Cassie and Brian are best friends, sharing just about everything, including a life-long love of basketball. But what they don't share is Brian's deepest secret.
ONE LAST SHOT
By Maggie the Kitten
Author's Foreword and Dedication: Although written before I had met and grew to love Rebecca Anne Stewart; affectionately called Becky by all those who knew her in the chatroom. The resemblance between her and the character Becky Taylor/Chandler was and is uncanny. So I will dedicate this story to her, my beloved friend and playmate, Becky Stewart. You are still very loved and very much missed…
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Ten year old Becky Chandler stood at the free throw line waiting for the referee to hand her the ball. She was the only player on the court, as time had already expired. Normally when the buzzer sounds and time expires, the game is over; however, unusual situations can occur that can prolong the game beyond its scheduled conclusion.
In basketball, a game cannot end in a tie or on a shooting foul. Both were prolonging today's game. The final outcome of today's game laid squarely on the shoulders, or more aptly, the left hand of young Becky.
The young player had chased down a long rebound, turned, and fired a high arching fifteen-foot “Hail Mary" from the baseline, as time expired. Not only did her prayer get answered in the form of a dead on swish, but the bigger defensive player, in a frantic attempt to block her shot, crashed into her just as she released the ball. The obvious contact drew a foul on the Braves’ player and placed Becky on the free throw line with one shot to win the game.
Technically, if she missed her free throw, the Knights wouldn't lose. Being still tied, the game would then go into an overtime session, but Becky knew with two girls having fouled out, and Mandy playing hurt, the Knights could not survive three more minutes against the deeper and more talented Braves. No, if the Knights were to go on to play for the state championship, Becky's last shot would have to take them there. Having the fate of your team and of a season, resting on your shot, would put an enormous amount of pressure on an adult, but for a ten-year-old girl, it would seem to be overwhelming. Yet, Becky wasn't like most ten-year-old girls. She had dealt with great pressure situations for most of her life. In fact, she had faced this very same situation before. It was many years and a whole life ago, but the painful memory was still fresh in her mind.
The year was 1978. It was the era of bell-bottoms and black lights. Star Wars and Saturday Night Fever was the hot movies to see. Kiss battled the Bee Gees and the Bay City Rollers for teen music supremacy, and the Washington Bullets wrapped up their first NBA title that spring.
Yet, for Brian Baker, the defining moment of 1978 came while standing on the free throw line, and alone on the court. It was a chance for the young sophomore guard to finally measure up in the eyes of his teammates, his coach, and his father. He had been given the chance to be the kind of storybook hero that every kid who's ever shot hoops dreams of. Yet a more unlikely hero than Brian Baker would be hard to find. The five foot, eight-inch, one hundred-ten pound guard was the last player off the Pine Haven bench. During the regular season, he played in but a handful of games, and then for just the last few minutes of a contest long since decided.
Brian really wasn't a bad ball player. There was no questioning his heart, or of player ethic. He loved the game, as much as any player out there, but with his slight frame, he was routinely outmuscled, and out ran by the more muscular, more athletic boys. Physical problems weren't Brian's only nemesis. Among his own teammates he was somewhat of an outcast. Teenagers are pack animals by nature, and adept at sensing those teens who don't belong, or are perceived as being inferior. Once singled out and deemed inferior, these kids are subject to extreme persecution, and acts of cruelty. Brian was obviously different, and they knew it. In their eyes, he would never belong.
Brian was quiet, shy, sensitive, and nearly impossible to anger. He professed no interest in drugs, booze, fast cars, or faster women. Actually, he was terrified of driving as a result of a car accident he had been in as a child. So while most guys were working to build an automotive form of their manhood, Brian pedaled the same bicycle he'd ridden since junior high. He did have a girl in his life. She was his best friend, but she played on the girl's basketball team, which, in the eyes of most of the boys, made her true feminine identity suspect and her sexual preference most likely lesbian. She was quite definitely not acceptable as suitable girlfriend materiel among an elitist group like the boy’s varsity basketball team.
Brian failed to not only live the role of "high school jock"; he failed to look it too. Being shorter and lighter than most boys his age didn't help his male prowess. While most boys were in the midst of a growth spurt that would make them physically men, Brian's body had yet to be sculpted by testosterone. He was athletic, but too slender, and he lacked the broad shoulders and barrel chest covered with hair most of his teammates were developing. His skin was still smooth, and while most guys cultivated side burns and nursed a chocolate milk moustache, Brian didn't have enough facial hair to shave. Shoulder length, sandy brown hair, straight bangs, and large blue eyes, were attributes too feminine on a face lacking any real male qualities to tone them down. His under developed body turned showering after practice into a daily trip through hell.
No matter how fast Brian tried to make it through the showers, he was never quick enough to escape without someone commenting on his manhood, or lack of it. It became so painful, that Brian quit showering after practice, half way through his sophomore season. Brian certainly didn't fit in with his teammates or most of his male classmates, and he faired little better with his coach.
Coach Lynch did not like Brian, didn't think he belonged on the team, and didn't hide the fact that he felt that way. Brian became his personal whipping boy, constantly and mercilessly berated for every actual or perceived mistake Brian would make. If Lynch would have had his say, Brian would have been gone on the first cut, but he didn't have his say. The athletic director made it quite clear to Lynch that Brian had better make the team or else. Brian Baker's ability never got him past the first cut; it was all a matter of genetics. More accurately, he was the son of Bryce Baker; Pine Haven's all time leading scorer, and living sports legend.
Actually, having to keep Brian turned out better for Coach Lynch, as he could take out his vengeance on a daily basis.
Coach Lynch knew Bryce well. He had played along side him for four years, although it might be more apt to say he played in his shadow, as did most of Bryce's teammates. Bryce had been and still was arrogant and condescending, and Lynch never forgot the way Bryce treated his teammates or him as today's team's coach. Lynch would have loved to cut the son of the great Bryce Baker, but the athletic director was looking for a way to boost attendance for the losing program, and having the son of a legend on the team seemed like a good way.
Being the son of a high school sport legend was no more enjoyable for Brian, than was being coached by a man who hated him because of it. And Bryce Baker had expected big things from his son, and not just on the basketball court, but in his social life too. Yet, by age 16, it was becoming apparent to Bryce that his son was never going to be the athlete or popular young man with the ladies that he had been. Brian failed each expectation his father had set for him, and as he became more withdrawn, his father became angrier and then sarcastic and finally more and more verbally cruel. Yet, as Brian stood at that free throw line, he had one chance, possibly his last chance to turn it all around, with his teammates, his coach, his father, and himself. It was a flat out miracle that he even had this chance. As with most heroes, fate played an all too prominent role in Brian's chance for redemption. With eight seconds to go, Pine Haven was down one point, but had possession of the ball. Not surprisingly, Brian was at the end of the bench as usual. He hadn't played one minute in this game or in either of the two tournament games preceding this one.
Brian had looked on, along with the some 7,000 Pine Haven faithful who had packed their home gym, as the Pioneer's worked for one last shot. With the clock ticking towards zero, Steve Smith had shaken his man and made a back door cut to the hoop. Chris Pearson saw him break and laid a perfect pass just above the rim. All eyes were on Smith as the ball came to his outstretched hands. Just as he was about to slam home the final two points and vault his team into the next round, a Yorktown player cut his legs out from under him, sending the ball bouncing high off the iron, and Smith crashing hard to the floor, as the buzzer sounded.
Both benches emptied, and fans poured from the stands as referees desperately tried to regain control. After about five minutes, order was restored, and the team doctor had examined Steve. He was going to be all right but his right wrist was fractured in the fall. He would be unable to shoot the two free throws he had been awarded from the foul. According to state high school rules, "If a player is unable to shoot foul shots due to an injury, then the opposing coach is allowed to select a player at his discretion to shoot the free throws."
The Yorktown coach surveyed the Pine Haven bench and conferred with his assistant before settling his eyes on Pine Haven's last man, Brian Baker. The Yorktown coach informed the referee of his choice, and the referee in turn informed Coach Lynch. Lynch squeezed and broke the grease pen in his hand, before turning his eyes to Brian and shouting his name. Brian's eyes grew wide, and a lump formed in his throat as he pulled off his warm-ups and approached the coach. Lynch was seething with rage as he regarded his young player.
Placing his face within an inch of Brian's, he spoke through clenched teeth. "All right Baker, God knows you don't deserve to even wear this uniform, but you've been given a chance to be a real hero, just like your old man." He smiled sarcastically, "You're a smart guy... do some math for me. You got two free throws. Hit one and we're tied. Hit both of them, we win, and you're the hero." His voice lowered to a whisper, "You miss them both, we lose the game, and 7,000 people will see what a real loser you are. Now get out there and make those free throws."
On the heels of the world's worst inspirational speech, Brian walked onto the court, head down, eyes focused on the glare off the parquet floor. The crowd was cheering wildly until they saw it was Brian Baker entering the game. Cat calls, boos, and moans rained down from the crowd, as the referee handed Brian the ball. Bryce Baker, who had spent most of the game starring down at the bleachers, stood when he noticed his son entering the game. Cassie, Brian's best friend and fellow hoops junkie, stood next to Bryce with her hands clasped together, saying a silent prayer for Brian.
The fans finally quieted, and held their collective breaths, as Brian stood alone on the line. His palms were sweating, and he felt like his heart would come bursting through his chest at any moment. He tried to clear his head. He pictured making the shot in his mind. He had made this shot a thousand times before in practice, but this was for a trip to the state capital, a chance at a title, and in front of 7,000 people. He imagined he was back on Cassie's court, where hitting the last shot meant nothing more than bragging rights for the day. There were seldom more than Cassie and him in attendance, and he was confident there.
"Breathe," he thought, "For God's sake, breathe before you pass out." He let out a sigh, dribbled the ball three times, bent his knees and squared to shoot. One thing he knew, he 'had' to make the first shot. That guaranteed at least an overtime session, and took most of the pressure off the second shot. Brian locked his gaze on the front of the rim and lofted the ball toward it. As the ball left his fingertips he prayed, "Oh God, please let it go in, just for once in my life, let me do something right!"
All eyes in the gym were trained on the ball as it headed toward the rim. It was dead on, but just a little strong, as it kissed off the back of the iron, and then hit the inside front of the rim. The ball ricocheted back in forth like a giant leather pinball, before jumping straight up, rolling slowly off the rim, and finally bouncing to the floor.
Boos and groans from a crowd that sensed victory slipping away, filled the gym. Brian's heart sank, and his knees buckled. The referee handed the ball back to Brian, the crowd quieted again. Brian tired to reach back for confidence that neither his coach nor father had instilled within him. He raised the basketball from his chest, but found it now weighed a hundred pounds, and the goal had risen to fifty feet in height. He arched the ball toward the rim, extending his left hand out to follow the flight, but it was hopelessly short and flat. The ball bounced hard off the rim, taking with it, Pine Haven's title hopes, and Brian's last chance for redemption. The Yorktown team and their small following of fans cheered wildly. The Pine Haven fans booed, while cups and programs rained down onto the court. The bleachers had become a sea of angry fans. Brian's teammates dropped their heads in disappointment, and Coach Lynch fired his clipboard across the court.
Bryce Baker, just for one moment, seemed to have fatherly compassion in his eyes, but it was quickly replaced by the fiery anger that so often greeted Brian. He stormed through the exiting crowd and onto the court. Brian had collapsed to his knees, buried his face in his hands, and was sobbing uncontrollably, when Bryce walked up to him.
"Damn it Brian, how many times have I told you arch the ball on a free throw? All those hours of practice we put in...." Bryce's voice trailed off as he noticed his son was crying loudly, "Jesus Brian, get up off the floor and dry your eyes. I work with some of these people. It's going to be hard enough on me tomorrow as it is!"
Bryce's words drifted into Brian's mind, and he looked up at his father. Sixteen years of pent up anger exploded when he finally addressed Bryce. "How hard it's going to be on you…How freaking hard it's going to be on you!" Brian shook as his voice filled with rage. "You want to know about hard, Dad? Let me tell you about hard. Hard is playing for a coach who carries a sick twenty-year vendetta against your father, and takes it out on you every time you walk into practice. Hard is being ridiculed, humiliated, hated and beaten by classmates and teammates who think you are some kind of queer, sick bastard who threatens their fragile manhood." Brian smiled for a moment before speaking. "Funny thing is, even while they are beating the hell out of you, you know they are still scared of you." Brian shook his head, gulped for air, and wiped the tears from his eyes, before starring directly into the eyes of his dumbstruck father. "But you know what the hardest thing of all is? That's growing up without a father. I never had a father. I was raised by a damn living legend! The greatest player to walk the halls of Pine Haven High School! You know, I remember when we moved here. You said it was so I could follow in your footsteps, and make my mark at the same school you did. Well God knows I tried...I tried so damn hard, but I was never good enough was I? Never good enough to be the son of a legend!"
Bryce was still reeling, but he tried to collect his thoughts enough to respond. Brian wasn't finished and wasn't about to give his father a chance to stop him now. "You always said it was all for me, but now I realize that was just bullshit. It was 'never' about me! It's always been about what 'you' wanted! You said you wanted me to go on and play ball for West Virginia. I could get a degree and be a college basketball star. That's not my dream. It's yours and you blew it when they kicked you off the team your freshman year. You just want a second chance through me!"
There, he'd said it. His father the high school star didn't last one season at the university. His "one man team" attitude didn't fly at the college level, and he was eventually kicked off as a disciplinary action. He quit school before his freshman year was complete. This was one thing that was never mentioned in the Baker household, but Brian wasn't holding anything back now. "You know Dad, come to think of it, I was never really on this team. That was you too, wasn't it? Hell, you should have walked out of the stands and made the free throw shots! We all know that 'you' would have hit them...So, what are you waiting for, Legend? Why don't you go over there, pick up the ball and make the damn free throws! But most of all, will you just leave me the hell alone!"
Bryce Baker's hands were balled into fists, his face was filled with rage, and he was shaking. Brian expected the worst beating of his life and right there in the middle of the school gym, but much to his surprise, he didn't get it. He didn't even get hollered at. The legendary Bryce Baker drew back a fist, regarded his son, and then lowered his arm. Bryce shook his head. The rage left him and was replaced by pain.
In a cloud of despair, Bryce just turned and walked toward the exit while his son collapsed on the floor, choking and sobbing.
Cassie, tears running in broad rivulets down her own cheeks, knelt down beside her fallen friend and hugged him. She sat there holding him tightly, gently rocking side-to-side until everyone else had left the gym.
Gently, she finally nudged, "C'mon Brian.... let's go home."
Both rose up off the floor and Brian looked into Cassie's eyes as he spoke. "Okay Cass...I don't care where we go. We'll go any place you want, but please Cass, don't make me go to my house."
Cassie put her head on Brian's shoulder; as they walked out of the gym, arm in arm.
A few disgruntled fans milling about the parking lot caught sight of Brian and Cassie as the two headed toward Cassie's light blue firebird. A rock ricocheted off the passenger's door, as Brian waited for Cassie to open it from the inside. Another one whizzed by Brian's head as he turned to find the students heading his way in a trot.
Brian got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach as both fear and anger gripped him. He thought, "Why can't they just leave me alone. It's not like I tried to miss those shots. Oh God, I don't want to fight anyone. I don't want to fight anyone!"
Brian's concentration was broken when Cassie opened the door and motioned him in. "Hurry up Brian! C'mon, get in!"
Brian jumped into the passenger side bucket seat, and Cassie hit the gas before Brian could get the door closed. Cassie scattered gravel and dust all over the parking lot as she left her pursuers in the rear view mirror. Brian sat with his head down, starring silently into his lap. Cassie was anything 'but' silent.
She was livid, and her emotions poured out as she spoke. "Oh...these people are such jerks! It makes me so mad! How can they stand there, cussing, booing, and throwing things like that? You know, I'd like to see any one of them stand out there and have to make those shots. I bet they'd be so scared they wouldn't even be able to shoot the ball. If they had any idea of how hard we work, how hard we try, how hard it is to lose, and how much it hurts to lose, they wouldn't act like that. I mean some of those brain dead acid heads are so fried they don't even realize they're at a basketball game, but I saw parents, and grandparents shouting hate, and throwing things at you... " Cassie's voice trailed off as she glanced over at her best friend and realized she was just making him relive the nightmare.
She forced up a smile and spoke, "Hey Brian, you want to crash at my house tonight. Mom and Dad won't care. Tomorrow's Saturday, we can stay up late, maybe get some pizza, watch movies, and shoot hoops... " Cassie cringed as the word "hoops" escaped her. "Sorry Brian, first I go on and on about the game, and then I ask you if you want to shoot hoops. Guess sometimes I just go off without thinking."
Brian gazed up at his best friend, his only friend, and regarded her. It he had to choose one word to describe her it would have to be "passion." She showed it in everything she did, from the love and loyalty she felt toward her family and best friend, to the way she played basketball whenever she stepped on a court. You could hear the passion in her voice when she spoke of things she loved. You could see it in her green eyes when they sparkled with strong emotions.
Those deep green eyes were the perfect compliment to her strawberry blonde hair. More often than not, she kept it up in a neat, tight ponytail with straight bangs cut just above her eyebrows. A few stray strands fell just in front of each ear, and framed her round freckled face. Aside from her emerald beauties, her most powerful feature, if not most prominent, was her smile. It would start as an impish grin, just turning at the corners of her mouth, before becoming a full fledged, disarming smile. Brian had found out that the combination of her eyes and magical smile, were almost impossible to resist. No matter how angry or sad Brian might be, Cassie could always get him to smile, just by smiling at him.
In Brian's eyes she was beautiful; maybe not the "Farah Fawcett" poster beautiful that every guy seemed to lust for, but more of a natural beauty, that Brian thought was very attractive. She had a healthy glow from the passion within, and the sun that had lightly tanned her face. A clear complexion gave her a 'pixie' glow and radiance that no amount of Max Factor could duplicate. She didn't have the willowy body of a fashion diva, or even a disco queen, as her hips and waist were never destined to wear a size 5. At sixteen years old, she was nearly as tall as Brian, but carried a stockier, more athletic frame and outweighed him by twenty pounds. To Brian, she was one of those rare girls who could be strong, competitive, and athletic, without sacrificing her softness or femininity in either appearance or personality. Added to all that was a "Peter Pan" quality that made children adore her, and to Brian, simply put, she was the perfect girl.
The teens had become friends from the moment they met. Brian's family had just moved into the house next door to Cassie, and Brian was sitting next to his second story bedroom window, depressed and starring at a school picture of a friend he had left behind when his family moved into Jamestown. Lost in his despair, he hadn't seen nor heard young Cassie riding her bike in the lot separating their two houses. But she had noticed him, when she saw the moving van unloading furniture into the "old Turner place", and quite frankly, had liked what she had seen.
Noticing him sitting in the window she had tried to get his attention by riding back and forth on the trails directly in front of his view. Having failed that, she had selected a more direct, "Cassie" approach, and began pelting the siding and his window with small pebbles. The "Cassie's Attention Getter" assault had been a success. Brian had turned and looked down to see the smiling, freckled face of his assailant. The boy had opened the window and leaned his head out.
He was greeted by a wave, and a friendly voice. "Hey, what ya doing?"
Brian, still lingering in the fog of depression, answered with little emotion. "That's a silly question. We're moving in."
Cassie, noticeably dissatisfied with that reply, put her hands on her hips, rolled her eyes, and clicked her tongue, before speaking again. "I know.... that! I mean what are 'you' doing?"
Cassie's words finally penetrating Brian's fog and he gave her a more suitable answer. "Just sitting here, looking at the picture of my friend from my old neighborhood. I sure do miss him."
Cassie considered his sad words for a moment, and answered as only Cassie could. "Wow, that's sad, but you know....sitting there and looking at his picture, ain't gonna bring him back." Cassie's smiled broadened. "Wouldn't you rather come out and ride the wild hills with me?"
Cassie's words and their directness caught Brian a little off guard, and he stammered a bit. "Well....I um...um...."
Cassie jumped on his indecision. "You 'do' know how to ride a bike don't ya?"
Brian answered quickly, "Of course I know how to ride a bike."
Cassie wasn't through yet. "Do you got a bike?"
Brian again answered quickly. "Sure I do. Got a Schwinn Stingray!" He said the last sentence with some pride, as Schwinn was considered top of the line and The Stingray was popular among young trail bike riders.
Cassie had him hooked now. "Well...are you gonna come out and ride?"
Brian had fell victim to her charms. It was the first time, but by no means to be the last time. "I guess so. I just got to ask my mom." Brian had pulled his head back into the window and started to close it when Cassie hollered up.
"Hey, what's your name? Mine's Cassie."
Brian had quickly stuck his head back out the window and hollered. "I'm Brian, Brian Baker."
Cassie had nodded and said, "I'll be waiting, and I hope you really can ride cause some of these hills are awesome."
Brian's had face lit up, and he carried a smile all the way down the back stairs and into the kitchen. It was time; Brian hadn't smiled since they'd left the old house. Cassie had rescued him from his lonely room. It would be the first of many rescues by Cassie. Over the next 12 years, she was the one person who he knew would always be there.
A slight smile pursed at Brian's lips; a picture formed in his mind. It was of a knight in shining armor approaching his house, but instead of being astride a fiery steed, this brave knight had ridden a light blue girl's bicycle as a mount. The fantasy knight dismounted, set the kickstand, and gazed up to the tower window. Then the knight tossed several pebbles at the window. Seated at the window, in deep despair, was the fairy tale princess. She had a tall hat, elegant gown, and flowing brown tresses. When she turned to face the valiant knight, the princess bore the face of Brian Baker. As the princess gazed down, the knight removed his helmet and strawberry blonde curls fell over the knight's shoulders. A familiar smile graced his lips. It was unmistakably Cassie.
The brave knight returned the gaze of the isolated princess, dropped to one knee, placed one hand over his heart; the other extended toward the princess. The white knight calmly prepared to speak, and then in the unmistakable voice of ten-year-old Cassie utters, "So ya wanna ride bikes, or what?"
It was so strangely true and yet too ridiculous to take serious; Brian began giggling uncontrollably. Cassie with one hand on the steering wheel and one eye on the road, eyed her friend suspiciously, "What.... What's so funny?"
Brian, trying to suppress the urge to continue laughing, answered in his best medieval English, "Why, nothing t'all, Me Lord Lancelot!"
Cassie, a bit confused, but glad to see her new friend smiling, returned the smile with one of her own and quipped, "I don't 'even' want to know what that's all about."
Reaching over with her right hand, she took his hand in hers and spoke. "C'mon you goof. Let's pick up a pizza from Li'l Italy's, and we'll go back to my house." She then added with that magical smile, "And oh yeah...you're buying!"
Thus it was the brave knight had rescued the helpless princess, and all it cost the princess was a large pepperoni with extra cheese. It really didn't matter how the knight made it to the princess, be it by a light blue bicycle, or a 1976 firebird of the same color, the princess knew the knight would always be there.
The referee handed Becky the ball. She shot a glance over to her team's bench. She saw her seven teammates holding hands, and saying silent prayers. Next to them, stood Cassie, and although it had been nearly thirty years and another life ago, she still had the sparkling green eyes, magic smile, and Peter Pan aura. She met Becky's gaze, and then gently nodded, as if to repeat the words she had just whispered .
Becky smiled back at Cassie before turning to face the basket. Cassie's words were fresh in her mind, "We've practiced this a million times..." In reality, they probably had shot about a million foul shots. Not long after they discovered their mutual love of wild-trail bike riding, they realized they were both hoop junkies. Each one had come about it differently, but both loved the sport.
For Brian, the only child of Charlotte and Bryce Baker, basketball wasn't an option it was his preordained destiny. Bryce, basketball legend, from the same high school his son would attend, was determined to make Brian a legend as well.
Bryce wasted little time in getting Brian introduced to the sport. He was bouncing a basketball almost before he could walk. By age 5, Bryce had already put him on a daily workout routine. A lot of children might have resented being force fed a single activity from such a young age, but Brian honestly grew to love the game. Yet, even if he hadn't, he never would have told his father. He loved him, and the hours they spent together.
For Cassie, basketball or sports for that matter was a true period of self-discovery. At a young age, boys and girls play the same games together. The lot between Cassie and Brian's house became a field for kickball, football, and baseball. Cassie took to all three like the natural athlete she was. With her freckled face, baseball cap, ponytail, jeans, and scruffy shoes, she looked just like, "Li'l Sport" the tomboy logo atop the local market. By the time Brian's family had bought the house adjacent the lot, Cassie was a ten-year-old sports legend of her own. She could catch, kick, pass, and hit with any boy on the field. She loved all sports, but she found her true love and gift on the basketball court.
Originally, her parents had built the full-length basketball court complete with night-lights for her older brother Brad when he had turned 10. Brad had played two seasons of junior league basketball at the community center, and then spent an entire winter begging his parents to build him his own court. Brad lost interest with basketball before the court had even been around a summer. Racing bikes became his latest obsession, and over the years, it was just one of many. Brad rarely ventured on the court again, but Cassie was hooked from the first shot she rolled in. Soon, basketball became her primary sports passion, and she began a quest to see just how good she could become.
Brian had turned 10, shortly before moving into the new house. His father had a basketball goal up in the driveway, before they had finished unpacking. By now, Brian had been recognized as one of the best players for his age group. His father was proud of him, but felt if Brian was going to become a star; it was time to step up the workouts, in pressure, duration, and expectations. Brian worked to the point of exhaustion for his father's workouts, but Brian was undersized for his age even then. He didn't have the strength or stamina to excel at workouts that were better suited for a high school student. Brian began to fail. With each missed shot, his father's anger and frustration escalated. Realizing his son wasn't quite the natural he had been, he decided he would take an even stricter, disciplinarian approach to bring the talent from within him. He was determined to make him a star at any cost. After months and months of grueling, marathon work out sessions, the only thing Bryce had done was to drive his son to exhaustion and tears.
One of Cassie's most painful memories, of her early years as Brian's friend, was sitting by her bedroom window, sometimes as late as eleven o'clock, and hearing Bryce Baker screaming and berating Brian for each of his perceived failures. Cassie became all too familiar with phrases like "Damn it Brian, do it again!" or, "How many times is it going to take for you to get it right?" and, "What the hell do you call that?" then, "You are hopeless, and pathetic. I don't know why I waste my time!" Bryce slamming the door and turning off the light as he went into the house often followed the last phrase. Finally, Cassie would hear the worst sound of all, Brian sobbing beneath the goal in the now darkened driveway.
While Bryce was driving a wedge between himself and his son, he hadn't completely destroyed Brian's love of basketball. Brian and Cassie shared their love on what all the kids referred to as "Cassie's Court." While their games of one on one, and spirited workouts were as grueling as some of the workouts Brian's father had drug him through, they were far more enjoyable with Cassie there.
At age 11 and 12, they were about the same size. Cassie was a little heavier, Brian a little quicker. Cassie was a deadeye shooter. Brian was a tireless defender. Their games brought out the best basketball in both of them, and offered Brian a welcome place to release the tensions he had from home.
Brian enjoyed playing against Cassie, but he loved playing on the same team with her. They could anticipate each other's every move and routinely beat any two boys who were foolish enough to challenge them.
By the time Cassie and Brian had turned 13, they had become inseparable friends, part in fact to their kindred spirits, and part in fact that both were becoming social outcasts among their own kind.
Being a tomboy can be cute and acceptable when a girl's 8 years old, but by 12 she's expected to trade in her mitt, and eye black for cheerleader pom-pom's and make-up. Tiger Beat magazine replaces baseball cards on your shelf, and you begin the process of going from being a perfectly normal girl, to as Cassie phrased it, a "mindless little giggle wiggle." Those who had supposedly seen the light--the light being generated by those surrounding a make-up mirror--considered any girl not following this path as unacceptable friendship material. The boys felt any girl good enough to beat them at sports just couldn't be a girl.
Brian faired no better than Cassie. While gaining a measure of respect from his peers on both the playing field and basketball court, he failed in nearly every other aspect. Socialization is normally difficult for children who are the only child. The fact that Brian was smallish, shy, soft spoken, and sensitive, made him an easy target for bullies, and abuse from cruel and insensitive children. It got worse for Brian as he got older. Testosterone flaring adolescents made him a prime abuse target whenever they wanted to show off in front of their, "little giggle wiggle."
Bryce Baker did nothing to help his son's image among his peers. On more than one occasion, Brian would have a friend sleep over, and Bryce would push the kids out onto the basketball court to play one on one. Bryce's incessant yelling at Brian took any fun out of the activity either child might have experienced from their play, and few boys returned for a second visit. It wasn't long before Brian became known as "that weird boy, with the weird father, who lives next to that weird girl, Cassie".
Growing up is a trying time for all adolescents. For teenagers self-acceptance is often tied to social acceptance. Cassie and Brian's self-perceptions, suffered from being social outcasts, but in their darkest hours they knew they always had "Cassie's Court," and each other.
High school would usher in more dark days for both of them, but far more for Brian. Both kids started Pine Haven High School at age 14. Both were good students, and maintained a B+ average for all four years. Both suffered the stigma of being social outcasts, and both of them made their high school basketball teams. At that point, the similarity ended. Brian sat on the bench for two agonizing years, while his coach waged his personal vendetta on the Baker family. Cassie became the first freshman girl to start varsity, led her team in scoring and assists every year she played, and when she finished her career at Pine Haven, she was the girls all time leading scorer.
Girl's sports at that time received little respect or appreciation, but Cassie's freshman year had been so undeniably spectacular, that she began to receive some acceptance from the teachers and students who could appreciate the quality of her play. Cassie was really good, in fact, she was the best, and like anyone who aspires to be the best, that "best" usually comes at a price. Cassie paid that price every time she opted to practice when every other girl was out at the disco, or the shopping center, or just hanging around and doing nothing. Cassie rarely received invites, and had few girl friends.
With each party she passed on, the invites became fewer, and the friends less in number. She hadn't been invited to a sleep over since she was 12 years old. None of this was really new to her. She had been dealing with it for several years, but when a girl gets in high school, it's only normal to want friends, friends of both sexes. In four years of high school, Cassie could count all of her dates on one hand.
It wasn't that Cassie was unattractive; on the contrary she was cute. She didn't wear disco dresses to school, or put on her make-up with a cement trowel, but she always tried to look nice, and still casual. She wore jeans, blouses, light make-up, her signature ponytail, and that irrepressible smile. Still, the fact that she could beat all but a handful of boys, playing one on one on the basketball court, made her too non-female, and threatening; most boys' egos couldn't stand knowing a girl could beat them. Cassie's social life in high school was unfulfilling, but she did have a loving family and a great best friend. It would be enough to see her through four years at Pine Haven.
Brian could have been the 1970's poster boy for "social unacceptability." He was a member of the varsity basketball team, but his own members didn't accept him. Being pegged as a jock, he was denied admittance to the other social groups.
Brian's success with the girls mirrored that of Cassie's with the boys. He was only 5' 9” by his junior year, yet, and as always underweight. He picked up three inches and was 6 foot tall by graduation, but even then, he had nothing to go with the height. He wasn't ugly, just not attractive. He lacked the strong masculine features most boys have developed by the time they graduate. With baggy sweats, basketball t-shirts, long straight hair, and a stooped shoulder stance from always walking with his head down, he wasn't about to make any girl mistake him for John Travolta. Not having a boy friend bothered Cassie sometimes, but Brian didn't really mind. It just gave him more time to play basketball and hang with Cassie. Cassie had one distinct advantage over Brian, at least she had her parents support. All Brian could count on was, as always, Cassie.
The worse things became in the Baker household, the more time Brian spent over at Cassie's. Most parents of a teen-aged girl would be very concerned if their daughter spent half the night out back with the boy next door, but Brian had become like an adopted son at the Miller house. Cassie and Brian spent most of the day on the court, and half the night crashed in the family room watching basketball. After a game, they'd get the fever, and be back out on the court emulating the players they'd just watched. Cassie's parents never doubted that the only physical contact between these two was on the basketball court. Cassie and Brian openly defied the rule that says, boys and girls can't be close and be friends. Only one time, did they come close to exploring the world beyond friendship.
Cassie's parents had taken one of their weekend getaways, leaving Cassie and Brad alone at the house. Brad and his friends decided to have a little party, and to keep Cassie quiet about it; he bought her off with a six-pack of Little Kings Cream Ale. The funny thing about the bribe was, Cassie didn't drink, but she was 15, and sometimes that's all the excuse a girl needs for doing something stupid. She called over her partner in crime, and with a little persuasion, smiles, and her trademark "pleeease....", she convinced Brian to split the six-pack with her. Brian was also a non-drinker, so three beers apiece was plenty to feel the effects of the liquor. And it didn't take them either of them long to figure out that basketball and booze don't mix, so they both took a seat on the side of the court. Brian could feel the alcohol buzzing in his head. For several minutes neither of them said a word, and then Cassie looked at Brian and spoke.
"Hey Brian, how come you never tried to kiss me?"
Brian swallowed hard as he could feel the beer and his heart trying to come up through his throat. A few seconds passed and Cassie started again.
A sly smile turned at her lips, "Do you think I haven't noticed the way you look at me sometimes. I see that longing in your eyes...but don't worry about that man; I think it's cool. It kind of makes me feel special you know? Brian...you do think I'm special don't ya?"
Cassie's green eyes were sparkling from both the emotion of the moment and the alcohol. She starred into Brian's eyes searching for the emotion he was feeling. Brian was searching for the words to tell her how he felt, and the courage to say them. There was longing in his eyes every time he was with her, but it wasn't the same longing she thought it was.
He heaved a heavy sigh and began, "Cassie, there's no one in this whole world that is more special to me than you are. You are my best friend, and sister. I love you, and I love being with you...I... I...don't know exactly how to say this, but... but you're my dream girl. I'd give anything in this world if.... if I could...could...."
Cassie placed her fingers over Brian's trembling lips, stopping him before he could finish the sentence. She thought she knew how to finish it for him, and then did. "Wish you could...kiss me? That's it isn't Brian. You wish you could kiss me. Well, go ahead kiss me Brian. I want you to."
Brian dropped his gaze for a moment. That's not what he was trying to tell her, but now he couldn't tell her the truth. He looked back up at Cassie, and she had leaned forward with lips pursed, and her eyes closed. All of the sudden Brian had a strange feeling, one he had never had before. He really did want to kiss Cassie. He wasn't sure why, maybe he just wanted to share something else with her, or maybe try to imagine what it must feel like for her to kiss him, or maybe he just wanted to give her what she thought he wanted. He couldn't say no, now; she would be crushed.
Brian leaned forward, and brought his lips close to hers. Just as he started to close his eyes and kiss her. Cassie's eyes opened wide, and she placed one hand over her mouth and the other over her stomach. She tried to roll to her feet, and finally got up. She staggered a few steps to the grass beyond the court, fell to one knee, and began heaving violently. Brian ran to her side, but the beer and the sight of Cassie's vomit, starting him heaving as well. They staggered up to the house, cleaned up a little and then exhausted from the heaving; they passed out on the back porch. Brian woke up before Cassie did, and was gone when she awoke. He didn't come back over until that evening. Aside from the fact they both swore never to drink again, the events of that night were never discussed.
Brian didn't know if Cassie remembered everything or not, but he decided he never wanted to come that close to jeopardizing their friendship by either getting romantic, or him telling her his true feelings, and the secret he could share with no one. Brian wanted it all to stay the same, and at least through high school he got his wish.
During Brian and Cassie's high school years, anyone coming by the Miller house and walking into the backyard day or night, could expect to be greeted by the sight of two court warriors, bathed in sweat, and battling each other face to face. With the 8-track stereo system that Brian donated, the rhythmic pounding of a basketball on asphalt was complimented by a rock and disco beat. Shouts of, "Oh my God! You're 'not' going to count that! Stop this if you think you can!" and "C'mon Pistol, just one more game!" could be heard all day.
"Pistol," was the nickname Brian bestowed upon Cassie when they were in junior high. Pistol was also the nickname of college and pro basketball legend, Pete Maravich. Maravich was known for his incredible ball handling, passing, and scoring ability. It was an appropriate moniker for a girl whose talent excelled in the same three areas. Brian even went so far as to give Cassie a life size poster of Pete Maravich, and she proudly displayed it on her bedroom door.
Most of Cassie and Brian's classmates spent the summer following their freshman years, partying, playing, and laying around. Brian and Cassie spent the summer like they did the other seasons, on the court. Both were determined to sharpen their skills for their sophomore seasons.
Brian spent his sophomore season much like he did his freshman season, glued to the end of the bench and in both his coaches and father's doghouse. His sophomore season ended with those two missed free throws, and he didn't return to play as either a junior or senior.
Cassie on the other hand, began to dominate the court, and gain notoriety as one of the best young talents in the state. She led the Lady Pioneers in both scoring and assists for a second straight season, and scored a career high 41 points in an inspired performance against the team that eventually won the state that year.
Brian and Cassie entered the summer before their junior years at opposite ends of their basketball careers. Brian's was over. He didn't even want to return to Pine Haven, let alone play basketball for them again. His father had quit trying to mold him into the second coming of Bryce, in fact, after the way Brian had talked to his father after the last game; Bryce had barely spoken to his son. Brian had no problem walking away from high school basketball, as long as his love for the game could be satisfied playing on Cassie's Court. Brian knew Cassie's career was just beginning and he wanted to help her if he could. He knew by working out with her all summer, he could play the game he loved, with the person he loved, and help her to be the best she could be.
Cassie's career was starting to take shape. At the conclusion of her sophomore year, she had been voted first team all-city. She began receiving letters and phone calls from coaches interested in her playing for their school. She was living her dream, and her family was supporting her in it. The only downer for her was the knowledge that Brian wasn't able to do what she was doing. His dreams had crumbled while hers soared.
She worried about Brian more and more. She actually started to feel guilty about her success, and quit talking about the recruitment letters when they came. After a couple of very uninspired games by Cassie, Brian asked her what was bothering her.
Cassie took Brian's hand and looked deep into his eyes.
"I...I just feel so bad for you. I mean you don't deserve the way you've been treated by your father, Coach Lynch, or your own teammates. Damn it Brian! You're really good and now you'll never get the chance to show it... And then look at me. Here I am getting letters from colleges, and acting like some stupid little "giggle wiggle". You must think I am such a jerk!"
Brian was moved by the compassion his friend felt for him, he squeezed her hand and spoke. "Look Cassie, you're a lot of things to me, but you aren't no ‘giggle wiggle,’ or a jerk, okay! What happened to me isn't your fault. I honestly believe it wouldn't have mattered what school I went to, I'm just one of those people who don't fit in. I was never comfortable playing with those guys. I really can't explain it...but no matter how hard I tried, I never felt like I belonged, and the guys on the team felt the same way. That's why they dogged me so bad. Whole thing's just kind of weird isn't it?" Cassie didn't really know what to say to her friend's remarks. She didn't have to answer as Brian began again. "That's what's so special about our friendship Cassie; I don't feel weird or out of place around you. It always feels right, kind of like... this is where I have always belonged. When we play basketball together, or just hang out, I know in my heart this is the way its supposed to be...Look, I'm so proud of what you've accomplished and so happy you are enjoying it. You deserve the future you've got coming, and I hope you'll let me stick around to share it with ya. I'd like to keep working out with you, if you think it might help your game. I'd like to be some part of it. I kind a feel like if you make it, and I can help you get there, than in a way, I made it too."
Cassie hugged her selfless friend, and knew she was silly to ever think Brian could resent her. She let go of Brian, and a smile returned to her face. "So you want to set up some tunes, and get your butt kicked again, or what?"
Brian shook his head and thought "Pistol's back".
The rest of the summer was hot weather, hot music, and hot competition on Cassie's Court.
Cassie entered her junior year with high expectations. She was in great shape. Her summer work out program with Brian was going to make a real difference, and she knew it.
Brian entered his junior year hoping he could survive the taunts and beatings he was routinely threatened with. He still had barely spoken two words to his father since the end of last basketball season. High school couldn't get over fast enough for him.
Cassie continued her development as a dominating player on the hardwood. She set the city on fire with a point assault that broke several records, and by season's end she carried the third highest scoring average in the state.
She was a unanimous choice for all-state honors. The Lady Pioneers made a serious run at the state title that year. Cassie was nearly unstoppable in the tournament, breaking her own tournament scoring record with 47 points in a two-point loss in the Elite Eight.
Brian took a lot of abuse at school that year, some of it verbal and some of it physical, but by the second semester he had managed to pretty much fade into the school's woodwork. He was still an outcast, belonging to no clubs, or teams. He stayed away from all school functions, except one, girl's basketball games. He made every game, home and away. Cassie could always count on seeing Brian behind her team's bench.
Brian had pretty much gotten used to the abuse at school, but home was a different matter. He hated it when his father yelled at him. His father's words hurt him more than any beating he took at school. Now his father's silence was hurting him. Their war of silence had been going on for over 6 months. Brian knew his father was going to explode one day, but he didn't know when. That day came on a Sunday night during the month of October of his junior year.
Up until that night, Brian never doubted his father's love. He had known ever since junior high that his father was disappointed in him, and ashamed of him. He was never going to be the son that his father wanted, and they both knew it. Brian could understand his father's feelings. He often felt disgusted and ashamed of himself. He was just as an unhappy to be Brian, as Bryce was to be his father. They both deserved a better fate in Brian's eyes. Brian knew his father didn't like him, and probably never would, but he was sure his father loved him.
Bryce Baker, like a lot fathers, very seldom showed open gestures of affection to their sons. Hugs and "I love you" rarely happened outside of Walton's Mountain. Bryce had his own way to show his love for Brian, and Brian understood that.
Brian seldom woke in the night without a glass of juice sitting on his nightstand. His father had lovingly placed it there before he had gone to bed. Bryce never admitted to it, but Brian it knew it was him. When Brian got older, a ten or twenty dollar bill could be found under the glass whenever Brian talked about needing some cash to buy an album or some clothes. Bryce would rant and rave about Brian staying over at Cassie's instead of going out to eat with them. "Let him starve! What should I care!" he would say as he left the house, but Brian could always count on finding a Burger Chef sack waiting for him in the oven when he came home.
Brian's father was working the swing shift and had just got out of bed, when he walked into the kitchen wearing nothing but his boxers. Brian was hunched over the kitchen sink, scrubbing his rubber basketball when he felt his father's eyes trained on him. Brian glanced up to confirm his suspicions and then returned his attention to the ball. Bryce kept burning his eyes into Brian until Brian turned and faced him. Brian had what can only be called a moment of temporary insanity, as looked his father dead in the eyes, and said, "What are you looking at?"
Brian didn't speak the words hatefully or sarcastically, but it was still enough to ignite the fire in Bryce Baker's eyes, the same fire that had been smoldering for 6 months.
Bryce's left hand grabbed the front of Brian's jersey, and he swung Brian around and into the kitchen wall as the basketball and brush went flying. Brian's head and back smacked the paneled and plastered wall, as dishes from a nearby shelf fell from the impact and shattered on the tile floor. Brian's head was pounding, his vision blurred, and his dinner threatened to bolt from his stomach. Bryce grabbed him with both hands, suspending him almost a foot off the floor, as he continued to pound Brian's head and back into the wall.
He finally stopped, pinning Brian to the wall, and placing his own face just inches from Brian's. When he finally spoke, his voice boomed in Brian's ears. "I'm not taking this shit one more day from you! You're going to show me some respect, or I swear to God, I'll beat you till I get it!"
Brian's head dropped to his chest, and that fired the rage within Bryce once again. "Damn you boy, look at me when I'm talking to you!"
Brian lifted his head to meet his father's eyes, and was shocked and sickened to find the anger and blind hate he found in them. Brian had seen his father angry before, but never like this.
Bryce continued to rage and shake his son like a rag doll. "You're too old to take the strap to boy; I ought to beat you like a man, even if you aren't one. C'mon... damn it... stand up to me! You had no problem running that mouth of yours at the gym that night. Why don't you try running it some now?"
Bryce let go Brian and he tumbled to the floor in a heap. Bryce wasn't anywhere near through yet. "C'mon boy, get up off that floor so I can have the pleasure of knocking you back down! Get up...get up you miserable little coward and fight me!"
Brian curled into a ball on the floor and sobbed. Bryce looked down at him in disgust. "Long hair and tears. Why in the hell don't I just buy you a dress and some pearls?"
Bryce was finally beginning to wind down, but he still had a few shots left to fire. "You spend all your time hanging out with that girly friend of yours next door. Hell, everyone in town knows she's a lesbian. I hate to think what that makes you!"
Brian coughed and finally spoke. "She's...not...a lesbian..." His words trailed off as he ran out of breath.
Bryce reached down and grabbed Brian by the throat. "You little bastard, you talk back to me again, and I WILL beat you...Let me tell you one last thing. You will never be the man that I am, and don't you ever forget it!" With his other hand, he smacked Brian across the face, and a small trickle of blood began to flow from Brian's nose. "Now get the hell out of my sight!"
Brian was sobbing and shaking as he crawled across the kitchen floor. He pulled himself up using the back door, and then stumbled out of the house. Mindlessly, he staggered across the lot toward the only safe place he knew, Cassie's house.
Brian made it just inside Cassie's back gate when he fell to his knees and began heaving and sobbing. Cassie ran over to him and held his shaking body until she could calm him enough to get the story out of him. She helped Brian into the house, and then got her parents in on it. They decided that Brian should stay the night. Cassie's parents wanted to call the police and report Brian's father but he begged them not to. They agreed not to call the police, but Cassie's mother had a conversation the next morning with Brian's mother and they agreed that Brian could stay with Cassie's parents for a while.
Cassie and her parents said that Brian was welcome to stay indefinitely if he wanted to, but Brian returned in two weeks. Things actually improved after Brian's temporary absence. Brian and his father at least spoke to each other, if only but a few words. Brian stayed at the family home until he graduated high school, but he never again found a glass of juice on his nightstand, or a Burger Chef bag waiting for him in the oven. If Bryce Baker still loved his son, Brian would never know it.
Brian and Cassie's last summer as high school students was at times, a lonely one for Brian. Cassie had been invited to several high profile basketball camps, and played for a traveling all-star team. Brian spent a lot of time alone on the same court; he and Cassie had lived on the past seven summers. Cassie missed her friend as well. Whenever she came home from a camp, she immediately called Brian and invited him over. She would share all the details of her adventure and which college coaches were in attendance. Brian would hang on her every word.
By the start of her senior year, Cassie didn't have to worry about going to college. Her only question was, "Which one to go to?" She had a number of full scholarship offers from colleges who were powerhouses in women's college basketball.
Brian on the other hand, hadn't a clue what the future would hold. The only thing he knew was that he was leaving home as soon as he graduated. He didn't care if he went to college or straight into the work force.
By the time basketball season rolled around, the school began to buzz with anticipation. Women's sports had never been popular, but everyone loves a winner, and when the Lady Pioneers reeled off 8 straight victories to start the season, fans starting jumping on the bandwagon.
The Lady Pioneers had a deep and talented team, but Cassie was the star, and sometimes a star can shine so bright that no one else gets the recognition they deserve.
Cassie never thought of herself as a one-woman team. She was a team player, and continually praised her teammates for there efforts, but every scout was there to see Cassie, every picture was of Cassie, and every word printed, seemed to be about Cassie. It didn't help that her own coach told the team that if they wanted to win the state championship, they better get on board the "Cassie" train.
Resentment and jealousy spread through the team and drove a wedge between Cassie, and the rest of the players. It manifested itself in the team’s play on the floor.
Players quit setting picks and screens to get Cassie the ball. Already a marked woman any time she set foot on the court, the opposition routinely double-teamed her. Cassie worked harder to get herself open, but even when she did, the ball didn't come to her. Blanketed by swarming defenses, and froze out by her own teammates, Cassie's scoring average tumbled, and her confidence fell with it.
Cassie tried to talk to several of the players, but they started freezing her out off the court as well. Without Cassie's offense to lead them, the Lady Pioneers began to stumble, and games became exercises in frustration for Cassie, her coach and the fans. The Lady Pioneers was a dysfunctional team and limped into the tournament sporting a 15 and 9 record. In a last gasp effort to mend the rift with her teammates, Cassie invited all the girls to her house for a party the night before their first game. During the course of the regular season, each player would host a team party the night before a game. Cassie's parties were always the favorite among her teammates. The girls could eat, listen to music, and play hoops all evening. This season no one had offered to host a game party, so Cassie felt it was the perfect time to reinstate the tradition. Cassie called Brian and asked if he would help her set up everything and of course he agreed. Brian knew how upset Cassie had become as the season progressed and her teammates became more blatant in their dislike for her. Like Cassie, he hoped this party might extend an olive branch and bring the girls together in time for the tournament. Brian poured the ice down over the sodas as Cassie sat out the last of the covered food dishes. They admired their work, and Cassie thanked Brian for all his help. She he even asked him if he wanted to hang out and stay for the party.
Brian smiled at Cassie, "Thanks Pistol, but this is a team party, and that's the whole purpose of the get together isn't it? Ya know...to be a team again. Besides, this is an all girl thing, remember?"
Cassie hugged her best friend and regarded him for a moment, "Well...you're the only guy I know that I would invite to this party." Cassie thought about her words, and realized that was phrased a bit awkward. She blushed a bit. "Uh, that was supposed to be a compliment. What I meant was, you are always welcome at my house, anytime. Okay?"
Brian smiled, "Yeah, I know what you meant, and believe me, I take it as the highest compliment you could give me. Listen, I better go before the girls get here. I'll be over at the house if ya need me."
Brian headed for the back gate, and Cassie bid him farewell. Brian walked across the lot, and a tear trickled from his eye. She had paid him the highest compliment and she didn't even realize it. Nothing in the world would have made him happier than to be on the guest list tonight. If he had been on Cassie's team, he would have been sure she got the ball. He could have tried to talk to his teammates, and convinced them that Cassie was a team player, and not the whole team. Brian stopped in the middle of the lot and thought. "Great plan Brian! Only one problem, ‘he’ doesn’t play on girl's basketball teams, and ‘he' doesn’t get invited to all girl parties." Brian didn't need to remind himself of that fact. His life was a constant reminder.
The party was scheduled to start at about seven. By 6:30, Cassie had gotten phone calls from three of her teammates, each sheepishly calling to cancel for a variety of reasons. The other five players never called, but by nine, it was evident that no one was coming. Brian had been sitting in his window and watching Cassie's backyard. The lack of music, laughter, and other girls made it obvious to Brian that Cassie had been stood up. Cassie looked at her table of snacks, the cooler of sodas, and broke down in tears. Brian couldn't sit by any longer and watch. He was at her back gate a few moments later. Seeing Brian, Cassie wiped the tears from her eyes.
She smiled at Brian, tears still fresh on her cheek. "You hungry or thirsty? I got plenty!"
Brian went to his friend and held her as she buried her head and sobbed.
She raised her head and spoke in a tear-choked voice, "Why Brian? Why do they all hate me? I've tried so hard to be friends with all of them. I always try to pass them the ball when they’re open. I cheered for them every time they make a good play, and I'm the first one to tell anyone to shake it off when the make a bad one. I know I get a lot of publicity. I'm not trying to make them feel insignificant. I can't help it if they keep putting my picture in the paper, and scouts come to the game to watch me. Every interview I have ever gave, I always mention the other players and how good they are...and there are some good players on this team, but.... but...I'm the only one who could put up 40 points if we need it. I'm good Brian. You know how hard I've worked to get here. What I am supposed to do? Feel sorry for them because they spent their summers at the beach instead of working on their games. Am I supposed to feel guilty because I'm this good? I really thought winning would bring us all together, but that didn't work. I thought maybe having this party might do it." Cassie waved her arms in the direction of the buffet table. "Well you can see how well that worked. Brian, they hate me so much...they would rather lose, than play with me and maybe have a chance of winning. Please Brian tell me what the hell I am supposed to do!"
Brian wished he had an answer that would ease his friend's pain, but he knew there was none. "There's nothing else you can do Pistol. Just know, this isn't your fault, and don't ever be ashamed for being good at what you love doing." Brian stayed with her long enough to clean everything up.
Cassie didn't sleep that night. By the time she got to the gym and starting shooting warm-ups, she was exhausted and distraught. Two of her teammates walked by her and asked her with a smirk, "How did your party go last night Cassie? You are a one woman team, so we thought you could be a one woman party!" The girls walked away laughing, and Cassie struggled to hold her tears back.
The game began as all the others had since the second half of the season. Her teammates wouldn't pass her the ball and the Lady Pioneers fell behind early. By halftime, Cassie had only five points and her team was down fourteen points. The coach knew there were problems between Cassie and her teammates, but originally she had decided to let them work it out on their own, but she'd finally had enough.
She ripped Cassie's teammates in her halftime speech. "Listen, I don't know what the hell has been going with this team, but the bull stops here. Whatever personal differences you have with each other can wait until you're off the court. I don't know if you guys realize this but this is the state tournament and if we lose here, the season is over. We're down 14 points to a team we can beat by 30 if we just play together." The coach scanned the room and every head was down, including Cassie. "I'm going to lay it on the line ladies. Cassie's the best damn player on this court and the best shooter in the state. She's got five points, and not a one of you is trying to get her the ball. Get over the petty jealousies, and get her the damn ball. We can't win if you don't. It's just that simple, ladies. You make the choice." The coach stormed out of the locker room. The players followed shortly thereafter. The girls talked among themselves, but no one talked to Cassie.
The second half was a terrible repeat of the first. Cassie couldn't shake the double teams, and when she did, the ball didn't come to her. With 10 minutes to go in the second half, the Lady Pioneers were down 25 and the game was over for all practical purposes. For Cassie, the realization that her teammates hated her so much, that they would rather lose than pass her the ball and win, overwhelmed her. She finally gave into the anger and frustration. She grabbed a rebound and started heading up court. She crossed the mid court line with one objective in mind. She was going straight to the hoop, and no one had better get in her way, teammate or opposition. She picked up her dribble and charged hard into the lane as a defender slipped in front of her. She released the ball and crashed into the defender, sending them both falling hard to the court. The referee correctly called an offensive foul on Cassie. The defender was shook up, but apparently uninjured. Cassie wasn't so lucky. She grabbed her left knee and winced in pain. Her coach and two players helped her to the bench. Fortunately, it was just a sprain, but Cassie would spend the last 10 minutes of her high school career, sitting on the bench, alone and dejected.
Brian waited with Cassie's parents outside the Lady Pioneer locker room, when Cassie finally came limping out. Brian hugged her and walked out of the gym with her, much the same way as they had earlier when Brian had ended his career. Brian sat in the back seat of the car with Cassie.
He tried to get her mind off high school basketball and help her plan for the future, both of their futures.
Cassie's sub par senior year had cost her some scholarship opportunities, but she still had a number of colleges offering her a full ride. She could have went out West to Stanford if she wanted a change of scenery, but in the end she decided to stay close to home and enrolled in West Virginia University. Cassie decided to become a Lady Mountaineer. West Virginia was not a women's basketball powerhouse, but had a good program and Cassie really liked their head coach when they had met on a tour of the university. Coach Spears had been a great college basketball player, and was well regarded as an excellent teacher. She was excited about playing for coach Spears, but that wasn't the only reason she chose West Virginia. Charleston was less than an hour from home, and best of all, she knew she could talk Brian into enrolling with her. All she would have to do was persuade him. Brian never had a chance.
Brian still hadn't decided if he even wanted to go to college. His parents had set aside the money for it, so funds were no problem. He just wasn't sure he wanted to go through four more years of not fitting in. The other problem was he had no burning desire to become anything. No career ever seemed to beckon to him. He didn't want to waste four years and come away with nothing.
Cassie knew how Brian felt, so she began gently working on him. She told him that lots of kids don't know what they want to do when they first get to college. She was sure he would find something if he just gave it a try. He was leaning and then she finally got him when she said they could both go to West Virginia and share an apartment instead of separate dorms. Brian had no desire to be chastised in some fraternity hazing tradition, and Cassie said she'd end up killing some stupid little "giggle wiggle" at a sorority house, the first time one of them fainted at the sight of some cute pizza delivery boy. The two best friends continued their life's adventure together on the campus of West Virginia University in the fall of 1980.
There are those who say the true test of friendship is when two friends live together. Cassie and Brian passed this test with flying colors. The teamwork they showed on the court was evident in their management of the apartment and their daily lives. They pretty much shared everything, from expenses, to cooking, to cleaning.
Cassie found her major straight away. She selected primary and intermediate education with a minor in physical education. In the fall of 1980, there was no WNBA, ABL, or any established professional women's basketball league in the United States. The only place a woman could play professionally was overseas. Cassie didn't know if she would ever be that good, and if she was, she didn't know if she ever wanted to be that far away from home, her family, or her best friend. She had to plan for a practical career here in the United States, and if there was any way she could include her love of sports and children, she wanted to. The choice was obvious. As a teacher, she could be with children, stay active in sports, and offer a great deal of assistance to any young girl who aspired to be a basketball star. Teaching and coaching was the perfect fit. Teachers didn't make big money, but the job had a great deal of satisfaction and it had one big fringe benefit. The gym teacher gets to keep the keys to the gym! That fact is worth a million dollars in salary to a hoop junkie.
Brian was much less sure of his direction and it didn't get any clearer during his first year. He decided he was not going to find his heart's desire in a college catalogue. His heart's desire was not offered by any college curriculum. He had to go at this with a practical approach. He had to come out of this with something he could use to make a living, even if it didn't inspire him like Cassie's career did her. He finally settled on a general course of office skills and computer sciences. Brian had noticed that computers seemed to be invading every facet of life these days. It might be to his advantage to get on board now, and become proficient with basic computer skills. He chose general office skills as the perfect compliment.
On the whole, both Cassie and Brian found college to be a positive experience. The fact that Brian was away from his father and living with his best friend was reason enough to be happy. But it was more than that. On such a large campus, Brian could be nearly invisible if he chose. Sure, at times he might get lonely, especially if Cassie was gone, but all he had to do was go over the food court, or the Student Union building and he could be around people, without being with people. College also opened his mind to a wealth of information he never knew existed. It is also where he met his first route guide on a long journey of self-discovery.
For Cassie, college represented a chance to take her love of basketball to the highest level. This was college now, and she hoped she would find a team full of women who had her same passion for basketball, her will to win, and had matured enough to put petty high school jealousies behind them. For the most part, she was not disappointed. The petty jealousies never reared their ugly head, and these women did have a passion for basketball, but they also had a passion to party. Cassie didn't share that with them, but she wasn't chastised for it. Coach Spears became the friend and teacher Cassie had hoped. Cassie's four years with her as coach were the most productive of her career.
College brought Cassie the ultimate challenge; finally she could go face to face with the best amateur ball players in the woman's game. It was the only way she could truly gauge her own skills, and prove how good she really was. Over the course of four years, Cassie proved her excellence often.
Socialization was a little more important to Cassie than Brian. The boy was content to be either alone or with Cassie, but Cassie wanted more. She craved interaction with young women like her, women who were serious about their education, enjoyed sports, and liked to have fun without being a sorority bimbo.
Contrary to the rumors spread through out high school, Cassie was very much a healthy heterosexual woman, and like most women her age, she enjoyed the company of a handsome young man. Cassie had but a handful of dates in high school. She was still a virgin and was going to stay that way until marriage, but she appreciated a handsome young man's looks, and it felt good to be on his arm, and considered desirable. Opportunities for women friends and boy friends, both presented themselves to Cassie within her freshman year. Cassie joined a women's athletic group, and a group for elementary education majors. She also received her share of invites to parties and dates. A lot of her dates were one-time affairs. Most prospective suitors lost interest when they found out Cassie didn't drink and didn't sleep around.
Brian didn't date, and professed no interest. Only at the extreme insistence of Cassie did he reluctantly agree to allow her to set him up. Cassie usually tried to fix him up with one of the girls from either her social groups or the basketball team. The dates were all pretty much complete failures, but not for the reason most dates went bad. It wasn't that Brian couldn't keep his hands off the girls, it was the fact he wouldn't put one on them. These were young women who expected their man to at least show them a little affection, and when Brian didn't, they were obviously insulted. He also didn't drive, so he always had to double with Cassie. He was so uncomfortable and shy that Cassie could barely coax a word out of him. He had a hard time making eye contact with his date, but on occasion he would stare at her when he thought she wasn't looking. His date would usually catch him, and that made them both feel uncomfortable. Usually this made for short dates, and a lousy time for all parties. Cassie and Brian would come back to the apartment and Cassie would ask him what was wrong. Brian would never give her a straight answer, and usually went to his room. Cassie could hear him crying through the door. She wanted to help him, but she didn't know how. After a few of those date disasters, she refused to put Brian through it anymore. She resigned herself to the fact that Brian would come out of his shell when he was ready. There wasn't anything else she could do for now.
Cassie was talking to one of her friends that had gone out with Brian once. Cassie confided in her that Brian had no trouble being with her, and he was reasonably relaxed being around her friends at the games, but as soon as it became a date situation, he just pulled himself into a shell. Her friend raised the question of Brian's sexual preference to Cassie.
"Well Cassie, did he ever date? Even in high school? Look, I'm not saying he's one way or another, but you have to admit, if he was gay, that might explain why he's not comfortable dating women, or why he's never made a pass at you in all these years."
Cassie told her friend she was wrong about Brian. He was just shy and lacked confidence, but in the back of her mind, the thought began to bother her. "What if," she thought, "What if?" In reality, she hoped he wasn't. Brian had a tough enough life as it was, without embracing an alternative life style. Still, she loved him unconditionally, and if he did come to her with that, she knew she could accept it, and be there for him.
The conversation with her friend stayed on her mind into her next class. She kept thinking about all the years she had spent with Brian and looking for any clues he might have dropped her. She still painfully recalled the night they drank the Little Kings, and the alcohol induced pass she made at him. Of course nothing happened, as they both got sick before it could. But would anything have happened that night? Brian and Cassie had discussed almost everything, and shared their most intimate thoughts, but Brian had never discussed sex with her. She had babbled on and on to him about boys she thought were cute ever since junior high. Brian always listened patiently, and aside from looking a little embarrassed at times, never once complained. He never once talked about having a crush on any girl at high school or college. Of course, there was the one night at her house. The night they were just horsing around, and then Brad came home and turned the good-natured fun into a nightmare.
If anyone asked her about it she would tell him or her it was none of his or her damned business. If pressed, she would say he was straight. He did have one quality that all heterosexual men seemed to possess. Whenever they would go anywhere, out to eat, or out to the store, there was a definite look of desire in Brian's eyes whenever a beautiful girl would walk by. Perhaps all the rest was just that shyness of his. No matter what, he was her friend and nothing would ever change that.
During his sophomore year, he finally got another woman in his life, only she didn't become his girlfriend, she became his counselor, and she helped him find himself and his soul within.
Brian had seen some fliers about counselors being available to students on campus. They were free and completely confidential. He made a few inquires, and cancelled one appointment before meeting with Marie Childers. She was very patient and positive in her understanding. Brian was comfortable with her from their first meeting, and began to open up and tell her things; he had never shared with anyone. Once he started, it all came forth like a dam bursting. Marie Childers had seen this before. Brian had all the signs, and her heart went out to this troubled young soul. After her first few meetings, and the psychological test she gave Brian, she knew what Brian was probably going to have to do to have some measure of happiness. She was going to have to tell him there was no cure for what he had, only treatment. Before she could discuss that, Brian would have to continue his painful journey of self-discovery. Ultimately the final decision was of course his.
Brian continued to see Marie regularly until he graduated. He told Cassie he was in counseling to help him resolve issues with his father, and to deal with socialization anxiety. Cassie thought it was a great idea. She didn't know if Brian was telling her the whole truth, but it didn't matter. He was talking to someone, and that's all that mattered to her.
Brian didn't like lying to Cassie, but he wasn't ready to discuss something with her that he himself was just learning about. It was too big, and too close to the heart. He wanted to talk to her about it when he could do it intelligently and confidently. He also didn't want to do anything that could side track her from her studies or her basketball. When the time was right, he would tell her.
Nothing sidetracked Cassie from her studies or her basketball. She maintained the good grades she had gotten in high school and her basketball was by far the best of her career. Coach Spears brought out the best in all her players, and with Cassie it was easy. She was the most talented player on the squad, and the most dedicated. She had to practically drag Cassie off the court after practice, and in the end, just gave her a key to the locker room and court so she could practice on her own. Brian and she continued the spirited workouts they had held ever since junior high. Cassie's game rose to the next level, and she made a name for herself by the end of her freshman year.
Brian loved coming to Cassie's games. The crowds weren't huge, but very vocal and extremely supportive. It wasn't long before Cassie's ability, heart, and hustle had made her a fan favorite. The five foot, eight-inch guard finished her career at West Virginia as the school's all time leading scorer in both men's and women's basketball. She was voted a second team all-American by the polls and received numerous other accolades.
Brian finished his four years at West Virginia, with far less notoriety, but he did graduate in the upper half of his class. He got a valuable education, but it wasn't the computer classes he had passed that would shape his future, it was those weekly sessions with Marie that would make the true impact.
Brian and Cassie were faced with a painful reality. For the first time in twelve years their lives could be taking separate directions.
Brian wasn't sure what he was going to do next. He knew what he wanted to do, and he felt like he was ready to begin the journey, but he wasn't sure if he was ready to tell Cassie. Cassie was the one person he never wanted to lose. Many times she had said her love for him was unconditional, but this was one hell of a condition.
Cassie had planned to apply for a teaching position with several different school systems. She even thought about doing her own version of "Welcome Back Kotter," by applying at Pine Haven Elementary. She was hopeful that both her and Brian could find work close enough to continue sharing an apartment. She was confident that she could live alone, but she worried about Brian. Until one of them got married, or wanted to live alone, she saw no reason why they wouldn't share a place.
Cassie got a phone call from her college coach about six weeks after graduation that provided the reason why they would no longer share an apartment or each other's life. Professional basketball wanted Cassie! Coach Spears had taken the liberty of sending some of Cassie's game films to a friend of her’s in Spain. Her friend, Nancy Pruitt, was coach and general manager of the Barcelona Bombers, a professional women's team in the European League. Nancy was so impressed with the films of Cassie she was already on her way over from Spain to meet her. Coach Spears told Cassie that Nancy wouldn't be coming all the way from Spain to just give her a work out. She'd be coming with a contract in one hand, and a pen in the other. All Cassie would have to do is sign.
After Cassie got off the phone with Coach Spears, she went straight to the fridge, and got out a pint of Death By Chocolate ice cream. As she devoured each spoonful of her frozen comfort food, she weighed the pros and cons of the decision before her. Pro: A chance to go to the highest level of women's basketball and play against, and with the best players in the world. Pro: A chance to travel all over Europe and get paid for doing it! Con: She would have to leave her country and her family behind. Con: She would have to leave Brian behind. Unable to sort it out, she picked up the phone and called home. It took her mother almost twenty minutes to calm her down enough to make sense of her ramblings. They both agreed the best thing to do was for Cassie to come home, and discuss this as a family. Nancy Pruitt would be arriving from Barcelona and expecting her at Coach Spears office tomorrow at four p.m. She had plenty of time to drive home and spend the night with her parents. She would hopefully arrive at a decision and then drive back to the apartment the next morning. Brian wasn't home yet, so she left him a note on his bedroom door.
"Brian, Got great news, maybe. Going home for the night. Please wait for me here tomorrow. Will explain everything then. Love, Pistol."
Brian pulled the note from his door and smiled lovingly. He thought to his self "I can only imagine what she's gotten us into this time." Of all the things that Brian considered might constitute "good news", he never imagined that any of them could spell the end of their friendship.
Cassie came back to the apartment just before noon. She was nervous and uneasy. Brian watched her flitting about the apartment for a while and then finally corralled her to the sofa.
He took her hand and spoke softly. "Okay Pistol, you leave me this cryptic note about ‘good news.’ You tell me to wait on you, and then when you come home, you fly around this place like a five foot, eight-inch tinker bell. So...give! What's this good news of yours?"
Cassie took a deep breath, searched for the words and then began. "What if I told you I had a chance to play professional women's basketball?"
Brian's eyes lit up. "Whoa Pistol! That is great news! It's your dream come true!"
He hugged her until the reality of the news set in. He pulled back and threw her the obvious question. "Hey, are they starting up some new women's pro league here in the states?"
Cassie didn't answer; instead she just dropped her head.
"Well if they haven't started up a new league here then..." Brian's voice trailed off as he realized just what Cassie's "good news" truly meant. "So...when are you leaving for Europe, Pistol?" Brian tried to hold a smile, but the color had drained from his face, and Cassie could see how badly he was hurt.
"Hey, I don't even know if I really want to go. I mean they're just sending someone over to talk to me. They might take one look at my game, and catch the next flight back to Barcelona. Heck...the only Spanish I know is Taco Bell!" Cassie tried to downplay it all, but Brian knew Cassie better than anyone, and he knew this was her ultimate dream. It was every bit as important to her, as his dream was to him, and he wasn't about to let her miss the opportunity to live it.
"Don't give me that bull girl! I know you too well, and I also know that nobody's going to come all the way from Spain, just to check out your game. If they're coming, then they're coming to sign your butt! In a way, I can't believe it, but we both know you're good enough, so I guess I shouldn't be surprised. What did your folks say when you told them?"
Cassie shifted her weight and pulled one leg up under her before speaking. "They said it was my call. After I meet with this team rep, if I am satisfied with what she offers, then... I have their blessings to go for it." Her eyes searched Brian's looking for a reaction to her statement.
Brian didn't make Cassie wait long to hear his true feelings. "Cass, I know you haven't asked me what I think you should do. Hell, you're a big girl. And girl, you sure don't need my permission or blessing, but I love you and I got to tell you how I feel about this."
He paused a moment to collect his thoughts. "If you don't do this, you'll regret it for the rest of your life, and before you give me any of this crap about not being good enough, we both know you are. You've been given the chance to live the dream you've had ever since you were a little girl. You may never get this chance again, and if there's one thing I've learned from three years of counseling, it's you have to go for your dreams, no matter what. Cassie, some people have dreams that are so impossible they will never come true. Trust me, I know. But your dream is possible. It's standing right in front of you. Grab it girl and don't let go!"
He squeezed Cassie's hand and smiled. "C'mon, Pistol, think about it! Playing basketball with the best players in the world, running around all over Europe, and they're crazy enough to pay you to do it! Just try not to knock over the Leaning Tower of Pisa, or get war declared on the U.S. all right?"
Tears filled Cassie's eyes as she hugged her best friend. She pulled back to ask him one last question. "But...what will you do Brian? I mean...where are you going to stay once I'm gone? I don't like the idea of you living alone Brian. If you want, I could call my parents. I bet you could crash at their place for as long as you want, or until you figured out what you wanted to do. They love you to death Brian. You know you're just like one of the family as far as they’re concerned. I know you’re not even thinking about going back to your parent's house."
Brian shook his head and answered. "No way would I go back home, besides, my folks are selling the place. They were just waiting for me to graduate. Dad's taking early retirement, and they're buying a condo in Arizona. As far as moving in with your folks, I just wouldn't feel right. I mean I love them too. They've been so kind to me, but I don't want to live with them. Cassie, I always knew this day would come. I just didn't know it would be today."
Brian and Cassie held each other, as tears rolled down both of their faces. Brian was the first to speak. "So...what time do you meet this rep?"
Cassie wiped a tear from her eye and spoke. "Four o'clock at Coach Spears office."
Brian looked up at the wall clock. "Well C'mon Pistol! You'd better get your tail in gear if you're going to have time to grab a shower. Don't eat anything either! We're going out for pizza to celebrate when you come back, and since you're a big shot pro athlete now, you can buy!"
Cassie kissed Brian on the forehead and gave her best Jackie Gleason. "Baby, your da greatest!"
Cassie made it to coach Spear's office with ten minutes to spare. When she walked in, she saw her coach talking with another woman who could only be Nancy Pruitt. Cassie had heard of Nancy Pruitt long before her coach had called her. Nancy was a former all-American, famous for her fearless style of play. As a coach and owner, she still possessed those same qualities. When Cassie came in, she immediately introduced herself, and starting talking terms. She explained the contract in detail, and what Cassie should expect her life to be like living and playing ball in Europe. She told Cassie she realized this was a big decision, but she could only give her 24 hours to think about it. The new season was starting in a few weeks, and she had to get her players under contract right away. Cassie didn't make her new coach wait one more minute. She signed the contract before leaving the office.
Brian was standing out front of Andy's Pizza when Cassie pulled up in her firebird. Brian didn't have to ask her. He could tell by the look in her eyes, and he met her with a bear hug before she could speak a word.
He released her from his embrace and spoke. "So...when are you leaving?"
Cassie smiled impishly. "Ummm...two weeks. You want to help me pack, pleeease!"
As Brian led her into the restaurant he uttered, "Good thing we're going for pizza. I'm going to need all the strength I can get to move all your junk!" Two laughs echoed through the foyer of the restaurant.
Brian and Cassie had just finished loading up the U-haul, and were taking a break before making the drive to her parent's house in Jamestown. Cassie broke the silence. "Brian...have you figured out yet what you're going to do when I leave. I'd feel better if I knew you had some kind of plan or something."
Brian had a plan all right, but he was not ready to share it with Cassie. The last thing he wanted to do was ruin their last few days together. "Actually Pistol, I do have a plan, but...I'm not sure if I'm ready to discuss it yet. It's kind of a surprise, a big surprise, and I'm not ready to spring it on ya yet."
Cassie was fishing for something a little more definite, but whatever it was, Brian seemed excited enough about it, so that made her feel a little better. "Make me a promise Brian. Whatever this ‘plan’ of yours is, promise you will share it with me when you are ready."
Brian gave in easy. "No problem Pistol. I promise. Now let's see about getting you some good home cooking before you leave for Spain. You want to stop at Burger Chef?"
Cassie had to laugh. "Once a goof, always a goof!"
Two weeks after Cassie had signed the contract she was standing in the airport saying good-bye to her parents and her best friend. All four were in tears as they said their good-byes.
Cassie gave Brian one last hug, and a few kind words. "You know, I wouldn't be getting on this flight without you, and all those years of practice and support you gave me."
Brian returned, "And I wouldn't be alive without you. Knock'em dead, Pistol!"
Cassie disappeared into the tunnel. He would speak to Cassie once by phone, and exchange a few letters, but it would be 17 years before he would see his friend again, and Cassie would never see Brian again.
Brian returned to the apartment. He knew it would be quiet and lonely without his best friend, but he hadn't realized just how empty the place would look without her things. Brian started feeling empty himself. For the first time in twelve years, the knight wasn't there to rescue the princess. Brian and Cassie had always done everything together, and tonight would be no different. As Brian sat in an empty apartment and cried, somewhere high over the Atlantic, tears flowed from Cassie's eyes as well.
During the next four years, Cassie lived her dream and Brian went in search of his. Cassie loved experiencing Europe, playing in front of capacity crowds, and going head to head with the best ball players in the world. It was everything she'd hoped it would be. The only thing missing was having her family and best friend to share it with. She missed her parents terribly and continually worried about Brian. Brian had given her every reason to worry. By the time she had returned home for her visit it was Christmas and she hadn't heard from Brian in three months. As soon as she got to her parent's place, she started searching for him. She knew he had moved out of their apartment in September. He told her that he had an opportunity he was going to check out. If he decided to go for it, he would have to move out of state. Cassie never found out if he went for it, because Brian never wrote again. She couldn't contact his parents. They had sold the house and moved to Arizona, but no one knew what city. Cassie didn't know what else to do but start calling every possible person who might know where Brian could have gone. She called his college counselor, Marie, but if she had any idea where Brian was, she wasn't telling. Cassie returned to Spain in January of 1985, deeply worried about her missing friend.
It would be two years before she would get her next lead on Brian's whereabouts. Charlotte Baker called Cassie's mother to pass on some news to Cassie that she thought she would want to know. Brian's father, Bryce had passed away earlier that month from heart disease. She thought that Cassie, being Brian's best friend, would want to know about it even if she was in Spain. Charlotte asked Cassie's mother if she knew whether or not Brian was still in contact with Cassie. When she told her that Cassie hadn't heard from Brian in two years, she broke into tears. It seems Brian hadn't stayed in contact with his parents either. In two years, he had sent them one postcard. It read, "I'm working, learning, and living. Love Brian." The only thing she knew about her son's life was that it was in New York. She had a post office box for Brian in New York, but no street address or phone. When Bryce was admitted to the hospital, she sent Brian a letter. He called her three days later and flew to Phoenix the next day. Bryce died the day after Brian got there. Brian stayed long enough for the funeral and then returned to New York.
His mother tried to get him to talk about what he was doing in New York, but all he would tell her was that he had a job at an insurance company, lived in a small apartment and was seeing a therapist. He wouldn't tell her why he was seeing a therapist or anything else for that matter. Charlotte was concerned about her son and hoped that Cassie might know something she could share. Charlotte was even more worried when she found out that Brian hadn't confided in his best friend. Whatever Brian was doing, he had decided to share it with no one.
Cassie's mom wrote her in Barcelona, explaining all that she knew from her conversation with Charlotte. She also forwarded Brian's post office address. Cassie sent two quick notes, but never received an answer.
On Cassie's next U.S. visit, she called insurance companies all over New York trying to find Brian, but never got so much as a lead. On a visit in the fall of the same year, she tried to contact Brian's mom to see if she'd heard anything more on Brian, but her number had been disconnected. After three years of searching, Cassie was forced to accept the fact that if Brian was still alive, he didn't want to be found. All she could do is pray he was safe and hope he would contact her when he was ready.
Cassie was within six months of finishing her four-year contract with the Bombers. Just like in college, she had become a fan favorite and Nancy was trying to talk her into signing on for at least two more years. Cassie was very close to signing when she met someone who offered her a better deal. His name was Craig, Craig Chandler.
Craig was tall, athletically built with blue eyes, blonde hair and a disarming smile that was second in magic only to Cassie's. Cassie had caught Craig's eye when he had attended a few of her games. He soon became a regular behind the Bomber's bench. One night after the game, he walked up to her while she was signing autographs. Six foot three, blonde-haired Americans tend to stick out in the crowds of shorter Europeans, especially when they are as handsome as Craig. Cassie definitely noticed him, as the autograph seekers surrounded her. He patiently waited for the crowd to disperse and then walked up to her. She looked up into his blue eyes and felt as silly as a sixteen-year-old "giggle wiggle." She returned his smile with her own and asked him if he wanted an autograph. He regarded her for a moment, but to Cassie it seemed like minutes before he finally spoke.
"Sure, I'd be honored. You're a heck of a ball player, but I got to admit, I'd rather have your company for dinner one night. That is, if you would grant me the privilege."
Cassie blushed. She couldn't remember the last time she had blushed. The whole thing was getting more ridiculous by the moment and Cassie had to put a stop to it.
"Thanks for the invite," she said, "but I think you'll have to settle for an autograph." With that said, Cassie turned and headed to the locker room. Craig watched her disappear from view and thought to himself, "I'll settle for your autograph tonight Miss Cassie Miller, but only for tonight."
The Bombers were in Barcelona for the whole week and Cassie received roses at the main office for 5 consecutive days. Each delivery had a card enclosed with the same message, "Cassie, how about that dinner? Call me, please! Craig." His number was on the back of the card. The girls on the team and in the office were really razzing Cassie. After the fifth day of roses, she decided to call him and put a stop to the whole thing. When she dialed the number, she reached an answering service. Her Craig was a doctor, a pediatrician at St. Isabel's in Barcelona. She left her number and in about thirty minutes he called her back. He had late night rounds in the children's ward and had only a few minutes to chat. Cassie had called him to put a stop to the flowers, but after ten minutes of conversation, she found herself agreeing to meet him for lunch at Francisco's.
A one-hour lunch turned into dinner and Cassie didn't make it back to her apartment until midnight. She had learned a lot about her admirer. He was from Denver, Colorado. He studied pediatrics at Colorado University, before interning at St. Jude's Children's Hospital. He volunteered for a physician exchange program two years ago and was planning to return to Denver. He hoped to start his own practice there. Cassie had accompanied him to the hospital that evening. He had to check in on several children. She stood by the doorway and marveled at the way he interacted with them. He had such a way with children. He definitely had made the right career choice and many children were destined to benefit from it.
The next morning, the Bombers began a road trip that would take them to Paris, Rome and Athens, before returning ten days later and Craig was there at the airport to see her off.
Over the next few months they spent all their free time together and with Spain, France, Italy and Greece as a romantic backdrop, Cassie couldn't help but fall in love.
Cassie's final season as a Barcelona Bomber ended in June of 1988. When she flew back to the states, she wasn't alone. Craig was with her, and she had accepted his proposal of marriage. They decided to fly into Charleston, and then rent a car to drive down to Jamestown. Cassie would introduce her future husband to her parents, and give the three of them a few days to get to know each other. At the end of the week, they could return to Charleston and catch a flight to Denver. It would then be Cassie's turn to get know her new in-laws.
Both meetings went exceptionally well, as Cassie's parents were captivated by Craig's charm, and Cassie found Craig's parents to be as down-to-earth, and accepting as her own. Cassie returned to Charleston a week later, and began preparations for the wedding. Normally, it could take up to a year to get everything scheduled, but Cassie and Craig didn't want to wait that long. Craig was ready to get his practice started in Denver, and begin married life with Cassie. Cassie was equally as anxious, but just as she didn't believe in pre-marital sex, she also didn't think it was appropriate for them to live together without being married.
Ex-round-baller Cassie was not foolish enough to think she could live in the same house with her love, and be able to resist temptation. Craig had suggested they just go to the Justice-of-the-Peace, and get a marriage license, but Cassie wanted a proper wedding. She was only going to do this once, and it had to be special. Cassie's father came to the rescue. He pulled a few strings, and called in a few favors. By the time he was finished, Craig and Cassie had a wedding date for the last Saturday in July.
The day Cassie walked down the aisle with her father, she couldn't have been any happier. She was surrounded by the love of family and friends. She was just minutes from being married to a handsome, loving man. She was about to embark on an exciting chapter of her life. It was the happiest day of her life, except for one small detail. Among those faces in the crowd, one very special one was absent. She so wished her best friend was here to share this moment with her. A tear formed in her eyes as she stopped before the altar and thought, "Oh Brian, I wish you could see me now. I'm so happy and I wish I could share it with you."
The couple honeymooned in Hawaii for two weeks before returning to Denver to begin their new life. They found a beautiful old five bedroom home just minutes from Denver. Craig got his practice started, and Cassie began her teaching career. Cassie's marriage to Craig seemed like a fairy tale, and the story got better when two years later the couple was blessed with a baby boy, Devon. Two years after that they were blessed again. This time Cassie had a beautiful baby girl, Amanda.
Every child knows how a really good fairy tale ends. It always ends with everyone living "happily ever after". Cassie hoped her fairy tale life would follow the same path, but she was soon to find out that "happily ever after" in real life rarely happens. Five years after the fairy tale had began, the magic was gone, and Cassie was forced to deal with the painful realities of the real world.
Cassie had no idea that she would find anything other than her husband pouring over x-rays and reports when she picked up lunch for the both of them on a surprise visit. The office door was locked for the lunch hour. Luckily, Cassie had a key. She opened the door and quietly walked back to her husband's examination room. She had wanted to surprise him. When she opened the door, she not only surprised Craig, but herself and the young woman he was playing doctor with. Cassie stormed out of the office in tears, and returned home. Her next move would depend on whether or not Craig would be willing to tell her the truth, and if she could believe him.
Craig swore it was a one-time happening, and then while Cassie was still trying to put the pieces of her world back together, she caught him yet again. Finally, the truth came out. Doctor Chandler had been making house calls to a number of ladies in the Denver area, and had been for over a year. He told Cassie that he felt she spent too much time with the children and not enough with him. His emotional and physical needs were not being met, so he had went elsewhere to satisfy them. Cassie took the children and returned to her parent's home in Jamestown soon after his confession.
Leaving him a note that read, "Craig, you have lost your wife and children. You no longer have to worry about competing for my attention, so feel free to go find someone else who can satisfy your needs. Craig, you are a fool and a hypocrite. You're a fool, because you have lost a woman and two children who love you very much. You are a hypocrite, because you are a pediatrician who's jealous of his own children. I hope you find whatever it is you are looking for. Love, Cassie," and then was gone.
Emotionally crushed she and the kids moved into her parents house. Craig called her nightly, begging her to come back, and swearing the only woman he wanted in his life was she. After a month, she asked her parents if they would watch the children for a few days. She decided to go to Denver and talk to Craig one last time. He had no idea she was coming when her plane landed at Denver International. Cassie caught a cab from the airport that evening.
Just as the cab rolled to a stop in front of her house, Cassie saw the porch light come on and out stepped Craig. She smiled, but then her heart sank as she realized he wasn't alone. She watched the two embrace on the same threshold her husband had carried her over five years ago. She told the driver to take her back to the airport. She returned to Jamestown, called Craig, and asked him for a divorce. She never told him that she had been there that night. She saw no point in trying. There was nothing left to save.
Craig finally gave into Cassie's demands and they were divorced in March of 1994. Cassie and her children stayed at her parent's home. Cassie was fast approaching 31 and she assessed her life to date. She was a divorced mother of two, who lived with her parents, was unemployed, and hadn't seen her best friend in nearly ten years. This was a time in her life she really needed Brian, but he was just another shattered piece of her world, and with two children who desperately needed her, she didn't have the time to start looking for that missing piece again.
Cassie and the kids continued to stay with her parents even after Cassie got a teaching position that fall at Pine Haven Elementary. On a teacher's salary alone it would have been very difficult for Cassie to make ends meet. Fortunately her parents loved having her and the kids there, as much as the kids loved having on site grandparents. Craig may not have been committed to Cassie, but he was committed to the children, and his child support checks were always on time.
In 1999, Cassie's parents retired, moved to Florida as they had always planned, and left the house to her and the kids. She'd become the classic single parent, constantly trying to balance career, home life, and checkbook. Life hadn't quite turned out to be what she had hoped. Her little girl dreams of playing professional basketball had came true, and it had been as wonderful as she hoped. She had to leave her home to do it, but seeing Europe had been incredible. She thought she found the perfect man in Craig, handsome, professional, dedicated, and loving.
The problem was, he was "dedicated to loving" other women. Cassie knew she did the right thing when she left Craig, but doing the "right thing", didn't change the fact she was hurt, confused, and still in love with him. Even though Craig couldn't seem to give her his fidelity, he had given her two wonderful blessings in the form of Devon, and Amanda.
The ex-professional hoopster, Cassie Miller was fast approaching a time in her life where basketball, while still being a love, was no longer a competitive challenge for excellence; it was now about exercise and just having fun. She had become just another old hoop junkie enjoying a kid's game with her friends.
Moving into the twenty-first century with her priorities in order, if not necessarily her life, Cassie taught grade school and coached girls' basketball for the 5th and 6th grade team. She kept the bills paid, the house in order, and devoted every possible minute to the most important task in her life, raising her children. She tried hard to be the best mother she could possibly be. She was interested, involved, supportive, stern when necessary, but always loving.
The primary male in her life, Devon was going to be tall and handsome like his father. He was also a gifted athlete. By age 11, his talent at quarterback had already caught the eye of high school coaches.
The passion of her life, Amanda, or Mandy as she was usually called, was definitely her mother's daughter. She was fast becoming a sports legend on the same sandlot and basketball court that her mother had carved a reputation on some twenty years earlier. Cassie saw so much of her daughter in her. She had the same green eyes, same impish smile, and same passion for sports that once burned within Cassie. She only wished her daughter had a best friend like her Brian to share these times with.
The stories of her youth usually included her sidekick Brian, and the bittersweet memories would tear at her heart. Cassie would tell her kids the stories of the happy times she had spent on her court and the sandlot next door. Sometimes she would shoot baskets in the middle of the night, long after the kids were in bed. Often she would stop, stare into the stars, and wonder if Brian still thought of her.
The Two-fifteen from Los Angeles arrived on time in Charleston, West Virginia. Among those exiting from the gate was one, Rebecca, even if she doesn't use it much, "Becky" Marie Taylor. Becky hadn't been back in Charleston for almost seventeen years. Charleston had changed a great deal since her last visit, but then again, so had Becky. The young woman walked over to baggage claim, picked up her two suitcases and travel bag and then walked into the ladies room to check her hair and face. It had been a long flight and she was sure she could use a little repair work.
Standing in front of the floor length mirror, she had to laugh. She truly was a far cry from the skinny, stoop-shouldered, confused college kid who had left from this same airport so long ago. It had taken a lot of soul-searching, hard work, pain, money, and surgery, but Becky had finally come to peace with the reflection before her. She was no Suzanne Summers, but at 38, with the right make-up and clothes, she wasn't a bad looking woman. Tall, straight-backed, and slender, her athletic body was in excellent shape for a woman her age.
Taking a final overview of her body before touching up her make-up, she pulled her long skirt up over her knees and examined her legs. The pantyhose did a good job of concealing a childhood full of scars accumulated from bike wrecks, baseball slides, and numerous battles with asphalt from basketball courts. In the woman's view, her legs were too skinny, her hips too narrow, and her waist to wide, yet it is the nature of all women to be their bodies own worse critic. Becky knowing that, grudgingly accepted these imperfections as more a figment of her imagination than reality.
Smoothing her blouse and vest, she brushed lint from the top of her blouse, and adjusted her bra straps. She regarded her breasts for a moment. She had thought of having breast augmentation, but decided against it. She was a slightly undersized 36B, making her a cup size smaller than her mother. It might be nice to have a bit more, she had often thought, but with no desire to be a Dolly Parton clone, she never pursued it.
The beige silk blouse complimented the soft earth tones in her matching skirt and vest. Tall brown boots and matching bag completed the ensemble.
Becky picked out her recently permed, shoulder-length hair. It was too thin to suit Becky, but it was a lovely shade of ash-blonde, and the spiral curl had given it a fullness that softened Becky's long, angular face. The make-up had brought out her blue eyes and enhanced her cheekbones. The facelift and rhinoplasty had wiped away a few wrinkles, and removed the hump in her nose she had gotten when she was eight-years-old and rolled off the top bunk of her friend's bunk bed. Becky raised her hand to her throat. Her fingers touched a small white scar, a reminder of the surgery that had left her voice with a smoky, raspy quality. It was deeper than she had hoped, but still softer and more feminine than it had been before.
Realizing fashion, make-up, and medical science had done about all they could for her she exited the ladies room and made her way through the airport to the cab stand. Immediately, a cabby greeted her, took her bags, and helped her into the taxi. With a demure smile, the woman thanked the man. Having doors opened for her and getting the ladies treatment was still kind of a rush for Becky.
Most women nearing 40 probably didn't give it a second thought, but once again, Becky wasn't like most women her age. The smiling gray-haired cabby asked her if this was her first trip to Charleston. Becky thought for a moment before answering, "No, not really, but its been seventeen years since I've been back and that seems like a lifetime."
The driver used the seventeen years as an excuse to describe and point out many of the changes that had occurred since her last visit. He deposited her and her bags at the entrance to the Roadway Inn. Smiling again, she tipped him accordingly; she'd always been a sucker for older men.
The wind whipped at Becky's skirt. Though quite windy it was unseasonably warm for February. Checking in at the desk, then making her way through the corridors to her room, she dropped the bags just inside the door, flopped on the queen-sized bed, and finally kicked off her boots. Within thirty minutes, something a little more Becky, sweats, t-shirt, and athletic socks had replaced the blouse, vest, skirt, and hose. Comfortable at last, the woman then called the front desk and asked them if they could recommend the best pizza place that delivered.
While waiting for the pizza, she began setting out her clothes for the next day. She stopped when she came across a small basketball trophy. It's nameplate read: "Two on Two Champs, Summer Tournament, 1975". Becky held the trophy lovingly, clutched it to her chest, and then began sobbing. They were tears of warm memories, pain, and of a journey that began long before she left home seventeen years ago. The tears subsided shortly before the pizza arrived, and within a few minutes the sauce and cheese had worked their usual magic, comforted Becky, and she spent the evening half-watching a ball game and pounding down Diet Cokes. Tomorrow she would check out, grab a bite, and then catch the bus to Jamestown. After seventeen years she would finally be home.
It would be nice to see some of the old familiar sites of home, but truly there was only one place and one person she wanted to see. The place was a big white house with a basketball court out back. The person was her best friend. The question was... would her best friend want to see her?
The bus arrived in Jamestown on time and deposited her in front of the "Li'l Sport" convenience mart. The "Li'l Sport" had really grown; she now had no less than eight gas pumps, a grocery store, and hot food, but she still had the same "Li'l Sport" tomboy standing proudly on her roof. While ensnared in the waves of nostalgia, Becky smiled at her old friend on the roof and she knew she was finally home.
The young woman walked the four blocks over to the Windsor Apartments. She had called from Charleston and confirmed her arrangements to lease a one-bedroom apartment by the month. Depending on how her stay in Jamestown went, primarily her meeting with her best friend, she might stay for quite a while or be gone before the first month was up.
Settling into the small but quaintly furnished apartment she noted that from her second floor window she could see the courthouse and town's square. Many of her old haunts were still there, and she wondered if anyone would recognize her when she visited them. Actually she preferred they didn't, as it would save a lot of time and embarrassment for all parties involved. Most importantly, she didn't want the news of her arrival to be leaked back to her best friend. She wanted to be the one to let her friend know she had returned.
While filled with anticipation, and apprehensions, Becky put away her clothes, and then opened her overnight bag. She began setting out pill bottles on her nightstand, and by the time she had finally finished, she shook her head and said, "Geez, Becky, you take more pills than an eighty-year-old woman."
Pouring herself a glass of water, she took her midday pills, and stretched out on the bed. She opened a leather bound journal and surveyed its contents. By having a mail subscription to the local newspaper, and making an occasional discreet phone call, Becky had managed to keep up on her best friend's life. Becky knew she had married, moved to Denver, and had two children. That she later divorced her husband and returned to Jamestown had been a bit of a shock but not unexpected in these days.
Currently she was a teacher at Pine Haven Elementary, and lived in her parent's old house. Becky was proud of the fact that she had been able to keep tabs on her old friend, but she felt great sadness and guilt at having never called her. At the time she'd thought disappearing was the right thing to do, but she had been wrong. She could only imagine the pain and worry she had put her through. All she could do now was explain, say she was sorry, and hope her friend would forgive her.
Her friend lived about seven miles up the mountain from town. Becky could easily walk the distance to her childhood friend's home, but the question was, should she? Should she really just walk up to her front door after seventeen years and just say, "Surprise!" when she opens it? After thinking about it all the way from Los Angeles, she decided to write her a letter explaining the basics of what had happened to her old friend, and what she should expect to see if she decided to meet her. She would tell her she was staying at the Windsor. If after two weeks Becky had not received a reply, she would just return to L.A. and accept that her friend had no interest in rekindling their friendship.
The next week she spent writing and making brief forays out, about, and around Jamestown. Much to her delight, no one recognized her, not even her old school classmates. The letter was written and rewritten several times before Becky thought it was suitable. It didn't tell the whole story, but it would give her friend enough of it to let her know what to expect.
When she slipped the letter in an envelope and sealed it, she realized she hadn't a stamp to post it. She noticed it was nearing four o'clock, so she decided to take her afternoon jog. For years she had tried to run three miles a day, and she wanted to continue that tradition for as long as she was able. She slipped on sweatpants, hooded sweatshirt and put her hair up in a ponytail. While out jogging, she could stop by the drugstore, pick up a stamp, and put the letter in the morning post.
Becky had been running for about twenty minutes when she cut through the park and noticed a few kids playing hoops outside the community center. Being a sucker for a basketball court and kids, she couldn't resist stopping and watching them play for a while. The woman sat on a bench courtside, massaged her tender right knee, and watched the kids go at it. They were playing a spirited game of three on three. These kids appeared to be aged ten to twelve, and all pretty good, but one player in particular caught Becky's eye. She was the only girl on the court, and holding her own quite well against the boys.
The pony-tailed, left-hander, faked right, spun left, and faded a jumper that kissed off the backboard and drained the chain link net. Becky whistled and clapped, but the kids were too engrossed into the game to acknowledge her presence. The game finished with the girl's team victorious and the five boys soon jogged off the court. Becky watched the young girl shoot for a while and then stretched out her legs to begin running again.
A bouncing ball came flying at Becky and she grabbed it. She turned to pass it back it to the girl, when she motioned for Becky to shoot it. Becky smiled. She couldn't resist the invite, and dribbled up to just inside the three-point line and arched a rainbow left handed jumper that hit dead on. The girl whistled, and then smiled as she grabbed the ball and fired it back to the older girl. Becky took another one from the same spot, but this one was off the mark and the girl chased down the rebound. She dribbled the ball between her legs and arched a jumper that kissed off the backboard and snapped the chain link net. Becky fired the ball back to her, and this started about 15 minutes of shooting practice where the two chatted between shots. Becky found out that her little friend's name was Mandy. She had just turned ten-years-old and loved sports. Her favorite sport was basketball, and she played for a 5th and 6th grade team that her mother coached.
Quickly finding her shooter's rhythm Becky nailed five or six swift jumpers in a row, and then netted a hook shot. Mandy was impressed and asked her if she had played college basketball. Becky told her no, she had only played high school. Grinning proudly with her impish grin, Mandy began to tell her about her mother. Her mother had played high school, college, and even professional basketball in Spain! By the time Mandy had boasted that her mother was the all-time leading scorer at Pine Haven High School, Becky realized she had just stumbled into a hornet's nest, and it would probably be a good idea to get out before she got stung.
The woman told her new friend she had just enough time to hit one last shot and then go, unfortunately Becky hit a cold streak, and had fired four of five misses when she noticed a light blue Suburban pulling up in the parking lot. The horn sounded and she heard a familiar voice holler, "C'mon Mandy, it's time to go!" Mandy ran to the edge of the court and hollered back to her mother, "Mom, come meet my new friend!"
The heart of the older player nearly stopped. She chastised herself for not leaving as soon as she figured out who her little friend was the daughter of. "She was going to leave, but noooo... she just had to hit one last shot," she thought. Mandy had grown tired of waiting for her mother and had went to the Suburban and got her. Becky didn't think she could move or speak as Mandy led her mother onto the court. Mandy's mother was still about five-foot-eight, with strawberry-blonde hair pulled up in a ponytail. She had those sparkling green eyes, and that magical smile. Becky was standing face to face with her old best friend.
Nervously, Becky smiled, holding back tears, and resisting the urge to run up and hug her best friend. Mandy's mother smiled at her and extended her hand in friendship. "Hi! I'm Cassie Chandler. I see you've already met Mandy. I hope she's not been driving you crazy."
Shaking her hand, Becky stammered, "Uh...no, really, she's uh...been fine. We've just been shooting hoops."
Thinking to herself, "Oh, my God! She doesn't even recognize me!", she realized she hadn't introduced herself. She quickly added, "I'm Becky, Becky Taylor."
Mandy jumped in between the two women. "Hey mom, I told her all about you. I told her how you played four years of professional basketball, and was an All-American, and, the all-time leading scorer at Pine Haven High School!"
Blushing a bit, Cassie smiled at Becky. "That was a long time ago. Now, I'm just an old hoop junkie with two kids and a bad hip."
Taking a second, longer look at Mandy's new friend, Cassie noticed something familiar about her. Something she couldn't quite place. "Becky, do you live here in Jamestown?"
Trying to stay as close to the truth without lying as possible, Becky answered, "Well, actually I just moved here from Los Angeles about a week ago. I'm staying up at the Windsor for the moment. I'm not sure how long I'm going to stay at this point."
Even though Cassie nodded, her curiosity hadn't been satisfied. "Did we play against each other in college? I played for West Virginia, and you look so familiar to me."
"No... I uh, didn't play basketball for my college. I just played a couple of years of high school." Becky smiled nervously.
Before Cassie kept digging, Mandy rescued Becky. "Mom, you should see Becky shoot! She's really good and she's tall. You ought to get her to play on your team. If you guys had a big girl then maybe you wouldn't get ran every week."
Laughing lightly at her daughter's comments, Cassie rolled her eyes. "She's right you know. Our team really does need a big girl, and we do get "ran" a lot, but you're more than welcome to play. It's just three on three full-court, and you call your own foul. Most of the women are in their 30's and 40's, so nobody's looking to play in the WNBA. It's just exercise and fun. So... what do ya say? Can I get you to play?"
Two generations of magic smiles beamed at her and when Mandy added a "please," Becky looked from mother to daughter. She was powerless to say no.
"Um...well...okay, but I don't know how long I will be staying in Jamestown, and I'm not really that good," She said with a shy smile.
The strawberry blonde schoolteacher wasn't about to be discouraged by her modest new friend, "Hey girl, don't worry about that. Shoot, you'll do fine." Pointing toward the community center she continued, "We play over there every Wednesday night. Games start at seven o'clock, but we all get there by six thirty to shoot around. The new league starts this Wednesday, so I guess I'll see you tomorrow night."
"Okay, I'll be there," Becky agreed, with a quick nod.
Mandy had scampered off to the other end to fire a few last shots. Cassie hollered down at her daughter. "Mandy, c'mon... we got to get going!"
Groaning a pout, Mandy sized up another jumper, and pleaded, "Wait a minute mom. You know I can't leave on a miss?" Mandy chucked up another fifteen footer and drained it. She made a fist and exclaimed, "Yes!"
Grinning, Cassie turned to Becky and asked, "Kids...were we ever that young? She's got a twelve-year-old brother and I'm late picking him up from practice, so I really got to run. It's been nice meeting you Becky. See ya tomorrow night!"
Waving at Cassie and Mandy as they ran to the Suburban, Becky watched them pull away, scarcely believing what had just transpired.
To clear her head, she took a deep breath, and then started jogging again. The reality of what had just transpired began to sink in and overwhelm her. Tears streamed down her face as her mind replayed the events that had just happened. When she realized whom Mandy's mother was she should have left. She didn't, strike one. She thought for sure that Cassie would recognize her, but as soon as it was apparent she didn't, Becky should have told her the truth. She didn't, strike two. When Cassie said she looked familiar, she should have told her the truth. She didn't, strike three and out!
Furious with her self, she thought back to what her father had called her many times, "coward"! For once, he was right. She had the opportunity to tell her friend the truth, and once again she hid. She had been hiding a truth from her friend since the first day they met, and today had been no different. She had to tell her tomorrow night before the game. She couldn't let this go any further.
Passing by the drug store she went straight to her apartment. Picking up the letter from the table, she tore it in half and threw in the wastebasket. Too late for letters now, she thought, I've got to do this face to face.
Grabbing a Diet Coke from the fridge, the worried woman stretched out on her bed. The tears were back and this time with stomach cramps so bad she went to the bathroom, heaved, and then came back to her bed, wobbly and ashen faced. She took her night meds and washed them down with the rest of the soda. She winced in pain from the cramps. For now, the painkillers would alleviate the pain. For Becky, it was going to be a long, restless night. She prepared herself to meet Cassie tomorrow.
Late Wednesday afternoon, Becky took a long shower. She hoped the hot pulsating water would relieve the soreness in her muscles, and relax her troubled mind. After spending ten minutes under the scalding spray, Becky stepped from the shower and grabbed two towels. Wrapping one around her body, the other gently around her hair, she sat on the bed rubbing moisturizer into her legs.
The muscle pain had eased off a bit, but her head was pounding from the events of last night. In her thoughts she berated herself continually, not only for the events of last night, but for all the mistakes she had made along the way. Aloud, she lectured her deplorable self... "How could you have been so stupid as to even think about coming back here after seventeen years? Why did you come back anyway? For Cassie's sake? Your sake? Do you really think after all this time, all the changes, and all the pain you've put her through that she's going to forgive you and accept you? You've should have told her in junior high, or high school, or hell even college, but you didn't. You came up with a boatload of reasons for not doing it to, didn't you? Well that boatload, is a load of bullshit. Truth is you were afraid. You were so afraid of the shame and rejection that you ran off to New York and California rather than face her. You spent seventeen years finding yourself. You think you could have found a little courage along the way. All you had to do last night was just say, "Hi Cassie! You want to go shoot some hoops at your place and get a pizza from Li'l Italy's?" She would have known it was you. Now maybe she would have given you a big hug, or maybe she would have given you a left hook, but at least right now it would be over. I can't understand how anyone who has had all those operations, been stuck with about million electrolysis needles, and has walked through Central Park late at night can be afraid of a 5'8" freckle-faced pony tail."
Shaking her head, she then smiled to herself, you know, it was kind of nice that she didn't recognize me. I mean...she talked to me as if I was a real woman, a genetic woman. That sure was nice. It was everything I hoped it would be. I wonder when she finds out who I used to be, if she will ever be able to think of me as a woman again. Mandy thought I was the genuine article. I really like that little girl. She is so like her mother at that age. I wonder if I will ever get the chance to shoot with her again. I just wish I had the time to watch her grow up.
Glancing up at the clock and then over at her row of pill bottles, she let out a heavy sigh, and thought, There's never enough time, so I can't waste anymore. I'll tell her tonight, and what happens, happens.
This will get some attention, she told herself as she put on the uniform she had selected for the game. It was a replica Tennessee Lady Volunteer's... silk jersey and matching shorts. Becky stepped in front of the mirror, grabbed a blue cloth hair tie, and put her hair up in a ponytail. Becky smiled at her reflection. Whenever she put her hair up in a ponytail, she always thought of Cassie and her trademark hairstyle. She had chose a light blue hair tie to coordinate with the orange and light blue from her jersey, and to honor her friend, as light blue had always been her favorite color.
A thought about the light blue Suburban Cassie was driving last night, and Becky smiled as she realized some things never change. Putting on light make-up and spraying on just a hint of Channels #5, she slipped into a grey sweat suit, grabbed her sports bag and headed for the community center.
Pausing momentarily, Becky surveyed the parking lot outside the community center for Cassie's Suburban, but didn't find it. She checked her watch and saw she had made it there by 6:15. She was a little early, but she wanted to catch Cassie as soon as she hit the doors. She wasn't going to have much time, but she didn't need much to explain whom she was.
The rest of the story could wait until later if she still wanted to hear it. Cassie walked down the steps, and on to the carpeted basketball court. About 15 or 20 women were talking and shooting on the four courts that comprised the gym floor. Several women eyed the tall stranger as she walked in, obviously sizing her up for competition. Becky recognized one woman there. Her name was Lynn, but she had never known her that well before, and Becky was sure she wouldn't recognize her now.
With lithe grace and assured feminine deportment, Becky moved to a bench beneath one basket, sat down and slipped off her running shoes. She pulled off her sweats, laced up her high tops and began stretching out her legs. Keeping one eye on the front door, she breathed in the atmosphere. It was the first organized basketball she'd played since high school, but more importantly, it was the first time she had ever played with women, as a woman.
This had been her dream for thirty years, and had lived it vicariously through Cassie, but now she was just minutes away from living it. Her stomach churned, and her palms sweated like she was playing for the state championship. To most of these women, the league meant a break from the husband and kids. It was a chance to socialize with some friends, burn off a few calories, and shoot some hoops for fun. To Becky, it represented her debut into a world where her heart and soul had dreamed of being, but her body had been denied acceptance.
Suddenly, a thought came to her. I'm getting all psyched up to play a basketball game, and I've forgotten the real reason I'm here. I've still got to tell Cassie that her brand new center is actually her very old friend. Piece of cake, right? After I tell her, she can lead me around and introduce me to all the girls. I can hear her now. "Hey everybody, meet my best friend Becky. She used to be the girl with something extra, but she had it removed two years ago!" This was really a dumb idea coming in here. I knew how I would react once I saw the basketball court. Maybe I should just grab my stuff and wait out in the lot for her. Becky was getting ready to grab her bag when she heard her name being called.
Turning, she was quick to see two women smiling and walking toward her. Becky didn't recognize either of them, but it was obvious they knew her. The taller of the two women, a shorthaired brunette, was the first to speak. "Hi! I'm Debbie. You're Becky aren't you? Cassie's friend?"
"Yeah, that's me I guess. I was outside shooting with her daughter yesterday, and before I knew it, she had me signed up to play," Becky answered sheepishly.
The second woman stepped forward. She was maybe 5'2, with long red hair pulled back in a thick brush of a ponytail. "Hi! I'm Katie, and that's Cassie for you. She's always bringing home strays."
All three women laughed, and then Debbie spoke once again. "Cassie called me last night and told me to watch out for you. She said you were a tall, slender blonde named Becky. Everybody here pretty much knows everybody else, so it wasn't too hard to spot a new face."
"I'm really glad you're playing. It's going to be so nice to have a big girl in the middle for once. I'm really getting tired of being a 5'2 center," Katie smiled.
Laughter rained again. Debbie finished the joke. "Sad thing about it is, she's not kidding!" The girls giggled once more.
"I'm really glad to get the chance to play with you guys, but honestly, I'm not all that good, and it's been a long time since I've played serious basketball." Becky smiled.
Katie raised her hand about a foot over her head and smiled at her new teammate.
"Girl, you're six foot tall. It doesn't matter if you're good. Just stand there and block the rim! As far as "serious basketball" is concerned, both Debbie and I are 40, so we gave up serious basketball ten years ago. This is all just fun and exercise. It has to be. It's all we got left. So, relax and just have a good time."
They were warm, funny and had gone out of their way to make her feel comfortable. Becky really liked her two new friends. She glanced over her shoulder at the front doors, and then up at the wall clock. It said 6:45, and she still hadn't seen Cassie. She started warming up with the girls and when she passed a ball to Debbie she asked her if Cassie was coming tonight.
Laughter bubbled as Debbie said, "She's never here on time. That's one reason why she's been trying to find a fourth player. We're always starting five or ten minutes late because her dingy butt isn't here yet. Usually she comes blowing in, takes a warm-up jumper and then starts playing. I don't know how she does it."
The girls continued to shoot, and as seven o'clock rolled around, it was evident that Cassie was going to be her usual late self.
Coming up to Becky, Katie said, "Well rookie, looks like your going to get your first start. Just get all the rebounds, block every shot, and dunk it every time you get the ball. Debbie and I will take care of all the rest."
Obviously, she wasn't going to get the chance to speak with Cassie before the game. Becky shook her head and smiled. She'd just have to keep up appearances until after the game, and then she'd tell her. At least this way, they would get to play one game together no matter what.
The game started and Cassie had yet to show. Both teams missed shots on their first two possessions. Becky was so nervous she fumbled a perfect entry pass from Katie, and then tossed up an air ball on her first shot. She dropped her head. Katie came by and smiled, "Hey big girl, shake it off. Don't make me get a ladder and smack you!" Becky couldn't help but smile at her sprite-sized friend with the giant sense of humor.
Three minutes into the game, Cassie came busting through the door with Devon and Mandy in tow. She hollered across the gym, "Sorry guys!" One of the women on the bench shouted, "The Queen has entered the building!" and laughter erupted all over the court. Cassie shot an evil grin at the perpetrator, and kept hustling to the court where her team was playing. Cassie saw Becky and waved. "Hey girl, glad you could make it!"
Waving back Becky then signaled to Cassie to see if she wanted her to check out, so that Cassie could check in. Cassie waved her off. "No, you stay in. I'll come in for you at the fifteen-minute mark. I really need to stretch out these old muscles.
Leaning back, Cassie watched the game unfold. Her new friend had finally settled down from her opening jitters and was making her presence known. Her blonde ponytail was bobbing up and down all over the court. In just the few minutes that Cassie had been watching, Becky had grabbed several rebounds, blocked a shot, and made two sweet passes. She was hustling on defense and diving for every loose ball. Cassie chuckled to herself. She hadn't seen this kind of intensity since her college days.
Memories of college brought back that lingering feeling of recognition she'd had concerning Becky. She had thought about it off and on all day, but she just couldn't put it together. Watching her play seemed to stir something in her mind. She was even more convinced she'd played against her somewhere, but where? The next two trips down the court she focused solely on Becky. She studied both her body and her game, hoping to find a clue. There was something definitely familiar about both, but she still couldn't place her.
There was something about her blue eyes that was very familiar, but not familiar enough to place a face with. Becky's hustling style of play reminded her of a number of players she had played both with and against, but she wasn't any of those she could remember. As the fifteen-minute mark neared, Cassie decided to quit playing Nancy Drew and leave the mystery alone.
Arthritis had set in and robbed the former star of much of the quickness that had made her a star in the college and pro game. Cassie rubbed her aching hip. She could still light up a scoreboard on a good night, but her days of dominating a game from start to finish were over.
The fifteen-minute mark came and Cassie replaced Becky at the first dead ball. The strawberry blonde reached up and gave the winded Becky a high five for her spirited play. She smiled, "Way to go girl! Nice hustle!"
Becky was too winded to do more than smile and wave. She sat on the bench, sucking gulps of air. She was still in pretty good running shape, but definitely not playing shape. She glanced up at the scoreboard and was pleased to see her team was up by four against a younger and very talented opponent.
Focused on Cassie, Becky realized it was good to see her best friend on the court again. Cassie, Katie, and Debbie gave up a lot of inches and strength to the opposition, but compensated with heart, hustle, and court savvy from their years of basketball experience. Debbie set a screen for Cassie, and Katie threaded a perfect pass to her. Cassie pump-faked, slipped her defender and drilled an eighteen-footer. Her great green eyes sparkled and she flashed her smile at Katie, acknowledging the perfect pass.
Coming up with a loose ball, Debbie fired it ahead to Cassie. She was one on one with her defender. Becky's face filled with excitement, as she knew what was coming. She was going to go vintage "Pistol" on the girl. True to classic form, Cassie stutter-stepped, leaned her shoulder right, and spun back left. Her defender was powerless to do little more than watch as Cassie fading left, arched a short jumper, which kissed the backboard and fell in.
Jumping up to cheer, Becky gasped as Cassie came down awkward from the shot. Her left leg gave and she hit the "carpet" hard. Katie, Debbie, and the defender were immediately there to help her up. Cassie smiled and signaled she was fine, but the smile was more of a wince from the pain. The game continued but Cassie was limping noticeably, and settling for long jumpers instead of challenging the defense.
Checking in at the ten-minute mark for Debbie with her team down by seven, Becky had her second wind and resumed her spirited play. She tried to get every rebound, and contest every shot. Cassie smiled at her friend's youthful enthusiasm. Becky's eyes held the same passion and excitement that was once in Cassie's own eyes, and now in her daughter's. Actually, the passion still burned within Cassie but as she neared 40, she no longer had the body to release it.
Next time down the court, Becky took a nasty dive trying to save an errant pass, and Cassie offered her a hand up and some advice. "Becky, are you forty yet? I mean, not that you look it." Shaking her head no, Becky was a bit puzzled by the timing of that question. Cassie then returned, "Well if you want to live to see forty you'd better slow down a little. You're going to kill yourself out here." Dropping her head, Becky nodded solemnly. Cassie smiled and whispered. "Besides, save a little of that for the second half. I'd love to beat these kids," Cassie finished and winked as the two ran down the court side by side. Becky smiled.
Katie came back in at the five-minute mark and the team went on a run. Becky's enthusiasm was contagious and both Katie and Cassie picked it up a notch. Katie lofted several perfect entry passes into Becky. Becky spun, took a dribble toward the basket, and a second defender slipped over to cut her off. Becky then fired a laser shot to Cassie who drained a wide-open three pointer. Cassie hit back-to-back jumpers, and Katie got a steal and a lay up. With two minutes before halftime they were within four points and beating off her man, Cassie stole an entry pass. She crossed half court with Becky on her left wing and Katie trailing the play. Cassie dropped a bounce pass to the streaking Becky, causing both defenders to shift to the left. Becky took two dribbles, and with her eyes squarely on the basket she fired a behind the back, no look pass to Cassie. The ball hit her dead on stride and she nailed the short jumper. Debbie, Mandy, and Devon went wild on the bench. Cassie pointed her finger at Becky, acknowledging the sweet pass. Becky beamed as she headed back up the court. The half ended as the game had begun. The score was tied, but Cassie's team had a definite momentum advantage, and her name was Becky.
The women and Cassie's kids shot around at halftime. Both Mandy and Devon heaped praise on Becky for her spirited play, and fancy passes. Cassie stood next to Becky as she launched another jumper. "Hey girl, sounds like you got a fan club already."
Smiling beseechingly, Becky rolled her eyes. She grabbed a rebound, fired it back to Cassie. "I'm no star. I'm just an old alley ball player. Besides, I'm not the one with sixteen first half points. You can really shoot the ball Cassie. You got game!"
With a wistful smile, Cassie shook her head. "I used to have game, but that was fifteen years and twenty pounds ago. Speaking of game, give yourself some credit girl. I think you played great. I'll tell you something else. It's been a long time since I've played with someone who can get me the ball like you do. I think you and I are going to play great together, but you're going to have to do one thing for me... shoot the ball! You're the best passing big girl I've ever played with, but we need you to be more aggressive on the offensive end."
A ball bounced back to Becky, she started to shoot then dropped a pass over to Devon, who smiled as he hit the lay up. "Well...I'm kind of used to playing along side a good shooter, so a lot of times I didn't really look to shoot. I'd just try to hustle on defense and get her the ball. My goal was to get her the ball when she wanted it, where she wanted it, and as often as she wanted it."
"I can't put up 40 or 50 points anymore." Cassie turned to Becky. "If this teams going to win, you're going to have to score some inside points. That will open up the perimeter for the rest of us. So...just shoot the ball when you get it down low. Kay? Kay!"
With a curt nod of assent, Becky readied herself for the second half. Cassie's team's spirited play and halftime tie stung the pride of their talented opponents. They came out the aggressors the second half and quickly opened a ten-point lead. Cassie's team made several runs on the strength of Becky's hustle and Cassie's left hand, but the girls ran out of gas the last 5 minutes and lost by 8.
After the game, Debbie and Katie walked over to another court to watch a close game still in progress. Cassie went into the office to make a phone call and Becky started shooting around with Devon and Mandy. When Cassie came out of the office she saw them on a basket at the far end. The three of them were laughing and clowning as they passed the ball around. Becky was grinning from ear to ear. Cassie's discovered that her big, ferocious center was nothing more than a kid at heart. She also discovered something else about her during the second half. She finally solved the mystery. Becky wasn't someone she'd played with or against, but she did remind her of someone else she had known. She was very much like her long lost best friend, Brian.
This woman was just about Brian's height. She was obviously a little shapelier, but both were slender and athletic. Those eyes she had recognized earlier were Brian's as well, but she didn't have his hair color or nose.
Yet it wasn't just the body similarities that had finally made the connection for Cassie. It was Becky's performance, especially the second half. Cassie had pushed Becky to shoot more and in the second half she did. That is what put it all together for Cassie. Becky was a left-hander just like both Brian and Cassie, but when she fired a couple of rainbow jumpers, a fade away turn around, and then a sweet baby hook, Cassie had seen those moves before, and then the name she'd been searching for came to her. It was Brian's name. Becky, just like Brian, would really get down on herself whenever she made a mistake on the court. Both Brian and Becky had no regard for their own bodies, as they both would throw themselves all over the court. Both of their first names even started with the letter "B".
With so many similarities between the two, Cassie wondered if Becky might be related to Brian. She knew Brian was an only child, but his father had been married once before. The thought that she could be Brian's half-sister teased intriguingly at her mind. If not a half-sister maybe a cousin. Brian did have relation who lived somewhere north of Charleston. Becky said she had come from California, but she didn't say she was raised there. Cassie started constructing all kinds of scenarios. By the time she got to the one where aliens had abducted Becky from Brian's parents when she was a baby, she knew she was playing Nancy Drew again.
Chastising herself, Cassie realized she was allowing fantasy and wishful thinking to get the better of her. Becky may have some similarities to Brian, but she wasn't his long lost sister or anything else. Becky just missed Brian so much she was looking for him anywhere she might find him. She wasn't being honest with herself, or fair to Becky. She had to stop this craziness before it went any further.
With a quick glance up at the clock, Cassie realized it was getting late. Becky had gone to the restroom, while the kids continued to run and shoot. Cassie got the kids together and hustled out the side door. When Becky walked out of the restroom, the final game had just ended. Debbie walked across the court and spied Becky searching around the gym. "If you're looking for Cassie and company, they just went out the side door. You have to be fast if you're going to catch her. She's usually the last one here, and the first one to leave."
Shaking her head, Becky replied, "Guess it will keep to next week. I suppose I should get out of here. Hey, it's been real nice playing with you, thanks a lot."
"Glad to have you on the team! Guess I'll see ya next week. Gotta go home and break out the Ben-Gay." Debbie waved to her and then catching up with Katie, the two women walked out the door.
Slipping on her sweats and running shoes before following them out the door, Becky walked down the street, shoulders slumping, head down, and hands in her pockets. It was the classic "Brian" look she had worked so hard to eradicate. Realizing what she was doing, she snapped her head up and arched her back. She had told herself in New York, and again in California, that she would never again be afraid to meet someone's eyes. Brian was ashamed of who he was, but Becky was going to be proud. She had gone through so much pain and sacrifice just for the right to walk down these streets as a woman. Whenever, and wherever she walked she would do it with pride and her head held high.
Though Becky's head rose, her thoughts were still heavy on her heart. She had missed her chance again! She should have waited outside the office for Cassie while she was on the phone, but she started shooting with the kids and got lost in their world. The memory of that brought a smile and a glow to her face. She thought about each of Cassie's kids.
"Devon's such a sweetie. He going to be a real heartbreaker with those blue eyes, and Mandy...God, she looks, acts and hoops so much like Cassie it's unreal. She's even got the smile. They really are good kids, and I had a blast playing around with them. It was almost like being a kid again, only this time, the right sex!"
With a softer sigh, she chastised herself for mooning over a lost childhood. Looking behind her, and wishing for a life she had been denied, did nothing but depress the little girl within her. All of us, no matter how old, carry a child within. For Becky, her child was a powerful and passionate entity. Perhaps because the little girl within her had been imprisoned in a boy's body and was unable to experience life like other little girls, she was angry and frustrated. Even though Becky was fast approaching forty, the little girl imprisoned within refused to grow up. She simply wanted the life she was entitled to, and she wasn't growing up until she got it.
Nothing would have pleased Becky more than to be able to grant that little girl her wish, but all she could do was acknowledge her presence, and indulge her whenever she poked her head out, just like she did tonight. Becky was a thirty-eight-year-old woman, and a little girl. They both deserved a better fate than life had dealt them.
Tears ran down Becky's cheeks as she braced herself against the cold night air. Becky knew better than to dwell on her little girl within. It always resulted in tears, and "pity parties." She had too much going on in reality to allow herself this indulgence. She had to decide when or now if; she was going to tell Cassie. Her stance on telling her had softened somewhat after the game. She knew it was still the right thing to do, but she so enjoyed being Becky and interacting with her old friend. She didn't want that to change. Whatever she was going to do, she would have to do it next week. If she didn't tell her then, she doubted if she ever would. She just didn't have the time to agonize over this anymore.
Arriving alone at her apartment, the lonely woman walked over to stand by the radiators and warm herself. Several sharp cramps and a familiar wave of nausea overcame her. She was late taking her night meds. As she poured the pills into her hand, her mind went back to her final thoughts on the street. "Time, she was running out of time."
Though it was not her desire, Becky spent the next week playing hermit. Her knees were tender so she didn't even go jogging. With the exception of an emergency Diet Coke, and frozen pizza run, the only time Becky left her room was to pick up her prescriptions from the drugstore. Becky didn't want a chance encounter with Cassie. She had weighed the facts again, and once again came to the same conclusion. The right thing to do was to tell Cassie, and it would have to be after the game Wednesday night.
Next Wednesday came and it started out very much like last Wednesday. Becky was early, Cassie was late, but this time she had left the children over at her brother Brad's. Becky took the fact that her old and dear friend was alone as a good omen. It would make it much easier to discuss the situation without the kids nearby. She would corner her immediately after the game, tell her the truth, and finally it would be over.
The game that night was a good one. The teams were evenly matched and both playing well. In a game that saw the teams exchange two and four point leads all night long, Cassie's team got the final and most important lead. Becky scored off an offensive rebound, and Cassie a long jumper. Their team won by four points. It was the first win in six games for Cassie's team, and the ladies celebrated.
After exchanging high fives all around, Cassie headed for the office, and Becky followed right behind her. She stopped by the basket nearest the office, and started shooting around while keeping one eye on the office door.
Twenty minutes later, Cassie came out. Becky ran up to her to have her little talk, when she noticed that Cassie was sniffling, and obviously been crying. Becky's grand plan went straight out the window at the sight of her troubled friend. She moved by her side, and spoke with concern in her voice. "Cassie, are you alright?'
Cassie sniffled and rubbed her nose. "Yeah...I'll be okay. I got to be. I don't have a choice." She hesitated a moment, and then began the tale. "It's...It's just my ex-husband. He's driving me crazy! Look, I'm sure you really want to hear all this."
Becky put an arm on her shoulder. "I don't mind listening and it sounds like you really could use someone to talk to. I got the time tonight, so we can sit and talk about anything you want. Of course, I may beg you for a ride home, if you don't mind."
Cassie looked at Becky in amazement. "You mean to tell me you're walking? I am definitely giving you a ride home. It's way to cold, damp and dark for you to be out there on the street."
The two women grabbed their gear and headed out to Cassie's suburban. Cassie threw Becky the keys and it startled her. She froze in her tracks, starring at the keys in her hand. "Uh, Cassie, thanks, but I don't drive. I don't even have a license!"
Cassie regarded her friend for a moment, shook her head, and smiled. "The keys are to open the passenger side door. The driver's side door doesn't open from the outside so you'll have to slide over, and let me in."
Becky's face flushed with embarrassment. "Sorry, I uh...well I thought..."
Cassie laughed and cut her off. "I see that blonde goes straight to the roots huh?"
Becky was glad to see Cassie smile, even if it was at her expense.
If Cassie had been thinking, she would have added another similarity between Brian and Becky. Neither one of them drove. Fortunately for Becky, Cassie had put Nancy Drew asleep for the night, and that fact went unnoticed. While she fired up the Suburban, and told Becky to move the books and junk into the back seat, she uttered a mother's excuse. "Kids, sports, school stuff...this thing is always a mess."
Becky just smiled and nodded as if she knew from personal experience.
"Have you ever been married Becky? Do you have any kids?" Cassie asked, taking the iniative.
"Nope, neither one. It's just little ol' me. I don't even have a cat," Becky said, and shook her head.
In an instant Cassie picked up on the hint of sadness in Becky's voice. "I can't speak very highly about marriage, but you really ought to think about having kids, or at least adopting. I think you would be so great with kids. I know mine just love you to death. They said my team doesn't stink anymore, because now I have Becky!" Both women laughed at that remark. "I'm serious Becky. If you don't want kids of your own, maybe you should think about volunteering at the grade school or at the community center. The way you were playing with my kids last week, it seemed like you were more comfortable with them than us old women!"
Becky paused a moment before fielding that one. It had gone straight to her heart. "Kindred spirits I suppose. As far as taking on a child or getting involved in a program somewhere, I just don't think I have the time."
"Oh girl, you don't know what you're missing." Cassie tried to tempt her. "It does take a lot of time and patience to raise children, but it is so worth it. Children are the greatest blessing in the world. My kids are what keep me going, when otherwise I would just pack it in. I'd give anything to have another one." She paused a moment as she hit a painful memory. "I had a rough time during Mandy's pregnancy. I almost lost her. After I had her, they told me I could never carry a child again."
"Oh Cassie, I'm really sorry."
" Hey, I shouldn't be complaining. I got two great kids. If I was destined to have another one the good Lord would have given me one." Cassie sighed heavily. "Becky, you know I played college ball, and professionally in Europe. That was a fantastic experience. It was a dream come true, but it still doesn't compare to the joy I get when I am with my kids. The kids' father and I have been divorced for about seven years. When Craig has the kids out to Denver for a week or two, I just about go out of my mind. Craig said I was too focused on the children, maybe he's right, but I can't help how much I love them. Craig said I spent too much time with the children, and not enough with him, so...he...found someone else who gave him all her attention. I am such a goof, can you believe after all that I still love that man?"
Reaching across the seat, Becky took Cassie's hand and squeezed it. She didn't say anything. She didn't need too. Cassie wasn't really looking for advice. She just needed someone to listen, and be there. She needed a best friend. Brian had been that friend for many years. Now, at least for a while, Becky could be that friend.
Cassie's glanced at her dashboard clock. "Oh no, Brad's going to kill me! I should have picked up the kids thirty minutes ago. Geez Becky, I'm so sorry about going on like this. If I get started on Craig and the kids, I don't know when to stop. I get so upset after I get on the phone with him, and he really got to me tonight. I can't thank you enough for listening. It's been a long time since I've had a friend I can talk to like this. You can't imagine how much it's helped me."
Nearly overwhelmed by the compassion she felt for her troubled friend, Becky said, "I know what it's like to have a really good friend to talk to. I also know what it's like when they are gone. I'm just glad I could be there for you. Anytime you need to talk, anytime at all, just come by the Windsor. I'm always home."
Cassie reached over and hugged Becky. "I'll remember that, thank you. Maybe next Wednesday you can do the talking and I'll do the listening. I bet you have some great stories about living in California!"
Becky shrugged her shoulders. "I wasn't your typical California girl, but that's a story for another time."
Cassie let Becky out and waved to her as she drove off.
Waving back, she watched the Suburban disappear into the night. Becky wearily climbed the steps to her apartment. She had fought hard to hold back her tears while she had listened to her friend unload, but by the time she had gotten inside her apartment, they were flowing freely. Compassion for her friend, as well as all the anxieties of her own life, combined to overwhelm her. She cried until she was spent. Finally she got up and went for her comfort food. She popped in a frozen pizza, and grabbed a soda to wash down the pills before the cramps and headache start. She spent the rest of the night awake contemplating her life, her friendship with Cassie and where they were both heading.
By dawn she had made up her mind. Right or wrong, she wasn't going to tell Cassie. If Cassie figured it out on her own, then Becky would deal with it then. Cassie didn't need another heartache right now. What she needed was a friend, and Becky wanted to be that friend. Bringing Brian back to her now might just push Cassie over the edge. As Becky, on the other hand, might just be able to keep her from going over that edge.
In the grey light filtering in, she thought about why she had returned to Jamestown. She wanted Cassie to know the truth, but perhaps the truth isn't always the most important thing. Becky wasn't going to be able to stay long. Maybe it was better that she lived this lie, and helped her friend today. The truth could wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow would be here in just a few short months. She could "omit" the truth that long. After she left Jamestown, she would be sure that Cassie got a letter that explained the whole truth.
Coming back to Jamestown had also been to be able to walk the streets as the person she truly was. She had done that. The same guys who had teased and belittled her, held doors for her when she walked in. She hadn't come here to exact revenge, or embarrasses them as they had her. She just wanted them to see her for who she is, even if they never know who she was.
A tightness gripped her throat when she thought back to Cassie. She had come to tell her the truth, but she had also come hoping that they might be able to resume their friendship. They had been so close before. The fact that Brian had been a boy never really got in the way. Becky wanted to be able to talk to her, and do things with her that only another woman could do. She had done that too. Cassie had connected with her immediately, not just because she was a woman, but also because she still had the same soul that Brian had. Becky being a woman just made everything easier for both of them. She was Cassie's friend, sister in womanhood, and teammate. That was all she needed to be for now.
The next two months went pretty well for Cassie's team. They won four games, and lost four, but were competitive in every one. They ended the regular season at five and five, and made the playoffs.
Now Becky felt better than she had in a year. Being connected with Cassie again, had made her spirit soar. Whenever Cassie brought the kids to the game, Becky would stay late shooting with them, until Cassie threatened to leave all three of them. When Cassie came alone, they would park in front of Becky's and talk. Mostly, Cassie would talk, usually about Craig and sometimes about the kids. Becky would add advice when she felt it was warranted. Becky would always try to steer clear of conversations about her own past. She had to lie, but she didn't want to lie anymore than she had to. Becky would usually try to turn the conversation back toward Cassie. She was always asking Cassie to tell her stories about her professional career in Europe. To Cassie, it was ancient history; to Becky it was missing pieces in a friendship. Cassie would marvel at the way Becky would hang on her every word. She sat there, all wide-eyed and excited, just like Mandy did whenever she begged a story out of Cassie.
When Cassie asked Becky if she was looking for work, Becky told her that she had cashed in a 401k, so she didn't have to work for a while. Becky was always careful to never commit to how long she would be staying. Each week, Cassie would drop her off and tell her, "Your ponytail and butt better be there next week, girl friend!"
Then Cassie's team won their first playoff game on the shooting touch of Cassie's left hand. She was vintage "Pistol" again. She started the game by hitting her first three shots and never let up. Becky, Katie, and Debbie just concentrated on getting her the ball and getting out of her way. When the horn sounded, Cassie had amassed those 50 points she said she could never score again. Next week they would be playing for the championship.
The kids, Cassie and Becky grabbed sandwiches at "Suzy Q's." Jamestown's 50's style drive-in, and celebrated the victory. Becky and Cassie reveled in the moment. It was good that they did, as next week's game was nearly over before it started.
That night Cassie came in on time for once, but was limping and in serious pain. The hip was out again, and she grimaced on every jumper she shot in warm-ups. Becky tried to convince her to sit out, but she insisted that it would ease up once she got on the court. She played the first ten minutes of the game on sheer heart, determination, and plain stubbornness. When she came out, she was hurting so bad her hands were doubled in fists and tears welled in her eyes. She didn't play another minute that night.
Without Cassie's leadership and offense, Becky and her teammates struggled to find their rhythm. At the half they were down by sixteen, and it easily could have been worse. All they could do was try to come out the second half and make it respectable.
Cassie, Mandy, and anyone else who stayed around to watch the second half saw the best game that Brian Baker or Becky Taylor had ever played. Cassie was used to the reckless abandon that Becky played with. She'd seen the passion and youthful enthusiasm that often sparkled in her eyes, but she had never seen such fire and determination. Becky's game face told she was a woman on a mission, and she played like it. Becky knew if they had the slightest chance of winning, she was going to have to dominate the court like Cassie. She was going to have to score big and often. She attacked the defense like a blonde tornado, and she had them reeling in her path.
With an assortment of jumpers, drives, and rebound baskets, Becky had pulled her team to within two points with 8 seconds to go, and they had possession of the ball. Katie pounded the ball at the top of the key, Debbie set a screen and Becky rolled across the middle, but Katie's man dropped off to deny the entry pass. With the clock nearing zero, Katie had no choice but to fire the wide open jumper. Her shot was long and bounced off the right side of the rim. Becky rose above the other players, grabbing the rebound, and shooting while she was still in the air. Her soft shot, kissed off the backboard, hung teasingly on the rim for a moment and then rolled off as the horn sounded.
Exhausted and devastated, Becky fell to the floor. She got a hand up from several players and congratulations on a great game from everyone. Cassie's remarks as she drove Becky to her apartment were the ones she cherished most.
"I guess I need to throw out my hip more often!" Cassie glanced over at Becky. "I'm about serious girl. You always play like a hyperactive eight year old, but I've never seen you play like that. If you would have brought that game with you every night, we would have been undefeated. I knew you had more game than you showed, and you really impressed me."
Though smiling broadly, Becky blushed. She was beaming with pride at Cassie's glowing praise. She looked like a little girl who had just made her mother very happy. "I know all this is for fun, but I really wanted to win. I was determined to play the game of my life or die trying."
"Well girl, you looked like you were playing for the WNBA championship out there." Cassie smiled. "With the look you had on your face, I wouldn't have wanted to be between you and the basket! I don't know why you never played college ball, but if you could play like this every night, you could have picked your college, and maybe even went pro. I am serious kid. You showed some real talent out there tonight."
Becky blushed and beamed again, while adding a little humor to the situation. "Well, just keep that in mind when we renegotiate my contract next season! If I'm going to be a star, I want to make as much money as you do for playing."
The pain of the loss was replaced by the joy of friendship. Cassie pulled Becky's ponytail with her right hand. "Yeah, just like I said earlier. You're blonde clear to the root!" Both women laughed heartily.
Uncharacteristically, Mandy had been quiet all the way to Becky's. When the blonde looked in the back to tell her goodbye, she found out why. Mandy was asleep. Her angelic face looked so peaceful and innocent. Becky looked at her longingly, and then blew her a kiss. Cassie watched them both and sighed, "They all look like angels when they're sleeping. The horns only come out when they're awake." She paused a minute to regard the look on Becky's face. "I bet you were just like her as a little girl."
Becky turned to face Cassie. There was great sadness in her eyes. "In spirit only... in spirit only."
Puzzled by Becky's reply, the coach asked, "In spirit only?"
Realizing she was getting to close to the truth, she hedged, "I mean...I didn't get to do a lot of things that Mandy does, but I always wanted to."
Seeming satisfied with the explanation, Cassie giggled softly, "Well, I'd better get sleeping beauty home. Oh yeah, I almost forgot to tell you. We don't play for two weeks and when we start up again, we won't be playing at the community center. We always play the spring and summer season at my court. I've got a full court out behind my house. It's got lights for the night games. I think you'll love it. Don't worry about getting there. It's too far for you to jog, so I'll pick you up and bring you back. Be ready by 5:30! See ya then!"
Becky waved as Cassie pulled away. Stunned, she walked up to her apartment. "Cassie's Court!" She thought, "I'm really coming home now."
The pony-tailed blonde spent most of the next two weeks just hanging around Jamestown. No longer worrying about running into Cassie, she felt much more at ease to explore the town.
The weekend before the opening of the new season, Becky came down with a very nasty stomach flu. When Cassie picked her up Wednesday evening, she was pale and fevered, but determined to play. As Cassie drove, she described the long and storied history of "Cassie's Court." She said some of the greatest times of her life were spent playing basketball with her best friend on that court. Becky's stomach churned from the stomach flu, and her heart ached from the memories that Cassie stirred up.
Waiting for Cassie when she pulled into the driveway were Mandy, Devon, and Cassie's brother Brad. The kids rushed up to the car, and started dragging Becky toward the court. Cassie laughed, "It's tough being a star isn't it?"
Shooting her friend a grimacing glance, she then just threw up her hands in total surrender. Cassie stopped Becky's entourage long enough for her to meet Brad. They both returned polite "Hi"s, but as she walked toward the court, Brad gave her a quick once over and smiled. The blonde noticed it, and smiled to herself. "In twelve years, he never once gave Brian the time of day. In twelve seconds, he actually spoke to, smiled at, and checked out Becky. You go girl!"
The kids led her around the house and to the court; it was if she'd stepped through a time portal. Everything was very nearly the same as it had been twenty years before. The house, the court, and the lot next-door were almost identical to the way she remembered them. Becky glanced over to her old house and saw time had not been so kind to it. The basketball goal was gone. The grass was high and the house was in desperate need of a coat of paint.
Devon, watched her stare at the old house. He told her, "No one's lived there in a long time. It's pretty junkie." Becky tried to get her mind off old memories and old houses by shooting with the kids, but the flu was racking her body, and she had no energy. She played the best game she could, but hardly able to breathe, and she had none of her old drive and hustle. Cassie played pretty well, but the team missed Becky's spark, and they were soundly defeated.
All the while playing mother hen, Cassie drove her friend home. Becky enjoyed having Cassie's motherly side directed at her. She played the dutiful daughter in return, by answering, "Yes, Mom," to every statement she made. She then left the younger woman with strict orders of bed rest and herbal teas. Just to accentuate it, she finished with an ominous, "or else!" if Becky didn't do it.
Lying around the apartment the entire week, Becky drank herbal teas until her bladder was floating, but the flu hadn't subsided. When Cassie picked up Becky, she could tell she was still sick.
"Did you stay in bed, and drink herbal tea like I told you?"
Becky smiled, and did her best little girl voice. "Yes Mom, I did. I was a good girl!"
Cassie shook her head and smiled back at her. "Okay you goof! If you want to act like Mandy, then I'll treat you like her. I'm going to call my doctor and get you an appointment, Little Miss!"
Immediately the blonde waved her off, "No, Cassie, that's not necessary. I'll be fine. It's just a nasty flu. Look, I'll pick up some flu meds at the drugstore when we get back."
Cassie wasn't convinced. "C'mon Becky. Let me call my doctor. She's a real sweetheart. She can prescribe something stronger than those over-the-counter pretenders.
I can probably get you in this week, pleeease..."
Becky did the one thing Brian had never done before. She managed to resist the power of a Cassie "pleeease."
"No! Cassie, really! I've seen enough doctors to last me a lifetime. I'll be alright." Seeing the concern in Cassie's eyes, she added, "I'll make you a promise. If I don't get better in a week or two, you can call your doctor. Okay?"
The mother of two, Cassie knew she'd won a minor victory and gladly accepted it. "Okay, but I'm going to hold you to that."
Closing the conversation with her little girl voice again she simpered, "Yes, Momma."
Cassie shook her head and smiled as they arrived at her house.
Becky played a little better, but the flu had robbed her of her stamina, and she couldn't stay in the game for more than three minutes at a time. They lost the game and their record fell to 0 and 3. Cassie drove Becky to the drugstore to pick up her flu meds before dropping her off at the apartment. Cassie repeated her earlier prescription of bed rest and herbal teas.
Becky settled in for the night. She hadn't eaten since breakfast, but her churning stomach balked at the thought of food. With a Diet Coke, she washed down a few saltines and took her night meds. To take the flu meds, with all the other medication she was taking, was unthinkable; she just could NOT risk a drug interaction. She went to sleep telling herself that she would be over this flu by next Wednesday, or at least her friend would think she was. There was no way that she was going to see Cassie's doctor, or any other doctor in Jamestown.
Come the following Wednesday, Becky actually felt a little better. Her stomach still wasn't taking food very well and she was a little tired, but definitely better. She put on her uniform, pulled her hair up and put on a little extra base to cover the paleness of her skin and the dark circles beneath her eyes. She did her best impression of a Diana Prince smile as her friend picked her up for the game. Cassie eyed her new friend closely as she slid into the Suburban. "Hey girlfriend, you feeling any better?"
Becky flashed the smile and answered. "Much better, and I owe it all to you and your herbal teas!"
Cassie rolled her eyes at the flippant remark, and then noticed her friend's heavily made up face. "Hey what's with all the war paint tonight? You got a hot date with Brad after the game?"
Waving her hand and the girl shook her head to say no. "The only "hot date" I have tonight is with an offensive rebound, okay? Actually, I just felt like being pretty tonight." Becky pursed her lips, batted her eyes, and struck a femme fatale pose.
"Okay, Madonna, just be ready to play tonight. I'd like to win at least one game this season."
Cassie didn't get her wish as her team dropped their fourth straight game. Becky played her best game on Cassie's Court, but she still wasn't anything close to the dynamo she had been at the community center. After she got home from the game that night, she had terrible heaves and her body ached at every joint.
In the early hours of the morning, she sat by the window. She was crying, rocking and clutching her childhood stuffed lion. He was as well worn as the Velveteen Rabbit, and just as well loved. Across her bed lay pamphlets, medical reports and books, but she didn't need to consult them. Becky knew it all by heart. She didn't have the flu any longer, maybe she never did. Coming from California she wanted to believe she might lose her pursuer, or that somehow Cassie's magic could make it all better, but those were childish dreams, as hopeless as those Brian used to have. Brian used to believe that if he just wished hard enough, he could wake up one morning and be a girl just like Cassie. But he had learned a long time ago that those dreams couldn't come true. Now, Becky was learning the same lesson.
The only thing left for her now was to decide how much longer you could risk staying. As long as she could still get up and down the court and spend time with her, she wanted to. However, if Cassie suspected the truth, or if she allowed herself to get too sick before leaving, she would end up in a hospital with Cassie by her side. She was not about to put either of them through that. Increasing her pain meds the slender blonde decided to continue doing what she'd been doing all along, take each day as it comes, and be ready to leave tomorrow.
She played the next two games, and then missed one. She used her sore knee as an excuse, and Cassie half bought it. There was but one game left in the season and Becky knew it was to be her final game. She wasn't about to miss it.
Not even pancake make-up could hide the dark circles or the tiredness in her face and eyes. Already slender by nature, she looked emaciated, having dropped twenty pounds over the last six weeks. Sweat ran streaks down her make-up before the game even started. The July heat was bad, but Becky knew it was her fever that had returned. She grabbed a bottle of PowerAde and washed down some pills while Cassie eyed her suspiciously; the coach was worried about her friend's health, and intended to confront her about it after the game.
Knowing this was to be her last game, she summoned up strength out of pure heart and willful determination. For the first time all summer, she showed flashes of the old Becky and at halftime they were up five. Though tired and sick, nothing could have kept her off that court the second half. With two minutes to go and the game comfortably in hand, the tall blonde and another girl fought for a rebound. Becky banged hard off the other girl and then fell to one knee. A wave of nausea overcame her and she stumbled courtside. She heaved up the blood-splattered bile she'd grown accustomed to seeing the last few weeks, wiped her mouth and turned to find Cassie's concerned face behind her.
Cassie's eyes lit up at the trace of blood on Becky's lips. "Girl, you're bleeding! Are you going to be all right?'
With her wristband, Becky wiped away the last trace of blood from her lips. Weakly she replied, "Yeah...I'm okay. I-I... umm...took a shot in the mouth, and I think I cracked a tooth. It's just a little blood, and it made me sick. It's no big deal."
Cassie wasn't so easily convinced, "Okay Mighty Isis! Have a seat and watch us old women finish off a win, but I'm telling you something right now, and I'm serious! Tomorrow, I'm calling my doctor and your going to see her. You can go willingly, or kicking and screaming." She then added with a smile. "And you can ask Devon and Mandy, I like kicking and screaming."
Too tired and too sick to argue she just nodded accordingly. Within in minutes, the game was over and the women celebrated their victory in earnest. Becky helped Cassie clean up the court after everyone else had left. It was only then the baleful blonde noticed the kids hadn't been around all evening. "Hey Becky, where's Heckle and Jeckle tonight? Are they over at Brad's? I miss shooting around with them after our games.
Cassie sighed. "They're with Craig for two weeks. This is his two weeks during the summer visitation. I miss them so much. I'm about ready to go nuts. You know, today's my birthday. This is the first year I won't be spending my birthday with the kids."
Becky had forgotten Cassie's birthday. She couldn't bear her being alone and depressed. "Say Cassie, why don't you let me buy your birthday dinner or at least a drink tonight? You can't just sit around here and be depressed on your birthday. You're turning 39, right?" The mother of two just nodded. "Okay, then next year you will have the right to get depressed. This is the last year to live it up big! C'mon, we'll have a girls' night out. It will be fun, you'll see. You pick the place, and I'll buy. Unless maybe, you got a "hot date" tonight?"
Cassie picked up on the reference. "Touché Becky, but I still don't much feel like celebrating."
Becky pulled a Cassie trick out of her hat. "C'mon girlfriend, I don't feel like going home and sitting alone tonight. We can just sit and talk and nurse a couple of drinks if you want, pleeease."
Cassie couldn't resist her own line and finally agreed.
Changing shirts they headed into town. Cassie's spirits had already lifted. While in the house changing, Devon and Mandy had called to wish her a happy birthday. Feeling a lot more like celebrating, Cassie said she knew the perfect place to go. It was an old high school favorite of hers, and still had the best pizza in town. The blonde didn't have to see the sign when they pulled in to know where the strawberry blonde had taken them. It was "Li'l Italy".
Brian and Cassie had spent so much time and money devouring pizzas there; they should've offered to buy the place. It would have ultimately been cheaper. While Cassie led Becky to what had been her and Brian's favorite booth she gave her new friend an animated description of how cheesy and delicious a Li'l Italy pie was. The shop was permeated in the aroma of mozzarellas, Parmesan and tomato sauce. It was the one smell that always made Brian hungry even when he thought he was too depressed to eat. For Becky, coming here was like walking into an old memory, but the smell made her stomach queasy. Even pizza, one of her oldest and dearest loves, was lost to her now.
Becky ordered a Diet Coke and Cassie ordered a margarita and recommended a large pepperoni pie with extra cheese. "I didn't know you drink, kid." The blonde was shocked.
"Well...I don't drink often, but when I do, it's always a margarita. I got a taste for them in Spain. Craig used to take me to this place that made killer margaritas." The margarita had reminded her of Craig, and happier times they had shared in Spain.
Over the next hour and a half, Becky picked at her slice of pizza, while Cassie poured her heart out about Craig and their failed marriage, of how he had really been pressing hard for a second chance. He had begged her to come back to Denver with the kids and try again. Cassie hadn't mentioned any of this to the kids. They would obviously jump at the chance for their family to be reunited, but their mother knew that they couldn't understand it wasn't as simple as just moving to Denver. She couldn't trust her husband when she left him. What was there to make her think she could trust him now? She still loved him, and always would, but love isn't enough when you live in the real world. There was also the matter of her house, her job, and the kids' activities in school. She didn't want her or the kids to lose the security and routine they'd grown accustomed to.
As always, Becky let her run, and then interjected thoughts and advice, as they seemed pertinent. Cassie finally wound down. She still wasn't sure what to do about Craig, but she felt a lot better having talked about it. Her girlfriend's support had given her confidence in herself to make the right decision.
Suddenly switching the topic to their basketball league and the playoffs next week The coach said, "Becky, since you're not doing anything on next Wednesday, why not come over to the court and work the scoreboard for the playoffs. It will give us a chance to chat, and oh by the way, in case you think this one margarita has made me forget our little conversation at the end of the game, you are sorely mistaken, missy. I'm still calling my doctor tomorrow." Cassie pointed at Becky's plate and its half-eaten piece of pizza. "You've barely eaten one slice of pizza; you've got to be sick."
Before the sick comrade could comment on anything, her friend had said, the team owner's eyes lit up. "I just thought of something. Why don't you crash at my house for a week? You're all alone up in that apartment. I'm alone in my big house. We can shoot hoops, rent videos, and talk all night like a couple of teen-age girl, and... I know you won't weasel out of your doctor's appointment. C'mon it will be good for both of us. Just say yes Becky, pleeease!"
Becky thought for a moment. A week of hanging with Cassie was very tempting, but she'd already stayed too long. If she stayed one more week, she'd end up dying here, and she had already ruled that out.
A sad expression told Cassie the answer before Becky began to speak. "Gee kid, I'd love to spend the week with you, but uh... actually I'm leaving for awhile. I'm going back to California to see my doctor. As you probably have figured out, it's not just the flu that's got me dragging tail. I um...got serious ulcer problems. That's why I've been so sick, and not able to eat. It's kind of complicated but they'll probably run some tests, change my meds, and I'll be my old sassy self in no time."
"Becky, you are coming back aren't you?" Cassie was concerned for her friend's health and sad to think of her leaving. The emaciated girl turned to face the window. Now she was flat lying to her best friend, and she didn't know how much longer she could keep this up. She answered her without looking at her. "I plan to come back. I want to come back."
Cassie reached across the table and squeezed her friend's hand. The younger woman looked across at her friend; both women were on the verge of tears. The winsome strawberry blonde was the first to speak.
"Oh Becky, please come back! I know we've been friends for just a few months, but I've really grown close to you. It's been so great to have another woman to talk to. I can't tell you how much you've helped me by just being there. I love playing basketball with you. We even win a game or two with you around. And the kids... ghad, they love you to death. Becky, I haven't had a friend like you in years. I really don't want to lose you."
Becky's heart was breaking. She could barely look Cassie in the eye, let alone speak. Cassie broke the momentary silence. "Do you remember the first night we met? You looked so familiar to me, but I couldn't remember where I'd seen you. It wasn't until I watched you play the next night at the community center that I figured out who you reminded me of. You remind me of the only best friend I've ever had. That is until I met you. His name was Brian. We grew up together. He lived in the vacant house across the lot from me. We did everything together. We used to sit in this same booth. We'd eat pizza and talk until they ran us out of here. We spent hours and hours, days and nights playing basketball on my court. Those were the best games of one-on-one I've ever played. You could put us on the same team and we could whip any two boys crazy enough to try and beat us. Becky, if it wasn't for Brian, and those workouts we went through, I never would have been the college or pro player I became."
Cassie wiped a tear from her eye. Becky still had not spoken. She couldn't. All she could do was think. "Oh God, Cassie please forgive me. I never meant to put you through this."
Cassie took a deep breath and continued, "I loved him Becky. I really loved him, but it wasn't like you're probably thinking. I mean...we were never boyfriend and girlfriend. We were better than that. We were best friends. The fact that he was a guy never got in the way, and I was closer to him than to any girl I knew. I didn't have very many girl friends. I was so into basketball, and so not into being a disco queen that half the girls I went to school with were afraid I was a lesbian. See, I didn't fit in, and Brian, he didn't fit in either. Brian wasn't any more the typical guy than I was the typical girl. His basketball coach, his teammates, even his own father hated him. I think that's why we were such good friends. We were misfit hoop junkies who didn't have anyone else. We even shared an apartment for years while we went to the University of West Virginia. After college, I went to play pro ball overseas. We lost touch and I never found him again. Lord knows I've tried though."
Their waiter came up to see if they needed refills. The blonde answered no for both of them, "Thanks."
Becky finally spoke up. "Cassie, I don't know what to say. I'm really sorry."
Cassie smiled through her tears. "It's alright sugar. It's not your fault. It's just... well... you remind me so much of him. You look enough like him to be his sister, and you play so much like him on the court, but the way you and I connected...well, that was just the way it was with Brian and me. I know you're not Brian's sister, or long lost cousin, but the resemblance just blew me away. Hey, look... I'm really sorry if this makes you feel uncomfortable. I think maybe I just miss him so much, I started seeing things in you that really aren't there and I apologize. You don't deserve all this. It's just that Brian's been gone so long. I don't even know if he's alive. I've lost Brian. I just hate to lose you too."
Becky's face fell into her hands as she cried. She couldn't let this go on any longer, not one word longer. Everything for her changed. This lie she was living had seemed like the best way to deal with the situation, but now she realized it was totally and cruelly wrong. Her best friend was now going to end up mourning the loss of two friends. She deserved to be told the truth. She needed to know that Brian was a heartless rat who lied to her, and didn't deserve the love she still felt for him.
She raised her eyes to meet Cassie's, wiping the tears from her own eyes. "Cassie, I've got something to tell you and I don't know how to say it, but Lord knows I've got to."
Cassie's eyes grew wide with concern. "Hey girl, you're scarring me now. Look, I don't know what it is that you have to tell me, but I think you better just say it."
Slowly letting out a breath the blonde asked Cassie if she wanted another margarita before she started. She assured her that she would need it, but Cassie just motioned for her to get on with it.
Finally, Becky began. "Cassie, I lied to you. I've lied to you from the first night we met. I did play basketball against you in college, but I wasn't on another team."
Cassie cut in. "Well, I know you weren't on my team. I'm sure I'd remember you from school."
Becky waved her off. "Cassie, please...just wait until I finish."
Cassie nodded, and Becky continued. "We played ball together in college and high school. We played on your court and the lot next door." She paused to swallow. The coach's face was etched with confusion. She still hadn't figured out who sat before her.
Finally removing all doubt, the sick girl told her, "We were good friends and...I had a nickname for you. I called you..."Pistol".
Cassie's mouth flew open. Her mind registered who was truly sitting before her, but it was too much to accept at once. Her eyes were filled with shock and disbelief. Thirty seconds of silence passed between the two women before the girl sitting before her spoke. "For Pete's sake Cassie, say something, anything. Just speak to me!"
Cassie leaned across the booth. "Is that really you in there Brian?'
Dropping her eyes to the table she sighed soft, "Yeah Cassie, it's really me, and I'm so sorry about everything."
Cassie stood up from the booth and stepped over in front of her long lost friend. The other girl stood up and faced her. The strawberry blonde took a moment to stare deeply into the blonde's eyes. At that moment, all she wanted to do was hold the person standing before her, so Cassie grabbed Becky, and put her arms around her. The two women stood in the middle of the floor hugging and crying. In between sobs, the older girl kept repeating, "I missed you so much." The younger just kept saying she was sorry.
The crowd at Li'l Italy watched the women embrace for nearly five minutes before Cassie finally released Becky.
Cassie stood there just looking Becky up and down, smiling lovingly and shaking her head. All of the sudden, the expression changed, and she unleashed a left hook that hit the slender girl square in her right shoulder and sent her crashing back into the booth.
The tall blonde pulled herself upright and looked up at the strawberry blonde. She was furious, and the pain and hurt was evident in her eyes.
"Damn you Becky...err, Brian...oh hell, I don't know what to call you now. How could you do this to me? How could you just disappear like that? Not a word from you in almost twenty years, not one word! Then when you finally show up, you're dressed like a woman! Do you have any idea of what I've gone through, and how long and hard I looked for you? I'll be honest with you. I thought you were dead, because I knew if you were alive, you would have found a way to contact me. Why Brian? Why did you leave like that, and come back dressed like this and acting like a total stranger for six months? I want to know just what the hell is going on Becky, err... Brian."
The wave of anger that had overtaken her best friend so quickly was leaving her just as quickly. Her pain and anguish had exploded, leaving her in tears once again. Becky sat upright in the booth, rubbing her sore arm, and wincing in pain. She looked up at Cassie. "I missed you too, Pistol."
Cassie felt terrible for allowing her emotions to get the best of her like that. She had never hit anyone in anger before. "Are you alright, Becky? I mean Brian... Damn it! This is just too much. I know you're really Brian, but I just can't call you Brian with you sitting there looking like a woman!"
"That's one of the nicest compliments I've ever had, I think." A huge smiled brightened her face even though she could see how guilty Cassie felt after she had hit her. "Cassie I deserved that punch and whole bunch more for what I've put you through. Please don't feel bad about it. C'mon and sit down, before they throw us out. Give me a chance, and I'll try to explain everything I can. Please!"
Their waiter returned as Cassie was sitting down. "Is everything alright ladies?"
Cassie flashed her smile. "Oh yes, uh... were old friends and we haven't seen each other in years."
The waiter returned dryly, "Yes, I can see that. Can I get either of you a refill?"
Cassie fielded that one as well, "Yes, please. Get my friend another diet and I'll have another margarita, heavy on the tequila."
The waiter smiled and went to get their drinks. Becky leaned forward toward Cassie and whispered. "Did you see that look he gave us when you told him we were old friends?"
"Yeah, I knocked you into the booth and then called you my friend. He'd probably hate to see what I'd do if I ran into an enemy in here." Cassie smiled. The two women began giggling, and then held hands across the table. "I'm really sorry about that punch. You sure your arm is going to be alright?"
"Yeah, it's okay, and like I said before, I deserved a whole lot more for putting you through what I have. I just hope that maybe someday you can forgive me."
"Becky...I mean, that's okay if I call you Becky isn't it?"
A huge smile filled her features. "Cassie you are the only person in this world who could call me Brian and not make me mad, but I would rather you call me Becky."
"Okay, Becky it is!" Cassie paused a moment to recapture her thought. "Becky, I have already forgiven you. I love you too much to ever stay mad at you, but you owe me some explanations. I just want to know what's going on, if you feel comfortable enough to tell me. I promise I won't hit you anymore." The team manager lowered her voice to a whisper. "I mean... I know you're not dressing up like this just to play in a women's basketball league, right?"
Becky smiled and shook her head. "No Cassie, it goes way beyond that."
The waiter brought their drinks and asked them if they needed anything else. Cassie said no. He eyed them very suspiciously before leaving.
"Did you see that Pistol? First he sees you slug me, and then walks up and we're holding hands. Probably thinks we're two lesbians having a lovers spat! You think we should tell him the truth?"
Cassie eyes twinkled. "Naah...let him have his fantasy. I doubt if he could handle the truth. And speaking of the truth... How about giving me some? Like, why you disappeared for all these years and never called or wrote. You should have told me what was going on. Maybe, I could have helped. I was your best friend."
"That's why I couldn't tell you Cassie."
Cassie shook her head. "I don't understand. I don't understand that at all."
Becky squeezed Cassie's hand. "I don't really understand all of it either, but if you will listen, I'll try to explain what I can and maybe that will help. So... where do I start? Might as well start with the obvious huh? Cassie, I'm not just dressed like a woman. This isn't all just make-up, and Kleenex stuffed in a bra. I'm really a woman...or at least the best imitation that medical science and plastic surgery could create."
Huge eyes lit up. "Well, you sure fooled me girlfriend and everyone else in the league as well. If anyone would have suspected you were a man, I'd known about it. I thought you looked familiar. I thought you might be Brian's stepsister, but I never dreamed you were a man. Becky, you really look good. You're too skinny, and those dark circles of yours show through your make-up, but aside from that you really look good. I loved Brian to death, but he never looked this good."
Becky smiled and rolled her eyes at the compliment.
"I'm serious Becky, and if you don't believe me, just ask Brad. I've watched him checking you out a number of times when he's came to the games. The funny thing was, with Brad being divorced and all, I actually thought about trying to push you two together."
Becky's cheeks turned a bright crimson and Cassie couldn't miss it. "Oh my God... you're blushing! You really are a girl aren't you?"
Shrugging her shoulders and looking sheepishly at Cassie, the younger of the two said, "I'd like to believe I am. If I'm not, it's too late to turn back now. You can trust me on that one!"
Cassie's eyes narrowed, as she got very serious. "Hey, I was wondering, when did you become Becky? I mean really become Becky. Do you know what I mean?"
"If you mean when did I have sex reassignment surgery, it will be two years in December. If you mean how long have I felt like Becky...it's been all my life. This all started before I met you. When I was little, I used to wish I were a real girl. I watched cartoons and wished I were a girl superhero, or some princess. Do you remember when you called me Mighty Isis today?"
Cassie thought and then finally nodded.
"She was my favorite super hero. I wanted to be her so bad. She had that white silk outfit, and the power bracelet. She was beautiful and strong and so cool. There wasn't a warrior girl or princess that I didn't want to be."
On a roll, the blonde continued, "When I was in the second grade, I wrote little stories about being a real girl, and how happy I would be. Everybody else was reading about Dick and Jane, and I was writing about being Jane. I wasn't totally into ribbons and lace, but I liked some of the clothes that girls wore, and boys couldn't. I don't remember wanting a doll, but I had my lion, and I would've given anything to have been able to go over and play make-believe with the girls. Crazy thing was Cassie, I thought every little boy growing up felt the same way I did. I didn't know any better. I never doubted for a minute that I was a boy. I looked like a boy; dressed like a boy and most of all, my parents told me I was a boy. Parents love their children, and as a kid, you just know that your parents would never lie to you, and never let you do anything that was wrong or could hurt you. If they'd told me I was a bird, I'd tried to grow wings and fly."
Cassie rubbed Becky's hand, encouraging her to go on; needing to know what her best friend had been going through, and Becky needed to tell her.
"I told you that when I was little, I had a lot of superheroes and princesses that I wanted to be, but once I met you, I never had another. I think from the first day you threw rocks at my window and got me out riding bikes, I wanted to be just like you. You became my friend, my sister, and my idol. I still feel the same way about you today."
Tears filled both women's eyes. Neither took a hand to wipe them away, as they knew there would be many more to come. "Cassie, when you were growing up, I thought you were the perfect girl. You had every thing I ever wanted. You were a girl, you were cute, you loved sports and were good at them, you were fun to be with, brave and very caring. You even had two parents who loved and supported you.
"Every time we did something together, there was a part of me that wished I could be you doing it. I wanted people to look at me, and treat me like they did you. I use to go to bed wishing I could wake up and be your twin. I just knew you would be as happy as I was about it. I wanted to do the whole Haley Mills, Parent Trap thing. I thought once your parents realized you had a twin, they would just adopt me and we could live as sisters. We could play on the same basketball team together and everything. Pretty sick stuff, huh?"
Cassie lightly put her fingers below Becky's chin and raised her face to meet her own. "No...I don't think it's sick, or stupid or wrong. I had no idea that you felt that way. I don't think I've ever been worthy of being anyone's idol, but I'm honored that you would want to be like me. I would've loved having you as my twin sister. Of course, if you ask me, I think I would rather be Mighty Isis, than Cassie Miller any day."
Cassie tried to coax a smile from Becky, but could get no more than just a slight turn of her lip. "Becky, I think most of all, it just makes me feel very sad to know that you felt that way for so long, and I never had a clue. I just wished I could have done something."
"Cassie, there wasn't anything you could do, and I really didn't know just how different I was from other boys until I was 12. I know you remember that two on two tournaments we had that summer. Your father bought trophies and we never lost a game. Do you remember the uniforms we wore? You wanted to wear your baby blue silk uniform from the girls' team at school. So, as always, I wanted to be just like you. Do you remember what I talked you into doing?" Cassie's mind drifted back almost 30 years, and then a look of recognition flashed across her face. Becky could see she remembered. "I got you to sneak me another uniform out of the coach's office, just so we could be twins. We even had matching wristbands. I was so happy and excited, and I thought we looked cool! The other boys didn't think it was cool at all! I never told you what they said to me after the tournament, or what my father did when he found out that I won a basketball tournament wearing a girl's uniform. I didn't want you to feel bad about getting me the uniform, so I didn't say anything. From that time on though, I knew I was different from all the other boys, and that it wasn't a real good idea to show it."
Becky took a drink of her soda, and took a deep breath before starting up again. "It wasn't until we were in high school, that I realized just how much I hated being a boy, and how much I wanted to be a girl, a girl just like you.
"I did try to be a boy. I tried so hard to be the son my father always wanted, but I just kept on failing him. The more I'd fail, the harder he would push me. The more he pushed, the more frustrated I got. Sooner or later I would just end up crying, and he would just rage! "
"I loved basketball, but I hated being on that school team. I couldn't fit in with those guys. I always felt so... uncomfortable. The showers were the worst. I felt so ashamed standing there naked. I hated my body anyway, so when they starting teasing me like they did, I couldn't have felt any worse. I would be so upset I would cry all the way back from practice. There was only one thing in high school that I had to look forward to, and that was hanging with you. When I was with you, I wasn't Brian anymore. I was Cassie Miller, basketball star, or her twin sister Becky. When I hung out at your house, I imagined we were two girls watching the tube, eating pizza, and shooting hoops. When I came to your games, I imagined myself scoring every time you scored, or that I was one of your teammates feeding you a perfect pass, and you giving me a high five after you scored. When your parents hugged you, told you they loved you, and looked at you with pride. I so wished it was me they were hugging."
Cassie reached across the table and extended her arms and hugged Becky. Her heart broke as she realized just how long her friend had lived without acceptance and love.
"Becky, I still don't understand why you didn't confide in me. I was your best friend. I wouldn't have turned my back on you."
"Cassie, I did want to tell you, Lord did I want to tell you, but I was too afraid I'd lose you. I couldn't run the risk that you would reject me. Cassie you were the only person in the world that really cared about me. My father hated me, everyone at school hated me, and even I hated me. I know my mom cared, but I wasn't about to put her in the middle between my father and I. Can't you see, that if I'd lost you then I'd been totally alone, and I would have went crazy or maybe even killed myself? Think about it Cassie...we were 16 years old. Do you really think you could have handled your best male friend telling you he wanted to be you or your twin sister? Can you honestly tell me you wouldn't have run away? Do you think you would have ever been comfortable with me again?"
Cassie thought for a minute. "I'd like to believe that I could've handled it. I would have been shocked, but I don't think there's anything you could've said that would have run me away, or stopped me from loving you."
"Maybe you could've handled it, and maybe you couldn't have, but I didn't want to risk losing you just to find out. I wanted to change, but I didn't want our friendship to change.
"I just can't believe you had all this going on inside you and you never said a word. I was you best friend. I should have noticed it. I should have been able to figure it out." Cassie shook her head in disbelief.
"You weren't looking for the problem, so you didn't see it. Although...once, I almost told you, and another time I showed you, but you couldn't see it. It's not your fault. You just weren't looking. Nobody was." Becky smiled at Cassie.
"When did you almost tell me?" Cassie was curious from Becky's last words.
A broad smile came across Becky's face. "Do the words, ‘Little Kings Crème Ale’ mean anything to you?"
Cassie smiled and then groaned. "Oh yeah, I still get nauseous just walking by them in the supermarket."
Becky quizzed her again. "Do you remember the conversation we had before we both ended up on our knees and tossing our cookies?"
Cassie blushed this time. "Yeah, I remember. I was such a goof. I thought you had a crush on me. Boy, did I ever miss that by a mile."
"Cassie, you couldn't of known. I'll tell ya a secret...I kind of wanted to kiss you. I wanted to see how you would react. I wanted to live that through you, just like I was living everything else. I knew it was wrong for me to kiss you, but I thought you wanted to kiss me, and well...I didn't want to disappoint you. I was sitting there, looking at you. Your eyes were closed, and you lips were waiting for a kiss. I leaned forward, and then stopped. I didn't know if I should kiss you, or tell you the truth. I so wanted to tell you the truth. I only hesitated a moment, but it was enough. Your eyes opened, and your face went pale."
"The Little Kings went reverse gears on us, and then we were too busy praying and heaving to think about kisses or secrets." Cassie nodded.
"That's pretty much the story. By the next day, we were both too embarrassed to ever discuss it."
"Okay Becky, I'll buy that, but when did you show me? I got to believe I would have noticed that!"
Becky took a long drink of soda before starting. Once began, the words took them back to a Friday night during the spring of 1979. It was as if it was happening for the very first time.
Cassie's parents had flown to the coast for one of their weekend getaways, and Brad was in Charleston spending the weekend at a friend's.
She was 16 and it was the first time she'd been in the house overnight alone. Brian had gone home that night around seven, and by nine she was going crazy. She'd called Brian and begged him to come over and spend the night.
She'd used every lure she could think of. "C'mon Brian, we can shoot hoops as late as we want. I got money to order pizza, and... CBS Friday Night NBA is on! It's Portland versus Phoenix, Bill Walton versus Alvin Adams." She'd dangled the game in front of Brian knowing how much he loved the Portland Trailblazers. Just for good measure, she added her trademark, "Pleeease." Brian arrived at her door in ten minutes. They'd played some spirited games of basketball for about an hour and then crashed in the living room. Cassie grabbed a quick shower while Brian went through albums on the stereo. When Cassie came out, her hair was up in a towel, and she was wearing her replica "Joe Namath", New York Jets jersey. It was so big, that it made a perfect nightshirt.
"Next!" she said as she motioned Brian toward the bathroom door.
Brian shook his head. "I didn't bring any clean clothes. I can't take a shower. If I go back to get some now, I may not be able to come back at all."
Cassie put her hands on her hips. "Don't take this personal Brian, but you stink! I'm not going to smell your sweaty self all night long. Just get in the shower and I'll get you some of Brad's clothes to wear."
"Brad's clothes! Are you crazy? Your brother doesn't even like me. If he finds out I've been wearing his clothes, he'll kill me!"
"Relax will ya. He won't find out. I'll run yours through the washer and you can have them back in the morning. I'll wash whatever you wear when I do the laundry tomorrow, and Brad will never know. So... get your butt in the shower, and toss me you clothes. Don't lock the door. I'll slip you some clothes in and don't worry, I won't peek!"
Brian shook his head; he knew there was no denying Cassie. He went into the bathroom, undressed, and slipped his clothes through the door. Cassie was right; he did stink. After about a twenty-minute shower, he stepped out and grabbed a towel. He looked down, and just inside the door was a pile of clothes for him. When he realized what type of clothes Cassie had left him, he was horrified. There, neatly folded, was a light blue cotton nightgown, and a matching pair of girls' panties.
Cassie didn't have to wait for the sound of the shower turning off to know that Brian had finished his shower. She just had to wait for the scream. She didn't have to wait long.
Cassie came to the door. "Now Brian, I can explain."
Brian was too agitated to listen to explanations. "Oh no you don't, Cassie. I don't want to hear no explanations. I just want my clothes back. I can't wear these. For God's sake Cassie, these are girls' clothes. You said I could borrow some of Brad's clothes. These aren't Brad's clothes!"
"Uh well, I kind of had a little problem. See, Brad locked his bedroom door, and you are way too thin to wear anything of my dad's."
Brian tried to calm down. "Okay Cassie, then just get me my clothes then."
"Well...I can't. Right about now they're half way through the wash cycle."
Brian made one last shot at a reasonable solution. "Okay, but if I'm going to have to wear your clothes, just give me a pair of sweats and a t-shirt then."
"That's a great idea, and I would've done it too, only... I don't have any that are clean. I was supposed to do laundry today, but we got to playing basketball this afternoon, and well... I didn't get around to it. Brian I don't have anything else clean. It's either this or I break out a dress."
Cassie waited for a reply but got nothing but silence. Cassie knocked on the door. "Hey Brian, you ain't passed out on me have you?"
Brian answered. The defeat was evident in his voice. "No, I'm still alive, but if anyone ever finds out about this, I won't be. Cassie, you got to swear that you will never tell anybody. I mean anybody!"
Cassie giggled. "I promise! Of course there is an up side to all this." She paused, Brian wouldn't ask what it was, but she knew he was curious. "At least now you can tell all the guys you finally got in my panties." Cassie giggled again.
Brian had to admit that was funny, but he wasn't going to let Cassie off the hook by laughing. "Cassie, this isn't funny. I mean, what if someone sees me?"
"Will you just relax? No one is going to see you. Now get dressed! The game's on in twenty minutes, and I'm calling the pizza."
Brian unfolded the nightgown, and placed it on the sink. He slipped on the cotton panties. He had to admit, they were cool and comfortable. He slid the nightgown over his head, and watched it fall to just below knee length. It was as cool and comfortable as the panties. It felt so good to wear something that felt so free and easy about his body, and when it touched his skin it caressed it. He closed his eyes, and then spun in a circle. He was like a playful little girl. He couldn't help it. For so long, he dreamed of wearing something just like this, and now he was. It was every bit as wonderful as he'd dreamed. He was intoxicated, and wished he could share it with Cassie, but he knew when he walked out that bathroom door he would have to be Brian, a boy in girls clothes.
Brian composed himself and stepped out of the bathroom. When Cassie caught sight of him, she let out a wolf whistle.
"Aw c'mon Pistol, cut it out!"
"Okay, I quit. C'mon over to the couch and I'll comb out that mop of yours."
Cassie began working the tangles out of Brian's long hair. There was something so relaxing to Brian, whenever anyone combed his hair. He softly moaned as she worked the comb through. It wasn't only the feeling of the comb that was relaxing. The feeling of the panties and the nightgown were still working their magic. He was going to hate sleeping in his boxers and tank top even more after spending the night in these.
Cassie finished, as the game started. For the next hour they were glued to the set as Brent Musburger narrated the fast-paced action between the Blazers and the Suns. By half time the pizza had yet to arrive and Cassie called to complain. It was of a typical Friday night and pizza deliveries were running behind. They apologized, and told them to expect the pizza within the next thirty minutes.
Cassie reached over and felt Brian's thick hair. It was still damp. She went to the bathroom and returned with a blow dryer and some mousse. "Here, you hold the mousse while I blow dry your hair." Brian hesitated, and then took the can in his hand.
Cassie examined his hair before beginning. "I bet your hair would look so much better if we feathered your bangs back."
Brian tried to object to the beauty parlor treatment, but the roar of the hair dryer drowned his pleas out. Ten minutes later, Cassie stepped back and smiled approvingly at her work. The feathered bangs and lightly tussled hair had really brought out a quality of softness in Brian's face, and Cassie's eyes lit up as another idea came to her. She grabbed Brian's hand and pulled him up the stairs to the entrance to her bedroom.
Cassie's bedroom was a mirror of its owner. It was a little disheveled, a mixture of themes from both a boy's and a girl's world. It was warm and comfortable. It was Cassie.
On the door to her bedroom hung the life sized "Pistol" Pete Maravich poster that Brian had bought for her. Clothes and records were scattered across her bed. Posters of sports stars, and rock stars adorned her walls. A desk piled high with books, sports cards, and softball equipment sat against one wall. A stereo, and a bookcase filled with stuffed animals and trophies sat against the other wall. Straight ahead was a huge white vanity, cluttered with brushes, hair ties, and cosmetics. Cassie's large bay window was just to the right of the vanity, and a light blue lace curtain that matched her bedspread framed it. Beneath the window sat three pairs of shoes: her school-dress tennis shoes, muddy softball cleats, and a pair of black three-inch heels. If anything in that room truly captured the diversity of Cassie, it was those three pairs of shoes.
Cassie led Brian into the room and straight to the chair in front of her vanity. She took her hand and pushed Brian down into the chair.
Brian looked up at Cassie. She was wearing her impish grin, and he could see the mischief in her eyes. "Cassie...what are you up to?"
Cassie didn't answer, because she didn't hear him. She was too busy searching through her cosmetics to find exactly what she wanted to match his skin tone, and bring out the features that had peeked when she styled his hair.
As soon as Cassie started holding up bottles and compacts and then starring intently at Brian's face, he knew what she was up to. "Cassie, I know what you're up to, and you can forget it! I'm not going to let you do this." Brian said the correct words, but his heart wasn't in them. He wanted her to do this. He was as excited as she was, even more so, but he couldn't admit it. This was becoming a waking dream, and with each passing minute, Brian was losing more of himself in it.
Cassie could see he was caving, and she moved in for the kill. "Aw c'mon Brian, it's just for fun. I really want to see what you would look like with a little make-up. Blow drying your hair and feathering your bangs made an incredible difference in your face. I want to see if a little make-up will have the same effect. Just think of this as like... dressing up for Halloween, okay? If you want me to, I'll take it off as soon as we get done. Brian, I promise, this will always be our little secret."
Cassie reached down and held Brian's left hand. She rubbed her thumb against his fingernails. The impish smile returned. "Oooh, I bet a deep burgundy on those nails would really go with..."
Brian cut her off immediately, "Cassie, I'm not wearing nail polish, and before you even suggest it, I'm not wearing one of your dresses." Brian had finally made his last stand of masculinity. It was a house of cards though, and if she had pushed just a little harder...well, there would have been no telling how far Brian would have gone.
Cassie though, was satisfied with what Brian had given her for now, and she didn't push him for more. "Okay, you win. I'll just do your make-up and then quit."
She rubbed her hand across his face. "Wow Brian, your skin is smoother than mine. This is going to be so much easier since you don't have much facial hair. You got nice cheekbones, but they're not very noticeable. I might be able to bring them out a little. Now if we can get those baby blues of yours to stand out, and paint you some lips."
Her voice trailed off; the gears were once again spinning. She finally assembled her tools, and then had Brian turn his back to the mirror and face her. She didn't want him to see anything until she had created the finished product.
"Brian, I don't want you to turn around until I tell you. I want to see the look of surprise on your face. Keep in mind I'm not a make up artist or anything. I don't live in this stuff like the "giggle wiggle's" do, but I think I know enough to bring out some of your features. I have a feeling we're both going to be surprised by what we get."
Brian tried to sit perfectly still, as Cassie enveloped his face in a malaise of blushes, bases, liners, shadows, lip stick and mascara. When she stepped back and regarded her work, her eyes were wide open in disbelief. She covered her open mouth with both hands.
Brian's own eyes were wide, but in horror, as he was sure from Cassie's reaction that the whole thing had turned out horribly. "Okay Cassie, how bad is it? You said it was just like Halloween. Who do I look like, the Bride of Frankenstein?"
Cassie swallowed and then spoke. "Hardly! I want you to close your eyes, and let me turn you around to face the mirror. Don't open them again until I tell you to, okay? Trust me, you are no Bride of Frankenstein!"
Brian nodded and closed his eyes. Cassie spun his chair around and then told him to open them. Brian hesitated for a moment, sure he was going to be crushed by the image looking back at him, and then finally opened his eyes.
Brian was sitting in the chair, but his reflection had been replaced, by that of an attractive sixteen-year-old girl. He was speechless, but Cassie was not.
"Brian...I thought I could bring out a little of your softer features, but I never believed it would turn out like this. I mean, damn...you could pass for the real thing. I don't think anyone would even recognize you. If you walked by me in the hall, I don't think I would recognize you. It's like I started putting on this make-up and a whole other person just came out, and she's a babe!"
Brian was speechless. He didn't look like a clown, or even a boy in make-up. His reflection looked just as realistic and natural, as Cassie's did. Cassie had accomplished what she had wanted to do. She had brought out his cheekbones, and the eye shadow had set off the blue in his eyes that were now framed by thick black lashes. He never realized how full his lips could look with just the right application and color of lipstick. His hand was almost trembling, as he lightly traced the line of his jaw.
He was almost afraid to touch his face for fear his reflection would disappear.
Cassie lowered her head until her reflection was beside his in the mirror. "I see it, and I still don't believe it. They say that make-up can work wonders, but this is just plain magic! It's like, one minute I was playing hoops with my best friend Brian, and then 'poof!', he's gone and I'm standing here next to Cinderella. I know you aren't enjoying this as much as I am, but I think it's great! You know...we've been talking about Halloween. You ought to let me recreate this for Halloween. Brian, I'm telling you it would be a blast. No one, and I mean no one, would ever suspect."
Cassie was right about one thing she had said, he wasn't as excited about this as she was. He was more so! He was intoxicated by it all, and if he wasn't careful, this girl in the mirror might just banish him to the same dungeon he had imprisoned her in for so long. If she had her way, Brian would never be seen or heard from again.
A pounding at the door downstairs broke the moment. They looked at each other and mouthed the same word, "Pizza!" Cassie raced across her room and down the stairs. Brian heard Cassie open the door and the delivery boy tell her the price. There were a few moments of silence, and then Cassie's voice broke it.
"Uhhh...Becky, could you bring down that twenty on my night stand, pleeease?"
Brian looked at Cassie's nightstand and there sat the twenty. He froze. He knew full well to whom Cassie was talking to when she said, "Becky", but he was not about to come down those steps looking like this.
Cassie summoned her again. "Becky, the delivery guy is waiting. I can't just leave him here and go get the money. You're going to have to bring it down."
Brian wasn't about to walk down those steps, but it was obvious that Becky was going to have to. Ready or not, Becky took her first baby steps.
Becky picked up the twenty, and strode confidently to the top of the stairs. She took the first step quickly, but with each stair she descended, she came more into view from the living room, and her confidence deserted her. By the time she had reached the bottom of the stairs, she was holding onto the banister for support.
Cassie nervously smiled at Becky. "C'mon Becky, you want to bring me over the money. I am sure this guy has other deliveries."
Becky dropped her head and shuffled over to stand behind Cassie. She looked like a little girl who had been scolded by her mother. Cassie took the twenty from Becky's hand and handed it to the delivery boy.
She smiled up at him. "Sorry we didn't have the money ready for you. We were doing, uh...girl things!"
The delivery boy, probably not much older than Cassie and Becky just smiled and gave them their change. He regarded the both of them for a moment, smiled and then headed to the door. Just as Cassie prepared to shut it behind him, he turned. "If you need anything else tonight, just call. We're open until two o'clock on weekends." He paused just a moment, "And that goes for your shy little friend too." With that, he winked at Cassie and left.
Cassie shut the door and turned to Becky. "Did you hear that? I told you that no one could tell you were a boy. I mean, did you hear what he said? That letch was hitting on you! Five minutes after I do your make-up, and you already got guys hitting on you. If you hadn't been starring at your feet, you would have seen him, but he was definitely checking you out Brian...or should I say Becky?"
Becky shot her head up. "Where did you come up with Becky?"
"Well, I couldn't very well have hollered for Brian and then have you descend those stairs as a vision of loveliness, could I?"
Becky knew she was right.
"Becky was the first name that came into my mind. Be glad I didn't say Beulah or something!" Both girls giggled at the sound of the name.
Cassie looked at Becky and smiled warmly. "It's good to see you smile. I think it makes you even more beautiful when you do."
Becky just rolled her eyes and headed into the kitchen to get some cold sodas. The two girls settled into the second half of the game and devoured the pizza. Becky couldn't help feel Cassie's eyes on her. When the game ended it, she called her on it, and Cassie admitted her guilt.
"I just can't get over the way you look. I don't really mean to embarrass you, and I suppose no guy likes to be told he looks like a girl, but it's incredible. I mean we've been sitting here eating pizza, and watching the ball game, and horsing around like we always do, but somehow it's different. It's like I have to keep reminding myself that you're not a real girl. That's how convincing you look."
Becky did not much care for being told she wasn't a "real girl." She was every bit as much "girl" as Cassie was. Brian though, understood the remark, and it was a painful reminder to him that Becky was more like the Cinderella that Cassie had mentioned. She was there on temporary magic, and by tomorrow she would be gone.
The girls relaxed on the floor. They played the stereo, talked basketball, and debated over possession of the last slice of pizza. Becky knew her time there was limited and by tomorrow she would have to release Brian and return to the dungeon, so she wanted to make the most of every minute. As Brian slipped further into the recesses, Becky did just that. Becky not only looked the part, she was living it, and both her and Cassie became so emersed in the Cinderella magic that they never realized that midnight was about to come early.
A car pulled up in front, but the stereo had drowned out the sound of its motor. Becky was at the foot the stairs, and Cassie on the floor. She had just sent Becky upstairs to pick out the color for the nail job she had talked her into. A key turned in the lock and the door opened. It was Brad. Becky bolted up the steps as Cassie sprang from the floor.
"What are you doing here? I thought you were supposed to be in Charleston all weekend."
Brad walked over and examined the empty pizza box. "Changed my mind! I ran into Trent and decided to hang at his place this weekend. We're going to crash this party at the lake."
"So...why are you here then?"
Brad shot his little sister a glance. "Don't go having your period li'l sis, I'm not busting up your slumber party. I just came to pick up stuff out of my room."
Brad pushed by her, and she could smell the alcohol on him. "Whew Brad! You reek! You guys have been drinking haven't you?"
Brad turned to face her, and she could see how red his eyes were. "You've been smoking too! You're stoned Brad. If you guys get busted..."
Brad lowered his face to meet hers. "Yeah I've smoked a little, and I've had few beers. I intend to have a few more at the party, so don't go mouthing about it, alright?"
Brad stood at the foot of the stairs, and looked up toward Cassie's room.
"So, who's your little friend tonight? She ran off so quick, I didn't get a look at her. Is she one of your basketball babes from school?"
Cassie was growing tired of this conversation. When Brad was drunk he was an asshole, and there was no reasoning with him. Tonight he was worse than Cassie had ever seen him.
"Yes Brad, she's from the team. Now why don't you get your stuff and just leave, okay?"
"I can't just leave Cassie. I wouldn't be a gentleman if I didn't introduce myself to your friend. I think I'll go up there and give the pleasure of making my acquaintance."
Cassie's eyes grew wide and she grabbed Brad's arm as he started up the steps. "No Brad, she's really, really shy. You're going to scare her. Just leave her alone! I mean it Brad. Don't you dare go into my room."
The alcohol and drugs had taken over Brad, and they weren't listening to Cassie. "She's shy huh? I've got a cure for shyness." Brad brushed off Cassie's arm and bolted up the stairs.
He opened the door to Cassie's room and stepped in. By this time Cassie was absolutely furious. She jumped in front of him, trying to block his advance. "Damn it Brad, get the hell out of my room!"
Brad scanned the room searching for some trace of his quarry, when he spied the light blue material of Becky's nightgown protruding from Cassie's closet door. In Becky's haste to hide, she had caught her hem in the door.
Pushing Cassie aside, Brad walked over to the door and started to slowly turn the knob. He pulled on the door but it wouldn't budge. He smiled and then leaned on the door. "Hey, I'm Brad, Cassie's brother. Cassie says you're real shy. Well...you don't have to be scared of me. I'm a real nice guy. You ought to come out and meet me. I just want to get to know ya."
Brad braced himself and then tried to force the door open. Becky had both hands on the doorknob, and her feet braced on each side of the door. She was holding on for dear life, but Brad was stronger and the door was slowly giving way. Cassie ran up behind Brad, and beat her fist into his back. That got his attention. He released the door and turned on her.
His eyes were on fire. "What the hell do you think you're doing? I ought to..."
Cassie cut him off as the fire in her eyes matched his own. "If you don't get the hell out of my room right now, I swear I will pick up the phone and call Mom and Dad. I'll tell them about the beer, the pot, the party, and how you came in my room and attacked my friend. If you don't think I'll do it, then just try me. C'mon Brad, try me!"
Brad stood there glaring at her for a moment and then the fire left his eyes. "I don't know why you have to get so mad. I was just kidding around. I don't even want to see your little friend. She's probably as ugly as you are anyway."
Cassie still wasn't backing up. "Brad, get the hell out of my room, now!"
Brad slid by her. "I'm going to my room and get my stuff."
Cassie turned on him. "No, you can leave right now, or I'm picking up the phone." Cassie walked over to her nightstand and picked up her white princess phone. She glanced at Brad.
Brad shook his head. "You're about a psycho bitch, ya know that!" He then headed down the stairs. Cassie heard the front door slam and the lock turn. She waited until she heard the car drive off before she turned the knob on her closet door.
She opened the door to find Becky sitting on the closet floor. She was wrapped in a ball, rocking and sobbing. Cassie bent down on one knee, and placed her hand on Becky's shoulder. "Honey, its all over now. He's gone. I'm so sorry. Brad's a real jerk when he drinks. Please, give me your hand and I'll help you up, okay?"
Becky raised her left hand, and Cassie locked it in hers. She helped Becky to her bed, and then held her. She couldn't imagine what her friend must be going through. All she could do was comfort her.
Cassie rocked Becky in her arms until finally Becky slept. Cassie shoved the books from the bed, and draped the covers over Becky. She then crawled in next to her. She spent the rest of the night with her arms around her, and finally drifted off in the wee hours of the morning.
When Cassie awoke, Becky was gone. The nightgown and panties were folded neatly on her nightstand and a note was sitting on top of them. Cassie picked up the note to read it.
Suddenly they were back to 2002, and their booth at Li'l Italy's. "Do you remember what that note said?" Becky looked into Cassie's eyes.
Cassie thought hard. "I don't think I remember exactly. I know you signed it "Becky."
Becky remembered. "The note read: Cassie, thanks for having me. Love Becky."
Cassie shook her head. "You didn't come back over to my house for almost a week. I wanted to call you, but I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything. Ghad, I honestly thought we were just having fun that is until Brad showed up. I mean, you looked so great that night, but I never really thought that Becky was anything more than just some make-up, a nightgown, and one night of fantasy. I thought you were so upset because you were afraid Brad would realize you were Brian, but it was a lot more than that wasn't it? When I saw the look on your face when you saw your reflection for the first time, I should have known then. You gave me so many clues that night, and I can't believe I didn't pick up on any of them. How could I have thought that you were a boy, after I seen what you looked like as a girl?"
Becky rubbed Cassie's hand. "Hey, it's like I've been telling you. If you're not looking for something you don't see it. You know, if Brad hadn't crashed our party, I think I might have told you before the night was over. I was so happy and caught up in being Becky that it would have just flowed out of me."
Cassie regarded her friend for a moment. "I just thought of something. Is that where you came up with Becky? From that one night?"
Becky smiled. "You got it!"
Cassie's eyes lit up. "You mean I named you?"
"Well...you were the first one to see her. Without your help that night, she may never have emerged into the real world. In a way, you created her. I think that made you entitled to name her. From that day on, she was Becky."
Cassie was clearly overwhelmed. "I don't know what to say. You make it sound like I was a mother naming her child." She paused a moment to reflect on her words. "Wow! That sort of makes me your mother, and you're aren't just my best friend, you are my long-lost daughter. Oh Becky, I wish I'd found you sooner."
Becky squeezed her hand. "Me too!"
Becky sipped her soda as Cassie continued. "We lived together for four years in college. I can't believe you didn't finally say something then."
"Well, you were so busy with school, basketball, and the groups I never felt like the time was right to dump this on you. Luckily, I met someone with whom I could talk about this."
Cassie cut in. "That had to be your counselor, Miss Childers."
Cassie continued. "I knew you were talking to her about more than just social anxiety and your father."
"She's the one that told me I had a medical condition, and there were others like me, people who felt just like I did. She told me that the technical term for my condition was 'transsexualism'. The best way I can explain it is that a transsexual is a person whose mind and soul are of one sex, while their body is the other sex. It's a lot more technical than that, but I think that's the best way I can describe it. I know that's how I feel anyway.
I also learned there is no cure for this condition. There are no drugs or therapy that will make it go away. There is however, a treatment."
Becky waved her hands in front of her body. "Ta da! This is the treatment! Of course, what you see is the finished product. It's a long and painful journey to finally get to the place where the doctors' will agree to give you the body that you should have had all along. It's not quite as perfect or real as your body, but it's hell of a lot better than the one we had before. Marie Childers is the one who opened this world for me."
By the time we graduated, I knew that's what I wanted to do, but I still was afraid to tell you. I was sure you would end up talking me out of it. When you got the offer to play in Spain, I couldn't drop this bomb on ya. I thought you might turn the offer down just to be here for me, and I couldn't let you give up your dream to help me chase mine. That's when I came up with my "four year plan". I knew you were going to be in Spain for four years. I was so sure that I could get everything done while you were gone. I was going to be waiting for you when you stepped off that plane. I knew you would be mad at me for disappearing like that, but I was going to look so beautiful and be so convincing, that you would just have to accept me. Well...as you know, It took me just a little longer than four years!"
"So, what happened to your four year plan? I mean did you have second thoughts or something?"
Becky started again. "Well, ignorance cost me four years. Not just my own ignorance, but also the ignorance of the psychiatrist I was seeing. I will never understand how that man could treat me for four years, and not be convinced I was a transsexual, when Miss Childers said she knew it after our first meeting."
Becky paused a moment. "Wait a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself. Let me back up. Once you left for Spain, things started happening. Mom and Dad sold the house and moved to Arizona before you had been gone a month. About that same time, I packed two suitcases and went to New York. Miss Childers said that I had a much better chance of getting proper treatment in some place like Chicago or New York. I could probably find clinics and support groups there that dealt with my condition. She said I also stood a better chance of acceptance in such a large city.
It took me about a week to find a job. I got on at an insurance company working in their records division. As soon as I got medical coverage, I went looking for therapist who specialized in my condition. I thought I had found one, and I met with this man for one hour a week for the better part of four years. He kept telling me that we needed to explore other issues. I told him that I was only interested in one thing, but he wouldn't listen. He kept going on and on about anxieties I had concerning my father. I had anxieties all right, but they were all on account of him! The only thing I needed from him was to get an authorization for female hormones, and a letter to get my surgery. He was too ignorant to see that I was a transsexual, and I was too ignorant to realize this quack was just taking my money. Finally I called Miss Childers, and she said not to waste another hour with that guy.
About two months later, I met the most incredible woman. I went to a gay, lesbian, and transsexual-counseling center that I had read about in the paper. I talked with one counselor who was just there to screen people, and kind of push them toward the best possible person to help them. She set me up an appointment for the very next day. I got to the center about six o'clock, and waited for my counselor. Ten minutes later she comes out to get me. Her name was Maria Scala. She was a woman of Italian decent. Dark-complexion, with hair and eyes to match. She was about five-foot-eight, very well built, and appeared to be in her mid to late 30's.
She took me to her office, and asked me why I was there to see her. I poured out my heart for over an hour, and she barely said a word. Once I finished, she told me why she had been so quiet. She said she wanted to be sure that my problem was one that she had experience in dealing with. In her opinion I was a transsexual, and she was definitely qualified to help me. It wasn't that she had done years of research on the subject or something. It was because she was a transsexual herself! She was the first transsexual I had ever met, and Cassie, she was absolutely gorgeous! She told me that she had been through the entire process and had her sexual reassignment surgery about 5 years ago. She's never regretted one day. If I was interested, she would be willing to help me. Was I ever interested! I began therapy with her in July of 1988."
Cassie's eyes lit up. "I got married to Craig in July of 1988. I remember planning the wedding and having to select my maid of honor. If you'd been there, I'd made you the first male maid of honor in the history of Jamestown. Now I find out you could have been a traditional maid of honor, and probably looked better in your gown than I did my wedding dress."
They both laughed out loud over that thought, but Becky was quick to point out that she didn't start living full time as a woman until 1990.
"I spent about a year in therapy with Maria before taking my next big step. She referred me to a doctor who prescribed female hormones for me. It takes a little while for them to start working, but once they do, it's like going through a second adolescence. I had the same mood swings most teenagers go through. I'd start crying for no reason at all sometimes, but I never once doubted this was the right path.
By the end of the second year, the hormones were making a noticeable difference to my anatomy. For six months, with the exception of my job, I lived full time as a woman and loved it. I prepared myself to take the next step. I was putting together a petition to the court to change my name to Becky, when I received a letter from my mother in September of 1992. After my father died, she had sold the place outside Phoenix, and moved to southern California. In the letter, she asked me to please come to see her as soon as possible. I packed two suitcases full of my men's' work clothes, and caught a flight the next day. When I showed up at her place I was dressed like Brian. I knew if my Mom sent for me, it had to be serious, but when a nurse answered the door, I realized just how serious it was. Mom had suffered a stroke. Her speech was slurred and the left side of her body had partial paralysis.
I intended to stay for maybe a week. I ended up staying for six years. You don't know how many times I picked up that phone to call your parents house. I wanted to talk to you so bad, but I couldn't bring myself to face you yet."
Cassie could see the pain in her friend's eyes. "Oh Becky, you don't know how many nights I prayed that phone would ring and it would be you on the other end. I had no idea that your mom was sick. I really wished you had called. I'd come out if I could have."
"I know you would've came, but I guess that was something else I had to do on my own. It cost me six years on my journey to becoming Becky, but it was worth it. It gave me a chance to get close to my mother, and her close to me."
"Becky, did you tell her about what you doing in New York? I mean...did you ever tell her about Becky?"
"Not at first. I didn't want to drop that bomb after her stroke. I figured I would just dress in my "Brian" clothes, but continue taking the hormones. As long as I was discreet, I didn't think she'd notice.
That lasted for almost a year. I came in from my morning run and Mom was sitting in the kitchen. My shirt was soaked to my chest and well it was...revealing. Mom looked up and said, "You really ought to wear a sports bra when you go jogging." I almost spit Gatorade all over the table when she said that."
"Well", Cassie prodded. "How did she take it?"
"Actually better than I expected. She knew I was really unhappy, but she had no idea this was why. She had recognized the physical changes shortly after I arrived, but was waiting for me to say something. She finally got tired of waiting. Long story short, she said she really didn't understand why I needed to do this, and she didn't know if she could ever think of me as her daughter, and not her son, but I would always be her child, and she would love me no matter what. What more could I ask of her Cassie?"
Cassie gave her friend a warm smile. "I'm really happy you were able to get close with your mother, and tell her about what you were doing. So, did you start dressing as a woman again after you discussed everything with her?"
"No, I just never really felt it was right. I know she wouldn't have objected, but I think we both would have been uncomfortable."
Cassie squeezed Becky's hand. "Uh Becky, you really haven't come out and said it, but you keep talking about your mom in the past tense. Has your mom passed away?"
Becky blew out a heavy sigh. "Yeah, she died in December of 1998, eight days before Christmas."
"I'm really sorry Becky"
"Thanks Cass, but don't be sorry. She was in tremendous pain in the end. I prayed she would be released. I know now that she's in a very good place, free of the pain and suffering.
After she died, I decided I had nothing else to wait for and was eager to get on with the journey. I didn't want Becky to have to wait one more day. I threw out all my Brian clothes several days after the funeral. I called Maria in New York, and asked her if she could help me find a good therapist in the Los Angeles area. She called me back two days later with a name. I sold the house, and moved into a small apartment in Montclair, California. Montclair is a lovely little suburb of Los Angeles, and just minutes away from the therapist office.
Once I set up residence, I decided to finish what I had started in New York. I filed my petition for name change. I had already been given Becky as my first name. I took Marie as my middle name. It was in honor of Marie Childers, and Maria Scala who had helped me so much on my journey. Finally I took Taylor for my last name. Taylor was my Mom's maiden name. I thought it was the least I could do for her."
Cassie nodded and then a question came to her.
"How do you think your father would have taken it?"
Becky sadly smiled back at her.
"Mother said it would have killed him, if he hadn't already been dead, but...I wonder. I wish now I could have told him. Maybe once he realized why I could never have been the son he so desperatly wanted, he would have quit blaming himself and me. Maybe, just maybe, he could have loved a daughter."
Becky sighed and Cassie squeezed her hand lovingly.
Cassie had listened to her friend's story for quite sometime. She was overwhelmed by the amount of pain her friend had endured, just to lead some semblance of a normal life. "You are the bravest person I've ever met."
Becky waved off the praise. "I never thought I was brave, just desperate. It was either become Becky or die trying. There really was no choice in the matter. If you can't be you, then you are no one, and I couldn't live one more day as no one. I think having that attitude is what got me through my surgeries and everything else.
I had my final surgery, the sexual reassignment one, in February of 2000. I had a pretty rough year leading into the surgery. For the first time in my life I went looking for a job as a woman, but that created a problem. Becky had no work history. If I listed my past work history, and they checked it, then it would show I had been Brian, and I was afraid they wouldn't hire me. It took me four months to find a decent job. The personnel manager said she didn't care about my personal history, just as long as I could do the job.
I had some socialization problems too. I was always afraid that when people looked at me, they could tell that I was something less than a real woman. That took quite a while to get over, but as I felt better about my appearance, I didn't worry about that as much any more. At any time I could have walked away. Until that doctor broke out his scalpel, I had yet to truly cross a point of no return. I've never once looked back, or regretted the crossing."
Cassie was a little curious about the surgeries. "Do you mind if I ask, what all you have had done?"
Becky paused, making a list in her head. "First of all, if Mom hadn't left me the house and some money, there may not have been many surgeries. The surgeries are expensive!"
Becky rubbed her fingers across her nose. "Let's see... I have had rhinoplasty on the nose, surgery on the throat to remove my Adams Apple, and to feminize my voice. I have had a face-lift, and a little liposuction. As you can tell, the voice surgery wasn't entirely successful. I went to a doctor in Oregon to have the sexual reassignment done. It cost me over twenty thousand dollars, but it was the best twenty thousand I have ever spent." Becky winked at Cassie.
"It took me a year after that to finally get the nerve to come back to Jamestown. You know the rest of the story from there. Okay, any questions class?"
Cassie shot her hand up and did her best Arnold Horseshak impersonation. "Oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh!"
Becky smiled and pointed at her. "Uh, the freckled face girl in the front row that's had too much margarita."
Both women laughed. They needed a good laugh. There had been too much crying that night.
Cassie got a serious look in her eyes. "All kidding aside Becky, can I ask you something kind of personal?"
"After what I've poured out to you for the last two hours, I don't think I have anything personal left, but please, go ahead and shoot, Pistol."
Cassie was still feeling a bit embarrassed by the nature of the question and Becky could read it on her face. "You said that you've had sexual reassignment surgery, and that you're as close to physically being a woman as possible. Does that mean you now have a... I mean, that you don't have what you used to have anymore?"
Becky had to smile. It was a perfectly legitimate question, but there was never an easy way to just come out and say it. "I think I know what you're asking me, so let me help you out. Not only can we play on the same basketball team, but also we can both hit the same shower, and I don't think either of us would be embarrassed by what we saw. I had a gynecologist in California, and he told me he wouldn't have known had I not told him. I'm pretty much the same as a woman who has had a complete hysterectomy. I don't have menstrual periods, but I do go through mood swings. I will have to take estrogen every day for the rest of my life. I can't get pregnant, but I can have sex. I don't think I left anything out. Does that answer your question?"
"I get the picture Becky, literally!"
More laughter followed that remark, before Cassie posed her next question. This time she leaned forward and almost whispered it. "You said you could have sex. God you must think I'm so rude to ask you this, but...have you had...I mean, as a woman?"
Becky looked from side to side, and then whispered to Cassie. "No, I want to be just like my hero, and save myself for marriage."
Cassie smiled and realized she shouldn't feel so guilty about asking Becky these questions. She was her best friend. "Do you think you really might get married? Will they let you do that legally?"
"Legally, I can get married, but honestly I don't think I ever will. It's so hard to find the right person, and sooner or later you have to tell them about your past. That usually ends it right there."
Cassie took part of Becky's own words for her next question. "You said it's hard to find the right person. Can I assume the right person is a guy? I mean... if you're attracted to women, I can deal with that. There are several lesbians that play in our league, so it's not a problem."
"That's a very normal question. My problem is gender. It's about the sex I am, and not the sex I find attractive. I guess what I am trying to say is, I have just as much chance of being gay or straight, as a genetic woman."
Cassie nodded in understanding, but she also realized that Becky hadn't really answered the question. "Okay, I understand all that, but are you going to tell me which one you are?"
Becky smiled. "Let me ask you a question and you see if you can figure it out. I'd say you owe me a question by now anyway." Cassie nodded in agreement before Becky began. "When we were in college, unless you had a game, there was one television show we never missed. We took the phone off the hook, and didn't answer the door. If you can remember the show and its star, then you have your answer."
Cassie thought for a minute, and then blurted the answer out. "Tom Selleck, Magnum P.I.!" Having said that, it took just a few seconds for the realization to set in. Cassie smiled impishly at Becky. "You like Tom Selleck?"
Becky narrowed her eyes and smiled hungrily. "That man was hot then, and he's just gotten better with age. He's got a body to die for. He's got the eyes, the hair, the smile and the personality. He is the total package! Of all the things I love about him, it's the personality I love most. He is sensitive, compassionate, and honorable. He is this kind of down-to-earth type of guy, with a boyish quality that makes him cute, and he loved sports. Did I mention his body? I swear, if I ever met that man in real life, I would probably just dissolve into a puddle."
Cassie laughed. "You convinced me! There's no doubt in my mind, which way you swing. So you want to go rent some Magnum episodes and melt together?"
Becky replied in her best "Higgins" voice. "Thomas will just have to wait!"
Cassie laughed and shook her head. "You are ate up girlfriend, you know that?"
"So I've been told by many a doctor. Do you have anything else you want to throw at me?"
Cassie thought for a moment before asking her next question. "Is there anything you regret about it all?"
Becky nodded. "There are two things I guess. One, I should've have taken the chance and told you. I was wrong to disappear for all these years. I cheated myself out of many years of friendship and put you through hell.
Two, my biggest regret of all. I will never get to know what it feels like to be a little girl. All those experiences that girls have that prepare them for womanhood, I will never have. It's like I went from 10 to 40, and I'm missing the thirty years of experience in between. I gained so much from you sharing your life with me as a girl and a young woman, but Becky deserved more than just living through you. She deserved her own chance to grow up, and she'll never get it."
Tears fell from Becky's eyes as Cassie realized how much her friend yearned for the one thing she had been so unjustly denied. Cassie's own heart went out to her friend and the little girl within her that would never grow up.
"Becky, I wish there was something I could say or do. I can't imagine what it must be like."
Becky wiped the tears from her face. "Try to imagine this if you will. You wake up one day and discover you have a boy's body. You know you are really a girl, but since you don't have the body, nobody will believe you are really a girl. You still think like a girl, still want to dress like a girl, and you still want to do girl things but you can't anymore, because now everyone thinks you are a boy. Since you look like a boy and everyone treats you like a boy, you try to be a boy. That turns out even worse, and now all the boys hate you. You can't play with the girls because even though you are a girl on the inside, you are a boy on the outside, and they won't play with you. You can't play with the boys, because even though you are a boy on the outside, you are still a girl on the inside, and they won't play with you.
You get lonely, and sad, and discouraged, but you don't know what to do about it. You don't have any magic to change your body back into a girl's body, but you do meet a wizard that can alter your boy's body to make it look a little bit like a girl's body. He does all that he can for you, and you look very nice, but you will always be a girl in a rebuilt boy's body until the day that you die."
Cassie rose up from the booth and went over to Becky. She reached out a hand, and Becky took it. Cassie pulled her into an embrace. She whispered lovingly, "You'll never be an imitation to me. You're my best friend, and you're all woman."
They hugged a moment longer before Cassie spoke. "C'mon girlfriend, lets get out of here. I think we've given the customers enough of a floor show for one night, don't you?"
Becky dropped a twenty down on the table and they headed for the parking lot. Once inside the car, Cassie took command. "We'll run by your house and you pick up whatever it is you need to crash at my place until you leave for Los Angeles. I wish you didn't have to go, but I understand why. You just need to let me know when your flight is, because I am driving you up to Charleston and putting you on the plane. I will also pick you up when you come back. You got that young lady?"
Becky smiled and returned with the appropriate response. "Yes, mother."
Cassie smiled and returned with her appropriate response. "Goof!"
Becky packed a bag and then dumped all her medicines in. Her flight was set for Saturday. All she wanted was two more days with her friend. She prayed she would get them. It had felt so good to tell Cassie the truth, and she had taken it all better than Becky could have hoped. If only she would have had the courage to tell her the whole truth. Becky would tell her the rest, just not in person. She had a letter prepared that explained everything, and Cassie would receive it after Becky's death. In her heart, Becky felt this was the best way to handle it. She had been wrong once before. She hoped she wasn't wrong again.
They were driving up the mountain when Cassie spoke up. "There's still one thing I don't get. Once you came back here, why didn't you tell me all this as soon as we met? Why did you wait so long?"
"I didn't plan it that way, Pistol. I had a letter all set to mail to you. It explained the basics and asked you to come to my apartment if after reading it, you still wanted to see me. I was going to wait about a week or two and if you didn't come by, I was going back to L.A. I never dreamed I'd be shooting baskets with your daughter. As soon as she told me that her mother played in Spain, I figured it out. Although I should have known by the way she hooped, she had to be your daughter. Well...once I realized who she was, you were already walking up on the court. I was so sure you'd recognize me, but when you couldn't make the connection, I chickened out.
I wanted to tell you before our first game, but you were late as usual, and then after the game, you left before I could catch you.
I decided to tell you after our second game but, we started talking about Craig and the kids, and..."
Cassie jumped in. "Okay the second game was my fault. I was really upset that night. I should never have said anything about it."
"No, I'm glad you talked to me. You needed to talk and I wanted to help. By the next week, I had decided not to tell you until we could sit down and have a long talk. With my leaving, I knew I needed to tell you tonight. I agonized over it all evening long, and then when I told you I was going back to California, you started bringing up your past history with Brian. I just couldn't take it anymore. I had to tell you. I guess the time was finally right!"
Cassie dropped her right arm over Becky's shoulder. "I'm just glad you're home. It's been tough living without my best friend.
Becky leaned toward Cassie. "Missed you too, Pistol!"
The women sat up half the night laughing, crying, and hugging, as each one filled the other on more of the missing pieces from their seventeen years apart.
The next day went pretty much the same. Cassie and Becky were like two girls out of the movie "Big Chill." Cassie drug out the 8-track stereo from the attic, and the women shot jumpers to Kiss. "I want to rock and roll all night." They didn't shoot any spirited games of one-on-one, as Becky was a little too tired, but both women enjoyed being back on the court that had been their home for so long.
They spent an afternoon browsing photo albums and wedding snaps. That evening Becky gave Cassie a notebook full of Internet websites that dealt with transsexuals. Cassie had told her she wanted to learn more about what her best friend was going through.
Becky somehow found the courage to brave a few bites of Cassie's famous, "Tuna Noodle Casserole", before excusing herself to the bathroom and losing it. Becky had been in the bathroom for quite sometime when Cassie began to get concerned.
She knocked on the door. "Hey girl, you okay?"
Becky answered wearily. "Yeah, it's just these ulcers. Could you bring me my overnight bag? I need a shower."
Cassie didn't like the way Becky sounded. "Are you sure you're going to be alright?"
"Yeah, I just need a shower...and this time I have my own panties, so you can keep yours."
Cassie smiled. "Okay you little shit!" She brought Becky's bag and handed it to her through the door.
Becky emerged about an hour later. She was pale, weak, and hot from the shower, but she managed a smile for her best friend as she grabbed a Diet Coke from the fridge, and stretched out on the couch.
Cassie headed toward the bathroom to grab a shower of her own. "Hey, did you leave me any hot water, bathroom hog?"
Becky smiled. "We spent two hours watching Magnum P.I. videos. You probably need a cold shower anyway!"
Cassie stood in the bathroom door. "I'll get you for that one!"
Becky fired back, "Promises, promises!" as Cassie closed the door behind her.
With Cassie out of sight, Becky let out a moan and rubbed her aching stomach. She hoped she'd got all the blood up. She'd been heaving blood and bile for quite sometime, but she'd never tossed up that much blood before. She was taking over the max on her painkillers but she was still in pain most of the time. Come hell or high water, she had to be on that plane Saturday night. She couldn't keep up this charade much longer, but she didn't have to. Once she got on that plane it would all be over. She'd check into the hospice, and when the end finally came, Cassie would receive the letter explaining the rest of the truth.
When Cassie came out of the shower, Becky was asleep on the couch. Cassie grabbed a soda, fired up the computer and began searching the transsexual sites from Becky's notebook. Two hours later, she was starring at the screen in both amazement and sadness. She was amazed to find the wealth and depth of information available. She was saddened to read so many stories of souls who have suffered all their lives, just like her Becky.
Cassie sent out emails to any of the sites that looked pertinent or interesting. She got up from her chair, rubbed her sore hip, and limped over to the couch. Becky was sleeping peacefully. Cassie slid down beside her. She pushed a stray blonde curl away from her eyes. Her face was pale and slightly emaciated. Distinct dark circles beneath her eyes gave her this "homeless English waif" look. Becky was nearly 40, but at that moment she resembled a sick little girl and Cassie cradled her. She fell asleep with Becky's head on her chest.
The next morning Cassie arose to overcast skies and light drizzle dancing on the roof. Becky was already up. When Cassie heard the rhythmic bouncing of synthetic leather on asphalt, she knew where her friend was.
Cassie dressed and sat down at her computer while she laced her shoes. She decided to check her messages before heading out. She was pleased to find one new email already. It was from one of the transsexual sites she had contacted last night. Rather than read it immediately, she printed it and left it in the tray. Spying Becky's notebook, she decided to return it to her bag before she forgot to. Cassie opened the bag and gasped. She pulled out one of her own bath towels. It was soaked with damp and dried blood. Cassie fell to her knees, and put her hands over her mouth. She was frightened and shocked. She no longer believed Becky's story about ulcers. She didn't know what was wrong with Becky but it was serious and she was going to find out.
She turned over the bag, and dumped its contents on the floor. Clothes, papers and pill bottles tumbled out. Cassie gathered up all the bottles. She hadn't realized that Becky was on so many medications. She had no idea what they all did, but she knew who could tell her. She picked up the phone and twenty minutes later she had her answers.
Those answers prompted more searching by Cassie and that search netted her two letters. One letter was addressed to Becky from a hospital in California. The other letter was addressed to Cassie. She read them both and now she knew the whole truth.
When she got up and headed for the court, she had the letter addressed to her in hand. Most of her questions had already been answered by what she had found, but she was still determined to get the rest of the story from Becky herself.
Becky was shooting free throws when Cassie jogged onto the court. Becky didn't see the hurt and angered look in her eyes when she passed Cassie the ball. "Hey, Pistol, I just felt like shooting in the rain."
Cassie held the ball a moment, and starred down at the court shaking her head. She then raised her eyes to look at Becky. She paused a moment, and then turned and fired the basketball up toward the house.
Becky could see that Cassie was crying. "Cassie, what's wrong?"
Cassie reached out and grabbed Becky's hand. With her other hand, she took the letter that Becky had wrote her, and smacked it down hard on Becky's palm.
Becky swallowed as tears welled in her own eyes. "Oh Cassie, I'm so sorry...Please, just let me explain..."
Cassie roared at Becky as tears and raindrops mixed on her face and fell to the court. "Oh no you don't! I listened to you explain for over two hours at Li'l Italy's and then half the night. You explained so much to me, but you left out one little detail didn't you. You neglected to explain to me that my best friend wasn't going to California for ulcer treatment; she was going there to die! Damn you, how could you sit there and share all that with me, and then lie like that?"
Becky wiped the tears and the rain from her eyes and tried to speak, but Cassie wouldn't let her. "I don't want to hear it Becky. I don't want any more explanations. I don't want any more lies. You're going to listen to me for a while. I'm going to share some of my feelings with you. Do you have any idea of what it feels like when you open your friend's sports bag, and pull out a bath towel with enough blood on it to draw vampires? How would you like to call your ex-husband in Denver to ask him about the medications your friend is taking, and then finding out she's got painkillers they only prescribe for the terminally ill! How would you like to find a letter from the place where your friend has decided to go and die alone? Oh, but that's not all. It gets better! How would you like to find a letter addressed to you? When you read it, you discover that your friend loves you, and hopes you can forgive her, because by the time you are reading it, she's dead!"
Cassie wiped the tears from her eyes. Her body was trembling from the cold rain, and strong emotion. "But, you want to know the real kicker about this dead friend who wrote you this letter is? As you read it, and your heart is crushed by her loss, she's still alive, standing in the rain and shooting baskets!"
Cassie finally stopped and raised her face to the sky. Her arms were at the side of her body, and her fists were clenched. Becky tried to approach her. She had no idea what she could say or do that might help her friend now, but she had to try. Becky put her hand on her best friend's shoulder, but the strawberry blonde pushed it off, and turned her back on her.
Becky begged her to listen. "Cassie, please...you got to believe me. I never meant to hurt you like this. I just couldn't tell you that I am dying."
Cassie spun around to face her friend. "Why Becky? Why couldn't you tell me? Did you think I couldn't handle the truth? What the hell else do I have to do to prove to you that I can handle the truth? You disappear for all those years, never one word, and then you come back as a woman. For six months we play basketball side by side, and then you finally tell me who you really are! Sure, it took me two margaritas and I punched you, but I handled it didn't I? I handled it because I love you. I love your soul, not your body. I just want you in my life in whatever form brings you happiness, and for as long as you have life to live."
Cassie calmed and reached up to take Becky's hands in hers. "Becky, there's only one thing I can't handle, and that's being shut out of your life. You shut me out for seventeen years; please don't shut me out again. I'm the closest thing you have to family now. Family sticks together. You can't just face this alone."
Cassie was searching for the words to reach Becky. "When we were twelve and two-on-two champs, we were the ultimate team. We could beat anyone who came on that court. C'mon Becky, be my teammate again. Let me face this with you, please!"
Cassie was spent, and she fell to one knee. Becky sat on the court next to her, and put an arm around her. She pulled Cassie to her chest, just as Cassie had done her so many times. She sat there cradling Cassie, and trying to put together the words that could help her friend.
Becky pushed the wet hair from her face and began. "Okay, Pistol, we'll talk about it. What can I tell you that you haven't found out already?"
Cassie raised her head and turned to look at Becky. "How long...I mean how long have you known about the cancer?"
Becky paused, took a deep breath, and began recounting the events to Cassie. "It was almost two years to the date that Mom had died and I'd been post-op about 10 months. I had been blowing off my six-month exam for quite sometime. I was just so sick of doctors and examination rooms that I couldn’t bring myself to go. Well, just after Thanksgiving, I'd came down with what I thought was a nasty flu, and I couldn't seem to shake it. I had no choice but to call my doctor and make an appointment. She chewed me out royal for missing my last two, and for punishment I think, she scheduled me for a complete exam, including a mammogram. I wasn't forty yet, but I was considered to be high risk because cancer ran in my family."
Becky stopped and lowered her head. "I guess it's time for another confession. I didn't tell you the whole truth about my mother's death. I kind of led you to believe she died from complications of the stroke. Well, you probably can figure it out now, but I'll tell you anyway. The cancer that ran in my family was my mother's. The stroke didn't kill her, breast cancer did. I watched the doctors carve her breasts from her body, but it didn't stop the cancer and she died within a year after her last operation. I didn't tell you, because I was afraid you might make the connection before I could leave."
Cassie squeezed her hand. "Hey, that part doesn't matter any more. I just want to know what's going on, okay?"
Becky continued. "I really didn't think much about the mammogram. To me it was just another rite of passage. I told myself that having my breasts smashed into pancakes was just something that went with the territory I had moved into.
"Well, you can imagine what happened when they told me the results. I couldn't believe it. My first mammogram and I had a ‘Bingo!’ right out of the gate."
Becky stopped for a moment, rubbed her hand across her face and tried to compose herself. "From there, than they ran tests, and more tests, and then I had an exploratory surgery. Not only did I have breast cancer, but it had also spread. They pretty much told me that they couldn't remove it all, but they did recommend trying to get what out what they could, and for me to begin chemotherapy. In their opinion, I was terminal, but they could buy me a little more time. I told them to shove their scalpels and their chemo. I wasn't about to let them take me down the same road they took my mom down."
A smile pursed at Becky's lips. "You know what's funny about the whole thing? I used to think that if I had to live as a man for just one more day it was going to kill me. So what happens? I finally get to live as a woman, and it kills me!"
Cassie couldn't listen anymore. She grabbed her friend and hugged her. Tears choked her voice as she spoke. "Oh Becky I'm so sorry! I...don't know what to say, or do? You must be so scared...so angry!"
Becky pulled back from Cassie's embrace. "Scared? Yeah, I'm scared all right, but not of death. I've not been scared of death in a long time. When I was 12, I'd go to bed praying I'd either wake up being a girl, or not at all. To me, death is just a journey from this world to another, but I am scared. I'm not scared of dying. I'm scared of living or at least of what my life is becoming. I'm scared of the sickness, of the pain, the suffering, and how long it's going to go on. I'm scared of wires, and tubes and the machines that pump things into you, just to keep you breathing, long after your body has given up. Most of all, I'm scared about what all this would do to my best friend if she had to sit there and watch me die, just like I did my mother."
Becky paused a moment, trying to find the words to make Cassie understand. "What else did you say? Am I angry? Oh baby! Am I angry? I'm so damned angry I could explode. I'm angry with God for making me a woman in a man's body. I'm angry about missing out on being a girl, and having to skip thirty years worth of experiences. I'm angry that you and I won't get to be two blue-haired old ladies who still play one-on-one. I'm angry alright, but what can I do about it?"
Becky stood up, turned her face to the heavens, and shook a fist in the sky. "I could stand here shaking my fist, cursing my fate, and crying until I'm out of tears, but I've already done that, and it doesn't help. Yeah, I've got plenty of anger, but what can I do with it?"
Cassie lifted herself up off the court quickly. Becky could see the fire and passion in her eyes. "I tell you what you can do with it. You can use that anger to fight! You got to go after this thing like you would a loose ball or a rebound, and I'm going to help you. We can fight this thing together!"
Cassie was already forming a battle plan in her mind. "First thing I'm going to do is call Craig. Becky, he's got connections with doctors all over the world. He can get us information on all the latest treatments, and where the best clinics are. There's breakthroughs everyday!"
She squeezed Becky's hand. "C'mon Becky, you can fight, and I'm going to help you if you'll let me, pleeease!"
Becky shook her head. "Cassie, this is one of the reasons why I didn't want to tell you. I know you and how your mind works. I knew you'd have us on some medical crusade dragging me through every hospital and clinic we could get into, and trying every treatment you could find on the Internet. I told you I've already been to the doctors and the hospitals. There isn't anything else they can do for me, or that I will let them do TO me! I'll be damned if I go through what my mother went through. Tell me, Cass, have you ever smelled death? I have. They used to wheel my mother out of chemotherapy, and the smell that came out of there was pure death! In the end, my mother was so sick she begged to die. I'm not going through that. I swear to God, I won't do it, and I won't put you through it either."
Cassie hugged Becky. "Oh honey, I'm so sorry about what your mother went through, and what you went through watching her die. I understand you don't want to suffer like that, but we can find treatments that won't make you sick like that. Just let me call Craig and see what he knows. That's all I'm asking. Oh, Becky, I just got you back after seventeen years, I'll be damned if I'm giving you up without a fight!"
Becky felt a sharp cramp and she grabbed her side. She winced in pain as she spoke. "I can't get through to you, can I? You just can't understand, can you?"
Cassie's temper flared. "What's to understand? My best friend just wants to go away and die without a fight. Is that what you want me to understand? Cause if it is, then no I can't!"
Becky shook her head, and then dropped it to her chest.
"I came here because I wanted to see my best friend one last time. I told you about the sex change because I wanted to share Becky with you. I decided not to tell you that I was dying, because I wanted our last memories to be happy ones."
Becky raised her face and then her arms out toward Cassie. "Will you look at us Cassie? We're crying, we're fighting, and we're standing in the pouring rain. So much for happy memories, huh?"
Becky then turned and started walking toward the house.
Cassie shouted. "Where are you going?"
Becky stopped for a moment and turned. "I'm getting my bag and I'm leaving. There's nothing else left to stay for."
Cassie ran up to her side. "Please Becky; you just can't leave like this. C'mon we can go inside and talk about it, and besides town is seven miles from here and it's raining."
Becky turned to face Cassie; she had a resolution in her eyes that the strawberry blonde had never seen from Becky or Brian. "I won't fight this cancer, and I won't fight you, Cassie. We don't have anything left to say... as for the seven miles into town, it's all down the mountain, and as for the rain, well. I'm already soaked."
Becky hugged Cassie, regarded her face for the last time, and then kissed her on the cheek. "Goodbye, Pistol, I love you!"
Cassie stood there. She couldn't move or speak. All she could do was cry and watch her best friend leave forever.
Cassie staggered into the empty house and sat on the couch. She couldn't believe what had just happened. She was so caught up in her own hurt and anger that she drove her best friend away. Instead of being there for her and respecting her wishes, she had gotten caught up in her own grief. It wasn't Becky that had quit on life; it was Cassie who had quit on Becky. She buried her face in her hands and cried.
Finally getting up and wandering over to the computer, she spied the print out she hadn't read earlier. She grabbed a soda and starting reading it. When she finished, she leapt from the chair. Her face was filled with hope and excitement. She grabbed her car keys and headed into the rain.
Two thoughts filled her mind as she drove. "Please let this be true, and please let me find Becky."
Ten minutes later, her second wish came true as she spied Becky walking along the roadside. Cassie pulled up to her and rolled down the window. "Becky, please get in the car. I want to talk to you."
Becky looked over at Cassie. "Cassie, I told you there's nothing else left to say. Please don't make this any worse."
Cassie wasn't about to give up.
"Becky, I found something you've got to see. It was on the Internet. If it's true, I think it could be a miracle."
Becky stopped. "Look, I told you, I'm not interested in herbal remedies, or experimental surgeries. I'm not going to do this."
Cassie gunned the Suburban and pulled off in front of Becky. The rain was pouring as she hopped out and stood in front of Becky. "Damn, you're more stubborn than Mandy! Look, I'll make you a deal."
Cassie held the computer print out in her hand. "If you'll just read this email I got off the Internet, I swear I will accept your wishes without question. If after reading this, you still want to go to California, then I will drive you to Charleston to catch your plane. All I'm asking you to do is read something. Can't you at least do this for me, pleeease."
Becky gave her a tired smile and took the paper from her hand, but the rain had all but destroyed it. Becky squinted to make out the heading. "What is Honey Buns Ltd.?"
Cassie grabbed the paper from Becky's hand and frowned when she realized it was unreadable. "It's not Honey Buns, its Hugglebugs! And this paper is ruined. We'll have to go back to the house and I can run another copy off. C'mon Becky, you agreed to read it!"
Becky and Cassie got into the Suburban and returned to Cassie's. Becky left her bag in the car, as she was sure she wouldn't be staying long. Cassie punched up the e-mail and gave Becky a copy to read. Becky sat and read it several times. When she finally put it down, she was stunned. "Cassie, I've never heard of this before. I know that they've made big breakthroughs in nanite technology. I've heard some rumors about work a research team has been doing in New Zealand, but I never believed them. Do you realize that if these nanites can do what they say they can, no one will ever have to go through sexual reassignment surgery again?
Becky sat there shaking her head, desperately trying to think rationally. "This is ridiculous. It can't possibly be true. It's got to be some scam."
Cassie wasn't about to let this opportunity go by. It could be the difference between life and death for her friend. "C'mon Becky. What do you got to lose? If you're right and it's a scam, you've lost a little cash and one day. It says they offer overnight shipping, so we'll know by tomorrow. If it doesn't work, and you want to catch your plane, I can still get you to Charleston in time to make it."
Cassie stopped and took Becky's hand and voice was filled with hope and excitement. "But if it works, oh God, if it works, you will have the body you've always dreamed of and deserved, and a long life ahead of you. I'd say this is worth waiting one day for, wouldn't you?"
Becky wasn't convinced yet. "Okay Pistol, what if it really does work and I get the body of my dreams? You are assuming it will kill the cancer. Well, what if it doesn't? Then we will have done all this for nothing, because I will die anyway."
Cassie was one step ahead. "I've already thought of that. Either way you die, right? Well...wouldn't you rather be a genetic woman, if for only a few weeks, just to say you made it. Becky, I think of you as the same as any genetic girl, but it doesn't matter to me. None of the girls we played with had a clue you were ever anything else other than what you appeared to be. You did remind me of Brian when we first met, but I never would have believed you were Brian, because I was sure you were a woman. Of course, nothing I say really matters because there's still one person that's not convinced you are truly a woman, and that person is you! I think you are always going to feel inferior. I think you will always see some semblance of a man when you look at your reflection. It wouldn't matter how beautiful you were, I don't think you would see it. Well...here's your chance to finally be a complete woman in your own eyes. Are you going to take it, or die without ever knowing?"
Becky sat down and rubbed her forehead. "I don't know what to do or what to believe."
Cassie took her hand. "You disappeared for all those years. You came back as a woman, and now you tell me you are going to die. You've put me through a lot of shock and grief. I think you owe me at least two favors to make up for all that. I got to ask for two, because no one favor could do it. I'm claiming the first favor now. All you have to do is try this Hugglebugs stuff. If it works, you still owe me one favor, but if it doesn't, then I won't even ask for the second one."
Becky knew that Cassie was right. She had put her through so much. She was entitled to these favors. "Alright, call these people up and I'll get my credit card." Becky started heading for the door and then stopped and turned. "I have one condition. I will give them any information they need, but I will not tell them about the cancer. I don't want to know if it can cure it, and besides they may some policy against selling to the terminally ill or something."
Cassie acknowledged the condition and called the customer support number. She put the call on speakerphone. Becky told them she was a post-op M to F transsexual who wanted a genetic woman's body of similar size and age, with maybe a few little improvements. Cassie giggled when Becky asked for the improvements. Becky looked at her and mouthed the word, "What?" The entire call lasted less than twenty minutes and when they hung up they had a confirmation number for a guaranteed UPS Red delivery by noon tomorrow.
The blonde had to take meds, so she headed out to Cassie's car to bring her bag in. The strawberry blonde hit the redial button and waited for an answer. "Excuse me, Hugglebugs Customer Support? Great! My name is Becky Taylor and I just placed an order. Is it possible that I can add an extra can of spray? Super! No... Not the same formula. Permanent? Yes, definitely. Okay, here's exactly what I want..."
Cassie hung up the phone as Becky walked in.
"Who you calling, Pistol?"
"Oh, I thought I'd order a pizza. You think you might be able to eat something? You really ought to try you know." Cassie's eyes lit up and the impish smile returned. "Hey maybe we can get the same delivery boy we had in high school. I'll let you borrow my blue nightie?"
A house slipper buzzed over Cassie's head as Becky hollered. "You're a goof, you know that?"
Cassie was so glad to see Becky smile and was so excited about tomorrow, but she hadn't lost touch with reality. Her friend was sick and dying. If this miracle didn't work, she would have to say goodbye to her friend forever.
It was shortly before noon when the UPS man pulled up. Cassie ran out the door and met him before he could get to the house.
Becky watched from the doorway and thought to herself, "Cassie's more excited about this thing than I am!"
Running inside the house, sitting the box on the dining room table and then running to the kitchen to get a knife to cut the packing tape, Cassie's hands were shaking as she held the knife above the box.
The pale, sickly blonde reached over and grabbed her hand. "Okay Doctor Gannon! This isn't ‘Medical Center’ and you're not doing open-heart surgery. We're just opening a box. Maybe you better let me cut the tape before you destroy whatever's in here or lose a finger." Becky ran the blade across the top of the box and split the tape. Cassie opened the box flaps and pulled out two spray bottles, and a booklet.
Becky eyed the two bottles suspiciously. "Hey, why are there two bottles?"
Cassie jumped in immediately. "Uh...one bottle makes the change and the other makes it permanent."
The younger friend frowned. "I don't remember that lady saying it took a second bottle to make it permanent."
The coach remained adamant. "Oh yeah, she did! I remember exactly what she said."
Raising her hands and surrendering, the blonde sighed, "Okay, I believe you. Let's just get this show on the road."
Cassie opened the instruction booklet and read silently to herself. After about a minute, Becky lost her patience. "Pistol, you want to read that stuff out loud, so we both know what's going on."
The comment broke Cassie's train of thought. "What? Oh, sorry about that." She smiled and then paraphrased for Becky what she had read. "It all looks pretty easy to me. The nanites do all the work. All we have to do is follow the directions exactly. So, you have to do exactly what I tell you to do, okay?"
A smile and quipped, "Yes. Mother," was her answer,
The mother of two smiled when she said that and thought, "Little does she know." Her mind then snapped back to the task at hand and she immediately took command.
"Okay, I think we need to go up to my bedroom, unless you want to give the mailman a show he'll never forget."
The two women climbed the stairs and entered Cassie's bedroom. "Okay girl, the first thing you have to do is take off all your clothes, everything!"
Becky's eyes grew wide as she repeated Cassie's last words nervously. "Everything?"
"Oh for Pete's sake Becky, don't go getting all modest on me. You're the one who said we could hit the showers together and neither of us would be embarrassed, right?"
Trapped by her own words, Becky stripped until she stood naked before Cassie. Cassie was tempted to make a comment about how realistic everything looked, but thought better of it and pressed on. Glancing back and forth between the book and Becky, she continued.
"I have to spray the contents of the first bottle all over your body, even in your mouth. It's very important you get complete coverage." She hesitated for a moment, and then continued again, emphasizing the importance of her next statement. "Okay, this part is very important. It says, immediately after spraying, you are to put on an eye mask, lie down, try to remain still, and don't speak until I tell you."
Becky looked puzzled. "Why in the world do I need to wear an eye mask, and why can't I talk?"
Cassie responded defensively. "How am I supposed to know? I'm no doctor. I'm just the dummy reading the instructions. Now, are you going to stand their naked and argue with me, or are we going to turn these nanites loose?"
Becky smiled and shook her head. "Release the nanites!"
Cassie grabbed the spray bottle in one hand and the eye mask in the other. She raised the bottle and prepared to spray when Becky raised her hand to signal stop.
"I want to say something while I can still talk. Win, lose, or draw with this stuff. I want to thank you. Not just for this, but for everything. I've been so lucky to have a friend like you. I love you Cassie."
Cassie had to fight to hold back the tears. "I love you too, but save the thanks until were done. Maybe you won't like the finished product."
Becky smiled at Cassie. "No matter what happens, I'll be satisfied."
Cassie began spraying Becky's body and thought, "I sure hope you're right kid, cause there's no turning back now."
Cassie sprayed Becky's mouth and her body from head to toe. She placed the eye mask on her, directed her to the bed and told her to remember not to speak. Once she had Becky on the bed, she continued reading from the instruction booklet. "You may feel a tingling sensation accompanied by slight disorientation, but don't be alarmed. This means the nanites are working. You should feel no real discomfort."
The older woman surveyed Becky's body and much to her delight, she could see the physical changes take place. Excitement filled her voice as she spoke, "Becky... something is definitely happening. I can already see your body changing, and I think you are going to like the changes."
The frail girl tried to lie still as her friend had ordered, but her body was moving beyond her control. She felt the tingling sensation all over her body. She could feel herself expanding and contracting to accommodate the changes. For a moment she thought something was crawling over her shoulders, but then realized it was her hair growing! She so hoped she'd have thick, full hair. The main reason she'd gotten the perm was to hide her receded hairline.
Cassie continued to watch in amazement as her friend transformed into a vision. Five minutes went by, although to Becky it seemed more like five years, as she lay there in silence. She finally spoke. "Uh Becky, I think it's all done, and it worked. Oh boy, did it work!"
The girl on the bed couldn't take it one minute more. "Cassie, you got to let me take off this eye mask. I got...to...see..." Becky's last few words came out slowly, as she realized the soft feminine voice that was filling her ears was her own. "Oh, my God, Cassie... do you hear my voice? I don't sound like some old bar hag anymore."
Cassie answered quickly. "Yes I do, and it sounds wonderful, but you're not supposed to be talking! Now don't say another word until I tell you to. You want to mess this whole thing up?"
The blonde head shook in a negative manner.
Cassie continued. "Okay now, just listen to me. You look great. Girl, I'm talking "giggle wiggle" great, but we're not done yet. I know you can't wait to see your new body, but you'll have a whole lifetime to stand in front of the mirror and admire yourself. First, you and I have a little unfinished business. Since this spray has worked, and trust me it has. There is the little matter of the second favor you owe me. It's really very simple in fact; you don't have to do anything at all. I'm going to spray you with the second bottle. Don't speak, don't take off the eye mask until I tell you to, and most of all remember that I love you."
Becky swallowed, but said nothing, as Cassie took the second bottle in hand, and prepared to spray Becky again. She hesitated a moment to survey her reconstructed friend. The nanites had done quality work.
Becky's hair was still ash blonde, but it was fuller and thicker, and had grown almost a foot. A softer, gentler more natural curl had replaced her spiral curl, and it cascaded over her shoulders, nearly obscuring her breasts. Her breasts were a little more difficult to obscure, as they had grown and become as full and as firm as a buxom twenty year old. Her waist had drawn in, and her hips had spread in accordance. Her hands and feet were smaller, more slender and in proportion to the rest of her new body. Her skins looked smooth, soft, and wrinkle free.
She had the color of a California sun goddess. The small patch of down between her legs told Cassie that Becky had become one of the rarest of breeds. She was a natural blonde. Her face was partially obscured by the eye mask. Aside from looking fuller, more rounded, and healthier, it was very much Becky's face. Of course, that is what the girl had asked for. She had wanted the same features, plus some small improvements. Her improvements had given her a killer body more suited to a twenty-five year old beach babe, than a thirty-nine year old hoop junkie. There was no doubt in Cassie's mind that Becky would be satisfied, but she was going for more than satisfaction. She was going for "dream come true," as she prepared to spray her friend with the second bottle.
She told Becky to "open wide," as she sprayed inside her mouth for a second time. She then told her to close her eyes, as she lifted the eye mask and sprayed her face. When she finished spraying the front of her body, Cassie had her roll over to spray the backside. Once finished, she had her friend return to her original position and wait the effects of what the blonde thought was the finalizing solution. Becky had a sneaking suspicion that this second spraying may involve more than just making the changes permanent. She didn't know what Cassie was up to, but whenever you tell someone, "remember that I love you", it's because you are about to do something to them that might make them doubt it. This "second favor" didn't really make sense to Becky either. All she was required to do was lay there for the second spraying, just as she had the first. It all seemed rather odd to Becky, but before she could dwell on it any longer, Cassie spoke.
"Now Becky, if you start feeling that tingling sensation or the disorientation again, don't be alarmed it's just your friendly nanites at work again. Oh, and if you start feeling hot or begin sweating, don't worry about that either. It is also normal." Cassie sat down on the bed next to Becky and tried to prepare herself for the second wave. Neither Becky nor Cassie would have to wait long.
The cancer-ridden girl felt the familiar tingling sensation, and accompanying disorientation. Within a few minutes, she began to feel the heat. She felt like a human microwave. The heat was radiating from deep inside her, and sweat began to pour off her body. Perhaps it was the heat, and disorientation, but the blonde felt like her body was drawing in on its self. She could actually feel her hands and feet moving across the bedspread, inching up toward her body. It was almost as if she was rolling up into a ball, but not exactly. Finally, she realized that she had no choice but to ride these strange feelings out and wait until the nanites were finished. From the little bit that Cassie had told her, it seemed like the nanites knew what they were doing. She was just going to have to trust that Cassie was telling her the truth.
The first thing that Cassie noticed was the beads of sweat that formed on Becky's body. As her body began to change, the amount of sweat increased in proportion to the body mass she was losing. Within two minutes of spraying, the second wave of changes became visible to Cassie. Just as her friend had sensed, her body was drawing in on itself. Her six-foot frame began to shrink. Each vanishing inch seemed to take away a little bit more of the mature woman features that the first nanites had worked so hard to enhance. Becky's breasts folded in on themselves until they were two small buds. The down between her legs vanished, leaving only the soft folds of her skin. Hands, feet, arms and legs all continued to shrink.
All the sand was running out of Becky's hourglass figure as her body was quickly becoming that of a young girl. Her face was smaller, and more rounded, almost angelic. Her ash blonde hair had shortened to a length just over her shoulders, and tightened in curl.
Cassie thought to herself, "If beneath that eye mask she has big blue eyes to compliment those blonde curls and round face, then I may have created a 21st century Little Orphan Annie."
Within five minutes after the sweating had begun, it stopped. There, lying on Cassie's bed, dripping with sweat, was the body of a beautiful little ten-year-old girl. Cassie had gone for the dream and flat nailed it. She took a deep breath and blew it out. She had to be calm and confident. She was sure that Becky would be just as happy with the changes as she was, but the shock would be incredible, and this Becky-child was going to need Cassie to be there for her.
Cassie wiped away a few tears of joy that had come when she first looked at Becky's new body. She cleared her throat to speak, but once again, Becky could no longer wait. She sat up in the bed and spoke out. "I'm sorry, Pistol, but I can't wait a...minute...more." Again, a strange voice filled her ears. It was still feminine, but higher pitched, almost like a squeak in comparison to the voice she had heard just minutes before. The sound of her voice came back to her again and then it clicked. It was the voice of a little girl. Her mind raced as fear and confusion gripped her. "Something's went wrong, terribly wrong," she thought.
She sat up in the bed and started to cry, "Oh Cassie, something went wrong. What's happened to me?"
Taking her hand, Cassie comforted her. When she spoke it was almost more like a mother to her child. "Shhh...now. Nothing's gone wrong, in fact, it couldn't be more right. I have a surprise for you, a good surprise, I promise!"
Cassie paused, and raised her other hand to remove the eye mask from Becky's face. "Now listen very carefully honey, I'm going to take off your eye mask now. Close your eyes and then open them very slowly. I really do think you are going to like what you see, but it's a little different than what you expected. Okay?"
Rather than hear that voice again, Becky just nodded. Her heart pounded and her mind raced in anticipation of what she was going to find when she opened her eyes.
Very slowly, almost cautiously, Cassie moved the eye mask over Becky's closed eyes, and then lifted it off her head. She squeezed Becky's hand tightly, and the woman thought it strange that it seemed so small within Cassie's. She heard Cassie's voice again. "Okay Becky, open your eyes."
Blinking her eyes several times before opening them, she immediately turned her gaze toward Cassie. She desperately wanted to look at her own body, but she was afraid of what she would find. She looked up into Cassie's green eyes, hoping they would give her a clue as to what she was about to discover, but all she saw was the powerful love that her best friend felt for her. The look in strawberry blonde's eyes hadn't told her what she was looking for, but where she had to look to find it, spoke volumes. Cassie was sitting beside her in bed. Her face should have been even with or slightly below her own, but she definitely had to look up to see her friend's eyes.
Not only was Cassie sitting above her, but she seemed bigger as well. In fact, as Cassie looked from side to side in the room, it was apparent that everything was out of proportion. She realized that either everything in this room had grown or she had shrunk. She couldn't avoid the inevitable any longer. Slowly she lowered her gaze until she could see her feet and toes. They seemed awfully small and awfully close to her body. Her eyes then ran past her feet, up and over her legs, and then stopped momentarily at the gap between them. She continued past her waist, examining her nearly flat chest, and then onto each arm.
Cassie still held her right hand, so Becky raised her left hand to her face. She turned it back and forth in front of her eyes. Like her feet it seemed tiny in comparison to the hand that was there just a short while ago. Slowly, she ran her fingers from the left cheek, down her jaw line, over her chin, and up to her right ear. Her face was baby smooth and round. She raised her fingers to the tip of her nose and rubbed it gently. To Becky, it felt more like a little button in comparison to the nose she had before. She moved her hand from her nose, to the side of her face, and gently took a handful of her hair. She pulled a lock in front of her, twisting and admiring the thick blonde curls.
The older woman watched the new girl-child slowly explore her new body. She could see the childlike wonder in her eyes as she encountered each new sight and sensation. Wide deep blue eyes sparkled brightly in the bedroom's dim light. They were as big, round and vibrant as Cassie thought they would be. Aside from the fact that this girl's hair was a little longer, the nanites and Cassie had really created a Little Orphan Annie out of the body of her best friend.
Watching the child's eyes as Becky had watched hers earlier, she was searching for some sign of how this child felt about her new body. She saw looks of wonder, amazement, and confusion. Blue eyes narrowed and a slight frown came to her face. It was obvious to Cassie that she was trying to make sense out of all that she had seen.
Becky examined the facts. She considered the bareness between her legs, the flat smoothness of her chest, the features of her face, and the sound of her voice. The conclusion was obvious. She had the body of a young girl. She couldn't be any older than 11 or 12, possibly younger. She now knew what she was, but she didn't know how this came to pass or why. She was pretty sure that Cassie had the answers to those questions, and she intended to get them.
The youngster turned to face Cassie, but it was the woman who spoke first. "Becky honey, are you alright?"
Looking up at Cassie, she replied, "Well... I'm naked, I'm cold, and I'm a twelve-year-old girl. Aside from that I'm fine."
The woman who had mothered two children could barely suppress her laughter. This Becky was Little Orphan Annie with an attitude, and she just couldn't take her that seriously. "I'm sorry Becky. Why don't you pull the bedspread up around you until we go and get you some clothes, and by the way, you're only ten."
The child pulled the bedspread up around her, and once again starred up at Cassie. Her oldest best friend was smiling at her. Her eyes were still beaming with love and pride. She sat there waiting for an explanation, but when the strawberry blonde hadn't offered one voluntarily, Becky decided to ask for it. "Cassie... Ummm, Cassie?"
The little girl voice had to repeat Cassie's name several times before she came out of her trance. "I'm sorry, Becky. I was just looking at you. I...I can't get over what a cute little girl you are."
"Thanks Cassie, I always wanted to be a cute little girl, but...how did I become one and why?"
It was time for Cassie to reveal her plan, and hope that Becky would understand. "Well...I wasn't exactly honest with you about a few things concerning the Hugglebugs spray."
The pixie on the bed petulantly folded her arms in front of her, and her face frowned. "You mean you lied."
Cassie snapped at her. "Hold on little missy. Don't even get up on a high horse with me. Considering the lies you've fed me, I think you can indulge me a few of my own. Don't you?"
The girlish face dropped. "I'm sorry, Cassie. It's just that I don't understand what's going on and I'm scared." She was actually trembling beneath the blanket, and Cassie squeezed her hand and kissed her forehead, before beginning again.
"There's no reason to be scared. Everything is going according to plan, but I guess its time to let you in on the plan. Might as well start at the beginning huh?"
"When I ran off that second copy of the email from Hugglebugs, I didn't give you all the pages. The pages I kept from you would have told you that Hugglebugs not only has the power to transform your body into the woman of your dreams, but the little girl of your dreams too.
And when I read that it had the power to give you the body of a little girl, I felt like I was holding your dream in my hands. I had to make it a reality."
The girl under the blanket was still very confused. "I don't understand why you didn't tell me about it or why you hid those pages from me."
Cassie answered her quickly. "I can think of three reasons why I didn't tell you. You never would've believed me. You might have said no, and if you did believe me and it didn't work, you'd been even more devastated."
"Do you really think you would have gotten in the Suburban yesterday if I would have told you I found something on the internet that could turn you into a ten-year-old girl? Would you have believed me?"
No, Becky couldn't argue with her about that. If Cassie had said that she would have just kept on walking in the rain.
"Becky it was all I could do to talk you into believing the Hugglebugs might be able to make you a genetic woman. If I'd showed you the rest of the email, you might have thought it was so unbelievable; that it just had to be a scam, and you've would have walked right back out of here. I wasn't about to tell you something, that I didn't think you had the faith to believe in, and I wasn't about to let your lack of faith cost you your dream.
"Once you agreed to try the Hugglebugs, I knew I had you. It was all pretty simple then. After we made the initial order for the spray to make you a genetic woman, I called them back, while you were out getting your meds, and put in an order for the second bottle that would make you a little girl."
"I knew there wasn't supposed to be a second bottle to make the changes permanent!" Becky's eyes lit up.
"I couldn't think of any other reason for the second bottle, and that's also why I never let you read the instructions. I would have been busted for sure! Of course the deception didn't end there." Cassie smiled.
"There's more?" Becky looked at her curiously.
Sheepishly Cassie looked at her. "Well...just a little. Uh...the whole thing about the eye mask and not talking or moving? I made all that up and before you ask me why, I'll tell ya. I didn't want you to see or know anything until it was all done, and besides I don't want you to know what you're going to look like when you grow up. I want you to be just like every other ten-year-old little girl, or at least as much as you can be."
Then she reached over and began running her fingers through Becky's adorable curls. The reality of being a ten-year-old girl was beginning to set in for Becky, and her heart was starting to believe what her eyes had been telling her. Cassie had told her how she had become a ten-year-old girl, but she still wasn't sure why?
Softly she spoke, "Cassie?"
Cassie was still being mesmerized by her friend's new appearance. "Hmmm?"
"Uh...how come you did it? I mean, make me a little girl and all? How did you know I'd be happy?"
Cassie sighed and smiled. "I said it before and I'll say it again. That blonde bimbo in you goes straight to the roots doesn't it? Listen my little ‘giggle wiggle’ in training, you tell me. Are you happy with what you see?"
Looking at her body for a moment, the child then looked up to meet Cassie's gaze. The look of joy and contentment on her little girl's face told her friend the answer before the new girl could even speak. "Oh yes Cassie. I am happy. My heart is going crazy, it's so happy. I feel like I could open your bedroom window and just fly, I'm so happy!"
"Uh, please don't try that. I don't have medical coverage on you yet!" Cassie smiled.
Giggling a very normal ten-year-old little girl giggle, Becky asked, "I am happy, but how did you know I would be? How could you be so sure?"
In mock exasperation, Cassie rolled her eyes and shook her head. "Children and questions...always the questions. You're as bad as Devon and Mandy."
Becky smiled sheepishly, and shrugged her shoulders. Cassie couldn't have paid her a more flattering compliment.
"So you want to know how I could have been so sure. Oh, little one, I have never been surer of anything in my life! You've been a little girl since the day I met you. I didn't see it, or really understand it when we were growing up, but since you've been back, it's impossible to miss. I knew it the first time I saw you shooting with Devon and Mandy. Once that little girl gets a chance to be with her own kind, she comes out. It's like a transformation from this troubled and self-conscious middle-aged woman into this happy, confident, and playful little girl. I could see it in your eyes, your face, and in everything you did. Think about when you were with Mandy and Devon.
"You weren't thinking about being an ‘imitation of a woman,’ or if someone ‘could tell you used to be a man.’ You were just having fun and being yourself. For once, you weren't living your dreams through someone else. That little girl was getting a chance to do it herself, and she was enjoying it! Becky when I looked across that court at the three of you, I saw three kids shooting hoops and having a blast. I could see how happy you were getting a chance to be a little girl, and I also saw how your heart ached when you saw the other little girls who had a body to match their spirit. Do you remember that night after we lost the championship game at the community center?"
This time Cassie paused long enough for Becky to answer. "Yes... I remember. I was so sad we didn't win."
The red-haired mother of two children responded. "Yes, that was a tough loss and you played a great game, but that's not what I'm talking about. When I stopped to let you out at your place, Mandy had fallen asleep and we were both looking at her. There was this look in your eyes that could only be described as deep longing. I asked you if you were a lot like her when you were growing up, and you told me, ‘In spirit only.’ I didn't realize what you were trying to tell me then, but it all became clear that night at Li'l Italy's. I learned so much about you that night, but nothing more telling than when you told me your greatest regret.
"How you regretted never being able to do all the things that other little girls got to do and experience. You told me of that little girl who deserved a chance to grow up, and now she's going to have it. All your life you've felt like you didn't fit in. You didn't fit in with the boys when you were growing up and you didn't feel like you completely fit in with the women after you had your change. It's because, you're not a boy, or even a grown woman. You're a little girl. You've always been a little girl, and now you're going to get the chance to live it. This is where you belong, honey. This is where you fit, and this is why I did it."
The new little girl no longer cared about "why" and "how." It didn't matter anymore. She was just so happy to be home. Tears of joy fell from her eyes and she reached up to hug her friend. Cassie grabbed her and pulled her into her lap, holding Becky's head against her chest. With tears in her own eyes, she, now the mother of three, thought to herself, "And this is why too!"
Expertly, the older woman rocked Becky in her arms for quite some time. There were no questions or concerns, just peace, love, and contentment. The youngster had actually gone to sleep, and as her now mother gazed at her new daughter, she marveled at the resemblance to her own Mandy. Her words that night outside that apartment had been prophetic. She had thought that Becky was very much like Mandy when she was a little girl, now there was no doubt.
Cassie gently shook the pre-teen girl to wake her, as they had much to do that day. She woke up rubbing the sleep from her eyes and then her head shot up and she started looking frantically around the room, then down at herself before finally looking up at Cassie.
Wide eyes gazed down at her with a puzzled expression. "What's wrong Becky?"
Huge blue eyes looked like they were almost ready to start crying again. "I thought it was all a dream. When I woke up I was afraid it would all be gone."
Reflexively Cassie smiled and pulled Becky toward her again. "Honey, it is a dream. It's a dream come true. It's not going to wear off or go away when you sleep. You're a little girl, and you're going to grow up one day at a time, and not a moment sooner, okay?"
As she nodded in agreement, Becky stole Cassie's impish smile, and showed it to her proudly. "We can't just be a couple of lazy bones. We gotta get moving." Cassie then turned both their attentions to more pressing needs. "Here put this on, and we'll go to Mandy's room and borrow you an outfit until we can get into town and buy your own." Cassie got up and grabbed her robe off the chair and casually tossed it toward the girl.
Unwrapping the bedspread from her body, Becky jumped off the bed. She put her arms into the robe and then tried to wrap it around her. The voluminous robe nearly swallowed her whole. The sleeves hung well below her hands, the length piled up at her feet, and when she tried to walk it followed behind her like a bridal train. The belt that pulled the robe closed, could have wrapped around her twice. The strawberry blonde stood in the doorway, trying hard not to laugh, and failing miserably.
The thirty-nine-year-old, pre-teen looked up at her "mother", put her hands on her hips and scowled. "This isn't funny Cassie."
If Cassie was having trouble holding back her laughter before, it became completely impossible now. Once the new girl had released her grip on the robe, in order to put both hands on her hips and emphasize her point, the tie betrayed her. It unwrapped from around her tiny waist, and the robe fell from her shoulders, stopping just above where her hands sat on her hips. The woman put her hand to her mouth, and Becky slowly looked down. When she looked back, she was smiling. It was funny. It was just too ridiculous. She was too ridiculous! Becky started laughing and Cassie joined her.
Her protector helped her on with the robe, and smiled. "C'mon exhibitionist. Let's get dressed!"
Together they went into Mandy's room and started looking through clothes. When Cassie saw Becky's eyes light up at Mandy's basketball t-shirt, she knew what Becky was going to wear that day. Cassie found her a pair of matching shorts, and then underwear and socks. On their way out, Cassie grabbed Mandy's basketball shoes from beneath her bed. They went downstairs and while Becky went into the bathroom to dress, Cassie grabbed them some doughnuts out of the breadbox.
Sitting at the breakfast table when Becky peeked at her from around the corner, Cassie motioned for her to come forward, and Becky slowly walked into the kitchen. The older woman just shook her head and smiled. The clothes were a perfect fit on the perfect little girl, who then looked down at her clothes and then back at Cassie, as if she was waiting for her best friend to say something. Cassie just held out her arms instead, and Becky flew into them. While she hugged her tight, she asked her if she was hungry.
The pre-teen's too-typical response warmed Cassie's heart. "I'm starving!" Becky's eyes lit up when she saw the box of doughnuts, and she licked her lips in anticipation.
The youthful hoopster sat down in the chair, a lot further down than she was used to, and she frowned for just a moment. She knew that everything was going to take some getting used to, and she was just going to have to be patient, but patience rarely goes hand in hand with childhood. She would learn that lesson with the rest that life was about to teach her.
Attacking the donut that Cassie had sat before her she ate ravenously. Her new "mother" had set the new daughter out a can of her usual morning poison, Diet Coke, to wash the doughnut down with. Becky took a drink, and then shook her head, and stuck out her tongue. "Yuck! This tastes nasty!"
Cassie picked up the can and took a sip, and shrugged her shoulders. "It tastes fine to me. Do you want me to get another can?"
Becky shook her head vehemently. "No way! Uhhh...do you have any milk? That sounds really good!"
The coach starred at Becky for a moment and then went to the icebox and brought out a bottle. She poured milk into a glass and watched her "daughter" devour two doughnuts and a tall glass of milk. For the first time, Cassie began to realize just how in-depth this transformation had been. It hadn't just changed the outside. It was working on the inside. Becky hadn't eaten more than a bite for almost three days, until she ate those doughnuts.
The girl was hungry. That had to be a good sign! She also drank milk. Becky never drank milk, even when they were kids she would only drink it if there were a spoon of chocolate in it. Since she had come back to Jamestown, she had drunk nothing but water and Diet Coke. Her tastes were changing in order to satisfy the needs of her new body. Cassie wondered what other changes were in store as Becky continued to become more accustomed to her new body.
Becky was thinking about changes herself. "Cassie, I was wondering about something."
Cassie took a sip of her coffee. "Yes..."
Becky continued. "Well, I know my body is all little girl, and I kind of feel like a little girl I think, but what about my brain. I mean, I'm a ten-year-old girl with a full degree in computer programming, and I can still remember you and I watching the Blazers beat the Sixers for the championship in 1977! Am I going to eventually forget all this, or some of it?" Suddenly she stopped for a moment, her lip quivered, and her eyes threatened to cry. "Cassie, I don't want to forget you. I don't want to forget all the things we did!"
"Honey, you aren't going to forget me. According to the instruction booklet, your brain is unaffected except for some natural physiological changes, kind of like...you wanting milk instead of your usual Diet Coke." Cassie jumped up from her chair and quickly went to Becky. She knelt down on one knee and looked up at her. "I don't think you are going to forget anything, but you will change the way you think?"
Becky looked puzzled, "I don't understand."
"Okay, you're the computer genius. Think of it like this. Everything from your life before is on a disk. All your memories, your attitudes, your maturity, etc. are all on this disk. You are going to save your acquired knowledge. I mean you are not going to forget that two and two are four, but all the rest is going to be like stored in memory or something, because now you are running a new program, and opening a new file. The information is always going to be there, but only if you really need it. Does that make any sense at all?"
The new pre-teen's features still looked a little puzzled.
"Okay, think of it this way. When you were a boy, or at least thought you were, you lived in a boy's world, and you tried to act accordingly. You weren't very good at it, because you weren't a boy and you weren't comfortable. When you started living as a woman, your personality changed. You were immersed in a woman's world, and doing much of the everyday things that women do, and interacting with other women. The way you carried yourself, your physical gestures, and attitudes changed to reflect the life you were living, and you were pretty good at it, but it still wasn't you.”
"Now, you are finally going to get to live as who you really are. You are going be around other children. You are going to play, and learn and interact with other children, and you will be doing it because you'll want to. It's going to be natural for you. You're going to suffer all the scraped knees, painful lessons, and wondrous discoveries that come with growing up. Sure you're going to have a leg up with most of the kids in the classroom, but outside of that, you're in the same boat as all the rest. So don't worry so much slugger. I bet after you and Mandy spend a few weeks together, I won't be able to tell you two apart!"
The girl smiled broadly, and then she thought about Mandy and Devon, and the frown returned.
Cassie noticed it immediately. "Hey what's with the clouds now? Is something else bothering you?"
Squirming nervously in her chair, the girl sighed, "Uh, I was thinking about Devon and Mandy. What are we going to tell them? What are we going to tell everyone? Maybe they won't like the new and improved Becky?"
"Okay, first of all, ‘everybody’ doesn't need to know about this. In fact, this is going to be our little secret. The only other person who will know will be the customer service person at Hugglebugs, and she ain't talking. Mandy and Devon have already seen your spirit before. Remember what I was saying about how well they interacted with you on the court? They loved the little girl in the big girl's body, and they are really going to love that little girl in her little girl's body. I'll just introduce you as another Becky, put the three of you together, and turn you loose on the court. Just be yourself, and the rest will take care of itself."
Cassie paused a moment to watch Becky's reaction. The dark clouds were still there. "Okay, something's still bothering you, so give!"
The child threw out a heavy sigh, and her feet swung back and forth from the chair. "Uhhh...maybe this is a dumb question, but ummm...where am I going to live, and how am I going to get a job? I don't think any prospective employer is going to believe that a ten-year-old girl has a college degree and a resume with a fifteen year work history!"
Shaking her head, Cassie smiled. "Well...you're right about one thing! That was a dumb question. Do you really think I was just going to hand you your sports bag and send you back out into the rain? You're going to live at home. You're going to live right here with me, Mandy and Devon. This was always home for Brian, and it's going to be home for Becky too. We can put a second bed in Mandy's room. She's going to love it. She's finally going to have the little sister she's always wanted."
"Hey, she's ten years old, same as I am!" Becky proudly threw out her chest.
Grinning at her newest daughter, Cassie remarked, "Sorry, but Mandy's been ten for over six months. You just turned ten today! That makes you the little sister. You better learn to live with it. She's never going to let you forget it! And... that makes Devon your big brother, he won't let you forget that either. Don't feel too disappointed though, being the little sister means you get to be a holy terror to them on occasion too! That also makes you the baby of the family, but don't think I'm going to treat you any different than I do them missy. Understand?"
Giving the patented response and this time it really fit, Becky sighed, "Yes, mother."
Cassie smiled. She liked the sound of that coming from Becky.
Timidly the pre-teen raised her hand as if asking permission to speak. Cassie nodded for her to go on. "I have another dumb question. What are you going to tell Mandy and Devon when they come home? You just can't say the stork dropped me at the basketball court in the backyard or something. They will have only been gone for two weeks. I don't think they are going to believe I was today's special on the Home Shopping Network! And ‘Blue Light Special’ probably won't work either."
Cassie shook her head again. "Oh ye of little faith. There are two rules you need to get straight. Rule One is that you must always trust your momma. Rule Two states that if you have any doubts, refer to Rule One! Don't worry so much you little goof. I've thought about that too. Everyone, especially Devon and Mandy, knows how bad I have wanted another child. As you know, I can't have any more children. I've always wanted to adopt, but it's almost impossible for a single mother. Well...the good folks at Hugglebugs made it possible!"
Cassie paused a moment. "I was going to wait and surprise you with it tonight, but I think you need to see it now, so you'll stop worrying."
Rising from the table, Cassie walked into the living room. She returned with a small envelope, just moments later. "It's a good thing you didn't look into the bottom of that Hugglebugs box, or you would have found this. Here, see for yourself!"
Becky took the envelope in her hands, and opened it to remove the certificate that was within. It was a legal adoption certificate that stated Cassie Miller Chandler had officially adopted Becky Marie Taylor. It was dated today, and stamped with a large official seal. At the bottom, it said, "This petition is hereby granted by this court and the honorable justices, Prudence Walker, Kim Possible, Prit T. Piper, and William D. Pickle. Becky didn't know who these justices were, or if they really even existed, but if they had been standing there right now, Becky would have given each one of them the biggest hug she could.
Cassie searched her eyes. "Well, now are you finally satisfied? It's all nice and legal. You don't need to worry about this anymore. When the kids come home. I'm going to tell them I have a big surprise for them, and then introduce you. I'm going to tell them that I hadn't said anything about you coming because I wasn't sure if the adoption would come through. It came through while they were in Denver. Since you know California so well, we'll just say that you came from a home there, and leave it at that. I really do think that will be good enough for the kids. They are going to be so excited about having a sister; they won't care if I did get you from the Wal-Mart. As for everyone else, I could care less what they think. I've got the documentation to back everything up. Let them try and say you are not mine!"
Looking over at Becky, Cassie finally saw the dark clouds were gone, her smile was sunshine. She hugged her, and the two walked out into the back yard. Becky found the outside world to be much like the inside world. Everything was bigger! They walked onto the court and Cassie spied the basketball. She picked it up and started dribbling. Becky ran over to guard her as she always did, but now couldn't do much more than wave a hand at her face and watch helplessly as she sank the twenty-footer. Cassie raced over and got the ball. She fired a pass back to Becky. Her eyes lit up, and she had a look of determination on her face. She took two dribbles and heaved a shot from 12 feet that was about two feet short, and Cassie caught the ball beneath the basket. Becky dropped her head and groaned.
Cassie handed her back the ball. "I thought as much. You're going to have to realize it takes a lot more effort to shoot the ball when you're ten-years-old, than it does when your thirty. Your brain still knows how to shoot, but it's going to have to teach your body all over again. Understand?"
The small girl nodded her head and then dribbled the ball.
Cassie smiled, "So you ready for your first lesson?"
Big blue eyes lit up, and she grinned from ear to ear. The two shot hoops for over an hour, before Cassie had to put a stop to it. She made some excuse about being too old for this anymore, and Becky fell to the court giggling.
They cleaned up after their work out, and went into town. They got Becky some clothes, and Cassie showed her off around town like the proud mother she was.
That evening they were sitting on the couch together, and Becky had her head in Cassie's lap. The precocious preteen started to get that frown again, and Cassie knew her little gears were turning. "Okay little bit, what's bothering you now? "
Becky fidgeted. "Nothing really, it's just I don't know what I'm supposed to call you anymore. I mean people kind of looked weird at me when I called you ‘Cassie’ while we were in town."
Cassie nodded. "Well it's not polite for children to call their parents by the parent's first name. I don't think you should call me Cassie anymore."
Becky thought for a moment. "Can I call you 'Pistol' then?"
Cassie smiled and then shook her head. "Maybe while we're on the basketball court, but I don't think that's going to fly either."
Becky turned her head in Cassie's lap so she could see her face. "Do you think that maybe I could call you, Mom? Would that bother you?"
Cassie pulled Becky up to her face. Her eyes were brimming with tears. "No honey, it wouldn't bother me at all. In fact, it would make me the happiest woman in the world."
Becky smiled, and wrapped her arms around her mom.
Later that night, they prepared for bed. Becky didn't feel comfortable sleeping alone, so Cassie let her slip in next to her. The lights were out, and Becky was quiet, but Cassie knew she wasn't asleep.
"Becky what are you thinking about?"
The little girl's tone was as serious as a little girl's could be. "I'm thinking about the one thing that neither of us has said, but we're both thinking about, 'the cancer'! I mean I feel great. I've never been so happy in my life, and I don't feel sick or tired or anything like I did before, but what if it's still here. What if it's growing inside me right now?" Becky's voice broke off as it gave way to tears that came in sobs.
Cassie pulled her close. "Honey, I don't have the answer to that one now. I wish I could tell you that it's all gone, but we don't know. I had planned to take you into town to see my doctor, but she normally only sees adults. If Craig were here, he would be your pediatrician. He takes care of all the kids shots, and exams. Until I can get Craig to see you, I thought I would just take you up to the clinic and have them give you a thorough exam."
Becky had calmed a bit, but she still sniffled as she spoke, "I don't want us to know about the cancer. I don't mind them checking my temperature and stuff, but I don't want them to run any tests like that. I could tell you to just not tell me if you find out, but I would know as soon as you looked at me. I don't know how much time I have here. I don't want to spend any of it getting ready to die."
Cassie couldn't speak immediately. Her own tears and emotion had overcome her. "Okay sweetie, if that's the way you want it, then we won't talk about this anymore unless we have to. Deal?"
Becky answered in turn. "Deal!" She paused a moment and then spoke. "Good night Mom. I love you."
Cassie squeezed her. "Good night baby. I love you too!"
Cassie and Becky spent the next week being the typical mother and daughter duo. They became a familiar sight buzzing around town. Both of them undoubtedly thought about the conversation they had in bed that first night, but neither of them spoke of it. They were having too much fun just living each day, and preparing for Mandy and Devon's return.
Becky waited by the customer service counter outside the gate while Cassie waited for Devon, Mandy, and Craig to make their entrance. As soon as Devon and Mandy saw Cassie they ran for her, and she met them half way. They hugged and hugged until Craig walked up. He smiled at Cassie, and she lowered her eyes. It still hurt. She missed him so much. The kids were full of stories, all competing for Mom's attention, but Cassie had to silence them all. She had a big announcement to make. She told them they had a new sister waiting for them. They both smiled with excitement.
Mandy was the first one to comment. "I thought you couldn't have a baby?"
Craig just starred at Cassie; he didn't know what to think.
Cassie answered Mandy straight away. "No, I'm not having a baby. I've just adopted a little girl from California. Actually Mandy, she's your age. She's just turned 10!"
Mandy's eyes lit up. She couldn't contain the excitement of finally having a sister, a little sister at that!
Devon looked around, searching for his new sister. "Hey Mom, where is she? Do we get to go to California to pick her up?"
Cassie smiled. "No honey. She's right here. See the little blonde girl standing next to the customer service booth?"
Both of the kids nodded.
Cassie continued. "Well...that's your new sister! Why don't you go over and give her a hug!"
The kids ran over to Becky, introduced themselves, and then mass hugged her. Just as Cassie said they would, the kids accepted her immediately.
Craig looked at Cassie, as she watched all three of her children with a mother's pride. Finally, Craig just had to say something. "I see you're still bringing home strays."
Cassie turned and answered coolly. "Are you?"
Craig winced. "Okay, I deserved that and a lot more too. Listen, I've been doing a lot of soul searching lately, and well...I've come to some conclusions about my life and what I want it to be like. I'm going to be up here for a few days. And before you even start...I'm not asking to stay at the house, okay? I'll get a room and we can just talk over dinner, or I'll just talk and you don't have to say anything, but please...can we just have dinner?"
Cassie remembered what happened the last time she agreed to meet Craig for a "dinner". She ended up falling in love and marrying him. Still, it was only dinner. She agreed to have dinner and listen, nothing more.
On the trip back from Charleston, the Suburban sounded more like a school bus, as the three kids in the back, laughed and talked all the way to the house. The three kids scampered straight to the basketball court, without even taking their bags in from the Suburban. Craig and Cassie sat on the back porch, and talked.
Craig and Cassie had their dinner and several more before he returned to Denver. They continued their conversations over the phone for the next several months.
Becky, Mandy, and Devon fell into their roles immediately, and just as Cassie had predicted, Becky had almost became Mandy's twin. Becky followed Mandy everywhere. Whenever she saw her oldest daughter, she could count on seeing the baby just a few steps behind. Becky had become a true little sister, and idolized her big sister Mandy. Mandy in turn had taken to the role of big sister naturally, and watched out for her little sister at every turn.
Cassie would sit in her room, shaking her head and smiling as she heard the two young girls giggling and talking long past bedtime. Finally, Momma would have to make an appearance, quieting the pre-teens down, and shutting off the lights. Those were the good nights, but there were also the bad. During the first few weeks, Becky would wake up in the middle of the night, screaming and crying. Cassie would come in and comfort her frightened baby, cuddling her and rocking her until she finally went back to sleep. Sometimes, Mandy would her hear sobbing and just as her mother had quieted her frightened daughter, the big sister cuddled and rocked her little sister until the tears finally stopped. Many mornings, Mandy would awake to find Becky had crawled into bed with her during the night and was still asleep, stuffed Lion in one arm, and the other wrapped around Mandy.
Mandy wondered what could be troubling her little sister so, as to cause her to sleep so fitfully. Mandy hadn't asked Becky very much about her life in California. She knew that Becky had come from a home, probably like an orphanage. From what she knew of those places, many were very bad. Mandy thought that maybe she was having nightmares about things that had happened to her there. Finally, one morning as they were getting dressed, she asked her about the nightmares. Becky hesitated nervously. Her body trembled as she spoke.
"I have these dreams where I wake up and I'm somebody else. I'm not a little girl anymore. I'm alone and I can't find you or Devon or Momma. I can't even find our house. I'm lost someplace strange. Finally I just sit and cry, because I'm afraid I will never see you again."
Reliving the dream in the daylight, produced the same results as it had at night, and Becky fell to her bed sobbing. Mandy wrapped her arms around her tortured little sister, and tried to comfort her. All she could do was to convince Becky that she was still herself, and that her new family wasn't going to leave her.
Later that day while Becky and Devon were shooting hoops, Mandy finally took her concerns to her mother. Cassie was deeply touched by her oldest daughter's concern and by how she had bonded with her new sister so quickly. Cassie told Mandy that indeed Becky had lived a very difficult life. It was quite natural for a child who had never known the love and security of a true family to be afraid someone was going to take it away from her. The only thing any of them could do was just to be patient, and be there for her. Cassie assured her worried daughter that as soon as Becky finally felt safe, the nightmares would go away. Cassie also told Mandy that because of the rough life Becky had lived, she may not know many of the things girls her age did and that it would really help her little sister socialize with other girls if Mandy could teach her about games, clothes, and some of the things that most girls her age knew. This all pretty much fell under the heading of big sister responsibilities and Mandy accepted the challenge willingly.
As Mandy spent more time with Becky, she began to realize just how prophetic her mother's words were. Becky couldn't jump rope, wobbled badly on a bike, didn't have a clue on most of the playground games and had it not been for knowledge of some basic sports, she would have been completely lost.
Her little sister was also just as lost when it came to selecting appropriate clothes. Left to her own designs, Becky would have dressed like each morning was an Easter Sunday. Mandy would shake her head and smile as her little sister would pull out a dress, stockings and fancy shoes to set out for the next morning. Becky acted like she had never had a nice dress before, and then Mandy's heart sunk when she realized that perhaps her little sister never had. Becky would come down stairs horribly overdressed for a casual morning of corn flakes and cartoons, but no one said a word, save for giving her compliments on how lovely she looked. Both Mandy and Cassie gave Becky some time to enjoy her more feminine apparel and after slipping in and out of dresses every time she wanted to shoot hoops or play rough and tumble, Becky found her own casual style and to no one's surprise it very much mirrored that of her big sister.
Becky had become comfortable with her brother and sister from that first ride home from the airport, but socialization with other children was another matter. Cassie would watch from the kitchen window when some of the neighborhood kids would come by. Becky, not knowing most of the games, the language, nor the music or shows her pre-teen friends were in to, lacked confidence and during those first few weeks, she was very shy and never left Mandy or Devon's side. Cassie's heart went out to the pain her little girl was feeling, but as she had told her that first morning at the breakfast table, she was going to experience all the pains and joys of growing up. These were just the normal growing pains that every child had to go through.
Becky reminded both of Cassie's other children just how fortunate they were to have a loving mother and a home. It wasn't so much the things that their new little sister said, but how appreciative was when she received something, often something they had taken for granted. One afternoon while both girls were lounging about their bedroom, Mandy noticed her little sister eyeing some rarely played with dolls sitting on a shelf. Mandy took one down, pulled a few outfits from a drawer, and presented it all to Becky. Once Becky realized that the doll and its clothes were now hers, she jumped up excitedly, hugged her surprised big sister, and rocked her new baby lovingly.
Becky grinned from ear to ear and Mandy just had to comment.
"Gee Becky, you act like you've never had your own baby doll before."
The little blonde girl had a tear trickle down her cheek when she looked up to answer her big sister.
"I've never have had a doll before Mandy."
Mandy's heart broke as she realized that her little sister had not even had the most sacred of little girl possessions. She then realized just how fortunate she was to have always had a momma, a brother, and a home.
Becky was very close in actual age to each of her two siblings, but at times she would often seem much older or much younger. One minute Becky would be sounding very grown up, and talking to her mother about some television show or sport game that was on long before she was even born, and then the next minute she wanted to hold hands and cuddle with her sister as if she was a child far younger. Cassie knew the truth, but the kids just attributed it all to the difficult times she must have had growing up. They both loved their little sister, and it didn't matter how big or little she acted.
By the time school was about to start, Becky had progressed quite a bit and she was slowly becoming just another one of the sandlot kids. The nightmares had almost ceased, and she was becoming much more comfortable and confident. Both her and Mandy were looking forward to sharing a school room during the year, but to Cassie's surprise and her daughters’ dismay, the school placed Becky in the 5th grade, and Mandy went on to 6th. Cassie protested vehemently, but to no avail. Becky's birthday fell past the cutoff point in the school year and she would at least have to start out the semester in 5th grade. The curse of the little sister had gotten Becky again.
Mandy walked Becky to her classroom that first morning. She squeezed her hand lovingly, and told her to be brave. She would be right down the hall and would pick her up after the last bell. Tears formed in Becky's eyes, the small child was showing in Mandy's little sister, and it broke her heart to leave her. Mandy gave her a last hug and walked down to her room. She turned to look back at Becky's room, knowing what she would find before she ever looked. Becky still stood there, drinking in the last sight of her big sister. Mandy smiled at her, flashed her the sign language equivalent of "I love you" and then motioned for her to go in. She waited until her little sister was in before finally entering her own room. When the last bell rung, Mandy was there to collect her little sister as she had promised, and was so every day that school year.
While the two sisters couldn't be in the same grade, they could play on the same basketball team. Cassie coached the combined girls' basketball team of 5th and 6th graders. For Becky, it was a dream comes true. Just as she had dreamed of being Cassie's sister, and playing along side her, she now got to live that dream, being Mandy's sister and playing along side her. The reality was ever bit as wonderful as the dream had been, and more.
The girls had a really good team during Becky's first season, and they had breezed through it undefeated. There were two girls on the team that had caught the attention of most opposing coaches. Mandy Chandler, the coach's eldest daughter, was becoming the prolific scorer that her mother had been. Becky Chandler, new to Pine Haven Elementary that year, had become the starting point guard. Her defense, passing and leadership ability on the floor, gave Pine Haven Elementary one of the best backcourt duo's in the state.
They won their first two tournament games handily, but now the only other undefeated team in the state, the Brownstown Braves, stood between them and the championship.
Becky and Mandy were pacing about the house like two caged animals the afternoon before the game. Devon was lounging in the family room watching television, and he shook his head every time Mandy or Becky walked through. Cassie had told them she was picking up some groceries and would be back later.
About an hour later, the suburban pulled in, but when Cassie got out she wasn't bringing groceries, she was bringing Craig. They came in together, and both Mandy and Devon ran over and hugged him. Becky always felt a little awkward around Craig. It wasn't like he was her father or anything, so she usually remained a little distant whenever he was around. Cassie was very aware of that, but she felt that would be something that Craig and Becky would have to work out.
Becky went to her and Mandy's room and picked up her basketball. She started to slip out the back door and go shoot while they were having a family get together, when she heard Cassie's voice.
"Becky...where are you going?"
Becky turned and faced her, but she wouldn't look her in the eye. "I just thought I'd go shoot some hoops for awhile. I figured you guys would want to talk and stuff."
Cassie walked over to Becky. "We do, but this concerns you, so don't go running off young lady. Put the basketball down and come with me."
Becky walked into the living room and sat down next to Mandy. When Craig said he had something very important to say, Becky laced her hand in Mandy's and Mandy squeezed it back.
"Kids, I've been talking to your mom a lot over the last few months, and well...we've sort of come to a decision, and it's going to affect all of us. It's very important that you listen to what I say before you say anything.”
"Your mother and I have been divorced for a long time, but I don't think you kids ever really knew why. I think you should know. While your mother and I were married, I did some really stupid things. I...I...went out with other women, instead of being with your mother. Can you understand that?" All three kids nodded. "I lied to your mother about it. I promised her I would never do it again, and then I did. I hurt your mother very badly. She took you kids to live with your grandparents, and we were never together again. It was my entire fault. Your father was so stupid!"
Becky could see the pain in Craig's eyes. He may have lied in the past, but he was bearing his soul and telling the truth now.
Devon spoke up. "Why did you go see other women, Dad? Didn't you love Mom anymore?"
Tears welled in Craig's eyes. "Oh, I still loved your mom, but...I was mad at her and I was jealous. There was someone else in her life now."
Mandy's eyes grew wide, and she was puzzled. She looked first at Cassie and then back at Craig. "Who was in Mom's life?"
Craig smiled at Mandy. "You were honey and Devon too! I was mad at your mom, because I wasn't getting all her time and attention anymore, and I was jealous of you and Devon because you were."
Mandy spoke again. "You were jealous of us!"
"Yes baby I was. You're mom tried to tell me, only I was too dumb and too stubborn to accept it. It's taken me a long time to figure all this out, and I'm so sorry that I put all of you through so much. I don't know if there's anything I can ever do to make it right, but I'd like to have the chance."
Cassie reached over and took Craig's hand as he spoke.
"Your mom has agreed to give me a second chance."
Both Devon and Mandy sat up their seats; they knew what that meant.
Devon said, what Mandy and Becky were thinking. "Are you and Mom getting married again?"
Craig fielded that as quickly as possible. "No...at least not yet anyway. I wanted to get your mom to bring you guys to Denver and live with me, but she doesn't want to do that, so...I do the moving... to here, but I'm not staying here at the house. I'm getting an apartment. I'm going to open an office right here in Jamestown. Your mom and I are going to talk to someone who helps married people when they have problems. I don't know what's going to happen after that. So...it's up to you."
He shot a glance directly at Becky. "And, I mean all of you. That includes you too, Becky. Look, I know you don't know me very well, but I've heard lots about you from your mom. I'd like to get to know you a little better if you think you can give me a chance. There is one thing I want you to know, and I mean this with all my heart. Don't think for one minute that my coming back into this family, is going to push you out. You guys are a family, and God willing maybe I will get to be a part of that too."
He looked at Devon and Mandy and spoke. "Okay gang, It's up to you. Do you want to give your father one last shot?"
Mandy and Devon didn't speak. They gave him their answer in the form of a group hug. Becky stood alone. She looked over at Cassie who smiled at her, and then nodded. Becky took a small step toward the three huddled together in a hug. Craig reached out his hand, and Becky took it. She then huddled with the other kids and hugged him. Cassie wiped the tears from her eyes and then joined them, making the family circle complete.
The tears and the hugs finally subsided and then Cassie looked up at the clock. "Hey don't you two girls have a ballgame in an hour?"
Mandy and Becky looked up at the clock in unison, and began running about the house searching for shoes, and hair ties.
One hour later, the game began. Forty minutes of action had left the score tied, and the fate of the game lay in the left hand of Becky Chandler.
Becky pounded the ball to the court three times, just as she always did on her free throws. Sweat from her forehead dripped down on the basketball. She cradled the ball in her right hand, and then wiped her face and mouth with the wristband on her left arm. The left side of her face, and her left shoulder still ached from her collision moments ago. Her jaw had taken the worst of it in the fall, and it throbbed with pain, but she was going to shoot this free throw and hit it.
She wiped her mouth again, and then put the ball in her left hand. She looked down to be sure she had the proper grip, when her eyes went wide and her heart sank as she saw blood, and a good amount of it, on her wrist band. She could only think of one word, "Cancer." She was sure it had came back to claim her now. It had given her six months of love and happiness beyond her wildest dreams, but it was over now. Becky didn't want to go, but if she had to, she was going to go out a winner. She was going to make her one last shot.
She focused on the rim before her. Her eyes and heart were filled with passion and determination. She cocked her arm, bent her knees, and then pushed the ball off. Her left hand stayed extended as if it could still guide the ball home. Becky and everyone in the gym watched the ball lofting toward the rim. Becky's form had been perfect, and so was her shot, as it went through the rim and swished the nets.
The Pine Haven gym erupted, the entire bench of her teammates mobbed Becky, and the first one to hug her was her sister Mandy. Cassie hung back for a moment. It was Becky's time, and she had waited so long for it to come. Finally the players dispersed into small groups of celebration, and Cassie worked her way through the crowd until she stood before Becky. She looked down at her and smiled lovingly. She extended her arms out and Becky ran into them. She held her daughter for a long embrace, and when Becky pulled back, Cassie could see the fear in her eyes.
"Becky what's wrong baby?"
Becky didn't answer. She couldn't. She held up the wristband soaked with blood, and Cassie was horrified. She searched Becky for a cut, but then saw the remnants of blood still fresh on her lips, and she knew why Becky was so terrified.
Cassie squeezed Becky's hand and told her to open her mouth. Becky opened her mouth. Her whole body was trembling as Cassie examined her. She could feel Cassie probing and prodding all about her mouth. Finally she withdrew her hand and made it into a fist.
She looked into Becky's frightened blue eyes and spoke. "I've got some really bad new for your baby. I don't think you're going to be able to eat much pizza at the victory party tonight, because you just lost a tooth."
Cassie opened her fist in front of Becky's face to reveal a bloodied baby tooth.
Cassie and Becky breathed a sigh of relief, they smiled at each other, hugged, and then went walking out of the gym arm and arm, as they had so many years before.
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