A Friend in Need is a Friend in Deed -- Chp. 19 The Birthday Incident

Chapter 19 – The Birthday Incident

“Are you sure you will be okay sitting here for a couple of hours. I know it will be boring.”

“It’s okay Grandpa, you go ‘shoot the breeze’ with your old friend. I know he uses course language. I would rather stay out here and enjoy my book. I can sit here like a good little girl. I assure you.”

“All right. See you in a little while.” Grandpa shut the door to the security officer’s door at the French Embassy. We are going to head down the road to Virginia for my first sting in months where I would meet up with Tommy and the rest of the agents after they had a chance to catch up on old times. Grandpa open jawed our connection so he could visit the French security chief. Our plan is to fly out of Roanoke. The two of them reconnected soon after the capture of David St. Jean when Security Chief Thomas found out that my grandfather was stateside again.

We had flown out early since my school had a half day on Friday. We skipped even the half day with the permission of the school and a little inside pressure from Bill. The flight out got us into National well before lunch. I was in one of the outfits that Mrs. Smith helped me buy. It was a nice dress. I also had a bra on and now sported breast forms which my Mom arranged for because of what Jane said. They were really good falsies too. I was given almost a B cup size to make me look more like the girls at school. I was not endowed, but not wanting either. Between my gaff and my forms, I liked how I looked in the mirror. I was looking more girly as instructed and was loving every minute of it.

I opened my paperback book. It was Victor Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ in French. I was letting myself go into a world where I watched Jean-Val-Jean steal silver from a bishop when I heard a door open down the corridor and a woman’s heels clicking quickly down to the hallway to where I was sitting. Finally, I looked down past my book and saw feet in front of me. I looked up. There was a woman in a smart dress with her hair tied back into a bun and glasses, arms folded, who just stared at me. “Salut, Madame," I said. In French, she said, “Well, are you just going to sit there young lady! You have a children’s party to work.” Before I could say anything, she commanded quite forcefully, “Come. Hurry.”

I put the paperback book in my purse and stood up, as she walked away with my following her, I said, “Mais, Madame ...”

She threw me a glance over her shoulder and continued in French. "We have no time to discuss this right now. I have the embassy children from Belgium, Switzerland, Haiti, The Congo, and the Cote d'Ivoire all arriving soon and we can’t go over why you are late. I am just grateful you speak French. I have only so much time to show you what needs to be done. Hurry up please!”

Keeping up with her was difficult. I was almost breathless when we arrived at a door to an outer courtyard where there were tables and balloons. On one table were several tarts. And another table already had gifts on it for a birthday child. There was a sign, in French, of course, saying ‘Happy 8th Birthday Natasha!”

“Who is Natasha?” I asked.

“She is the French ambassador's daughter, young lady. What is your name?”

“Samantha, Madame.” I hung my purse down on the chair she pointed to for me and picked up the apron that was on it. I hesitated to put it on but she was too insistent that I follow her instructions for me to get a word in edgewise.

“You may address me as Madame Lafarge.” She shook her head. “You are too young for this. I cannot believe that Kelly Girl’s sent me someone so young and inexperienced. You have just barely sixteen years no doubt. It is bad enough that I lost our entertainment. I asked for a guitar player and the one that agreed said he didn’t sing French at the last minute. Damn Americans. They don’t know that Celine Dion sings her best in French or even that she sings in French.”

“I know Madame Lafarge. I play guitar. Plus, I love to sing Jean-Jacques Goldman songs as well as Dion in French.”

“You do? Fantastic. Did you bring a guitar." I shook my head no. "No. Well, that is obvious. Why would you need one? I have one to lend you. I will bring it out shortly. After serving the food, there will be something extra in for you if you can do a halfway reasonable job. Poor Natasha. She misses her France. She has only been here for a month and she misses all of her friends. I want this to work young lady. So, how well do you sing and play?"

“I sing in my choir, Madame Lafarge. And, I sing songs by Dion, Cabrel, Balavoine, and Bruel also."

“Good, you may just save the day. Now, follow me into the kitchen and I will show you what to do.”

For the next fifteen minutes, I got a lecture on what foods were to be served when and how. I was told how to treat the children and that I must respond quickly to their requests. I was also shown where the toilets were, the areas that were off limits, and told that the birthday party must be par excellence!

Feeling for the poor child, I stopped short of telling her that I was twelve, a guest, and really a boy. I began to do as I was told. When I came back into the courtyard, the children were just being dropped off by their parents and I began to serve them drinks and be a good hostess. The difference in dialects was difficult at times, but I managed to understand them well enough to do a reasonable job. I found the children to be very polite, with them always saying thank you after every little thing I did. They were well behaved. Especially by American standards. They didn’t treat me like help and many asked from where in Paris I was from. I had to tell them that I was American. They were shocked saying that my accent was Parisian and beautiful. I said thank you for the compliment every time. They were teaching me politeness.

After a while, the children sat down for their meal. It was a decent lunch. They served my favorite, Croque monsieurs.' I went into the kitchen and the cooks gave me trays of food with which I took out into the courtyard and gave to each child. Every time I did something for a child, they said thank you. It was magic. It was so nice to hear. Lastly, I gave the birthday child her plate. She thanked me also. I was impressed that she was served last, not first. While they were eating, I filled drinks and took requests for condiments and other items. Madame Lafarge came in with a very nice Gibson acoustic guitar. It was gorgeous. She placed it next to my chair in the corner where my purse hung.

“Samantha, after they finish, please help me clear the table of plates. I will present her with the tart and let her blow out the candles. I want you to sing on the guitar, Happy Birthday. If you do a good job, then I will let you entertain the guests with songs she has selected. I will have the music brought in while you serve the guests the tart.”

“Oui, Madame. J’ai compris.” I acknowledged that I understood her instructions.

Everything went according to Hoyle. Soon, I had the guitar tuned and we all sung happy birthday in French to Natasha who blew out her candles. Madame Lafarge nodded and smiled. She motioned to the chair indicating that I was to start singing.

The list was a lot of songs I knew and only one or two I didn't. I didn't attempt them. There were a couple of surprises, but on the whole, I was able to hold my own. I started with ‘C'est Ecrit' by Cabrel. Then, I sang his famous ‘Petite Marie.' Surprisingly, it turned into a sing-along. Natasha came over with her chair and sat next to me. She clearly enjoyed singing with me. Most of the children knew the songs I was singing. I figured they chose more adult songs so Natasha felt older. But, a fair amount was mixed in for the younger children like ‘Sur Le Pont D'Avignon.'

“Samantha, is there anything you would like to sing?” Natasha asked.

“I am supposed to practice a song for my school.” I began to sing ‘Chanter.’ Natasha perked up. We began singing it together.

Then, the coup de grace, I began singing ‘Pour que tu m’aimes encore.’ We sang together like we had been doing it for years. When we finished the final chorus, the group applauded. The rest of the music was pretty straight forward.

After about forty minutes of singing, Madame Lafarge waved me off and we finished the rest of the party just refreshing drinks and helping the children have a good time mingling. I was surprised that there were no planned activities and noted that it must be a French thing. It was clear that I was very good with them because Madame Lafarge kept smiling at me as I worked with them either meeting their needs or directing them to the toilets.

Finally, the children began leaving as their parent came to pick them up until there was only Natasha.

“Madame Lafarge, thank you. I had a wonderful birthday party. I am sad that my Mom and Dad couldn’t be here.” She went up and hugged her. “And I am really glad you hired Samantha.” I could tell that Madam Lafarge really cared about Natahsa. That explained her gruff and commanding manner. She wasn’t mean at all.

Natasha added, “And Samantha, I loved your singing. Thank you for letting me join you. I am surprised that an American knows so many of our songs. Have you been to France yet? Your French is very good.”

“Not yet, Natasha. I hope to do that someday. My brother has recently started dating a beautiful and smart woman from Harfleur. I am hoping she is the one for him."

Madame Lafarge was about to say something to me when, abruptly, the door to the courtyard swung open. From the interior of the corridor, I heard. “There you are!” Chief Thomas and Grandpa came rushing into the courtyard looking worried. His voice was scolding, even in French. “Samantha, what are doing here? I left you in the corridor outside Chief Thomas’ office.” Grandpa said with further irritation. “I expressly told you to wait for me.”

"Oh, my!" Madame Lafarge looked at me. Her face expressed totally embarrassment. “You didn’t come from Kelly Girls?”

“Non, Madame. I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t have the chance. And I couldn’t ruin Natasha’s birthday after what you told me.”

Chief Thomas began to laugh having quickly ascertained what had transacted between us. “Madame Lafarge, this is the granddaughter of my good friend here. She has twelve years. You know how I speak. She was sitting outside my office reading a book so she didn’t have to listen to my bad language. It looks like you tricked her into helping you.” He was almost doubling over in laughter at that point. My grandfather started to laugh too as he realized what had happened. Madame Lafarge sat down looking scared.

“Madame Lafarge, don’t worry. I didn’t mind. It was the least I could do. I liked getting a chance to use my French. And I enjoyed helping you and Natasha. To tell you the truth, it was an honor to be of service in a time of need.” She looked relieved and expressed her gratitude.

Natasha giggled. “I am so glad you assisted my birthday party, Samantha. But, next time, you must come as a guest. Please stay in touch. I don’t have many friends here in America.”

“I shall." We kissed each other's cheeks and bid each other adieu.

The drive south to Roanoke was a long drive, but it gave me plenty of time to be with my Grandpa. We discussed numerous things along the way. All in French too. He had lived an adventurous life and regaled me with stories of how the smartest of criminals were caught for the stupidest of reasons. About six thirty, we pulled into a home outside of Roanoke. It was a two-story brick house with a porch on the side. I could see Tommy on the porch swing. He looked over at us and he came down to greet us. He opened my door like a true southern gentleman. “Merci mon ami.” I then gave him ‘la bise’ on both sides of his face which clearly caught him off guard. “Quel plaisir de te revoir !” After a day in French conversation, I didn’t even realize I was still talking, thinking, and acting French.

I don’t know whether it was to mock me or go along with me, but Tommy responded with a southern twang, “Don’t y’all worry your pretty little head, Samantha. I will get your luggage and bring it upstairs to your chambre. The agents are inside waiting for all y’all. After which we are headed to ‘The Southern Place’ for a real southern dinner. They are only open Friday through Sunday.”

“Merci encore, Tommy.” I gave him another polite ‘la bise’ on both cheeks, secured my purse, and took my Grandpa’s hand as he led me into the house to meet with the agents. I chuckled at how much Tommy blushed when I kissed him on the cheeks. I put an extra sway in my hips as we walked up the steps to the house. My heels gave me not only height but a nice sway. I could see him looking at me. With my, breast enhancements and my new style, I could tell I was leaving him questioning his sanity. If he was wondering if I was a girl or a boy, I wanted to make sure that, oh boy, did I look like and act like a girl!

“Bonjour, Debbie! Quel plasir de te revoir !” I went up to where she was sitting and gave her ‘la bise’ on both cheeks. She looked at me with a smirk. “Sorry, I have been speaking French all day at the embassy and with Grandpa. It was a lot of fun.”

"In fact, she made quite an impression on the French Ambassador's daughter, Natasha," Grandpa said with pride. "She helped fill in at her birthday party and stole the show by accident." Debbie looked at me with an amused expression.

“You seem to find yourself useful in all sorts of places don’t you, young lady? Anyway, we have a simple weekend planned and I think a French speaking girl could make it even more productive. Are you ready to stay in character the rest of the weekend, Samantha?”

“But of course. Bien sur !”

“Let’s go get some really good southern food then.”

"Apres toi, mon amie," I said. Grandpa and I followed Debbie and the gang out to a van and we headed in the direction of Blacksburg via Catawba. Inside the van were Tommy and his mother. She introduced herself to me and thanked me for saving their daughter, Connie, from exploitation. She noticed how nicely I was dressed and how like a girl I was. She couldn't believe I was really a boy. Grandpa introduced himself to her and found her first name was Marlee. They seemed to hit it off.

They pulled into this parking lot surrounded by green fields. Next to it was this beautiful large looking farmhouse. Inside, it was an open design with large rooms with dinning tables filled with people. The floors were dark hardwood and the tables had simple white linens on them. We were seated at this one round table and our drink order was taken. It was an all you can eat restaurant where they would bring food to your table. All kinds of fried chicken and chicken fried steaks. Mashed potatoes, green beans, and corn. And, a dessert of peach, blueberry, or apple cobbler with ice cream. I asked for a salad and a small dish of fried chicken, mashed potato, and green beans. The rest of the crew pigged out. Especially Tommy and his mom. I was content with my portion and the company.

There was great conversation about life and travels. I mostly listened. Then, Debbie, sitting next to me, turned to me and paid me the biggest compliment in the world. “Samantha, I have to admire your cool head when you saw Jeremy Bolton at the table. He wasn’t too dangerous. But, you could have easily panicked and gotten yourself hurt. Finding a phone to call me and ask what to do was the right thing to do.” That is when she paid me the biggest compliment. She hugged me and said, “I love you.” It wasn’t said in a romantic way. It was said just like Jane when she says she loves me. For me, the night was awesome. I was like her little sister.

“How is your Dad, Debbie?”

“Oh, wonderful. We are doing Daddy dates once a month. At least, until I settle down and get married. He keeps asking if I have found someone yet. It is hard to date when you have a job like mine.”

“I don't know. That agent whom I met, Carlson, looked handsome and seemed really to respect you. That is a good start to a relationship."

“But, he lives in Denver.” I took note that she knew where he lived and that she had sized him up already.

“Oh, I don’t know. He is being assigned to protection duty for the Murphys in Nashville. I bet if you were my assigned agent, you would run into him in Nashville. Just a thought.” I rolled my eyes around and blew bubbles in my iced tea with my straw.

“You are a little sneak, aren’t you?”

“Who, me? I am as innocent as can be. Why I would never interfere with someone's life."

“That is not what Jane says.”

“Oh really! And what did she tell you?”

“She said you have fixed your brother up with a woman from France.”

“I do have my moments. And I think she will be good for my brother.”

“Well, I will think about your advice for me. But if I do follow it, no pushing us together. Promise?”

“Pinky promise!" I put up my pinky. She giggled and said, "Pinky promise." We locked pinkies.

After a bit, Debbie asked me what I was thinking. “I was thinking it would be great if it were to happen soon so I could be one of your maids of honor instead of a groomsman.” I grinned and scrunched my nose at her.

“You’re an impossible romantic, aren’t you? And who said you would be one of my maids of honor?” She stuck her tongue out at me. We laughed.

I felt good that I was able to be so personal with her and still be a kid at the same time. I looked back at her, “Of course, the best part of being at your wedding would be to meet your dad. I have heard so much about him from you. He must be a wonderful Dad.”

“He is. He is.” She reached around and hugged me.

When we got back to the house, something almost tanked the whole weekend. Agent Iris came in with her three-month old baby boy. The discussion was what they were going to do. Her husband was supposed to take him for the weekend, but they missed each other and she didn't know what to do.

I politely waited in a chair as the adults discussed the matter. I watched her son, Issac, in his car seat. He was watching me and I was playing with him. I realized he filled his diaper and motioned to his mother and held my nose.

“I know. Yes, he needs changing!” I took that as an order. She went back to the discussion.

Without saying a word, I picked up her diaper bag, put out her diaper mat, and took him out of the car seat. I had him changed in no time. By the time I had put his outfit back on, she turned around and saw that not only had I changed him but that I was feeding him from the bottle in the bag. The adults stopped and looked at me feeding him.

I looked at them and simply said. “Wouldn’t the presence of a baby give the dad a good reason to frisk the mark without giving it away that he was a cop?”

They looked at each other and said in a chorus. “Why didn’t we think of that?”

In one fell swoop, I was changed into an illegal alien ‘au pair’ French runaway.

The game plan for the next day was simple. I was going to be a French au pair who spoke English very badly. Tommy was going to be the obnoxious boy of the house and two agents would play man and wife. The man would have people come by to see photos of me that he took because I had no shame of being naked as a French girl. He would sell pictures of me at their pool and the like. The payment was going to be photos the person had to exchange for mine. The neat thing about this sting is that they didn’t have to show any of my photos. The man would arrive and be ushered into the “Dad’s office” and then the negotiations would begin. As soon at the man showed his first photo, he was caught. Then, he was taken away for processing and the next man was invited to come over.

Tommy and I had fun in the morning. Mrs. Hinks took care of Issac. To get to the office, which was located next to the pool, Tommy and I would be swimming. I wore a one piece suit. The men would come to the side gate and my “Dad” would usher them into the outside office. During that time, I would be speaking French with Tommy and getting frustrated with how bad my English was.

We were really getting into the role too.

“Comment dit-on la piscine en Anglais?” I flipped through a dictionary and, while pointing to the pool, I said, “Pole.”

Tommy corrected me. “Pool, not pole.”

“Pooooule. Da Poooule has cowld.”

Tommy would then say, “The pool is cold. Repeat after me, ‘The pool is cold.’”

By then, the man was inside so Tommy and I would be bored until the next performance. It gave us time to talk about various things.

“How do you like Danvers? Is it a good school?”

“Oh yes. I love the teachers. It helps that Mrs. Duncan is there. She gives me an anchor to the old school. I don’t think I will need her after this year though.”

“So, you figure on being there through eighth grade?”

“Oui. But, they are talking about my going to an exchange class in Canada at the end of the eighth grade so I can transition back into being who I was before." I didn't want to say that I was looking forward to staying as I was. No, rather, becoming who I really am.

“Good, because I miss the old you. You were a good kid.” His comment took me by surprise.

“I didn’t think anybody noticed me. I figured I was invisible.”

“Not as much as you might think. I certainly remember you. You were my competition in most of my classes for top marks for the whole school. You usually beat me by two or three percentage points which irked me because I knew you didn’t care. The only class I had no problem besting you in was anything to do with sports. I remember when you took a swing in baseball and fell down in forth grade. That was funny. But, I was on the other team, so I could laugh.”

“Yeah, that was funny. My team got so mad at me when I said I didn’t get hit by the ball. I don’t like sports. I would rather sit on the bench and read. What position did you play?”

“You didn’t know. I was the pitcher. I was so impressed with your honesty, I threw an easy ball for you to hit next and you did.”

I blushed. “Thank you. That was very kind of you. I was going to get killed if I didn’t get on base. But it felt wrong to do it dishonestly.”

“That’s okay. Anyone else would have hit a homer. You only got a double. Still, you could have lied. Why didn’t you? No one would have blamed you.”

“I guess I am not very competitive. You’re right. I don’t even check to see the list of grades in the classes I take and how I compare to the others. I know I am at the top more often than not. I just love learning.”

“Well, in case you don’t know, and I suspect it is true at your school now, you are one of the smartest kids in the room. And trust me, it is noticed.”

“I think Mary does a good job of protecting me. She has my back.” I hadn’t thought about how I was being received at school. I was so happy to make friends at last that I didn’t know if I was a problem too for some students.

“Good. Because you are a nice guy. You don’t hate anyone. Or, if you do, it isn’t for very long.”

We went inside for a break. Agent Debbie came in with groceries I had her get from Food Lion. We decided to move the operation indoors so I could cook and clean. I changed into a little sexy number with shorts and top. I mostly hid it behind an apron. I decided that we would have a leg of lamb, asparagus, roasted corn, and cherry pie. I began to prep and cook the pies first.

While I was busy cooking, another man was being led through the room as the stings continued. My faux father was talking to him. We overheard the conversation. “I use a connector to the parallel port. It treats a drive as a scuzzy drive and I can backup files. I will show you.” I glanced at Agent Lamont and he winked at the guest obviously implying that was how they would exchange data.

I played the part as I had been all day, “Salut Papa. Je vais faire cuire de la quiche pour dejeuner. Ca te plait?” ( Hello Papa, I am going to make some quiche for lunch. Does that please you?)

“Oui, parfait. I love quiche.” he winked, “That pleases me very much.”

The strange man startled us when he said to me, “D’ou venez vous, mademoiselle?” He asked where I was from.

Thinking quickly, and remaining calm, I said. “Un petit village, Monsieur. Tarbes, au sud de France. Parlez-vous Francais?”

Luckily, all he said in response was, “Okay. I think you just said Tarbes. Non, I just learned it in High School.”

I continued with my cooking. “Merde! Je ne connais pas le systeme Anglais. Wat is one hundread and sixtee dagrees in fair und height, Sean?”

Tommy pulled out a calculator and said, “That would be three hundred and twenty-five degrees, mademoiselle.”

“Merci.” I gave him a ‘la bise’ on the cheek. “Ewe are so kind.” Something in me enjoyed embarrassing Tommy with my French style kisses.

Agent Lamont looked relieved and continued on into the office. I heard him say as he went off. “She isn’t learning much English if you know what I mean. Going to introduce her to some private beaches on the coast soon.” The man snickered. Creep.

I set the oven to preheat and started rolling out the pie dough. The guest went out back with our “Dad” and was being led out in another ten minutes or so in cuffs. I finished making the pies except for the egg wash. Then I set about preparing the lamb with garlic, rosemary, and thyme.

In between visitors, Tommy’s Mom and my Grandpa would come out to assist. There was a very clever system of lights set up. When the coast was clear, a light in the kitchen turned on. When it went off, they hid. The X-10 system did the same thing with a light in the room they stayed in. It was run by agent Iris who in a second story bedroom being a look out.

“Do you love to cook, Samantha?” Mrs. Hinks asked as she was holding Issac.

“Yes, I do. I learned from my Mom. She learned at a fancy cooking school.”

I put two legs I had prepped into the fridge and began to cook the pies. I set the timer and sat down. Tommy began to do his homework and I found a book. Mrs. Hinks sat down with us. “So, Samantha. Would you consider coming over for dinner at our place sometime soon? Connie would like to thank you in person."

“I would like that. Honestly, I don’t remember Connie. I wish I did.”

“She remembers you. You irritated Tommy so much that she naturally grew to enjoy dropping your name at home to pick on him. Sisters are that way.”

I looked at Tommy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I ...”

“Don’t worry your pretty head over it Samantha. Once I got to know you and how much you cared about people, it didn’t get to me anymore. Which, when I found out, annoyed my sister no end. Plus, you weren’t at Canterbury this year, so I became the best student in the school.” He winked at me.

I teased him in a low whisper, “So, you do have a reason to keep me in a dress. Dork!” We laughed.

Tommy’s look turned to worry. “Seriously, Samantha, the concern I have for you is that you won’t be the class valedictorian because of this job.”

I rested my hand on Tommy’s arm, “Please, I don't want the award. I want the knowledge that I am doing something worthwhile. That is something a speech in front of a group of students couldn’t give me. Plus, I have no idea what I would say. I would probably mess it up anyway.”

Mrs. Hinks, who was listening to us, changed the subject before it became too depressing. “Samantha, are you thinking of going into law enforcement?”

“No, Ma’am. I want to be a pediatrician. I love children. I have also considered becoming an OB/GYN too. I keep flipping back and forth. My folks tell me that there is plenty of time to decide.”

I brought out some milk, eggs, and cheese and began to make quiches for lunch. I also grabbed the fruit that Debbie bought and set it aside to make a fruit salad to go with the quiches. Soon, I was pulling out the pies and the quiches. We took a lunch break and the agents, Grandpa, and the Hinks enjoyed my quiches.

“Samantha, this is excellent! You are a very good cook.” Mrs. Hinks patted me on the back.

“Samantha, the pies smell wonderful! I am looking forward to dinner too.” Agent Lamont said. “By the way, that was a good recovery back there in the kitchen. You handled it very well. It was a good thing he wasn’t from France.”

“Not to worry sir. I have studied that area of France. It is where Lourdes is. And it is not far from Toulouse. So, I think I can more than bluff my way through if it happens again. But, we should have a backup plan."

“Tommy, should that happen again, I want you to drop something or break something in the kitchen or at the pool. Create a distraction. I will yell at you of course, but don’t take it personally.”

“Yes, sir." Tommy was grateful to be included finally. I realized I should do something about that.

With my tasks done and the instructions for dinner given to Mrs. Hinks, I began my shift for taking care of Issac. I had been waiting for it all day. I loved every moment of caring for him. From feeding him to changing his diapers, I was in nirvana.

Agent Debbie stopped to look at me holding him and playing with him. “You will make a good mother, Samantha.” She said without thinking.

I took Issac in one arm and started to do his laundry as a few more men came in that afternoon. My standard line was, “Salut Papa. Le bebe est content, comme d’habitude. Il prends son pied.” ( Hello father. The baby is happy, as usual. He is having fun.)

"Merci! Bon travail ! Yvette." ( Good job! Yvette )

"De rien." (Ah, it is nothing)

One time, as they walked away, I heard him say quietly to the mark, “It is so cool to have them pay for their own stay. And she doesn’t know a thing.” Once again, all I could do is think that the mark was a ‘Creep!’

We caught about twenty men that day and had a really good dinner celebrating our achievement. They loved my leg of lamb and my cherry pies. After dinner, Tommy talked to me briefly while I held Issac.

“I didn’t expect it to be this boring.” Tommy finally confessed.

“Yeah, that is why I love to cook during the stings. There really isn’t much for me to do either. Tell you what, would you like me to teach you how to cook?”

“Well, it is not exactly a guy thing.” Tommy looked flustered.

“I don’t know. I taught my brother Robert and he has used his cooking skills to get two girlfriends. And this last one is a knockout, French, and smart too. Besides, if your mom sees you learn, she will think you are responsible and will let you do more.”

“Really? More what?” Tommy was considering what it might do for his future.

“Really. Many women like it when a man shows he can take care of himself. It makes them feel as though they can rely on him to help out when things get tough when they have kids. And mothers feel a son who can cook is somehow more responsible and can be trusted when they aren’t there.”

“Good to know.”

“Shall we begin?” I figured why not start right away.

“You mean now?!” Tom looked flummoxed.

“No time like the present. Here grab the milk and eggs from the fridge." I took it and showed him how to make an egg mixture for Pain Perdu casserole. We took baguettes and broke them up. Buttered pans and added brown sugar. We spent about thirty minutes and had everything in the fridge for the next morning.

“That was easy!” Tommy said.

“I know. But they think I am a gourmet cook. And really, it is so simple. Now, let us move on to the next project before bed. Let's make Shepherds pie with the leftover lamb and some mashed potatoes. This is for Agent Iris."

“Why?”

“Because she feels bad about bringing the baby. So, this is telling her we aren’t bothered. And, if she goes home with some good food already prepped, she can have a nice conversation with her husband about not letting it happen again. Men are more stomach than brain sometimes."

“Oh. Doesn’t that apply to you?” Tommy gave me a severe glare.

“Only when I am not in a dress.” I laughed and put it in perspective.

We finished working together and had a great time. Agent Iris loved how well I took care of Issac. Truth be told. I enjoyed every moment I helped with him. There is something special about caring for a baby that is more addictive than any narcotic. And she appreciated the Shepherds pie. I told her how to cook it when she got home. She didn’t have far to go.

Mrs. Hinks loved the Pain Perdue casserole in the morning. I could hear her say that Tommy should marry a girl who could cook like this. She was flabbergasted that he helped prepare and cook it. I hope I haven’t gotten him into too much trouble. As we cleaned up the breakfast dishes, Mrs. Hinks asked me, “Do you think you could teach Tommy to pick up his room too?”

I grinned and worked. “I’ll work on it.” We giggled.

The flight back to Nashville was pleasant. We talked the whole time. Mrs. Hinks told me that she really admired what I was doing and my dedication to doing it right. Tommy told me that he might be a spectator at the choir competition. He and I worked out what we would say if pressed. I wished his team luck. He wished the same for ours. We headed our separate ways and my thoughts focused on competition week. As I came to enter the house, I noticed a nice rose blooming on our rose bush. Grandpa cut it for me. I went upstairs and found my Mom sitting on my bed enjoying my art gallery.

I handed her the rose. She sniffed it and smiled. “Penny for your thoughts, Mom.”

“Just thinking about how fast you are growing up. Those beautiful young ladies in the painting are long since dead. They probably were very old and had lots of great grandchildren when they passed away.”

I found myself quoting Shakespeare. “Like as the waves make towards the pebbl'd shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end. Sonnet sixty, I believe.”

Mom looked at me. “Well, I love Shakespeare.” I said.

She smiled and sniffed the rose again, “A rose by any other name, would smell as sweet. Romeo and Juliet. That is as far as I got with him in school. How was your weekend in Virginia?”

“It was very nice. They caught a lot of bad men. Tommy was very kind to me. Mrs. Hinks invited me over to dinner. And I had a baby to take care of for a while which was wonderful. But, I am glad to be back home. I like my four walls. And I missed my Mommy very much.” I sat down next to her and hugged her.

I don’t know why, but I grabbed a brush from my side table and shifted around. I began to brush my mother’s hair. “Hmmm, that is nice, Honey. Thank you. It has been a while since Jane brushed my hair. She and I used to do that when she was your age.”

“Was Jane a difficult teenager?” I was enjoying it too.

“No, she was a delight. We loved going shopping together. We would talk about boys and how funny they were. She would ask me about she should handle her girlfriends who were picking on her or how to get along better at school."

“What did you tell her?”

“Not much. I didn’t have any answers. She just needed someone to listen and I did.” I continued brushing her hair. It had gotten long lately. There were a few grey hairs in her hair. But, that didn’t matter. Something was compelling me to brush her hair. Maybe it was a memory. I put down the brush and started to braid her hair in a French braid. I reached over and picked up an elastic off the table and tied the end. I handed her a mirror. She smiled and nodded.

She motioned for me to turn around and she started to brush my hair too. It felt nice. She was thoughtful for a moment and then said,“Ready for the competition?”

“Scared to death. I almost want to be outed so I don't have to do it. Competition isn't easy for me. What if I fail? The choir is counting on me." I wondered if I sounded as scared as I really felt. It was beginning to hit me that I would have to compete in front of a bunch of people.

Mom continued brushing my hair. “You have to face your fears, honey. You can do it. Being Samantha has been a good learning experience for you. You have grown so much in the last six months.” Her touch and her brushing my hair felt wonderful. Almost like she had me in a trance.

“True. Sometimes, I want to be Samuel again so I could just crawl back into my shell and hide. But, then I see myself doing things I never dreamed of before. Growing up is scary." She stopped brushing my hair and began to braid it too into a French braid. She tied it off and handed me the mirror. I looked pretty. Then she put her arms around me and just held me. "It would be the easy way out to let Samuel out. And yes, growing up is scary. So is adulthood." She pulled back and looked me in the eyes. "Besides, I think you will do just fine, Honey. They are your friends. And you won't be up there alone. You will knock them dead." I blushed and grinned. "Thanks, Mom. I don't know what I would do without you." We hugged good night. I slept well.

The week was one great big rehearsal. There was an assembly on Wednesday where we performed for the school and showed them what we could do. They cheered and made us feel good. Mrs. Cox had me come and sing ‘Chanter’ for several of her French classes so I would get used to singing in front of people.

Wednesday, something special happened that I didn’t expect. Mom, Mary, and I came home. Mary and I were going to practice. Grandpa was standing in front of the back door with this huge grin on his face. Bill was standing next to him.

“Bill, so glad to see you. What brings you here?” Mom said. She looked at me with a grin too. Mary snickered.

“Your brilliant daughter. I have something special to share with her. Do you mind us coming in to present something to her?” He was beaming with pride.

“No, by all means.” Mom took my hand. I looked up at her. She knew what was up. None of this was catching her by surprise at all. Nor Mary. What was happening?

We were led into the living room. Doug and Jane were there too. I was baffled. There was a man there that I didn’t recognize. Anyway, Bill started to let me know what happened.

He held up a small framed letter and began to read it.

“I can only translate what this letter says. You will be able to read it. But, it is from the French Ambassador. It says thank you to Jackie Samantha Miller for your generous service in helping out at my daughter’s birthday celebration. As a token of our gratitude and your exceptional skill in French, we have arranged for you to receive a special gift. A guitar that we hope will bring you joy now and into the future.”

Bill pointed to the man. “Samantha, My name is John Mason. I work at the Gibson factory in Nashville.” He reached behind the couch and pulled up a guitar case. “On behalf of the French government, I present to you a Gibson Dreadnought guitar.”

I went over and opened it. It was gorgeous. Like the one, I saw at the French embassy. Madame Lafarge must have seen how much I loved and admired her guitar. My hands were shaking. The woodwork was rich and well crafted. The neck was beautiful. The fingerboard looked exquisite. I tuned it and strummed it. Tears flowed down my face. Tears of joy at having such a beautiful instrument.

The man continued. “This acoustic guitar has a pickup so it can be used in a performance like you will have to do at your choir competition this weekend. By the way, I will be attending as a representative of the Gibson company. Don't be surprised to see me in the audience."

I was lost in examining the guitar. I examined the body and the fingerboard. It was a fine instrument and I was very happy. He went on to present to me a guitar stand and went over the care of the guitar with me. It took about thirty minutes, but soon he was gone and Mary just stood there grinning at me.

“Well Samantha, play something!” I grinned, sat down, and began to play ‘Chanter.’ Doug, Jane, Mom, Grandpa, and Bill listened as I played my first song on the guitar. They applauded at the end. It was magical.

The next day, after stopping at my Mom’s office, I walked into the choir room with my new guitar. Mr. Thompson looked at me. “But we already have a guitar for you, Jackie. You don’t need to bring your own.”

I put the guitar case on the table and gently pulled it out. His eyes lit up. He knew instantly what I had in my hands. “Jackie, where did you get that Gibson?”

“Someone special gave it to me as a gift yesterday. Do you mind if we use it at the competition?”

“No, no. Please do! Let’s hear it. And it has a pickup too. We don’t have that.” I could tell he was as excited as I was. He was grinning ear to ear.

That day’s rehearsal went very well. After school, Mary and I were taken by my Mom to the salon where they did our hair and nails for the competition. They even did my Mom’s hair and nails. I loved every moment of being a girl. The next morning’s rehearsal was a flop. But it was nerves. Mom and I were preparing to get onto the bus at school. We loaded up our suitcases. We had arranged to be in the same room so I didn’t have any surprise outings because someone saw my real hardware. The trip up to Nashville was pleasant. We checked into the hotel. Everyone was thrilled that our Christmas campaign paid for most of our expenses this year. Most of the choir was doubling up in each of the rooms to cut expenses still. There were parental chaperones too. We paid for our room because my Mom wanted to protect me and keep me out of trouble. We were on the same floor and in the same part of the hotel’s wing.

At Five O’Clock, the schedules were posted in the lobby. Our audition was going to be at nine thirty. Canterbury's was going to be at ten thirty. That would mean that I wouldn’t be bumping into old friends right away, not that I really knew anyone from Canterbury anymore. Tommy’s comment about my grades informed me that there must be people there that knew me. With their performance being an hour after ours, I knew that they would be in the warm up room when we were on stage. That was a relief. Tomorrow’s performance only contributed to the order of the next day’s performance and ten per cent of the final scoring.

Carrying my own guitar quickly became my lifeline. It was fast becoming a part of me. The music it cradled was born out of helping of another human being in need. Its strings were the sinews of love that played out my heart strings. Its frets became my expression of working for others. And the chords I used became the major and minor impacts I had on the world around me. Mom was right. As Samantha, I had been growing in a way that Samuel never had. Sure, he would have made advancements. But, being myself and being my true self was the best path to success.

We set up for our performance. First me on the piano for ‘Coventry Carol.' Then my solo. Then the choir singing ‘Here Comes the Sun.' I think Mr. Thompson rearranged it to take some pressure off of me. I really appreciated that. We were doing our warm-ups in a room just outside the auditorium. We did our songs. And then we were ushered out onto a stage to sing. There were a piano and a chair. There was also a place for me to sit with my guitar and a jack to hook it into the audio system. I went to hook it up first. I tuned it really fast, and then I sat down at the piano. Per Mr. Thompson's instructions, I kept my eyes on him.

He raised his baton and motioned to me to began playing the first song. It would not be strange to be singing for two of the songs. I had practiced with everyone to recorded music in the beginning. But, in the last month, we switched to my playing at the piano and not singing. I asked Mr. Thompson why. He chuckled. “You will be singing inside. Most of the choirs will have recorded music. But, your music will be organic. And since you will be performing with everyone too, in your heart, the music coming out of the piano will complement them in a way that recorded music simply can’t.”

I could hear Elysa’s voice guide me during the song. Her clear voice was haunting and beautiful. I matched the piano to her eloquent style and it showed. The group followed. She became the alpha female and dominated the first song. When it ended, now came the hard part. I stood up and moved to the stool quickly and sat down. I picked up the guitar, quickly turned it, and focused again on Mr. Thompson. I began my solo. He played me like a fiddle. I mean in a good way. I could hear the choir back me up during the song by singing ‘Chanter' as a sort of emphasis and counter-emphasis, but his presence and that of Dean turning my music memorized me. I sang my heart out. I let his baton direct the beating of my fragile heart as it expressed its inner soul. Every note and quaver were totally responsive to his command. I didn't play or sing by ear, I played by heart for everyone to hear. Soon, the song came to an end and I thanked Dean who smiled at me to let me know I did a great job. He joined the rest of the choir.

After a moment's pause, on cue from Mr. Thompson's baton, I began the riff for ‘Here Comes the Sun." Bolstered by their performance of Coventry and by my performance of Chanter, they sang a song, true, and clear. It was nice to be able to play and enjoy listening to them. They worked their hearts out over the last three months for this and it showed. When we were finished, I heard applause from the audience. For the first time, I saw them there. A lot of the school choirs were there enjoying the performances. There was little else to do at the hotel and conference center. We bowed and I detached my guitar and joined everyone in a small room to debrief our performance.

“I think we will make it this year into the second round. We have never done that before. Cross your fingers, but we came strong out of the gate. You ought to be proud of yourselves. You did well.” Mom and I took my guitar up to the room. As we waited for the elevator, Clara Bryce stepped off and walked by me. She went to Canterbury. I knew her from fifth grade. She looked at me for a moment as though she recognized me. But, then shook her head and went off. I guess I had changed enough that I just looked like ‘Sam.’ I began to worry if I had made a mistake.

Mom must have caught that brief exchange, because after Clara left, she said, “Don’t worry. Now that you are so girly, no one can see the old you.” I hung on to that for the rest of the day. I changed out of the choir outfit into a girly dress to keep my identity secure. We went back downstairs and watched different choirs perform. Some were okay. Some were very good. All in all, I was invisible and that was a good thing.

At nine that night, the winners of the first round and their scores would be published. Only the choirmasters were allowed to be in the room when it was announced. We had to wait with baited breath in the hallway near our rooms for Mr. Thompson to come up and announce our fate. The elevator opened. He came out looking sad. Our hearts sank. Then, all of a sudden, he smiled and jumped up and down. “We did it! We did it! First time in years, we did it! We came in sixth place in the opening round. But, we did it!” We had a brief confab. Our performance was going to be at eleven the next day. There was a change this year and they had lots for choosing what slots went to whom after third, second, and first got the plum slots of twelve, two, and four.

“Mr. Thompson, I have friends at Canterbury. Did they make it?”

“No, Jackie. And they seemed very angry about it. Rumor has it they are heading home right now.”

“Oh. I am sorry to hear that.” Inside, I was jumping for joy. Now, I could just focus in on the next day.

Grace came up to me and patted me on the back. “Good job, Jackie. I really enjoyed your song.”

"Thank you, Grace. I wondered if my knocking knees could be heard while I was singing."

“Well, you certainly didn’t look nervous to me.”

“Thanks. But that isn’t how I felt.”

I went back into our room. Mom hugged me and said, “See, I told you so. I said you would be fine and you were.” We sat in bed and talked. I liked having quality time with her. Since we could sleep late the next morning, a few girls knocked on our door. Mary, Grace, and Eylsa came in. I pulled out the guitar and we starting singing fun songs.

Before eleven, Mom kicked everyone out for the night. I slept well. The next morning, we went down to breakfast, ate, and then met in one of the conference rooms to prepare for our second performance. I was looking forward to it. It was me on the piano for all but one of the songs. It was kind of wonderful not to have to sing. At eleven, we entered the auditorium to perform. Elysa performed the Coventry Carol first. Then Grace and John performed a duet from South Pacific along with the choir. Followed by the choir doing a song without the piano. They sang a nice round at the end with ‘Summer is a comin in’ with everyone leaving the stage singing the song. It was beautiful and a bold step to finish our performance by using a medieval song to end the set and use it as an exit song.

The rest of the day was watching other performances or mingling with the other schools and sharing stories. I hung out with Mary. About six, during an assembly, they announced the winners. The announcer began to announce who came in third. “And in third place, Danver’s Middle School, Spring Valley!” The applause was immediate in our section and we began to mount the stage to take our place. Third place. The first time ever the school ever made it to the second round, they won third place. We were elated. Sure, first place would have been great, but getting to third was absolutely thrilling. Not only that, we were the only middle school from our school district that even made to the second round.

Elysa did the television interview. She wanted me to join her, but I waved her off. I didn’t want any spotlight on me. It was my first real competition in which I took it seriously and it felt good to have won something with my team. Instead of being the reason we lost, I was the reason they got to the second round and won.

As we walked to the bus to take us back home, I said, “Mom.”

“Yes, honey.” We put our luggage in the back of the bus.

“Thank you. This feels good. I would never have had this success without you. This is a new feeling for me.”

She whispered in my ear. “You know, there have been times I have questioned if this was the right decision for you, but seeing you blossom is the miracle I have always prayed about.”

On Monday morning, it was announced at a special school assembly that we came in third in the competition. Mr. Thompson called us up and gave recognition to each one of us. When it came to me, he said, "And, the secret weapon we had this year was this young lady. She made the choir outfits we are wearing from scratch so we could raise funds during Christmas. She played the guitar and the piano for the choir during the competition. And she sang a solo that helped us get to the second day of the competition. She epitomizes what a team player is all about. Thank you, Jackie Miller!" The choir turned around and applauded me. I did the only thing I could do after saying thank you. I cried. They all gave me a group hug. I cried even more.

During drama class, Mrs. Duncan pulled me aside. “Jackie, I am so proud of you.”

"Thank you, Mrs. Duncan."

“I wanted to ask you if you would like to help me with a special project?”

“What is that Mrs. Duncan?”

“I want to put together a group of students who had done the Shakespeare class and do a video that I can send to the schools. I want to show what we do during the summer. Would you be willing to help?”

“Sure, I would love to do it. Except, I don’t want it to come out that I am a boy in the video. I am still undercover.”

“That is true. But, I don’t think that will happen. What I want to do is to make an ad. I really need you to make the costumes and help me direct it and put it together. Nothing more.”

“I would be thrilled.”

Mary and I went to the office at the end of the day. It was the first time in months we didn’t have to practice for a performance. We just wanted to hang out. I told her about what Mrs. Duncan wished to do. We decided to talk to her and see what we could get done quickly. Summer was fast approaching. And we want her to have a good class this year.

When we got home, I had a special surprise. Agent Debbie was there. It seems that the bureau approved her being my and Tommy’s designated liaison. She walked up to my mom. “I have to talk to both your guardian ad litems, parents, etc. We have a mission at the end of the month. But, that is not why I am here.”

“Why then?” I asked.

She smiled, "Jacqueline Murphy would like to meet you. If you don't mind, I have been sent to get you and take you to her."

“Does that mean I get to see Miranda too?”

“Of course. Do you mind, Pamela?”

“If I said no, I think she would disown me.” Mom laughed. “Where does she want to meet up with Samantha.”

“Well, she and the family are going to be a Discovery Zone in about an hour. I can drive you up there. It won’t be glamorous. They just have pizza. But, it is a fun place for Miranda. I would suggest you get changed into some comfortable jeans so you can follow her around the tubes.”

“Will Agent Carlson be there?”

“Yes. Remember our agreement.”

“Yes Ma’am.” I looked at Mom. She gave me a curious look.

“Okay, go get changed. I think Mary wants to spend time with Doug anyway. Tell me about it when you get home. Have her back by ten. It is a school night. I can have her Grandpa drive her to school and let her sleep a little later. She has been working hard anyway.”

I hugged Mom and Mary. I ran upstairs and got changed. I put my hair in a ponytail. Then I had a thought. I changed and raced back downstairs. "Mom, can you give me a French braid real fast." I handed her a brush and a good elastic to hold my hair. Debbie motioned to my mom to give her the brush. "Here, I can do that. Besides, if it comes out, you need to know that I can do it for you."

I looked at myself in the hall mirror. "Thank you, Debbie. It looks awesome."

The drive took us about twenty minutes north to a Discovery Zone that had just opened in a strip mall. We chatted the whole way about girl stuff. It was a lot of fun. Agent Debbie took me into the Discovery Zone and paid for our entrance fee. After I got my bracelet, I saw Miranda in one of the ball pits. She jumped out and ran towards me. Following her was Agent Carlson, who, once he saw me and Debbie, stopped running. Miranda jumped into my arms. “Samantha, you came! I knew you would.”

I took Debbie's hand and carried Miranda towards Agent Carlson. I know I wasn't supposed to push it, but something told me seeing me hold her hand and holding Miranda would give him ideas about Debbie. Behind him, I saw Mr. Murphy stand up. Sitting with him was this beautiful woman with long blonde hair. She was casually dressed in jeans and a blouse with a beautiful watercolor print of a market scene along the Seine in Paris, France. She had bright blue eyes and a pleasant smile. She was tall. I figure about five eight or so. She wasn’t what I expected from a prosecutor. She looked like she stepped off the pages of a fashion catalog. She looked at me and smiled.

“Samantha, it is so nice to meet you at last!” I put Miranda down and we did a French ‘la bise’ on both cheeks.

On a lark, I responded with, “C'est un plaisir de vous rencontrer enfin !” ( It is a great pleasure to meet you finally.)

Imagine my surprise when she said, “Moi aussi. On peut se tutoyer, Samantha. Tu es de ma famille.” (Me too. And we can be informal and use tu instead of vous. You are part of my family.)

“Thank you. I loved having Miranda for a week. She was like a little sister to me. We had so much fun together.”

“Well, I think she thinks you are her big sister too. And, I cannot say how truly grateful we are that you uncovered the plot to have me hurt. It was very brave of you. And, it seems that you aren’t exclusive to our family either. You stepped into the gap and helped the French Ambassador too.”

I looked at her and back at Debbie who just chuckled. “I didn’t tell her.”

I looked back at Mrs. Murphy. “I learned from the State Department. They contacted the agents while I was with them to find out more about what happened. I answered the phone and one thing led to another. The other day, I was sent on a mission to Gibson factory to find a guitar for you. They are calling it ‘The Birthday Incident.’ You act of kindness makes America look very good diplomatically. And, after your undercover work, you may receive a presidential commendation too.”

“That will be nice, But, it won’t stand up to a hug from Miranda, though.” I meant it. I bent down and hugged her.

“Oh, before I forget. The dresses you made for Miranda were beautiful! Thank you. She wore the red dress with lace for an Easter egg hunt on Palm Sunday.”

“I wish I could have been there to see it. We were on a mission that week. And we couldn't do it this last weekend because of the competition."

“How did that go?”

“We came in third. The highest we have ever done. The guitar you got for me gave me so much confidence too. Thank you!"

Miranda was getting antsy listening to us talk. “Good! Carlson, Debbie, why don’t you guys sit over there and watch the door. I think that Miranda wants to play with Samantha for a while. Then we will have pizza. Here are some knee pads for you Samantha. I know you are still a kid, but you are too big for the tubes now. It will save your knees.”

I took them and put them on, I followed Miranda into the tubes and we played for about an hour. I was nearly exhausted. She, of course, could easily climb through the tubes. She led me by the hand to Murphy's table. I spied Debbie and Carlson talking. They seemed to be hitting it off. I looked back at Mrs. Murphy and realized she was thinking the same thing. "You are playing matchmaker, aren't you?"

She looked back at me and winked. “Yeah, I see it too. I thought I would push them together.”

I laughed and quietly said. “Well, great minds. I told Debbie this last weekend that he was on your protection detail and I would love her to be my liaison.”

Mrs. Murphy looked at me sternly. “Tsk, tsk. You are a really bad girl. How old are you? Twelve, and you are arranging the love lives of adults.” Then she giggled and held out her hand for me to shake. “I am glad to meet a fellow conspirator.”

I found out that she learned French at Middlebury College in Vermont where she did her undergraduate work. From there, she went on to Stanford Law School. Her maiden name is Dutch, Meyer, and both her parents immigrated to the United States from Holland before she was born. Her dad was an engineer who worked at NASA on the Apollo space program. He was a well-known expert in metallurgy and rocket engines. She grew up in Alabama. She learned French because she loved anything French growing up. With her parents being Dutch, she shunned learning their native tongue. She can understand spoken Dutch but doesn't speak it. She considers French her second language.

Miranda was getting tired. We finished our pizza and said that they had to get going.

“Please, I know my parents would love to have you come down to see us. We would love to have you for dinner. We would love to see more of you and Miranda.”

“I will tell you what. I have a lot of work to do with this trial. Ask your parents if they wouldn't mind having Miranda and her Dad overnight? I know he is bored and … "

“Honey, I am not that bored. But, it would be nice to do some guy stuff with Samantha’s dad and grandfather.”

“Okay, let me ask my folks. But, I bet it will happen.”

As we were leaving, Debbie and Carlson were talking. I patiently waited for them outside and let them talk in private.

“Thank you, Samantha. Let’s get you home.” She pretended that nothing happened between them.

I just stared at her and said nothing. “Okay, okay. I know you want to know. Yes, we will be going out on a date. Don’t you say a word about it!” I took an invisible key and locked my mouth and threw away the key. “Satisfied?”

“Yes. And it had better stayed locked, young lady.” She sounded stern.

“I will say just one thing and let it drop. I am your official excuse. You may use me as a cover and I promise I won’t contradict you.” I said. “It is the least I can do for someone who my grandpa says has my six.”

“Thank you.”

“Can I ask you one thing though, Debbie.”

"Not about my love life."

“Oh no, not about that.”

“Then what do you need an answer to then?”

“Debbie, I am embarrassed to ask my Grandpa. And I really want to know.”

“Out with it, Samantha, we don’t have all night.”

“What is a six?”

Debbie burst out laughing.

“Sweetie, fighter pilots used to tell their gunners where the target was they were shooting by using a clock. Straight ahead is twelve o’clock. Behind you is six o’clock. Since you can see behind you, someone who watches your six looks out for what you can’t see.”

“Oh good! I thought it meant that he was protecting me from being six feet under.”

“That is not a bad way of translating it either. But, six means he will look out for what you can't see that can hurt you.”

She dropped me off before ten. I didn’t tell my Mom about Debbie and Carlson. Mom had driven Mary home with Doug in tow earlier. They had a nice date. I guess I wasn’t missed tonight. Except by Mom. We sat on my bed brushing each others hair for about thirty minutes. I told her all about Mrs. Murphy and then asked her about having Miranda and her Dad stay with us during the week. She smiled and said that would not be a problem so long as Grandpa was there.

I met with the Endocrinologist before my meeting with Erin. My hormone levels are perfect. I told him Doug gives me my daily dose and makes sure I sticking to the program. The advantage to that is that no one sees my pills. On the days I am traveling, he gives me a pill in a plastic container and the time to take them. It is a system that is working very well. But, I don’t know how it will work in September when he goes away to school. Doug tells me that he has a solution that he will bring up to me at the time.

After seeing him, I went to Erin’s office for my monthly tea party.

“Why didn't you confront Madame Lafarge right away. You had every right to do that?"

“I don’t know. I have been taught to respect adults. And she was very commanding.”

“Well, we will have to work on your reaction to being bullied. Although this turned out okay, I am concerned that you need to improve your assertiveness. I don't want to teach you how to be disobedient, but I do want to teach you how to handle a bully. And, it sounds like from the discussion you had with Tommy, he is aware too of your personality trait. Just something to work on. In the meantime, I have a new task for you."

I took a sip of my tea. “What is that?”

“I want you to learn about the women in your family that are no longer living. I suspect that if you do, you will learn how to be assertive in a good way. Now, about your reaction to Dean and what you knew was in his pants. How did that make you feel? And be honest.”

I blushed and said in a low voice, “Sexy.”

“What did you say? A little louder.”

I stammered, “S-sexy.”

Erin grinned. “Is that a good feeling to have?”

“Um, maybe.” I said coyly.

“Sounds like Samantha is growing up a little bit.” Erin smirked.

“Yea, but Doug talked to me about it. He warned me that my hormones would create an impulse control issue. He said that you would advise me to practice impulse control.”

“And he would be right. That is why I brought it up. I want you to realize that the surgery that you will eventually have is a kind of plastic surgery. You will still be biologically male. But, socially and physically, you will fully function as a female except for the ability to become pregnant. For you, when that time comes that you have SRS surgery, you will be able to have sex without consequences which raise concerns. Impulse control is an important skill for you to acquire now. That is why I want to work on your assertiveness. I want to teach you how to say no and mean it. I don't want a boy bullying you into sex. You are a very compliant person and eager to please. And that is a danger. You could be misused."

“Thank you. How do you propose to do it without my ticking off somebody?”

“If you don’t mind, I would like to have Doug come in and we can do role playing. That way you can practice saying no. I am sure that Doug won’t mind helping.”

“And if I say no?” I said innocently with a smirk on my face.

“Samantha, you got me on that one!” She shook her finger at me and laughed at my joke.

“Yes, please. I know I need your help. I want to learn.” I said.

“Anything more that you would like to talk about, Samantha?”

“I spent an hour or so in the hospital’s garden while Jane disappeared to talk to a friend. It was soon after I saw her using a test in the bathroom.”

“Let me guess. She went to the third floor of this building?”

“Yes.”

“Good. What I suspected is true. What did you do? Did you say anything?”

“Nothing. I said thank you and that I needed time to write letters to Yvonne and Evelyn. I purchased a couple of nice yellow roses from the gift shop first. When she came down to pick me up, I handed them to her saying that I gave roses to Mom and I should give her some too. She smiled and hugged me. I could see a tear in her eye. She was happy to help me post the letters and we went home.”

“Well, things are working out after all.”

“Oh! There is going to be a second sting this month. It will be in St. Louis. So, we will have an extra session next month.”

We hugged and I left our session with a smile on my face. Mom drove me home. She was pleased to hear that I would be given assertiveness training. She agreed that Doug could really help me.

Sitting in my room later, doing my homework and listening to Chopin, Dad walked in and stood behind me and rubbed my shoulders.

“I am proud of you Samantha. You are really growing up. Third place! Wow. Would you like some more new good news?”

I turned and took his hand. “What news, Daddy?”

“I have been contacted by the American consulate in Australia. They are arranging for you to come to Australia for two weeks in June. The State Department has also arrange for you to spend time with Natasha doing a trip to Boston. So, that is another trip to see your uncle and aunt. It means you can’t do Shakespeare, but you can go to Sovereign Hill. There is one negative though.”

“What would that be, Daddy?”

“I won’t be able to come with my baby girl on her journey. But, your Mom and Grandpa are going with you. And Doug will join you on your trip to Boston too. He wants to scope out were he will be going to school. I am sure going to miss him.”

“Yeah, I am going to miss him too. I don’t know how I am going to handle eighth grade without him.”

I hugged my Dad. “I love you, Daddy!”

“I love you too, Princess.” I melted into his embrace and the world stopped for just a brief moment and I could take a breath again. Dad then motioned me to go over to the bed. He grabbed the brush and began brushing my hair.

“Thank you, Daddy, but why are you brushing my hair?”

“I saw your Mom doing it for you the other night. It occurred to me that I never did that with Jane. I wondered what it was like.”

We sat there and talked for almost an half an hour. I think Daddy liked it. I know I loved it.

Copyright © 2017 by AuP reviner

[Author’s note: I posted early because I am going away this weekend. I won’t have internet access. And, I didn’t people to wait too long.

Discovery Zone went bankrupt, sadly, in the late 90s. It was a great place for kids to play. I was happy to use it as a vehicle for the story to advance the story.

Anyone from a certain area in Virginia will know the actual restaurant that the gang visited in reality. I have fond memories of that restaurant. I changed the name to protect the restaurant. But, if you are in Catawba, VA, ask where to get good southern grub. Make sure you eat after a hike to Tinker’s Cliffs so you can work up an appetite and have seen an incomparable view that goes with an incomparable meal. And also be sure to wear loose fitting clothes. It is as close to a feast in heaven as you will ever find on earth.

Oh, about the conversation between Samantha and Debbie at the restaurant. Remember, Virginia is for Lovers. I couldn’t find a way to work that into the story. I tried. :-]

Until next week, at my normal time. – AuP ]



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