"Isn't Taurus a kind of car?" Tanya asked.
I rolled my eyes. "The car is named after the constellation," I said, only realizing when she giggled that she'd been teasing me. "See that V-shape? Those are his horns. And just there," I pointed, "is the Pleiades. That's not a bright star, but a cluster of stars. It's called the Seven Sisters."
"What does that represent?"
"That's a dart in the shoulder of the bull. To his left is Orion, the hunter. He's baiting Taurus, ready to club him. Below his feet are Canis Major, the big dog, and Canis Minor ..."
"Let me guess — that's the little dog," Tanya said with a chuckle.
"Canis Major is easy to pick out. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky. Well, except for that supernova in the constellation Vela, but we can't see that."
"Why not?" Tanya was genuinely curious.
"It's only visible in the southern hemisphere. That's too bad. I really wanted to take a trip way south so I could see it with my own eyes. It's supposed to be spectacular." I sighed heavily. "Even if I hadn't had to leave the orphanage, there was no way I'd ever have enough money to make that trip."
"You really know your stuff about the stars," Tanya said in awe.
"All my life I wanted to be an astronomer. I was named after one, you know. Percival Lowell. He's the guy who predicted that Pluto was out beyond Neptune."
"Wow. That's a coincidence. It's like you're destined to be an astronomer."
I shrugged, which Tanya couldn’t see. "I guess I'll never know. I mean, I'm Twisted, I'm a girl, I've got a compulsion for kids, I'm a fugitive." I wiped at the tears which had suddenly appeared in my eyes. "I'll never be an astronomer."
"Sure, you can. When we get to Spiral, things will be better. You'll see."
"I wish I had your confidence." I didn't feel much like talking after that, so we drifted off to an uneasy sleep. Though we had brush beneath us, it wasn't all that comfortable, and it was a little cool.
I woke up when Francisco started stirring. I could tell he was hungry, so I sat up. I instantly regretted the move, because the pre-dawn air was very chilly. I shivered at the very cold air on my naked breasts as I got Francisco positioned to nurse, and then I wrapped my jacket tightly around the both of us. I was still in a gloomy mood from last night's conversation with Tanya, but nursing him helped soothe me. I was just finishing burping him when Rosa and Tanya awoke. Tanya seemed a bit fidgety. When I asked her if she was okay, she reluctantly confessed to me that the battery on her portable music player was dead, and she had nothing electrical around her. I was reminded of stories I'd heard about addicts going through withdrawal. And with my own withdrawal anxiety when I wasn’t allowed near the babies at the shelter, I understood perfectly how she felt.
We had a bite of breakfast after I emptied the rest of my breast milk. I hated to let it go to waste, but if I didn't express the rest of my milk, I'd be a mess by eight or nine. We decided to go back to the rest area and see if we could find a truck driver heading toward Spiral. Rosa and I were very nervous, but Tanya reminded us that she could shut down electricity, including a vehicle, if something funny happened, and I could lull someone dangerous to sleep. Besides, we didn't have much of a choice.
We nervously asked one truck driver if he could give us a ride. He looked warily at us for a few seconds before muttering that he didn't have any room for the four of us. A few minutes later, another truck driver came out of the restroom, so Tanya asked him. He looked her over thoroughly, then he glanced at the rest of us before shaking his head and saying no, with the excuse that his company had a policy of not allowing hitch-hikers.
The third guy was even more disturbing. He had the same lame line about company policy, but he said, leering at us, that he _could_ ignore it, if we were willing to 'pay' something extra for a ride. Tanya angrily told him to do rude things to himself; I'd never heard her so upset.
Rosa took Francisco to one of the picnic shelters so he would be out of the cool breeze, leaving Tanya and me trying to find a ride. I was afraid that a state trooper would stop at the rest area. That's all it would take for us to end up back in the city, having to deal with a very angry Wittington. I gloomily figured that it was inevitable that we'd be caught before we could find a ride.
"I'm going to use the bathroom," I said feeling the call of nature.
After I used the facilities, Tanya and I approached a driver that was coming out of the men's room. "Excuse me, sir, how far west are you going?"
"What are two young ladies doing out in the middle of nowhere at this time of morning?" he asked.
I started to answer, but Tanya silenced me when she put her hand on my arm. "We need to find a ride."
"Where are you headed?" he asked. There was a bit of suspicion in his voice.
"Spiral," I blurted out before I could think. I realized, too late, that I'd just let him know that we were probably Twisted, and had given him an excuse to refuse to take us.
"Spiral, huh?" He scratched his chin. "I'm only going to Reno, but that's a lot closer to Spiral than here." He extended his hand. "Pete. Pete Bell." He had massive hands and arms to match. With his scruffy beard and a worn, stained cap, he looked like a rough-and-tumble kind of guy, but the wireless earpiece attached to his left ear gave him a tiny bit of high-tech look, which was almost comically out of place. There was something in his eyes that seemed warm and friendly despite his gruff exterior.
"I'm Tanya, and this is Allison," Tanya said as she shook his hand. "And there are two more of us — a mother and her baby."
Pete frowned. "A baby? I'm not sure I want a screaming baby in my truck for the next several hours."
"Oh, don't worry. I know how to keep him from fussing," I said hastily.
Pete looked like he was evaluating my confidence and the thought of riding for a long time with a fussy infant in the truck. "Okay, we'll give it a try. Let's get loaded up. Daylight is wasting. But if he gets too loud or fussy ...." His meaning was only too clear.
We gratefully crawled into his truck. Rosa and Tanya climbed into the sleeper cab with Francisco, while I sat in the passenger seat beside Pete. I was surprised at how sophisticated and high-tech the driver's compartment was. I gathered that his earpiece connected to both a wireless phone and a radio like the old citizen's band radios of the late twentieth century. It belied Pete's appearance as an ordinary, scruffy guy.
"You mind if I ask why you're going to Spiral?" Pete said.
"It's kind of personal."
Pete laughed. "I bet you're those two girls that have been all over the news, the _dangerous_ drug dealers." I gasped, which got another chuckle from Pete. "What did you gals do, and to whom?"
"It's ... very personal," I said, blushing. "I was being blackmailed for something, and my friend was being threatened to keep me in line."
"I bet I can guess where you're from," he said with a smile, as if it were an inside secret.
"We ... had to leave."
"Was it Terrence Wittington?" Pete asked, earning another gasp of surprise from me. He seemed to have a knack for guessing the truth. He chuckled. "I thought so. You must have something very special if he's going to all this trouble to get you back."
"You could say that. How do you know of him?"
Pete sighed, shaking his head. "It's a long story. Let's just say that the greedy bastard tried to destroy my cousin's family, and I take my family pretty seriously." He paused, as if shaking off bad memories. "Don't take me wrong here," Pete said hesitantly, much more so that he should have, considering that he was driving the rig and in control of the situation, "but do you have some trick that he wants?"
I was getting very nervous. "Trick?" I stammered.
Pete smiled. "You _are_ Twisted, aren't you. And you have a trick that Wittington needs, right?"
I sat, my jaw hanging, in total shock. I was afraid to answer, because I'd already been rejected and then used because I was Twisted. I wasn't comfortable at all with Pete's question.
Pete guessed the reason for my nervousness. "Don't worry. I am, too."
"You're not kidding, are you?" I asked hesitantly. In my peripheral vision, I could see Tanya sitting, attentive and alert, in the opening back to the sleeper cab.
"Really. Before my twist, I was a scrawny, very sickly little kid. Now?" He flexed a muscle. "But it hasn't always been easy."
"Tell me about it."
"Do you have a trick?" Pete asked.
"It's ... pretty embarrassing," I answered, looking down. "Do you?"
Pete chuckled. "For some reason, engines in my energy field run much more efficiently than normal. For example, this rig normally gets about seven to ten miles per gallon. It does about twenty-five when I'm driving it." He smiled. "For a long-haul trucker, fuel is one of the biggest costs, so with my twist, I can save a lot of money, and make a good living."
"Oh. I can see that."
"I didn't get into trucking right away, though. I was helping my cousin with an independent news service," he continued. "She's Twisted, too, and her trick is knowing what the truth is behind a person's words. She said that when a person lies, they're thinking about how to cover up the truth, and she can tell what the true facts are from their conflicting thoughts."
"That sounds handy for a reporter," I observed.
"It's a two-edged sword," Pete said, his voice heavy. "We had a good run, until she started getting some political scoops from politicians and businessmen who were trying to pull a fast one." He shook his head. "Things got a little difficult for us. Then she caught a business mogul in a pretty big case of extortion and fraud, and after she exposed it, trouble really started." His jaw trembled with what I assumed was anger. "Someone tried to kill her," he finally managed to say. "The police never found any evidence, but we knew it was his hired goons who planted a car-bomb to silence her. She almost died, and she's still crippled from the explosion."
"So that's how you know Wittington?" I asked hesitantly.
Pete laughed. "Yeah. My cousin and I were lucky to escape with our lives," he said. "She's never gone back to reporting, and I decided to use my trick where it could help me make money." He glanced at me reassuringly. "It's okay to be Twisted. We kind of take care of each other."
"Thanks. I ... appreciate it. I had a bad experience with people who hated me because I was Twisted."
"So are all of you Twisted?"
"No. Rosa is ... a friend that I've been helping care for her baby."
Pete frowned. "Like a nanny?" That idea didn't make sense, because none of us looked old enough or wealthy enough to have a nanny.
I decided that I might as well talk. Pete _was_ Twisted himself, so he'd understand, and it was a pleasant way to pass time. I explained how I'd been abandoned in an orphanage, guessing that my parents were afraid when they discovered that I might be Twisted. I told him what had happened to me, how I'd suddenly gone from being a normal, average boy to being a teenage girl with a trick for working with children. I still hadn't told him, though, that I was lactating, or about the trick in my milk. There were some things where modesty was desired, especially after the humiliating way Wittington had violated me emotionally.
As we talked, Francisco started fussing. I glanced at the clock on the dashboard, and realized that the little guy was hungry again, even as I felt my let-down reflex start to soak my bra and shirt. I hadn't had room to put nursing pads into my backpack. "Oh, damn!" I swore to myself.
Pete glanced my way, and I saw his eyebrows rise. "Oh. _That's_ how you take care of the baby."
I sighed, feeling my cheeks flush. "Yeah. Not only did I become a girl, but I'm kind of a milk cow." I felt my compulsion tugging at me. "I've got to take care of Francisco before I make too much of a mess." I unbuckled my seat belt and climbed into the sleeper cab.
"If you don't mind me asking," Pete continued, not taking his eyes off the road, "does your trick have anything to do with your ... you know?"
I figured I might as well tell the whole story. "Yeah. My milk seems to have a power to cure sick infants."
"Oh. That's why Wittington wanted you. The old bastard wants to live forever, I bet."
"And he threatened me," Tanya added to the conversation, "to make sure Allison cooperated. He told her he'd return me to my abusive husband, his great-nephew, if she didn't cooperate."
"Damn. That asshole must be desperate."
"Yeah. He said he has pancreatic cancer, and it's not treatable. He wanted to use my milk, and my trick, to cure himself."
Pete chuckled. "I can't say that I'm sorry that he's dying, and I don't think there will be many tears shed when he does. And the devil can set another plate at his dinner table, because he sure won't be going to heaven! I'm glad you got away from him before you helped extend his reign of corruption."
I was feeding Francisco in the back when I heard Pete swear in the cab. Tanya, who had taken the front seat when I came back, asked, "What?"
"There's a blockade at the state line," Pete said. "He's calling a lot of favors to get you two."
"What do we do?" Tanya sounded worried.
"Simple," Pete said confidently. "We stop before the border, you girls hide in the trailer, and once we cross, we'll stop again."
"What if they search the trailer?" Tanya asked, still worried.
Pete smiled. "Won't help them. I've got a special compartment in the trailer — a false wall — so they'll never find you. You see, I've had to, um, carry some special cargo that I didn't want the authorities to know about."
I was impressed; he was using the same trick I'd used in the orphanage to hide my contraband goods. But I could tell Tanya dreaded a small compartment as much as I did. Only Rosa didn't seem to mind. But once we climbed up from under the trailer, we found it roomier than expected, with small padded seats and a small light that we left on to keep it from feeling so cramped. Pete re-secured the floorboard under us, and the truck rumbled toward the border. It was a very cleverly-designed ruse; unless a trooper actually measured the inside of the truck and compared it to the outside, they wouldn't be able to tell that the forward wall was really a false wall. From underneath, the floor opened in a complicated way which left absolutely no trace that it wasn't a real floor.
As the truck glided to a halt at the border, Tanya and I nervously glanced between ourselves. If there was a dog, we were in trouble. If the cops did a thorough inspection of the truck, we were also in trouble. The only good news we'd gotten from Pete, before we stopped to hide, was that the line at the border was already lengthy, and thus, the searches couldn't be as thorough as if traffic was lighter. We could feel the truck creeping forward a little, then halting, over and over as the line crept forward one or two vehicles at a time. Finally, we stopped and heard the airbrakes set. We held our breath, while I used my power to keep Francisco calm and napping. If he cried out while the police were searching, we'd be discovered. We heard some unintelligible discussion, and then what sounded like the rear doors of the trailer being opened. After a very tense few minutes, the doors closed again, and then we heard the airbrakes release. We all breathed a sigh of relief when the truck started rolling again, gathering speed as it accelerated slowly away from the border checkpoint. A few minutes later, the truck slowed and pulled off the road. We all climbed down from the secret compartment and stretched. We were in a 'welcome center' for the next state in our journey, now safe from the reach of Wittington's influence. It felt like a million-pound weight had been lifted from our shoulders. I felt like a long, demeaning, humiliating, violating rape had finally come to an end, and I started bawling with both relief and happiness. I hugged Tanya joyfully, trembling with relief at the end of a psychologically grueling ordeal. Tanya, too, was in tears, relieved to be free of danger. Without thinking, we kissed in our celebration, and then suddenly stopped and backed up from each other.
"Uh," Tanya stammered, "that ... uh ..."
"We were celebrating and got carried away, right?" I suggested, feeling equally embarrassed. Then, to demonstrate, I gave Rosa a kiss on her cheek, and kissed Francisco. Finally, I lifted up on my toes and gave Pete a kiss on his cheek, and a hug. "Thank you," I said, still weeping tears of happiness.
"You're welcome," Pete said, blushing. "Uh, why don't you use the restrooms, and then we'll get back on the road. Us truckers have to keep moving if we don't want to lose money, you know."
When we climbed back in the truck, I felt my stomach rumbling. "What do we have for lunch?" I asked Tanya.
She rummaged through the backpacks. "A few slices of cold pizza, a few cheese sandwiches, and some meatloaf and mashed potatoes. It must have gotten down to awfully cold last night, because it's frozen!"
"Cold pizza sounds the best," I suggested. "Would you like some?" I asked Pete.
"Sounds good, but hot pizza would be better. There's a microwave in the back, and there's a refrigerator you can put the rest of the food in so it doesn't spoil." He glanced at me. "I'm going to call my cousin. She knows a lot of the contacts in the Underground Railroad. She can tell us who we need to meet."
I frowned, baffled by his reference. "Isn't that something from the Civil War?"
Pete laughed. "That's where the name came from. The current one helps get people like us out of difficult situations. Sometimes, things can get pretty tricky for Twisted, especially in more rural areas."
"So your cousin ..." I began.
"... can probably get me in touch with someone who can help you continue your journey."
"And the secret compartment?" Tanya asked knowingly.
Pete grinned. "Let's just say that you're not the first Twisted I've helped ... relocate. I help our people escape problems when I'm in the right place. That's how I know about the Underground Railroad." He chuckled. "With my little engine trick, I can detour hundreds of miles out of my way, and no-one notices the cost of the extra fuel."
After lunch, with the truck rolling gently down the road, accompanied by the hum of the engine and the whirr of the tires on the roadway, I found myself getting groggy. I hadn't realized how emotionally drained I had been by Wittington, and with that, physically tired as well. We hadn't slept that well the previous night, either, so it was no surprise when I drifted to sleep in the passenger seat.
I woke to the sound of the airbrakes, and started trying to shake of the groggy feeling of being half-asleep. "Uh," I stammered, "where are we?"
Pete finished what he was doing and glanced at me. "We're not in Reno, yet," he answered my question before I'd asked it. "I'm at my limit of driving for the day, so I have to get a little rest."
"I thought all truck drivers broke those rules," I said, trying not to sound accusing or condescending.
Pete just laughed. "Some people do, but with the trackers in every rig, it's too much of a gamble for most of us. It's only the team drivers that drive non-stop." He grinned at me. "Unless you can drive this thing, in which case we can keep going."
My eyes widened a second before I realized he was joking; my brain was still not in full gear, and it seemed that Pete had noticed. "Uh, no, I’ll pass."
"Back in a sec." He opened the door and stepped down. I was curious for a moment, but then I realized that he had to take a leak. As I mentioned, my addled brain was still half-asleep. Shortly, he climbed back into the cab. "Since the other two girls are sleeping in back, I'll just take a nap here." He leaned back, adjusted his chair, and pulled his cap down over his eyes. In only a few seconds, he was asleep.
I was awake enough that I knew going back to sleep would be difficult, if not impossible. I wasn't sure what I was going to do, until I heard Francisco start to fuss. If he kept it up, he'd disturb Pete's nap, which might delay us even more. I glanced back and saw that Rosa and Tanya were fast asleep, so I climbed into the back, being careful not to disturb them or Pete. I picked up Francisco from beside Rosa and crawled back into the passenger seat. Within minutes, I had him at my breast, feeding. His innocence and happiness were exactly what I needed to soothe myself.
After he ate, I held him on my lap, playing quietly with him, listening to his soft giggling when I made faces or saw something new out the window. He didn't tire at all of my playing peek-a-boo with him, nor when I bounced him lightly in my hands. Most of all, though, he was fascinated when I hummed softly to him. He smiled and giggled so delightfully. I knew, at that moment, that I _had_ to have a baby of my own. And after I'd kissed Jerrod, I knew that I was eventually going to do more. I only hoped that I didn't feel a compulsion to get pregnant, or that my twist didn't have yet another surprise like super-enhanced fertility.
Counting nursing, I'd been holding and playing with Francisco for almost an hour and a half. I suddenly had the feeling that I was being watched. I turned, and saw Pete looking at me from under his cap.
"Sorry," I apologized quickly. "I was trying to be quiet."
Pete smiled. "No, I woke up on my own. I was just enjoying watching you with him. You're a natural."
"Now I am," I said, no longer feeling any self-pity at that revelation. "I didn't used to be."
"Someday, you're going to make a wonderful mother."
His words made me feel warm inside, and happy tears started leaking from my eyes. "Thank you," I blubbered. "I want to be the best mother in the world." I wanted — no, needed — to be a loving mother who'd _never_ abandon her child, but would always be there for her.
After a moment, I noticed that he was trying to avoid glancing at my chest, not entirely successfully. I looked down, and was shocked to see that I hadn't re-buttoned my blouse or refastened my bra after nursing Francisco. He'd been so playful that I'd been distracted trying to keep him quiet. I felt my cheeks burn as I tried to refasten my bra with one hand. It was awkward, but I managed; fortunately, I'd gotten a couple of front-hook bras from the thrift store because it was so much easier to free my breasts to nurse. Nursing bras would have been better, but they didn't have any in my size in the thrift store, and I hadn't wanted to spend a lot of money for one in a department store. I still had to stuff my breasts in the cups with one hand while holding Francisco with the other, and I knew that I'd have to adjust it again later, because it wasn't fitting properly. I pulled the flaps of my blouse closed, not taking the time to button it because it was too awkward with Francisco playing. At least I as covered a little more modestly. "Oops," I said, embarrassed.
Pete laughed. "I'm sorry. I was really trying not to stare. But ...."
"I know. I used to be a guy, remember? I'd appreciate it if you didn't mention this to Tanya or Rosa. They'd never let me hear the end of it." For some reason, I wasn't quite as embarrassed or uncomfortable that Pete had gotten a full view of my breasts. Maybe it was because it wasn't forced, like with Wittington, and maybe it was because I'd nursed so publicly — of my own volition — at the shelter, and maybe it was because Pete was so darned nice and decent.
When Rosa awoke, she panicked at first, until she saw me holding Francisco. "I've got him," I reassured her. "I fed him and played with him, so it might be nap time for him."
"Okay. You make him sleep now?"
"If you want." I held him and pushed my power while rocking him in my arms. In seconds, he was dozing soundly. I handed him back to Rosa.
"No se how to thank you for all you do for him," Rosa said with tears in her eyes. "You are special to him and me."
"And you're both my special friends — amigos?" I hoped I had the term right. I didn't know much about the Spanish language, but I knew it changed endings in a lot of cases.
"Yes," Rosa laughed. "Amigos when many people and one is boy. You are mi amiga especial."
Rosa and I swapped places, and I napped with Tanya and Francisco.
I woke to the sensation that the truck was slowing. I looked out the window, and saw that the sun had set. "What time is it?" I stammered as I tried to get my brain in gear again. The past day and half riding with Pete seemed a blur of confusing memories.
"Almost seven," Pete answered. "We're coming into Reno."
It took me a few moments for that to sink in. "We're there?"
I shook Tanya to wake her. "Wake up. We're here."
"Spiral?" Tanya asked in a groggy voice. She, too, was trying to awaken.
Francisco had heard the noise as well. He decided it was time to wake up, and he was hungry. As soon as he started fussing, my let-down reflex kicked in again. I'd slept a lot longer than I'd planned, and I was fuller than usual, too. I wondered why Francisco had slept so long and so well, but then I remembered that I'd played with him, using a lot of my calming trick to keep him quiet, and then to nap.
I sighed, and unbuttoned my blouse again. In a few moments, I had Francisco calmly nursing. It was refreshing, both physically and mentally, to feed him.
"While you were napping," Pete spoke to the three of us, "I called the contact in Reno my cousin gave me. She should be waiting for us at a truck stop. She's got a place for you to stay tonight, and then they have all the arrangements to get you kids to Spiral. You should be there tomorrow night."
I sighed, feeling content. I'd escaped Wittington's trap, I was nursing a baby, and we were home-free to get to Spiral. Even though we had little money, things were looking a lot better for us than they had only two days ago.
The rest of the trip was pretty boring compared to the first day, except for one small detail. When we got to the truck stop, I couldn't help myself when I gave Pete a huge hug and a kiss on his cheek. I noticed that my shirt was wet from leaking again, but I didn't care. Based on his embarrassed expression, I didn't think Pete would notice that his own shirt had gotten a bit wet for quite some time. Tanya, likewise, gave him a hug, and Rosa gave him a big, warm hug and kiss. It may have been a cultural difference, but when she kissed him right on the lips, I was surprised. I know that Pete was stunned.
As Pete promised, the woman, named Karli, was waiting for us at the truck stop. She was a very pleasant woman who appeared to be in her early to mid-thirties. In truth, as we found out on the ride back to her house, she was almost sixty, with an empty-nest when her own children had grown. Also of interest was the fact that she wore shorts and a crop-top all the time, even though the rest of us were bundled up in our jackets to protect us from the brisk, cold wind. She certainly had the figure for it; I'd seen middle-aged movie stars who weren't as attractive or shapely as Karli was. She laughed when I asked her about it. It was part of her own Twist. She was stuck looking like an old movie star named Raquel Welch, who we'd never heard of. She considered her trick to be relatively modest - no matter what the temperature was, she felt like she was at a constant seventy-eight degrees, inside or out. She could go out in a forty-below night and stay comfortable in just her shorts and short-sleeve shirt, or even completely nude ! What's more, when it was hot, her trick provided built-in air conditioning for her. It sounded like a neat trick. I suspect that Tanya was put at ease as much as I was that Karli was Twisted, and that she was pretty open about her trick.
Karli's home was modest, and she'd turned her three children's bedrooms into guest rooms since she was often hosting Twisted on their way to Spiral. She related a couple of stories of families who'd had to move from very hostile, and even dangerous situations, to Twisted. She related one story of a family where an adopted son had twisted unexpectedly, and the entire town turned against the new girl and the family, to the point that the sheriff was going to kill her to 'save' the town. I was shocked at the story; it made mine seem almost tame.
Karli lived alone, since her husband had died of a massive stroke while out at a remote worksite where medical help wasn't available quickly. Of her children, her eldest and youngest were Twisted as well, while the middle one was normal, and had often complained about feeling left-out. That let us know that her husband had been normal. In a way that comforted me, because it really demonstrated that Twisted and normals could get along once the normals got past their fear and bigotry.
Karli cooked us a fantastic dinner. Of course, after two and a half days of sandwiches and cool leftovers, anything would have been a feast. I think Rosa was feeling a little left out; she was the only one who wasn't Twisted, and her English wasn't quite good enough to understand our conversation, especially when we got excited and talked more rapidly than she could follow. I could tell, from subtle signs, that Rosa wished that she could cook the meal, to show her appreciation to Karli.
I stayed up late to feed Francisco, while Rosa and Tanya collapsed onto the top-of-the-line air-foam beds. We'd had showers, and she washed some of our clothes so we would feel a bit less dirty. We only had one change of clothing and two of underwear; not much would fit in ours mall backpacks, and we'd carried food, too. But at least we were wearing clean clothes, and the dirty clothes we'd had on when we arrived were getting their turn in the washing machine.
Karli stayed up with me to talk, and after I'd put Francisco to bed, she asked me a bit about myself. I ended up spilling my guts. It was emotionally comforting to know that she was Twisted, and that she understood completely how some people rejected us. She was also very sympathetic toward me for the emotional rape I'd suffered at the hands of Wittington. Her understanding and sympathetic nature caused me to have an emotional release. Karli held me tightly while I cried on her shoulder, while she kept assuring me that everything would be alright.
In the morning, Rosa got up early while I fed Francisco, and after a little discussion with Karli, started to make breakfast as her expression of thanks. Tanya and I weren't surprised; we'd had Rosa's fabulous cooking several times, but Karli was amazed. She couldn't stop saying how good breakfast was. In fact, she'd actually offered Rosa a job as a live-in maid and cook if she wanted it. Rosa was embarrassed, but she politely told Karli that she was going with Tanya and me, her amigas.
Later that morning, we met a businessman who was driving to Spiral as part of his normal business travels. We packed up our meager belongings and said goodbye and thanks to Karli. I admit that I cried a lot; Karli had treated me like I was her own daughter, especially the previous evening when we'd been discussing my changes and the ordeal at the hands of Wittington.
Compared to the Rolls limo I'd been riding in, the businessman's Mercedes was a bit of a letdown in one sense, but in another, it was much more comfortable. It wasn't nearly as roomy, plush, or ostentatious, but it wasn't a gilded cage, either. Just the difference between riding under duress and riding of my own free will made a lot more difference than I would have expected. I let Tanya ride in front, so I could care for and nurse Francisco when he needed it. I fed Francisco, and we played and then napped, waking only when we slowed to enter a small city.
I felt like I was Alice entering Wonderland, or Dorothy entering Oz. The exit sign proudly proclaimed the name of the town — Spiral. I heard Tanya softly say the name, almost reverently, as if she was speaking of heaven itself. Tanya and I watched in awe as we drove through the streets. It was as if the city had a magical aura, even though it looked like a normal city, with businesses and streets and parks. There weren't any of the high-rises we knew from our old city; more like four-to-eight story business buildings, as would befit a smaller city. We saw people going about their business, like it was perfectly normal; it was hard to reconcile that this city was over one third Twisted with my prior experience where Twisted were rare and not exactly welcome. It seemed surreal to think that one out of every two or three people I saw on the streets was like me and everything seemed so peaceful and happy.
At a stoplight, I saw a woman struggling with a fussy baby at a bus shelter. After several days of not being able to help anyone besides Francisco, the urge to do something was unstoppable. I practically leaped from the car and ran to the sitting woman. "Is she okay?" Somehow, I knew it was a little girl. Maybe it was another part of my trick.
"She's just fussy today," the woman said, sounding exasperated.
"May I hold her?" I asked. I saw how nervous the woman was; I was a stranger, a teenage girl, who'd just leaped from a car to dash to her fussy baby. "I ... have a trick for calming babies," I added hesitantly.
The woman scrutinized me, and then she saw the wet spots on my shirt inside my open jacket. "You're ... a mother, too?"
I blushed. "No. This just ... happened ... when I twisted."
"Allison," I heard Tanya call. "Come on. We need to keep going."
"In a minute," I said to her, reaching out to take the baby. The woman, tired of struggling with the fussy baby, reluctantly handed the girl to me. As soon as the girl was in my arms, I felt the tingling of my trick. "You're such a cute little girl," I cooed. "Such a sweetie." I held her close, rocking her in my arms.
The woman's mouth dropped open as the baby immediately calmed down. She was babbling happily in my arms, perfectly content. "How ... how did you do that?" the woman asked, astonished. "I couldn't calm her down for anything!"
I smiled. "It's my trick. I'm sorry I ran over here, but I have a compulsion, too. I can't help wanting to help infants. Is it her naptime?" I saw the woman nod. I pushed a little more power toward the infant, and the girl calmed, and then, within a few seconds, drifted to sleep. I rocked her a bit more, and then gently handed the girl back to the incredulous mother. "She should have a very quiet nap now," I said with a smile.
"Allison," Tanya said from over my shoulder. "We have to go."
The mother was gently putting the girl into a baby carriage. "If you have references, and babysit, I'd _love_ to hire you," she gushed eagerly.
"We just got here," Tanya explained. "And we have to go get settled in before she sets up a babysitting service!"
"Oh!" the woman said knowingly. "Well, thank you, and welcome to Spiral. And I will be looking for you as a babysitter," she added with a smile.
I let Tanya drag me back to the car, which had pulled to the side of the street. As soon as I was buckled in, the car continued on our journey. The driver just stared at me, wondering what I'd done.
We pulled into a parking lot of a building that looked like it had once been a large church adjoining what appeared to be a hotel. "We're here," the driver announced. As we got out, he called out. "Welcome to Spiral, and good luck." As he drove off, continuing his own business, a man and a woman came out of the building toward us.
"Are you Allison Hansen and Tanya Wittington?"
"Yes," I answered. "I'm Allison."
"I prefer Tanya Larson," Tanya said, wrinkling her nose at the name Wittington. "It's my maiden name, and that ... other name has bad memories."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Jack Powers." The man lifted a portable computer and tapped on the screen. "Okay. I've fixed your information." He glanced at Rosa, standing with Francisco in her arms. "And you are?"
"Rosa Sanchez Carillo," Rosa answered meekly. "And this my ... son ... Francisco."
The woman smiled. "I'm glad you're here. We'll help you while you get yourself established. I'm Flora Powers," she added. "Do you have anything besides your backpacks?"
I shook my head. "No. It's a long story."
"We'll help you out with basic necessities right away, then," the man said. "There's a foundation to help displaced Twisted, and we're pretty well funded from a lot of civil lawsuits for discrimination against our people. But you'll be happy to know that those types of things don't happen here," he added with a smile.
As we walked through the building, the woman asked, "Is there anything you need right now? A meal, maybe? Fresh clothing?" She glanced at Francisco. "Formula?"
Rosa smiled and glanced at me. "No formula for Francisco."
I opened the flaps of my jacket, displaying to Flora the large wet spots on my shirt. "Yeah. I ... help feed Francisco. It's ... another part of my twist." A thought intruded. "If you have some nursing pads, though, it'd be helpful." I blushed. "I'm getting tired of leaking all over everything."
She smiled. "I'll get some as soon as I show you your rooms."
"I'd like to have a long, hot bath, too," Tanya said.
"Yeah," I agreed eagerly. "That sounds good."
She stopped at a table in a large hall. "Let's get you checked in, and then I'll show you to your rooms."
I glanced at Tanya, worried. "Um, do you have a room that we can share? It's been ... stressful, and I want to be with my friends." Tanya and Rosa both nodded their agreement.
"I think I understand. Our rooms are all single, or for couples," Flora replied, "but I can get you all adjoining rooms." She smiled. "Our housing wing used to be a small hotel." She smiled at me. "Plus, if you share a room, you'd have to wait to take your bath." She pulled out a data pad. "If you give me your clothing sizes, I'll get something newer, more comfortable, and a little more stylish while you take a baths, if you'd like."
I winced. "Uh, I'm not used to women's clothing sizes, yet," I stammered, feeling my cheeks burning.
"Oh. Ooohhh, I think I understand," Flora said, her eyebrows rising in surprise. She smiled. "You'll enjoy school, then. There's a small informal club that you'll fit into perfectly." I was puzzled by her cryptic reference to a club.
Jack returned, frowning as he glanced at his data pad. "You two are going to have to work with our legal team."
My eyebrows rose. "Oh?"
"There are felony warrants for drug charges for both of you."
"They're bullshit!" Tanya snarled. "It was the corrupt police department working with Wittington to force us to cooperate!"
Jack shrugged. "If they push, it could mean an extradition fight, so we need to get that cut off before things start to get messy. We'll let the lawyers get that all settled. In the meantime, I've got you scheduled for checkups at the clinic," he reported. "Tanya, Allison, you've both got appointments tomorrow morning at the clinic. Rosa, I've got you and Francisco appointments with a family doctor."
"The ... clinic?" I asked, suspiciously.
Jack and Flora smiled. "It's a special clinic for Twisted. You'll actually have three appointments; one with a regular physician, one with a psychiatrist, and the third a specialist in twists. All three groups at the clinic deal only with Twisted."
Soaking in a hot bath was heavenly, and I didn't even care about the perfumed soap and shampoo. When I came out of the bathroom, a fresh set of clothing was laid out on the bed, including underwear. I smiled; Flora must have gotten the sizes from my clothing as I bathed. The clothing looked almost new, certainly better than the shelter or the thrift store. More important to me, though, was the box of nursing pads. I smiled; at least I wouldn't have to suffer wet shirts again.
They offered us meal vouchers at a nearby restaurant, but Rosa insisted that she could cook for us. And so it was that, once again, the three of us girls and Francisco were sitting around table, just like we had in the shelter — before Wittington. We had almost nothing, but we felt incredibly rich — and lucky.
The clinic looked normal, but Jack and Flora had told us that it was a special clinic for Twisted, and what we could expect. Both Tanya and I were waiting; I got called in to the physician first. I was a little nervous; my last experience with a doctor had been Dr. Stone. The memory of him made me shudder.
"I'm Doctor Franklin," a middle-aged woman with glowing green eyes introduced herself. "I'll be giving you a physical exam. It would be easier if we had medical records, but we'll make do." She had a pleasant smile that made me feel at ease. She led me into an examining room, where she started by checking my pulse, blood pressure, and normal medical things. Following that, we started talking about my physical changes. It was a little embarrassing to talk about how I'd changed from a boy into a girl.
"Now I'll do a gynecological exam." She saw me pale. "Have you had a gyno?" I nodded wordlessly. "I'll assume that it was rather ... embarrassing?"
"It was ... pretty intrusive."
Dr. Franklin smiled. "We have a much better way. Please take off your clothing and lie on that scanner."
It was so comfortable to be with her that I wasn't too embarrassed to disrobe in front of her. The scanner bed, which looked like a fancy tanning bed, was cold, though. She chuckled when I shivered. "A heating element would interfere with the scanning. Sorry." She lowered a top over me, and a minute later, she lifted it. "You can get dressed again," she said as she brought up a holographic image of my body.
"You're a healthy young lady," she said, "and if you haven't had a period yet, you can expect one very soon. You are fertile, and can have children." I felt a tingle of pleasure at her statement. I really _wanted_ to have children.
She shook her head, a puzzled expression on her face. "With your prolactin levels — that's the hormone that makes milk — you shouldn't be lactating. All your hormone levels are normal for a young lady. It looks like your lactation isn't related to your hormones, but more a fundamental part of your change." We spent a while talking about my lactation; Dr. Franklin was interested in how often I had to give milk, and how much I gave each time. I took off my shirt and bra for her again. She did something with her computer, and the sound of a baby fussing sounded in the room. Immediately, I began to leak. "It seems that you have a very sensitive let-down reflex," she observed.
"No kidding," I said sarcastically. "If I don't have nursing pads, my clothes are almost always wet!" I shook my head. "I shouldn't be a girl. I shouldn't be lactating. I shouldn't _want_ to have my own children!"
Dr. Franklin gave me a sympathetic look. "You aren't the first Twisted that has had a gender change, and I know you won't be the last. Even though it may be difficult, remember that you're not alone. You should adjust to the change in a little time."
My next schedule meeting was with Dr. Nobu, a slender Asian woman who told me that she wasn't Twisted. She was the psychiatrist who would check my feelings and compulsions. The key point, I'd been told, was that she had to determine if I was dangerous. I had to fill out a lengthy questionnaire on the computer; she chuckled when I sighed or groaned at some of the questions. After that, we had a very long discussion about my feelings, and what I'd noticed about my compulsions.
"You've told me how you can't stop yourself from helping, or even nursing, infants," she said thoughtfully. "What do you feel like when you are with an infant who’s in distress or is hungry, and you can't do anything?"
"It's ... excruciating," I answered cautiously. "I ... I can't help it."
"Have you held or nursed children without a mother's permission?"
I nodded, feeling ashamed. "I know I shouldn't," I added, "but ...."
We talked more about how I felt. She especially wanted to talk about my experiences, first with the orphanage, and then with Wittington. Both subjects brought up bad memories, and I tried to avoid the subject, but Dr. Nobu said that I was going to have to confront what she called a psychological and emotional rape. I wasn't sure that I wanted to work with the school counselors on that, but Dr. Nobu assured me that they were very well trained and competent to deal with a lot of issues associated with the Twisted.
After she ran out of questions, she leaned back and looked thoughtful. "The way I see it, you have only three choices in life. First, you can work in a daycare center or babysit, and have to fight your compulsion to nurse the babies. Second, you can stay away from infants and babies, and be miserable. Third, you can have your own children, although I suspect that if you do have children, you won't have just one or two. From what I've seen, you're not a danger to anyone, and since Dr. Franklin noted that your breast milk is devoid of drugs, and is in fact very rich in nutrients and antibodies, most mothers would probably be happy to let you help nurse them at a daycare, especially if, as you say, your milk can cure minor illnesses."
"And some major conditions," I added.
Dr. Nobu laughed. "I bet that's more related to your trick than your natural antibodies." She stood to walk me out of her office. "I'll get a letter written that notes your compulsion," she said. "With Dr. Franklin's notes, that should help a lot in school." She saw me start at her comment. "You'll find that the schools here in Spiral are very accommodating. If you have to pump during the school day, they'll make allowances."
From there, I went to Dr. Rothschild, an odd little Asian man who was barely five feet tall, with white hair and eyebrows — a grandfatherly appearance, except for his pointed, elf-like ears.
"From the information I have, you’ve already discovered your trick. My job is to help you understand it better," Dr. Rothschild told me with an amused smile. "Now, what kind of trick do you have to show me?"
"I feel ... tingling in my chest when I'm nursing sometimes. Then it feels like it's all pushing out of me," I answered.
"That sounds like the way many tricks manifest themselves. People who have tricks they control feel this type of sensation, while those with more permanent or involuntary tricks often feel nothing."
"I can push the feeling out and calm down infants — and even adults," I admitted.
"Do you put them to sleep?"
I shook my head. "No. It's more like ... I take away their distress. I can control the level; I can make a fussy baby feel calm and happy, or I can push a little more and make her sleepy and take a nap."
"Is it just infants?"
"No," I replied. "I can do it with older children and adults, too, but it takes a lot of concentration to do it, and I can't do it very often. When I do calm down adults, it's almost like I can ... suggest things to them, like taking a nap."
"Interesting." He tilted his head and frowned a bit, thinking. "Have you tried other suggestions?" I shook my head.
Dr. Rothschild put some type of sensors on me and had me climb onto a scanning table, like the one Dr. Franklin had used on me. In only seconds, he smiled. "I'm done with the first exam. Now, while I scan, I'd like you to try the calming power. Just not on me," he added with a grin.
He started the scan, and I tried to push out the power, intent on calming an imaginary baby.
"Okay. That's good." He sighed. "Now try it again, thinking about calming an adult," he directed. "Um, hmm," he said as he looked at the readings. "The next one I'd _like_ to do would be pretty tough. From your reports, it only works when you're nursing."
"And only sometimes," I said with nod. "It's only when the infant is ill."
"You ... cured a baby's Achalasia, correct?"
Dr. Rothschild chuckled. "The Hispanic baby boy with the esophageal problem."
"Oh. You mean Francisco? Yeah. According to ... a doctor at the shelter, his problem should have required surgery, but he was cured."
"And you felt the power flowing into him when you were nursing?" I nodded. "Any other times you've felt that same feeling?"
I shook my head. "Only when I'm nursing, and only when the baby is ill."
"The other two were a baby with severe diarrhea and a girl with a serious respiratory infection, correct?" He sighed. "It might be hard for me to find an infant with a congenital defect or a serious illness for you to nurse while I repeat the test. I guess we'll just have to observe to see if there are any other facets to this trick."
"So ... I have two tricks?"
Dr. Rothschild shook his head. "No. It sounds like it's two aspects of the same trick, associated almost entirely with infants and children. Your trick is easy to manifest with infants. I'd suspect that you can use it almost without limit, or without really thinking about it. But when you thought about an adult, the field was much weaker. I suspect that it took a great deal of concentration, and left you feeling fatigued." He frowned. "Have you ever used the healing trick on anyone besides an infant?"
I shuddered visibly. "No. But ... one ... evil man was going to force me."
"We won't do that," he reassured me. "I doubt it would work, anyway. Your healing trick doesn't seem to be able to affect adults the way you can affect infants. I'd like you to follow up with another appointment in a month or two." With that, I was done with the appointments. I sat in the waiting room for a bit, while they prepared records for me so I could enroll in school, and for Tanya to finish.
On the way back to our new temporary housing, Tanya and I exchanged notes on what we'd learned. Her trick could control electrical fields and flow. She learned, to her amazement, that the same trick allowed her to sense electrical fields, no matter how small. I told her what I'd learned, and I took particular glee in noting that Dr. Rothschild didn't think that I would have been able to help Wittington. The bastard would have died anyway.
Flora and one of her friends, Bea, took me out shopping. I was astounded at their generosity, but they pooh-poohed my objections. "Our mission is to help you get on your feet, and a lot of people give generously to ensure that we have the resources. The only thing we ask is that, if you're successful, you remember us and give, too."
"It's a deal," I said, "but I doubt I'll make much. I wanted to be an astronomer, but then ... this happened."
"Don’t be so down on yourself," Bea said reassuringly. "You can do a lot more than you think. Being Twisted isn't a handicap."
"You'll see once you start back in school next week," Flora added.
I sighed, not looking forward to going back to school. "I'm so far behind that I don't think I'll do very well."
Flora tsk-tsked me. "You're forgetting where you are. The school is very good about working with ... unusual situations."
In the next week, it seemed that all our lives were coming together neatly. Tanya found a temporary job in a deli, and the lawyers were already preparing papers to get her divorce. Rosa found a job as a maid and cook for one of the wealthier families, and I got to babysit Francisco all day. It felt good to help the little guy, especially when I got to feed him. More importantly, since the money I'd had to borrow was used to get to Spiral, the charity could justify repaying the loans as expenses. I knew that Jerrod and Eric would be pleased that I hadn't forgotten them.
Since I didn't have school transcripts, I spent many hours in school taking placement tests. I felt nervous at setting foot in the building, especially since I didn't know how others would react to me. I saw other kids going to and from classes, looking at me oddly. I felt awkward, like I was on display, and it seemed from the way they were looking at me that they _knew_ what I was. The last time I'd been with people in a school was the time I changed, and a lot of guys had been gawking at me. Of course, I'd been naked that night right after my twist, which explained a lot of their ogling, but this somehow didn't feel much less intimidating.
Monday morning, I started at the school. One of the assistant principals, Mr. Decker, escorted me to my first class. He was a large, intimidating man, and when he spoke, it boomed unnervingly. In the history classroom, my first class of the day, most of the other students were already seated and the teacher was waiting for the bell to ring to signal the start of classes. I felt very self-conscious, especially when I realized that the only empty seats were in the front. I was also carrying my backpack, since I hadn't been assigned a locker yet, and my shoulder bag which contained a brand new, top-of-the-line breast pump and its associated supplies.
"This is Allison Hansen," Mr. Decker said to the class. "She just moved to Spiral, so she's joining us."
I tried to look around at the other students and smile, but I was feeling very shy. I could see some of the guys looking at me like the guys had at the orphanage the night I twisted, and that made me squirm uncomfortably. I also noticed that some of the more attractive girls had unpleasant expressions, like they were sizing me up as competition.
"Hi," the girl next to me said pleasantly. "I'm Lorelei, but I go by Lori."
My eyes nearly bugged out of my eyes; Lorelei had aqua hair and eyes, stunningly unnatural and quite beautiful. I realized that kind of hair and eye color could only come about if she was Twisted, too.
"I'm Allison," I squeaked nervously.
Lorelei smiled. "Yeah, Mr. Decker said that." She glanced at the teacher, who was staring angrily at her, and turned quickly toward the front of the room. "Class time," she whispered.
I couldn't help but feel like I was on display the rest of that class, and the next one as well. The only good news about my second class was that I shared it with Lori, and with her friend Christine, who I knew was either a hyper-genius, or Twisted, because she appeared to be a kid. My third period was a study hall, so it wasn't difficult to leave early when I had to go pump; I merely stopped at the monitor's desk and showed her my pass. The school didn't have a lactation room, since it was a high school and there wasn't much demand, but one of the unused smaller offices in the administrative suite had been made available. I locked the door, made sure the blinds were closed, and began to pump. I guessed that I was in the nick of time; my breast shields were quite damp. After I pumped, I had to clean the cups again, and put the milk into a built-in insulated cooler with an ice block. Then I walked to my fourth-period class.
I felt quite awkward going into the classroom. The teacher stopped and glared unpleasantly at me, which made me feel particularly conspicuous. I pulled my excuse from my pocket and handed it to her. As she read it, I gave a furtive glance around the room. I saw Lori in the back with Christine. Christine and Lori had helped me feel more welcome and less nervous.
"Um, hmm," she muttered. "I see. Very well. Take a seat. Oh, and Ms. Hansen?"
"Yes?" I asked nervously, knowing I was getting even more unwanted attention.
"Are you going to make a habit of being late every day?" she asked, scolding in her tone. She wasn't even trying to be discreet. Her voice carried well enough that I figured most of the first three rows heard her. I would have been mortified if she'd mentioned more details.
"I can't help it ma'am," I stammered, feeling completely humiliated by her question and tone of voice. My eyes were misting, and tears start to stream down my cheeks. Suddenly, Spiral didn't seem so friendly or welcoming, but rather intimidating and cruel. I slunk to the one unoccupied desk in the front row, aware that many of the students were looking at me critically, especially the ones in the front rows who had overheard the teacher's comments. I didn't participate in the class at all, even when the teacher specifically called on me. I wouldn't even look at her; I just sat in my desk, staring at the floor, and crying. The tears stung my eyes through the rest of the period, made worse by knowing that I was getting strange glances from the rest of the class.
When the bell rang for lunch, I dashed out the door, beating all the other students out of the classroom. My cheeks wet with tears, I ran back to the improvised pumping room and locked myself inside. I didn't feel hungry at all, not after how I'd been humiliated in front of an entire class. I'd just stay here, crying, feeling sorry for myself, until school was over, and then I'd leave and never, ever come back.
There was one problem with my plan. I hadn’t used the restroom, and after three classes, I really had to go. I unlocked the door and glanced up and down the hall. It was busy, as expected, and I felt dread at going into the milling throng of students. But I had no choice. With my head held low, unwilling to look at anyone, I shuffled into the hall and toward the bathroom.
When I finished my business, I opened the stall door and started to walk toward the sink. At that moment, Lori came into the bathroom, with Christine. I started, and then ducked back into the stall, slamming and latching the door.
"Allison?" Lori called after me. I was paralyzed with fear and humiliation. She'd seen me. "Is something wrong?"
"Go away!" I cried through tears.
"We want you to have lunch with us," Christine said in her little-girl voice.
"Go away!" I blubbered again. "I don't want lunch."
"Allison, please come out. Tell us what's wrong. Please?" Lori said urgently. "Did we do something wrong?"
"I don’t want to be here!" I sobbed, sliding down to the floor. "I don't want any of this. I want my life back!" I was crying hysterically.
The next thing I knew, Christine had crawled under the door into the stall with me, unlatched the door, and opened it. She sat down beside me. "What's wrong?"
"Mrs. Derrickson ...," I wailed, "made me ... look like an ... id ... idiot! And I ... I can't ... I can't help ... help it!" I buried my face in my hands, sobbing uncontrollably. "I hate this! I hate what my stupid, fucking twist did to me!"
"It can't be that bad," Lori said reassuringly as she sat on my other side. "Look at what _our_ twists did. I'm a mermaid, for Pete's sake, and with my hair and eyes, everyone knows instantly that I'm Twisted, and even more so when I have my tail." She let her legs change into a tail to show me, and then changed them back.
"And I'm a little girl — permanently," Christine added. "Your twist can't be as bad as ours, or as some of the other Twisted kids here. You're not alone."
"But ... you guys wouldn't understand," I wept. "I ... I was ... I was a guy!" I wailed. "I sometimes don't even know who I am anymore!"
Lori leaned her head on my shoulder, her arm around me comfortingly. "So was I," she whispered very softly. "So was I."
I stared at her like she was kidding me.
She shook her head, reading my thoughts. "I'm not kidding."
I glanced at Christine, and she nodded her affirmation. "She's not pulling your leg. In fact, there are several girls here who used to be guys, and a few that went the other way."
"But ... but no one has the embarrassing thing I have."
"Oh? Like having a bed that's a 'fish tank' in the basement isn't unusual? Or having to change my legs into my natural tail during class so I don't use up all the power for my trick?"
"Or playing with dolls and sometimes needing to not act like a little kid," Christine added softly.
"You can at least tell us where you why you were late for class," Lori said.
I looked at her, and then at Christine. Both seemed quite genuine and sympathetic. "I ... I was pumping."
"Pumping?" Lori said, her brow wrinkling with confusion.
"When ... when I twisted, I changed from a guy into ... this. And what's worse, I ... I'm .... I looked down away from the two girls. "I have to pump milk at least four times a day, because I'm lactating and I leak if I don't." I shook my head, sighing, knowing my cheeks were beet-red. "My last school was an orphanage school, run by a very strict order. It was all boys. I got kicked out when I twisted. I'm not used to being a girl."
"You'll be okay. There are a few of us that understand," Lori said, chuckling when she added, "but don't ask Simone. Not unless you're into serious BDSM. She's a little ... intense."
Christine stood, and reached down to me with her little girl hands. "Now, let's get you cleaned up, and then we'll go have lunch."
I reluctantly let them pull me to my feet, and then help me wash up.
Lunch wasn't that bad; no one except Christine and Lori seemed to have even noticed that I hadn't joined the other students in the cafeteria. Christine and Lori only did because they'd intended to have me sit with their group. Ricky and Liz were friends of theirs and members of a band they'd formed. Liz was a little bit punk, and it seemed that Ricky was trying a bit to imitate her style. They pointed out Leila, who looked like a human Barbie doll. They warned me that her favorite color was pink; in fact, she was rather obsessed with it, but that it was a _huge_ mistake to call her 'Pinky', since her trick could turn anything pink, including human skin! She regularly embarrassed guys by turning their clothes pink, although Christine pointed out that it hadn't happened as frequently since she started steadily dating Jennifer.
I realized that I had a lot to learn about the school, and the students, and it was going to take some adjustment. But with Lori and Christine as new-found friends, I was getting over my fears and embarrassment.
The best part of lunch, though, was when Mrs. Derrickson came up to our table and publicly apologized to me, telling me sincerely that she didn't mean to cause me embarrassment. She noted that she hadn't been briefed on my unique situation, and so it had been a surprise when I came to class late and interrupted her lecture on 'Pride and Prejudice'. She hadn't really read my note, but had mistakenly assumed that I was just being unreasonably tardy.
Lunch cheered me up for the afternoon. My last class of the day was science, where the text was just starting astrophysics, and I found myself excited again. Christine just rolled her eyes at the way I was volunteering and giving correct answers. At the end of class, the teacher asked me to stay afterward for a moment. Christine whispered, "You're in trouble for trying to suck up." She had a cute little-girl smile that was practically irresistible to my compulsion.
When I came out of the lecture room, some of my newfound friends were waiting. "Well?" Christine asked with a wicked grin.
"Well nothing," I replied. "I didn't get in trouble, if that's what you were expecting."
"They why did Kelton want you to stay after?"
I smiled. "So he could tell me that he was impressed by my knowledge of astrophysics, and wondered if I'd be interested in the astronomy club."
Liz wrinkled her nose. "That's a good way to end up classified as a nerd."
I was grinning. "At my last school, I tried to start an astronomy club. I've been interested in it since I can remember." I glanced around and then lowered my voice. "My old name was Lowell, after the famous astronomer. It's what I always wanted to be. I didn't think I'd be able to after my twist, though," I confessed. "Maybe, I was underestimating myself."
I made an excuse so I could retrieve my pump and cooled milk. Ricky and Liz took the hint; I got the impression that they were going to do some after-school studying — of each other. But Lori and Christine followed me to the administration offices. They were a little surprised when I walked into the small office that had been set aside for me. Of course, they were curious, too — Lori more-so than Christine. That was because Christine would never grow up again, nor go through puberty, and would therefore never breast-feed.
"Are you going to pump now?" Christine asked.
I shook my head. "No. I just have to get my things."
"Maybe someday, you can show me when you pump?" Lori asked me hesitantly.
"Yeah," I answered with a grin. "If it was an hour later, I'd show you how I nurse my roommate's baby." I saw their stunned looks. "I've got a compulsion to nurse infants," I confessed, blushing slightly. "And my milk is really loaded with antibodies and can help an infant recover from illnesses." Something about Lori's expression struck me as odd. "I've got a trick, too," I said. "I can calm down fussy babies, and when a sick or injured child nurses, I can heal them."
"I am going to _have_ to tell Mom that you'll be a great babysitter," Lori said with a grin. "If you don't mind, that is."
"Oh? You have a baby brother or sister?"
Lori smiled. "Not yet, but Mom is pregnant with a little girl."
I felt all tingly inside thinking about a newborn girl, and then, suddenly, my pads felt wet. "Oh, damn," I sighed.
"You talking about a baby triggered my let-down. Now my boobs are leaking." That settled the question of when I'd pump again. The girls sat with me, and we chatted about school and the various students, while I prepped and then pumped my milk. Lori watched in fascination as the milk dripped steadily into the collection bottles.
"Doesn't that hurt?" she asked hesitantly.
I smiled. "No. It's a lot less painful than having to express manually." I saw their confused look, so I removed one breast from the cup, and then squirted my milk toward them playfully. "At first, I had to get my milk out that way, but it gets pretty sore, and my hands get cramped. I'd much rather use a pump." I got a wistful look. "But a pump isn't nearly as nice as an actual baby." I couldn't help thinking about the babies that I'd actually nursed.
As I was cleaning up, I noticed Christine looking at me with a strange expression. "Is ... something wrong?" I asked hesitantly.
Christine looked down, and then shook her head. "It's ... nothing."
"I told you about my problems," I countered. "What's wrong?"
Christine gestured for me to lean down so she could speak more privately. "Sometimes," she said hesitantly, "I ... feel like I need ... a big 'mommy hug'. Watching you pump kind of triggered it."
I smiled, then sat down and pulled her up into my lap, which startled both her and Lori, and wrapped my arms around her in a big, warm embrace. "And when I look at you," I confessed, "sometimes I feel like I need to give you one. So maybe ... we can help each other?"
I saw Christine's eyes watering at my suggestion, and she wrapped her arms around me. We both sat, content, for a couple of minutes. Then Christine hopped down. "Thanks," she mumbled.
"Any time you need a hug," I offered, "you can ask. Or just jump on my lap. I don't mind, really!"
I could see that Christine was very touched by my offer; it would help _both_ our compulsions, and it was an intimate gesture of friendship. I also noticed that Lori wiped a tear from her eye, touched by how Christine and I were bonding as friends. I only hoped that she wasn't feeling left out; after all, Christine was her friend first.
After I finished cleaning up, I called our temporary lodging, and asked for a car to pick me up. Lori and Christine headed home as well. It had been an interesting end to an interesting school day. I didn't mind. With Lori and Christine as friends, I felt a lot more comfortable than I had at the start of the day, especially knowing about Lori's change. We were kindred spirits.
I put the bottles of milk into the mini-fridge in my room and sat down to do my homework. In some classes, I was way behind, and the teachers had given me catch-up assignments and notes. In math and physics, I was actually ahead, though.
Tanya came back from the deli around seven, and Rosa came about seven-thirty. I was happy to see them, and happy to give little Francisco a big hug. Tanya had picked up something to eat from a take-out restaurant, which made Rosa unhappy, since she loved cooking for us, but we both reminded her that she'd been cooking all day and it wasn't fair of us to take advantage of her.
Tanya noticed that I seemed to be in a good mood. I summarized my day, and then noted, "I've got two new friends." I saw the look on her face. "But you and Rosa are still my best friends, and always will be. After what we've been through, we're like the 'Three Musketeers'."
Tanya's brow wrinkled, and Rosa didn't get the reference. I sighed. "It's an old movie that we watched at the orphanage. It wasn't even a holo-vid. You ought to watch it, or read the book if you want to get some cultural background."
Tanya laughed at that. "No thanks. Do you think it's a good reference for us?"
Rosa, though, figured a cultural equivalent. "I hear of that movie. But where I come from, Los Tres Amigos is better known," she said with a smile.
"The Three Amigos?" I guessed at the meaning. "I've never heard of it."
"Steve Martin, Chevy Chase, and Martin Short. Very famous movie. Very funny movie." She wrinkled her brow. "Is funny the right word?"
I shook my head in disbelief. The Three Musketeers was considered a literary classic, but in Rosa's old country, some comedy about three friends was better known? It seemed like some kind of cosmic joke.
Much later, after Francisco had been fed and was asleep, Rosa turned in; she'd had a very long, but judging by her expression, very rewarding day. Tanya and I sat in my room to talk.
"Any regrets?" Tanya asked. "About coming here, I mean."
I smiled. "No. Not now. I was worried at school, but not anymore." I let my head loll back on the chair. "Still, I wonder if I could have found out more about my parents."
Tanya shook her head. "It wasn't worth it. Wittington would have strung you along, feeding you little bits and pieces of information while keeping you a virtual prisoner. What _did_ he tell you to try to entice you?"
I paused a moment. "He said that my father isn't really my father. My parents used a sperm donor to conceive me, apparently."
She read my expression. "Do you really want to know?"
"If it was like you feared, do you really want to know? Do you really want to know if you were abandoned because your parents feared that you might be Twisted?" she asked.
I was stunned by the bluntness and logic of her question. If I did know, how painful would the answer be, emotionally? If they'd rejected me once, did I want to know who my parents were, so that I could try to find them and risk rejection again? I paused, thinking deeply. Maybe it was better that I not know. "I guess not," I answered softly.
"Then appreciate what you've got." She smiled. "By the way, I got some good news. The foundation has lined up a house for us." She saw my surprised reaction. "Yes, us. I've got temporary custody of you, since you're a minor, and we're moving into a house. Rosa, too."
That was a couple of months ago. We're happy in our little house. Tanya got some legal help from the support foundation, and her divorce was finalized a couple of weeks ago. She's ecstatic over that; she said it's liberating for her. On top of that, we found out on the news, and also through the lawyers, that Wittington had succumbed to his cancer, and, miraculously, the warrants for us vanished. Neither Tanya nor I shed a tear for the old bastard. She also got a job working for a hush-hush security company, where she uses her power to find hidden listening and video bugs. Her power to detect electricity and electronics make it easy for her to 'sweep' a room for bugs in seconds instead of the forty-five minutes it normally took, and she's dead-on accurate. When they hired her, they didn't believe her abilities, so they tested her. She passed the test with flying colors, finding every hidden bug they'd planted, and even a couple they didn't know about. Her new job paid a lot better than the deli, and the hours weren't as long or unpredictable, either.
In a special case granted by a judge, Tanya was appointed as my guardian. It was unusual, from what I was told, but since this is Spiral and unusual things are commonplace, I shouldn't have been surprised. I like the arrangement; Tanya is and always will be my best friend. I'll never forget all she did for me, and I'm sure she feels likewise. She's been asked on several dates, but she's been reluctant. "Once bitten, twice shy," she always says. Still, there's a very nice teacher at the school who took an interest in her at a 'parent-teacher' conference, and he's been asking her out ever since. Maybe someday she'll get her courage back to start dating again.
I've been in touch with Eric and Jerrod regularly. They want to come to visit me if they could ever get a vacation. I've been trying to see if the assistance group wouldn't help sponsor them so they could. Whenever I thought about kissing Jerrod, my knees got all wobbly and I feel tingly all over. I wondered if I had a crush on him.
I go to counseling twice a week. I hadn't realized, until I started working with a therapist with whom I could discuss my twist and my ordeal, just how emotionally battered I'd been by the ordeal with the orphanage and then Wittington. With him gone, I feel somewhat free of that nightmare, although I occasionally still wake up in a cold sweat from bad dreams about it.
Tanya and Lori have been diligently teaching me 'girl skills', like wearing makeup and selecting fashionable clothing. I hadn't realized, until I started school, just how plain I'd looked compared to other girls. I was determined to look good, even if that meant wearing makeup, making sure my hair looked nice, and picking out fashionable clothing. With a little practice, I was turning heads, and getting a few envious glances from one or two of the cheerleaders.
I baby-sit frequently; apparently, news of my trick spread like wildfire through the family community. Sometimes, I get a full night's baby-sitting wages just to go to a family with a fussy child or children, and to calm them down. Since I'm producing quite a bit more milk than Francisco eats, I'm still pumping the extra, and one of the hospitals has started paying me for the excess because of its healthy properties. It's a nuisance sometimes having to pump, but I enjoy the feeling that my extra milk is helping babies somewhere in Spiral. And I even have been asked, by doctors, no less, to feed and cure babies who had serious conditions and illnesses. One poor little girl was diagnosed with a rare brain tumor just after her first birthday. Now, she'll grow up to be a perfectly normal, happy girl - the Spiral definition of normal, which might mean she's ends up with a unique twist. Or not.
Two different daycare centers have been trying to recruit me to work after school, but I want to keep my free time. I have a lot of new friends and a lot of fun after-school and evening activities, and I've even noticed a cute boy named David staring longingly at me from time to time. Lori says that he's smitten, and all his friends know it. She and Christine are teasing me that I should go on a date with him. I'm not sure; maybe I will. But if I do, to me it'd only be practice for when Jerrod visits next summer. I still get all weak-kneed when I think about kissing him. And after all, if I want my own children someday, I'm going to have to get used to the idea of dating guys sooner or later.
In school, I'm the president of the Astronomy Club, and my grades are improving, except physics and math; those two were already A's. I'm not the oddity I once thought I'd be at school; faculty and staff are very accommodating toward my special condition, and the students learned to quit asking questions, especially when Lori and my friends aggressively came to my defense. Even Leila got in the act of protecting me, once threatening to 'pinkify' a boy who was getting too nosy.
Even on my most optimistic days at the orphanage, I couldn't have imagined life would be as satisfying as it is now. One of my earliest desires was to be an astronomer and study the Milky Way. I guess, in a sense, I'm doing both, but not the way I'd thought. I'm working hard toward becoming an astronomer, and my science teacher is very encouraging on that subject, and I know my milk helps babies. I'm happy. Who could ask for more?
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