Midnight Downloads

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Midnight Downloads 1999-2024 by Wendy-J

All Rights Reserved



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Introduction:

Ernie was doing research for the paper he had to write for the philosophy course he was taking at the local university, due to his acceptance and inclusion in the advanced placement section at school, when he ran across a website called Fiction Mania. The focus of his paper was to be on gender roles in society, so he did a search on gender. He didn't quite understand how a website of nothing but fictional stories with a very few autobiographic stories could have to do with gender. What happens when his mother learns just what it is he's been reading on that … that … computer of his?


Readers: You don't have to read this note to you, but I wish you would. If you don't want to, jump to Part-1 It's about a page down.


Author's Notes:

Midnight Downloads is a fanciful fluff piece that would be rated G to PG-13, for language, but is rated R, for the violence in Part-9 and the forced feminisation in Part-10. As I said when I first wrote this story, while the violence is NOT integral to the story, I honestly believe it needs to be there. It's pretty graphic, yet by comparison to some of the violence perpetuated against children, spouses, parents and even lovers, it's pretty mild. I included it, because I believe others need to see it to understand what happens every day. I did use a double row of asterisks to set it apart and it can be skipped, if that is your wont.

I'm not going to go into why this story was pulled twenty years ago, nor why I've returned it to publication. Just accept that it was pulled and has returned and let's leave it at that.

This is fiction. Nothing contained within this story is real, except for maybe the names of a few shops and maybe products. I don't even know if those shops and products still exist. For example, the main character drives an Oldsmobile. Olds went out of business almost twenty years ago.

You can't be the person I'm writing about, trust me. The characters in this story came out of my very twisted imagination. I'm certain that somewhere in this country, or around the world, there is a town called Central. The town, just like the schools in this story is FICTIONAL. All the characters in this story are fictional. Yes, I have quoted some real authors and famous personages. I did attribute those quotes. I did not write about what they did.

All the characters in this story are at least eighteen years of age. I never go into the sex, or sexual acts, although I do allude to them and in some cases, say what a character might have done. You hear worse on the telly today, so I did not give it an X rating. F.M. Task Force, or other editors, or publishers I've submitted my story to, if you think it should have an X rating, then change it…please. You'd know what it should have better than I. Thank you for having read this mess.


Midnight Downloads - Part-1

Friday Morning September 4th

Ernie Wilson sat before his custom computer in the corner of his bedroom. Its thirty-six-inch, flat-screen L.C.D. monitor provided the only light in what his mother called 'the hole.' And hole it was. Clothes, both dirty and clean, were strewn about the room in what seemed to be some sort of arcane pattern that only made sense to the room's resident. They were piled or draped on every available horizontal surface and just sort of hung from everywhere else. Their colour provided the only break to the otherwise austere antique white of the walls and beige of the luxurious cut-pile carpeting. The room, huge by any standard, was furnished in a contemporary version of what seemed to pass for colonial. A chiffonier, or tall chest of drawers topped with a small mirror stood to one side of the king-sized bed. A low double chest of drawers with a large mirror back sat on the adjoining wall at the foot of the bed. Night tables with small brass lamps graced either side of the bed's overfull bookcase headboard. Computer and electronics parts and components, both commercially produced and of Ernie's own design, were everywhere. There was a slumping pile of cardboard cartons spilling floppy disks, C.D.s and other computer bits onto the thick cut pile of the carpet. The bed looked more like a workbench than a place to sleep. Sure, there was room for him to lie down on it, but just barely. A rickety folding card table spilled its load of electronics gadgetry onto the floor. Electronics assembly and test equipment was mixed in with the obvious junk. The more than generous sixteen-foot long closet, its sliding mirrored doors propped wide, stood empty in silent testimony to the housekeeping habits of its owner. The huge room seemed small and cluttered with everything strewn about the way it was. Hard to believe though true, he had only occupied the space for a little more than two weeks. This was definitely the room of a computer geek. The only missing 'decoration'? The empty pizza box with half eaten crusts. Somehow, you just knew that was coming…and soon.

Ernie built his computer from the old computer his father gave him and the pile of leftover parts he'd acquired either rooting through the weekly garbage pickup at the holidays, a time he revelled in, due to the surfeit of perfectly good components tossed when someone got a new 'puter as he called them, for gifts, or when upgrading and repairing his classmates' computers, then refurbishing or repairing what he removed, so he could incorporate the parts into his own machine. With the money he earned doing those upgrades, repairs and a few odd jobs -- definitely computer related -- here and there, Ernie started on a series of upgrades of his own. Buying through the Internet, post, local computer shops and swap meets, Ernie collected every new gadget that came out as soon as it came out, or shortly thereafter. The result was his baby: 'The Monster.' The computer itself now bore little semblance to anything the average user, or luser as he frequently said, would recognise. It was a custom full tower affair that stood almost 4 feet in height. There were cables and wires snaking to and from it to all sorts of boxes and gizmos spread about the corners of the room. It was a Linux based screamer with all the latest bells and whistles Ernie could afford and possibly stuff into and hang off of it. The cover hadn't been on it since he bought the custom case. He still had the case cover, but rather than employing it in the way it was designed, it had become his coffee mug stand.

It was almost eerie the way Ernie sat. Hunched over, head thrust forward, bloodshot eyes staring vacuously. His delicate face peeked out from behind long mousy brown hair much like a face might from under the cowl of a monk's robe. It brought to mind the image of a high priestess of yore, conjuring demons before a temple altar.

"Damn it!" he said with a start as he snapped back to reality. "Ernie, old man, I'm beginning to wonder about you," he said to himself. "Oh shit, look at the time…it's 04:30 again! Two days in a row. Oh maaan! Shitshitshitshitshit! Get - a - grip! You gotta stop getting lost in these weird stories at Fiction Mania. Ernie my man, you need to see a shrink!" he yammered to himself as he checked the download logs.

"What am I reading this dreck for anyway? Ah the hell with it. Just move the stories into the story index and off to bed. I need some sleep. Sleep…" he said wryly, "that's a good one. Might as well make a pot of coffee, I'll never wake up in time for school if I go to sleep now," he mumbled, "not after two days of this." Ernie got up and started for the back stairs to the kitchen.

Ernie was slight of build, almost effeminate. Nearing six feet in height without shoes, he weighed all of 130 pounds fully clothed and soaking wet. It wasn't because he didn't eat, far from it. His appetite was incredible; he ate everything within reach at mealtimes, calling it a see food diet, meaning: See food, eat food, meaning eat all food one sees. Ernie just seemed to burn it all up in nervous energy, well almost all of it that is. All except for the developing spread in his butt which he attributed to his sitting behind the computer when the other guys were out playing football, basketball, or some other jock waste of time.

His hair was dishevelled from his nervous habit of passing his hands through it as he worked the keys of 'The Monster.' The fine, even and delicate features of his face were a sore spot with him. He desperately wanted to look like the rugged, bulked out jocks on the football team. Instead, he looked more like his mother. His pronounced cheekbones and narrow chin, combined with a figure that, from behind, looked better than his girlfriend's, had earned him such endearing monikers as, 'the prettiest boy in school' or 'sweet cheeks.' These of course were fighting words. Maybe one day he'd even win one. He just couldn't let those clowns get away with it, could he? It was humiliating, even if it was true. His mother often said things much to the same effect, like, "Honey, you're so pretty, almost too pretty to be a boy."

Another contribution to his social ostracism was Ernie's intelligence. The school had tried to get Ernie's mother to allow him to skip a year or two on several occasions. Janice Wilson flat out refused to do so, saying there was much he needed to learn by socialising with his peers. So, instead of skipping years in school, his guidance counsellor, Miss Fenway, made arrangements with the local university to enrol him in the Advanced Placement Programme. This allowed him to take university level courses at the local university in the evenings. The courses would count as credits toward his graduation, both in high school and once he headed off to university, thus lightening his required course load at the high school. Ernie, on the other hand, just added more electives to his lightened load to fill the time and give him a broader knowledge base, stating if knowledge was power, he was going to become the most powerful person alive. At school, he appeared to be the embodiment of the proverbial bookworm. Narrow of shoulder, stooped of back, non-athletic and his face perpetually buried in a book, he seldom seemed to be looking where he was going.

Only Ernie's girlfriend, Samantha, seemed to enjoy his company. Well…maybe she wasn't really his girlfriend, but she was a girl and she was his friend. Ernie liked her a lot. She was the only person in the whole school who treated him like a human being. That is, of course, unless someone had a computer problem, then he always seemed to become their best 'buddy' or 'pal.' Samantha was different. Easy to talk to…pleasant to be with…pretty in an unconventional sort of way…comfortable really. She always had something nice to say to him. They shared many of the same interests, books, sailing, old films…. They were so alike it was almost frightening. The difference was that Samantha, though an inch or two shorter than Ernie, outweighed him by at least twenty pounds, or nine a half kilos. To make matters worse, she looked more like a boy in her baggy jeans and t-shirts than Ernie did his. This fact wasn't lost on their schoolmates. They were relentless. If Ernie were seen walking with Sam, they would yell things like "Here comes Ernie and her husband!"

Ernie and Sam didn't really date per se, well…except for the Junior Prom. They did kind of hang out together, just not at school. They'd go to the cinema and out for a burger afterward, but they always went "Dutch" and they never held hands, much less kissed. Samantha was the only friend Ernie had, male or female and Ernie was not about to risk that friendship by daring to do something so…risky as holding her hand.

*****

"Honey, is that you?" his mother called out, sleep clouding her usually musical voice.

"No, Mum," he replied, stopping on the stairs. "It's just the bogie-man," came the automatic, sarcastic response, his voice resonant in the empty hall. That voice had been the pride and joy of his high school performing arts teacher and choir leader, Missus Meltzer. He had near perfect pitch and a mellow voice that spanned nearly five octaves. He could sing all the male parts in the choir and most of the girls' parts as well. His natural pitch for singing was between second soprano and alto. Well above the boy's highest part in vocal arrangements, tenor, yet when he tried, he could usually get into the upper reaches of first soprano. Missus Meltzer thought he could have a career as an opera singer or a radio newscaster with his voice. It was so very rich and full, Ernie could make it do almost anything. When she told him that, all he could think of was Radio! Figures…. Even she believes it. No self-respecting TV. station would hire a girly-boy.

"Honey, I really wish you wouldn't talk like that."

"Sorry, Ma," he replied contritely. "I didn't sleep well. I guess I'm kinda punchy right now. Go back to sleep."

"You and that, that…computer! I wish you never built it. You never sleep any more."

"Mu-ummm!!" came the plaintive reply, "you know I gotta have one for school! How else am I to do the research they require! Besides, computers are the way of the future. Pretty soon it's going to be the way we do everything. Paper is so passée!"

"I know, Honey, but you really need your sleep…. And I wish you would watch your grammar."

"Yes mo-therrr," he replied petulantly as he resumed his journey down the stairs to the kitchen. Grammar, never knew her. She died before I was…. You really do need some sleep if you're playing bad puns in your own head, old bean.

"He sounds like a girl when he does that," his mother thought sadly.

The trek to the kitchen, something that once took seconds, seemed to take an eternity, thanks to how large the house became after being revamped. Ernie entered the newly remodelled kitchen and looked about. It looked so pristine he was almost afraid to touch anything. Pots and pans gleamed, glass glittered…everything seemed perfect and new, which most of it was. It was disconcerting to him. Man what a change, he thought for the umpteenth time since they moved back into the house.

Before it was remodelled, the kitchen was a tiny room that was barely big enough to hold a small round table, four chairs and afforded floor space barely wide enough to turn around in, had almost no counter space and only one built in cabinet, which housed the glasses and plates above the sink, the silver which was simple low cost stainless and some miscellaneous, mostly worn-out utensils beside it. The compartment under the sink was once the catch-all for the entire downstairs. The once tiny kitchen had more than quadrupled in area. Now it was the heart of a house that had more than trebled in size. The new kitchen had three very large, spacious rooms opening off it downstairs, the parlour, butler's pantry which led to the dining room and the den, which had two offices off it. It connected with the back stairs up to the second floor, the front hall to the foyer and the back hall that opened onto the laundry room and the mud room. The mud room had doors to the back yard, garage, driveway, and the indoor entrance to Jan's new office in the basement. Not to mention its own full toilet and bath. The place went from a comfortable, yet cosy, little home on the outskirts of town to very nearly a mansion that had four guest rooms, to go with the residents' suites of rooms.

Everything that was once stored in the few drawers of the cabinet that held the sink and a myriad of cheap metal cabinets that lined the walls of a room less than a fourth its size were now stored in the cabinets and drawers above and below the counters that circled the room, or in the cabinets, drawers and doors of the central cooking island. The island housed a natural gas cook-top, a rotisserie, a griddle, two ovens, more counter space and cabinets and two built-in or fitted microwaves. Gleaming brass bottomed pots and pans hung from a stainless steel rack over the island and more.

All the lower cabinets seemed to have at least one drawer and they all seemed to be chock full of something. It was taking Ernie a long time to get used to where everything was. In the corner, by the built-in commercial refrigerator, was the sole holdout from before their remodelling, a round antique table with two matching side chairs. It had been in his mother's family for generations. Ernie's mother loved to cook and the kitchen was where she spent most of her time away from her office in town, or her new office in the basement of their home. The two matching chairs for the table were strategically placed in the room's far corners.

Ernie lost his father, Francis "Frank" Ernest Wilson, in a plane crash seven years earlier. When Frank died, he left Ernie and his mother very well provided for, both individually and collectively. That was due to several rather substantial insurance policies and some very shrewd investments in high technology stocks. Ernie's mother couldn't see spending the kind of money it took to renovate the house back then. In her words, she was "just a mother and a housewife." "Besides," she said, "it just wouldn't be seemly, so soon after Frank's death and all." Janice and Frank were intent on having Ernie finish university. With the spiralling costs of education Jan figured she just couldn't afford renovations just yet. She hadn't tried to find a job until after Ernie entered his sophomore year in high school. When she did take a job, she didn't do it because she needed the money, she did it for something to do as a means of keeping busy and ensuring the trusts she established upon Frank's death remained whole and intact. By the time Ernie entered his senior year in high school, Janice was the most successful real property broker they had at Spectra Realty. She was so successful in fact, Spectra Realty paid for many of the improvements done in the basement of their newly renovated home, just to keep Jan happy and working for them. In a word, Janice and Ernie Wilson were rich.

The work on the house took over six months to complete and was so extensive Jan and Ernie had to move into an apartment across town while it was in progress. Very little of the old home remained. There was the new office suite downstairs, complete with its own private entrance, reception and waiting room, along with three largish empty, unfinished spaces that could become almost anything they wanted them to be, a kitchenette and full bath. There was a two-storey addition off the back, and the additions to each side. The basic shape of the house was now a large and somewhat stylised T, compared to the small two storey two bedroom colonial it once was. The separate one car garage was demolished and an attached, two-storey, extra deep, two-and-a-half-car garage was built in its stead. Interior walls had come down to enlarge other rooms, doorways moved stairs widened and/or moved, in effect, it was a completely new home, right down to many of the furnishings Janice purchased for it. "Just to have something to put into all those empty rooms," she said. They just moved back in a couple of weeks earlier. Ernie likened it to living in a fancy hotel, the place was so big and spacious. Even the hallways were hospital wide.

"This place is gonna take some getting used to," he mused. "I still haven't got a clue where anything is."

He rummaged through the cabinets and drawers looking for the coffee mugs and silverware. With the necessary utensils and mug finally located, Ernie's thoughts turned back to the 'F.M.' web site as he set about making coffee.

"Those stories are really weird," he mumbled quietly as he filled the carafe with water. "Guys turning into girls, girls who turn their guys into girls. What's the fascination with it all anyway?"

"What in the world are you mumbling about?" said a voice from right behind him.

"Eeep!?" he squeaked, sounding more like Samantha than Samantha. Startled half out of his wits, Ernie jumped. At the same time, he tried to look over his shoulder at the source of the voice. All he managed to do was spill water onto the brand new parquet floor. With his heart in his throat and his pulse hammering in his ears, he stared wide-eyed at his mother. She'd managed to get right behind him without his hearing her.

"Christ, Ma!" Ernie blurted in shock, looking down at his mother's svelte 5'4" frame. "You scared the…you scared me. What are you doing up at this hour anyway?"

The semblance of the two was striking. Although Janice Wilson had just over eighteen years on her son, she'd managed to retain that natural girlish quality that most women tried to achieve by spending thousands of dollars, and hundreds of hours, in beauty salons and plastic surgeons' offices everywhere. To put it simply, except for their height, they could almost have been twins.

Jan was wearing a fluffy, white, terrycloth robe over her pastel green, satin pyjamas. On her feet she was wearing white satin ballet slippers, which had enabled her to surprise her son. Jan's brown hair, normally worn in a pageboy, was mussed from her pillow. There wasn't a grey hair in sight and that was not due to a bottle, she was so young, she had yet to start going grey. She looked up at her son through bleary eyes as she hugged her robe about her. As thin as Ernie was, she still looked tiny next to him, when he was only four or five inches taller.

She frowned at his verbal slip but decided to say nothing about it. "I couldn't get back to sleep. What in the world were you mumbling about?" she repeated.

"Nothing, Ma," he replied contritely, "just a site I came across on the web."

"A site about turning men into women?" she asked rather pointedly.

"Well…yes and no," he replied haltingly.

"Come on, out with it," his mother said, "what have you been looking at?"

"Mo-ommm! Christ! Cut me a freaking break, I'm…."

"You know I don't like that kind of talk!" she replied sharply, cutting him off. "Now answer my question. What have you been getting into with that…that machine of yours?!"

"Okay, okay…. Sit down and let me finish cleaning this up. I need some coffee. And by the sound of it, so do you."

"Ernie!"

"Sorry, Mum," he said, genuinely contrite.

"That's better…. Don't use the tea towel for that! Use the paper towels! That's what I bought them for!"

"Yes mo-therrr," came the petulant response, again, making him sound more like a Valley Girl, than the male teen he was.

"I really don't know what to do with you any more. You know, you aren't too big for me to put over my knee!" she said with mock severity, "but with that thick head of yours, I doubt I could get your attention with anything smaller than a baseball bat!"

"I love you, too, Ma," Ernie replied with a smile as he drew his mother tight against him in a warm hug. "Now sit down and relax. I'll make some coffee and…."

"You'll do nothing of the sort!" came her clipped reply, cutting him off again. "I don't know how you drink that mud you call coffee. I'll make it, you just finish mopping up that water you poured all over my brand new floor."

"Yes, mo-therrr," he replied. They both giggled at the valley girl impersonation he attempted.

"You're terrible, do you know that? You're worse than your Uncle John."

"Oh cut me a break! No-one's that bad," he said, thinking about his uncle, the family clown. "What are you doing up at this hour anyway?"

Sometimes," she explained as she started making the coffee, "when you're at that computer of yours, you get so wrapped up in whatever it is you're doing, you start talking to yourself. That voice of yours goes right through the walls. You woke me up with your incessant mumbling."

"Sorry," Ernie replied contritely as he stooped to mop the wet floor. Finishing, he stood up, threw the sodden towels into the waste bin under the sink and crossed the room to the antique table. "I'll never understand why you wanted a wood floor in the kitchen," Ernie mumbled. "What's wrong with asphalt tile? It's what professionals use. It's smooth, hard and flat, as well as very easy to clean up."

Jan finished the coffee preparations and crossed over to the table. She moved the chair so she could to sit beside her son and she replied, "You know how I love to cook. I always wanted a nice kitchen and now that I can afford it, I have one. Wood is so warm and pretty that I just had to have it. There's nothing like a good coat of hard wax to seal it and make it look nice…" she trailed off and then redirected the conversation to what her son had been up to. "Now tell me about this…this…."

"Web site," he finished for her. Damn it! he thought. You can't sidetrack her at all. Sometimes I wish she would be just a little bit more like Miss Fenway; complement her on her hair and away she goes.

"Yes, this web site thing that has you talking to yourself," she'd spoken while he was off, lost in thought. "Earth to Ernie!"

"Sorry, Ma, I just sorta drifted off."

"You were saying?" she redirected him yet again.

Well, um…." The coffee maker gurgled in the strained silence, making Ernie wish for the French Press Donna Boone, Samantha's mother, had in her kitchen. All you needed to do was boil water and in seconds, you had a full pot of delicious coffee. "I was surfing the net looking for information for my psych. paper. You know, for the philosophies of life class I'm taking at the university? Well, anyway, I needed some information on gender roles in today's society. So I did a search on gender and…."

"You did a search?" she asked.

"Yeah, a search. You know…like…. Umm…. You see, on the Internet, there are these programmes called search engines, they're kind of like worms…."

"Worms?" she interjected, stopping him. Interrupting someone while they were talking was an effective strategy that Jan often used with clients. It kept them off balance and allowed her to better understand them. By getting them to talk about something they knew and searching for ways to describe something that she really didn't care about, she would skilfully direct the conversation so she could get to the heart of what they were trying to keep from her. It was a tactic that usually worked well with Ernie.

"Worms," he plodded on, wanting to scream, If you'd let me finish, instead of interrupting, you'd have all your answers! "You know how worms dig their way down and through the earth aerating the soil? Well, they, the search programmes that is, send out queries to all the web sites, kind of like the tentacles on an octopus or a bunch of worms threading their way deep into and through everything on the Web. Anyway, they bring back the address, or locations, and a brief description of the sites that have words or word strings that match the words in your search criteria. Kinda like doing a database search, only hundreds of thousands of times larger, since they hit everyone's databases. Unfortunately, the descriptions that people give their sites are often vague and misleading, so you spend a lot of time looking at worthless sites and irrelevant information.

"Anyway," he continued, "I did a search on the key word gender. I got all sorts of hits. Hundreds of thousands of pages actually. Lots of smut and other nonsense, but some of it was pertinent to what I'm looking for. One of the sites had lots of stories about guys who wanted to be girls, or girls who turned their guys into girls. Kind of like those people on that daytime talk show Linda was telling you about last month.

"I was, um…curious, so I started reading some of the stories annnd…." His voice started to get quieter and his face redder by the second. He was beginning to have difficulty expressing himself. "To be honest with you…I mean, um…some of the stories were like…uh…pretty uh…racy and um…err…erotic. I just don't really understand what the attraction to being a girl is, but…. Well, some of the stories were really well written and…. But they really got into talking about the clothes and all…and…well…" he trailed off.

"Mm hmmm." his mother interjected, rescuing him from himself. "So these stories got to you did they?"

"Well I w-wo…wouldn't say they ga-ga…got to me," he stuttered, his voice faded somewhat, "but they have me wondering what the bu-bu-bu…big deal is," came his defensive reply.

Janice's mouth turned down at the corners in a hint of a frown. His stuttering bothered her. Ernie hadn't had a problem with stuttering for several years now. Prior to his father's death, it really wasn't even enough to notice. After his father died, Ernie suddenly developed a serious speech impediment. It took three years with speech therapists, elocutionists and a psychologist to cure him.

"I see," Jan said, as she stroked the hair at his temple absent-mindedly. She was surprised to see that the hair on the side of his head was already well past his collar and could actually be called shoulder length at that point, even if it didn't quite touch his shoulders. "So you've been puzzling over why some men want to be women and why some women want their men to look like women?"

"Well…. Yeah. Sort of," Ernie said softly.

They both sat in thoughtful silence for a few minutes before Ernie's mother spoke again. "It sounds like the coffee's about done. Why don't you pour us some and bring it into the den. I'll be down in a minute." She stood up and walked out of the room.

*****

Part-2

Friday Morning September 4th

Puzzled, Ernie sat for a moment, wondering just what was going through his mother's head. He was so tired he was having trouble keeping things straight. He got up and started to pour the coffee. After a brief search he took a tray out of a cupboard, placed the two coffee mugs on it, shagged some napkins from the dispenser on the table and proceeded into the den.

The den was a large, comfortable family room in the front of the house off the kitchen. The furniture was neither shabby, nor new, but it suited the room. It was arranged in quasi-conversational grouping. Close enough for quiet conversation yet far enough apart to keep it from seeming cramped. Its obvious focus was the only new piece of furniture in the room, a huge built-in entertainment centre that was as much a bookcase as it was a spot for the entertainment electronics. The furniture was overstuffed and contemporary in design. His and hers recliners were opposite the sofa. A love seat closed the circle. Built-in bookcases lined the room, making it as much a library as a family room. Since his father died seven years before, no-one seemed to sit in the recliner nearest the TV. That had been "Dad's chair," and it just didn't seem right for anyone else to use it after he passed. There was a mild amount of clutter, but not so much as to require anything be moved to set the tray down. The room was comfortable and even a relaxing place to just sit.

Ernie placed the tray on the oak and glass coffee table and settled into a corner on the sofa. He sipped his coffee thoughtfully while he waited for his mother. Ernie finished his cup of coffee before his mother got back, so he went out to the kitchen and grabbed the pot and the condiments, bringing them out and placing them beside his mother's cooling mug. He had just settled back into the sofa after refilling his mug when his mother, now clad in an outfit he would have expected to see on a Playboy Playmate of the Month, walked into the room. She wore a slightly above mid thigh, white linen mini skirt and a powder blue, low cut silk blouse. She had four-inch white D'Orsay pumps on her feet and nude stockings on her legs. She did her makeup and her hair in a way that, well…. She was positively radiant and looked fifteen years younger.

After his initial shock at seeing his mother looking so hot and so very nearly his contemporary, Ernie managed to close his mouth and engage his brain enough to comment on her appearance. "Wow, Ma!" Ernie breathed, "You look…great!"

"Thank you, Honey," she smiled back at him.

"What gives?" her puzzled son asked. "I mean…what's the…? You're not going anywhere like that, erm…now, are you?"

"No, Sweetie, I'm not going anywhere. How did you feel when you just saw me?" she asked.

"Umm…. Well…confused mostly, but…."

"No, I can understand why you would be confused, but did you feel anything else?" she pressed.

"Well…." Ernie started to reply but, instead of answering, his face went beet red.

"What's the matter, Honey? Feeling a little too embarrassed to answer your mother honestly?" she chuckled.

"Nnnnuh…welllll…yeah," Ernie managed to choke out. His mother would have thought it impossible for his blush to get any deeper, but it did. Ernie looked like he wanted to crawl into the crack between the sofa cushions and stay there.

"That's okay, Honey," she said softly. How about I tell you what I think you felt. You just nod if I'm right and shake your head if I'm not. When I walked in the room your eyes almost fell out of their sockets and your jaw hit the floor. That was what I saw, so don't try to say otherwise. You reacted sexually first and logically second, didn't you?" She waited for an answer from her son. He sat motionless, a pained expression on his face.

"B-b-bu…but you're my Mum!" he blurted.

"Yes. I'm your mother," she smiled, "and your reaction is normal. If you hadn't felt that way, I would have wondered. Your reaction was that of a normal heterosexual male, a shocked one perhaps, but normal. And that is, more-or-less, a normal response to a beautiful woman. I'm flattered," she said.

"Buh-buh-buh…but…" he stammered.

"But nothing. When a woman, or a girl for that matter, wants to catch the eye of a man, she wears something soft, sexy and revealing. In this case, it's very sexy and very revealing. Your response tells me I haven't lost it yet, have I?" she smiled.

Ernie just shook his head as his mother walked toward him. "I was hoping for a reaction, any reaction actually. But yours made me feel good. You see, Ernie, most women like to feel sexy and desirable," she said as she sat on the sofa beside him. "The way you reacted told me I still am. Your reaction made me feel sexy and beautiful. Although, I'd have to say my clothes did help quite a bit in making me feel that way."

Ernie didn't know what to do. From the moment his mother walked into the room, all he could do was gape and stare. She was gorgeous. He never saw his mother looking so…good. His mind was in a whirl as he thought, Her lips look so full and soft. Her legs…. He groaned aloud, not giving voice to his thoughts. Gods above, her legs…. His mind refused to let the image go. He shook his head. Ernie, get - a - grip! his mind screamed. This is your mother!!!

He was feeling things he only felt looking at the pages of Penthouse and Playboy. When his mother sat down next to him, he couldn't take his eyes off her legs. His head swam, as his pulse hammered in his ears. He gulped and stared as her skirt rode up high enough to expose the tops of her stockings and the suspender tabs that held them there. She crossed her legs sensually and took his hand in hers. He tried to speak, but his mouth just opened and closed, not unlike a fish out of water. Reaching over to her son, Janice gently lifted his chin upward, forcing him to look her in the eye.

"I think you need to take a couple of deep breaths and try to relax," she said with a smile. "Yes, I'm your mother, but I'm also a sexual being. I haven't let you see me like this before for this very reason. Men aren't the only humans who react this way to a woman's body, either. Some women do as well. That doesn't mean they're lesbians, it just means they find this look sexually stimulating. Some may even want their lovers to dress this way once in a while. It gives them the same thrill it gave you. Before he died, your father loved it when I got all dressed up for him. He knew it was just for him and that's how we kept it," she explained. "It's why I even had this outfit."

Ernie blinked his eyes and swallowed. It looked like he was finally coming out of the shock the sight of his sexy mother had put him in. "Are you okay?" she asked.

Ernie bobbed his head up and down and swallowed again. He reached for his coffee with his free hand and took a gulp of the dark brew. "I…I…. Wow!" was all he could manage.

His mother laughed heartily. "Do you want me to go change?" she asked with a smile.

"Nnnno," he gulped. "Hu…Hu…."

"How do I do it?" she asked for her son. Ernie's head bobbed up and down again in response. The look of awe on his face was priceless. "Trade secret," Janice giggled. "Of course the clothes do help considerably. Why? Do you want to try looking like this?" she asked, a sly smile crossing her face.

"NO!" Ernie exploded, the shock seemingly gone at last. "I wuh-wuh…wa…." He took a deep breath and continued more slowly, "I was just curious. I mean, you always look so…so…so proper… annnd like a mum!" he finally blurted.

"Well, honey, just because I'm a mum doesn't mean that I don't like to look pretty, or beautiful, or sexy. With different outfits I can achieve any of those looks and more. That's why I have different outfits. Perhaps that's part of why those people at that site wrote what they did.

"Why don't you go splash some water on your face and I'll go change into something a bit more…mum-ish," she laughed. "Then we'll talk about it if you like."

Ernie just sat where he was, the blush returning to his face. It was obvious he didn't want to go anywhere in front of his mother just yet. This is your Mum, he thought, your MOTHER! It wasn't working. Gods! She's gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous. She's YOUR MUM! His mind was reeling. He couldn't believe what he was feeling. Worse still, he was a touch…. DON'T EVEN GO THERE! he screamed at himself.

Janice released her son's hand and patted him on his thigh. Then she stood and began to cross the room. "I'll leave you to your thoughts," she said in parting. To herself, she said, I have got to see what he's been reading. That reaction was just too much to believe. Aloud again as she neared the doorway, she asked, "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yeah, Ma," he squeaked, and cleared his throat.

"I wish you could learn to say yes once in a while," she said as she left the room.

Sitting motionless, Ernie watched his mother walk out of the room. Gods, she has a great…. WHAT ARE YOU THINKING?!? Upon rising from his seat, the bulge in his jeans became obvious. He walked to the foot of the stairs and listened for the door to his mother's room. As soon as he heard it close he ran up the stairs, pulling at his clothes as he went. A woody!!! My Mum gave me a damned woody!!! His mind screamed in agony. "Oh shit," he moaned.

All he could think of as he ran into his bathroom was, I gotta get a shower, cold water, yeah! Cold water! He turned the cold water on full blast. Never in his life had he felt the need for relief as he did then. COLD WATER!!!

*****

When Ernie headed back downstairs, he detoured through the den looking for the remains of the morning's coffee. It wasn't there. Mum must have gotten it. He trembled, thinking back on the events of the morning. The cold shower just didn't do it. Gods, I'm so ashamed, his mind reeled as he walked into the kitchen in search of more coffee. He was wiped out. With only a couple of hours sleep the day before and none the previous night, added to what just happened, suffice to say, he was completely wrung out. When he saw his mother at the antique table, he stopped in his tracks. The image of her just a little while before refused to go away. He felt himself twitch in his pants.

"Good morning, Sweetie," she said with a smile. "How was your shower?"

"Fine," he mumbled.

"Come here," she said with a smile. "I promise I won't bite." Ernie shuffled across the room with his head hanging low and sat beside her. "Shower didn't help, huh?" she asked.

"No," he croaked.

"Oh, Honey, I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to…." She stopped in mid sentence. Oh my goodness! she gasped to herself. "Honey," she began quietly, already knowing the answer to the question she was about to ask, "are you still a virgin?"

Ernie just burst into tears. He couldn't say a word. Nodding his head, he sat there sobbing into his hands. Janice leaned over gathered her son into her arms and rocked him gently as she had when he was a child. "Oh, Honey, that's nothing to cry about," she said softly. "You should be proud of that."

Oh gods what have I done, she thought. He has no place to go for relief, so I go and become every teenager's wet dream. "It's okay Honey," she cooed, "Mummy's here, go ahead and cry."

After the tears finally stopped, Janice spoke to her son in that tiny voice mothers save for their babies. "All done?" Ernie, still held close to his mother's bosom, nodded his head almost imperceptibly and hiccoughed.

Gently releasing her son, Janice started to stand. Taking his hand, she said, "Come on." Jan led him into the den and had him lie down on the sofa. "You just relax here, Honey," she said. "You're staying home today."

She went back into the kitchen and called her office, leaving a message for her secretary saying that she was feeling ill and would not be in. She left detailed instructions about rescheduling her appointments for the next couple of days. Getting another cup of coffee, she went up to Ernie's room. She was bound and determined to find out just what it was her son had been reading.

Two hours later, she came down the stairs shaking her head in amazement, deep in thought. That wasn't much of a password, but how do I tell him he should use something other than his father's name without him suspecting I've been snooping around in his computer? And that crap! It's interesting to say the least, but it's hardly anything to be upset about. It's quite fanciful and generally silly in a sad sort of way. Especially that tripe from 'Janice Dreamer.' But that 'Chilli TNG,' she shivered involuntarily, now there's a disturbed soul if ever I saw one. Why that story about that police officer…what was its name? Oh yes, 'Everything Old is New Again.' That person needs help in a bad way!

Thank the gods I took those personal computing courses from Wendy over at the Adult Education Centre. But what could have caused Ernie to break down like that? Surely it can't be just the erotic reading and no sleep. There has to be another reason. She looked in on her son. He's still sleeping. Good. He needs the rest. Besides, I have some planning to do. She spent the next few hours on the phone in her office.

*****

While his mother was making telephone calls in her home office, Ernie was lying quietly on the sofa, drifting in and out of sleep. Okay, I got off to the image of my mother. Gods! How perverse am I? It's not bad enough to have waking dreams about…. No, I will not go there! Now I have to have visions of my mother, Miss October! He groaned aloud, the sound of his voice startled him in the quiet house. He closed his eyes. The vision of his mother walking out of the room ran through his mind yet again. He wished he could stop thinking about her; it was damned unnerving…and that was the only good thing he could say about it. Gods, I am sooo tired, he thought and, within moments, dozed off to fitful slumbers. Erotic dreams of him doing THAT with his mother flooded his addled mind.

The taste of her lips was delicious, the sensation of the lipstick… Ernie awoke with a start. His mother, sitting in the recliner across from him, was reading a book. She looked over at him, his sudden movement demanding her attention.

"Good afternoon, sleepyhead," she said in her best 'mummy' voice.

"Afternoon? What time is it?"

"Oh…half-twelve," she said looking at her watch, "how are you feeling?"

"Fine, a little strung out, but I'm okay," he replied sitting up.

"I was a little worried about you for a while there. Do you feel up to talking about it?"

"I don't know," he said. "Things seem kinda mixed up right now."

"Then maybe now is the best time to deal with them," Janice said.

"Yeah, I mean…yes…. I guess so."

His mother smiled warmly, "You did hear me."

"I did more than hear you, Mum. What was that all about anyway?"

"I wanted to show you that not only do some women look sexy, but they like to look sexy. That the sexier they look, the sexier…and better they feel about themselves."

"Well, you looked sexy all right. I'm not sure I'm ready to have my Mum posing as Miss October though."

"Is that what this morning was all about?"

"Sorta," he replied.

"Are you ready to talk about the rest of it?"

"I don't know, Mum," he said. "Right now I'm having a pretty hard time just thinking about you the way you were looking this morning. What's worse, I'm really feeling guilty about what happened in the shower afterward." And let's not even think about my dreams! Don't go there!

Jan raised an eyebrow at his revelation. He seemed calm and rational at last, not at all like the emotional wreck he was earlier that morning. She let her mind run through the possibilities. Could it have been the lack of sleep? Still…it is kind of a turn-on to think that Ernie found me that sexy and attractive.

Ernie got up and walked over to the window by the hearth. He pulled the curtains a bit to one side and peered out at the yard. It was unseasonably cool for that early in September. According to the indoor/outdoor thermometer that was part of the small weather station hanging by the window, it was 55 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

"I think I'm going to go for a ride," he said. "I need to get some air."

"I think we should talk, Honey," his mother said.

"What about?" he asked defensively.

"About this morning and what you've been reading on the net. That's what about," Janice said. "I think we should talk about how you reacted to me. I believe we need to know why the material you've been reading has you talking to yourself as well."

Ernie blushed deeply. "I don't see wu-wu-wu…why," he stammered.

"That stutter is why," Jan replied. "I don't think it's 'nothing to worry about' when I see you reduced to stuttering. Why, it's as bad as, if not worse than it was, before you finally finished seeing all those speech specialists," she continued firmly. "Now have a seat and let's talk."

"Ohhh Kaaay…" Ernie replied and reluctantly returned to the sofa.

"So tell me, what's so intriguing about transvestites and transsexuals?" Janice began.

"Well…. I mean…. It's like…." No matter how hard he tried, Ernie could not find the words to tell his mother what the stories made him feel inside. His face got redder with each agonizing second.

"Erotic?" his mother asked.

"Well…yeah. I mean, the stories are really sexy and the way they describe the clothes sounds…I don't know…erotic I guess," Ernie started. "It's like, I mean, they make it sound so…."

"Enjoyable?" Janice inserted.

"Uh…well…. Yeah. They make it sound like something you would, like, want to do. But I know you have to be, like, sick or somethin' to feel that way, so…I mean, like…what's the deal? Y'know?"

"The deal, Honey, is that it's sexually stimulating. That's what I was trying to tell you earlier. Both men and women like to dress up in sexy clothes. Some go for the traditional, very much like what we normally see in society today, women go for things like you might see of Julia Roberts in the film Pretty Woman, others try for the handsome man, very much like Richard Gere in American Gigolo, that sort of thing. Others try crossing gender lines. For some men it's relaxing more than it is stimulating. For others, well, let's just say it helps them in bed," Janice said. "Does that bother you?"

"Well…. No, I…I guess not, but…" Ernie blushed as his voice trailed off.

"Do you want to try it Honey? If so, I have some friends…."

"NO!" Ernie all but shouted, interrupting his mother. "I mean, no, I don't want to dress like a girl. I'm not psychologically disturbed like they are!"

"ERNIE!" Janice shouted, "Those people are NOT psychologically disturbed, as you put it, they're just different. Are you psychologically disturbed because you want to look your best when you go out to dinner in a suit?"

"No! But that's different!" Ernie countered.

"No, it's not," his mother said. "It's the same thing. They just choose to wear a different style of clothing. It just so happens that I sometimes feel the same sexual stimulation from my clothing they feel from theirs. They can be, and are, as sensual for me to wear as they are for you to look at!" she finished.

"But they're guys! They shouldn't want to wear girls' clothes! I mean, it's sick!" Ernie said.

"No, Honey, society is sick," Jan insisted. "Would you say your father was sick?"

"Dad? NO!" Ernie was becoming more confused and defensive by the moment.

"Well he sometimes enjoyed wearing my things," she said.

"I don't believe it," Ernie said flatly, his face red and twisted with confusion and denial. He stood and looked at his mother. "Dad?" he asked meekly.

"Dad," she echoed.

"But…" he began.

"He was so macho?" she finished. "Yes he was, but he was also gentle and feminine. He just needed a way to express it. So, every once in a while he wore some of my clothes," she said quietly. "He even had his own. It was a real turn-on…for both of us."

Ernie's head was beginning to swim. It was too much and much too fast for him to get his mind around it. First his thoughts while surfing the web, then his mother looking like a centrefold, then his dreams and now that!

"I need some time to think," he said weakly, "I'm gonna go for a ride."

"Okay, Honey, just be careful. You know what those nuts are like on the roads these days," she cautioned.

"I will, Ma." He walked to the hall closet and took out his jeans jacket. Swinging it over his shoulder, he went out the front door."

"I hope he's okay," Jan said aloud. She went back to her book, but it didn't seem to make much sense any more.

Ernie walked to the kerb, got into his Cutlass, and drove off. His mind was a million miles away.

*****

When the third car in as many minutes blared its horn at him, Ernie decided that driving probably wasn't such a good idea. So, he pulled into the car park at the local mall. He really didn't feel like shopping. Besides, the mall didn't have the sort of shops he'd have preferred to visit. If they had electronics, they had the base consumer goods that were all but useless in their one-use only design. It was a school day so there weren't any girls to watch. Even the local burger joint, The Pit, was out of the question. The food might have been good, but he never got along with the crowd that hung there. They weren't there then, but they soon would be. It was getting a bit too cool to walk through the park and he already saw all the movies worth seeing that were playing at the multiplex with his "girlfriend" Samantha. Besides, he was already there. So, it was into the mall car park that he steered his car.

"At least it'll be quiet for a while," he reasoned. Ernie thought about Samantha for a second, Sure she's pretty, but she doesn't hold a candle to… Awww…christ! What am I thinking?! Might as well window shop, he thought in resignation. After all, how many t-shirts and jeans does a guy need?

Ernie walked about the mall aimlessly, trying desperately to get his mind off the events of the day. He tried the arcade, but couldn't concentrate well enough to play any of the games. He tried playing his favourite, one he actually had the mall's top score on and barely got out of the first level before being killed! He decided to try the book store. Sure! he thought. Maybe the new W. E. B. Griffin novel is out. It's due to hit the stores any day now. It hadn't and wasn't.

He was walking with his head down, staring at the floor tiles instead of where he was going. They make an interesting pattern when you walk over them, almost like….

BLAM!

There was an explosion of pain, along with a loud shattering noise, as lights flashed in his head! He looked up and realised he managed to walk right into the window of a lingerie store and slammed his head against the glass display. He looked up in confusion, bracing himself against the glass he just walked into. The sign on the window read:


The Under-World

Fine Lingerie & Adult Gifts


Then he looked to his right. In smaller print, done in gold leaf, beside the door, was:


Private Fashion Consultations & Makeovers

By Appointment Only


Normally, Ernie shied away from places like that. That day however, he just continued to stand there, hands on the glass with his face almost pressed against it and stared at the mannequins bedecked in their elegant fripperies. He almost looked like a child staring into a bakery or candy shop window drooling over the sweets and pastries on display. He pictured his mother in the same outfits and….

An elegantly dressed woman came up beside him and remarked in a slight English accent, "It's quite beautiful, isn't it?" nodding her head in the direction of the mannequin that was dressed in a red lace teddy. It was the same one Ernie was staring at. Ernie just nodded. "Would you like to come in and try it on?" she continued softly.

Ernie's jaw dropped and his eyes bugged out of his head and he turned purple with embarrassment and humiliation at the comment. He began to shake his head violently from side to side, as he stood erect, literally pushing himself away from the display window. He was completely speechless. Raw panic started to build. The only sound he could make was a strangled squawk. He started to back away as quickly as he could.

Back pedalling furiously, he stared at the woman in horror. He wasn't looking where he was going and fell backward over a bench. There was a sudden empty feeling in the pit of his stomach as he dropped. He felt the bench seat graze his hips and thighs as he passed over it. Then…all of a sudden…there was a sharp crack that shook him to his core. A bright flash of light seemed to come from inside his head, blinding him. "Wha…!" he exclaimed, but he never got the chance to finish it. Something tasted funny and everything faded to black.

*****

Part-3

Friday Afternoon September 4th

Aaah… Thud…thud…thud…thud… Oh…my head, he thought. What is that pounding? Dear gods above. It hurts. Oh gods, everything hurts, what happened? His mind cried out in agony. Ernie tried to open his eyes. It was as if there was something over them, keeping his eyelids pressed tight. The panic started again…in spades.

He tried to get up, but hands held him in place, literally pressing him into the cold hard floor. What's happening to me! His mind reeled in confused panic. There were noises, but nothing made sense. Everything seemed to echo in to his brain, seemingly coming from a million miles away. It all had a surreal quality to it, like something out of a bad "B-movie." Every move he made caused excruciating agony.

He had to get free! He just had to! He struggled. Gak! What's that awful smell? He gagged.

"She's coming 'round! Hold her down! Hold her down!"

"Easy, Miss, you've had a nasty fall," the disembodied voice echoed.

"Oh my head," Ernie moaned, his voice strained and barely above a whisper. His eyelids were beginning to flutter. "What's going on? Who are you?" he asked groggily. "Why am I on the floor?"

As his vision started to clear he could see all the people around him. The panic, which had been easing began build again, that time with a vengeance. The crowd of people, E.M.S. and policemen…they were all staring at him!

"Easy there, Miss, you took a nasty fall," the paramedic said. "You probably have a concussion."

"Oh gawd, I think I'm gonna be si…" Ernie lost his lunch. He heaved up nothing but bile and coffee. There wasn't anything else in his stomach to lose.

The Paramedic was at the ready with emesis basin in hand. He helped clean Ernie up when the heaving stopped.

"Miss, can you tell me your name?" he asked.

"My name?" Ernie replied blankly, his voice still a hoarse whisper.

"Yes, Miss, your name. Can you tell me your name?"

From somewhere out of view, a loud, strident, distinctly blue-blooded British voice could be heard. "Her name is Tina, Tina Wilson."

"Do you know her, Ma'am?" asked the paramedic?

"I should say I do!" she replied pompously. "She's one of my employees! It was I who called you. I saw her take that horrid fall. When I couldn't rouse her, I called you. I must say, you got here rawther quickly; good show. Her mother should be arriving presently. If you have any further questions, I suggest you hold them until she has arrived. Now then, can we move her to some-place more…dignified? Shall we say, for instance, my shoppe?"

The way she spoke you just knew she said the word "shoppe" and not "shop."

The paramedic just sat there with his jaw hanging open. Never had he met someone like this mystery woman, the imperious Jennifer Winchester. He finally found his voice. "Ma'am, I really don't think we should be trying to move her just yet. And when we do, I suggest it be only from the floor to the stretcher and then transport her directly to the hospital."

"Reeeaaalllllly!?!" she said in such a way as to make it an insult and one of the longest words in the English language. "I suggest that you do as I say. You would let a young lady lie about the floor like a sack of potatoes? How undignified! I insist you take her directly into my shoppe this instant! We shall await her mother there. You there! Officer! I must insist you disperse this crowd immediately! That's right, you, Sir! Get on with it! Traffic control is part of your job, is it not?! Disburse this unwanted foot traffic! Now then, haven't you been listening to a word I've said? Help the young lady into my shoppe!"

Without thinking, the paramedics began to do just that. Some would argue that better sense, or common sense would prevail and that along with their training the paramedics would stick to prescribed procedures. However, none of those people have ever come up against the indomitable spirit of the Battleaxe known as Missus Jennifer Winchester. With exaggerated care, they placed Ernie on the litter and trundled him into The Under-World. They followed the woman into the shop, through the sales floor, then toward the back of the upscale establishment where the woman insisted that Ernie be installed upon the overstuffed violet sofa in the salon.

"You there!" she said, pointing to the second of the paramedics, "I hardly think you both need to be dwadling about my shoppe! And take that…that…contraption with you!" she exclaimed, indicating the stretcher.

"And you," she said, turning to the first paramedic, "I suggest you have a seat in the chair next to her and wait…quietly. Her mother shall be here shortly and I hardly think we need to bother poor Tina further with your incessant prattling."

"Marjorie!" she called out in a manner that only the bluest-blooded of the Brits seem able to manage. A beautiful, buxom brunette appeared, seemingly out of nowhere. "Yes, Madame?"

"Tina's mother shall be arriving presently, see to it that she is shown directly to me. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Madame."

"Very good then, off with you."

"Yes, Madame."

The paramedic again tried to argue that they should be taking Ernie to the hospital. He was losing badly. The woman was incredible. Never had he run into so forceful and domineering a woman in his life. He was beginning to fear the lash of her tongue. It couldn't have been more than a few minutes later when Marjorie reappeared with a very worried Janice in tow. To the paramedic, it seemed like it had been hours.

"Madame? Missus Wilson has arrived."

"Thank you, Marjorie, that will be all. I'll call you if I've a need. Do try to keep the customers up front 'til we're through here."

"Yes, Madame."

"Now then, young man," she said, turning to the paramedic, "you may speak with Missus Wilson, in just a moment. 'til then, please wait here…. Quietly."

She turned back to Jan and spoke in a much gentler tone. "Janice, Dear, may I speak with you in my office…please?"

"Of course, Jennifer," Jan replied evenly. The two women filed into the office.

As soon as the door was closed, Jan started in on Jennifer, her voice barely above a whisper. "Jenny, what in the name of Pete is going on here?!" Jan hissed vehemently. "First I get a phone call from you saying Ernie's been hurt. When I get down here, I find your sales girl referring to my son as my daughter and saying she thinks SHE will be just fine! I come back here and you're playing the 'Battleaxe' like you've never played her before! My son is lying on your couch looking like death warmed over and there is a paramedic hovering about him as if he's royalty! The only time you pull the old 'Battleaxe' out is to buffalo some poor schmuck into doing your bidding. So I'll ask you again. What in blazes are you trying to pull?!?"

"Jan," Jenny said in a rush, the proper British accent a fond memory; "I'm only trying to save your son some embarrassment after the fall he took. With that and our little conversation this morning, well…. We'll discuss that later. As it is, the paramedics got here much faster than I expected. I called them just before I called you. They arrived just as I got off the phone with you. It seems, they think he's a she. You should have seen the crowd as they were trying to bring Ernie 'round. I told them his name was Tina. Now get out there and save your son's hide."

Jan relaxed visibly. She seemed to collapse in on herself. "Thanks, Jenny," Jan said contritely. "Would you send the paramedic in for me please? I don't think I can walk another step. I need to sit down."

"But of course, Dear, use my desk. I'll go out and send him in," Jenny said.

Jennifer, again full of starch, opened the door to the office, and stalked out into her salon. Her spine, almost painfully straight and erect, she turned to the paramedic and said, "You there! Yes, you! You may go in now."

The paramedic jumped to his feet as if called to attention by a U.S. Marine D. I. and went through the door to the office. Jenny closed the door behind him and rushed over to Ernie.

"Ernie!" she hissed quietly. "Honey, are you all right? I'm really sorry for all this. I just thought it would be better for everybody this way."

Ernie, finally coming to his senses, recognised the prim and very properly dressed woman kneeling beside him as the one who wanted him in to try on the lingerie. He paled, his eyes grew wide in horror, and…Ernie passed out!

Flabbergasted, Jenny stood and rushed to the stock room door. "Samantha!" she called.

A brunette head popped out from behind a row of shelves, "Yes'm?"

"Samantha, get a glass of water and bring it into the salon!" Samantha, a dumbfounded look on her face, stared at her employer with wide, questioning eyes. "Now girl!" Jenny said sharply, "I haven't got all day!"

"Yes'm!"

Samantha came rushing out of the stock room, a clear plastic tumbler of liquid in her hand and stopped short before her employer. An inch or so shorter than Jennifer's five feet nine inches, Samantha had an almost square face. Her wide set, almost violet eyes blazed with an intensity that was both captivating and disquieting. Sam's chestnut brown hair, worn in a classic bob, gleamed in the artificial, fluorescent daylight of the salon. It framed her strongly featured face perfectly. Samantha wasn't what you would call delicate; she was too heavily boned for that. If it weren't for her lack of fat, you could almost say she was cherubic. Her vitality and love for life itself were almost tangible; she seemed to sparkle with energy. "Samantha, Ernie Wilson has passed out on the sofa. Please see if you can bring him 'round. For some reason, he took one look at me and passed out!"

Why does that not surprise me? Thought Sam in a bout of ironic humour. Then, the full impact of what her employer said hit Samantha with alarming force. "Ernie!?!" she exclaimed, a look of horror on her face. Without another sound she flew to the sofa, anxious to help her friend.

Jenny looked on in puzzled amazement. Samantha was always energetic, never seemed to move at less than at a full head of steam, yet that time she was moving at a positively blinding rate.

"Ernie! Ernie! Come on, Hon., wake up!" she pleaded. Samantha was kneeling beside Ernie, rubbing his wrists. She had no idea why, but they always did it in the movies so she figured it couldn't hurt. "Come on, Ernie, wake up!" she hissed.

His eyelids fluttered, and suddenly Ernie was looking up at his only friend in the world. "Samantha!" he breathed, a wan smile coming to his lips. "What are you doing here?" he mumbled.

"Me?!" she said incredulously. "I think the questions of the day are: 'What are you doing here?' and 'How does Missus Winchester even know who you are?' "

"Huh? Where am I?" he asked, more confused than ever.

"On the sofa in the salon where I work!"

"Where you work?" he asked weakly.

"Uh huh. What are you doing here?"

"Ungh…. No! You gotta help me get outta here!" The panic was starting to show again. He tried to sit up. "Oh my head. What happened?"

Samantha looked at him strangely. "You're asking me? Missus Winchester comes into the back room and tells me to come out and take care of you and you ask me what happened?"

Jenny approached the two of them. As she neared the sofa, Ernie saw her. His eyes widened in fear. "Ernie, I don't know what is going on with you," Jenny hissed, her voice barely above a whisper. "But unless you listen and listen good, I think you're going to be one very embarrassed young man. When you were out cold in the mall, the paramedics thought you were a girl. Rather than let you embarrass yourself in front of the crowd that was gathering out there, I took control of the situation and had them bring you in here. Now, unless you want to be embarrassed further, here is what I suggest you do…."

*****

Ernie was just sitting up…s - l - o - w - l - y… when his mother opened the office door and ushered the paramedic out. "I really don't think this is a good idea, Ma'am," the paramedic was saying, "we really should take her to the hospital to have her checked out by a doctor."

"I told you, Bob, I will take her to see our family physician directly. Thank you for your concern and have a good day," Jan said with finality.

The paramedic opened his mouth to speak, but seeing the expressions on the faces of Janice and Jennifer, thought better of it. He shook his head and walked slowly out of the salon muttering under his breath.

"Now then," Jennifer began; at the same time, loud protestations could be heard from the front of the store. She never got to finish her thought. "Tch! Oh bother!" she exclaimed and rushed to the front to see what the commotion was this time.

Janice looked at her pale, woozy son. "Are you all right, Honey?" she asked with concern.

Ernie just stared at her, his eyes as big as saucers, a pleading look in them. Samantha turned to her and spoke. "Missus Winchester said we should get 'her' changed now and take 'her' home."

The use of the feminine pronoun was not lost on Jan. She looked at her son and spoke. "I agree with Jennifer. Let's get you something to wear. You just sit there and don't say a word. We don't need a scene right now. I think there's been enough trouble as it is. We want to get you out of here as unobtrusively as possible."

Turning to the teen she said, "Samantha, could you please get an ice pack for Tina? Then, when you're done with that, could you please give me a hand?"

"Of course, Missus Wilson," Samantha said with a dazzling smile.

Then, turning to Ernie, she said, "I'll be right back, Honey, don't you move. It'll be okay, I promise. Just trust me, all right?" With that she rushed off in search of an ice pack. Ernie just sat there holding his throbbing head and stared at the two retreating women in disbelief.

*****

As Jan walked into the main part of the store, she could see Jennifer in a heated discussion with a mall security officer and a local police officer.

"Oh Janice, there you are!" Jennifer Winchester gushed. "Could you please tell these two," she paused and took a breath before continuing, "Gentlemen," the word was very nearly an epithet the way she said it, "that Tina is just fine and that she will be accompanying you home?" The 'Battleaxe' had returned.

"Of course, Jennifer," she said.

She turned to the officers and said, "Thank you for your concern, gentlemen, but my daughter will be just fine. She's resting now. As soon as I feel it appropriate, I will take her to my family physician and then home. There really is no reason for you to worry."

"But…" began the policeman.

"Thank you again, gentlemen, for your concern," Jan said with an edge to her voice that said, my patience is about at its end. "I hardly think a visit to the hospital is necessary at this time."

"Then she is your daughter, Ma'am?" the policeman asked.

"That is what I said, officer," Janice replied condescendingly.

"Then I'll need you to sign this report, please, Ma'am."

"Oh! Of course. Here…where do I sign?" The officer handed her his clip-box, a clipboard and box combination, and indicated where she should sign the form. Jan scanned the form, recognising it as an accident report form. She checked over the details and scrawled her signature where indicated. "Now, is there anything else?" she asked, looking at them both, again the hint of lost patience filling her voice. Seeing them shake their heads negatively, she bid them good day. And finally, they turned and left the store.

Looking at Jennifer, Jan spoke, "Lord above, Jen! What else?"

Jennifer motioned to the displays of clothing with a sweep of her arm. "Now then, where do we start?" she asked, with a sly smile slowly spreading across her face. Jennifer Winchester turned to Marjorie and said, "Missus Wilson will be assisted by Samantha and myself, Dear. Please try and run things by yourself for the time being." She turned to Janice and said, "I have just the thing for Tina. Come on back with me."

With that, the women turned and went back into the salon.

*****

Part-4

Friday Afternoon September 4th

It was like a nightmare. No, it was worse than a nightmare, it was like something right out of one of those crazy stories he'd been reading at Fiction Mania. Ernie couldn't believe what was happening to him. How could his life have become so insane and so totally out of control in the span of just a few hours? Was it really just a few hours ago that he was a normal eighteen-year-old boy? It seemed like it had been an eternity. Suddenly, there he was, in the overly plush salon of a fancy lingerie shoppe, complete with the fanciful spelling, holding an ice pack to his throbbing head, and everyone was treating him as if he were a girl!

First they'd plopped him down in a chair that reminded him of the chairs at the barbershop. Then, without warning, they pulled off his shoes, socks, jeans and t-shirt and put some sort of plasticised cape around him, fastening it at the neck. Except for his y-fronts and the drape, he was naked! Next they washed and conditioned his shoulder-length hair and trimmed his bangs. Bangs…he now had a fringe! Then they waxed his underarms, legs, and eyebrows. Gods how that had hurt! After they finished torturing him by yanking all his body hair out by the roots, they started to put makeup on him! The gentle touches to his face caused him more sexual discomfort than he wanted to admit.

Then, to top it all off, his mother handed him a matching set of the sexiest, black, women's underwear he ever set eyes on in his life, either in porn or in real life and pointed to a small door near the corner. Underwear? The scant handful of black satin and lace his mother handed him looked like it might cover about the same amount of territory a regular men's handkerchief would.

"Take the rest of your clothes off in there and put these on," Jan said. "If you have any trouble with them, let me know. I'll be right outside the door."

The rest? The rest constituted a pair of tightie whities! They left him nothing more! Ernie took the proffered garments and trudged dejectedly to the door his mother indicated. It turned out to be a fairly large changing room with a padded side chair as its only furniture. The room was big enough to hold several people comfortably while one or more of them changed. The mirrors on the back of the door and on all the walls were arranged so that, no matter which way he looked, he was able to see multiple images of himself from all sides.

He dropped the lingerie and ice pack on the floor. Pulling at the snaps of the cape, he ripped it off and threw it into a corner. Frustrated and near tears, Ernie sat on the chair and stared at the small pile of lingerie in confusion. What's happened to me? Why am I here? Why are they doing this to me? The questions kept running through his pounding head. He wanted to cry. Each time he felt the sobs try to start he'd think, Men don't cry. The frequency of its repetition was becoming more of a mantra than a reminder.

Ernie scooped up the lingerie and examined the items he was supposed to wear. The knickers were a black stretchy lace affair lined in black satin. They didn't even look like they would cover a third of his bottom…and what they would cover of his front was negligible. Had they not yanked out his hair, he doubted they'd have truly covered his pubic hair! Instead, he didn't even have a landing strip! He was completely denuded from his scalp on down. The matching bra and suspender belt were constructed in much the same fashion. He examined the hook and eye closures and experimented with them.

He finished stripping off and, sitting on the chair, slid the black diaphanous garment up his legs. Their cool, smooth, silky feel caused his manhood to twitch. "Please…not now," he groaned.

He stood and pulled the knickers the rest of the way up his legs and adjusted the waistband. Then, taking the suspender belt in hand, he put it around his waist and fastened it. He threaded his arms through the straps of the bra and began fumbling with the clasps. Frustrated, he pulled it off, and that time fastened it in front of himself, then spun it around. When it was in place, he pulled the straps up and over his arms.

"There," he said in frustration and some irritation, as he looked in the mirror. His eyes did not want to believe the image he saw. There was a soft knock at the door. He all but jumped out of his skin. The fright caused his head to pound. "W-w-wu…what?" he stammered.

"How are you doing, Sweetie?" his mother called softly.

"Ummm…okay I guess," he croaked.

"Open the door and let me see," she replied in that way all mothers have for their children when trying on clothes.

He opened the door a crack to peer out. His mother, seeing opportunity knock, grabbed the knob, threw the door open the rest of the way, strode into the room quickly and pulled the door closed behind her. As she turned to face him, Ernie noticed that she had several hangars of clothing in her hands. He began to tremble as she hung them on a hook beside one of the mirrors on the wall. He didn't want to see anything even remotely like them, yet no matter where he looked, there they were, thanks to those damnable mirrors.

Jan looked at her son and, with a smile, pointed at his crotch saying, "I think you should put that between your legs, Dear. You don't want to be showing any untoward bulges now, do you?"

Ernie blushed and turned his back to his mother. It was nothing more than an allusion to modesty in the mirrored room, but it got the point across. "Oh, don't worry," Jan said, struggling not to giggle, "I'll close my eyes. Just let me know when you're done."

Ernie did as he was told as quickly as he could. He was surprised at how his testes just…disappeared when he did.

Giggling, Janice said, "You have your suspender belt on backward, Honey. Here, let me." She reached out and spun the belt around, settling it into place about his hips. "Okay, now sit down," she said. Ernie sat in the chair and watched as his mother rolled a stocking up into a little doughnut-like shape. "Now, stick out your leg and point your toes." He complied without comment, looking on with detached fascination. His mother gently slid the black stocking up his leg. The sensation was deliciously electric. "Now the other one."

That done, Janice reached up and threaded the suspender tapes through his knickers, fastened the suspender tabs in the front and adjusted them. "Okay, Young Lady, stand up and turn around."

Young Lady…the phrase seemed to echo in Ernie's head. Every instinct said to run, but with his mother directing things and him in nothing but sexy lingerie, he merely whimpered, stood and turned. As his mother fastened the remaining suspender tabs to the stocking tops, he looked at his legs in the mirror. They seemed to shimmer as he moved to accommodate his mother's ministrations. He looked closer still. It seemed that there was only a hint of colour on those legs in the mirror and they appeared to be outlined in black. Their shape was incredible, very much like his mother's that morning. It was unbelievable that he was getting a chance to look at a pair of legs like that yet again, twice in one day. Yet, somehow, his mind refused to allow him to understand those legs belonged to him. He was in a daze, unable to pull his eyes away from the reflection of those legs. It was as if they belonged to somebody else entirely, to some goddess on the pages of one of the magazines under his bed.

His mother then took a hanger off the wall and removed a shiny black garment from it. Handing it to him, she said, "This is called a half-slip, or waist-slip." Ernie reached for the garment with trembling fingers. "Oh, come on!" chided his mother. "It won't bite you!"

Looking at it up close, Ernie noticed it looked just like a skirt. It was made out of a thin, shiny satiny material, with ruffled lace at the hem. He stepped into the garment and stood there, looking balefully at his mother. Jan adjusted the half-slip about his waist and handed him a pair of breast forms. "Put these in your bra," she said. Be careful, one goes on the left," she handed it to him, "and the other on the right." She handed that one to him as well. "They do have a top and bottom. The tapered edges go to the outside and top."

Docilely and even somewhat timorously, Ernie took them from her, examined them closely and did as instructed, fumbling the flesh coloured blobs into the brassiere cups. The breast forms were kind of cool to the touch and heavy, he noted. They pulled at the bra straps on his shoulders disconcertingly. Janice then gave him a black linen skirt. Without waiting for instructions, Ernie took the skirt and stepped into it. It was a bit of a struggle, but he eventually got the lace trimmed slip into the skirt and the skirt into place.

He had the zip in front and was about to pull it up when his mother said, "The zip goes in the back, Honey. Pretty much only jeans skirts have the zip in front. In time, you'll begin to recognise which waistbands have a side or back zip."

Those were not welcome words to Ernie. In time? It was almost as if his mother was relegating him to a life of femininity! Ernie spun the skirt around and awkwardly fumbled for the zip. Finding it, he gently tugged it home and locked it into place. Janice held out a matching double-breasted, long sleeved jacket without a collar. It barely came to the top of his hips. Ernie threaded his arms into the jacket and proceeded to try and button it. The buttons perplexed him, they seemed all wrong, not just backward, but in all the wrong places and in more numbers than he could account for as well.

His mother stopped him and buttoned a single button on the inside of the garment first and then, a single button on the front, even though there were three there. The jacket fit him like a second skin. Ernie stared at himself in the mirror. The jacket was loose enough to move around in, yet hugged and accentuated every curve. Curves? his mind screamed at him. Where and when did I get curves? He couldn't believe he actually had a waist! A sexy waist at that!

Janice did a final adjustment to the skirt, stood and opened the door. She was in the middle of the salon before she realised Ernie was still in the changing room, staring in wide-eyed horror at his reflection. "What are you waiting for, Tina? Come on out here. We haven't got all day you know," she said with a smile.

Slowly, Ernie started to walk out of the changing room in his stockinged feet. As soon as he was out in the middle of the salon, Jennifer handed him a pair of black, pointed toe, patent leather court shoes or pumps with a three-inch stiletto heel. They looked absolutely lethal. "Here you are, Dear," she said with a smile that rivalled the fiercest of barracudas, "put these on."

Ernie took the shoes and just stood there staring at them.

"Well? What seems to be the problem?" Jennifer asked.

Ernie, a pained expression on his face, stared at the shoes. His mouth worked, but no sound issued forth.

"I think she's trying to tell us she can't walk in heels," giggled Samantha.

"Come on over here, Honey," Sam said, patting the 'barber chair.' "Sit down and try on those shoes." Ernie walked over to the chair slowly, almost as if he was walking to his doom. He was all too aware of the strange and wonderful sensations the clothes were causing. Wonderful…it was a frightening thought. Why should they feel so…yummy? Yet they did. It didn't bear thinking about.

When he sat down, he did so slowly, almost like he was moving through air made of Jell-O. Samantha took the shoes from him and put them on his feet. "Okay, now stand up. Lean on me for support if you have to, okay?"

Ernie nodded numbly. As he stood up, he felt his entire centre of gravity shift. The three-inch heels on the shoes pushed him forward. It was almost like he was walking downhill. If it weren't for Samantha, he'd have fallen on his face.

"Oh come on, Tina!" Samantha chided. "They're only three-inch heels."

Only?! As soon as Ernie regained his balance, Samantha tugged his arm and proceeded to lead him about the room. Soon, he had the feel of the heels and was able to hobble about on his own. How the hell do women walk in these things? he mused.

"Okay, enough practice for now; back in the chair," Samantha said with a smile. Ernie did as he was told. Then Samantha, of all people, brushed out Ernie's shaggy mop of hair. Using a curling iron and hairspray, she managed to make it into a cute lob, or long bob with an under-flip or curl at the ends.

To make matters worse, Ernie was becoming so excited he was afraid to move for fear he would pop out of the knickers that were holding his member between his legs. Oh gods above, help me, Ernie pleaded silently.

"She's adorable, Jenny!" Janice exclaimed, unable to hide the amusement in her voice.

"Tina, you are gorgeous!" gushed Samantha. "I just love that shade of lipstick on you!" she finished with a giggle.

Ernie wished he could just shrivel up and die on the spot and blow away with the gentle breeze of the air-conditioning. He turned beet red. "Samantha, please! Mum, is this really necessary? I mean…do I really have to wear this stuff home? I can't go outside like this! What if someone notices?"

"Tina!" his mother chided. "That'll be enough of that! Of course someone will notice! You're a lovely young lady. All the boys will notice. With those legs and that face, they'll be dying for you to notice them! Just look at yourself!" she said as she stifled a giggle.

Ernie turned and looked in the mirror. He still couldn't believe it. Staring back at him was a tall, beautiful girl, one he wished with all his heart he could meet, with eyes he could lose himself in.

"Now then," Jan chided, "try walking across the room again. That's it! Don't look at your feet! Head up!"

And so it went. For the next half-hour, Ernie drilled. Walk and sit, walk and sit. He thought he died and went to hell. The shoes hurt his toes, but the stockings and knickers were driving him crazy.

"Jan, she's perfect," Jenny said almost giddily. "She should have been born a girl."

Samantha just stared. Her eyes were as big as saucers. A slow smile crept across her face. If I could just… It would never work. Or could it? Her mind whirled with the thought, as her smile broadened. For the first time in her life, she actually felt like she wanted to be with someone and that someone was the lovely young girl before her.

"Come along, Tina, let's go," his mother said. "We have to get you home. Samantha, did you drive today?" Janice asked.

"No, Missus Wilson, I walked today. Usually, I ride my bicycle. I don't have a car."

"Do you have a driving license?"

"Yes'm."

"Would you mind driving Tina's car home for her? I would be so grateful."

"Sure, Missus Wilson, glad to help," she said.

Ernie opened his mouth to protest. Next to 'The Monster,' his car, a lipstick red, 1991 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme Coupé, was the only other thing in the world he even cared about. It was his pride and joy. Where his room might have been a disaster area, he kept his car spotlessly pristine.

Before he could utter a sound, his mother said, "Honey, I can't let you drive home, not after taking that bump on the head. Tell her where you parked it." The look on her face said, "Don't you dare argue with me."

Haltingly, Ernie explained where he parked his car to his friend.

"Don't worry, Honey," Samantha said comfortingly, "I'll be careful, I promise." Then, standing on her toes, she gave him a peck on the cheek. Ernie blushed yet again. It was the first time Samantha had ever kissed him…and it felt lovely.

Jennifer turned to Ernie and held out a small shoulder bag. It was a little black satin covered box-like thing on a long thin satin ribbon that formed a shoulder strap. "Here you go, Tina," she said. "I put your things in here." Ernie reached out and took the bag by the ribbon shoulder strap. Holding it gingerly between his thumb and forefinger, well away from his body with his arm fully extended, he looked balefully at his mother.

"Don't just stand there gawking, Dear," his mother said with a grin. "Put it over your shoulder and let's get going. Jenny, you'll take care of those other things for me, won't you?"

"Of course, Jan. I'll send Samantha by with them and Tina's other things when she gets off work. I'll see you later, Dear. Oh! And do keep a close eye on Tina, she really did take a nasty fall."

"I will, Jen. Thanks again."

Janice turned and took Tina by the arm and whispered in her ear. "It's all in your attitude, Honey. Stand tall and look proud of yourself. You don't want people to think there's something odd about the lovely young girl walking with her mother, do you? And whatever you do, Don't Say a Word!"

Ernie froze in the doorway of the shop. He looked like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car.

"Just put one foot in front of the other, Honey," Jan cooed, whispering in his ear, as she nudged him forward. "You'll do just fine." With that, the two of them walked out of the shoppe, complete with all the fanciful implications the word conveyed and onto the now bustling mall.

Ernie's heels seemed to echo throughout the concourse, calling attention to him with every step he took. That his mother's shoes were simple soft, crepe soled shoes, didn't help. It was his steps he heard and no-one else's. He kept waiting for what he thought was the inevitable cry, "LOOK AT THE QUEER IN A DRESS!" He was terrified.

Ernie's mind was going a mile a minute as he walked alongside his mother. Gods, I feel naked in this get up! Hell, I'm not even wearing a shirt! Everyone seemed to be staring at him. He just stared straight ahead as he walked, holding on to his mother's elbow in white knuckled terror. By the time they reached the car, he was a nervous wreck.

"There, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Jan asked, as she massaged her bruised elbow. Ernie just shook his head. His hair seemed to fluff and wave about with each movement of his head. It was a strangely erotic and very disconcerting sensation.

*****

Part-5

Friday Afternoon September 4th

Ernie didn't say a word the whole ride home. The whole time, he concentrated on breathing, as his heart hammered in his chest and his head throbbed. When they got to the house, his mother pressed the garage door opener on the visor and pulled the ageing yet beautifully restored estate wagon into the garage by the kitchen instead of parking in front of the door as she usually did. Once she shut the car engine off, she closed the door behind them. Ernie's relief was visible in his face.

"Relax, Honey, it's okay, we're home now. How does your head feel?"

"Fine," he mumbled, lying about the dull throbbing ache he felt.

"Good," his mother said as she opened her door.

"Why don't you go in and watch some TV. while I make us something to eat?" It was more of a command than a question. Ernie thought it interesting how the things she said that were questions were orders and the things that sounded like orders mere suggestions, as well as how and why they were, yet it only ever seemed to be girls and women who spoke in such odd and confusing ways.

"I'd rather get changed," Ernie said meekly.

"Please don't, just stay that way for now. Please? For me?" his mother asked.

"Bu…" he started to complain, but seeing the pleading look on his mother's face, he collapsed in on himself and said in a sigh, "Okay," got out of the car and went into the house via the inside door, not daring to go outside.

The first place I go is the bathroom, he thought. His hard-on rubbing between his thighs was driving him crazy. Ernie started up the back stairs to his bedroom. His mind was in turmoil over what he was feeling. I'm a man, for fuck's sake! What's wrong with me? I shouldn't be excited over this. I should be tearing these things off and shredding them, refusing to ever wear anything like them again! So why is it I feel so good? And why have I got such a diamond cutter?"

His mind may have been in turmoil, but his state of arousal prevented him from dwelling on it. He was so far gone that it took him almost no time at all to finish what his sexy clothes had started, all as he gazed at his reflection in the mirrors. He was busy washing his hands when he heard his mother's voice calling up to him. "Honey!"

"Yeah, Ma, what is it?"

"I don't think you should try coming down the front stairs in those shoes just yet. Come back down the back stairs. At least you'll have something to hold on to with both hands while you get used to your new shoes," she said.

"Okay," he croaked, his face turning red for what seemed the millionth time that day. Shit! What is wrong with me? "Not only do I look like a girl, I'm acting like one!" he said to the pretty face in the mirror.

He just stared at the face reflected there. His eyebrows, though never full or bushy, had been cleaned up and accentuated with an eye pencil. They somehow made his eyes appear larger and wider apart. The bluish grey shadow applied to the crease and outer edges of his eyes only made them appear deeper. Their normally washed out hazel colour had somehow been changed to a beautiful golden brown. "It must be the eye shadow," he mumbled.

His lashes, normally long and full, seemed to reach deep into the mirror. His lips, a deep, luscious red, were somehow fuller and looked softer, making him wonder what it would be like to be kissed by lips like them. He felt himself stirring yet again. This isn't happening, he thought. It can't be happening! "I'm a man!" he said to himself unconvincingly.

As he turned away from the girl in the mirror, he felt his Nylon-clad legs rubbing against each other. It only made him more aware of what was happening between his legs. He groaned and strode determinedly down the hallway to the back stairs, the shoes forcing him to take dainty little steps, all while tormenting Little Ernie all the more. It's a wonder women get anywhere at all in these things, he thought perched precariously atop the three-inch heels. When he got to the top of the stairs, the staircase seemed longer and steeper somehow. With death grips on both railings, he made his way down slowly and carefully to the kitchen.

"I just can't believe how beautiful you are!" his mother gushed as he stepped into the room.

"Please! Don't remind me," he moaned. "And how do you walk in these things, anyway?"

Chuckling deep in her throat, Janice said, "I seem to recall a certain beautiful young lady making it through the mall and to the car with no difficulty at all." The bright crimson of Ernie's face made his embarrassment over his accomplishment known. "Oh, don't feel bad, Honey, all girls do it once in a while; even Samantha did it once," she said, referring to the time Ernie had taken her to the prom. She picked up the tray of finger food she prepared while he was upstairs.

He opened his mouth to tell her he wasn't a girl, but his mother rolled over anything he might have said, saying, "Why don't you get us something to drink, then come and sit down?"

Ernie got the milk out of the fridge, picked up the glasses on the counter and carefully made his way to the table. Hs heels, clicking daintily on the hard wood, seemed to echo in his ears, calling attention to how he was dressed, as well as making him feel even more strangely than he already did. In a strange sort of way, it was as comforting as it was disconcerting. He set the glasses on the table and poured the milk.

His mother continued, "You really are a natural at this you know. Most girls have trouble in heels the first time they wear them. It usually takes them days to adjust to them. You walked through the mall like you've been wearing them for years." The pride in her voice was painfully apparent to Ernie's ears. She looked intently at her "new daughter" as "she" sat at the table.

"Don't just plop down, Honey," she chided with a smile. "Stand back up and smooth your skirt under you as you sit. When you sit, do so slowly. Lower yourself into your seat, don't plop down. You are a young lady. Kindly act like it."

Ernie let out a long suffering sigh as he stood back up. Keeping his knees pressed firmly together, he smoothed his skirt beneath him as he sat daintily, perching on the edge of the chair's seat. He couldn't believe the sensations it caused to move daintily and properly.

"You are just so beautiful! I can't get over it!" Jan gushed.

"Mu-um!"

"Oh shush! With the way you were acting this morning, I thought you might want to try wearing something feminine, so I made some calls to my friends and asked them to help me out. Besides, it would be an ideal way for you to experience gender roles in today's society first hand, not just read about them. It might just give you some insights for that paper you're writing. I just can't get over how lovely my daughter is, that's all."

"The way I was acting? Mum! I was puzzled, not… not…" he trailed off.

"Well, now you're going to know what it's like to be a girl first hand," she said with finality.

Ernie's jaw hung wide as he dropped the piece of cheese he was holding. His face went pale at his mother's latest revelation in what was obviously turning out to be a very bad day indeed. Just what did she mean by that…and how could he possibly experience being a girl just by dressing up unless she meant…?

"Now then," his mother continued, "Samantha will be by later with your things. She'll be bringing some other things for you as well. I expect you to be the perfect lady when she arrives. Do you understand?"

Again, the orders finely crafted and veiled in soft speech, Ernie realised and just nodded his head in numb amazement. The way his mother said that told him he'd best watch his step very closely. Worse, they were insinuating he was going to be spending a great deal more time in skirts. How can things get so confused and out of control in so short a period of time? "But all I wanted to know was what the big deal was about girls' clothes," he whined. "I didn't want to wear them!"

"Well, you're going to learn all about that now, aren't you?" his mother replied with a smile.

Her words hit Ernie like a bomb. Going to be? That implied his living in skirts! Even if all he did was wear them when he was home from school, it didn't bear thinking about!

"Now then, finish your snack. We have a lot to do and there isn't much time to do it all in. Don't take such big bites, Tina! It isn't ladylike. Besides, it's not polite for a young man to be chewing away like a chipmunk with its cheeks full either! Now pay attention, you have a lot to learn, I can see that."

His mother was never a 'June Cleaver' wannabe, but this was more than Ernie ever experienced before. Sure, Mum was always big on manners, he thought, but she never got carried away with them. This is ridiculous!

He paid close attention to her as they ate. He didn't know why, but he did. It was as if he had no will to resist at all. The more arguments he came up with, the less he was able to voice them. When they were through eating, Ernie cleared the table and placed the dirty dishes in the dishwasher. All the while, a constant stream of instruction on ladylike deportment streamed from his mother's mouth.

"Don't bend at the waist, Dear, you'll give everyone a look at your delightful dainties. Bend at the knee and keep your back straight. That's it, Dear, very good. Don't take such big steps. Keep your head up! Be proud of your height and who you are! Don't just grab something, reach for it and grasp it slowly and carefully. Pretend you're a hand model and cameras are filming your every move."

On and on it went. No matter what it was, his mother had some comment on it and Ernie felt like he could do nothing right. His every movement seemed to bring a comment on how he should be more graceful and ladylike. When the kitchen was finally cleaned to Janice's satisfaction -- no mean feat, mind you -- Jan turned to her son and said, "Okay, now that that's done, we need to go freshen up for our guest. Come along, upstairs with you. We have to fix our makeup and hair."

And so it went. Ernie didn't have time to think, much less act, it was all he could do to just react. He followed his mother up the back stairs and into her dressing room. After installing him in the chair before the vanity, she proceeded to instruct him in the finer points of touching up his makeup and fixing his cute new hairdo that even he had to admit was darling…if he were a girl.

*****

Just as he was putting the finishing touches to his hair, the doorbell rang. "That will be Samantha," Jan said absently. "Be a dear and get it please. I need to freshen up." Ernie, on autopilot, stood and started for the door before coming to a screeching halt. His face paled visibly beneath the subtle makeup. His jaw worked but no sound came forth.

"Oh relax, Honey, it's only Samantha. She's already seen you like this. Just get the door, it'll be fine. If you're worried, use the peep." Nervously, Ernie started for the door again. The staircase in front, much wider than the one in back, offered only a single handhold. What was more, it curved and with the curve, had that many more steps to it, even if they weren't quite as tall as those at the back. Slowly and with exaggerated care, Ernie made his way down, walking a bit sideways, to afford his feet a better purchase on the carpeted treads.

Just as he approached the door, the bell rang again, causing him to jump. With trepidation, he peered through the peephole. As his mother predicted, it was Samantha. Before opening the portal slowly and timorously, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly.

*****

Samantha, attired in her usual blue jeans, sweatshirt or jersey top and jeans jacket, her arms full of packages, had struggled to ring the bell. She was muttering under her breath. "What's so difficult about answering a damned door? Come on people! I'm gonna drop everything all over the ground!"

When the door finally opened, she just gaped as her mind raced. My gods! She really is beautiful!

Seeing his only friend in the world at the door and loaded down with packages, all thoughts on how he was dressed and made up flew from his mind. Ernie surged forward to help. In the process of trying to relieve her of her ungainly burden, he managed to knock more than half the boxes and bags to the ground. Seeing the parcels fall, Ernie quickly stooped to pick them up. His mother had drilled him well. Knees and feet together, one foot slightly behind the other, the toes just at the instep, one knee slightly lower than the other, body turned slightly to one side, he was every inch a beautiful young lady, busily picking up the dropped items.

Stunned at her "girlfriend's" appearance and amused at her reaction, Samantha laughed. "You really can't wait for these things, can you?" she quipped through her mirth.

When Samantha laughed, Ernie froze. He just stared up at her, his face a study in shame. Springing to his feet, he dropped what he'd just gathered and bolted up the stairs, tears streaming down his face.

Hearing the pounding on the stairs, Janice went to the hall to see what was going on. She was just in time to see her child, a mere streak of black, disappear into his room and slam the door behind him. Speechless, she looked down the stairs to find Samantha staring up at her, a wounded look of puzzlement on her face.

"What happened?" Janice asked no-one in particular.

"I don't really know," came the puzzled reply. "She opened the door and when she tried to help me with these things," she motioned to the boxes and bags strewn about the foyer, "she accidentally knocked them out of my hands. When I teased her about it, she just ran away!"

"Why don't you pick them up and put them on the sofa in the parlour, Sweetie," Janice said. "I'll be right down."

"Okay, Missus Wilson," Samantha replied, worriedly shaking her head.

Janice went to her son's room, as Samantha stooped to gather up the scattered shopping. Jan listened at the door for a moment, one hand poised to knock the other resting on the doorknob. She heard the muffled sound of sobbing coming from inside the room. Jan just opened the door and went inside, closing the portal behind her silently. Stepping carefully over and around the mess, she made her way across the room and sat softly, even gingerly on the edge of the bed, all that was available to her thanks to the mess, beside the figure of her feminised son. He'd thrown himself on the bed and buried his face in his pillows. He looked just like any teenaged girl would, the way he cried into his pillow. That is, he would have if you could see any of the bed.

Janice spoke softly to her son as she caressed the back of his head and what little of his cheek she could see above the pillow. He tensed at her touch. "Oh, my poor baby," she cooed. "Go ahead, get it all out."

"Oh, Mum, what's wrong with me?" Ernie wailed, a sob catching him as he finished.

"Nothing's wrong with you, Sweetie. You're acting like a perfectly normal young girl."

"But I'm not a girl!" he sobbed into his pillow, "I'm a man!"

"Oh, my poor baby, it's going to be all right," she cooed softly. I think I know what's wrong, she thought in a flash of clarity. Testing her hypothesis, she asked, "You like the way the clothes make you feel, don't you?" Ernie nodded his head into his pillow as he continued to cry, his sobbing increasing, not diminishing. "There's nothing wrong with liking to look pretty, Honey. It's perfectly normal for young girls to like to look pretty."

"But I'm not a girl!" Ernie cried again, the subsiding sobs renewing with a vengeance.

"We'll talk about that later, Sweetheart; it's normal, believe me. Right now, we have to make you presentable for your friend downstairs. Here, sit up," she cooed. "Come on."

Slowly, Ernie turned to face his mother; his eyes, red and swollen from the tears and mascara. They stung sharply as the makeup ran into them. Worse, he could even taste the mascara and eyeliner at the back of his throat. He blinked blearily up at her. The makeup, having run with his tears, was a wreck. Black streaks ran down his cheeks, smudged from his fists and the pillow. His eyes were ringed in black, his lipstick smeared hopelessly about his mouth. "Do you mean that?" he seemed to beg. "Really?"

"Yes, Honey, I do," she said softly, as she gathered her feminised son into her arms and hugged him tightly to her. "Come on now, let's get you cleaned up. You look like a little raccoon with your makeup all smeared like that," she giggled.

There was a soft knock at the door. "Ernie?" came Samantha's soft voice. "Ernie, please open the door, Honey. Ernie, I'm sorry I laughed at you. Ernie? Ernie, please?" She was starting to sound panicked.

"Come on in, Sweetie," Jan called softly, "it's okay."

Samantha opened the door and saw her friend's tear streaked face held closely to his mother's bosom.

"Oh, Honey, I'm so sorry," she said as she rushed across the room. In her effort to get close to him, she sandwiched Ernie between his mother and herself in a tight hug. Her tears dampened his hair as she cried softly. "I wasn't laughing at you, Honey, you just looked so cute, and…and…. Oh, Tina, please forgive me!"

Ernie started to stiffen at the feminisation of his name, but gave in to the warmth and love of the embrace of the two most important women in his life. "It's okay, Samantha," he almost sobbed. "I'm sorry I ran out like that. Will you help me get cleaned up?"

Surprised at the turn of events, Samantha sat back abruptly. Ernie tensed at the sudden movement.

"Do you mean it?!?" she exclaimed excitedly. "Really?"

Ernie, still held close by his mother, just nodded his head nervously.

"Oh, Tina!" Samantha exclaimed and crushed him between the two of them once again. "You're just gonna love what I picked out for you!" she babbled excitedly. "Come on then!" she said as she sat upright again, this time pulling on his arm. "We have a lot of work to do on that face of yours. You've ruined your makeup."

Ernie laughed weakly between the snuffles and said, "Okay, Samantha, but let me get up first, all right?"

"Oh…okay," Samantha replied, mocking the petulance of a small child and softly stamping her foot. They all broke up, laughing at the joke.

"I think we're gonna need one of those packages sooner than we thought," Sam said. Then she spun on her heel, bolted from the room and tore down the stairs.

Looking about her for the first time since she came into the room, Janice saw the clutter of all the computer parts and dirty laundry. "If you're going to be my daughter -- and it's rather apparent that you are given what I've spent today -- we're going to have to do something about this 'hole' of yours. Now then, up with you! Let's get that face of yours washed."

Ernie snuffled and hiccoughed. "I'm sorry, Ma," he began, "I just never seemed to pay much attention to my room before. It is kinda bad, isn't it?" he said meekly.

"Well, some things around here are going to change starting now!" Janice declared. "Boy or girl, this room is going to be clean. Now then, march yourself right into that sorry excuse for a bathroom and get cleaned up, Young Lady!"

"Yes Mo-therrr," came the stock reply.

"I can see we are going to have to work on that voice of yours, too. Try to speak a bit softer, when you look like that…and you will be looking a good bit like you do now a lot more frequently. Okay? Now then, when you've finished getting cleaned up, meet me in my room." With that, Janice, smiling broadly, turned on her heel and left the room.

*****

As she left Ernie's room, Janice saw Samantha coming up the stairs at a run. She motioned her to slow down and said, "She's washing her face. Would you bring those things into my room, please, Dear? We have a lot of work ahead of us, not the least of which are my child. Her room is a complete and utter disaster. Were you able to get everything on the list?"

"Uh huh!" nodded the young girl emphatically. "And a few extras, too! I can't wait to see her in some of them," she said, a happy twinkle lighting up her eyes.

"You know, Sweetie, neither can I," Janice replied. "Now, here's what I think we should do…" she continued in a soft conspiratorial tone, as they entered her room.

*****

Ernie's mind was racing as he washed all the traces of the makeup from his face slowly. I know this isn't normal, he thought, but I do like the way the clothes feel. They're so soft and silky. Besides, Samantha seems to like it. His spirits perked up at the thought. He remembered the feel of her kiss and how she hugged him…really hugged him, for the very first time and realised just how much he liked them and wanted more of them. I wonder if she…. Nah, couldn't be, he thought, shaking his head.

It took him a good fifteen minutes to remove all traces of the makeup. The cool water seemed to do wonders on his red and swollen eyes, too. If you don't look too closely, you can't really tell I was crying. Crying…I haven't cried since Dad died. Things are sure strange around here lately. Ah, who cares? You like it, don't you? Yeah, you do. That's the problem, you like it all too much. His brutal honesty actually caused a shiver of fear to run down his back. He did like it. For the first time in his life, he actually liked the reflection he saw in the mirror. He actually liked how pretty he was…and that scared him.

Ernie finished drying his face and took a long look in the mirror. "Well, at least they didn't make my eyebrows, too thin. I just wish they didn't made them as thin as they did. Well, I guess it's all right, no-one looks at me that closely anyway," he said aloud. Yet the truth of the matter was, his eyebrows were no thinner than they ever were, it's just that the odd stray hair was gone.

"Aren't you done yet, Gertrude?" his mother's voice came at him from the hall. It was a pet name for him that she hadn't used since his father died those seven years before. She called him Gertrude and his father Matilda from the names of the geese in the "Jules Verne" book "Journey to the Centre of the Earth."

He smiled at the face in the mirror and called back, "Coming mo-therrr!" in his best imitation of a valley girl. He all but floated out of his bedroom. He almost felt like he did before his father's death. Happy and light hearted. It was the first time in years he even came close to feeling truly happy. He didn't quite understand it and, right then, he just didn't care. His new things felt fantastic against his skin and he was actually attractive, instead of an embarrassment. What was more, it seemed as if Samantha truly liked him…and that was not something to discount.

"Just look at those clothes!" Jan started as Ernie glided into his mother's room.

"What?" he said, his voice unconsciously rising up an octave.

"They're ruined, that's what. You just got them and look! We're going to have to send them to the cleaners. We'll never be able to get them to look presentable otherwise. We'll just have to get you changed into something else." Deflated, Ernie started to go back into his room. "And where do you think you're going?"

"To get changed. You just said…" he began.

"I know what I just said," Jan growled with mock severity. "Get that little behind of yours into my room this instant.

"Samantha!"

"Yes'm," came the clipped reply as a brunette head popped into Janice's bedroom from her dressing room.

"Would you please run…. No…. I'm sorry, would you please walk downstairs and get those other packages for us, Dear? Tina's made a complete mess of her clothes. She's going to need to change into something a bit more…casual, I should think. She's not allowed to go to bed until she's managed to clean her room!"

"Yes'm," came the same clipped response, but the smile on her face showed more than a willingness to comply.

When Samantha returned, loaded down with packages, she was smiling from ear to ear. She started to giggle when she saw that Ernie had been installed at Janice's vanity. His hair was pulled back from his face with a hair comb that looked like something she'd seen on the 'Patty Duke Show.' A hair band, she remembered. What made her giggle wasn't the fact that he was sitting there in his unmentionables, or the hairband on his head; it was the expression on his face. It seemed to imply that he enjoyed sitting there!

This is definitely going to work! she thought happily.

"Thank you, Samantha," Janice said. "Please put them on the bed. Why don't you help Tina with her makeup and hair? You are about the same age. I think a somewhat younger look more appropriate, don't you? I need to see just what we have for her to change into."

Tina turned to look at her best and only friend in the world. Although she was not concerned about receiving acceptance from the girl, she was concerned that Sam would know what to do with the array of cosmetics spread out before her. Samantha seemed to read her mind.

"Oh relax, Silly, I know what to do with all of those and more. My parents have been trying so hard to get me into dresses and skirts that they sent me to all sorts of seminars on makeup, poise and modelling techniques. Now then, let's see what we have to work with."

It really was odd to sit there and willingly have Samantha teach her how to apply cosmetics, but she enjoyed it nonetheless. Sam showed her how to achieve a more pronounced cheekbone using shading techniques with various shades of blusher. How to hold and use the eyeliner pencil so as to not poke her eye out and achieve a clean fine line on both her upper and lower lids. The list of things she told her seemed endless. And yet, her face, why, it was even better than it was before!

Oh dear gods, I really am beautiful! Tina thought with excitement when Sam finished. The careful ministrations to her face coupled with the beauty slowly appearing in the mirror were having more than their desired effect on Tina. She was becoming more and more excited with each touch.

Samantha saw Tina squirming in her seat and looked into her friend's lap. Sam started to laugh. "Oh, Honey, why don't you go in the bathroom and take care of that…unladylike problem. When you're done, we can finish up. I can't do your hair with you squirming in your seat like that!"

Embarrassed, Tina stood up and, using her hands to shield her groin, hustled into the bathroom. When she closed the door and got the water was running to cover what she was doing, the women laughed heartily at the effect of their ministrations.

"You know, Missus Wilson, I think I'm going to like having Tina around," Samantha said.

"I thought you might," Janice said. "Tell me dear, there's no reason to get upset or lie to me, I won't say anything to anyone, nor will I think any less of you. Are you…?"

"A lesbian?" Samantha finished for her. Seeing Jan's nod she giggled excitedly, "No, Missus Wilson, I'm not a lesbian, at least…I don't think so. But, I love the idea of having my boyfriend wearing a skirt and looking like my girlfriend! I mean, look at her! She is an absolute knock out! And the feel of her legs and skin…." Sam began to blush with embarrassment.

"Don't be embarrassed, Honey, I know exactly what you mean. Her father used to enjoy it, too, you know," Janice confided in the young girl.

"Really!?! Did it turn you on, too?" she asked eagerly, even hopefully. Then she realised what she said, gasped and blushed a deep crimson, then covered her mouth with her hand. "I'm sorry," she said contritely, through her fingers.

Jan acted as if Sam hadn't said anything untoward. "Not only was it a turn-on for me, it was an incredible turn-on for him. We had many an evening of…. Well, that's for another time, erm…when you're older, Dear," Janice stopped, a bit embarrassed herself, yet smiling nonetheless.

Samantha was about to complain about that last statement when the water stopped running and a sheepish Tina returned to the bedroom.

Samantha couldn't resist a dig at her friend's expense. "Everything come out okay?" she asked.

Tina coloured deeply. "Just fine!" she said petulantly.

"Okay!" Samantha said brightly. "Sit back down and let me finish your hair."

In just a few minutes, they were done with Tina's hair and they had her putting on a pair of jeans and a simple pale pink button-front blouse with a pastel blue pullover sweater. After a quick touch-up on her hair, they were through. Tina couldn't take her eyes off the gorgeous tall young woman in the mirror. In her heels, she topped six-feet, yet she couldn't believe how pretty she was.

"I still can't believe that's me!" Tina said, a stunned look on her face. "I mean, I sat here and watched you do it…and I still can't believe…."

"Believe it, Honey, my boyfriend's a real babe!" laughed Samantha. "I can't wait to see you in a bikini!" she chided.

"Yu-y…you really like me looking like this?" Tina asked, stunned.

"Tina, not only do I like looking at you like this, I love thinking about you looking like this. I'm actually wishing your mother wasn't here so I wouldn't have to keep my hands off you because you look like this!" blurted Samantha.

"Sa-am," Janice warned, drawing the young girl's name out to nearly two syllables. "I think you need to remember where you are, Dear. Don't you?"

"I'm sorry, Missus Wilson," Samantha replied contritely, her face colouring beginning to match that of a tomato.

"Your apology is accepted. Now, I think we have some work to do getting this young lady's room ready for the new furniture and decorations that she so obviously needs.

"Come along, you two, there's work to be done!"

With that, she strode imperiously from the room and down the hall. The two friends left behind in her wake could only giggle and follow.

*****

Later that night, Ernie lay awake in bed. His mind just wouldn't seem to slow down and allow him to sleep. The events of the day kept running through his mind. Over and over, the scenes played themselves out as he remembered every nuance and even touch. At first, they made him horny. Later, all they did was keep him awake.

His room was cleaner than it had been since he moved in. Even then, it wasn't as clean, because of the dust and dirt tracked in by the men who moved his furniture in and set it up. His clothes were neatly folded and hung in his fitted closet, or put away in his drawers. Almost all of his male jockey shorts had been bagged for the rubbish. He decided there were some things about the day that he didn't need to have experienced, but one thing was certain, he definitely liked the way his new clothing felt, as well as made him feel…and the shocking truth of that was, it wasn't all sexual.

It wasn't just the clothes, either. Now that his legs had been shaved, not that there was much hair there to begin with, his sheets, the same cotton broadcloth sheets he always had, felt cooler, somehow smoother, even slipperier. But the nightgown, a soft filmy, Nylon-tricot, pink baby-doll nightgown and panty set that was almost transparent, was doing its best to see that he would not sleep for quite some time. Things were going to be different from then on, that was for sure. What was more, he wasn't so sure he minded in the slightest. It was a marvel to look in a mirror and see someone who was actually attractive…even beautiful staring back and he loved the idea that he, as she, was that person. He was even able to remember his walk through the crowded mall and see the staring faces for what they were, lust, desire, envy and even approval. The girls seemed as if they wanted to say hello and be his friend. He wasn't so certain he wanted what he saw from the boys, but the girls? That was new. Usually, girls couldn't stand his being anywhere near them.

Ernie finally fell asleep with a smile on his face. He'd found another use for the old jockey shorts after all.

*****

"I'm telling you, Linda, it was uncanny," Janice said. She was lying in bed, talking on the telephone with her lifelong friend, Linda Matheson. "It really was like night and day. One minute he's his usual old awkward, gawky, petulant self and the next he's a quiet, demure, graceful young lady. It was just like throwing a switch."

"Oh come on, Jan. Do you really expect me to believe that tall, gawky son of yours not only looks good as a girl, but is graceful as well? I've watched him trip over air!" Linda said in exasperation. "There's just no way in hell…."

"She didn't catch a heel once on her way across the mall! Not once! It was like she's been wearing heels all her life! Her, not him, Lin."

"Because you were holding her hand."

"Okay, Linda, I'll prove it to you. Tomorrow, you come over for supper. Not only will he look good, but I'll bet you anything you want to bet, that he can serve the entire dinner without spilling anything on anyone! That's how much he's changed! He was actually confident!" Janice countered.

Giggling, Linda replied, "Okay, Jan, you're on. You know that Ansel Adams original you have? You lose, I get that. I lose, Tina gets a complete wardrobe for the year. But there is one condition: he wears the clothes, not just looks at them, or wears them around the house. He wears them! They're his wardrobe for the year."

"Oh come on, Linda! That's not fair! That original is worth thousands. Besides, I can't expect my son to hand over his masculinity on a whim."

"Jan, I'm not talking a couple of blouses and skirts here. I'm talking an investment in a complete, quality wardrobe, from the very best makers, with anything and everything a young girl his age could possibly need, or want, for an entire year. Four complete seasons of clothes, Jan. I don't mean just starter wardrobes for each of the seasons here, that's everything a girl could possibly want, furniture, accessories, whatever her heart desires! Tell me that's not worth thousands. And this is not a whim. If he's as happy as you say he is as Tina…."

And so the conversation went, long into the night.

*****

Part-6

Saturday Morning September 5th

"Come on, Sleepyhead, time to get up!" Jan sang to her child.

"Nnnuh." came the incoherent reply.

"Come on, Honey, time to get up!" she prodded.

"Mmmmrrrph!"

Well, at least it's louder, Jan thought with a hint of amusement. "Let's go, Sweetie, you don't have much time. You have to get up!" That time she almost yelled it.

"Huh? Wha-izzit? What?" came the almost incoherent reply through the fog of sleep.

"It's time to get up, Silly. Come on! Get with the programme! We have a lot of things to do today!" Janice said, much too brightly for Ernie's liking.

"What time is it?" he asked numbly

"It's almost seven-thirty. Now get moving! We have a lot to do and there isn't all that much time to do it. That is, if you were serious about what you said last night," his mother shot back.

"But it's Saturday! I can sleep in today. I don't have to go anywhere." The fog bank was still in, it seemed.

"I put a cup of coffee by your bed. Come on, Sleepy Head. We have a lot of things to do today…so get moving," his mother said.

"Okay…okay…I'm up," he grumbled, reaching for the coffee. Half the mug was gone in one gulp.

Gods, what is that? he thought, swiping a hand at his thigh. The feel of the satin and lace was unmistakable. His morning hard-on seemed to double in intensity.

It wasn't a dream, he thought with a start and more than a bit of trepidation. Boy, this room sure looks weird without all the computer stuff around.

At that moment, the room did look sort of bare. There were no posters or pictures on the walls; nothing on the chiffonier or chest of drawers and the only things on the night table were his half-cup of coffee, clock radio, a box of Kleenex and a lamp. Even his computer desk had been cleaned off.

Mum's dream come true, he thought, my room is clean. It was only a partial truth, but he didn't know that.

Ernie got out of bed and headed into the shower. The satin against his skin forced him to make a change in his morning ritual. He got into the shower first. There was no way he was going to be able to use the toilet.

Ernie reached for the soap. "Hey! What the…?" Nothing seemed to be the same any more. Even his soap was different. Oil of old lady, he thought with a sardonic smile. At least it smells nice.

After he got out of the shower and towelled off, he reached for his robe. His robe was gone as well. In its place was a big soft, white satin, fleece-lined robe. Shaking his head, he put the robe on. Wiping the steam off the mirror, he took a good look at his face…and the panic started to set in.

What have I let them do to me? I don't even come close to looking like a guy any more! His hands started to shake. Just then, his mother walked into the room. "Eeep!" he squeaked pulling the robe tighter about himself.

"Oh! I'm sorry, Honey," Jan said genuinely apologetic. "I guess I've been getting a little too caught up in all this."

Ernie started to cry softly. Seeing the emotional roller coaster raging within her son, Janice pulled him to her and walked him out of the bathroom and to his bed. "It's all right, Honey, go ahead and cry," she tried to soothe him.

"But I don't even look like a guy any more, Ma," he hiccoughed. "Oh, Ma, now what am I gonna do?" he sobbed.

"You never really did look like a guy, Honey. I guess we just helped you to see it, that's all. Here, blow your nose," she said, handing him a tissue. The noise he made was most unladylike. That out of the way, she just held on to her sobbing son, letting him cry softly into her shoulder.

When he was all cried out she held his face up to hers and asked, "Feel better?"

"No." he croaked, choking back a sob.

"Here, Honey," she said, handing him a pair of pink satin knickers. "Why don't you get dressed and we can talk over some coffee in the kitchen."

He took the proffered garment and looked at it. His mind was in turmoil. He really wanted to put them on desperately, yet he was afraid to do so. It was almost as if he'd be saying goodbye to his masculinity forever if he did.

"Come on now, shake a leg. I'll see you downstairs in five minutes. Don't worry about your face or your hair for now. We'll take care of that later. Just get into your lingerie." The way she said it, it was as if she wasn't giving him a choice.

It wasn't until his mother left the room that Ernie noticed she made his bed and laid out some clothes for him. Ernie put on the knickers and tucked himself back as he did the day before. On the bed were a pair of Mudd hipster, bell bottomed jeans and a powder blue sweater top that looked to be three sizes too small. The sweater top seemed to be made of some sort of slinky, acrylic stretch-knit. A pair of pink cotton ankle socks, a pink satin bra that matched the knickers and the breast forms he wore the day before were laid neatly on top of them.

Reluctantly, Ernie donned the clothes laid out for him. The sweater top almost didn't cover his tummy.

"I look like any one of the girls at school," he thought, examining himself in the mirror on the back of his bathroom door. True, he looked like a girl, but not just any girl, he looked like the crème de la crème of those girls, which was what disturbed him. His looks were those of the very unattainable élite girls in the A-set. He bent to pick up the pink and powder-blue, chunky soled trainers by his bed. He was amazed to find they even had lifts in them. After looking at them for a moment, he put them on and left the room.

*****

Going down the back stairs to the kitchen, he moved slowly, almost as if he feared what would greet him in the room below.

"Good morning, Sleepy Head," his mother said with a smile. "I poured you another cup of coffee. Come on over and sit down."

Slowly, Ernie made his way across the room to his mother.

Janice was a morning person who was generally cheerful and bright right out of bed. Ernie never could understand it. "How can anyone actually want to leave a nice warm bed to face a day of gods know what?" was his usual quip. That day however, Janice was unusually bright and cheery. "You act as if I'm going to bite you," she said jokingly.

"Bite isn't exactly the word running through my mind right now. Look at me, Mum! I l-l-look like a girl!" was his emphatic reply.

"I know, Honey, I've known that for quite some time. I'm just sorry it took something like yesterday to force you to see it. We really haven't done anything to you to enforce that either."

"What about my eyebrows?!" he moaned.

"No-one did more than clean up a few stray hairs, Love," Jan said emphatically. "Honest. I was there when they did it. We didn't thin them or arch them. What you see there is your brow-line's natural shape. Other than the fringe you have now, there's nothing we've done to make you look more feminine than you normally do and your fringe can be hidden by how you comb your hair. Use a curling iron or curlers and we can even make it prettier. Come on over and sit down, we have lots of things to talk about. Many of them centre on how others see you and how you see yourself," she said sincerely as she motioned to the chair beside her.

Ernie sat primly on the antique side chair. He hadn't noticed, but the mannerisms his mother drilled into him the day before were still holding up.

"Now then," his mother began, "we need to decide where we're going to go with this. Yes, I said we. Just because you are the one going through a difficult time right now doesn't mean that you're the only one affected by all of it. I am as well.

"It's become apparent to me that you like dressing this way. Does that mean you want to be a woman? That's something you're going to have to decide for yourself. We already know that Sam likes it when you look like this and I'll be honest with you, I always wanted a daughter, but not at the expense of my son. Your father and I wanted at least another child, but…. Well, I never thought I would have one and now…."

"But then Dad died. And now, you have that daughter you always wanted. The only little problem with the whole thing is that your daughter is me, your son," Ernie finished for her in a sarcastic tone.

"Look Ma, I know I like looking like this, but I really don't know what to think about it. I mean…I was never much of a success as a guy. I know that. But I am a guy. But…. I mean…look at me! I haven't done anything at all and I still look just like a hot babe! Why did I ever let you two get near me? I can't go back to school like this!" He was on the verge of tears. "I don't know what to do! I'm not sure I want to think about how it all makes me feel, either!" Tears started to form in his eyes. "I just want to be normal!"

That was it. The dam had burst for the second time that morning. Janice went to her son and held him close. "I know, Honey, I know, I really do. However, I meant what I said. We really didn't do anything more than trim your hair. That's what we're going to try and do today -- find out what's normal for you. I have an appointment for you with a friend of Linda's…."

With that, Ernie started to wail. He tried to pull away from his mother. "NO! No more friends of yours. Please Ma…! Look what they've done to me already! No…! Please…! I…!"

The fight went out of him and he collapsed into his mother's arms. Sobs wracked his slight body. After he was through crying, Janice took her feminised son upstairs and helped him clean-up. Afterward, she did his hair and makeup. Once the traces of the morning's tears were washed away and hidden by makeup, Janice bundled her effete charge into the car. He was more like an automaton than a child at that point. She just pointed him in the direction she wanted him to walk, gave a little shove, and he walked. She was worried, had she pushed him too hard? I'll find out soon enough, she thought as she drove. Jan was unable to take any solace in that fact. Forcing Ernie to see the girl within had been more traumatic than she imagined. She was deeply troubled over Ernie's reactions to the feminisation he underwent the previous day…when that feminisation was anything but radical. Waxing his legs, shaving his pits and trimming his hair were the most radical things they did. They really didn't do anything more than clean up his brow-line. While they were minimal, when combined with the radical wardrobe changes, they were shocking. Suddenly it became apparent Ernie couldn't see anyone other than Tina, when he really didn't look all that different from the start of the day before. The crying jags of that morning were extremely upsetting to witness.

Could I have been wrong in trying to make him see what everyone else already sees and knows? Is he afraid to admit he likes being in skirts, or is he unable to stand up to me and say no? Is he gay? Is it possible he doesn't want a girlfriend? What about Samantha? Look at how he reacted to her kiss. Her mind was reeling from subject to subject. Janice drove to their destination on autopilot as she mulled the issues over. Each time she explored a question, two more seemed to come to mind…and never did she get close to a single answer.

As she parked the car, she glanced at the zombie in the seat next to her. Oh gods, please let him be all right, she prayed silently.

Janice was so deep in thought she almost missed the office door. It was located back in the corner of an L-shaped shopping centre. The way the office was located, there wasn't a window opening onto the car park at all. All you could see was a plain glass door, with the unimposing legend, Eugene Bennett M.D. Ph.D. and a phone number, directly beneath the name. She made a mental note of the number. Like Ernie…or Tina as he appeared, she was able to memorise almost anything almost instantly when she set her mind to it.

Ernie was just coming out of his stupor, as Janice led him into the doctor's office. The reception area was tiny, but comfortable. The receptionist either had not come in yet, or was not due in at all, seeing as it was a Saturday. She rang the ever-present bell on the counter by the receptionist's desk, and then they sat on the comfortable sofa in the waiting area. It was promising to be a very long day.

"Hello! You must be Missus Wilson," a tall, greying man, with the signs of more than one too many good meals showing prominently about his middle, said as he entered the room.

His face was almost completely hidden by a neatly trimmed, yet bushy beard and moustache. His eyebrows matched the bushy salt and pepper of his beard. He appeared to be a pleasant person, almost the personification of Santa Claus. It didn't take much imagination to see him in the red and white suit of the giving season. He was attired in a pair of dark slacks, worn-out Oxford shoes, a striped white button-down shirt worn open at the collar, and a brown cardigan sweater worn open. His smile was contagious.

"Ah…and this must be young Tina. Please, please come on back to my office. We can talk there." He pointed with an open hand down the hall, while he motioned the two to precede him with the other.

Janice stood and motioned for Tina to accompany her. She smiled at the doctor. "It's a pleasure meeting you, Doctor Bennett," she said, guiding Tina down the hall ahead of her.

"The pleasure is all mine," said the jovial man. "According to Linda, we have an interesting situation that has developed over the past twenty-four hours."

"Umm, yes, I guess we do," Jan replied.

"Why don't the two of you have a seat," he said, indicating the red leather club chairs in front of his desk, "and tell me about it."

"It started like this," Jan began. She started in on the story, explaining all that she was aware of. Doctor Bennett interrupted for clarification of a point or two, but otherwise let her tell the tale, as she knew it, unimpeded.

"I see…well now, that is an interesting turn of events, isn't it?" he asked. "I'd like to hear your, umm, daughter's version of it now. You don't mind if I ask you to leave the room, do you, Janice? Sometimes it's easier if the, umm, 'authority figure', shall we say, isn't in the room."

"Umm…no! Not at all," she said, a bit flustered at the turn of the events. She expected, well…at least hoped, to be able to listen to Ernie's take on things. "I'll be in the waiting room." With that, she got unsteadily to her feet and left the office. The doctor's request shook her; she didn't expected to be forced to leave. "Why does this make me so uncomfortable?" she asked herself.

"Now, Tina," Doctor Bennet said. "Is it all right if I call you Tina? Or would you rather I call you Ernie?" he asked.

"It doesn't matter, I guess," he said resignedly. "I look like Tina, so you might as well address me that way."

"Well, Tina, I'd really like to hear your side of the story. Don't leave anything out, sometimes the smallest detail can be important. There's nothing for you to worry about, no-one's going to get in any trouble over this. Sometimes your thoughts, dreams and even fantasies can help us get to the bottom of things, so everything's game. I assure you, there's nothing you might have experienced I haven't seen…or at least heard. All I'm here to do is help you to decide what's best for you. All right?"

"Well…yeah…I guess." he replied dully. "You see, it all started when I began doing some research for my paper at the university…." Ernie related his side of the story. Once he started talking, it was almost impossible to get him to stop.

Two and a half-hours later, there was a timid knock at the door. "Oh! Please excuse me, Dear," the doctor said to Tina. "Please, do come in, Janice," he called out in embarrassment.

The door opened and Janice stepped into the room.

"I am sorry!" the doctor apologised. "We were having such a good chat, I completely forgot you were out there."

"Please don't apologise, Doctor, I'm happy to see you both getting along. I was wondering if either of you wanted to take a break or wanted me to get you some coffee," Janice explained.

"Well, I think Tina and I have come to a few conclusions. We were just discussing the options available to her. Yes, I said Tina. She's decided to try life as a girl, at least for now," the doctor said. Tina blushed deeply at his revelation. Turning back to Tina, he continued, "Now you know, Tina, there are some problems that you're bound to face with this. First, there's no way for us to disguise who you once were. That will always follow you."

"I know, Doc.," Tina interrupted, "but for the first time in my life, I feel there's a real chance for me to be somebody other than a bookworm, a geek and a doormat. I guess I just thought that I was weird or something."

"Well, I wouldn't say you're weird, just different. Here," he said, taking a plastic bottle from his centre desk drawer. "I want you to take one of these three times a day. They're Oestradiol Valerate. That's a synthetic conjugated oestrogen, or female hormones to the layperson. A pharmacist is apt to call them steroids, as that is what hormones are. Take them at about the same time each day. I want you to space them out evenly, or as evenly as you can. Not once every eight hours, but three times a day, spaced about four to six hours apart. You see…your body normally releases hormones continually, with a lull for about eight hours or so. What we're going to do with these is replace those hormones and, hopefully, cause your body to stop manufacturing its own. It'll see you've more than enough of one of it's required hormones and not produce as many of the others.

"Now then, take them with meals or milk. Not that they'll cause you an upset stomach, but, erm…it seems to help with the mood swings and any cravings you might experience otherwise. After a few days, you may experience slight nausea in the mornings, but that will pass after a few weeks as your body gets used to the new hormones and their levels. Crackers, or perhaps dry toast and tea will help with that.

"I'll write you a prescription for refills that your mother can have filled at any pharmacy. Okay? If you seem to be having any trouble with them, or with some of the things you may experience in this little experiment of ours, call me right away," he said, handing her a business card. "My service will know where and how to find me, just tell them it's an emergency. If you feel you absolutely need to speak with someone or you'll just scream, that's what I would call an emergency. It doesn't have to be you thinking about ending things, just a desperate need to talk to someone is emergency enough to say so. Right?

"Now, I want to see you again in two weeks." The doctor started writing a prescription and filling out a form. "We can continue these talks on alternating Saturdays if that's all right with you. I can honestly say that it has been a refreshing experience to talk with you. It was a pleasant way to start my day."

Turning back to Janice, he said, "Janice, take this prescription to your druggist. I'll need some blood work done on Tina, as well. Take this," he said indicating the form, "to the address that's on the form. It tells them what tests I need to have done. I'll let you know how they turn out in two weeks. If there are any problems, I'll call you. Otherwise, we'll discuss the results in two weeks time.

"Now, there will be no charge to you for this session. I have some papers here for you and Tina to fill out and get back to me. In the meantime, she's to stay home from school. We'll have a determination on how she'll proceed there in a few days. I'll be in contact with her teachers and we'll work something out as to how she'll be continuing at school, if she's to continue there at all.

"Is that okay with you, Missus Wilson?"

Jan was flabbergasted. You could have knocked her over with a feather. "I…I don't see why it should be otherwise," Janice replied. "Thank you, Doctor. Would you like me to leave the room again?"

"No, no, I think we're done for today, don't you, Tina?" the doctor said with a wink.

Tina giggled. "I guess so, Doc.," came a surprising reply for Janice.

"Good. Then I'll see you again in two weeks?"

"On Saturday," Tina replied.

"Great!" the doctor said as he stood up and walked around his desk.

"About your fee," said Janice.

"Oh, I'm sorry," said the doctor. "I thought I made that clear. Linda will be taking care of the fees for Tina's visits. She's told me that you are Tina's mother and primary care giver. With that, you, and not Linda, will get the progress reports. As Tina's over the age of consent, she's agreed I may share her results with you. Will that be satisfactory?"

"Oh, um, yes. Thank you," Janice replied a bit off balance. "Is there anything I need to be aware of in this um…experiment?" she asked.

"No," chuckled the doctor, "just be there with lots of love like you always have. As Tina will be living as a girl for a bit, the only changes I'd recommend, would be the sorts of things you'd have set forth, were Tina born a girl. As an example, if as your son Ernie, his curfew were say, One A.M. and as a girl, or as Tina, it would be Midnight, then her curfew should now be midnight. As Ernie, no makeup would be appropriate, yet as Tina, not being allowed to leave the house with at least a bit of lippy, then Tina is to wear some makeup before leaving the house. That sort of thing. Tina seems capable of telling us what she wants and needs and I'm certain we can rely on her to do just that.

"Now then, if there aren't any more questions?" Both 'women' shook their heads. "Good, thank you for coming in. It really has been an interesting and wonderful experience meeting you both," he continued as he escorted them out of the office. "Have a wonderful weekend. You can bring those papers back on Monday. If I'm with a client, just leave them with my receptionist. All right?"

"Thanks, Doc.," smiled Tina.

"You're quite welcome, Dear. Have a great time learning who you are." With that, he closed the door.

"Well, I can see that's settled," Janice said. "What changed your mind?"

"Oh, I guess my mind was already made-up. I just didn't know that I wasn't a freak or anything. I mean, like, um…. A lot of those stories were really weird. Y'know? But…like…some of them, like, struck a chord with me. I mean, like, I didn't even, like, know that, like, umm, things like this were possible. Anyway, I like…thought I had to be, like, all weird and strange if I was feeling like I wanted to be a girl and all…so like…."

"So the doctor showed you that, just because you want to experiment with being a girl, it doesn't mean you're a sexual pervert," her mother said.

"Well…yeah!" she said brightly.

"Okay," Janice laughed. "Would you mind talking like a human being instead of one of those bubble heads from the other coast?"

"Yes, Mum."

They both laughed heartily. It felt like it had been a long time since they'd done so.

"So, where to next?" Tina asked.

"I thought we'd get you ready to win one hell of a bet," Janice replied.

As the two walked to the car, and continuing as Jan drove them to their next destination, Jan told Tina about her conversation with Linda and the bet they made. Tina's eyes lit up with the thought of all the things she could get. It sounded almost too good to be true. The computer gear lists were starting to compile and it made her really excited. All she had to do was be a graceful, demure girl of eighteen, act as hostess and serve dinner. "Let's do it!" she said with an enthusiasm she hadn't felt in a long time.

*****

Part-7

Saturday Afternoon September 5th

As Doctor Bennett closed the door, a female voice spoke from the office corridor. "Are they gone?"

"Yes, Tigger, they're gone," he replied flatly, the smile gone from his face.

He turned to face the source of the voice. "This is the first time I've felt good about 'helping' one of your 'friends,' too." His body slumped visibly. "I honestly don't think I could have forced it on that girl, not this time."

"You disappoint me, Doctor," said the small blonde, her blazing blue eyes flashing. "I thought we had an agreement. What do you mean by forced, anyway? All my 'friends' want your help," she said with a cold smile. You could almost imagine her teeth were fangs with the way she smiled.

"After you're through with them, yes, they want it. Hell…they need it," he said bitterly. "This is the first time I actually believe in what I'm doing when it comes to one of your referrals. That child is absolutely amazing. Her I.Q. is off the charts, the way she breezed through the M.M.P.I. in only 30 minutes, extraordinary! It points unequivocally to female, by the way. That child, is a young girl, she just doesn't know it. I can honestly say I'm happy to monitor this case."

"Don't tell me you're suddenly developing a conscience," Tigger said with a sneer.

The doctor blanched. "I've always had a conscience," he said resignedly, "it just never bothered me before. Don't worry, Linda, I can still do the job."

"I'm glad to hear that, Eugene," she laughed. The sound of it chilled his blood.

*****

As Jan pulled into the car park of Claire's Clip-Joint, Tina began to have second thoughts. "Mum, I know I said we should go for it, but…isn't this a bit f-f-f-fast?"

"What?" asked Janice. "Having your hair done and a manicure is too much? I don't think so. If you're going to be my daughter, you are going to look presentable. You aren't a scruffy teenaged boy any more; you're a young lady now. It's high time you had your first visit to a beauty salon. I told Claire that you're taking my place today."

"But Mu-um! She'll know! I mean, what'll she say? Wu-wu-wu…?"

"Relax, Honey," Jan said trying to hide her giggles. "Claire already knows. She's sworn that she'll never tell a soul. If she wants to stay in business as a beautician, she has to accept as many differences in her customer base as you see in society and keep all sorts of secrets for her clients. That means serving anyone and everyone who wants her services equally. Now, let's get going, we have an appointment to keep!"

Tina got out of the car but froze in her tracks as soon as she turned to face the salon. Her mother had to nudge her to get her moving in the direction of the door again. "Mum! I don't want to do this!" she hissed.

"Oh relax, Sweetheart, it'll be fine. You'll see. Now move it, we're already five minutes late as it is!"

A small bell rang as Janice opened the door. She ushered Tina in before her. Trembling, Tina looked about the salon. The place was immaculate…for a Saturday. There were several women, their heads under dryers, reading magazines. One of them was getting a manicure while she sat there, while another sat with her feet in a basin of liquid, apparently soaking her feet. They never even looked up. The atmosphere was friendly and light. Tina wrinkled her nose at the smell, a troubled look on her face.

Claire, an older, matronly woman in a pink smock, greeted her long-time customer and friend before she was even through the door. "Jan! There you are! I was beginning to worry that you weren't going to make it! And this must be Tina!" she said, looking at the nervous girl. "Come in and get comfortable, Girl!" she said, motioning Tina into one of the comfortable chairs in the waiting area.

"Jan, Sandy had a cancellation this morning. If you'd like, she can take Tina for you."

Tina's eyes became as big as saucers as the colour drained from her face. She started shaking her head no. "Thanks, Claire," Jan said with a giggle, "but I promised Tina you'd do her yourself," Jan smiled as she sat next to her 'daughter.' "I'll tell you what; I'll take Sandy's opening and you can tell her what to do. Okay? That way, if she botches the job, you can blame her for the freebie that you're going to have to give me to make it right!"

The relief on Tina's face was almost comic. Claire almost laughed out loud at the sight. "Well, okay, hold on a second and I'll tell Sandy what to do." Chuckling, Claire went over to Sandy's chair and, in her effervescent, animated way, told her how to do Janice's hair. When she returned, she looked at Tina and spoke as she sat beside the girl.

"I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna give you a book with some styles in it…and you're going to tell me which style you'd like to have once your hair grows out. Okay? It may be just about shoulder length, but we both know it should be longer, don't we?"

Tina nodded meekly, afraid to give voice to her thoughts.

"After that, we're going to trim your hair and give it a body perm. Then, after I finish your hair, I'll do your nails and pierce your ears…and it's All on the house!"

"Claire!" Jan protested, looking past Tina at her friend. "That costs a fortune. I can't let you do that!"

"Jan, if it weren't for you sending me all those new clients every time you sold a house, I would've been out of business years ago," Claire said. "Besides, I've been dying to get my hands on Tina for the longest time. She's just going to love what I have in store for her."

Tina visibly sank down into the chair as if to try and hide in plain sight. Claire leaned toward Tina while opening a book of hairstyles. She put it into the girl's hands and looked in the direction of the page it was opened to. It looked like Claire was looking at the style book with Tina. In actuality, she was whispering in Tina's ear.

"Honey, relax. I have no intention of exposing you. Your Mum was instrumental in helping me save this business of mine. Now, I finally have a chance to pay her back for everything she's done for me. I always thought you were too pretty to be a boy! And now, I get a chance to do to you what I always thought should have been done with you. You are going to be the prettiest girl in the county when I get through with you!" A slow smile was starting to form at the corners of Tina's mouth. "Now then, have you decided on a style?"

"No," Tina squeaked. "I just can't seem to decide. What do you think would be best?"

Jan just stared at Tina her eyes wide with shock, knowing the loaded gun her daughter had just placed in Claire's mischievous hands. She needn't have worried, she realised, as she listened to Claire's reply.

"I'll tell you what," Claire said, "If you're going to let me decide what it's going to be, I'll just trim your hair every few weeks and we'll see what develops together. Okay?"

Tina bobbed her head up and down, a broad smile now on her face. "Okay, Claire, I'll leave it up to you. Surprise me," She giggled.

"That's the spirit! Now, into the chair with you!"

For the next three hours, Claire fussed. First, she washed out Tina's hair in the shampoo sink. Her fingers were like magic. All the stress from the last couple of days seemed to vanish with the gentle but firm shampoo Claire performed.

After shampooing her hair for the second time, and conditioning it twice, Claire trimmed the ends of Tina's hair and expertly rolled it into the perm bones. Then came the permanent solution; the source of the smell Tina noticed when she first entered the salon. Once the smelly stuff was finally rinsed from her hair and neutralised, Claire used a big blow drier and a wide toothed brush with holes in its face to add volume and lift to what was once considered long hair for Ernie, but was now considered relatively short to medium length hair for Tina.

When her hair was done, Claire started on Tina's nails. She clucked over how terrible they looked. When Claire had finished the third coat of polish, Tina was sporting the longest, most elegant, tapered, rose coloured, acrylic nails she'd ever seen. Tina sat with her hands held in front of her, her fingers spread wide and admired Claire's handiwork, a shocked look on her face. They seemed to be impossible to do anything with.

"Relax, Tina, they're only a half-inch longer than your finger tips," Claire laughed.

Janice looked on in amusement. "Claire, you know that's longer than I've ever worn them. That's almost cruel."

"Jan, if I leave her nails too short, she's going to think they're nothing more than screwdrivers. She'll have them ruined in a week. This way, she'll be forced to take things a bit more carefully; besides, aren't they just gorgeous?"

Turning to Tina, Claire added, "You don't want to break any of these off, Honey. They're liable to peel your whole fingernail off with them, right down to the nail bed. And believe me when I tell you, that hurts."

"I believe you! I'll be careful," promised Tina.

"Okay, now, sit still," Claire said from the side. Claire wiped a cool liquid on Tina's earlobe. There was a popping sound and Tina felt a pinch on her right ear lobe. As Claire passed around her back Tina saw a gun-like object in her hands.

"What's that?" Tina asked.

"This," Claire said, holding up the contraption, "is a piercing gun. Now hold still, I don't want this thing in your nose!" she said with a laugh.

Tina giggled as the gun popped again. Claire gave Tina a small bottle of solution while telling her how to care for her newly pierced ears.

"Janice, I want to see her back here in a week. I want to highlight her hair. I can't do that for about a week after a perm. The ammonia in the colour solution might damage that gorgeous hair of hers." Then she turned to Tina. "And you, young lady, I'm making an appointment for you for two weeks from today. You're going to need a re-base on those new talons of yours. You want to keep them looking nice, don't you?" Tina bobbed her head in agreement.

"Okay, Claire," Jan said, "but I wish you'd let me give you something for everything you've done today," she almost pleaded with the woman to take her money.

"No, Jan, this one's on me; it's the least I could do. Thanks again for all you've done for me and my salon. When it comes to Tina, I'm not even going to let you tip."

With that, the new mother-daughter pair left the beauty parlour and stepped into the afternoon sunshine. Tina nervously played with the gold studs in her ears. "Where to next, Mum?"

"Now I think we need to get you home so you can make dinner for Linda," Janice laughed.

"What's so funny, Mum?" Tina asked.

"I was just thinking, how do you feel about making some of your sauce for ravioli tonight?" she asked.

"Well, wouldn't that be cheating?" Tina asked. "I mean…all I'd have to do is thaw it out."

"But you made it, Sweetie," laughed Janice. "That's what counts, you made it and the meatballs in it! Come on, we're going shopping."

"For more clothes?" Tina asked incredulously.

"No, Honey, we'll go clothes shopping with and on Linda," she giggled. "We're getting some food and something for dessert."

"Okay," Tina said happily.

*****

Meanwhile, back at 'The Under-World', an interesting telephone conversation was just getting underway. "Missus Winchester, there's a call for you on line three," Marjorie said.

"Thank you, Marjorie, I'll take it in my office," she replied. There was only the barest hint of an accent. Jenny turned and walked to her office. On her way through the salon, she poured herself a cup of coffee from the ever present, always fresh, pot on the counter top coffee service.

Setting the coffee down on a single cup warming plate, Jenny sat at her desk, lifted the receiver and punched the button for line three. "This is Jennifer Winchester, how may I be of service?" she spoke into the phone.

The disembodied, female voice on the other end spoke in clipped business like tones. "Secure three, Delta Zero Eight Niner."

Jenny removed her charm bracelet and grasped a key that looked much like a smaller version of a soda machine key. She fitted it into the lock in the top right desk drawer and turned it. She pulled out a small box that was covered with lighted buttons and a booklet. She consulted the booklet and pressed a series of buttons.

All business now, Jenny spoke into the phone. "Secure three, Delta Zero Eight Niner, engaged, proceed."

The voice spoke again. It sounded less machine like and quite friendly this time. "Jenny, you old Battleaxe, how the hell are you?"

"Chilli! Is it really you? You brazen hussy! I'd scalp you for that stunt you pulled last time, but there's nothing left on that pate of yours to take away! How are you?!?"

"Absolutely mahvellous, Dahlink," she laughed. "I really am sorry about that incident, Dear. I had no idea they were going to pull something like that. As penance, I won't touch my scalp with a razor for a month. It'll play hell with my tan, but it'll be worth it when I have you make me all 'clean and shiny' again."

The smile in Chilli's voice was audible, causing Jenny to smile a wicked, mischievous smile. "Ooh! How positively kink! You're on," she chuckled.

"Uh oh," Chilli said in mock trepidation.

"Back to business, before I get myself in trouble again. How's our little project coming?"

"I think we've found our expert," Jenny said.

"You're not kidding me, I hope," Chilli replied.

"Honey, would I kid about something like this?" came her wounded reply.

"No, I guess you wouldn't at that. So tell me about her already."

"There are a few problems, though," Jenny continued in a quieter voice.

"I don't like what I'm hearing, Jenny," Chilli said, becoming cold and distant again. "What kind of problems? What are you setting me up for?"

"Remember that gem in the rough I was developing at Spectra?"

"Yes," came the cautious response.

"She has a son…."

"Hold it right there!" Chilli said, cutting her off. "You know the rules, women only!"

"That's the beauty of it, Chilli. Unless I miss my guess, Tigger's had his mother take him to see Bennett by now, and…." She of course was referring to Janice's long time friend Linda -- AKA Tigger -- in the Organisation.

"That head shrinking quack of hers?!?" Chilli exclaimed. "What the hell are you two up to now?"

"Well, Dear," Jenny continued giggling, "It seems our 'expert' is suffering from a latent case of Gender Dysphoria."

"Have you lost your mind?!?" Chilli screamed into the phone.

"No, Dear, but I have gained an expert," she said. "Not only that, but I think the 'impersonator' I've been grooming is ready to bring into the fold as well…."

The conversation continued on. Somehow, it looked like Jenny was going to get her way…again.

*****

Meanwhile, in the car on the way to the Super Mart, Tina was chattering away animatedly when Janice's cell phone rang. Jan and Tina looked at each other with surprise. It's not the fact that the phone rang that surprised them, but the fact that they were in an area that was supposedly not covered by cellular repeaters. It was the only "dark" area for miles. They were in a narrow valley with TV., A.M. and F.M. radio station transmitting towers on the tops of the hills on either side. There was no cellular reception there due to the lack of development and the fact that they were well below the transmission towers. The cost of the high power cell towers needed to cut through the radio noise was prohibitive for such a small "dark" spot in the coverage map.

"I have no idea," said Janice, shrugging her shoulders.

"Maybe they managed to put in some new repeaters," Tina replied looking intently at the hillside as Jan answered the phone.

"Hello?"

"Hi! Jan?" said the voice on the line.

"Linda?! How did you…? Oh, never mind. What's up?" Jan asked. "You aren't going to cancel out on me, are you?"

"What? And lose out on that original? Not on your life! I need a small favour from you, that's all," Linda replied. "I got called in to the office today and I can't get away for a bit. Since I knew you'd be out and about, I was hoping you could pick up a book for me. It's out of print and they won't hold it for more than a few days. The problem is, it came in on Monday."

"Sure, Linda, not a problem," laughed Jan. "What book store did you use?"

"Well, actually, it's not really a book store, per se," Linda replied. "It's a little speciality shop over on Zink Avenue. It's called Stephanie's Melting Pot. They sell all sorts of stuff there. Costumes, esoteric books, speciality books, they even have one of the largest collections of used comic books I've ever seen. It's kind of a strange place, but they'll guarantee that, if it exists, they can get it."

"Sounds like the kind of place you'd go," Jan laughed. "What's the name of the book?"

"Actually, there are several," Linda replied. "All by Jack Chalker."

"Okay, Linda," Jan replied, the smile still in her voice, "I'll pick them up on the way home. Dinner's at eight, don't forget!"

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Linda said merrily. "Thanks again, Jan, see you at eight."

Jan disconnected the line with another puzzled shrug and put the phone back in her purse. She told Tina about the conversation. They resumed their idle chatter on their way to the store.

*****

Back at The Under-World, Samantha, clad in her usual jeans 'uniform,' walked into the store looking a bit perplexed. "Oh, Sam! There you are! Thank goodness you could come in today," exclaimed Jennifer Winchester. "Marjorie had to leave early and I am absolutely inundated with consultations this afternoon."

"I was happy to come in today, Missus Winchester," Samantha replied, "but I've never worked the front before. Besides, I'm not exactly dressed to work the sales floor. Why didn't you say something before I came in?"

"Sam, I know how you dislike wearing a dress," replied her employer. "If I asked you to come in to help me out by working the sales floor, you would have worn a dress, wouldn't you?"

"Yes'm, I wouldn't let you down, you know that."

"Dear, I couldn't ask you to do me a favour and come in on your day off, then expect you to wear something you abhor at the same time, now could I?" Jenny asked.

"Ma'am," Samantha began carefully, "I appreciate what you're saying, but, with all due respect, I smell a rat. What are you getting at?"

Laughing out loud, Jenny said, "My Dear, there is just no getting something past you, is there? Did you think I didn't notice how you behaved toward Tina?" The look on Samantha's face was priceless. She looked both frightened and excited at the same time. "I took the liberty of picking up a few things for you over lunch. They're in a bag in the stock room. I believe they should fit you just fine. Why don't you go on back and change? I'll handle the shop until you return."

Samantha, more puzzled than ever, walked slowly to the storeroom, her thoughts obviously on what her employer was hinting at. What in the name of all the gods and goddesses have I gotten myself into? She hired me knowing I don't like to get dressed up. In fact, she just said she knows I don't like getting dressed up. What is that conniving old biddy up to?

The bag Jennifer was hinting at was in front of Sam's locker. It was from J-Crew, and it was huge. "Well, whatever she bought me, it's top quality," Sam muttered.

Opening the bag, Sam peered inside. What she saw surprised her. Without removing anything, she could see a shoebox, a pair of chinos, a pale blue button front shirt still in the cellophane, a pullover, v-necked sweater, and a belt.

Samantha, bag in hand, strode purposefully to the front of the shop. As soon as the customer Jennifer was waiting on paid for her purchases, she confronted her employer in a hoarse whisper.

"Missus Winchester, I hope this isn't some sort of a joke. These are men's clothes!"

"No, Dear, it is definitely not a joke," said Jenny.

"But…why? I mean…I couldn't wear these things! I…."

Before she could finish the thought Jennifer cut her off. "Samantha, I think you'll find that not only are they your size, but that you could, and definitely should, wear them. I was watching you with Tina yesterday. The way you stared at her, let's just say, there were no questions as to what you were thinking. I thought you would, erm, appreciate the gift. Those things are in keeping with the thoughts you were having…aren't they?" she pressed.

"Well, I…" Samantha began, a blush starting to colour her cheeks. The poor girl was at a loss for words.

"Now then," continued Jenny, "why don't you go try those things on, and then report back to me." It wasn't a question, or a suggestion.

Returning to the stockroom, a smile began to form at the corners of Samantha's mouth as she thought, This is better than I could have ever hoped for!

Back at her locker, she started taking things out of the bag. It seemed J-Crew wasn't the only stop her cagey employer made. There were several skin out changes of clothes in the bag. Shoes, socks, T-shits, jockey shorts; Samantha broke into hysterics when she saw the athletic supporter and cup. She continued to laugh as she dressed. It was just too much.

When she finally stopped laughing, Samantha went to the front of the store. There were several women wandering about the sales floor, looking at the sexy merchandise. One of them looked up at Samantha in surprise. The shocked look faded as soon as she noticed Sam's bust line. She smiled at Sam and continued shopping.

Samantha walked up to her employer and asked, "Do I look all right?"

"Ah, that is such an improvement over your regular attire," Jenny said with a smile. " I trust everything fit?" Sam nodded as Jennifer continued. "Here, let's loosen that tie a bit," she said, reaching to loosen Sam's tie, "and undo the top button of the shirt…. There!"

"As if you didn't know it would fit," Samantha replied. "Tell me, how did you know what sizes to get me?"

"Well, your mother has shopped here for you before, you know," Jenny said. "I just took the sizes she bought for you then and converted them. Do you like it?"

"I'm almost embarrassed to say it, but…yes, I do like it." Sam said with a chuckle. "Tell me, why a cup and supporter? It's not like I have anything to support."

"Well, my dear, I thought it would help you get into the, um…swing of things, as it were. A little something to complete the…erm…package." With that, the two broke out in peals of laughter.

"Did you put them on?" Jenny asked when she finally stopped laughing enough to speak.

"Well…not the cup," giggled Sam. "I didn't want to worry the clientèle." With that, the two of them started laughing anew.

"Tell me, did you really send Marjorie home?"

"No, Dear, she'll be back in a few minutes. She'll show you how to run the front. I just sent her out for a long lunch. Now, Samantha, why don't you go into the salon and fix your face, you look a bit erm…butch for my shoppe." Again, she said it in such a way as to accentuate the fanciful spelling. "For making you change and wear makeup, I'll give you a trim after closing and you can have tomorrow off -- with pay, of course."

Laughing, Samantha replied, "Only if you call me Sam."

"Very well…Sam, go fix your face," Jenny giggled. "Marjorie should be back in a few minutes to show you what to do."

After doing an absolutely marvellous job of high fashion makeup, Sam returned to the front of the shop. Her attire and face were a study in dichotomy. They were so opposite, it was erotic.

Seeing Marjorie at the register, Sam's spirits spiked to fever pitch. With a mischievous smile on her face, she turned and walked along the side of the shopfront in an attempt to approach the til unobserved. It worked. Sam managed to get to the display of sale knickers at one side of the register, without Marjorie noticing her. She studied the young woman closely.

She's always getting dates, why is that? Never hurting for dates…. She's about the same height as I am I guess, she thought. She seems to be a couple of inches taller because of her heels. Nice legs, shapely. A bit heavier and not as long as Tina's…nicely shaped over all, but not the super model shape by any stretch of the imagination. What did Miss Klein say that was? Oh, yeah! I remember now, voluptuous, or something like that. Not the super model shape of…. Yeah I guess she is my girlfriend, Sam thought ruefully and with an embarrassing twinge of excitement. Still, Marjorie could almost pose for Playboy.

Turning so that her back was to Marjorie, and in as deep a voice as she could manage and not sound fake, Samantha asked, "If these don't fit her, can I bring them back?"

Turning to look in the direction of the voice, Marjorie popped into her usual sales spiel. "Well, Sir, here at The Under-World, no sale is final until…."

Sam turned around.

"Samantha?!?" Marjorie squealed in amazement. Giggling uncontrollably, Sam could only nod in the affirmative. "Ohmigods!" Marjorie continued. "You look…Samantha?!? What happened? Why? When? Ohmigods! You look so cool!"

Sam motioned with her thumb in the direction of Jennifer.

"Missus Winchester did it?"

"Well, she bought the clothes," Sam continued to giggle, "I did the rest." She did a perfect pirouette. "Like it?"

"You look so…! Ohmigods! Honey, if you're gonna look like that, we're gonna have to teach you how to move, guys just don't pirouette. That look is sooo hot!"

"I take it you like?"

"Like? What are you doing later on? Gods, that is so butch and so…. Do you know Chil…er, Joanne Ayers yet?" Sam shook her head no. "You will," Marjorie continued. "Just wait 'til you meet her. You two are like two peas in a pod. That looks sooo sexy on you. You know…if we did your hair like Julie Andrews in the movie Victor-Victoria and dropped the makeup…. You are perfect. Absolutely flawless." She was having problems completing her line of thought. It only made Sam laugh harder.

"But why?" Marjorie pressed.

When Sam finally got herself under control, she replied, "I guess it's because of the way I reacted to Tina."

"Well, you have to admit," Marjorie interjected, "if you two go out for a burger, no-one will stare at you now. Do you think she'll like it?"

"I sure hope so. I know I do. Do you really think that kind of hair cut will look okay? I mean…I don't want to look like a dyke or something."

"Sam, cut the hair and lose the makeup and I'll go out with you. Hell, I'll even pay! Besides, when you meet Joanne, you'll see that short hair does not make you any less feminine."

"You!?! Little Miss Priss? You'd go out with me? What makes you think I'd want to date you?" Sam asked laughingly.

"Yup! Me. You look that good. Oh, relax; I know you have the hots for Tina. I just wanted you to know how good you look. Still, I wouldn't mind stepping out with you now."

"Speaking of dates," Samantha said, "how is it you always have some gorgeous hunk on your arm, yet you never seem to date them more than twice?"

"Love em, and leave em," she laughed. "Seriously? I never get asked out more than twice. I still haven't figured it out, but…. Well…let's just say I haven't found one I think I'd want to date more than twice anyway. So what are you doing in here today?"

"The old Battleaxe called me in to work. I got here and she said it was time I learned to work the front…and then made me change into these," she said, as she waved a hand over her attire. "You're supposed to teach me."

"Okay! Well, le'me see, first…." Marjorie started to teach Samantha the ropes of the shopfront. It looked like Sam was in for a big change.

Surreptitiously looking on from a discrete distance, Jennifer smiled smugly. That was almost too easy, she thought. All right, Sam, a Victor-Victoria pixie cut it is. Grinning like the cat that swallowed the canary, she went back to her customer.

*****

As they were heading up Washington Boulevard, Janice and Tina noticed the store Linda had mentioned. Stephanie's Melting Pot was on their side of the street; there was plenty of on street parking right in front of the store on the corner of Zink Avenue and Washington Blvd. The business was housed in an old converted supermarket that appeared to have been an A&P at one time. The old car park was halved for another building, but it even boasted off street parking as well. There were several teenaged boys staring at the window display of comic books.

"Now, that's convenient, isn't it?" Janice asked her daughter.

"It's almost like she expected us to be going this way," remarked Tina ruefully.

Tina's comment caught Janice's attention. She stopped the car in front of the store and looked thoughtfully at Tina. "You know, Tina," Jan said, "I almost have to agree with you there. Why don't you come in with me and we'll see what that devious little witch is up to, together."

Tina smiled, "Okay, Ma, I'm game if you are."

As Tina stepped from the car, the attention of the boys shifted from the window display to Tina. One of the youths elbowed another to get his attention and motioned with his thumb in Tina's direction. As mother and daughter walked past, a low whistle could be heard. Janice smiled a knowing smile, but Tina thought she was going to die of embarrassment. She turned beet red and seemed to shrink visibly. Jan, seeing it out of the corner of her eye, got a determined look on her face.

Once they were in the mantrap of the store, Janice turned to Tina and said, "Honey, when they whistle at you like that, don't shrink away from them. Stand tall; be proud of who you are! You're gorgeous and they know it. They only wish they could be with you, that's why they were being vulgar; they knew they don't stand a chance with you. If they look sleazy, or they're gross, there are other ways to handle it, but don't you ever slink away in shame!" Tina just nodded her head, afraid of making a sound.

The inside of the store was much larger than it appeared from the outside. Down the wall of the Washington Street side of the store were racks and racks of high quality costumes. There were dozens of every type of costume imaginable in what appeared to be every size under the sun. The rest of the store was devoted to magazine racks and shelves holding all types of mementos, comic, manga and anime character paraphernalia. Role-playing games and supplies…. It looked like an anime, cartoon and comic book, manga and R.P.G. supermarket.

Beside a row of waist high glass cases was a character with long, flowing, golden brown hair. She stood at least five feet ten inches tall and wore black patent leather boots that came to the middle of her curvaceous thighs. The boots had what seemed to be the highest heels Tina ever saw in her life. They looked delicate, almost as if the heels wouldn't support the woman's weight. As Tina's gaze travelled up the woman's body, her eyes grew wide as pie plates while they took in the painted on fit of the black, patent leather, Catwoman costume the woman was wearing. If she had an ounce of fat on her body, Tina couldn't see where it was being hidden. There was nowhere she could hide it! Her body was perfect. Statuesque was the only way to describe her.

Gods above, Tina thought, it's the Catwoman come to life!

"Mrrrowwl… Welcome to my den," purred Catwoman. "Mmmhow can I help you today?"

Tina just stared, goggle-eyed. Janice looked at her daughter and started to laugh. "Hello," Jan began. Noticing her daughter still staring, she hissed, "Tina! Stop staring!" She turned back to Catwoman and continued. "My gods! That has to be the absolute best Catwoman costume I have ever seen! Not to mention that you also have the body to go with it."

"Mmmwhy thank you!" purred Catwoman. "NnnI'll bet Linda sent you in for her books." Both Tina and Janice stared open mouthed.

Finally breaking character, Catwoman started to laugh. "She called me and told me to expect you, Jan. This must be Tina; my gods, Girl, have I got a costume for you! Of course, your hair is a bit short, but…. Oh, I am sorry, I really do love my super-hero costumes and Tina has the perfect body for Super Girl…. I recognised you from the description Linda gave me. She said you might have your daughter with you. I just assumed…. Well, any way, come on over here. I have her books all wrapped up and ready to go. Linda already gave me her credit card information; I'll just ring them up. It's a good thing you agreed to come in to pick them up. I have three buyers lined up waiting for these particular books."

Jan, finally snapping out of her shock, started to laugh. "I'm sorry, but you seem to have me at a disadvantage."

Catwoman replied with a giggle, "Please excuse my bad manners. I'm Stephanie."

"Of Stephanie's Melting…" Jan began.

"One and the same! Pleased to meet you!"

"The pleasure is all mine, Stephanie. As you suspected, the one with the wide eyes and open mouth, here, is Tina."

"Are you sure I can't get that costume for you…?"

Laughing, Jan cut her off and said, "Thank you, no. We'll just take Linda's books today, but I think we will stop in another time."

"Well, Jan, it has been a pleasure meeting you," Stephanie said as she handed the bag to Janice. "I look forward to your next visit. Bring Tina with you! I'd love to see her in that costume. It would be perfect on her!"

Still laughing, Jan said, "I think I'll do just that. Have a great day! Come on, Gertrude, close your mouth and get the lead out. We still have grocery shopping to do."

"Bye," squeaked Tina, looking back over her shoulder. What a fantastic body that woman has, she thought as she followed her mother out the door.

As they emerged from the store, the young boys, that had formed the gauntlet the pair walked earlier were gone. Tina was visibly relieved. "I see your fan club has decided to call it a day," Jan joked as they got into the car.

"I couldn't be happier," Tina replied.

"You know," her mother said, "you're going to have to get used to that. You really are very attractive. The next time that happens, don't slouch, stand tall; be proud of who you are. Act like you're above them. You aren't the one being vulgar.

"What did you think of Stephanie?" Jan asked.

"Wow!" Tina said. "Do you think that she really had all of what we saw under that costume?"

"I don't see how it could have been otherwise," Jan replied with a smile, as she pulled away from the kerb. "You could see every line, crease and wrinkle under that costume. I thought your nails were long; I don't see how she can get anything done with those claws."

"Her? What about me? Look at these things!" Tina complained, holding her hands up to her mother. "I can't even brush the hair out of my face without poking myself in the eye!"

"Oh ye of little faith," giggled Jan. "Give them time. I'll bet that by the time Linda comes over you'll have gotten used to them."

"Yeah, right, and the pope is Italian, too!" Tina countered sarcastically, thinking about the Polish pope.

Jan steered the car into the car park of the 'Super Mart' shopping centre.

"Ready to walk the gauntlet again?" Jan asked with a smile, indicating another crowd of young boys outside the Blockbuster video store.

"Can't I just stay here?" Tina asked balefully.

"Not unless you want them coming over and trying to pick you up," Jan laughed, as she pulled into a space directly in front of the video store.

Tina whined quietly as she got ready to step into the pool of circling sharks.

"Just remember what I said, Honey," Jan said. "Head up, shoulders back, stand tall and proud."

Tina got out of the car, and in one motion, slung her purse over her shoulder and closed the car door. These boys were considerably more vociferous than the last. There were shouts of, "Hey, Mama! Over here, Baby! I'll take care of you!" and worse. Tina stood tall and walked alongside her mother, unconsciously adding a bit more wiggle to her walk. Without looking at them as she passed, she flipped them the bird over her shoulder.

Trying desperately to sound stern, and failing miserably, Jan chastised her child, the giggle in her voice obvious. "Tina, that wasn't very ladylike!"

"I know, Ma, but it sure felt good!" came the laughing response.

"I think it's time you stopped calling me Ma. Don't you?" Jan countered. "Most young girls call their mothers 'Mum,' 'Mummy,' or 'Mother.'"

The valley girl made another appearance. "Yes, Mo-therrr."

Spirits soaring, the two giggling women entered the store. Mother and daughter shopped carefully and selectively, conversing quietly as they made their way through the store.

"Oh, look!" Tina exclaimed, making a beeline to a display of strawberries. "What do you think of strawberry shortcake for dessert?"

"That does sound good, but are the strawberries any good?"

"With enough sugar, they're always good!" laughed Tina.

"You're going to have to start watching your figure, Sweetheart," Jan remonstrated. "Remember, a minute on the lips…."

"Yes, I know, I know, a lifetime on the hips. But it does sound like the perfect dessert; besides, you know how much I can eat."

"Just because you can eat whatever you want right now is not an excuse for developing poor eating habits…but that does sound good," Jan vacillated. "Okay, okay, today, and I mean just today, strawberry shortcake it is."

Gleefully, Tina attacked the display while her mother went to find the makings for salad.

They quickly traversed the store, getting the needed items for dinner and some miscellaneous toiletries for them both. Jan steered the cart to the nearest checkout lane, only to change her mind at the last moment and took her place in another line. Unfazed by her mother's last second change, Tina followed blindly.

Jan gazed at the usual media tripe in the magazine stands by the checkout and said, "Why don't you get yourself a couple of magazines for later, Sweetie?"

Without thinking, Tina turned and started to head over to the book racks near the checkout aisles, where the computer and technology books and magazines were located.

"Where are you going?" Jan asked. "Why don't you get me a Vogue? I see the new issue of Seventeen is out, and we can share the Cosmo," she finished brightly.

Tina stopped in her tracks, a blush slowly spreading across her delicate cheeks. "Why is she doing this to me?" she mumbled as she tried to look over the magazine racks without being noticed. Selecting the suggested magazines, Tina returned to the checkout stand. Placing the magazines on the conveyor belt, she looked up into the brightest blue eyes she'd ever seen on a boy. They contrasted beautifully with his closely cropped blonde hair. The checker, all of six feet in height and well muscled she noticed, was scanning the items without taking his eyes off her. Her cheeks turned a bright crimson as she stared at the floor in a vain attempt not to see and be seen by him.

Seeing her avert her gaze, he spoke. "Hi! I'm Brad; beautiful out today, isn't it?"

Still looking at the floor, Tina replied, "I guess so," her voice barely above a whisper. Janice looked on in amusement.

Brad continued, "Are you doing anything later on? My shift ends at four thirty; maybe we could stop by the Pit and maybe see a movie afterward?"

Horrified at what was happening, Tina just shuffled her feet, still staring at the floor. Jan came to her rescue. "I'm sorry, Brad, but we're entertaining a few guests at home tonight," she said with a giggle, "I'm afraid Tina won't be able to accompany you; besides, I don't think her boyfriend would appreciate it, do you Tina?"

Dumbstruck at the sequence of events, Tina just shook her head and mumbled a soft, "No."

Ever the optimist, Brad said, "Well, if you ever get tired of him, just let me know." His smile beamed, "I always work Saturdays."

"Thank you, Brad," Jan said with a smile. Turning to Tina, she said, "Where are your manners? Thank Brad for his invitation."

"Thank you," Tina mumbled.

"That's thirty-nine forty-two, Ma'am," Brad said, totalling out the order. "Will that be cash or charge?"

"Let's live dangerously," Jan countered. "Charge it." She swiped her American Express card through the reader. Brad reached to examine the card.

After bagging their order, Brad said with his best smile, "Thanks for coming in today, Missus Wilson. Tina, please come again soon, even if it's just to say hi, okay?"

Tina all but fled from the store, hanging on to her mother's arm for support. She was so distracted by Brad she never even noticed the young toughs outside. Once they were safely ensconced in the car and on their way once more, Janice spoke. "You know, Honey, Brad was just being friendly. The least you could have done was give him a smile."

"But he was hitting on me! I'm a guy! What am I supposed to say; sure, Brad, I'd love to go out? I mean…."

"Are you a guy? Jan replied. "Look at you, you look like a living, breathing, Barbie Doll. This is part of the territory of being a girl, Sweetie. You're going to have to learn how to deal with boys that make passes at you.

"Next time a young man makes a pass, smile. If you want to accept the pass, and a date, avert your face and peer up at him through your eyelashes. Then you smile at him and speak softly. Blink a few times while you do and he'll be putty in your hands. If you want to turn him down, look him in the eye, smile, but not as sweetly, and say thanks, but no thanks. It's that simple.

"Whatever you do, unless he's been anything less than a gentleman, don't put him down. I think you know what I mean there, don't you?" Tina just nodded her head. It looked like she was on the verge of tears. "Cheer up, Sweetie, treat it as a learning experience. We're going to win a bet tonight, remember?" Tina nodded her head and looked a bit more thoughtful than she did upset.

This just might be a bit harder than I originally thought, Jan mused as she drove the rest of the way home.

*****

Part-8

Saturday Evening September 5th

Preparing dinner was a snap. All Tina had to do was thaw the sauce in a microwave and boil water for the ravioli. Dessert was just a matter of washing, hulling and slicing strawberries, sprinkling them with sugar and putting them in the fridge to chill, then making quick biscuits with Bisquick. It took her all of fifteen minutes to prepare the strawberries and another twenty for the biscuits, including the baking time. After she popped the sauce in the microwave to thaw, she went up to her mother's room to redo her face and to get help on selecting an outfit.

Tina was sitting at the vanity putting the finishing touches on her face as her mother looked on from the bed.

"Mum?" Tina asked as she blotted her lipstick.

"Yes, Honey."

"What do you think I should wear?" Tina asked. "I want to look nice, but I don't think I want to get too carried away, either."

"You're thinking along the right lines, Sweetie, I'm proud of you," Jan said. "Why don't you try the Young Republican look?"

"The who?"

"You know, little Miss New England," came the smirking reply. "Put on a silk button front blouse, a crew necked sweater and a jeans skirt. I think a nice, tan or taupe, low heeled pump would finish it off rather well."

"Okay." Tina paused, and then, in a quiet voice, asked, "Mum?"

"Yes?"

"What's a pump?" The look of exasperation on Jan's face was priceless. Tina couldn't hold a straight face any longer. She burst out laughing.

"Why you little minx!" Jan laughed, throwing a pillow at Tina. "Go get dressed before I turn you over my knee!"

Tina broke into her best Maimie impersonation as she edged toward the door, "Please don' beat dees tard ole bones, Massa! I's a goin! I's a goin!" Tina, giggling wildly, scampered for the door. Just as she made the turn out of the bedroom and into the hall, another pillow flew by, narrowly missing her head. She shrieked with glee as she ran laughing down the hall.

"Oh no, I think I've created a monster," Jan groaned happily.

*****

When Tina finished dressing for dinner she presented herself to her mother for inspection.

"How do I look, Mum?"

"You look fine, Honey. Come here and sit down," Jan said.

Tina walked over to the bed and sat beside her mother.

"I was thinking about that little Maimie impersonation you do." Jan Continued. "I know it's funny to us, but it's not always funny to everyone else. Back when Maimie made her living doing those skits and routines for the movies, it was the only way she could make a living. They wouldn't hire African American people unless they were willing to behave in that manner on camera. It was another way of reinforcing the stereotypes society wanted to impose and keeping the people of African descent under their thumbs. It's not proper and I don't want to hear you doing it again. Am I understood?"

"Yes, Mum, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to be putting anyone down, I just…."

"I know, Honey, but, put yourself in Maimie's shoes for a second. How would you feel if someone pointed at you and impersonated you? Suppose they flounced around limp-wristed and spoke with an exaggerated lisp?"

Tina stared at her mother as the words sank in. Her lower lip began to quiver ever so slightly and her eyes began to shine with the tears welling within them.

"Oh, Mum," Tina moaned in a quiet whisper, "that's not how you see me, is it?"

Janice smiled warmly at her new daughter. "Of course not, Tina. You are the very picture of a beautiful, vibrant young woman. But do you see just how little it can take to hurt someone? You want everyone to accept the new you, don't you?" Tina nodded tearfully. "Then, you need to start by treating everyone with respect at all times. If you do that, they'll treat you the same way, more often than not. You have to be careful and watch other people's feelings. I'm just as guilty as you are for laughing at you and that silly routine of yours. You can't just say anything you like, okay?"

"Okay. I promise to be more careful about what I say and do, all the time."

"All right, let's get cracking. You have a dinner to prepare!" With that, the two of them went into the kitchen to finish readying dinner.

*****

Eight o'clock found Tina in an apron, putting the finishing touches on the salad and sour cream dressing. Jan supervised her preparations from the antique table. "Remember, Tina, think in waltz time when you're serving. Dip two three, pour two three and when you're walking, it's glide two three. Think you can handle that?" Jan asked. Tina nodded as she finished the salad. "Okay, Sweetie," Jan continued. "Put those in the fridge. As soon as Linda gets here you can put the ravioli in the water."

When chimes of Westminster announced their guest, Jan started to get up to answer the door. "Are you trying to lose the bet already?" Tina asked. Jan looked at Tina in askance. "I'm supposed to play hostess tonight, not you, remember? I'll get the door." Removing her apron and placing it on the counter, Tina walked to the front door.

As she was opening the door, a gaily-wrapped bottle was thrust inside, causing Tina to pause and take stock of the situation. A lilting, feminine voice could be heard. "I come bearing gifts!"

Taking the proffered bottle from the hand, Tina opened the door the rest of the way in a rush and greeted her mother's long-time friend and quasi-family member. "Linda! Hi! Come on in," Tina said enthusiastically as she embraced her guest in a gentle, one armed hug and kissed the air by her ear. "Did you get your hair done today, too? It looks great! Here, let me take your sweater."

Shocked as much by the effusive greeting as by Tina's appearance, Linda just stood and gaped. "What, aren't you going to stay?" Tina chided.

The shock ebbing, Linda came to life. "Er…Tina?!? Damn! You look great! I love what Claire did with your hair!"

"Do you really like it?" Tina asked as she unconsciously raised a hand to her hair. "She wants me back in a week to do some highlights. You like?" she asked, turning in a graceful pirouette. Linda just beamed a blinding smile at the girl and nodded enthusiastically.

"Now," Tina continued, "are you going to give me your sweater, or are you conceding the bet and going home?"

"You little stinker! No, I am not conceding the bet, Miss Grace, I'm going to get that Ansel Adams your mother cheated me out of at that auction if it kills me."

"I hear Swan's Mortuary is running a special; did you buy your plot already?" Tina joked.

Jan, hearing the ruckus in the foyer, came out to investigate. "Hi, Linda; oh! I love your hair. Come on into the kitchen.

"Tina, is that wine?"

"Yes it is." Linda replied. "It's a very nice vintage Cabernet, thankyouverymuch!" Jan reached for the bottle while Linda continued to speak. "I got a case at Apple Jack's last week. "What's for dinner? I'm famished."

"We're having ravioli for an entrée," Jan said, "and strawberry shortcake for dessert."

"Hey! Just wait a minute!" Linda exclaimed. "You just lost. The deal was, Tina makes dinner, or have you already conveniently forgotten that little part of the bargain?"

"But she did," countered Jan with a Cheshire Cat smile. "She made the sauce last week. And, as soon as she hangs up your sweater," she said looking at Tina, urging her on with her gaze, "she's going to put the ravioli in."

"That's not fair!" Linda started to complain as she started into the kitchen behind Jan.

"What do you mean, 'not fair'? You said she had to make it and she did. You never said when she had to make it."

"That stinks," Linda pouted. "You know what I meant."

"No, I know what you said. What you said was, and I quote: 'All right, Tina acts as hostess, makes dinner, and serves.' End quote."

"Realtor!" accused Linda.

"Bean counter!" came the retort.

"All right, she made dinner," the petite blonde conceded reluctantly as she walked into the kitchen.

"As you can see," Jan said, "I still have a kitchen." She continued through to the dining room. The eight-foot oak table had been set for a formal dinner of three. The fine bone china had been set out and two pieces of crystal stem-ware were at each place setting.

Tina entered the room and went to the foot of the table.

"Linda, if you would be so kind as to take your place," she said, as she pulled out the heavy end chair, "I can begin."

"I concede that you're up on your Emily Post," Linda said. "Could we be a bit less formal?"

"Of course," Tina said with relief. "What would you like to change?"

"Let's say we gather at one end of the table or the other." Linda smiled. "I'd really hate to have to yell across the room to try and be heard," she giggled. "Besides, I don't think my knowledge of formal dining is as up to snuff as yours. What did you do, surf the web to find all this?"

"I'll never tell," came the retort, as she put the chair back under the table. Tina started to move the place setting to the right of the head of the table.

Pulling the chair out for her guest, Tina motioned her over. "I could get used to this," Linda said.

Tina disappeared into the kitchen, returning moments later with a tureen of minestrone soup. Serving from the left in European fashion, Tina smoothly ladled the soup into the bowls before her mother and her guest. Tina then served herself and, after placing the tureen on the sideboard, took her seat. She slid the ring from her napkin and, placing the ring to one side, Tina carefully unfolded the cloth and daintily placed it in her lap. The picture of grace under pressure, Tina was a perfect lady.

Her manners with the soup were impeccable. Always dipping the spoon into the soup in a smooth studied motion away from her body and sipping the soup from the spoon with nary a slurp. Posture formally correct, Tina never once leaned over her plate, rested an arm or elbow on the table and, unbelievably, never once did a single drop of soup drip in her lap or on the tablecloth. All actions gracefully carried out, while holding up her end of the pleasant table chatter.

After the soup was finished, removing from the right, Tina cleared the table. She returned with a serving tray containing a covered serving bowl of ravioli and meatballs, a serving dish of Locatelli grated cheese, and another tureen with more sauce and meat. Placing the tray on the sideboard, again she served the food flawlessly.

It looked as if Tina was going to walk away with the bet when disaster struck midway through the entrée. The idle banter at the table put Tina at ease. So much so, that she forgot, just for the briefest of moments, that she was a young lady on a mission. Instead of breaking the ravioli in half with her fork as she had been doing, she speared one whole. There she was, fork neatly spearing the ravioli dead centre when, on its way over the edge of the bowl, it grazed the rim. The pasta shell started to rip where the tines had speared the morsel. As it cleared the table and was gracefully approaching Tina's waiting mouth, it happened.

The torn pasta, though aldente, wasn't strong enough to bear the weight of the sauce coating it and the cheese within, it fell…. Tina watched it drop in, what to her, was slow motion. There it was…in mid flight…turning slowly…end… over end. She could see the red sauce glaring angrily as the broken ravioli rotated in the air, dropping squarely…onto the napkin…in the centre of Tina's lap…with a soft…wet…plop! The bite would have been a bit large, but concealable, were it not for her dropping it into her lap. She blanched. It looked like the faux pas was missed! No-one said or did anything to acknowledge the event.

From there, dinner progressed smoothly and quickly, but Tina wanted to cry. I lost the bet, I just know it. I can't do anything right. I lost the bet for Mum. Oh, gods above, why do these things always happen to me? she lamented silently.

It wasn't until after Tina cleared up the dinner plates, served, and cleared, the salad and dessert was before them that Linda brought the subject of the bet out into the open.

"Okay, the trial by fire is over," she said with a smile. "Tina, you were unbelievable. I thought I was going to wear the soup or the sauce for sure. Then, when you ladled the strawberries over the cakes without slopping it up, well…I've got to hand it to you, Kiddo; you've made quite the improvement over your usual boorish manners and lack of grace. But…there is the matter of that ravioli in your lap during the entrée."

"Now, just wait a minute, Linda…" Jan began in defence of her child.

"Oh, relax, Jan, she's won, but not unconditionally."

"And just what is that supposed to mean?" Jan asked suspiciously.

"Well, if her performance had been flawless and she hadn't slipped once, there would be no strings. As it stands, we have a draw. No winner, no loser. But, if she's willing to do a little computer work for a friend of mine, I'll make good on my end of the bargain. I'll even up my end of the stakes. That means Tina will get anything, furniture, clothes, makeup, dancing lessons, anything a girl of eighteen and nineteen could possibly want or need. If she wants it, it's hers for the period of one year, including all doctor bills. Want a pony? I'll foot the bills for all of it, right down to stable and farrier fees just as we agreed."

"What kind of computer work?" Tina asked carefully. Having known Linda her entire life, Tina knew that behind that bubble-headed, blonde-bimbette look, was one of the sharpest, most conniving minds in the world. Linda might be blond, ditzy looking and a buxom little babe, but she was sharp.

Linda's next statement was delivered in this same sharp businesslike tone. "She needs an ultra secure LAN, WAN and mobile system set-up, with the hottest servers you can build. The whole thing will need to be fully integrated with complete audio, video, microwave and cellular communications built into it. Can you handle something like that?"

"Yes…and no," Tina replied cagily.

Janice stifled a giggle. She loved watching Tina take Linda on. It was almost as if they were siblings with the way they bantered, parrying innuendo and diatribe.

"And what is that supposed to mean?" Linda took to the offensive. "Either you can do it, or you can't."

All business now, Tina's demeanour did a complete one eighty. She was as cold and calculating as they come. "The type of system you're asking for is not your run of the mill business set-up. It can cost more than thousands of dollars; it can conceivably run into the millions. You make it sound like a little office set-up. It's not. The system, to be as functional as you've intimated, yet didn't actually say, needs to become part of the backbone. In other words, it has to become its own I.S.P. At the heart of it all needs to be a small supercomputer. A mini Cray would be best. Assuming, whoever your friend is, is rich, they'll be close to poor when I'm done spending their money."

"I didn't ask you what it was going to cost, I asked you if you could do it. Can you?"

"Yes…and no."

"Damn it Tina!" Linda exclaimed. She was so exasperated she wanted to throttle the girl. Jan didn't make it any easier by giggling out loud.

"If I design, install and maintain it, my suggestions are followed to the letter and I'm given 'carte blanche,' yes. I can do it…and you're going to owe me a lot more than a year's worth of clothes, furniture, and accessories. But yes, I can do it."

"Will you do it?"

"Mum?"

"Honey, you're sure you can handle that?" asked Jan.

"Sure, Mum," Tina said. "It's more complex than Linda made it sound, but I can do it. It's just that it takes a good bit of time to do and I don't think it fair that all I get out of it are some clothes, furniture, accessories and doctor visits. Besides, what about school? I'm taking classes at the University this term and I have my course load at Central. Add this to it and I'll be tied up for thirty-six hours a day for the next year! I won't have time to sleep or anything!"

"Linda, she's right, you know," Jan stated. "What you're asking is an awful lot."

Linda set her jaw; you could see the wheels spinning in her brain. Then, out of the blue, Tina said, "Here's how it works. I continue with my coursework at school and the university. In my spare time, I'll give you at least ten hours a week, but no more than 20 hours a week. That way I have some time for myself. For the time I give you, I charge you fifty dollars an hour. You arrange it as a salary, and you pay the taxes. That means, if I work ten hours, I get paid five hundred net, not gross. I get what ever I ask for in terms of clothes, accessories and everything else, just like you agreed, no questions asked.

"I go to your friend's place, get the complete rundown on what she has, wants and needs. I don't mean just on paper, I want to see what she has. She holds nothing back. She answers all questions and I mean all, not just the convenient ones. And she does so completely and honestly. I present her with a list of things I say she needs and she buys them. No quibbling on price or brand. I set it up, I configure it and I maintain it. I'll train her and her people to run it. I'll even do the bespoke programming it'll require. After the year is up, my rates go to one hundred fifty dollars an hour…and if I feel it conflicts with my sense of honesty or propriety, I don't do it and you still foot the bill for everything I want."

"Now just a…hold on there!" Linda started, her face turning red.

"Those are the terms, take 'em or leave 'em. You don't like it, we're even," Tina said with finality.

Janice couldn't help herself she burst out laughing. Linda, the unstoppable, manipulating wizard of all time had just been bested…and by a teenager. "I think she has you there, Linda. Those sound like the best terms you can hope for," Jan managed between giggles.

Linda, succumbing to the inevitable, laughed as well. "You know…it's highway robbery, but we have a deal," she said in resignation and reached into her purse. She pulled out an envelope and, stretching across the table, handed it to Tina. "This is for you," she said.

Tina reached out and took the envelope. Her nails seemed to make it impossible for her to grasp it properly to tear the edge off it the way she normally would. Linda giggled and said, "I see no-one warned her about Claire."

"Oh, I guess they aren't too bad," Tina said, her face a delicate shade of rose. "They just take a bit of getting used to." It took a few seconds, but Tina discovered a very good use for her new "talons." Sliding the tip of a nail into the top edge of the flap, she slit the envelope open, using her nail as a letter opener. Reaching inside, she pulled out a silver American Express credit card with her name on it, a temporary student ID for the university and a brochure for Cliffside Academy, a rather exclusive private school, a driver's license and birth certificate.

"Use the credit card in good health. You are now a signer on my American Express Platinum account. But, I get to see what you buy! I want to be there the first time you use it, okay? Try not to get into trouble using the license, it'll work for ID, but it's just a fake. Remember that. I know a doctor at the hospital. She gave me the fake birth certificate. You can always use that to get another license." Tina nodded silently, staring at the contents of the envelope. She spread them out on the table beside her plate.

Continuing, Linda said, "A friend of mine works in admissions. She gave me the ID card for you. She said that you'd have to go back down there and have your picture taken for the regular student ID. And, I figured that if Tina was going to be around for at least a year, you might not want to go back to Central. You started classes there when? Wednesday the second? Cliffside's fall semester begins next Wednesday, September ninth. That should give you the opportunity to start the year over as Tina. How's that sound?"

Tina looked at her mother in askance. Jan replied to the question for her daughter. "Well, it is a bit sudden, but it does sound like the ideal thing to do, given the current circumstances. But isn't Cliffside a bit pricey?"

"They might be a bit on the expensive side," Linda answered, "but I think they'll challenge Tina a bit more academically."

"Tina? Does that sound all right with you?" her mother asked. "It means you won't finish high school at Central with your friends." She sounded genuinely concerned.

"The only friend I have at Central," or anywhere for that matter, she added silently "is Samantha. And the guys at school make it hard for me to see her there anyway, so…. Yeah, sure, I guess so," she sounded a bit lifeless.

"What's the matter, Honey?" Janice asked.

"Wuh…well, it just seems…."

"Do you want to stay at Central?"

"No! I mean, I get teased badly enough as it is, but…it's all happening so fffffast." She seemed genuinely confused.

"Honey," Linda said, "sometimes finding out who you really are is a hard and scary process. I don't want you to think that this is something you have to do now. But…it should be something you think very hard about, before doing it, and especially hard about, before not doing it. If this is who you really are, you should find out what it's like now, before you're all alone, with no-one to help you.

"You know I can be a manipulative bitch. You proved that with our little spate of negotiations. However, this is one time when I can honestly say, I want what's best for you and not what's in it for me. Not because it will cost me less if you decide not to, but because I really, truly want you to be happy with who you are and who you will become.

"This is an experiment. Yes, it seems like it's going awfully fast. That's my fault; but, at the same time, wouldn't it be nice if you had some fond memories of high school, too? If we hurry, you can start the school year as Tina. You'll have a chance to meet new people and make new friends. You might even have a great time doing it! But you'll never have the chance to do it as Ernie. It'll just be another year of the same old thing, if you do it as Ernie.

"What do you say? Want to give it a try?" Linda finished quietly.

"Can I back out any time I want?"

"Well…it might be a bit difficult for school," Linda said hesitating, "but sure, anytime you want; as long as you keep your end of the bargain with the computer work."

"And it won't cost Mum anything if I do?"

"Your Mum and I are even," Linda replied. "Even if you back out before the year is up. But…you have to promise me one more thing, well…two more."

"What?" Tina looked about ready to cry again.

"One, that you give it your very best shot to try and stick it out for the full year; and two, that you don't cry because you look so pretty and it's my turn to cry," Linda said as a tear rolled down her cheek.

"I promise on one and I'll try on two," Tina said as she jumped up from her chair and ran to Linda to give her a hug. "I promise I'll try, Linda, I promise."

*****

Part-9

Midnight Downloads Author's Note:

WARNING:

This part of Midnight Downloads has a scene that depicts VERY GRAPHIC AND EXTREME VIOLENCE. As the author, I WILL NOT APOLOGISE FOR ITS INCLUSION IN THIS STORY. It can be construed -- by some -- to be gratuitous violence. I concede this point as its inclusion is not integral to the story line. Only a mention that it happened is necessary to further the story.

I argue that it is not gratuitous because while the story can be successfully read without it, it describes -- in shocking, horrifying detail -- something that happens every day. It depicts -- in gruesome, disgusting detail -- something that occurs to thousands of men, women and children in this country and in every country around the world. It depicts something that must stop.

Why should it be included? Read the violence and tell me if you can live under that cloud of fear every day of your life and not come out of it with a permanently skewed outlook on life and society. I have included it to allow you to understand why quiet, sweet, innocent, little Johnny Doe can pick up a knife -- and hack away at -- and kill mummy or daddy, and have it be justifiable homicide with over 100 knife wounds in the corpse. You need to feel the horror, the terror, the helplessness they feel to truly understand. I fear my words have missed their mark. They are only words, after all, and I am not that good a writer.

Yes, the violence CAN be skipped without taking anything away from the readability of the story. It has been marked by a double row of asterisks, for those of you whose sensibilities are too delicate to read something so…terrifyingly graphic.

Some have speculated that I have lived through something like this. Have I? You tell me. Now, back to our irregularly scheduled story.

Wendy-J

*****

The Beginning of Part-9

Saturday Night September 5th

Back at The Under-World, the sales day was drawing to a close. The mall's paging system announced that the doors to the mall would be locked in 30 minutes. Jenny walked over to the register where Samantha was ringing up the last customer of the night.

"Thank you for shopping at The Under-World; have a safe drive home."

Sam was so happy with the day's events that she was practically dancing to the quiet waltz playing over the store's speakers. As she started getting more into the rhythm of the music, she bumped into something soft where nothing had been a moment before. She turned and saw her employer standing there, a wide smile beaming from her handsome face.

"Oh! Missus Winchester, I didn't see you come over," Sam said brightly. "Is everything all right?"

"Just fine, Honey. You did a marvellous job today. It was nice to be able to send Marjorie home at a reasonable hour for a change," the stately proprietor said. "Let me show you how to close the register, then I'll give you that trim we talked about earlier."

Jennifer Winchester took the girl through the checkout procedures quickly. The cash drawer balanced out perfectly on the first go-round. Then, true to her word, Jennifer escorted Sam into the salon for her haircut.

*****

In the salon, Jenny was just finishing Sam's shampoo. "So have you decided on a style, Sam?" she asked.

"Well…" Sam said, drawing out the word as she hesitated.

" 'Well' what? Does that mean 'yes,' 'no,' or 'I'm afraid to tell you what I really want'?"

"The latter, I guess," the young girl said, her countenance darkening. "What I mean is, I really would like a short bob. Almost like what the 'Beatles' made popular in the '60s, but…."

"But what? Are you afraid of what your classmates will say at school?"

"No, not my classmates. Heck, they don't even notice me. No, it's my parents. My Dad wants his darling little girl, and well…."

"You don't exactly fit the 'sugar and spice' mould. Is that it?" Jenny asked.

"Yes'm. Dad just doesn't like the way I dress or act. He wants a little princess and I really don't fit the bill. I never liked all the frills and fluff he wanted me to wear when I was little. Sometimes, I just wish I were a boy. There would be things I'd miss about being a girl and all, but dresses sure aren't part of it."

"Then here's what we're going to do. I'm going to give you the cut you described. You're eighteen now and know your own mind. If your parents have any difficulty with it, tell them I botched the first cut and had to do this to make it look good. Have them call me if they have a problem. I'll back you up all the way. Okay, Sweetie?"

"Do you really mean it?" Sam said, brightening.

"I sure do, Sam. Come on over to my chair, 'Ms. Beatle to be!' " Jennifer Winchester said. "It's time you expressed who you really are!"

Thirty minutes later, Sam looked in the mirror. The hairstyle, though reminiscent of the "Beatles bob," was a bit shorter, closer to a "Peter Pan," or a "Victor-Victoria" look. Her makeup, a bit smudged at the edges from the shampoo, was a stark contrast to the rest of her. She looked like a boy with a bosom.

"Well?" Jenny asked, a smile on her face.

"I think it's perfect!" Sam responded happily.

"Great! I think your makeup needs some attention though. Why don't you sit back down and I'll fix it for you."

"Oh, don't bother, Missus Winchester, I can fix it in a heart beat," Sam said with a laugh. "I don't dare go home without it now!"

True to her word, Sam repaired the damage in just a few moments. Then, the day's work done, the two women, a study in contrasts, left the store via the car park entrance. "It's awfully late, Samantha; why don't you let me give you a ride home?" Jenny said.

"Thanks, Missus Winchester, but I rode my bike in today. It's over in the bike rack by the main entrance."

"Oh, that's not a problem, Honey, I drove the van today. We'll just put it in the back."

"Thanks! That'd be great! I really wasn't looking forward to the ride home. I'm exhausted."

"Working the front of the store is harder than it looks, isn't it?"

"It sure is," the teen said. "I'll never understand how Marjorie does it. She seems to thrive on it."

"That she does, Sam, that she does. But then, Marjorie has some very special talents, as you will come to see. Running the store is just one of them. Let's get your bike and get you home."

In no time at all, Samantha's bike was in the back of Jenny's van. The ride to Sam's home only took a few minutes. Sam thanked Jenny for the ride, hopped out and pulled her bike from the side door of the full sized cargo van.

"Thanks again for the ride, Missus Winchester. I'll see you on Monday, after school."

"You're quite welcome, Sam. You have a nice day off tomorrow."

With that, Jenny drove off.

*****

Sam's spirits were soaring. Along with her new clothes and her new duties at the store came a substantial raise in pay, plus a commission on every item she sold. She was so happy that she never even noticed her father's car, parked at an angle to the kerb a few houses down the street. There was a new crease in the driver's door.

James Boone, Samantha's father, was a travelling salesman for a flooring company. His territory covered several neighbouring states, so he was seldom home. When he was, he made life a living hell for Sam and her mother, Donna. When her father was home, a key to the atmosphere of the house was the way his car was parked. James Boone was an abusive alcoholic. If her father's car was parked properly, the odds were in favour of things being quiet in the house. If it was parked as it was then, it would be probably be better to stay out all night and face the consequences for that in the morning, when he was sober, or nearly so.

Sam's father wasn't due home for another week. With her new promotion at work, her new hairstyle and her new clothes, Sam was on cloud nine. It never occurred to her to look for the car. She wheeled her bike into the shed in the back yard. With the bag of new clothes and the clothes she wore to work in her hand, she opened the back door and went into the mud room off the kitchen. Sam smelled the sour stench of booze before she even saw him. Her spirits plummeted.

Oh no, she cried to herself, not now. Please! Gods, not now. Her shoulders slumped and she began to tremble. She didn't have time to do more than that.

James Boone stormed into the mud room, his florid face contorted in rage.

"Just where the fuck have you…" he began. He stopped in mid sentence when he saw her.

He stared down at his daughter from his six-foot height, glowering through his glassy, bloodshot eyes. Samantha, eyes wide, stood there shaking in terror. It was only for a second or two that he had paused in his tirade. It seemed to Sam to be an eternity. Without saying another word, he punched Samantha in the face.

It was with slow motion clarity that Samantha saw the huge hand, coming at her. Her mind said, Move or this is going to do more than hurt. Another part of her mind said, Move and he'll make you wish you didn't. And if he hits something else, it'll be pure agony for you. She was torn between what she should or shouldn't do, so she froze.

*****

*****

James Boone's meaty hand connected with the side of Sam's face with a sickening splat that knocked her off her feet and into the dryer across the room. The impact of the blow caused a brief numbing and tingling sensation as lights flashed within her head and her ears began ringing. There was an odd taste in her mouth. It was metallic, but it wasn't blood. Her impact with the dryer was softer, its case collapsed, cushioning the blow as it slid backward into the wall. She hit the dryer with enough force to cave in the plaster of the wall behind it, before everything came to a halt. The world around her seemed to spin and reverberate. Sounds came to Samantha as if through some demented reverb system of the sixties, drawn out and distorted in a maniac slow motion echo. It was strange how the blow had no feeling of pain associated with it. There was just an all-encompassing tingly sensation. Sort of like the pins and needles of a numb arm or leg, but nowhere as sharp, alive or painful. She just lay there, too stunned to move and too terrified to make a sound for fear of angering her father further, thereby egging him on.

"What the fuck have you done to your hair?!?" he bellowed. "And what the HELL do you call what you're wearing?!? HUH? ANSWER ME, GOD DAMN IT!!!"

"I…" Samantha began in a tiny voice from her crumpled heap on the floor. She never got the chance to finish.

He kicked her in the ribs, its force lifting her off the tiles and causing her to fall back down with a thump that was almost like a drum roll as each part of her body came back in contact with the tile floor.

"WHAT THE FUCK IS THIS? I leave my wife and daughter for a couple of weeks while I earn money to put a fucking roof over your god damned heads and feed your worthless faces, and I come home to this?!?"

He kicked her again. Then he bent down, grabbed a handful of hair and yanked her to her feet. Holding her at arm's length by her hair, he backhanded her across the mouth. More lights -- it was like a drug. No pain, just tingling numbness. Sam noticed the coppery taste of blood as her teeth cut into her lip. At that point it was as if a switch was thrown in Sam's head. It was like she was there watching the beating instead of having it happen to her, yet the horror and terror were still there, but it was like nothing was really connected to her somehow.

"You want to be a FUCKING BOY?!? I'll treat you like a god damned 'boy!' " James Boone yelled.

Each word was perfectly enunciated and spat out with a derision and sarcasm that chilled all who heard it. An evil smile seemed to have formed at the corners of his mouth. He seemed to enjoy beating his daughter. That smile froze the blood in the veins of perfect strangers. It was a smile that Samantha had come to fear.

James threw her into the door-jamb. Her head rocked into the wood trim with a sickening crack and she fell to the floor like a rag doll. The pain, finally starting to creep through the numbing haze, was disconnected, almost as if it wasn't part of her, but part of the scene around her. The horror of the moment was palpable, a tangible entity that turned blood to ice.

Too terrified to make a sound and unable to move, even if she wanted to, Sam lay in a heap on the floor, like a sack of yesterday's forgotten rubbish. Her mind screamed out, Please let me die! Oh gods, please let me die now! I can't take it any more, PLEASE, GODS, PLEASE LET ME DIE!

James Boone's six-foot tall, two hundred fifty pound bulk stormed in her direction like a tornado bent on destruction, as Samantha struggled in vain to pick herself up. Her arms and legs wouldn't listen to the commands her brain tried to send them. They twitched uselessly, spasmodically ignoring Sam's instincts to flee. Fight or flight was no longer an option for Sam. Her body had already switched off. Only her mind was aware. He kicked her in the stomach, her breath rushed out of her in an involuntary "Oof!" Then Samantha's father picked her up by the hair again.

"What's the matter, 'SAM!?' " he screamed into her face. Her glazed eyes stared back at him, unseeing. He shook her by her hair like a doll. "I - can't - hear - you!"

There were lights and sounds, but nothing made sense to her abused mind. Her body heaved involuntarily, desperately trying to get much needed air into its lungs.

"Not 'man' enough to answer me?!?"

He punched her in the stomach, tearing out some of the hair clenched in his fist and sending her flying across the kitchen and into a heap at the base of the refrigerator. It rocked back and forth with the impact of her body. It looked, for a moment, like it would topple over on top of her. Sam couldn't breathe; the last two blows had paralysed her diaphragm.

"Look at what you did to the fucking dryer, you BITCH! I'm gonna make you pay for that, too!"

"JIM! NO!!!" screamed Donna as she rushed over to try and help her daughter, putting herself between Samantha and her husband as a shield.

"Stay the fuck out of this, bitch!" he yelled back, spittle flying from his lips, his face, purple with rage. "When I want your opinion, I'll beat it the fuck out of you! 'til then, shut the fuck up! This is between me and my god damned wannabe son!" He backhanded Donna, knocking her away from Samantha. She hit the kitchen table low, folding two of its legs beneath it. It toppled on top of her, spilling its contents to the floor.

"Fucking slut!" he said. The interruption of her mother allowed Samantha to catch her breath. His eyes bulging, James picked Samantha up by her sweater. "Now, you worthless piece of shit, what the fuck is the matter with you?! HUH?" He threw her to the floor as punctuation to his question; the sound it made was like a bag of potatoes being dropped, only louder.

Donna, wanting desperately to help her child, but cowed by years of previous abuse, could only watch the ensuing nightmare progress. Knees tucked to her chest, arms wrapped tightly around them, she rocked back and forth, much like an autistic child, crying softly. James pulled his belt off in a single mighty tug. The sound it made was chilling as it snapped through his trousers' belt loops. Then he folded it in half and began to flog Samantha with it.

Donna saw the shadows of it all on the wall. It was like a scene from a perverse cartoon nightmare come to life. She couldn't bear to watch HIM, and she couldn't move to help her daughter. She simply rocked back, and forth, in a state of shock, crying at her inability to help her child and out of the fear that her daughter's life was truly in danger.

The tirade had just begun. It would continue on for several more hours. The worst of it was past, but that was no consolation to poor Samantha, she was still being beaten. What was worse in her mind? The fact that she didn't die. She would have to live to face yet another day.

His fit of rage against her spent, James Boone banished his daughter from his presence with, "Get the fuck out of my sight, you fucking dyke! Get out of here before I kill you!"

*****

*****

Barely able to move, Samantha half stumbled, half crawled to her bedroom, droplets of blood from her cut lips and scalp leaving a crazy zigzag trail behind her. She never bothered to change her clothes or clean herself up. She didn't have the energy to do it for one, and two, she was terrified of meeting her father in the bathroom. She just fell on her bed with a painful grunt, curled into a foetal position, her arms crossed under her breasts, hugging her bruised ribs. She hurt all over.

Samantha just lay there and sobbed quietly into her pillow. "Oh gods, why me?" she moaned over and over again through her tears. She cried herself to sleep as her father screamed on into the night, his focus now her mother. Donna's sobbing pleas, a demented lullaby for the battered youth who felt guilty…guilty because she was glad she was no longer the target of the madman her father had once again become.

*****

It was after ten thirty when Linda finally left for home. They all pitched in to clean-up after dinner and spent a little time in the den, chatting over coffee. All in all, it was a pleasant evening. "All right, Sweetie," Jan said. "It's time I hit the wooden hill and went up to bed. Be sure to hang your clothes up and clean off all your makeup before going to bed."

"Yes, Mother."

"And don't stay up all night on that computer!"

"All Right! Sheesh, you'd think I was eight years old!" Tina complained.

Tina was true to her word. After making sure all the doors were locked and all the lights out, she went up to her room.

"It's weird," she thought, "but I kinda like the ritual of going to bed now. Even the clothes are nicer." She put on a sheer blue baby-doll nightie and sat down at the "monster." After logging in, she went to FM and started her reading where she left off. It was two thirty when she finally finished what she had come to think of as her "Midnight Downloads," logged off, and went to bed. Lying there, waiting for sleep to take her, Tina couldn't shake the feeling of dread that had plagued her for the past hour or so.

"I hope Samantha's all right," she thought as she drifted off to sleep.

*****

Sunday Morning September 6th

The next morning Tina was up in time to join her mother for breakfast. Jan usually got up with the birds. That day was no exception. For Tina, it wasn't normal, nor was it planned; she just woke up.

"Good morning, sleepy head," Jan greeted her daughter, who was still clad in her nightie and robe. "So nice of you to dress for breakfast," she giggled.

"Morn…" came the monosyllabic reply.

"Well, I guess some things will never change," Janice said brightly.

Tina just poured a mug of coffee and made her way to the table, sliding her feet along the floor. Her slippers were identical to her mother's. Another of Jan's little "surprises." Tina sat quietly, eyes barely open and sipped her coffee. Jan, knowing better than to try and get her daughter to do more than acknowledge her presence before her coffee, sat and looked on in quiet amusement.

There was a faint knock at the back door. Jan and Tina glanced at each other with puzzled looks on their faces. It wasn't even six o'clock yet! Jan, having been up since five, was already dressed, so she answered the door.

It was Sam, bruised and bloodied, still wearing the torn and bloody clothes from the night before. Jan paled visibly at the battered youth on her doorstep. She made a sound somewhere between a cry and a scream. It was the kind of sound a mother makes when she sees one of her children badly or mortally hurt. Tina came running. She was ready to defend her mother, regardless of the cost; instead, she made the same noise when she saw her best friend. Rushing to her side, she gingerly helped the battered girl into the house. They held their questions until they had Samantha safely installed on the sofa in the den.

"I'm really sorry to bother you, Missus Wilson," Sam mumbled through her cut and swollen lips. "I just didn't know where else to go."

"Your Dad?" Tina asked. Sam just nodded her head. "I'll be right back. I need to…get some things to get you cleaned up. It's gonna be all right. Okay? Don't move." Tina grabbed her mother's hand and pulled her from the room.

Once they were in the kitchen, Tina hissed, "We need to get her a doctor. And I have some unfinished business with that…that…asshole!"

Her mother placed a finger to Tina's lips to stem her building tirade and said quietly, "She needs her friend and a doctor right now; we'll worry about the rest later. I'll make some calls. You get the first aid kit and get her cleaned up. I'll be back in a few minutes."

Tina ran to the kitchen first aid kit and grabbed it, a bowl of warm water, and some tea towels, then went to help her friend. Janice went down to her office and started by calling her best friend, Linda.

*****

"Huh? Wha?"

The phone chirped again with a double ring. It had to be important; it was the distinctive ring feature telling her it was one of her close friends. They KNEW she never rose before nine.

"Lo?" Linda answered groggily.

"Linda! Wake UP!" Janice hissed into the phone.

"Christ, Jan, what time is it? What's wrong?"

"It's Samantha; I need a doctor here now! Who do you know that makes house calls?"

"What?!? Wait a minute, le'me wake up," she said, sitting up and pulling the blanket around her shoulders. "What's going on? Why do you need a doctor?"

"It's Tina's friend Samantha; her father beat her pretty badly last night. I don't want to take her to an emergency room right now, but she needs a doctor."

"All right, Jan, I hear you. I'll make a couple of calls. Someone should be there shortly. I'm on my way."

As Linda hung up the phone, she cursed, "God damn him! He'll pay for this!" She started dialling the phone. Her first call was to Jennifer Winchester. The wheel had started rolling again and she was really going to enjoy it this time.

*****

The first person to arrive at the house was Linda, still clad in her nightgown. She'd thrown on a trench coat, grabbed her purse and run out the door, still in her slippers. When she arrived, she acted like a general in charge of troops, ordering Tina and Jan about. Samantha was moved to the largest of the guest rooms and made comfortable in the king-sized bed there. Then she set Jan and Tina to work in the kitchen making a light breakfast. While they were cooking, Linda borrowed some clothes from Jan. As she dressed, she made another call to Jenny, clearing up some final details and apprising her of the situation.

Working in uncharacteristic silence, Jan and Tina prepared breakfast. As Janice turned to set the teapot on the counter, she noticed her daughter's shoulders shaking. Gently, she placed a hand on Tina's shoulder.

"Honey," she began.

Tina turned to her mother. Tears were streaming down her face. "I'll kill him…. What did she ever do to him? Huh? What?! I'll kill him!!" she hissed vehemently.

Janice hugged Tina protectively. "Shh," she soothed. "I know, Honey, I know. It's not right, it never is. But right now, Samantha needs us. She needs you to be strong for her, but she also needs you here. Right now…she needs us both to be strong."

Tina's tears stopped and slowly, a look of resolve crept over her face. It was a look that both frightened, and somehow, reassured Jan that her daughter would be more than just "all right."

"That's my girl," Janice said. "Now, we'd better get the rest of these things ready before General Linda comes back and court-martials us for disobeying orders."

Jan's gibe at Linda brought a sad smile to Tina's lips. The two continued their preparations with a renewed sense of purpose.

The doorbell rang just as Linda was on her way back up the stairs. "I've got it!" she yelled toward the kitchen. Linda opened the door to find the doctor, medical bag in hand, hair still a bit tousled from her bed. She was a beautiful woman, standing about five-feet six-inches tall, with long, flowing, golden brown hair.

"Brandy!" Linda exclaimed relieved to see the woman. "Great! I was just on my way up to see her; follow me."

"It's nice to see you, too, Linda," Brandy said as she followed her friend up the stairs. "I especially love getting out of bed before six on a Sunday morning to the ringing of a telephone."

"Sorry, Brandy," Linda chuckled, "it really is nice to see you. I just wish it were under better circumstances. A very close friend of the family, of both families, has been beaten up pretty badly. Blame Jenny for calling you and the girl's father for making the call necessary. Hold on a sec."

Linda leaned back and shouted down the stairs. "Jan! It's the doctor. I'm taking her up to see Sam!" A muffled response came from the kitchen.

"Come on, Brandy, its time we earned our pay."

*****

As Brandy finished her cursory exam, Jan and Tina came into the room. Tina was carrying a tray of tea, scones, marmalade and jam. She set the tray on the dresser and turned to Brandy in askance, while Jan turned to Linda.

Linda spoke first. "Janice Wilson, Tina Wilson, this is Doctor Brandy Dewinter."

"How is she, Doctor?" Tina asked.

"She should be all right. Aside from a broken nose, a minor concussion, some bruised and possibly broken ribs and some pretty nasty bruises, she should be fine. I really would feel better if we took her in for a few x-rays, but other than that, I really couldn't say. She'll be a bit stiff for a while, but a day or two in bed for some much needed rest ought to take care of everything else. I'm really surprised that's all that's happened to her, considering.

"Now, I'd like a word alone with you and Janice, Linda. She," Brandy said, indicating Samantha, "can have clear liquids and those scones, or dry toast for now, Tina.

"Ladies? Where can we talk? I have some questions for you and we have some decisions to make."

As the women left the room, Tina brought the tray over to Samantha. Setting it on the night table she said, "Oh, Sam, how do you feel?"

"Like I've been run over by a truck," she mumbled through swollen lips.

"Can you sit up?"

"Yeah," she said, wincing as she moved around in the bed. "I'm really sorry for being such a bother. I didn't know where else to go. I couldn't stay there any more."

Tina sat carefully on the edge of the bed; afraid she might hurt her friend with the simple act of sitting down.

"Hush…. Don't worry about that. Here, have some tea," Tina said, holding the cup to her friend's lips. "You're not a bother, you're always welcome here. Right now, you concentrate on getting better."

Sam took a few sips of tea, and then gave a slight nod to Tina to indicate that she'd had enough for the moment. Tina set the cup down. The two were silent for a moment.

"Um," Tina began, "I like what you've done to your hair."

Sam let out a snort of laughter, then a few more chuckles. Then, abruptly, the laughs turned into sobs.

Oh, gods, what did I say? Tina thought as she gingerly held her injured friend, the tray of food forgotten for the moment.

*****

As the three women descended the front stairs, the doorbell rang. Jan turned to the other women and said, "Would you excuse me a moment? Linda, would you please take the doctor into the parlour? I'll be there in a minute."

She answered the door as Linda led Brandy into the parlour. "Jenny?!? What are you doing here?!?" Standing at the door were Jennifer Winchester, dressed in a dark, finely tailored skirt suit, and a tall, almost bald woman, in an olive coloured silk trouser suit that covered her six-foot-two inch frame in such a way as to emphasize her every curve. Her shaved and now stubble covered head was a strangely erotic contrast to the sheer, sexual femininity she seemed to exude.

*****

*****

The End of Part-9

*****

*****

Author's Note:

Explanation on Part-9 for My Readers:

Yes, this is a TG fantasy story: However, we -- as writers -- all describe petty problems and reasons for an excuse to do some of the things we describe in our stories. Not all of mine are, or will be. I guess they can't be, because life isn't that way. This was supposed to be a simple, feel good fluff piece at the start, just a short story about 50k in length. But, for some strange reason, I felt a need to tell this story in this way. A simple fluff piece just wouldn't come out. The result is before you.

Everyday, something like the beating I described in the preceding part of my story happens in thousands of homes around the world. Not all the children and spouses survive them. Many of the victims are granted a permanent reprieve and are killed during one of these horrible ordeals by their abusive parent(s) or spouse. Did the beating I described sound too cold and cruel to be true? No-one is that cruel, you say? Think again. This was a depiction of one of the milder beatings. They can be, and often are, worse.

How many times have you heard or read about the newborn child found dead or dying in a Dumpster? The horribly burned little girl, whose hands were dipped in boiling water to teach her not to touch something that was not hers? To these children and spouses, death would be a welcome relief from the lives of pain fear and horror that they face every single day of their lives.

These children are not alone in the torment they suffer, but they think they are. What's worse, they believe it to be normal. People who live in an environment such as this do not leave this life. They want to leave it desperately, but they do not. This is because they fear what will happen in retribution, or retaliation, to themselves or to those they leave behind. Others stay out of fear that they will be tracked down, or hunted for their traitorous act, and abused even worse for leaving. Yes, many believe it happens to everyone, everywhere. So why leave the devil you know to face a devil you don't?

Often, there is a parent who wishes to stop the violence. More often than not, this parent is just as abused as their children, if not more so. They, too, have been cowed into the belief that they or their children will suffer more because they chose to try to intervene on their behalf, or to leave. This is not a subject to shrug off. This is a subject that must be addressed, for their sake. This chapter was for them, the helpless, the vulnerable, the innocent, and their children.

While abuse is more prevalent in the lower income areas and slums, it is everywhere. Please do not report the mother who slaps her child in the grocery. This in and of itself is not abuse; it may well be simple discipline. Corporal punishment is not always best, but sometimes it is the only thing that will work. There is a line between the two and it isn't always easy to distinguish. Five or six really good swats to a bottom are not abuse. Sometimes the adage, "Spare the rod and spoil the child," is very true. Too many people suffer because of false reports. Parents are afraid to discipline their children for fear of being reported for abuse. Please, don't ignore the problem. Where is the line? I can't say. It differs with each case. It's the systematic beatings, the demeaning verbal diatribes and eventually the maiming and emotional crippling that we need to stop.

Wendy-J.


*****

*****

Part-10

Sunday Morning September 6th

"Hello, Janice," Jennifer said. "This is a very dear friend of mine, Joanne Ayers. Joanne, meet Janice Wilson, one of my best customers, and the woman I've been telling you about. May we come in, Jan?"

A bit flustered, Jan replied, "Pleased to meet you, Joanne. Umm…."

Jan found herself momentarily at a loss for words as she stared at Joanne. Joanne was the first bald woman Jan had ever seen up close and she found herself staring. Worse still -- in her mind, anyway -- she was appreciating the shape of Joanne's head; the graceful curve made between Joanne's skull and neck…even the faint hint of the new growth of hair was fascinating. Suddenly Jan realised that she had been staring, although Joanne's friendly smile belied any sort of irritation. Finding her voice, Jan continued, "We're in the parlour; would you please come in?"

"Yes, thank you," Jenny replied as she motioned Joanne in ahead of her.

They proceeded into the parlour, a large room decorated in a delicately carved French-Provincial style. The furniture was elegant and not as uncomfortable as it appeared. Linda and Doctor Dewinter were ensconced in the love seat facing the hearth, talking animatedly. Brandy, noticing Janice escorting Jennifer and Joanne into the room, stood and welcomed the new guests effusively. "Jenny, Joanne! I had no idea you were coming over on this! It's so nice to see you again."

Turning to Linda, Janice said, "Why do I have the feeling that somehow you're behind all of this?"

"I think you need to sit down, Jan," Linda said, taking her friend by the elbow and steering her over to the sofa. "There are some things you need to know about me and the organisation I work for." She guided Jan into a seat on the corner of the sofa. Linda perched on the edge of the cushion next to her friend and continued. "Basically, I work for Jenny and Joanne." She motioned to the two women who were still standing. "They run the organisation. That's what we call it…The Organisation. We never could come up with a good name for it that didn't sound just plain silly.

"What we do, in part, is look out for women and children everywhere. In instances of abuse, like Samantha's, we provide physicians, psychologic counselling even monetary support when needed. We also provide foster homes and families when the situation warrants. Most of all, we find ways to correct the underlying cause of the situation. All of this costs money, lots of money. That was the reason they hired me in the first place. I have a knack for moving money around and investing it in bigger and better ways. I suppose, some day, that's going to catch up with me. But, until then, I'll continue to find ways to make the money."

Linda's eyes burned with an intensity Jan had never seen before. They seemed to burn into her like a torch into soft metal. "As it turned out," Linda continued, "they found that I also have a talent for controlling the thugs, both men and women, who habitually abuse those we seek to protect. In Samantha's case, we'll let her decide how she wants to handle her father. But…we also need to find her a place to live and get her into counselling. Are you with us?"

Jan felt as though she could have been knocked over with a feather. Linda, her closest friend and confidant, had just revealed a deep, dark secret that even she, her best friend, didn't know. Normally happy-go-lucky Linda had become an intense, almost demanding, force in something she didn't quite understand. As compelling as Linda was, Jan just sat and stared at the women gathered about the room in turn.

Doctor Dewinter stood with Jennifer Winchester and Joanne Ayers in the centre of the room. They all stared at her, somehow expecting something of her. What they got surprised them all. Jan started to cry. "What do you want me to say, Linda? I have one of the most perfect young girls I've ever met, lying in a bed in my guest room, looking like a Mack truck ran her over, and for what?! Because she doesn't live up to the mental image her father has of her? My son looks, sounds and acts like my daughter; and he likes it! I have my best friend in the world asking me to help her do gods know what to both of them, and there's no-one I can turn to for guidance any more. Just what do you want me to do? Go over there and put a bullet between that Neanderthal's eyes? I'm barely keeping myself together here!" She broke down in deep, heart wrenching sobs.

Linda pulled her friend close and held on tightly as Jan sobbed and sobbed. Witnessing the emotional scene before her, Jennifer Winchester silently signalled the other women in the room to follow her. They silently filed out the front door. "I had no idea she was on such an emotional edge," Jennifer began, addressing the group of women. "Brandy, see what you can do for her when she's done crying. I don't want her seeing that quack of Linda's if I can help it. I know he's good, but I just don't feel comfortable using him for this. Joanne and I are going to go to the shop. When you have her calmed down, see where we stand and whether or not she'll work with us. In the meantime, I have things to do and some wheels to put into motion. All right?"

Brandy nodded silently and started to return to the house. Stopping in her tracks, she turned to Jenny and said quietly, "She's with us, Jen, she just doesn't know it yet, but she is." With that she returned to the house.

Jenny looked up into Joanne's eyes, there were tears forming in the corners. "I don't know about you," she said, "but I need a fix. And then…" she trailed off, unable and perhaps uncertain of what steps to take next. Jenny's voice dropped to a stage whisper as they walked to the car. "There has GOT to be a way to make him pay."

"Come on, love," Joanne said. "Let's get you home. I'll phone ahead and have your 'fix' ready. It's one scoop of French vanilla, one of vanilla bean, chocolate fudge and marshmallow sauce with whipped cream and cherries, right? After that…well, you owe me a shave." Joanne impishly rubbed the stubble on the top of her head as a tear slowly ran down her cheek. "We'll forward the calls from there."

"I do believe you know me all too well, Chilli," Jenny said as she ran her fingers over the stubble on her friend's head. "But you're not getting off that easily. You said one month…and I'm holding you to it."

*****

Later that day, Doctor Dewinter was examining Samantha for what, to Sam, seemed like the billionth time.

"I'm fine, Doc., really," she lisped through swollen lips.

"You aren't 'fine,' as you so blithely put it, Young Lady. You have a broken nose, which I managed to set, no thanks to your squirming, a concussion, a laceration of the scalp that probably should have been stitched, several severe contusions and abrasions and quite possibly a cracked rib or two. That we won't know for sure, unless we take some x-rays, which I can't do here; at least, not yet. But even if I could, there's nothing we can do for them but let them heal on their own. You're lucky to be alive by the look of things."

"I've had worse," Sam said quietly. Brandy's stomach churned at the thought. "So, how soon before I can get out of this bed?"

"I suppose tomorrow will be all right for that," Brandy replied, "but I really would feel better if you were in a hospital and not here. That monster really did a number on you."

"Well, I feel much better, thank you. Why can't I get up now?" Samantha asked. "I mean, what's it gonna hurt?"

"Hurt?" Brandy asked. "My Dear Girl, just look at you! You look like a raccoon! With the concussion you sustained, you probably shouldn't be allowed out of bed for a week! It's entirely possible that there has been some damage to the cranial…. Oh, who do I think I'm talking to, anyway?!?" Brandy said, exasperated with her patient.

"No, you may not get out of bed, you will stay there until I say you may get up. I don't care if it takes two weeks! And that's final! Now lie back and get some rest! And be careful of that nose! That's the best set job I've ever done!"

"Yes, SIR!" Sam lisped, trying to smile. Tina, sitting in a chair by the bed, giggled quietly.

Brandy just laughed, "You're as bad as any football player I've ever treated. You really could have done some damage up there," she said, lightly tapping the young girl's forehead with the tip of her index finger. "Now get some rest!"

Brandy left the guest room and went down the hall to Jan's room. "Now then, how's my other patient doing?" she asked of Jan as she opened the door and walked into the room.

Jan, still dressed, was sitting on her bed, propped up with pillows. "This is ridiculous, Doctor De…."

"The name is Brandy, thank you," Brandy said as she sat on the edge of the bed, "and you have been going through an awful lot of stress, judging by the way you broke down earlier. Since I am a doctor of medicine, I will determine what is ridiculous and what isn't, not my patient. Now then, how do you feel?"

"Like a big cat in a little cage at the zoo; will you let me get up and get back to…."

"I think you need to relax a bit more. Why don't you turn on that TV. of yours and watch a movie? It's time you lightened up. Your daughter -- and she is your daughter, by the way -- is taking very good care of Samantha. And your friend here -- lord knows what you see in her -- can take care of you," she said, indicating Linda.

"Are you sure I can't prescribe a mild sedative or antidepressant? The sedative will allow you to get some much-needed rest. The antidepressant will help you adjust to the changes that seem to be so overwhelming at the moment."

"No, I really don't like drugs of any kind. I just need some time to adjust. At first, I thought that Tina was just a transvestite like her father, but after seeing her and the way she's been acting and reacting to people around her, I just don't know any more. All this was just supposed to be a lesson in humanity. The next thing I know, the person who's supposed to be my best friend is suggesting otherwise and schemes behind my back to make my son my daughter."

"Now, wait just a minute, Jan!" Linda said from the club chair in the corner. "I didn't scheme anything. The first thing I did was to get her to see a counsellor. They decided what was best, not me. I just set it in motion. And from the look of things, I was just in time, too. The bet was to be only if she made the choice she made, not regardless of her choice, as I recall."

"I'm sorry, Linda, I know. I'm feeling a bit…."

"Overwhelmed?" asked Brandy.

"Well…yes," Jan said reluctantly.

"If that lovely young lady in there is your son," Brandy continued, "I'll eat every sheepskin I have ever earned, and I've earned quite a few. I have two PhD's, you know. And as for Sam, she's received a systematic beating worthy of the Gestapo of Nazi Germany. It's a miracle she wasn't killed. That's not an exaggeration. You are the one responsible for their continued good health. Your finding a way to manage that has taken quite a bit out of you. Given the circumstances, it's no wonder you're feeling the way you are.

"As I was saying before you're facing a lot of stress right now. I can recommend someone if you like. In the meantime, why don't you relax? We'll watch some TV. and get to know one another. Something tells me I really would like to get to know you."

"Okay, D…Brandy," Jan said with a wan smile. "Why don't you sit back and help me find something to watch on this 200 channel satellite thing Tina insisted we get? You should see the southern roof, it looks like something out of a science fiction movie with all the satellite dishes." They all laughed at her quip.

Back in the guest room, Tina was sitting on the bed, propped up with the pillows, while Samantha's head was cradled in her lap. She stroked Sam's hair gently as they watched the TV. together.

*****

As evening approached Janice, with the help of Brandy and Linda, made a simple, light meal for all. Tina ate hers upstairs with Sam, while everyone else ate in the kitchen. Jan pulled one of the matching chairs to the antique table from its home in a corner as Linda set the table. The discussion over dinner centred on Tina, Sam and what they should do about it all. They spoke quietly, leaning over their plates with their heads together, as though they were conspirators in a Machiavellian plot.

When it started to get late, Brandy insisted on staying over. She said she felt uncomfortable leaving Sam without professional medical help about. Acquiescing to her wishes, Janice installed her in one of the smaller guest rooms next door to "Sam's room" and loaned her some nightclothes.

"Sam's Room," that's what she'd come to think of her largest guest room, anyway. I'll be damned if I'm letting that girl go back to that monster so he can kill her! I have the room, so why shouldn't she have a home here? 'Sam's room' it is, Jan thought. Besides, it has a nice ring to it.

The goodnights almost sounded like the end of a Walton's episode as everyone settled in for the night. After lying restlessly for several minutes, Jan rose from her bed and silently walked down the hall to Sam's room, then tapped gently on the door.

"Come in?" came the quiet invitation. "Oh! Missus Wilson, thanks for letting me stay here tonight," she began.

"Shush, Dear," Jan said as she crossed the room and sat on the edge of the bed.

"There's no reason you have to go back to that…" Jan's voice almost failed her. "This is your new home if you want to stay with us, Honey. We'll worry about your things later. I just wanted you to know that you have a home, here with us, if you want it."

"I…" Sam began to cry quietly. Jan just held her as she would her own child and cried with her.

Hearing the hushed voices, Tina walked down the hall to investigate. She saw Sam's door was ajar, and peeked inside. Seeing Sam cradled by her mother, she quietly closed the door and padded back to her own room and "The Monster" for another session of her "Midnight Downloads" before crawling between the sheets and going to sleep and dreaming strange dreams. Even with the knowledge that Sam was safe in the next room, she slept fitfully.

*****

Monday Morning September 7th

The next morning, Brandy came down the stairs in a pair of borrowed jeans and a sweatshirt. Her hair was still damp from her morning ablutions. Seeing Jan at the coffee-pot, she smiled and chirped a bright "Morning!"

"Oh!" Jan said, jumping a bit. "Good morning, Brandy. You startled me. Normally, I'm the only one awake for another couple of hours. Come on in and sit down. Coffee?"

"Yes, thank you. I didn't mean to startle you, Jan, I normally get an early start on the day."

"How's our patient?" Jan asked.

"I peeked in before coming down," Brandy said. "She's resting comfortably, from what I could see. Every time I look at her I cringe inside and want to kill that…brute of a father. I can't believe what he did to her."

"I know," Jan said. "I just don't understand it. How can someone do something like that to their own child?"

"It really is an illness, Jan. That's no excuse, but it is an illness. I'd wager he was abused as a child. Now he's just passing it on to the next generation. It's hard for him, Jan; the only parenting style he knows is abuse. In a household like Sam's, and I dare say his as a child, the only reaction to stress, anger, and frustration that the children see is physical. Of course, drinking doesn't help. Alcohol only seems to magnify and exacerbate the abusive parent's reactions to minor infractions of household rules. He really needs to get into therapy. Sam's lucky he didn't kill her. Once she's well enough, she needs to get into therapy herself. If she doesn't, she runs the risk of becoming just as abusive as he is."

"Why do I find that so hard to believe?" Jan asked.

"Believe it. It's depends upon the level of abuse the abusive parents and spouses received as children. If they were dominated through fear, intimidation and mild physical abuse, I'd say a large percentage of them, perhaps as high as ninety percent, will become abusive parents and spouses themselves. It's the only way they know how to act, because that's how they were taught to act.

"If the abuse is as bad as Sam's, it can go either way. It's a fifty-fifty chance that she'll escape being an abusive parent. She might refuse to be a parent out of fear -- fear of her own temper. The real damage in cases like Sam's is emotional, it's crippling. Some children who have suffered this level of abuse can't show any emotion. Some just have difficulty relating to others. Some will never trust anyone. The worst cases retreat inside their own heads and become walking zombies.

"I wouldn't be surprised if Sam refuses allow any emotional intimacy at all. I'd be very surprised if she has more than one or two friends. I can almost guarantee that they aren't really close, either. She'll keep them at a distance. I don't think she trusts anyone at all.

"The abuse is cyclic, Jan. Just like brainwashing. Things go really nice one day, then they level out for a day or two. Then there is an incident of abuse. The abuse is immediately followed by a stage of remorse on the part the abuser who then showers the victim with gifts, or an almost smothering amount of love and praise. Sometimes both. Then it levels out again for a day or two. The cycle repeats itself, over and over again. It never stops. Don't be surprised if every time you do something nice, or if something good happens, Sam acts like she's waiting for the other shoe to drop. It's all she knows." Jan sat open-mouthed, unable, or perhaps unwilling, to believe something so horrible could actually be happening to someone as sweet as Sam.

"She needs to get into therapy and unlearn that type of behaviour, or she runs a fifty-fifty chance of continuing a most vicious cycle, or living an empty life. She needs to learn to break the circle of violence and become human again. To trust again."

"I know," came a small voice from across the room.

"Sam! What are you doing out of bed?" Brandy snapped.

"I woke up and couldn't bear the thought of another day on my back. I just had to get up," Sam said. She stood in the doorway to the back stairs, dressed similarly to Brandy, the hem of her tight, bell-bottomed jeans dragged on the floor. They were obviously borrowed from Tina. The bruises on her face were starting to turn really ugly shades of purple, green and yellow as the healing process began. Because of her broken nose and the additional trauma caused while setting it, she looked a bit like a perversely coloured raccoon with a metal nose guard.

"I wish I knew how to get my father into therapy." Seeing the looks of fear on Brandy's and Jan's faces she added, "Oh, don't worry, it's not for my sake; well…not entirely, I'm never going back there if I can help it. But he needs it for my mum's sake. She lives in terror."

"That's one of the things we're going to address in the next couple of days, Hon.," Jan said quietly. "Right now, come over here and sit down," Jan said, patting the seat beside her.

Sam took the seat beside Jan and hugged her tightly. "Thanks, Missus Wilson…for everything."

Brandy stood up and asked, "Coffee, Sam?"

"Yes, please," she said from under Jan's chin.

"I'm not your mother, Sam, and Missus Wilson sounds so formal, not to mention silly. My husband's name wasn't George and I don't have a neighbour's son named Dennis running around in the yard either. So how about calling me Aunt Jan? Is that all right with you?"

Sam's response was to squeeze tighter and mumble an affirmative "Umm hmm" into Jan's bosom. Then, without releasing her grip on Jan, she pulled back slightly. Looking up at her, Sam said, "Yes, Aunt Jan, it's perfect." With that she buried her face into Jan's bosom once again and held on as if for dear life.

"Okay, you little snuggle bunny, here's your coffee," Brandy giggled as she put the cup down in front of the bruised girl.

Just then, a wail was heard from upstairs. It was a forlorn, pathetic sound, as if a mother had found her child dead in it's crib."NOOOOOOOooooooooo!" Brandy nearly dropped her mug from the shock of hearing it. "MUM!!!" came the shriek following it, coupled with the sound of elephants on the stairs. "MUM!!! SAM'S GONE!!!"

"Oh gods," Sam moaned, shaking her head, a smile of relief on her battered face. "It's alive!" Jan and Brandy giggled helplessly at her remark, at once relieved that nothing was wrong and amused at the words from Sam.

Tina burst into the kitchen to find the trio, giggling helplessly. "I don't see what's so funny," she said.

"You are, Silly," Sam squeaked, obviously in pain from her ribs. "C'mere you Lunk-head," she said, holding out her arms for a hug.

Crimson with embarrassment, Tina, clad in a scanty, pastel pink, baby-doll nightie and sheer satin robe with fluffy white trim, made her way across the room to Sam's outstretched arms and wrapped her in as tight a hug as she dared. "When I saw your bed empty, I got so scared," she mumbled into Sam's hair. "Don't do that to me!"

"What?" Sam asked, an evil smile crossing her swollen lips. "Get out of bed?" With that, the room broke out in gales of laughter. "I'm not going anywhere, Sweetie, I live here now. My, don't you look a-dorable in your little nightie," she giggled.

Tina flushed darker still. "I need a cup-a-coffee," she grumbled in embarrassment as she broke the embrace.

"Well, go get it, Honey. I'm not going anywhere," Sam replied.

Breakfast, consisting of scones, coffee, and juice, was a light-hearted affair, ending with a cursory exam of Samantha by Doctor Dewinter, right there in the kitchen. "Well?" Sam asked.

"Well, double-U - E - Ell - Ell, well. Generally a circular shaped hole in the ground with a pocket of oil, gas, or water at the bottom," quipped Brandy.

"Oh! You know what I mean!" said an exasperated Samantha. "I can't take another day cooped up in bed. Puh-Leeze!" she begged.

"If you mean are you whole and hale, unbelievably, yes. I'll never fully understand the magic of youth. Your concussion is fine and your cuts are healing nicely. Just be careful of that beautiful nose and those ribs of yours," Brandy said, shaking her head in amazement.

"Can I go shopping?" Sam asked brightly.

Shaking her head in disbelief, Brandy said, "I imagine you can do anything you set your mind to. However, if you mean, may you go shopping, if you promise to take it easy and rest a lot, okay. But you're not to make a day of it. Four hours only! Do you understand?"

Hearing the news, Samantha vibrated with enthusiasm, thrilled to be released on her own recognisance. "I promise, Doctor. Can I go now?"

Nodding her head in the affirmative, Brandy watched in amazement as Samantha scuttled out of the room, like a child given a reprieve from punishment and sent out to play. "I'll never understand them," she said to Jan. "One minute they're bashed and bleeding, unable to move, the next it's as if nothing ever happened."

"I know," Jan said. "Tina's the same way. I'd better call Linda, we promised her she could be there when Tina broke in her new credit card."

Brandy laughed. "Here," she said as she handed Janice a business card, "she'd never forgive me if I didn't give you that. She'll be at that number."

"That's right!" Jan exclaimed. "It's Monday! I completely forgot with all the craziness of the past couple of days. I have to call my office, too!"

Chuckling, Brandy said, "I'll stop in and check up on Sam in a couple of days. In the meantime, I have to get going. I have patients to see."

"Thanks for everything, Brandy. When you come over, plan on dinner. We'll make a night of it."

"Now that's the best offer I've had in months! Count on it. I'd better get my things and get going. I'll wear these things home if that's all right with you?"

"Be my guest," Jan said. "If you'll excuse me, I have calls to make."

Both women started out of the kitchen in different directions.

*****

Meanwhile, upstairs in Tina's room, Sam was helping Tina with ideas for decorating, while Tina got dressed.

"I'm telling you, Tina, some scarves over the lamps, a couple of pictures of hunky guys on the walls and a few stuffed animals on the bed and in the chair and this place is gonna be sooo cute!" Sam teased.

"I'm not putting any pictures of any guys on the walls!" Tina exclaimed. "I'm not gay! Annnd since when did you ever have an interest in 'hunky' guys, or anything that's cute, anyway?"

"I'd think about what you just said while looking in a mirror, little girl," Sam said as she turned Tina to face one of her mirrored closet doors.

"Bu…" Tina started. She fell silent as she stared at the young girl in knickers and bra reflected back at her.

"If you hang pictures of 'babes' on the walls, it's gonna look like you're gay, Honey. See what I mean?" Sam asked. Tina swallowed and nodded her head in silent agreement. "And I don't have an interest in hunky guys. I just thought that since you look so cute in a skirt, that just maybe you might like to give guys a try?" she said mischievously.

"Why, you…." Tina faked a swat to the top of Sam's head.

"Now then, what are you gonna do about school?" Sam asked.

"Mum's enrolling me at Cliffside. I wish you could go there too…" she trailed off. "Hey!" she remarked, you could almost see the light bulb lit up over her head. "Why couldn't you go there?" Enthusiasm filled her voice. "That's it! I'll bet Mum would enrol you there!"

"Are you crazy?" Sam snapped in reply. "I could never afford Cliffside on my salary. That's the school for the arts and the hoity-toity. Where would I ever get that kind of cash?"

"Who said anything about you paying for it? Mum'll pay for it!"

"No way. No way in hell…."

"Sam!" Jan said sharply from the open door.

Both teenagers' heads instantly turned toward the door. "The first thing you're going to have to remember is that we don't speak like that around here. The second thing is that, yes, I will spring for Cliffside, and that is where you'll attend. I know you're at the age of consent, but if you go back to Central, you leave yourself open to further abuse from your father. Now, as for the money, I have it and I'll spend it as I see fit. I've already started the paperwork to have you declared my…dependant, since I'm responsible for your well being from here out. Is that understood?"

"Oh! Aunt Jan…" the tears sprang forth as she rushed to Jan's arms. Tina just stood there in her unmentionables, a smile beaming from ear to ear.

"If we're going shopping, I suggest we get a move on," Jan said to the girls.

"Um…Aunt Jan?" Samantha began. Tina's head snapped back to Sam, a shocked, questioning look on her face.

"Yes, Sam?" Jan asked in reply.

"Um…could I…? Um…would you…? I mean…." Samantha was blushing furiously as she tried desperately to get the words out.

"Buy you some boy's clothes?" Jan finished for her. Sam just blushed and nodded her head yes as she stared at the floor in embarrassment.

"Of course, Dear," she said with a smile. "Anything you need. Why don't you see what Tina has that you can use? Then we'll make a list of the things you'll need to supplement them. At least this way they won't go to waste." Sam just beamed.

When Jan left the room, Tina spoke. "I don't know when Mum became Aunt Jan, but I like it. And I know which guy's pictures to hang on my walls now."

Sam stared at her with a puzzled look on her face. "I thought you just said…."

"Yours," Tina said. "Sam, will you be my boyfriend?"

*****

Part-11

Monday Morning September 7th

After her initial shock at Tina's question wore off, Sam hugged Tina gently and gave her a kiss on the lips. Dropping her voice an octave or so, she said, "Of course I'll be your boyfriend. Will you wear my ring?" She took off her class ring and held it out to Tina.

Tears sprang to her eyes as Tina reached for the proffered jewellery. She placed the ring on the ring finger of her right hand. Walking over to her dresser, she took her own more masculine ring and gave it to Sam. "Umm…here, Sam, will you wear mine?"

Taking the ring from Tina's trembling fingers, Sam placed it on her finger. With a smile, she pulled Tina close and kissed her deeply; she winced a bit at the pain from her lips at first, but continued. Tina reached her arms around Sam's neck and returned the kiss. Belly to belly, it soon became apparent to Sam what her kiss was doing to Tina. Giggling, she pulled back and said, "I think you'd better get dressed, Dear. That bulge doesn't look very lady-like."

Smiling broadly, Tina said, "I know," and pulled Sam close again. That time she initiated the kiss. When they came up for air a few moments later, she just smiled, sat on the bed and pulled Sam down beside her. "Kiss me again, you fool," Tina whispered, and Sam did.

Unable to get comfortable sitting, Sam winced and started to pull away. Tina pushed Sam gently onto her back and lay on top of her. Tina let her arms take the weight in an attempt to spare her "boyfriend" any pain. Their legs interlaced and lying together on the bed, the reversed couple made out until a call from the hall brought them apart with a start.

"Tina? Have you started going through your old things for Sam?"

Smiling sheepishly at almost being caught, not to mention really kissing for the first time in their lives, the two got up. Tina put on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt and began to help Sam sort through her old clothes. "You know, Sam, if you're going to be wearing men's clothes all the time, maybe we should start calling you he instead of she. Besides, I kinda like the idea that my girlfriend is my boyfriend."

Giggling, Sam said, "I think you're right there; it really wouldn't be right for you to be seen kissing a girl in public, would it?"

"No…but it might be fun to try," Tina said with a sly grin. "C'mon, let's see what I've got that you c'n wear," Tina said brightly.

The two attacked the closet and dressers with a vengeance. Throwing what was obviously too small, inappropriate, or worn into plastic bags, Sam and Tina sorted the one time boy's clothing into piles of keep, give to Sam, Salvation Army and throwaway. The keep pile was obviously the smallest; containing mostly unisex odds and ends like sweat socks, a couple of t-shirts, some cut-offs, sweat shirts, and a few sweaters. Sam's pile was the largest. He had jackets, sweaters, shirts, slacks, jeans, underwear, socks, sneakers, shoes…in essence, the major part of Ernie's wardrobe. A few of the items Sam kept purely out of necessity, as temporary stopgaps until he could buy other, better fitting things to replace them. He was thrilled with his haul; they were all keepers. Tina had to laugh over Sam's enthusiasm in her old underwear, jock strap and cup.

Sam's biggest surprise was finding out that not all of Tina's old underwear was cotton. He started to giggle uncontrollably and winced with pain when he came across the Nylon satin men's briefs, holding them up between his thumb and forefinger as if they were filthy. "What are these? Men's knickers?"

"Sam! They're satin jockey shorts. 'Men's Briefs' is what the package said," Tina said, turning crimson. "I bought them when they came out a couple of years ago. I liked them enough to buy a few more. They're a nice switch from wearing cotton all the time," she said, trying to defend herself.

"Oh, Tina, relax! I just couldn't help it. I think they're probably going to be my favourites. I was just teasing. I thought I was going to have to give up satin underwear cold turkey."

"No, not the underwear…but, you're gonna go through hell letting your leg hair grow out," Tina giggled. "Oh, and uh…by the way…umm…your laugh? Guys don't giggle, Sam. They're way too cool for that, they chuckle."

Deathly serious, Sam replied, "Oh…yeah…right, thanks."

"How are you gonna hide your uh…your…?"

"Breasts? Boobs? Boobies?" Sam finished for her. "I hadn't thought about it. I'm not especially big on top, you know; I'm only an 'A' in the bust department. I never really developed." He looked down at his chest. "It never bothered me like it bothered the umm…girls, either," she said, pointedly avoiding the word "other." "Heck, I was grateful. I guess it's a blessing in disguise. I almost never wear a bra anyway; I don't really need to. I do it at work because it's expected of me. I mean…it wouldn't seem right if the help in a lingerie store didn't wear lingerie. You know…if I can get back there when my father's not home, I've got some things you'd look great in!"

"Yeah, well, guys don't say boobies; they're tits, titties, or jugs, or any one of a dozen other names, but they don't say boobies. And, you're gonna have to give it some thought now, 'cause, um, you're obviously bigger than I ever was and anyone else in my classes at school, too, for that matter."

"Yeah, I see what you mean," Sam said as he painfully pulled his sweatshirt tight around his chest. It was obvious that his ribs hurt quite a bit. "Damn that hurts. I can't even take a deep breath." A frown came to Sam's face.

"What's the matter?" Tina asked. "Ribs bothering you?

"No, it's my job. I hadn't thought about it until just now. I can't exactly continue working there as a man, now can I?"

"I don't know, I mean…what would it matter? Lots of guys work in the stock rooms of women's stores."

"That's just it, Tina, I don't work in the stock room any more. Missus Winchester gave me a promotion to the sales floor."

"Sam! That's great! Congratulations!" Tina gushed. Then her friend's dilemma dawned on her. "Oh…. Well…I guess we'll just have to ask her, won't we."

"We? What do you mean we? It's my job!" Sam replied in frustration.

"Well, we are going to the mall, right?"

"So?"

"And 'The Under-World' is in the mall, right?"

"Yeah, get to the point, would you?!?"

"Well, why don't we get Mum to see if there's anything she can do!"

"Oh come off it, Tina! A guy working the sales floor in a lingerie shop? I'd starve on the commissions!"

"Think of how many men go into the place," Tina said.

"So? What's your point, already? Men come in the shop all the time."

"Yeah, that is my point. They come in all the time, but none of them buy anything because a girl waits on them! They're too embarrassed to talk to a female. They're afraid she'll think they're queer or somethin'. Don'cha see? It's a natural! Relax and leave it to me. Okay? Okay!"

Tina's enthusiasm was contagious; Sam couldn't help but smile a lopsided smile through his swollen lips. "I don't know if it'll work, Tina, but we can try. I mean…some of the guys that come in there aren't buying for their girl and well…. It might work with some of the women, though!" His smile brightened. "Let's not worry about it for now; Missus Winchester'll know what to do."

"Hey, why don't you go put that stuff away and get changed? I'm gonna take a shower and get ready to go. It's gonna take me a bit longer than it will you."

Smiling from ear to ear, Sam picked up a pile of clothes and said, "Yeah, I think I will. Hey, get booful for me, okay? I want to be with the prettiest babe in the mall."

Giggling, Tina replied, "Gods…. My girlfriend's a hunk!"

"Yeah! And my boyfriend's a babe!" The two laughed at the joke and turned to the tasks at hand. On his way out of the room, Sam asked, "You want any help with your hair or makeup?"

Tina stopped in her tracks. "Le'me see if I can do it myself first, okay?"

"Yeah, sure! Hustle it up, Babe; I can't wait to see you all dolled up again," Sam said with a smirk.

"Men!" Tina said with a giggle as she entered her bathroom.

It took Sam several trips to move all the clothes to his new room, but it was worth it. He liked the look of the closet. Suit jackets, shirts, not blouses, but real honest to god shirts…. Just the thought of all the new items and experiences before him made him feel horny. He started to get undressed to take a shower.

"Gads, I'm sopping," he mumbled as he removed the satin knickers Janice had loaned him the day before. They were soaked.

After taking a shower, he perused his new underwear drawer. Selecting a jockstrap, a pair of plain white cotton boxer shorts, and a tank top that was about two sizes too small, he walked over to his new bed. Sitting down, he held up the jock strap. He began to tremble with anticipation just looking at it. "It's really mine!" he said to himself as he started to slide a foot through the waistband and leg strap. Slipping his other leg into the minimal garment of coarse cotton fabric, he stood and began to pull the jock home. The fabric felt scratchy on his shaved legs. He began to get moist all over again.

He adjusted the straps over his butt and looked in the mirror. The pouch of the jockstrap sagged in the front. Looking down at the excess fabric, Sam groaned.

"I guess I need to find something to fill that out a bit." Walking over to the dresser, he pulled out the biggest pair of socks he could find. Rolling them up, he stuffed them into the snap pouch of the jock and adjusted it. "There, that's better," he said aloud. His knees trembled at what he was doing. He looked at his reflection in the mirror again and stared for a bit as he pressed the socks against himself.

Smiling happily, he pulled on the boxers and took out a second pair of tube socks. Sitting on the bed, he put them on then slipped into an old pair of what were once Ernie's, and now were his, men's cut Wrangler jeans. They were a bit snug in the seat, but showed off the bulge of the rolled up sock too well. The bulge in his jeans looked more like a Playgirl magazine parody than a real penis. "Damn it, Sam, get real!" he yelled at himself in frustration and despair. "If you saw a guy with a bulge like that walking down the street you'd howl hysterically!"

He pulled down the jeans and boxers and yanked the socks out of the jock in frustration. He almost threw them across the room. Instead, he stopped and, talking to himself in a hoarse whisper, said, "You're starting to act like old man Boone there, Sam." He put the socks back in the drawer. This time, he took out a smaller pair. He rolled only one sock up and carefully placed it into the jock. "There, that's much better," he mumbled after he had his jeans zipped up again.

Smiling painfully, Sam crossed to the low dresser and pulled out a Nine Inch Nails concert jersey. It was about two sizes too large. Pulling it on, he looked in the mirror.

"Well, that about does it," he thought. He put on a pair of Ernie's old sneakers; they were more than a little loose, but with some tissue in the toes they were wearable. "I'll have to get a new pair at the mall," he thought. Sliding his feet around in the sneaks he said, "At least they aren't pink!" Sam sat back down on the bed. Lying back, he let his thoughts drift back to earlier in the morning with Tina. He unbuttoned his jeans and unzipped the fly. Sliding his hand down the front of the jock, he began to "scratch the itch" his thoughts were creating.

Ten minutes later, he left the room, a lopsided smile on his face, never once bothering to look in a mirror or straighten his hair. He looked into Tina's room; the door to the bathroom stood open, it was vacant. "I'll bet…" he began when he heard voices from down the hall.

"I know we're only going to the ma-all, but I'm going with him! I can't just wear jeee-eeeans!"

"She even sounds like a teenaged girl," Sam said, laughing to himself. "Maybe I should just go downstairs and wait."

*****

The two teens made quite a spectacle on the mall. Tina, tall and radiant in flats and a simple blouse and skirt combo, Sam, in sneakers, tight, faded jeans that were obviously too long for him, and a baggy concert shirt, walked happily, hand in hand, as they strolled the mall. Peering into the windows of the stores and commenting conspiratorially on what they saw, they made their way casually first down one side and back up the other. They really looked like a typical pair of teenaged lovebirds. Janice and Linda trailed behind, giggling over the youngsters and the attention they were attracting, Tina for her beauty and Sam for his battered mug. This was going to be an interesting day.

After they had traversed the entire mall, Janice turned to Tina. "Honey, aren't you going to buy anything? You've walked past every store here!"

"I know, Mum, I just…." It was then that Sam spied a dress in a shop window and decided Tina just had to try it on. He reached out, grabbed Tina by the arm and yanked. The way it happened, it looked like something out of a cartoon. One moment, Tina was standing facing her mother, the next she was gone from view. Linda laughed helplessly. Sam was dragging Tina into one of the upscale dress shops and Tina, obviously, was protesting. It was comic.

"Look, Tina, you're gonna have to get used to it." Sam was talking fast in a stage whisper. "You're a girl and girls love to shop and try on clothes."

"But what if somebody notices!" she hissed.

"People will notice you if you don't. Come on! It'll look great on you!"

"Sam! I'm scared. Please, can't we just look?"

"You're trying it on, Tina. And if it looks half as good as I think it will, you're buying it! Come! On!"

Jan came up behind Tina and put a hand on her shoulder. Tina stiffened visibly at her touch. "Honey, you're going to have to do it sooner or later," Jan whispered in her ear, "so you might as well get it out of the way now. I'll go in the fitting room with you. It'll be fine, you'll see."

The fight went out of Tina like a wave going back out to sea. Her shoulders sagged and, with trepidation, she stepped toward the door of the Shop on her own. "I really don't want to do this," she mumbled. Sam just grinned his silly grin and escorted her into the store.

A sales woman of indeterminate age came up to help them. One look at Sam and she froze in her tracks. She hadn't even welcomed her customers yet. "You'll have to excuse my nephew," Jan began. "He can't seem to stay out of fights."

Seeing that an adult escorted the couple, the woman relaxed visibly. A nervous smile came to her lips as she started into her sales spiel. "How may I help you today?"

Sam answered, even though the question was directed at Jan. "We'd like to see that blue dress over there." He was pointing at a pale blue, embroidered, short sleeved, shirt-dress. Simple in design, its classic, button-front look would be perfect on Tina's slight frame.

"Oh, that is an excellent choice, Sir," the sales woman said looking at Sam quizzically. "Let's see, that's about a seven, isn't it?" she said looking at Tina.

"I think she's more a nine," Jan said, coming to her rescue. "Why don't you get several sizes and we'll meet you by the changing rooms?"

"Very good, Ma'am. Might I bring along an additional suggestion or two?"

"By all means!" Jan said brightly. "We might as well see what you would suggest for my daughter. Besides, I could use the break; she's been walking us ragged."

"Yes, I can imagine," the woman said with a smile, smelling a good sale. "I'll be right back; the changing rooms are back in the corner," she said with a nod of her head in their direction. "Please take your time. If you see anything of interest, just make a note of it. I'll be happy to get it for you." With that, the woman got busy getting the items together for Tina.

Jan looked at Sam and said in a stage whisper, "Sam, you know, men usually don't take their ladies out shopping and enjoy it."

"I know, but I just can't seem to help myself, Aunt Jan. Tina is about the most beautiful girl I've ever seen and you can't get her near a store! She really needs some confidence and this is the only way she's going to get it. Besides, that dress is her."

"Yes, Honey, it is. Let's get her into it." The four of them slowly made their way back to the changing rooms, examining the various items on display as they went. Linda and Jan seemed to take delight in Tina's discomfort.

"I'm telling you, Jan," Linda said, "in another couple of months, you won't be able to keep her out of here."

"I know, that's what worries me."

"Why should it worry you? It's my money!"

"Yours? I thought…."

"You thought what? That it was The Organisation's money? No, Dear, and I don't want you worrying about it either. I don't have any children; remember? It's my money and it's my chance to live vicariously through her. Give me that much anyway, please. Let her have fun with it! I can't wait to see what she picks out."

The changing rooms were in a section of the store all to themselves. There was a small platform for private fashion shows, several comfortable chairs, coffee tables and curtained booths lined the walls.

When the woman returned, she seemed to have three of everything they stopped to look at, including accessories, shoes, and handbags. She had two other sales clerks in tow, all of them loaded down with dresses, boxes and assorted items. Tina swooned with the thought of having to try all the garments and accessories on. Sam sat there in a chair, chuckling at his friend's distress. The sales clerk quickly hung the clothing on a rack to one side of the platform and selected one of the shirt-dresses they'd looked at initially. "Here you are, Miss; why don't you take this in there," she said, pointing to a nearby changing booth, "and try it on for size?" Flustered, Tina took the dress from the clerk and looked plaintively at her mother. Smiling, Jan stood up and crossed to Tina. Taking her by the elbow, the two entered the changing booth.

Looking at Linda, the clerk smiled and said, "She is a shy one, isn't she?"

Linda laughed out loud. "You have no idea," she said with a smirk.

With that, Sam broke out in guffaws of laughter. "Linda, she's so pretty and she thinks she's an ugly duckling. I get a kick out of watching her."

"You'd better watch it, young man, or you'll be next!" Linda shot back, laughing at his obvious discomfort.

"Come on, let's see what's here." With that, the two descended on the clothes rack, conspiring on what Tina was going to "try on for size" next.

In the booth, Jan was acting like a mother hen. "Oh come on, Sweetie, here, undo your blouse."

"Why do I have to try it on, Mum? Can't we just get the one in my size and buy it?"

"No, Honey, the sizes run large and small between the different styles and manufacturers. You'll just have to try it on. Here, give me that blouse, and your skirt…. Come on, Tina! It's no big deal; girls do this hundreds of times a day!"

"Sure, but they don't have an audience!" Tina hissed.

Jan laughed, "What?!? Where do you think all their friends are when they go shopping? Honey, it's a chance to socialise, have fun and experiment with different looks. It's the main reason girls love shop! Here, now put this on and I'll hang these up for you."

Jan took Tina's blouse and skirt and put them on the hangers provided, while Tina slipped into the dress. The buttons still had her a bit baffled, being on the opposite side from men's shirts. Jan clucked as she brushed away Tina's hands and made short work of the buttons.

"Let's go, Gertrude, out into the light where I can see you."

"Yes, Mo-therrr."

Smiling a weak smile, Tina stepped out of the booth and into the viewing area. Clasping her hands before her and looking at the floor in embarrassment, she just stood there. The pose was classic "Audrey Hepburn."

Sam looked up from the rack of clothes at the movement of the curtain. When Tina stepped out into the room, his jaw dropped. Instead of the pretty young teen who went into the booth, a vision of loveliness had emerged. She looked like a young debutante. Her shy presence was commanding the attention of everyone in the room. Her calves, framed perfectly by the full skirt of the pale dress, were simply stunning. Sam's eyes started at the floor and slowly took in every inch of the vision before him. He was shocked speechless by her beauty.

Linda took one look and muttered, "Oh my…." She, too, was overcome with the change.

Seeing the look on Sam and Linda's faces, Tina whirled about and tried to run back into the booth, tears formed in her eyes. Her mother stopped her hasty retreat by grabbing her by her shoulders. "Whoa! Hold on there! Where are you going so fast?"

"They think I'm ugly! Look!" Tina blurted out, on the verge of tears.

Sam made as much of a mad dash to his friend as his wounds would allow. "Tina, you're stunningly beautiful," Sam said in a rush. "Where did you ever get the idea I thought you were ugly?!?"

"But you just stared like I'm some sort of…of…."

"…heavenly vision," he finished for her, as he took her by the arm and gently turned her to face him. "Do you know who you reminded me of when you stepped out of that room?" Tina shook her head violently side to side, fighting back the tears. "At first I thought Audrey Hepburn was making 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' all over again, then I realised it was you." With that, he pulled her close in a hug.

"Really?" she sniffled.

Smiling as he held her away from him, Sam said, "Really. Now, model that thing for me. I want to get the full effect. Pretend you're a supermodel; you've got the look, go for it!"

Laughing now as she wiped at the tears with the back of her hand, Tina started an awkward model's strut about the platform.

Standing back out of the way, the sales clerk just shook her head. "Ugly?" she said to herself. "Where the hell have they been keeping that girl, a cloister?"

*****

Part-12

Monday Morning September 7th

Earlier that same day, Doctor Brandy Dewinter was making her rounds at Central Hospital. "… And the pain?"

"Oh, it's much better, Doctor, thanks."

"Great! Then you can go home as soon as the paperwork's finished. I want you to call my office as soon as you get home and arrange an appointment for a follow up in two weeks. The nurses will have some instructions for you on how to care for the sutures. Remember; keep the wound dry! Okay?" Her patient nodded and smiled. Brandy's pager, set to vibrate instead of beep, went off silently.

"Damn this thing, anyway," Brandy mumbled under her breath as she fumbled for the pager. "I'm sorry, Betty; do you have any other questions?"

"No, Doctor, thanks. I'll make the appointment as soon as I get home."

"You just take it easy and heal. I'll see you in two weeks then. And no slam dancing 'til I say so!"

Laughing, Betty, a forty-five year-old mother, said to her physician, "Okay, Doc."

As Brandy went to the nurses' station, she checked her pager. Turning to the charge nurse, she asked, "Ellen, could I use the conference room phone? Doctor Morley just paged me. I have a feeling he overdid it again this weekend."

"You'd think he'd realise that he's getting too old to play with the college set by now."

"What? Our Doctor Irwin Morley admit he's getting old? Not in this lifetime…. Men!"

"Here's the key, Doctor."

"Thanks, Ellen."

Brandy went into the conference room and closed the door. She dialled the phone, leaned back in her chair, and waited. She began to speak the instant the phone was answered. "Irwin, when are you going to realise you can't keep up with those twenty-year-olds?"

"Hi, Brandy. It's nothing like that. I'm coming down with the flu and wanted to ask if you could take my patients for me today. I got three new ones in through emergency yesterday and last night as well as my regulars. Angie has the list for hospital visits, and my service can refer anyone new. As for my appointments at the clinic, I have an intern who can work with you; she's brilliant. Her name is Tricia Olmsted. Top of her class."

"Sure, Irwin, not a problem… but you owe me."

"Brandy," Irwin chuckled, "the day you start collecting, I'm doomed. Thanks, again. Call me if you have any questions. I'm going back to bed."

"Get well, Irwin. I'll stop in on my way home and check you over."

"Oh no…I really am doomed," Irwin groaned in mock fear.

"You sure are, Irwin. Get some sleep. I'll call you when I'm on my way over."

"Thanks, Brandy. I'll see you later." He broke the connection.

Brandy called Angie, Doctor Morley's receptionist and office manager and made the necessary arrangements. Taking the information on Doctor Morley's hospital patients, Brandy made some adjustments in her schedule, returned the conference room key to Ellen, and then continued making her rounds. When she started on the admissions from over the weekend, she noticed a familiar surname -- Boone, Donna M. Her blood ran cold. Brandy went straight out to her car and placed a call on her secure phone.

"Brandy?"

"Jenny, I think I have Sam's mother in the hospital. I need to confirm her name. Is it Donna M.?"

Jennifer Winchester's body went stiff at the name. "Yes. I'll send someone over with the information right away. What are you planning to do?"

"First, I have to read the case notes and do an exam, then I'll let you know. In the meantime, get that information to me as soon as you can. If she is Sam's mother, some of the pressure's off, at least until she's released. Have Linda bring the info. I think she'll be the one we need on this."

"She's tied up right now. She's taking Tina shopping, remember?"

"Damn! I forgot. All right, just get me the info. I'll keep you apprised of the situation."

"Brandy…."

"Yes."

"Don't do anything rash."

"Don't worry, Boss, I won't. But this one's going down."

"Yes, he is. And I wish you wouldn't call me that. Keep me informed."

"I'll talk to you later, Jenny."

"Thanks for the heads up, Brandy. See what you can do for Missus Boone. I'll take care of the rest." Jenny broke the secure link and started to think. Who can I get out there who won't cause too much attention? Claire's is closed today…. With that she picked up the phone.

"Hi, Sandy? I need you to do something for me. Can you come down to the Shop?"

*****

It took a while -- nine outfits, complete with all the accessories, to be exact -- but Tina finally started to enjoy herself and loosened up enough to look the part of an amateur fashion model. They bought the first dress she tried on and three others as well -- complete outfits with shoes, matching handbags, hosiery, scarves and two hats, just for the fun of it all. The whole time, Sam was a major factor in Tina's relaxing and enjoying the experience.

Two hours later, as they left the shop, the sales lady, happy with the commissions, suggested they pay a visit to J-Crew to reward Sam for his patience and help in the ordeal. At the mention of the store's name, Sam paled visibly.

"Oh relax, Sam, no-one's going to say anything," Tina said as they left the store arm in arm.

"Yeah, I guess so," he said, "but I feel awful funny thinking about going into the dressing room by myself."

"Well, I hardly think it's a good idea for me to escort you into one looking like this, do you?"

"I guess not."

"Besides, they only have little booths in the middle of the sales floor. No-one's gonna say a thing. Relax and enjoy the experience."

"Enjoy it?"

"Well, would y' look at who's scared now!" The two broke into a giggle fit as they walked across the mall. Linda and Jan watched on in silent amusement.

"Do you want to go to The Under-World?" Linda asked.

"Why not. I think Tina can handle another go at some lingerie. Besides, I'd love to get her a nice peignoir or two."

"Oh my achin' wallet," moaned Linda.

"Sore loser," laughed Jan.

"No, but I will be when I get the bill," she laughed.

"Well, it looks like it's J-Crew next. Seems like my cards get the workout this time."

"Lucky me."

"For now. We'd better catch up. Unless I miss my guess, Tina's scheming again and that can be trouble."

"Trouble?"

"Trouble. That little brat has a mind just as devious as yours when it comes to getting people to do things."

"This I've got to see!"

*****

Outside one of the changing booths, Tina and Sam were having a heated discussion. "I'm telling you, Sam, it's perfect."

"But aren't they a bit, um…baggy?"

"That's the way it's s'posed t' look. Relax!"

"But…"

Tina pulled Sam close and whispered in his ear. "Look, guys are supposed to wear their clothes baggy and you're a guy now. Remember? Unless you want to look like a girl in drag, that is."

"But you never wore them like this…."

"And if I did, I'd have been called a wannabe. Which is worse? A freak? Or a wannabe?"

"But…."

"Gi'me the tags."

"But…."

Tina started pulling the sales tags off the cargo pants Sam was wearing.

"Tina!" Sam exclaimed.

"You're wearin' 'em home," she hissed at Sam. "Mum?" she called out sweetly.

Janice was looking on in silent amusement. "Hmmm?"

"Could you please take these to the till and pay for them? Sam wants to wear them home."

"I never…" Sam sputtered.

"Sure, Honey," Janice said with a smile. "Give them to me and I'll take care of it."

"But…" Sam continued his protests, to no avail. The moment he opened his mouth, Tina cut him off.

"Forget it, Sam," Tina said emphatically, "it's a done deal. Now, about those shoes…."

"You weren't kidding," Linda laughed. "Goddess, Jan, she's worse than I am!

"Don't I know it? Keep an eye on her. If we're not careful, she'll buy out the store."

"Just you wait. I'll get you, my pretty!" Sam said, imitating the Wicked Witch of the West. "And your little dog, too!"

"Oh yeah? How? And I don't have a dog, either."

No dog, never any pets…. I think it's time to change that, Linda thought.

"You know," Sam said slyly, an idea warming in his devious mind, "we still have to stop by the store to talk to Missus Winchester…or have you forgotten that?" Sam said with a smirk.

"Oh-ho no, you aren't getting me back in there for love nor money," Tina responded emphatically. "NO! Absolutely not! That woman's crazy."

"But I thought you were gonna talk to her for me," Sam said, feigning a pout.

"Mum can….

Sam smiled broadly and just nodded his head.

Linda, watching the exchange, started laughing anew. "I think Sam's right, Tina. If you made him a promise, I think you should live up to your end of the bargain, don't you? Besides, your mother was telling me there are some things you still need to get, and The Under-World is just the place to get them."

"But…" Tina started, her shoulders slumping. All the fire she'd been using to roast her friend seemed to leave her in a single breath.

"I think you're having way too much fun outfitting our Urban Commando, here. As soon as you finish getting him outfitted, I think it's time to get back to running up my credit card bill."

"But…" Tina tried again.

"For now, I think it's time to spend some of your mother's money, don't you, Tina? Let's see…." The two teens were stunned into silence as Linda took over. "Do you think he'd like this?" Linda asked, holding up a fatigue jacket to show Tina. "I think a couple of sweaters, and…"

*****

Tina balked as they approached Jenny's store. "But…."

"Look, Tina," Linda hissed, "the sooner you realise that Jenny does NOT have it in for you, the better. Besides, remember that client I was telling you about?"

"Yeah…" came the glum response.

"Well, it's her."

Tina froze in her tracks. "Her?"

"Her. Come on; let's get a move on. Doctor Dewinter said Sam only has four hours, remember. We've already been at it for three and we still need to get you a vanity and several other things for your room."

"Yes'm."

*****

When the party entered The Under-World and Marjorie spied Sam's battered face, she dropped everything she was doing. "SAM! Ohmigods! Are you okay?!?"

"I'm fine Marjorie. I…got into a scrap over the weekend."

Jenny, hearing the commotion up front, went to investigate. She smiled a pinched smile as she saw the four shoppers. Struggling not to rush to Sam and comfort him, the "Old Battleaxe" reared her prim and proper head. "Marjorie, please remember where you are. I'm sure Sam will tell us just what has happened to him when he's feeling up to it. Right, Sam?" The pain in Jenny's eyes was apparent as she struggled to keep up appearances.

"Yes'm"

"Now then, Jan, it's nice to see you back so soon." Jenny's front wavered as she spoke. It was painfully clear that she was barely hanging onto her prim and proper shopkeeper facade. "And you brought Tina back with you; how nice. Hello, Linda." At the mention of Linda's name her attitude changed completely. She seemed to stiffen and straighten as she spoke. "Linda, when you get a chance, would you come into my office, please? I need to speak with you before you leave." It was a command. Never in her life had Linda heard Jenny issue one with such cold determination.

"Of course, Jenny. Jan was looking for some peignoirs for Tina. I think Sam and Marjorie can handle that, don't you?"

At the mention of Sam's name, Jenny flinched. "You know, Linda, I do think you're right. Jan, care to join us in a cup of coffee or perhaps tea?"

"Jenny, I don't know what you're up to, but…okay, sure, lead on, MacDuff."

"That's the spirit, Dear. Come into my parlour…"

"…said the spider to the fly," finished Janice.

"We've had some interesting developments that I think you both need to be made aware of," Jen said and turned toward her office. As she walked off the sales floor, Jenny's back seemed to be "Ram-Rod" straight. She actually marched into the salon. The whole time, she seemed to be mumbling to herself.

Marjorie just stared after her. What's gotten into her? she thought as she watched her boss walk away.

Once the women went into the office, Marjorie and Sam started having fun playing dress-up with Tina, who was failing miserably at pretending she wasn't enjoying herself. The clothes were just so soft and pretty and….

While Tina was in the changing room trying on a teddy, Sam turned to Marjorie. "Uh…thanks for not askin' about it, Mar," he said, pointing at his battered mug. "I really can't talk about it right now."

"Hey, it's like, no prob', 'kay? You gonna be all right?"

"Yeah…I'm fine," Sam said as he stared at his feet, embarrassed about the whole thing. "What's up with the boss?" he said, trying to change the subject.

"Y'got me. Doctor Dewinter called her this morning and she's been a bear ever since."

"She's not mad at me, is she? I mean…she like…didn't even look at me when she came out."

"Her? Mad at you? No way, Kiddo! You're her favourite. There's no way she's mad at you. She might be disappointed because you're so…beat up, but there's no…." Marjorie trailed off as Tina chose just that moment to make her appearance wearing the red silk teddy. It looked like it was made with her in mind. Marjorie and Sam's jaws just dropped.

"Man…" Sam breathed.

"You said it," Marjorie replied, stunned at the sight Tina presented.

"What? No good? Okay, I'll try the other one on and…."

Sam broke the stunned silence. "You're getting that one!"

Marjorie rushed over to Tina. "Honey," she said as she adjusted one of the spaghetti straps, "the designer had you in mind when he put this little number together. I wish I looked as good in it as you. I'm way too big up top to carry it off."

"Why don't you try the white one on?" Sam suggested.

"Okay," Tina said brightly.

"You know…" Marjorie said as Tina disappeared into the fitting room, "people who are that bright and cheerful all the time really make me ill."

"You wouldn't say that if you knew Ernie," Sam said. "He was miserable all the time. Imagine looking like that and trying to be a guy. Not even a macho one at that, just a guy. And because of it, everyone called him a faggot, candy-ass, pussy; I couldn't even walk down the hall with him because of it. If I did they'd say things like: 'Here comes Sam and her wife.' And all he ever wanted to do was be normal and have friends."

"I know, but still…. Anyway, back to Ole Blood-N-Guts -- she knows what happened to you and she's blaming herself for it. Don't worry about her, okay?" Her statement went right over Sam's head.

"Are you sure, Mar? I mean…it isn't her fault that I look like this. It's mine. I should never've let…."

"Shut up, Sam!" Marjorie spat hotly. "It's not your fault! Don't you even think it! Don't you ever say something like that again! If I could kill that bastard…."

"You know?" Sam asked quietly, a shocked look on his purple face.

"I know. And I'll tell you something else; it won't ever happen to you or your Mum again." Again, Sam missed the implication.

"Yeah, right; shows what you know."

"I know more than you think, Short Shit," she said half jokingly. "Just remember what I said, okay?"

"Yeah…sure…what ever. Look, umm…I uh…I really don't want to talk about this, okay?"

"I know, Sam," and Marjorie pulled Sam gently to her and held him in a gentle hug. Marjorie fought back the tears she so desperately wanted to let free and just held her friend.

*****

"… She was admitted at two that same morning, Jan." Jenny was saying. Linda looked like she was ready to kill someone. Janice just sat in stunned silence.

"Has he been to the hospital since she was admitted?" Jan finally asked.

"Not that we can tell. She's in a semi-private room, but they don't log her visitors. She'd be in a ward if it weren't for the questions raised by the nature of her injuries. She said she fell down the basement stairs trying to get to the breaker panel. It was just dumb luck that Brandy got the case. She said that Donna's injuries are inconsistent with a fall. Brandy said they looked more like the results of a systematic beating, than anything else." Jenny was not holding up well. It looked like she was going to break into tears at any moment. She just sat there wringing her hands.

"I've got some things to do," Linda said quietly as she started to get out of her chair. The look on her face said she had murder on her mind.

"You aren't going anywhere except shopping, Tigger!" Jenny said forcefully. "We'll put a tail on him and let you know what's going on. For now, there are two young adults who need to finish a day at the mall. Let them have their fun while they can. Things are going to be hard enough for them as it is."

"I'll tell Sam about his mother when we get back to the car," Jan said. "He's going to want to see her when he finds out. Will it be safe to visit her at the hospital?"

"Jan, I really don't think that that'll be wise. If that…animal should show up while he's there…" Jenny started.

"We can't control the situation at the hospital, Jan," Linda said. "We can protect Sam better at the house. Don't let him get near Memorial. I'll have Brandy tell his mother why he isn't showing up."

"Won't that be tipping your hand?" Jan asked.

"We'll handle it; don't worry," Linda said.

"I think you both had better get out there and…" Jenny started to speak again.

"If you're worried about my wallet, Jenny, this one's on…" she turned to Linda, lifted one eyebrow, and said, "Tigger?" Jan was incredulous.

Jenny was in the middle of taking a sip of tea. When she heard the way Jan said Linda's code name she almost choked on the liquid. Her unexpected laugh made the tea come out her nose. The women started laughing at the sight of the very prim and proper Missus Winchester snorting her tea.

"Don't ask. Don't even go there," Linda said with a smirk, the strain of the last half-hour finally releasing itself in the laughter. "It's my code name. How I got it's a looong story. I'll tell you about it some other time. But, seriously, how do you plan to tell Sam?"

"When we get to the car, I'll just tell him, Linda. You can drive."

"Great, just what we all need, an emotional circus in the back seat and an emotional wreck in the front," Linda said, shaking her head.

"You won't be able to get into trouble that way," Jan said, "and the driving will force you to concentrate on the present, not what you'd like to do."

"Good thinking, Jan," Jenny said. "After this ordeal is over, I think we could use someone of your…talents in The Organisation. Are you game?"

"I'm game, Jenny. I'm already in it up to my neck. Just don't go giving me any strange code names like 'Tigger' here." They all snickered at the way Jan kept saying the name.

"Deal," Jenny choked out. Then she stood and spoke to the two women, "I believe you need to get those two home. I seem to recall a time limit on my employee's excursions. Besides, he needs to know that he has some time to get better…on the house, as it were." Jan and Linda took the hint and stood as well.

"Are you going to tell him, Jenny?" Janice asked.

"I really do think I need to, don't you? He is my employee, after all." Her back seemed to straighten as she stood there. It almost looked like she was turning into a superhero or something. "Are we ready, Ladies?" Jan and Linda just nodded, and followed Jenny out the door to the salon.

*****

Marjorie, now with a part-timer to help her run the store on the weekends in Sam's absence, was in the salon playing "Barbie Dolls," with Tina as the doll, and having a grand old time. Sam, unable to keep his eyes off the real life doll, was just sitting in one of the wing chairs and enjoying himself immensely.

"Oh baby! That one's a keeper! Come to papa!" he said lewdly as the three women entered the room.

"I beg your pardon?" Jenny said in prim indignation. Sam blanched. Everyone laughed at his reaction. He looked like a puppy caught doing a "no-no."

"Missus Winchester! I uh…I was just…."

"Relax, Sam," Jenny said with a smile, "I know you were just joking. I certainly hope you don't joke like that with my other customers."

"Never! It's just…."

"Never mind, Dear," she said as she took the chair next to him. "I think we need to reassess your duties here at the shop." The look of despair on Sam's face was obvious. "I'm not going to fire you, Sweetie. I just gave you a promotion, remember?" Sam nodded his head. "Well, that was before you got hurt. And since you can't work with my customers looking like that…."

"I'll work the stock room, sweep the floors, anything! I really need this job, Missus Winchester; please, let me do that until my face looks better. You don't have to pay me the raise you gave me, I'll do anything…." Sam's words came out in a rush. He sounded like a man pleading for his life.

Jenny smiled at Sam, her eyes glistening with tears. "Do you like working here, Sam?"

"Oh yes, Missus Winchester! I love working here! You're a great boss and…."

"Then it's settled," she said, reaching out and putting her hand on his knee to ease his fears.

"Huh?"

"I feel partly responsible for what happened to you, Dear, so…as of now, you're on paid medical leave until such time as Doctor Dewinter has informed me your injuries have healed. When you return, it will be with Doctor Dewinter's permission. She, and she alone, shall determine when you may return to work. Is that understood?" Sam nodded his head in the affirmative. "And another thing, if you are to work in my shoppe, you'll look like you belong here." Sam's face fell. He looked like he'd been hit over the head with a baseball bat. "Not like some…" she searched for words "…guerrilla warfare specialist. I expect you to wear makeup, a brassiere and to dress professionally at all times."

"You mean I…I have to wear a dress?" He looked like he was going to cry.

"No, Dear," Jenny said tenderly, "dress as femininely, masculinely, or androgynously as you like. So long as you follow the guidelines I've established, I really don't mind."

Sam smiled a lopsided smile as tears came to his eyes.

"And I expect you to be on your best behaviour at all times. That means no fighting, no swearing…and no lecherous comments to or about my customers; is that understood?"

"Yes'm," Sam mumbled, mollified.

"Good. I seem to recall someone saying you had a time limit on today's excursion. Is that true?"

"Yes, Missus Winchester, Doctor Dewinter gave me four hours to…."

"Then I suggest you follow her instructions. Don't worry about your job, it's here waiting for you."

"Thank you, Missus Winchester. I…." Tears started to run down Sam's cheeks.

Jenny got up, knelt beside the chair and gave him a hug. "Enough of that now, Dear. It's rather unseemly for a boy to cry in public. Run along. Call me if you need anything, and I do mean, anything. Do you understand me?" she whispered in his ear. Sam nodded his head as he tried to stop the tears. "Oh bother," Jenny said in her best blue-blooded British. She took a silk handkerchief from the sleeve of her suit and handed it to Sam. "Clean-up your face, and go home. Call me once in a while and tell me how you're getting along." She didn't wait for a reply, she just stood up and strode purposefully -- her back again ramrod straight -- into her office.

Marjorie looked on from the door to the changing room. She wiped a tear from her eye and busied herself with the clothes Tina had decided not to take. "Damn her anyway. Just when I think I know her…" she muttered fighting back the tears that were filling her eyes.

Janice looked at her daughter, then at the pile of clothes on the counter. "Are those the keepers?" she asked. Tina beamed a smile at her and nodded. Linda winced. "Are we ready to go?" her mother asked.

"Yep!"

"Good, we still need to get you two some furniture for your rooms. Why don't you take care of the bill, Honey," Jan said as she knelt beside Sam. "Come on, 'Champ,' let's get you cleaned up," Jan said, placing her hand on Sam's thigh. He just nodded and stood. When they were both on their feet, he pulled Jan into a hug and started crying all over again.

Great, just great, Linda bitched to herself. She hasn't even told him about his mother yet and look at him. And how the hell am I supposed to drive when I can't even see? she thought as she wiped furiously at the tears in her eyes.

*****

In the car, Janice got in the back seat with Sam and her daughter. When she told Sam about his mother, he didn't cry, he didn't scream, he just sat there with a grim look of determination on his face.

"Sam, I know you want to…" Jan began.

"I have to get her out of there, Aunt Jan. I just have to. Please, help me get her out of there…before he kills her."

"We will, Honey, I promise you."

Jan, seeing Sam's reaction to the news about his mother, switched to the front passenger seat of the car before they left the parking space. She watched Sam carefully the whole trip home, never once taking her eyes from the teen. Tina just held on to Sam for dear life. The ride home was made in grim silence.

Tina feared the outcome of the battle raging in her friend's mind. Oh, Sam, she thought, it's just not fair. Why you? Of all the people in the world, why did it have to be you? "Hey, Sam?" she whispered in his ear as she held on to him.

"Hmm?"

"Want another fashion show when we get home?" she asked shyly.

"You're a witch, you know that, Tee? You really are a witch." The thought of seeing Tina in one of the outfits from The Under-World was enough to bring him back to the land of the living. "You really want to get me in trouble, don't you?" he said, the hint of a smile at the corners of his swollen mouth.

"Maybe," Tina said with a smirk. She held her friend tighter than ever. They rode quietly in each other's arms.

*****

Back at Jan's house later that day, Linda went over the receipts at the little table in the kitchen while Jan made some Earl Grey tea and brought it over to the table. "That's right Jan -- four thousand eight hundred eighty five dollars and thirty seven cents."

"Five thousand dollars? In under four hours?!?" Jan was incredulous. "That's it, she's on a budget! Five thousand dollars…. It was only clothes and a vanity, for Pete's sake!"

"And some pictures, and some drapes, and a few stuffed animals, and…."

"Okay, okay, Linda. She ran amok."

"Yeah…and it was a blast, too, wasn't it?"

"It sure was," Jan giggled. "I can't wait for the shop to deliver the rest of it. Remember when I had her try on those bras?" Jan giggled so hard she snorted. The sound was so unlike her that Linda broke into peals of musical laughter.

"Hey, Miss Piggy," Linda said as their laughter died down.

"Yes, Kermie?" Jan replied, doing a credible Miss Piggy then snorted in laughter again.

"Don't you think we ought to go upstairs and see what those two imps are up to?" Linda asked when she had her giggles under control again. "It's just too quiet."

"Let them be, Linda. Sam's playing interior decorator and, unless I miss my guess, Tina just had to write a programme to help her do it."

"Write a programme?!? To arrange a room?!?" Linda exclaimed. Then she thought, Maybe I corralled the wrong person for this project after all. I need someone who's going to get the job done, not write programmes for the sake of writing them the rest of their life. "This I've got to see," she said aloud. "Come on, Miss Piggy, we've got some spying to do."

The two women crept up the back stairs and down the hall. Tina's door was partly open and voices could be heard inside. "See, Sam? Like I said, if you move the bed like this…" she pressed a few keys and the bed on the screen rotated and slid across the virtual room.

"Yeah! And then we hang the pictures of the ballet slippers on the wall where the head board was and…."

"I don't believe it!" Linda whispered in astonishment. "She has it done already!"

"I have to say it."

"Jan, don't you dare!" Linda hissed.

"Told y'so!" Jan laughed out loud.

The heads hunched over the computer screen snapped around so hard and fast it was hard to believe they didn't suffer whiplash from the sudden movement. "Oh! Hi, Ma, we were just looking at how we should arrange our rooms when the new furniture comes."

Sam ran across the room as fast as his injuries would allow and gave Jan a hug and a peck on the cheek. "Thanks for everything, Aunt Jan."

"Don't worry about it, Hon., I enjoyed it." Jan replied with a smile.

"Tina, don't you think you should put the rest of your things away?" Jan asked, looking at the bags on the bed.

"What?!? I put all my things away! Those are Sam's!"

Linda lost it. Everyone stared at her in confused silence. When she finally calmed down, she said, "I heard it, but I just don't believe it. Miss Disaster over here has cleaned up and put away all her pretty things, and the little Pug Nosed Snot has left his in a heap on the bed. If you'd told me about it and I hadn't been here to see it for myself, I would've called you a liar, Jan."

Sam blushed and said, "I'll put my things away now, Aunt Jan. I'm sorry."

"Don't apologise, Honey. It's all right. I just think it's ironic. You, the reigning Miss Neat as a Pin crown holder, have become Oscar Madison. And the all time champion in the Oscar Madison competitions over there seems to be more like Miss Felicia Unger!"

Sam smiled ruefully as Tina piped up, "C'mon, Sam, let's get those things of yours into your room. Besides, I need to get some measurements for the CAD software. I have some ideas that just might be really cool to try out!"

As the teens left the room, Linda and Jan both started giggling again. "Are you sure you're ready for this, Jan?"

"No, but I'm loving every second of it. C'mon, let's get out of their hair. I have a feeling we don't want to be around when Young Miss Frankenstein starts assembling the nightmare I'm sure she's cooked up in that head of hers."

"Nightmare?" Linda asked.

"Remember the hole she cut in the front door when she was ten? She had mirrors and wires hanging all over the house. It was clever, I'll say that much. All so that she could open up a window in the door, from her room, and see who was there. She didn't want to have to go downstairs to answer the door."

"Seems to me that door cost you a pretty penny to replace, too," Linda laughed.

"Tina!" Jan called out after her child, "no holes in any of the walls or doors!" She waited for a reply and, not getting one, shouted "DO YOU HEAR ME?!?"

"Yes Mo-therrr! Sheesh, cut one little hole in the front door as a kid and…."

Just then, Linda's cell phone rang. You could barely hear its quiet chirp in the carpeted hall.

"Damn, and I'm up here…."

"Well, if it's important…."

"Jan, when that thing rings, it's always important. I think I know who it is, though. Can I use the phone in your room?"

"Sure, be my guest."

"Thanks, I'll be down in a minute."

As soon as Linda closed the door to her room, Jan stuck her head into Sam's room.

"Gir…umm…children…uh…" Jan tried to get the teen's attention and managed to stumble over every form of address she tried. Finally, seeing she had their undivided attention said, "I'm sorry, Sam, I really don't know if you want me to call you a girl or a boy. Which is it?"

"Oh! Uh…well…I guess it all depends on how I'm dressed, Aunt Jan." She giggled, "Gee, I guess that wasn't any help, was it? It's really confusing for me, Aunt Jan. I mean…I've been thinking and acting like a guy all day. Heck, I even thought of myself as a guy all day, but…I guess you can call me a girl…at least for now. I don't mind. Besides, I guess I really haven't decided which way it's gonna be. So…it really doesn't matter. Either or neither's fine."

"Okay, Sweetie. I have a feeling Linda is going to have to leave here in a minute. Why don't you two go downstairs and wait for her so that you can thank her for all the gifts she got you."

"Okay," the two chorused as they got up and made their way down the stairs. As soon as they were out of sight, Linda came out of Jan's room.

"Is everything okay, Linda?"

"That was Jenny. He's on his way home. I should get myself into place."

"I don't know if I like the idea of you…."

"Don't worry about me, Jan. I've been doing this for a lot longer than you think. I'll be fine. Besides, I'll have backup right around the corner.

"If Sam decides not to press the point, his father only gets a shake-up. But if Sam wants more…." Her smile chilled the blood in Jan's veins.

"All right, Lin, the girls are downstairs waiting for you. We'd better get moving."

As they reached the bottom of the stairs, Sam and Tina smothered Linda in a massive hug.

"Thanks for everything, Linda," Tina said as she planted a kiss on Linda's cheek that left a big lipstick smudge. Seeing the damage, Tina blushed and giggled.

"Um… Linda? I think you'd better wipe your cheek off before you go anywhere."

"You little snot! I'll bet you did that on purpose!" she joked as she pulled out a Kleenex and wiped at her cheek. "I have to go now. I'll see you two later. Behave yourselves, understand?"

"Aw…Linda, you're no fun," Tina complained.

"Go play with your computer, Geek. And you…you take care of yourself and get better. Do you understand?"

"Thanks, Linda. I will," Sam replied. "You're going out to get him, aren't you?" she asked.

"How did you…?"

"It's not rocket science, Linda. Look at it from where I stand. I get hurt and suddenly the house is full of visitors and you're running the show. We go to the shop and you go into the office looking like a happy-go-lucky rich aunt. When you come out, you look like an Urban Commando in a dress. You have a credit card with Tina's name on it virtually overnight, Tina's school records are doctored, she has a new driver's license and a brand new identity, all overnight, and all immediately after you got involved.

"Like I said, it's not rocket science. You're going out to get him. I don't want him hurt, Linda. He may be an asshole, and he may well deserve it, but I need my father. Just because I don't like him and what he does, doesn't mean I don't love him."

"Well, Jenny did say you're a sharp little shit," Linda said to no-one in particular. "Don't worry about him, okay? Just you never mind where I'm going and what I'm doing, Imp. You just get better. We'll have some things to talk about in the next couple of days. For now, I only want you to concentrate on getting better. We'll worry about what I'm doing later. Okay?"

"Uh huh, right. Just promise me he won't get hurt."

"I promise, Sam."

"Thanks, Linda…for everything."

"You're welcome, Sam…for everything." And with that, Linda stepped out the door and pulled it closed behind her.

"Aunt Jan, I'm worried."

"About Linda? Don't be. She knows what she's doing. Besides, she'll have backup nearby if she needs it. Why don't you two go back to what you were doing? She'll be fine. Your father will be, too, though lord knows he shouldn't be."

"Can we go visit my mother?"

"I don't think that that's going to be a good idea, Honey. Remember what I said in the car? What would happen if your father showed up? Why don't you give her a call and let her know you're all right. You can tell her that there's a place for her here if she wants to leave him. Okay?"

"Okay, Aunt Jan. I wish I could go visit her, but I understand. Do you think I could call Doctor Dewinter? I'd like to talk to her about Mum."

"Sure, Honey. I'll get her number for you."

*****

Part-13

Monday Night September 7th

James Boone, on his way home from The Sneaker, his favourite sports bar, was angry at the world, and "that little trollop" who approached him as he walked out the door of The Sneaker.

"She was acting like she wanted some. Shit, she was all over me. Fuckin' bitch, even made me buy her a damn drink. And what do I get for my manners? A fuckin' set o' blue balls."

He rounded the corner to his street. He was drunk again and at the wheel of his late model Ford Taurus. He made the turn wide, swerving just a bit as he over-corrected from the turn. Heading down the street, he saw a 1970s vintage Mercedes 450 SL convertible in the middle of the street directly in front of his house. The cream coloured car, though over twenty-five years old, looked showroom new. Its hood was up and the four way flashers blinked dimly and slowly. Its driver, a woman, was bent over at the waist, looking intently at the engine and jiggling the wires connected there. The only thing he noticed about her was the pair of shapely legs clad in black, seamed stockings perched atop a pair of black, patent leather, stiletto heels. The black leather miniskirt she wore couldn't quite cover all in that particular pose and showed a glimpse of white just beneath. Her stocking tops and suspender tabs were clearly visible to all who cared to look, and James Boone looked. Actually, the word to describe what he did was leered.

"Jimmy old boy, it looks like your ship has just come in!" he crowed aloud.

As the Ford lurched to a stop, the legs gained a head and torso and turned to face him. Jim climbed out of the car. "Hi, having engine trouble?" he asked the blonde's bosom. She was wearing an unbuttoned, fuchsia, single-breasted linen jacket and a white, silk blouse that was unbuttoned just enough to show her assets to maximum advantage.

"It just died," the woman said, a hint of tears in her small voice.

Jim continued to stare at the woman's chest. After what seemed like an eternity to her, he allowed his gaze to move from her bosom. But instead of moving up to her face, it dropped down to her legs, hovered there for a while, and, slowly, it moved back up. Finally, after nearly 60 seconds of silence, his lecherous gaze made it to her face. Her blonde hair framed her face in soft curls of spun gold, a smudge of black on one cheek.

"Damn! She's cute, too," Jim thought as his mind finally began to work again. "Well, let's have a look."

"Oh, thank you," she said as she thought, What - a - fucking - ass. I'm gonna have fun with this one.

After what was much longer than it should have taken, Jim found the problem. "Here y' go, it's just a loose battery cable." After staggering to and fumbling about in the trunk of his car, he returned with a pair of pliers and tightened the cable for her, buggering the the nut and bolt as he worked. Out of his field of vision, the blonde scowled and looked like she wanted to kill him. "Why'n'cha give it a try," he slurred drunkenly.

The woman got into her car and tried the key. The engine roared to life on the first try. She jumped out of the car and threw her arms around Jim's neck, giving him a kiss full on the lips. Then she just sort of bounced up and down saying, "Oh thank you sooo much! You saved my life! How can I ever repay you?"

Jim pulled her against him again and said, "Oh I can think of a few ways, Honey."

"Oh, you're terrible," she giggled. "Okay, tell you what, I have to go to the mall and pick up a couple of things. Why don't you come along? That way, I don't miss my sale and I can thank you…properly…afterward!"

"Sure, Honey. Why don'cha park yer car 'n…."

"Oh, can't we go in Bitsy?" she asked, placing her hands on her hips, daintily stomping one foot down and thrusting her lower lip out in a classic little girl's pout.

"Bitsy?" James said uncomprehendingly. He was so drunk he was weaving back and forth.

"I just love driving my sexy little Bitsy. Isn't she just the sexiest little thing you ever saw?" she asked, referring to her car.

"Well, almost," he said with a leer.

"Oh, but I do," she purred. "I get so horny just driving her sometimes."

"Le'me park mine then," he said as he weaved back to his car.

Yep, he mused as he attempted to park the Taurus, Jimmy me boy, yer ship has definitely come in! I'm getting me a bit 'o blonde honey tonight!

Once he'd finally managed to get the Ford into a space -- no mean feat considering his drunken state -- he climbed into the little sports car, almost falling into the seat.

"Isn't Bitsy just scrumptious?" she squeaked.

"I can think of a few things that are a bit more than scrumptious," Jim said as he placed his hand on her thigh.

"Ooooh! I think I can, too!" she giggled, putting the car in gear. She turned and looked hard at James Boone, an eerily cold smile framed her lips. With that, she tromped on the accelerator. "I absolutely love the feeling of pure power."

The Mercedes shot ahead. They roared off to the mall, the petite little blonde in complete control. When she finally parked the car, James Boone was more that a bit shaken up from the wild ride. That year and model Mercedes was never much of a muscle car, but the way the blonde drove it, was insane.

"I ain't lettin' the bitch drive again," he swore softly to himself as he climbed out of the bucket seat. His stomach was reeling from the motion of the car.

The blonde was standing in the middle of the lane waiting for him. "C'mon, Jimmy! It's almost closing time! I just gotta get that stuff tonight!"

"Okay, babe, okay."

They walked into the mall, their arms around each other's waists. In truth, the petite blond was leading as much as holding Jim up. "Damn, he's plastered," she thought.

In a few moments they arrived at their destination, "The Under-World?" Jim asked.

"Uh huh!" the blonde bubbled. They have a baby-doll I've been dying to get, and tonight's the last day it's on sale!"

Marjorie stared at the pair as they walked into the store. She pressed a button under the counter and moved to greet them. The button rang a buzzer in Jenny's office. She turned on the monitor just as Marjorie welcomed the late shoppers. "Hi, Lin! Back after that baby-doll?"

"Uh huh!" she perked. "Jimmy said that if I modelled it for him, he'd even pay for it! Isn't that right Jimmy-poo?" James Boone just nodded dumbly, his lecherous grin spreading wider by the moment.

"Some girls have all the luck," Marjorie moaned. "Come on back; I'll get it for you."

"Thanks, Sweetie. C'mon, Jimmy-poo! Ooooh!" she squealed, "I can't wait to feel it against my skin."

They went back into the salon and Marjorie drew the curtain, effectively separating it from the rest of the store. "You can sit here, Sir," Marjorie said, indicating the sofa, then took a flimsy bit of pink fluff from a hanger, "Would you like a cup of coffee while you wait for her?"

"Uh, yeah, maybe I should at that," Jim said. He was feeling more than a bit drowsy.

"How do you take it?" Marjorie asked.

"Sweet and creamy, just like me," he said, and thought; I want to stay awake for this.

Marjorie handed Linda the wisp of nearly transparent fabric and shooed her into a dressing room, then turned and went for Jim's coffee.

Jenny came out of her office just as Marjorie returned with the coffee. She smiled at James and turned to Marjorie. "It's closing time, Dear; I'll get the door." Turning back to James, she continued, "Please don't mind the hour," her British accent was very distinct, "we'll stay open as long as you're here. The mall will be officially closed in another half-hour, but we have a private entrance to accommodate our late night shoppers. Do take your time and enjoy your visit. You have the shoppe to yourselves."

James Boone took a large gulp of his coffee and smiled in response. Linda came out of the changing room in a nearly transparent pink baby-doll nightie, her stockings and suspender belt clearly visible now. "Do you like it?" she asked with a smile, as she did a neat pirouette in her four-inch heels. Jim could only nod his head. She was stunning.

"Will you be taking that one?" Marjorie asked.

"Uh huh!" Linda replied as she snuggled up to James on the sofa.

"Will that be cash or charge?" she asked James.

"Charge," came the reply. James Boone placed his now empty cup on the coffee table, took out his wallet, then fished out his Platinum American Express Card and gave it to the young clerk.

"I'll write it up for you," Marjorie said, slipping behind a small counter to one side. She returned in a moment with an old-fashioned charge plate and handed it to James. He signed the slip with a flourish, all while keeping his eyes on Linda. When Marjorie handed him another charge plate, he signed it, again with a flourish. Then he turned and leered at Linda. Marjorie nudged his elbow, getting his attention yet again and, again, handed him the charge plate. That time, his credit card was standing up at the top of it. James leered at her, signed the slip with a flourish, took his card and handed her the plate. It was the last thing he remembered doing.

He slumped over onto Linda. She gave him a nudge. He snored in response. Then she shoved him away from her and jumped up."Gods! How repulsive can you be?!?" she exclaimed.

Marjorie just stood there grinning. "Well, he did pay for what you're wearing. He should at least get something for it.

"And he's going to pay for a lot more, too!" Linda said evilly.

"More than you know, Linda," Marjorie laughed.

"What'a-y'mean?" came the puzzled response.

"Take a look at the charge slips."

"Slips? Plural?" Linda asked.

Marjorie nodded, grinning broadly.

Linda took the charge slips from James' hand and examined them. "It's…THEY'RE blank!"

"Well, blank except for his charge card imprint and his signature…on all of them," Marjorie giggled. "He really IS going to pay for it. ALL of it!"

"Marjorie, you're a genius!"

"I know. Give me a hand; he's heavy!"

"Leave him there for now. Chilli should be here in a minute; let her do the heavy work. She's the one who likes to lift weights, not me. I need to brush my teeth and take a shower; I'll be back in a few. Happy now, Jenny?" she called out to the woman in the front of the store.

"No need to yell, my dear, I'm right here." Jenny appeared from behind the curtain, cash drawer in hand. "Let me see those charge slips, Marjorie," she said. "I think the full 'First Lady's treatment is in order, don't you, Linda?"

Linda stopped in her tracks on her way into the changing room. "Full? Hair and all?"

"Full. Complete with hair, starter wardrobe and makeup kit."

"I love it. Marjorie, I want it long. Lady Godiva long. Put extensions on the extensions!"

"Gotcha! I'll use the longest strands we have, double them and just even it up. I just love the way you think, Linda."

"I'll be right back, I really need to shower and brush my teeth," she shivered. "To think I actually let that bastard kiss me!" She went back into the changing room, retrieved her clothes and carried them into the back room.

Linda was just finishing her makeup as Chilli arrived. "So am I going to get to have fun tonight, Tiggs?" Chilli asked.

"Yep, are you ever! We all are! He signed three blank charge slips."

"Three?! Blank? How the…?"

"Three, ask Marjorie, I snuggled up to him and she handed him the charge plate. The rest, as they say, is history. Jenny said that a FULL First Lady's Special is the order of the night. Are you ready to work?"

Her grin rivalled Linda's in its chill. "Let's get to work; I don't want to be here all night."

They wasted no more time and went straight to work. First they put him in a chair and propped a book in his hands. Linda took a picture from slightly behind and to one side. The appearance was that Jim was deciding on a style of cut. Then they started in earnest. Jim was stripped and put into a pair of knickers. Linda took some more pictures. Jenny started to do a leg wax, and Linda took more pictures. Then they removed the knickers and did a full bikini and genital wax as Linda took more pictures.

"I think he's going to feel this in the morning," Marjorie said with a smirk as she ripped another strip of hair from James Boone's genitalia.

"God, Marjorie!" Chilli exclaimed as she watched the girl viciously attack the hair in James' nether regions. "Jenny, remind me never to anger this girl."

"You wouldn't say that if you saw what he did to Sam," the young woman replied, yanking at another strip of hair and wax. She wasn't anchoring his skin, she was just yanking away.

"How are you coming on his face, Dear?" Chilli asked.

"Just fine, Joanne. One more strip and…." The sound of the wax strip being yanked from James' eyebrows was heard as Jenny paused to examine her handiwork. "There, all done up here, now for the makeup. How are the pictures coming, Linda?"

"Beautiful, Boss. I think we have some real winners here. I'm using an electronic, the thirty-five and the Polaroid. We have a regular portfolio in the works."

"I wish you wouldn't call me that. And a complete photographic record IS part of the treatment, Dear. How are you doing, Marjorie?"

"I'm done down here until you get him rolled over. Then I can finish him off. Care to help, Linda?"

"Are you crazy? I just had a shower! Isn't it bad enough I'm going to have to wake him up?"

"Sorry, I thought you might want a shot at his bottom. He's really fuzzy there."

"Chilli, aren't you done with his chest yet?"

"Almost. Gods! He's as hairy as an ape! I'm glad I'm not him. He's going to be one sore puppy for a couple of days!"

"He doesn't know the meaning of sore," Marjorie hissed as she applied more wax to his scrotum.

"I thought you said you were done, Sweetie," Jenny said.

"I am. I just want to give him something to remember!" She pulled the new strip of wax off as punctuation to her reply.

"Ow!" Chilli said and winced as she watched the girl work. "Aren't you supposed to hold the skin tight?"

"Yes, but that's mainly to keep the skin from bruising," Marjorie said viciously. "I want him to remember this."

"Jeez, the way he was walking and talking earlier, you'd think he was bigger," Linda commented as she looked at his shrivelled member.

"I know. I guess it's another form of small man syndrome," Marjorie giggled. And so the conversation went. The women worked tirelessly on into the night.

*****

Tuesday Morning September 8th

By two the next morning, James, or Jamie, as he now looked, was home and in his bed. He wore a baby-doll nightie identical in all respects except size to the one he bought for Linda. White seamed stockings caressed his now-smooth legs. A pair of white, five-inch stiletto heeled pumps, complete with little locks on the ankle straps, had been placed on his feet. A delicate gold locket hung around his neck on a fine filigree chain. His wedding ring had been removed and replaced with a woman's wedding band and matching diamond engagement ring set. He had a slave anklet on his right ankle and matching bracelet on his right wrist, both fastened with little gold locks. His body hair had been completely removed, his eyebrows were pencil thin, his ears were pierced with little gold hoops, his nails had glamour length acrylic extensions that stuck past his fingertips a good inch and both finger and toe nails were painted a deep red to match his lipstick. The crowning achievement was his hair. They had used the longest hair extensions they had on him and used a bonding process to make those even longer. James was now sporting fanny length golden brown locks; his regular men's haircut was a fond memory.

"I can't believe he's still out cold," Chilli said.

"I can," Linda said. "I asked Marjorie how much she gave him. She said she figured he wouldn't drink as much coffee as he did so she used a double dose."

"How much coffee did he drink?"

"All of it."

"Boy is his head gonna hurt in the morning."

"Tell me he doesn't deserve it, Chilli."

"I can't, Tigger. I saw both of them. I wanted to castrate the son of a…."

"Now, now, Chilli, you know we only do that if they really want it."

"Yeah, sure, Linda. Really want it. Shit, if we had the go-ahead from Sam and Donna, he'd want it in six weeks."

Linda frowned. "Yeah, but Sam wants him in therapy. That makes it really hard. I want him buried, and she wants her Daddy to be a nice guy. Why can't I have some fun?"

"Down, Girl! Down! You'll have all the fun you want in the morning. With a double dose, I figure he should be out of it until at least ten. Why don't you go home and get some sleep?"

"I will; what are you going to do?"

"I'm going to sit here and make sure he doesn't wake up until you get back, rested and relaxed. Go get some shut-eye, Tiggs, the 'Ice Maiden' is on the job."

"He won't. He was plastered when we picked him up. Rest easy. Thanks again, Chilli, see y' in the A.M."

*****

Linda relieved the watch at nine. "Thanks again, Chilli. I'll take it from here. Ten you figured?"

"Errragh," Chilli groaned as she got up from the side chair and stretched up and over backward touching the floor with her hands and then standing straight again. All with a cat-like grace that all but defied gravity. Linda stared at her in fascination. The movement was at once sensuous and powerful.

"Yeah, he should be out of it 'til at least ten. I'd wake him as soon as you can, though. You want him to have a nice big head, don't you? Let me put this chair back in the dining room. I'll be waiting for you in the car. Try not to take to long, will you? I'm exhausted. If you need me…."

"I know…hit the panic button," she said, pointing at her watch. "I've done it before, Girl. If you're so tired, get moving and let me get to work. It's time Sleeping Beauty was awake. Hey, what's this?" she asked pointing to a stiff spot and stain in the sheet.

"Oh, just a little cornstarch and water. Looks good, huh?"

"Yeah."

"You should see his knickers."

"You didn't…."

"I did. I also have some pics for you. They're scanned prints from a gay magazine, but the outfit the guy is wearing in the pics is so close to the one Jamie here is wearing I don't think he'll be able to tell the difference."

"Gawd, you're horrible! I wish I thought it up! Get out of here so I can get princess charming here up. I want to share some pics with Sam before she goes anywhere. That means I have to work fast. They want to do some last minute shopping before they start school tomorrow."

" 'kay, Tiggs. Have fun." Chilli bent over, picked up a plastic grocery bag that clanked and jingled as she moved it, lifted the chair she was sitting on and started to leave the room.

"What's in the bag?" Linda asked.

"All the knives, scissors and razors in the house. I figured I'd get all the cutting implements out. We don't want him cutting off all that beautiful hair, now, do we?"

"How's he going to shave if you have all the razors?"

"I left his electric in the bathroom."

"Doesn't that have the beard thingie on it?"

"Not that one. It's one of those old Norelco round headed jobs. The damned thing must be an antique. It'll just pull at those locks and rip at them 'til it jams. It'll be a miracle if it takes a single hair with it. The hair has to be really short before it'll cut it. If it is, it does a great job and is best on the market. When it isn't, it's miserable. Besides, we don't want a suicide."

"Good thinking. Where'd you put the keys?"

"On the dresser."

"Are the bugs in place and did you check to see if there were any other clothes anywhere?"

"The attic is an empty crawl space, so we mounted the repeater, microphones and cameras up there for the feed and the upstairs. We hooked the transmitters directly into the electrical circuit for the attic. The basement has some boxes of things, but no clothes. We mounted the downstairs microphones in the baseboards. Four to a room. The cameras are in all the corners of the rooms. His wife must be June Cleaver. There wasn't a spec of dust in the house. It took us forever to clean-up after drilling all the holes. We tapped the laundry electrical circuits to power the downstairs repeater. The downstairs transmitters are battery powered. That's gonna pose problems if you can't get him under control by tonight. The downstairs repeater looks like a new, jumbo economy sized box of laundry soap. I made sure there's enough soap in the open box. The first floor and basement repeater transmits to the repeater in the attic; the attic repeater transmits the signal directly to us. There are cameras in all the bedrooms, bathrooms, the living room, dining room, and the kitchen. Monitors are in the basement and the attic for now. There isn't a spot inside that isn't on camera, so don't get any wild ideas."

"With him? You MUST be high."

"Don't I wish. Jo and Frankie are in the attic. The conditions up there are pretty primitive, so make sure you drug him for sleepy-bye to get them out. It's just a crawlspace, but they can almost stand up in the centre of it. The access panel is in Sam's closet. I don't think he's gonna try going up there. Beth and Jules are in the basement. There's a Bill Co. door and an inner door for cellar egress to the yard and we've oiled all the hinges, so they have some-place to hide if they need it. There's a nice big garden shed out back. We'll use that after today. The only clothes in the house are Sam's, Donna's and the ones we brought."

"Right, thanks."

"Be careful, Tiggs. See you in the car in a few.

*****

When Linda heard the front door close she started to try and wake Jamie Boone. First she tried blowing in his ear. Then she tried calling his name. The only response she got was a muffled groan. "God, he sleeps like a rock." Grasping his flaccid member in her hand, she began a gentle stroking motion as she grasped his testicles in the finger nails of her other hand and squeezed gently. "Come on Jamie, mummy wants to play. Wake up, sleepy head."

Jamie's thing started to get hard. "Wake up, Sleeping Beauty."

He groaned and opened his eyes. "Oh, my head…. What the…? Who are…? Oh yeah…." and he smiled feebly.

"Good morning, Jamie, I trust you slept well?" Tigger asked in a voice and tone you would use to talk to a baby. Jamie looked up at Linda in confusion.

"I had a great time last night. You really know how to party." Jamie smiled at this. "It's a shame your boyfriend -- what's his name again? Ronny? -- couldn't stick around longer. God, what a prick on him. Did it feel as good for you as it did me? Gawd! I hope so. Ooooh! Is he hung," she said, licking her pretty lips as she looked at a few of the pics Chilli left her. "Come on, Sweetie, wakey, wakey!"

Jamie tried to sit up and felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and fell back to the pillow. "What the…?" Jamie's eyes flew wide at the sudden pain. "What did you do to me?" he croaked.

"Ooooh! Jamie! You'll have to learn to put your hair up before going to bed. That had to hurt! Here, Honey, let Mistress help you." Linda helped Jamie get his hair out from under his back and rump. He looked close to tears.

"What happened last night?" he asked.

"You mean to tell me you don't remember?" Linda asked coyly. "First we went to get my new nightie," she said, pointing to the tiny pink bit of fluff at the foot of the bed. "Then, since you liked the way I looked in it sooo much you bought one for yourself!" she giggled.

"I tried to talk you out of the makeover, but you just wouldn't listen to reason. You said you always wanted to try sex with a girl, as a girl, so I just sat back and watched. You have to admit, it does feel good having women fuss over you like they did last night."

"What the Fuck are you talking about?" he tried to roar, but it came out more like a weak groan. As soon as he tried to raise his voice his head began to pound.

"Why, this, of course," Linda replied sweetly, holding a mirror up for him to look into. Jamie's face blanched and his eyes got as big as saucers.

"What did you do to me?" he croaked. "I'm ruined."

"Me? Do to you? I should think not! You and little binkey there had a great time. Though next time, I think I'll take you before Ronny instead of after. Gods! He's so huge that I could barely feel you when you tried to fuck me. But Oooooh! You do have a talented tongue, Sweetie. You must love the taste of cum. You sucked me so hard after he fucked me I thought I was going to be turned inside out!" she giggled again. "Ooooh, you were precious." Tell me, did it hurt when he fucked you?"

"Bitch, I think you must be insane. I never ate cum, from someone's pussy or otherwise. And I can sure as hell goddamn guarantee you that I have never been fucked by anyone! Oh god! My head hurts."

Linda's attitude changed drastically at this last exchange. You could almost feel the temperature in the room drop. "Bitch? I'm a woman," she hissed. "And you, sweet cheeks, are not! But by the look of you, you sure as hell tried to become one last night! And before you try to tell me you've never eaten cum again, I suggest you take a good long look at these!" she spat out as she threw a stack of photographs into his lap. They spread out onto the bed.

Jamie just stared at them in horror and confusion.

"And as for being fucked, that sure as hell isn't my ass getting reamed! Unless you don't want the negatives and those prints to find their way around, I suggest you listen and listen good!" Jamie looked like s/he was ready to cry. "I don't know why you wanted to have that makeover last night but you did. You even paid to give me one. Here's the detailed credit card receipts!" She dropped those in his lap as well.

"Then, when you took me to that gay bar and picked up Ronny there," she didn't think his face could get any whiter than it was, but it did, "well I'd thought you'd lost it! I have to admit, I didn't think I would be able to enjoy myself in that type of scenario, but I sure as hell did! And so, my gay little lass, did you. So you just shut the fuck up and listen to me!

"Like I said, I liked the time I had last night with my 'new little GIRLFRIEND! And I intend to have more fun with her in the future! I don't know what you did with wifey-poo, but I suggest you lose her for the time being, because I intend to have some fun!

"And, sweet cheeks -- oh, they're sweet all right; Ronny loved filling both sets last night -- don't change a thing about your looks. At least, not if you want this to remain our little secret. I love the hair. So learn to live with it, doll. I'll be calling you later today to arrange our next little tryst."

Linda got up, walked out of the room and started down the stairs. She stopped mid stride.

"Oh, um…Jamie, tonight, wash your face and clean all your makeup off before you go to bed. You really are a mess, and so are the sheets. The bed is such a sticky mess…and so are you! I think I'd take a bath and have a douche if I were you," she giggled. "Oh! And don't get that lovely hair of yours wet! That is, not if you want to go anywhere today. It'll take forever to dry if you do. And you will, trust me on that." Linda laughed maniacally as she flounced down the rest of the stairs and out the door.

Jamie sat there in stunned silence, staring at the pictures strewn about the bed and in his lap. His head pounded harder and worse than it did before, he started to cry. "What happened last night? Why can't I remember any of it? Oh my head…" Jamie jumped up and tried to run for the toilet. As soon as he left the bed he fell flat on his face, scattering the pictures about the room. Instead of walking or running, he crawled…fast. He barely made it in time. He knelt there on all fours and threw up, and threw up, and when he thought there was nothing more to throw up, he threw up again.

It seemed like an eternity before he could stand and assess the damages done to him the night before. God his head hurt. He shuffled over to the mirror, afraid to lift his feet from the floor because of the heels locked on his feet.

"Sure, I've had the occasional hangover, but this…this goes way beyond the typical morning after headache. What did I do? What did she do to me?" All of a sudden he felt his stomach cramp. "Oh god!!!!!" He barely made it back to the bowl in time to pull down his knickers and sit. His bowels emptied themselves forcefully into the bowl. James -- now Jamie -- Boone just cried as cramp after cramp wracked his body.

*****

In the car on the way back to the Shop, Linda looked at Chilli out of the corner of her eye. She looked like she was going to pass out from exhaustion. "Hey, you gonna be okay?"

"Yeah, I just need some sleep," the Amazon mumbled.

"Those pictures were perfect. They cut him down to nothing in no time flat. It's amazing how close you can get on a mouth and not be able to tell for sure whether the face in the photo is yours or not. Thanks."

"No problem. Hey, can you take me to Jenny's? I gotta get some sleep."

"Sure, Honey. Just relax, I'll have you there in no time." Linda changed course and hummed happily. As she drove, she picked up the cell phone and dialled. Chilli lifted an eyebrow and looked at her quizzically. "I need to reinforce my terms," she said as she put it on speaker.

The phone rang for what seemed an eternity before it was picked up. Linda just drove on, nonplussed, waiting and redialling as necessary.

"Hullo?" His voice sounded pathetic.

"Oh, Jamie dear, I really was beginning to worry. I just wanted to be sure you're looking your best when I stop by later. Remember, Honey, don't get your beautiful hair wet. There's a shower cap by the tub; use it."

"What…? Why…?"

"What happened? Why, Jamie, I told you, you decided to have fun."

"But…."

"Now listen to me, Sweetie, it's going to be all right. You just need to get used to it, that's all. You'll find the keys to the ankle straps on the dresser. Your makeup kit is on your wife's vanity; I expect you to use it. Just follow the instructions Mar gave you last night as she applied the makeup."

"But I don't remember anything about last night!" he sobbed.

"Then I suggest you use the pictures to help jog your memory, Sweetie," she said coldly. "Oh, and…Jamie, if you have to go to work today, I suggest you call in sick. I'll be back this afternoon. When I get there, I want you in your red and white baby-doll. Since you only have the one pair of shoes at the moment, you can put the ones you're wearing now back on. I think you'll find all your new pretties in your dresser."

"Why are you doing this to me?" he cried.

"Why, Jamie, I'm disappointed. You told me last night that you always wanted this and begged me to help you. I'm just doing what you begged me to do."

"But I can't leave the bathroom. Every time I stand up, I get sick or…."

"Well, then, you'll have to take it a bit easier on the booze, Honey. It really isn't any good for your complexion anyway. Just look at all those burst blood vessels in your nose." Then her tone hardened. "Now, sweet cheeks, I suggest you get moving. I expect you to be bathed, douched, and pretty when I get there. Do you understand me?"

"But…."

"I said, DO YOU UNDERSTAND?"

"Yes," came the quiet response.

"Yes what?"

"Y…yes, Ma'am."

"That's better, Jamie, but from now on you will call me Mistress. Is that understood?"

"Yes…Mistress."

"Very good, Jamie. Now hop to it, sweet cheeks, I want you pretty when I get there. Do try and be ready for two o'clock…or else!"

"Yes, Mistress." The line went dead in his hand as another spasm attacked his stomach. "Oh god," he moaned as he quickly made his way back to the toilet.

"Can't get out of the bathroom?" Chilli asked.

"I think it has something to do with fear and the after effects of the alcohol. It's happened before," Linda explained. "It's really quite normal…and helpful I might add. It makes him think he really did do something with another man last night. Now if I can just convince Sam that this is the way to go to get him into therapy."

They pulled up to the kerb at Jenny's place. "You get some sleep, Joanne. I have work to do. Wish me luck."

"Wish you luck? I've never seen anyone with the luck you have. Sweetie, you're luck personified! If I know you, you'll have her convinced and helping you. Relax; that kid's going to be just fine. Unless I've got it all wrong, I'll bet she isn't upset about what we've done at all."

"I hope you're right, Joanne, I hope you're right," she said as she put the car in gear and pulled away.

*****

Part-14

Tuesday Morning September 8th

When Linda finally got to the Wilson's, she was a nervous wreck. She almost turned around and drove away. Instead, she knocked on the door. Sam opened it.

"Sam, just the person I was hoping to see."

*****

"Oh Jesus Christ, what the hell have I gotten myself into?" Jamie cried as he sat on the pot. "Uhnnn!" he groaned as another spasm wracked his body. He was a complete and total wreck. His hair -- god, there was a lot of it -- was plastered to his face and kept getting in the way. It was a miracle that he hadn't managed to get it wet in the toilet.

When the spasms finally subsided, he wiped gingerly. "Shit that hurts!"

He carefully made his way to the sink and looked in the mirror. A parody of a woman looked back at him. He even seemed to have breasts! He touched one experimentally. He didn't feel his touch, just the pull of it against his chest. It must be glued on, he figured. Lipstick was smeared around his mouth, black streaks from the mascara and eyeliner ran down his face in smudged streaks, and there were hints of foundation and blusher still on his cheeks and at his hairline. And the hair, hell it was unbelievable. It was plastered to his forehead from perspiration and there was so damn much of it! He gave it a tentative tug. "Ouch!" Well, it sure as hell wasn't a wig. If he had seen someone else looking like that, he would have called him a faggot. But it wasn't someone else; it was he, James Boone. Man's man and now…queer? And according to that…that…bitch, he'd ASKED for this. What happened? Had he gone crazy?

Jamie, leaning against the walls, holding on to doorknobs and using every available horizontal and vertical surface for support, all but crawled back into the bedroom. The pictures were everywhere. In his mad dash for the toilet, he'd scattered them all over the room. He looked at the dresser. The keys to the little pad locks were there as promised. He flopped down on the bed and bent to undo the miniature pad locks. His movement caused the breasts to shift and pull at his chest and the diaphanous material of his nightie to brush against his legs and arms. He felt a stirring in his groin.

"Oh god…I am gay!" he thought.

*****

"My Mum's all right, isn't she, Linda?" Sam asked as she answered the door.

"Unless Brandy called and told you otherwise, your mother should be just fine. I came here to talk to you about your, uh…father."

"You didn't hurt him, did you?" the girl asked.

"Well…hurt is a relative term, Honey. Why don't you come out to the car? I have some things I want to show you and some questions I need to ask." Sam was uncertain as to whether she could truly trust Linda, but she went with her to the beautifully restored Mercedes.

"Sam, I know you want your father in therapy so that he can get help, but therapy won't work unless he wants it."

"I know, Linda. That's what bothers me so much about all this. I know that he'll never agree to get into therapy…at least, not voluntarily."

"Well…I don't know about that. Here, take a look at these and tell me what you think."

The girl took the pack of photographs from Linda and began to leaf through them. Her reaction was anything but what Linda expected it to be. She laughed and laughed 'til she cried.

"Well, one thing's for certain, if I ever decide to marry Tina, he won't have a reason to keep me from marrying her because of a clothing or lifestyle choice! Is this how you plan to convince him to seek therapy? By blackmailing him into it?"

"No, Honey, by making him think he did that all on his own and doesn't remember it. By making him think he's going crazy. Oh, by the way, want to go get any of your things? I think today will be the perfect day for it."

"What? Go there? While he's there?!? Are you out of your mind, Linda?"

"Well, he is sort of there, but it'll be more like she's there."

"She? Then that's not a wig and makeup?"

"That's right, that is a hair weave and bonded extensions. Those don't just come off. And that's not just makeup covering his face; Jenny and Mar did that face, the whole thing from the shoulders up. That, my dear, is the end result of the First Lady's special. The most endearing thing about it are his eyebrows."

Sam started to giggle. "But he looks more like an ape with all that body fur."

"Looked, Sweetie, the operative word here is looked; past tense. Marjorie had fun."

"Oh my gods…. The whole thing? How long is his hair?"

"He should be in tears by now because he keeps sitting on it."

"Well, he always wanted a little princess…" she giggled. "Linda, I really don't know if it would be such a good idea. Sure, it'd embarrass him, but…."

"Honey, I can control him. Here's what we'll do…."

Linda proceeded to tell Sam how she was going to get the girl into the house to get her things and further humiliate Jamie Boone. The humiliation was not so much for punishment as it was a means of control, of breaking his spirit and will to fight. The lower and more perverse Jamie Boone felt about himself, the easier he would be to control and the more attractive psychologic counselling and therapy would appear to be to him. All that was explained to Sam in detail. Especially how it could and would work. In the end, she agreed to go to the house, but only on the condition that Tina accompany her.

Tina went to the door when Linda rang the bell. She watched in silence as the pair talked privately. When they got out of the car and headed back to the house, Sam grabbed Tina and started to tell her about what Linda had to say to her in the confines of the car.

"Okay, let me get this straight. You want me to go to your parents' house with you to get your things. When we get there, Linda is going to be there with your father and he's going to be wearing a nightie, high heels, makeup and long hair?!?" Tina was incredulous. "How the hell did she get him to agree to do it?"

"Actually, he never agreed to it; she tricked him into it. It was a result of his drinking and womanising. I think it rather appropriate, don't you?"

"I guess, but how do I fit into all of this? I mean, why do you want me to go there with you? Isn't it enough that you're gonna see him like that?"

"Well, I'm gonna introduce you to him as my lesbian lover and tell him that homosexuality is genetic and that he must have passed it down to me."

"Shit! That just might work!"

"Yeah, I know. Isn't it great? C'mon, I want you looking really hot. We've got some work to do and you need to practice in those heels if we're gonna make this work."

"What about Mum? I don't think she's gonna go for it."

"I said the same thing. Linda said she's gonna clear it for me. I have a feeling that she'll manage…somehow."

The girls ran up to Tina's room and started their preparations for their visit to Sam's house.

*****

In Janice's office in the basement, a heated discussion was in progress.

"Are you out of your mind? That monster just about put that little girl in the hospital and you want to send her back there for more? NO! I absolutely forbid it!"

"Jan, listen to me. Do you think I'd let Sam or Tina get hurt? I promise you that there will be someone there in the wings on the outside chance that he does manage to get out of control. Those kids are going to be just as safe as if they were in their beds asleep. I promise. You want to bring him down, don't you?"

"Yes."

"You want him to get help, don't you?"

"Yes."

"Then let me do it my way. I intend to break him and rebuild him into a reasonable, responsible human being. To do that, I need Sam's help and she won't do it without Tina. Please, Jan, let me do what I need to do."

"Why do I let you talk me into these things? Okay, Linda, but if he harms one single solitary hair on either of their heads, you will answer to me. And I promise you, Organisation or no, you will suffer."

"You know something, Jan? That, coming from you, scares me more than anything else in this entire world ever could."

*****

Jamie Boone sat at his wife's vanity, dressed in the prescribed attire, a frilly, sheer, red and white ruffled baby-doll nightie that just barely covered and supported the breast prostheses glued to his chest. The white, seamed stockings were riddled with snags. The seams looked like a country road that followed a stream or river they had so many twists and turns. His white five-inch stiletto heels, the ankle straps locked about his ankles, were pushing his knees up toward his chest as he sat on the little stool. His hair was a mess of snarls and tangles. The lights of the mirror were shining on his florid face. His hands shook as he stared at a picture of his face showing a perfect, professional makeup job and back at the reflection in the mirror. Tears were running down his cheeks, smearing and running the clown-like makeup he attempted. A half-empty bottle of whiskey sat on one corner of the vanity, an empty rocks glass beside it.

As two o'clock approached, Linda -- or "Tigger" as she referred to herself when she was "working" -- circled Jamie Boone's neighbourhood. She wanted to walk in at exactly two.

"And he hasn't left the house all day, right?" she said into her cell phone. "Excellent!" … "Crying?" She laughed almost maniacally. "Be thankful it isn't you!" she chuckled. "Right, thanks." … "Okay, here I go. I'm parking the car now. The girls should be here between fourteen forty-five and fifteen hundred." … "Right. Stay in place unless it looks like it's getting out of hand. There may be some heated discussion, but I don't anticipate any trouble. Just watch the monitors. Remember, I'm sure I can take him, but if he tries to go anywhere near the girls…."

She was ready, wearing her hair pulled back in a high, tight, pony tail, severe makeup and a black Lycra-Spandex body suit with five-inch stiletto heeled, thigh-high boots. If it weren't for the endless hours she spent practising in them she wouldn't be able to move in the shoes her feet were so small and the heels so tall. Their only real purpose and use were in a bedroom. She wore a belt at her waist that would soon hold the tools of the "Dominatrix" trade. Those tools lay conveniently on the seat beside her and consisted of a riding crop, a short whip or cat-o-nine tails, a paddle resembling a Ping-Pong paddle with thick rubber on one side and fur on the other, hand cuffs, leg shackles, and a collapsible spreader bar. Tigger had a black leather trench coat over the entire ensemble. She hummed softly to herself as she parked the car in front of the house. Slowly and methodically, she placed each implement of her trade in its place on her belt and then stepped out of the car. She tied the coat closed with its belt then strode purposefully toward the door.

She didn't knock; instead, she used Jamie's keys and quietly unlocked and opened the door. Closing it softly behind her and moving like the cat she took her code name from, Tigger made her way across the room and up the stairs. She stood in the doorway of the bedroom and took in the scene before her. The bed was still unmade and the dirty clothing from the night before was strewn about. Tigger watched her subject at the makeup table. Pathetic, she thought. Even now, when he thinks his precious life is on the line, he's drinking.

"Why didn't you meet me at the door?" Her harsh tone and loud words caused Jamie to jump.

He started to babble incoherently. "Buh…. I…."

"Why isn't this bed made and the laundry done? This place is disgusting! Who do you think I am? YOUR MAID?!?" she continued, working herself into a rage. She untied her coat and pulled it open and back, putting her hands on her hips. She spread her legs to shoulder width for effect. Her violet eyes blazed with contempt.

Jamie's eyes bulged out of their sockets, terror written all over his makeup-smeared face. "I… Laundr…" he started to crumble. His mind raced as panic set in.

"You haven't even finished your makeup yet and you're having a drink?!?"

"But I…" Jamie sobbed.

She turned her head and looked into the bathroom. There were dirty towels on the floor and hanging over the edge of the tub. "And the bathroom is just as slovenly! You obviously, have no respect for me, or the beautiful things strewn about here! I can see I made a mistake in thinking that you actually wanted to keep all of this our little secret! Would you like me to send those pictures to your boss at Rock-Face Flooring?!?"

Jamie just stared in horror at this beautiful goddess of the dark. His mouth worked but there was no sound. He shook his head violently from side to side. He all but collapsed and, losing control of his bladder, he just sat there crying in the spreading pool of urine.

"You disgust me," Tigger hissed. "Do you want me to keep your little secret, pansy?"

Jamie nodded his head slowly.

"Then you have ten minutes to get this mess cleaned up," she said softly. "Do you hear me? Ten minutes." She looked at the delicate watch on her wrist for effect. "I'll be downstairs in the living room. When you have this room AND the bathroom in order, you will come downstairs, kneel at my feet, and beg me to check your work. Is that understood?"

Jamie nodded his head again.

"I said, is that understood?"

"Y…yes, Muh…Mistress."

"Then get to it; this is your last chance." With that, she spun on her delicate heel and strode purposefully from the room.

Jamie jumped up from the vanity and stumbled hurriedly about the room, picking things up and cleaning his mess, sobbing the whole time.

Tigger sat in the recliner in the living room and sipped a glass of soda while she flipped through the TV. Guide.

TV. Guide, now there's a misnomer, she thought. The ten minutes came and went, but the flurry of activity upstairs hadn't ceased, if anything, it had increased. I think I finally got through to him, she thought.

Fourteen minutes after Tigger left the bedroom, Jamie, still in his sodden knickers, teetered meekly down the stairs on his heels. He crossed the room slowly, the picture of awkward clumsiness in his heels. He knelt at her feet and stared at the toes of her gleaming boots. "Mistress, I've cleaned up my mess. I beg of you, please, forgive me, and check my work."

"You're late."

"But…."

"SILENCE, PANSY!" Jamie trembled in fear and started to cry silently. "You're late! For that, you will be punished. Your punishment will depend on how good a job you did of cleaning up your disgusting mess. Is that understood?" Jamie nodded his head, his relief obvious on his face. "I asked you a question, candy-ass; I expect an answer!"

"Yes, Mistress," he squeaked.

"That's better," Linda said calmly. Now, up the stairs with you. When I get up there I want you kneeling in the middle of the bedroom, with your nose on the floor and your arms behind your back. GO!"

Jamie scurried awkwardly from the room and ran, his feet pounding on the stairs. "QUIETLY!" Tigger yelled. "I DON'T WANT TO HEAR YOUR CANDY-ASSED FEET ON THE STAIRS!" The noise of his departure died suddenly.

When Tigger got to the bedroom, Jamie was kneeling on the floor as directed. The room was clean, a damp spot on the rug by the vanity the only telltale sign of his embarrassment. The sheets had been changed on the bed, and the bathroom was spotless.

"I see that you put that extra time to good use, pansy. Very well, I think that maybe…just maybe…you really want to learn to be my little sissy-boy. Would you like that, candy-ass?"

"Yes, Mistress," came the muffled reply. The fibres from the carpet filled his mouth as he spoke, but he didn't spit them out. He ignored them for fear of what she would do if he did.

"Very well then, Jamie." She'd used her name for him for the first time that afternoon. It filled Jamie with a sense of relief and hope that, somehow, he just might get through his living nightmare.

Tigger moved across the room to him. "Get out of those soiled clothes and take a shower, candy-ass. When you're done, put on the clothing that I lay out for you. Then we'll work on teaching you how to do your face properly," she said as she bent and unlocked the shoes on his feet.

"I'll be keeping all the keys to all your little locks from now on. And as for the booze…well, that, my dear little sissy-boy, is going to stop. Now get moving; we have a lot to do," she said as she checked her watch. It was Two Twenty. "And DON'T get your hair wet!"

"Yes, Mistress."

She stood and watched as Jamie struggled with his clothing. "Damn," she thought, "I have to get word to the girls and keep them from getting here too soon." She almost laughed as she watched Jamie fight with his mane of unruly hair as he tried to get it into the shower cap. Once he was in the shower, she hurried to the phone, called Sam, and told her to come at Three Thirty instead of Two Forty-five as planned.

When Jamie emerged from the shower, Tigger said, "You…are going on a diet. That spare tire of yours looks ridiculous. … Don't rub your skin so hard! Pat it dry! … That's better."

Once Jamie was dried off, Tigger led him into the bedroom by his hair and pushed him down onto the bed. "It's time you learned how to get dressed properly. Here. She tossed him a pair of knickers. "Put these on."

As Jamie slid the cool satin bikini knickers up his legs, his manhood began to twitch. No…god no, not now! Oh please don't let her see, he began praying silently.

Panties in place, she handed him a suspender belt and instructed him to put it on and run the tabs under the knickers. Its hook and eye closure was difficult with his glamour length nails, but Jamie finally managed it. The bra posed the same problem but was finally in place and ended the heavy tearing sensation he was feeling from the prostheses pulling at his chest. It was a welcome relief.

Everything seemed to be going okay until it was time to put on his stockings. Tigger took one out of the package and showed him how to gather it up into a little doughnut shape. Jamie watched her wide-eyed, with child-like concentration. Then she released it and let him do it for himself. She watched him clumsily gather the silky material up and begin to put it on his foot. "Be careful not to put one of your nails through it," she warned. As he slid it up his smooth, hairless leg, his member came to life.

"God no, not now," he moaned softly.

"Ooooh! Does my little sissy-boy like his stockings?" Jamie hung his face in embarrassment and shame. His blush burned his ears. "I think so!" Tigger giggled. Hot tears stung at the corners of Jamie's eyes. "Don't cry, pansy, enjoy it. Because for now, that's all the enjoyment you're going to have."

"But I don't want to enjoy it," he said sullenly.

Tigger slapped his face. "You, you miserable candy-assed slut, don't speak at all unless I give you permission to speak or ask you a direct question! Do you understand?"

"Yes, Mistress," he said meekly.

"You don't say anything to anyone unless I give you permission. Do you understand me, candy-ass?"

"Yes, Mistress," he repeated.

"Finish putting your stockings on," Tigger spat at him

And so it went. Three Thirty found Jamie in the living room replete in a pink satin French Maid uniform with a tiny white ruffled apron, dusting the furniture while Tigger looked on from the lounger sipping her Coke. She was rocking gently with her legs sensuously crossed at the knees.

"That's right, candy-ass, take each book down, dust it off and replace it," Tigger said in a demeaning voice. The skirt of the satin uniform stuck almost straight out from all the crinolines and petticoats. Jamie's makeup, again professionally applied, did little to hide the fact that it was a man under it all.

The front door opened and girls' voices could be heard. Jamie froze in place, a look of horror on his face. Sam and Tina entered the room, chattering about shopping. Noticing Tigger in the chair, Sam fell silent and stopped in her tracks. Both girls just stared open mouthed. Tigger simply smiled and, looking at the girls, said, "Pansy, who are these delightful young people?"

Jamie just stared, tears forming at the corners of his eyes. He was unable to speak. All he did was blush as a single tear escaped the corner of one eye. A black trace of running mascara made its way slowly down his cheek, highlighting his embarrassment.

Sam looked about the room and, seeing her father in the maid's uniform with his long hair streaming down his back, giggled, "Daaaaad? I just lo-ove your dress! Ooooh! You're sooo cute! Just like a little princess." Then she started to laugh.

Turning back to Tigger she said between giggles, "I'm sorry, I'm Sam, um…the uh…maid's daughter. And this is my friend and lover, Tina." Jamie looked like he wanted to die and kill, all at the same time. "And you are?"

"I must apologise for my sissy-boy's rudeness," Tigger said, staring daggers at Jamie and emphasising the last word by saying it with a growl. Jamie looked like he'd been slapped. He started to sob silently. "I'm Linda," she said, still glaring at Jamie. "Won't you and your friend sit down?" she said motioning to the sofa.

"Thank you, I think we will," Sam said with an evil glint in her eye.

"Tina," Linda said as an opening conversational gambit, "that skirt is absolutely adorable. I'll have to get one just like it for my pansy," she said, indicating the tartan, pleated micro-miniskirt Tina was wearing. It was similar in style to what a cheerleader would wear. It looked fantastic on Tina with her long trim legs and high heels. She'd paired it with a white, lightweight, acrylic sweater. She really did look like a cheerleader. Sam, on the other hand, looked like a boy. She was wearing Dockers, a button front shirt and a crew necked, pullover sweater. Her shoes were wing-tipped loafers. She looked every inch the New England prep-school boy.

"Thank you, Linda," Tina blushed.

"Tina, would you like a soda?" Sam asked.

"Um…yes, thank you." Tina couldn't take her eyes off Sam's father.

"I'll be right back," Sam said as she started into the kitchen.

"Oh, that won't be necessary, Sam," Tigger said, stopping Sam in her tracks, "Sit down and relax. My sissy-boy would just love to get you something to drink. Won't you Pansy? Pansy?!?"

"Y…yes, Mistress," he choked out between sobs and performed an awkward curtsey, almost falling on his face in the process. He hurried from the room, tripping several times as his heels caught at the knap of the carpet.

"It's sooo hard to find good help these days," Tigger lamented sarcastically. The girls giggled.

"I just love what you've done to him. Tell me, where did you get that outfit? It's so…so…" Sam stumbled looking for an adequate description.

"Prissy?" Tigger prodded.

"Well…that and sexy is more like it, but that doesn't quite cover it either," Sam replied. "In fact, it doesn't quite cover anything, does it?" she giggled.

"A little place at Washington & Zink, called Stephanie's Melting Pot, do you know it?"

"I do," volunteered Tina. "I'll have to take you there some time, Sam; the owner's a trip." She was still staring after Jamie. "How did you…?"

"Don't worry about the how, Sweetie; suffice to say that I did."

"Well, I, for one, just love it!" Sam giggled.

"Ah, here we are," Tigger said as Jamie returned with a tray. There were two Cokes, in glasses with ice, on it. The soda had slopped over the tops of the glasses and onto the tray. If it weren't for the napkins on the tray, the glasses would have proved a problem for the girls, dripping soda into their laps.

"Pansy! How many times have I told your candy-ass not to overfill the glasses! Look at that mess!

"I am sorry, Ladies; he's such a poor excuse for a sissy-boy. He can't even walk in the pretty little shoes that he picked and bough for himself," Linda said in a deriding tone.

"I think he just needs a bit more practise," Sam said, smirking at her father.

"A lot more practice, I should think," Tigger replied icily. "Well, don't just stand there, pansy, get our guests some coasters! And dispose of that tray!" she said acidly.

"Yes, Mistress," Jamie replied and almost fell again when he tried to curtsey.

"And for Pete's sake, fix your makeup," Tigger bemoaned contemptuously. "You look like a racoon again."

"Yes, Mistress," came the automatic reply as he hurried from the room. Sam just giggled.

You could see that the feminisation and the humiliation were having a profound effect on Jamie. On James, as he was becoming infuriated with the degradation from his own child. And on Jamie, because he was terrified of the consequences of irritating and failing his mistress. He had yet to feel the sting of anything but words, but he was certain that little bit of this "game" of hers was still to come.

"He really is incompetent; I just don't know what I'm going to do with him," Tigger moaned as Jamie returned with coasters for the girls' glasses.

Tina giggled, "I think you're doing just fine, given the raw materials you have to work with."

"Yes, I suppose you're right," Tigger agreed, insulting him further. "But I do hate his bumbling."

The three settled in for a nice, quiet, afternoon visit. Tigger stretched it out as long as she dared. Jamie was becoming tired trying to keep up with her demands and walking in the heels. His feet were screaming, his prick was throbbing from all the satin and silk and he desperately wanted relief. Never once did Tigger allow the sissified man to relax. He was on his feet the whole time, either doing chores or some other menial task contrived to debase and demean him before the girls.

The strain of the "visit" was beginning to show on Sam's face, as her expression became more and more pained, so Tigger decided the visit should come to a close. Tina, too, looked like she couldn't bear the situation much longer. By that time, it was dark outside. When she told him to carry Sam's things out to the car he balked. All Tigger did was pick up a stack of photographs and Jamie got with the programme. Once all the stuff that Sam could fit into Jan's estate wagon was stowed away, she went back into the house.

Jamie, always acting the dutiful servant, held the door for her. "Don't think this is gonna change anything, you little faggot!" he hissed as she passed.

Noticing the exchange, Tigger asked, "Pansy, did you just say something to my guest?"

Tina looked on silently. She could see her friend square her shoulders, pulling herself together in an effort to remain above her fear of her father. It was becoming painfully obvious that Sam was on the ragged edge, barely keeping her emotions in check.

"Yes, Linda, he did," Sam said defiantly. It was taking all her nerve to speak up and defy her tormentor of a father.

"He said, And. I. Quote," Jamie paled visibly and began to tremble. " 'Don't think this is gonna change anything, you little faggot.' End quote."

"He did, did he? I can see we have much more training to do here. Pansy, didn't I say you were not to speak unless spoken to?" Linda asked sharply. Jamie stared at her in horrified silence.

"I'm speaking to you, candy-ass! I expect an answer!" she yelled.

"Yes, Mistress," Jamie replied and started to cry.

"I am giving Sam a complete set of pictures for her to do with as she sees fit." She handed Sam a stack of photographs. "If you apologise to her, nicely, perhaps she'll keep them to herself. Then, after you've apologised to MY satisfaction, you will go up to your room and wait for me as I've instructed. I can see we're in for a long night. Well? We're waiting for your apology!"

"I'm sorry, Sam. Please forgive me," Jamie said between his tears.

"You call that an apology?" Tigger asked. "I see no sign that you're remorseful, I hear no respect for the woman you have just threatened. I just hear words."

Jamie looked stricken. What the hell did I do? His mind screamed. The panic was beginning to set in. What does she want? How am I ever going to get out of this? he thought as he began to cry.

"ON YOUR KNEES, YOU CANDY-ASSED PUKE!" Linda screamed. "I want you on your knees AT HER FEET! Kiss her shoes and BEG her forgiveness! Tell her what a miserable excuse you are for a man. Tell her how you begged me to help you to look like a woman! Tell her how your tiny - little - poor excuse for a cock gets hard when you put on your stockings! Tell her how you sucked a man's cock last night! Tell her how much you loved the taste of his cum! How you couldn't get enough of it and had to suck it out of my cunt because he was unable to give you more after cumming in your ASS for the third time! Tell her how you pissed yourself when you saw me this afternoon!"

Jamie stood there stupefied and crying silently.

"I'M WAITING!"

Jamie fell to the floor at Sam's feet and sobbed out loud. He was mortified, he couldn't believe it was true, but there were the pictures and he did have the shits this morning and…"Oh god…" he sobbed. "Sam…" he began, but he never finished. His mind had reached overload. His body slumped in his supplicate pose as he passed out.

The girls were shocked at what they had just witnessed. Tina stared open mouthed, words failing her. Sam, on the other hand, was barely holding it together. Her hands were beginning to shake. "Wow, Linda," Sam croaked, putting on a brave front, "that was as good as any Hollywood Marine D.I. Remind me never to piss you off."

"Sam, Tina," Linda began, "I don't usually…."

Sam cut her off with a wave of her hand. Sam stared at her father derisively. She couldn't believe what she'd seen, but she was immensely satisfied that progress was being made. It disturbed her, deeply disturbed her that he had to be reduced to nothing before he could be made whole again, but for her mother's sake, they had to try. "We're out of here, Linda," Sam said, her voice a dull, dry rasp. "Do what you have to do, but try and leave me out of it if you can. I don't think I can stand another session like this one. Thanks…for everything," she said as she waved the stack of prints. "We'll be putting these in a safe deposit box. That might help him understand I'm not playing games any more. Are you ready, Tina? Let's get out of here." Sam held the door for Tina; then, she stepped out of what had been her home for so many years. She pulled the door shut on the scene behind her, closing it on what had once been her life.

*****

Part-15

Tuesday Night September 8th

"You okay?" Tina asked softly as she opened the door of the wagon for Sam.

"Yeah, I'll be fine. Let's go home. You've got a lot of shit to go through. I think you 're gonna like some of it."

Tina smiled sadly and shook her head. "You just went through a hell of a lot of shit and I didn't like it. I don't think you did either. Let's talk."

"Yeah…okay. Just…let's get out of here, huh?"

They hugged briefly, and then climbed into the overloaded estate wagon with Tina at the wheel. "This used to be your Dad's car, huh?" Sam asked as an opening gambit, trying desperately to steer the conversation away from the scene they'd just witnessed.

"Yeah, he bought it used when they got married. Mum couldn't bear to part with it after he died, so she had it restored little by little over the years. It's nice and roomy, has air conditioning and cruise control, power door locks…you know, all the modern conveniences," she smiled. "It'll even pass everything on the highway…except a gas station."

They pulled away from the kerb, Tina taking her time and looking carefully for oncoming traffic. The car was a treasured relic of a bygone era and held many memories for both Tina and her Mum. They didn't even get off the block before Sam was in tears. After turning the corner Tina pulled into the elementary school pickup lane and stopped the car out of sight of the house.

"Sam?"

"Oh, Tina, I just want him to get help, I don't want revenge," Sam moaned through her tears.

"I know, Sam, I know," Tina said as she slid over in the car seat and pulled Sam into her arms. "But how are you going to get him help if he doesn't ask for it?"

"That's the problem, Tina, I don't know. I don't want him to get arrested and have to go through that court thing. But I don't like seeing him like this either. If he gets arrested, he might never be able to hold down a job again and he'll just resent the system that forced him into therapy. If we do this to him, and break him down…" Sam's voice broke as she collapsed into sobs.

Tina just held her and let her cry. She didn't try whispering endearments or things like "let it all out." They all seemed hollow and empty somehow. When Sam had cried herself out, Tina held her at arm's length and looked her in the eye. "Look, I want to tell you something like, 'It's gonna be all right,' but how can I honestly say that? I've never done anything like this before and neither have you." Tina's voice was quavering as she struggled to hold back her own tears. "I don't always trust Linda either. But this time, I trust her to do the right thing with your father. Let's think about it for a second, okay?"

" 'kay," Sam snuffled.

"If you call the cops and press charges, you have to go to trial and his defence lawyer is gonna try and make you look like a spoiled little brat who's unhappy because her daddy disciplined her. It's gonna be in all the newspapers, and maybe even on TV. Do you want that kind of publicity?"

"No," came the monosyllabic reply. It almost sounded like a frog croaking.

"If you let Linda and her cronies handle it, he stands a chance of getting into therapy at his request instead of after a major legal ordeal and under duress. That means he actually stands a chance of benefiting from the therapy sessions and becoming a real husband to your mother and a loving father for you.

"The process they're using is a lot like the one they use in the U.S. Marine Boot Camp. It's a proven fact that you can successfully tear a person down to basic animal instincts and rebuild them into functioning, productive human beings without losing the essence of the person that they started the process with. The only difference is that they're using different stimuli to force that tear down."

"But he was grovelling, Tina. He was grovelling."

"I know, Sam, I know. That's why it's so hard to watch." A single tear made its way down Tina's cheek. "He has to undergo more of it before it gets better." They sat in silence holding each other tight for a while. Finally Tina broke the silence. "Feel like getting an ice cream to drown your sorrows in?" She snuffled in a rather un-lady-like manner as she changed the subject.

"Yeah. Let's go to 31 Flavours and try them all. I need to escape for a while."

Tina slid back behind the wheel, put the car in gear and headed to Baskin & Robbins. The silence was strained, as the two were alone together with their thoughts.

"Remember when my Dad died?" There was a pregnant pause.

"Yeah, you were a basket case for weeks. Your Mum thought she was gonna have to hospitalise you."

"Yeah, I kinda think it's sorta the same kinda thing for you here. I mean, your Dad isn't always an asshole; sometimes he can be a pretty nice guy. But when he drinks and stuff…."

"Yeah, it's like he's a completely different person."

"Right. Anyway, it's like he was born with two people inside him. A good person -- the one you love -- and a bad person -- the one you hate and who beats you up."

"So?"

"So, like maybe they can sorta, like, kill the bad guy and leave the good guy alone and make him even nicer," Tina said aloud. "I hope," she muttered to herself.

"I hope so, Tina. I just can't stand to see him like that. It really creeps me out."

"Yeah, me, too."

*****

Tina pulled into the car park, and grabbed the first open space near the building. There was a police car a few spaces away. One officer, Anne Phorcey, was inside at the counter; the other, P.J. Wright, was in the car waiting for her and his sundae. He looked at the wagon pulling into the lot and smiled, noticing the teens.

Ah, to be young and in love, he thought.

*****

"Sam?"

"Yeah?"

"Do you think I'm strange?" Tina asked in a small voice.

"Huh?!?" Sam replied unsure of what her friend asked, much less how to reply.

"Do you think I'm weird for being like this?" Tina asked, indicating her body and her clothes.

Sam stared at Tina for a moment. "What, because I got so freaked out about my…?"

"No, because your boyfriend is your girlfriend. Because I'm starting school in the morning and, I will be Tina Frances Wilson, a female high school student, for all-the-world to see. Because guys are gonna be asking me out on dates. Because I…. Because I…."

"Because you what?" Sam asked.

"Because I…. Shit, I don't know, well, do you?" Tina asked, close to tears.

"What?"

"Yeeeeearghhh!!!!!" Tina screamed. "Please, Sam! I can't go through all that again, PLEASE!" She had started crying.

*****

Officer Wright looked hard at the car when Tina yelled.

*****

That time, it was Sam's turn to provide the shoulder. "I'm sorry, Honey. No, I don't think you're weird. I think you're the sweetest person I've ever known and I think you've been the happiest I've ever seen you these past few days. No, I definitely do not think you're weird."

"I'm scared, Sam. I'm really scared. What if I am a girl? In my head, I mean. What if I really am?"

"Then I guess I really do have a girlfriend."

"Yeah, right. For all intents and purposes I am a girl right now, Sam -- look at me! But what if I'm not a girl in my head? Then how am I…?"

"Then my boyfriend is really kinky -- and I like it," Sam laughed.

Tina started to struggle and tried to break away from her friend's grasp. Tears were streaming down her face.

"Tina, stop it! STOP, TINA!" Sam yelled. Tina finally stopped struggling.

"Damn it, Tina that hurt!" Sam said, gently rubbing her ribs. "Look, you've been happier the past couple of days than you've ever been in your life. Haven't you?"

*****

Officer Phorcey, on her way back to the patrol car, stopped in her tracks to look at the wagon and its occupants. It was getting noisy. She went to the patrol car and got in the driver's seat. She gave her partner his sundae and hooked a thumb in the direction of the wagon, "Noisy pair of love birds, huh?"

"Yeah, let's keep an eye on 'em."

"Were you ever that bad?" Anne asked.

"Sometimes. Becky and I were known as The Battling Bickersons. We argued for the sake of the argument…and that was before we got married! Look at us now; fifteen years and still going strong."

She smiled, "Yeah, and just as loud, too, I'll bet." Her partner just smiled as he watched the occupants of the estate wagon.

*****

"So?" Tina asked.

"And, during that time, have I seen Ernie?" Sam continued.

"No."

"And, during that time, have we done anything we never did before?" Sam continued her line of questioning.

"Sure, lots of things," Tina said in a small voice.

"I mean together, to each other," Sam said, trying to get Tina to draw the same conclusion.

Tina blushed. "Yeah."

"Did you like it?"

"As if you couldn't tell," she replied sullenly.

"Well, so did I," Sam finished.

"So?"

"Tina, I never felt that way about Ernie. I never felt compelled to kiss him. Just you."

"But I'm the same person. That hasn't changed," Tina said, the panic building again.

"No, that hasn't, but you look different, you smell different, you act different. The difference is you're a girl in every way but one."

"Are you saying you're a lesbian?" Tina's voice quavered.

"I'm not sure what I'm saying, Tina. I just know that Ernie never turned me on and Tina does. Does that make me weird?"

"No! Of course not!" Tina sounded like she was totally confused and trying to convince herself of something.

"Then how could I think you're weird?" Sam asked.

"That's different. I mean, you aren't trying to be a different gender or anything," Tina said, trying to be logical about it.

"No?" Sam said with a smile.

"No! You're…."

"When was the last time you looked at me, silly?"

"Huh? What'a-y'mean?" Tina asked, on the verge of tears. She was desperately trying to understand her emotions and put the events of the past couple of days into perspective. Having had no previous experience dealing with emotions like love and lust or sensuality and sexuality, Tina was feeling lost at sea.

"Do I look like a girl to you?" Sam pressed her point.

"Sur…uh…I mean, um…. No, I guess you don't." A smile starting to appear on her face, Tina was finally getting a hold on the emotional roller coaster raging within herself.

"Then what's the big deal?" Sam asked.

"I don't know, it just seems okay for you and not for me. I mean, it's okay for a girl to wear trousers, but if a guy wears a dress…."

"I know, but is it just the dress, Tina?"

"No," Tina said in a very small voice and then got very quiet for a moment. "It's not just the dress, but it sure does help sometimes," she smiled sheepishly.

"Hold that thought. I need some ice cream," Sam said as she started to open the car door.

"You…you…. You're just like a man, thinking with your stomach!" Tina teased, and then she looked at her face in the rear view mirror. "Eeep!"

Sam started to get out of the car. "Where do you think you're going? I have to fix my face first! I can't go in there looking like this!"

"And I don't. I'm gonna…."

"Wait for me to finish, if you know what's good for you," Tina finished for her.

"Okay, you win. I'll wait," Sam said Laughing.

Hearing opportunity knock, Tina said, "And buy. I don't have any cash."

"You shit! What'a-y'mean, you don't have any cash?"

"Well…." Tina started digging in her purse for her compact, pretending she was looking for money. "Gotcha!"

"Ooooh! I'm gonna get you for that!" Sam made a dive at Tina and started to tickle her.

"Eeeek! Stop it! STOP! SAM! ARRRRHHH!" Tina screamed as she squirmed in her seat, trying in vain to get free of Sam's fingers.

*****

"Let's go," Officer Phorcey said dejectedly and put her sundae on the cruiser's dashboard when Tina started shrieking. She looked like she wanted to cry and strangle someone at the same time.

The two police officers approached the car quickly, taking positions on either side of it. Tina, her face a mess from crying, was squirming and trying unsuccessfully to get away from Sam's fingers. Sam, with her battered mug, was laughing and wincing from the pain in her ribs. Her swollen face looked almost like a leering mugger's.

Officer Wright tapped on the window on Sam's side of the car. The two teens jumped, separating instantly. Tina, out of breath from a fit of giggles and laughs, had tears streaming down her face again. The pair rolled down their windows.

Officer Anne Phorcey spoke first, "Is everything all right, Miss?"

"It is now, officer," Tina replied sounding like she was crying.

Both cops' attitudes shifted. Officer Wright started to put one hand on the door handle and the other on his pistol, and Officer Phorcey put her hand on her pistol grip.

Tina continued, "Would you please tell him to stop tickling me?"

The looks on the police officers' faces were priceless. "Tickling?" Officer Wright asked, incredulous. Officer Phorcey started giggling.

Tina nodded her head solemnly, "Uh huh."

"Well, if that…" Officer Phorcey muttered through her giggles.

Officer Wright, at once relieved and feeling a need to do something to save face said, in as stern a voice as he could muster said, "Son, if you're gonna tickle her, don't do it where her screams are gonna attract attention. Got it?"

"Yu…yes sir," Sam replied meekly.

"Miss, I think your face needs some attention," Officer Phorcey said between giggles, looking at Tina.

"That's what I was trying to do when he started," she replied meekly.

The two cops started laughing. "Well, just try to keep it down to a dull roar, huh?" Officer Wright said. And you," he continued, indicating Sam, "next time, duck. That had to hurt." Tina and Sam nodded meekly.

"C'mon, P.J.," Ann said, "we've managed to make Central safe for humanity yet again. Our work here is done." They all started laughing as the cops returned to their car.

"Damn it, Sam," and Tina started giggling again.

"Hurry up and fix your face, would you? There's a sundae in there with my name on it."

*****

Inside Baskin & Robbins, the two attacked their sundaes. They sat at a tiny table in a corner, hunched over their ice creams, talking in hushed tones. "You realise, Tina, that those cops had no idea," Sam said, trying to reinforce her point from earlier.

"Yeah," Tina said quietly as she contemplated her sundae.

"How's that make you feel?" Sam prodded.

"I don't know, a bit scared and confused. I mean, just because I look like…."

"Tina, looks aren't everything. You were screaming, and they came running."

"That doesn't prove anything, Sam. If you were screaming, they would have come running, too."

"It does for you; they thought those were a girl's screams."

"But…."

"Tina, when you aren't trying to be Ernie, and I mean trying, you look, sound, and act like a girl. You even scream like a girl."

Tina's eyes started to tear up. "Well, I know where I'm investing my hard earned money," Sam said sardonically.

"Huh?" Tina was totally lost at the sudden change in the conversation.

"If you're going to be crying every five minutes and then putting more makeup on to replace what you've rinsed off with your tears, I'm investing in makeup stocks."

Tina stuck her tongue out. "Ooooh! Is that an invitation?" Sam chided.

"Men!"

"I'm serious, Tina. You never were very macho."

"I know, but…Sam, what if I like being a girl?"

"Then be one. What's so hard about a decision like that?"

"But…I mean…it's not that easy."

"Sure it is. You let your hair grow, keep shaving your legs and pits, wear icky dresses and…."

"And what about life? I don't like guys and stuff, and…."

"How do you know you don't like guys? Have you ever given it a try?" Sam asked.

Tina paled visibly. "No! What do you think I am, a pervert?"

"Since when is loving someone a perversion?" Sam pressed.

"But…."

"Tina, I don't know what I am. Am I a guy or a girl? If I'm a girl, then I don't like all the stuff that's associated with it. If I'm a guy, then I'm gonna have problems there, too. There's just too much posturing that goes with it."

"Ain't that the truth," Tina said emphatically.

"I don't know where I fit in, Tina. I never felt attracted to any of the guys at school, you included. I never felt attracted to any of the girls, either. Maybe it's because I never found someone that I liked enough to try. I just don't know. Now, all of a sudden, I'm feeling things about you that I've never felt in my life about anyone. What does that make me? If you're a girl, then am I a lesbian? And, if you're a boy, am I gay?"

"But, Sam, I…."

"Tina, when you look at me, what do you see?"

"You."

"But what do you see? A boy…or a girl? Back in school, did you find me attractive?" Tina just stared at her ice cream. "Come on, Tina, did you find me attractive?"

"Sam, that's not fair."

"I think it's plenty fair. You didn't, did you?

"No, I just liked my friend."

"And now?"

"Yes."

"Why? What changed?"

"I…. You…."

"Right, we both changed. I look like a guy and you look like a girl."

"But…."

"Earth to Tina! Did you ever find any of the girls in school attractive?"

"Wait! The day this all started. That day, you still hadn't changed yet. I found you attractive then."

"Was that because I kissed you on the cheek?"

"Maybe," Tina replied in a tiny voice.

"Okay. Now, did you ever find any of the girls in school attractive?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"You guess? What do you mean, you guess?"

"Well…when Lisa Anderson would wear her cheerleading outfit…."

"You'd get horny. Was that the outfit, or Lisa?"

"A little of both I think. I mean, Lisa's really pretty, y'know? What guy doesn't find her attractive? But when I looked in the mirror this afternoon, I kinda felt the same way…and it was me staring back. But…. Hell, Sam, I just don't know any more. I mean, sometimes all I have to do is put on a pair of stockings and I just get so…horny…." Sam blushed. "You, too?!?"

"Well, not with stockings. I think it has something to do with the material and with who and what is supposed to be wearing the garment and with how you subconsciously or unconsciously identify yourself in society." Tina looked totally perplexed.

"I'm not saying this right. Umm…. When you're growing up, your parents give you everything, your food, your toys, your clothes, everything. They teach you how to use them and enjoy them. They teach you who you are and how you're expected to relate to society. The very fabric of who you are in society is taught. None of it, except for mating, is instinctive." Tina snorted. "I know. That's one hell of a way to explain love, but it is mating in nature."

"I know, I'm sorry," Tina said contritely.

"Well, think about it. You always wear a certain style of clothing. The textures seldom vary and they feel a certain way to your skin. Over time, you become inured to their effect on you. Sure, some clothes are more pleasurable to wear than others, but there really isn't anything that you would normally wear that you would find sexy or sensual. Well, maybe sensual, but not sexually stimulating for you.

"You're taught that when someone of the opposite gender wears a certain item it's sexy and that if you wear a certain item, it's sensual for you and sexy for them. These garments become a social taboo for you to wear if they're supposed to be worn by the opposite gender, simply because they're designed to attract members of your gender. But that same process of learning can become skewed if you…like the way the garment feels next to your skin. The garment itself reminds your subconscious, or your unconscious or whatever it is, that it's sexy, that it's sexual, and the fact that it's sensual to wear in the first place only compounds the issue. So you get horny when you start to put it on.

"The other day, when you gave me your old clothes to wear…I…."

"You got horny?"

"Uh huh, and I did something about it, too," Sam said in a small voice and blushed a bright crimson. "But does that make me a pervert?"

"No, I guess it makes you normal. It also explains something else, too." That time it was Sam's turn to look totally lost. "Think back to earlier today…at your folks place. Remember how your father was so humiliated to be wearing that silly outfit?"

"I didn't think it was so silly," Sam said. "I kinda thought it was cute."

"You would," Tina replied drolly. "Anyway, that outfit is designed with sex in mind. It's completely impractical for regular wear, or as any kind of a uniform except maybe a sex slave's. The fabric is delicate and can be ruined all too easily. It's soft and silky. It's supposed to show off everything that's supposed to be hidden underneath a dress. And, it's only supposed to be worn by a woman. What better way to attack a macho man's psyche than to make him wear something so utterly feminine and sexy? It's punishment enough to make him wear it. Now make him wear it in front of someone who knows him. Worse still, make him wear it and behave like Linda made your father behave, in front of someone he's supposed to be responsible for and expects to obey him. Now make him wear it in front of someone he seems to take a perverse pleasure in dominating and it's devastating. Especially if he reacted the same way I sometimes do when I'm putting on some of these things. I thought I was going crazy, or that I was gay or something because I was getting aroused. If I was thinking that, imagine what it would do to someone like your father. An experience like that would drive him totally nuts."

"He'd go off the deep end," Sam said, and then became very introspective. "Come on, Tina, let's get out of here. I need to make a phone call."

"There's a phone in the entrance. Need some change?"

"No, I've got it. Thanks."

Sam went to the phone and called her house. Linda picked it up on the first ring.

"Boone residence."

"Linda? Sam. Is my father all right?"

"Sam! Where are you?" Linda sounded positively frantic. "Jan just called here looking for you. Are you all right?!?"

"We're fine, Linda." Sam said, suddenly sounding very unsure of herself. "We needed to talk, so we stopped at Baskin & Robbins."

"Well, give Jan a call right away, Honey."

"I'm sorry, Linda; I will. Is my father okay?"

"He's going to be fine, Honey. I called Doctor Bennett as soon as you left. He's with your Dad now. I think it was a bit too much for him so soon, but at the same time, it should be just what we needed to get him moving in the right direction."

"I need my father, Linda. Not a power freak and not a simpering pansy -- my father."

"I know, Honey and that's exactly what we're trying to do for you. I know it seems a bit extreme, but this is the best way, believe me."

"I hope you're right, gods I hope your right. As bad as he's been, he's the only father I have and I still love him."

"I know, Sweetie. I'll call you and let you know how he's doing, okay?"

"Thanks, Linda. I'll talk to you later."

"Okay, Sam. You know, he's really lucky to have you and your mother."

"Thanks. Call me as soon as you know anything more. Umm…Linda?"

"Hmm?"

"Are you sure everything's set at school tomorrow?"

"Don't worry about a thing, Sweetie, it's all arranged. You start tomorrow as Sam Boone, not Samantha and not Samuel, just Sam. And you don't have to take gym. You've met the state requirements of three years of physical education. So it's just Sam Boone as of tomorrow."

"Thanks, Linda. Please take good care of my father."

"I will, Sweetie, I promise. You give your Aunt Jan a call and let her know where you are."

"Okay, Linda. Thanks, bye."

Tina was standing next to Sam as she hung up the phone. "He gonna be all right?"

"Linda seems to think so. She said she called a Doctor Bennett as soon as we left."

"He'll be okay then. Bennett's pretty cool. He's my shrink."

"Oh."

"C'mon, let's get going," Tina said. "Mum's prolly worried sick by now."

"She is; Linda said that she called there a little while ago."

"Shit! Boy is she gonna be pissed."

"Yeah. You wanna call her or should I?"

"You do it. She'll eat me alive."

"Chicken."

"Bwaaak, cluck, cluck, cluck." Tina said, imitating the bird. "Just call her. Here's a quarter."

"It's thirty-five cents."

"What?"

"Inflation."

"Here," Tina said as she fished a dime out of her purse. "It's highway robbery."

Tina dialled the phone as Sam stood by ready to talk. As soon as the line picked up Sam spoke. "Hi, Aunt Jan?"

"Sam?!? Is that you?!? Where are you? Is everything all right? Is Tina okay?" She sounded positively frantic.

"It's me, everything's fine and Tina's right here. We're at 31 Flavours. We needed to talk."

"Well, the next time you need to talk, call me first!!! I've been climbing the walls worrying about you two."

"I'm sorry, Aunt Jan. We're on our way home. We'll be there in a few minutes. Would you like us to bring you anything?"

"No, thank you. Just get home…safely. And don't you ever worry me like that again!" Sam made a face at Tina.

"I won't. I'm sorry," Sam said contritely.

Sam hung up the phone and shook her head. "Next time, you call her."

"Did she ground you?" The two started for the car.

"No, I think she was too relieved to think about that."

"She would have grounded me."

"I don't know about that."

"Yeah, right." Tina replied. "Still worried about school?"

"Yeah. Linda says that the records are all set."

"And?" They got to the car and were talking over its roof.

"And I get my official debut tomorrow as a totally androgynous teenager," Sam finished.

"Totally androgynous? What do you mean by totally androgynous?"

"Well, since I met all the state requirements for phys-ed, I don't have to take gym. And that my records are going to read Sam, not Samantha or Samuel."

"Hey! I like that. So are you going to act like a boy or a girl?"

"Both."

"Khuehle! An enigma; I like it. So when do you go back to work?"

They got in the car before Sam replied, "Day after tomorrow, I hope. It's up to Doctor Dewinter. I'll keep working in the stock room, or in the office 'til my face heals. Then I get to work the front as long as I wear makeup and a bra."

"Gee, that sucks."

"Not really."

"What'a-y'mean? If you're gonna be goin' t' school as Sam and…."

"Well, remember that bunch of Goth guys at Central?"

"Yeah, they called themselves Boyz, B-O-Y-Z or B-O-I-Z or something like that."

"B-O-Y-Z, well they wore makeup and shit, hell, some of them even wore girls stuff! Remember the one who called himself Nightshade? He even wore skirts and dresses and no-one said anything. I don't see it as a problem. The older ladies that come in will think I'm a girl who's rebelling against her femininity and some of the girls will think I'm a guy rebelling against society and find it cool. Don't worry about it. It'll be cool."

"If you say so. So, are you gonna date girls or guys?"

"I thought we just covered that at 31 flavours."

"Never mind. Sorry I asked." Tina pulled into the driveway. "Feel like unloading the car?"

"Do we have to?"

"Not if you feel like walking to school tomorrow."

"Walking?!?"

"Well, if Mum's car looks like this…" Tina said, motioning to the overloaded wagon.

"She'll take yours?"

"Yep."

"Give me a hand; I'm not up to doing it all by myself."

"Then I need to get changed," Tina said simply.

"Why?"

"Umm…do three inch heels and a micro-mini mean anything to you?"

"Oops, sorry," Sam giggled. "I forgot."

"Yeah, right. You just wanted a look at my knickers," Tina accused mockingly.

Sam just grinned at her. "Well, can you at least carry Allie in for me while I get some of this other stuff?"

"Your Alvarez?!? ME?!? Sure, I guess so. But, what's the rush?"

"If we look busy and our arms are full, you mother might decide to help us instead of grounding us."

"Good point. Got anything else I can carry? Looking like this I mean."

Sam grinned. "Hot? Umm…. Well…."

"Sam! You really are just like a guy, you know that?"

"Yup! Here, carry the amp head."

"Hey! This is heavy!"

"I know, but it's the only other thing that has a handle. My Strat case is busted. Besides, it's not much lighter."

"Okay, okay."

The teens started for the door with their arms loaded. Jan, hearing the car pull up, was standing at the door to let them in.

"Don't you two ever do that to me again! I was worried sick! What if you'd had an accident?"

"Don't worry, Mum. I'm wearing clean knickers," Tina quipped.

Jan smacked her child on the back of the head. "Ooh, you little…."

"I love you, too, Mum."

"Get those things inside," Jan said as she headed for the car.

"Sam, is all of this going up to your room?" she called over her shoulder.

"For now, Aunt Jan. We'll divvy it up and sort it out up there." She looked at Tina and grinned.

They were putting things down in Sam's room when Jan came in with a bundle of clothes. "I'll be back in a minute," Tina said.

"And where do you think you're going, Young Lady?" Jan asked.

"To change. I can't unload the car like this."

"You're the one who decided to dress that way to go get this stuff, you can finish what you set out to do dressed that way."

"But…."

"No buts! Get busy!"

"Yes, Mo-ther."

Sam giggled as Tina headed back down the stairs. "What's so funny?" Jan asked.

"I'm the one who insisted she dress that way. She wanted to wear jeans and sneakers."

Jan burst out laughing, "Poor thing, and I just…I ought to make you change."

"Let's get out there so she doesn't give the neighbours a show," Sam said.

"Right."

With the three of them, it took no time at all to unload the car. Even if Tina was in heels and Sam was unable to carry much because of her injuries. It was mostly clothes, stuffed animals and personal items anyway.

"There, that's the last of it," Jan said, putting a pile of clothes on the already overly large stack on the bed.

"I still need to get my speaker cabinets up here."

"Sam, you can put the electric guitar and the amplifier in the corner of the den for now if you like," said Jan. "I'll see what I can do to find a more appropriate place for you later."

Sam looked dumbstruck. "But…."

"Don't worry, Sam, I won't discourage you from playing. It's just that a bedroom is hardly an appropriate place for large or loud musical instruments. A bedroom is a place to relax in peace and quiet. You need a place to play as well as a place to sleep. I intend to provide you with both."

"Thanks, Aunt Jan, you're the greatest!" She gave Jan a hug and a kiss on the cheek.

"Let's get that stuff downstairs," Janice said, acting like a general. "So, are you any good with that thing, Sam?"

"She's great, Mum," Tina said. "She can play anything."

"Well, I wouldn't say anything…" Sam countered.

The three of them trucked Sam's old Fender Strat-o-caster and her Marshal amp head down to the den. The double speaker cabinets, still by the front door, were wheeled into the den and stacked in a corner by the entertainment centre.

"There, now the two of you can go see what goes where and who gets what. I'll bring up some sandwiches for you in a bit. I know you didn't eat anything except junk while you were out."

The two girls looked at each other sheepishly. "Thanks, Mum," they chorused and giggled.

*****

Back in Sam's room, the two were putting things away and sorting the clothes into piles. After Sam put her personal items away, she started sorting the clothes as Tina hung pictures and placed the stuffed animals around the room.

"I'm not keeping all of those, you know. Some of them are for you."

"Me? But…."

"Every girl needs a few stuffed animals from her boyfriend," Sam chided.

"But I thought you were going to…."

"I'm going to be what I want, when I want. And, right now, I want to be a boy." Tina blushed. "It feels good, doesn't it?" Sam asked.

"Yeah, it does. Sam?"

"Hmm?"

"Why me?"

"Because you're cute, honest, loving, my best friend and you have everything a girl or a guy could ask for."

"And what's that?"

"If I have to explain that, then you need to take your sex ed. classes over again."

"You!" Tina threw a teddy bear at Sam.

"Here, help me sort these things out." Then Sam asked, "Do you want any of my old knickers and bras?"

Tina blushed. "Umm…."

"You do! Don't you?" Sam laughed. Tina just nodded her head. "Tell you what, then; I'll keep the ones I want and you can have the rest."

Tina just stood there, her ears burning and her face a bright crimson. "You're getting horny, aren't you?" Sam teased. "Why? Because they're my knickers?"

Tina turned her back to Sam as a tear rolled down her cheek. Sam went over and hugged Tina as tightly as she could. "Tina, don't be embarrassed. I felt the same way the other day. Come on; let's get the rest of these things sorted. You can have all the dresses and skirts, and…."

Sam described some of the lingerie and outerwear to Tina, telling her when it was appropriate to wear each piece. In some cases she had to show Tina how to put the item on. As soon as Tina had an armful of clothes, Sam sent Tina to her room to put them away. Tina carted all her "new" clothes into her room and put them away. She would have just dumped them on the bed and gone back for more, but Sam said she was taking anything back that wasn't put away as soon as she brought it into the room.

When she went back to Sam's room, she said, "Wow, Sam, for someone who hates to get dressed up, you sure have a lot of nice clothes."

"Yeah, I know," Sam replied flatly. "And for the most part, I've never worn them. Every time I got a beating, I'd get a present or two the next day. Usually it was a dress and a doll or stuffed animal. Sometimes it was perfume or jewellery. I think it was his way of apologising. I got this dress, she said holding up a strapless sundress "the day after he burned me on my thigh with a cigarette. I got the cigarette burn because I refused to wear this dress," she held up a nice dinner dress, "to dinner on their anniversary. Here, try this one on. I'll bet it looks great on you."

Tina started to strip out of her clothes and had just finished removing her sweater and skirt as Jan came in with a tray of sandwiches, fruit salad, and milk. "What's this? Playing Barbie Dolls with live dolls?" she asked with a smile.

Tina giggled and said, "I think so."

"Well, don't get too carried away; you two start school in the morning and it's getting late. It's after nine."

"Okay, Aunt Jan, we'll watch the time."

She left the room and Tina sat on the edge of the bed. Greedily, she grabbed half a sandwich and started to stuff it into her mouth.

"Whoa there, Hoover, slow down!"

"I'm starved," Tina said around the hunk of sandwich stuffed in her mouth.

"So am I, but you don't see me making a pig of myself. Take smaller bites, chew your food, and don't talk with your mouth full!"

Sam winced as Tina swallowed the mouthful of food audibly. "Yes, Mummy Samantha."

"You are such a little shit! Here!" she said, throwing a kimono styled shortie robe to Tina. "At least cover yourself up before you stuff your face. Have you no sense of feminine modesty?"

"Sorry."

"I'm a boy right now, remember?" Sam giggled. "I just might want to jump your bones!"

"Promises, promises."

The two ate as Sam sorted through her clothes. Then they had a mini fashion show as Tina tried on some of the outfits.

Tina was slipping out of a little black dress when Sam pulled her down onto the bed and rolled on top of her. Sam was trying to get into a reverse of the same position they were in the first time they kissed. The friction of Sam's leg being forced between hers and the feel of the satiny dress rubbing on her pantyhose and knickers was too much for Tina to bear. Her body suddenly tensed up and she gasped. Sam, worried that she'd hurt Tina, jumped back and winced in pain as she moved wrong. Through gritted teeth she said, "Oh god! Tina, I'm sorry! Are you all right?"

Tina was unable to say a word. She blushed and covered her face as she started to cry silently. She rolled onto her stomach so she didn't have to face Sam. "Tina?!?" Sam cried, then she noticed the wet spot showing through the dress and she started to giggle. Tina tried to get up, to run out of the room, but Sam held her in place.

"Oh no you don't." Sam covered Tina's face in little kisses as she pried Tina's hands away from her face. Then said, "Don't ever be ashamed that a dress or an outfit makes you horny. It's normal considering the situation, silly."

"But…."

"But nothing. Kiss me, you fool."

Tina lay there perplexed. She just stared at Sam, her eyes wide, her arms pinned to the bed at her sides. "Sam, please, I'm so confused right now."

Sam sat up, and looked at Tina quizzically. "Are you all right?"

"Physically, yes."

"What do you mean, physically?"

"Well…I mean…just a second ago?"

"Uh huh."

"I was having a blast, playing fashion model, and dressing up in all sorts of pretty clothes. I mean…I was…."

"Getting turned on?"

"Yeah, and…it was, like…you know, with someone I like and…."

"And who likes seeing you in a dress, looking so pretty?"

"Uh huh…. And…and you were getting turned on and…and…so was I and…" she sobbed.

"Tina, please tell me what's wrong. Please."

"Now, I feel disgusting. Dirty, like some sort of pervert, because…. Oh, Sam…it made me…."

"I know! Isn't it great?!?"

"But…."

"I wish it happened to me."

"But I feel like…."

"Don't," She leaned over and kissed Tina gently on the lips. "Don't ever feel that way. You aren't a pervert; you're sweet, and kind, and gentle. Don't ever change." She punctuated each statement with a tender kiss.

"But, Sam…."

"Just kiss me, Tina; don't talk, just kiss me."

They were at it again. Making out, kissing right there on the bed, the door open for anyone to look in.

"Girls!"

They jumped apart as if jolted with a cattle prod.

"It's Eleven O'clock," Jan called from downstairs. "Wrap it up! You can finish playing dress-up tomorrow! You have to get ready for bed. You have school tomorrow, remember?" It was lucky for them Jan was downstairs.

Tina smiled at Sam, "We have to do this some-place else. If she ever catches us…."

"My blood runs cold at the thought of what she'd do," Sam said with a shudder.

"C'mon, I'll help you put the rest of your things away."

"Okay, but I need to umm…." Tina said as she pulled the sticky dress away from her.

"No fair."

"What?"

"When's it going to be my turn?"

"I guess you'll just have to wait. Sorry."

*****

Part-16

Wednesday Morning September 9th

Jan got up at her usual Five Thirty, made coffee, and then stared out the window at the sunrise. It promised to be a beautiful day.

I hope Tina and Sam have a good day, Jan thought while taking in the beautiful morning. This is going to be so hard for them. I know Linda has it all arranged, but…will they be able to be who they want to be in the new school, or will it be another year of nightmare and torment for them? I hope it's a good year with a good start.

Jan went up the back stairs at six o'clock to wake the girls. At least they don't have to share a bathroom, she thought as she giggled. Sam's room was the first bedroom she came to, so Jan decided to begin her morning wake-up ritual there. Looking at the bruises on the child's face made her heart go out to Sam. "Such a hard life for one so young and sensitive," she mused softly. Sam stirred at the sound of her voice. Jan sat on the edge of the bed and gently brushed Sam's hair out of her eyes.

"Come on, Sweetie, time to get up," she said softly as she kissed Sam's ear.

"Oh, Aunt Jan, it's you," she smiled. "For a second, I thought you were my mother."

"Does she wake you up like this?"

"No, she usually calls me from the hall. She only comes in my room like this after…." She let the sentence hang, allowing Jan to draw her own conclusions. But you could see her spirits drop at the thought.

"Well, that won't happen ever again, Sweetie; not here. Come on, rise and shine. You start a new school year today, remember?"

"Please, don't remind me."

"Oh, come now, it's not that bad. Besides, Tina will help you with your studies if you need it. Let's go, up and at 'em."

"Thanks, Aunt Jan. Umm…Aunt Jan?"

"Hmmm?"

"Do I have to worry about getting into the shower first, or saving hot water?"

"No, Honey, I had an extra large water heater put in and the water pressure here is phenomenal. I think you could run all the showers at the same time and not run out of hot water. Since we installed those solar panels, it doesn't cost all that much more than it did before. You can go down and eat first if you want."

"Thanks. I'll see you downstairs."

As Jan left the room, she thought, "That was easy, now if I can manage get Sleeping Beauty up inside of a half an hour…."

She went into Tina's room and received the shock of her life. Tina was out of bed, the bed was made and she was in the shower already! "Well, I'll be…."

Back downstairs, Sam was making some oatmeal and sipping her coffee while she hummed to herself.

"That's a pretty tune, what is it?" Jan asked from right beside her.

Sam jumped. "Oh! Aunt Jan, I didn't even hear you come down the stairs! Didn't you try to get Tina up?"

"She was already in the shower when I got there!"

"I hope she's not sick," Sam chuckled, and then she looked worried.

"What's wrong, Honey?"

"Well, I just heard the heater kick in; hell didn't freeze over, did it?"

They both were laughing when Tina shuffled into the room. "Wha's so funny?" she mumbled as she made her way to the coffee-pot.

"Well, apparently, some things never change," giggled Sam.

"We thought hell must have frozen over because you were already in the shower when I went in to wake you."

"Very funny. So, what's for breakfast?"

"Your maid awaits your request, your highness," Jan mocked.

"Sorry."

"Tina, are you feeling well?" Sam asked. "You never eat in the morning."

"I'm so nervous about school that my stomach is doing flips. I figured some food might help settle it down."

"How about some tea and toast?" Jan asked. "It might be your pills doing it to you."

"Tea? At this hour? I will get sick. No, thank you, but the toast sounds good. Do we have any more of your sour dough bread?"

"What pills, Tina?" Sam asked.

"Oh, I thought you knew. Doctor Bennett has me on some sort of hormone pills."

"What hormone pills?"

"Umm…these," she said, handing the bottle to Sam.

"That explains a lot," she said, looking at the label.

"What?" Tina asked.

"Your mood swings is what. These things are enough to make you feel and act pregnant."

"They're just like birth control pills, aren't they?"

"Well duh! Why else do you think they keep a woman from becoming pregnant?"

"You mean they make your body think you're pregnant?"

"Mine, yes. Yours just thinks it's going through puberty all the time. That's a pretty high dose. So I guess it's more or less the same thing, though."

All of a sudden, Tina ran into the powder room and was ill. "Well, Doctor Bennett said she might experience morning sickness as her body adjusted to the new hormone levels," Jan remarked with a smirk.

"Great -- Tina with mood swings and morning sickness. As if she weren't enough of a pill in the mornings as it is," Sam said miserably.

Jan just laughed. "You love her, don't you?" Sam just nodded her head. "Have you told her?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I want her to experience being a girl without having me hold her back from experiencing all of it. That means dates and all."

The toilet flushed and Tina came out a minute later, looking pale and rather shook up. "Mum, I don't feel so good," she said meekly.

"I know, Honey, come here." Tina went to her mother's side. Jan put the back of her hand on her forehead and said, "You don't have a temperature, Honey. I think it's just morning sickness. Sit down and drink your coffee. I'll get your toast."

Sam giggled.

"What's so funny?" Tina asked.

"You really are getting a crash course in womanhood, aren't you?"

"Don't remind me. I really could have done without this part of it. Did you get this when you started taking the pill?"

"I'm not on it. It seems you've managed to experience something about being a woman I never have. That's why I was laughing."

"Oh, just ducky. So tell me, how did you know what the pills were if you've never taken them?"

"Oh, my mum decided to put me on the pill when I had my first period. I just never started taking them," Sam said. "The dosage was about one tenth of the one you're on, though. Besides, it's one of the things they cover in sex ed."

"Cheer up, Honey," Jan said, handing Tina a plate of dry toast, "it goes away in about a half an hour. That's how it was for me when I was pregnant with you. Here, eat your toast. It'll help settle your stomach." Tina munched her toast and sipped her coffee as Sam and Jan exchanged amused glances. This really was going to be an interesting year.

Sam had a leisurely breakfast while she teased Tina about having morning sickness and having to get up so early to get ready for school. Janice just sat there and soaked it all in. It was exactly what she desired all those years ago, two or more children in the house at the same time. She was saddened that they were so close to leaving home, but glad to be able to experience it, if only for a short while.

When Sam and Jan finally shooed Tina up to get ready for school, Janice turned to Sam and said, "Your mother will be coming here tonight. I'm not letting her go back to that house until your father is stable enough to be trusted with her at home."

"Thanks, Aunt Jan, I can't tell you how relieved that makes me."

"You had a rough time of it yesterday, didn't you?" Sam just nodded her head. "You know, if you need to talk about it, I'm here for you."

"I know; I'm really okay with it for the time being. Tina was a big help yesterday. She made me talk it out before we came home. I do want to get into therapy, though. Aunt Jan, I don't want to be like him…that scares me more than anything else in the world. Could you help me find a good therapist, please?"

"I'll make some phone calls and find you someone as soon as I can. Brandy said she knows some really good domestic abuse specialists. I'll get some names and do a couple of preliminary interviews for you if you like."

"I'd like that very much. Thanks. Oh sh…shoot! Look at the time!"

"I heard that," Jan said with a smile. "Now get a move on."

*****

Tina had managed to pick an outfit, get dressed in it and have her makeup done. She was finishing her hair when she heard the sounds of elephants on the back stairs.

She smiled and yelled over her shoulder, "If you want a ride to school you'd better get a move on, I'm leaving in fifteen minutes!" An incoherent scream was her only reply.

By the time she had her hair done, Sam was standing in the door to Tina's room. "Hey, Sis! Ready to go?"

Tina looked over to the door as she stood up. "Yep, you goin' like that?"

"Yeah, what's wrong with it?" She was wearing black cargo pants, black Nike sneakers, a black oversized concert t-shirt, and a fatigue jacket. Her hair was still damp and slicked back.

"Nothing, I was just curious. So do I say 'he' or 'she' today?" Tina asked with a smile.

"Wouldn't you like to know? Hey, you look cute!" Tina was wearing hip hugging bell-bottomed jeans, a white oversized sweater, and a pair of pink canvas sneakers.

"Thanks, who says boys don't notice? Got your books?"

"Books? What books? It's the first day."

"A loose-leaf notebook so that you can take notes on what materials you're going to need, a phone book for all the names and phone numbers of your girlfriends and a pen or two to write with. Those books."

"Oh, uh…I umm…."

"Yeah, I thought so. Here, have a notebook and a couple of pens." She took the items off her dresser and handed them to Sam. Remember, you aren't carrying a purse any more. Everything goes in your pockets, or you carry it in your hands. And what ever you do, DON'T CLUTCH YOUR BOOKS TO YOUR CHEST!"

"Yeah, uh…thanks."

"C'mon, Bro, I'm driving." Tina picked up her purse and her books and headed downstairs.

Sam followed her, watching appreciatively. Janice met them at the bottom of the stairs with lunch bags and five dollars for each of them. "I know, you're big kids now and don't want to carry your lunches; just indulge me, okay? I love you both. Be careful, make lots of friends and get smart."

"Thanks, Mum," Tina said as she gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"Thanks, Aunt Jan," Sam said as she reluctantly gave Jan a kiss on the cheek as well.

Tina grabbed her jacket from the hall closet near the door and went out to the car with Sam following close behind, still staring at that cute little….

*****

They arrived at the school with plenty of time to spare. Both teens got out of the car to stares of appreciation. They made their way to the school office where they were given campus floor plans, a schedule of their classes and the usual emergency contact forms to be filled out in triplicate.

"So, where's your first class, Tina?"

"I don't know…umm…looks like the main building, room 212. It's, umm…Khuehle! Modern keyboard theories! Thank you, Linda!"

"Umm…Tina, I hate to burst your bubble, but I don't think they mean computer keyboards."

"Huh? But…oh! Well…that's okay; I always wanted to learn piano. Where's your first class?"

"Uh…I have a calculus class in room 114. Oh well…at least I get the hard stuff out of the way first."

"What time's your lunch, Sam? I have it at Eleven forty."

"The same! Hey, we'd better get to homeroom. I'll see you at lunch, okay?"

"Yeah."

The two left the school offices and headed off to their respective homerooms. Sam strode the halls with a nonchalance that belied her apprehension with being new in school and her unfamiliarity with the role that she'd set herself up to play. Did she really want to be so totally androgynous? Was it necessary to take it to the extreme she had planned on taking it? Let's just play it by ear and see what happens, she said to herself. It's a new year, at a new school and I've got a new attitude.

Tina headed down the hall, staring at the map in her hand, oblivious to the stares that followed her as she made her way through the milling throng of students. The girls who stared at her did so with contempt or petty jealousy. The guys just gawked. Several of the boys got elbows in the ribs or notebooks over their heads from their girlfriends for their trouble.

Where the hell is room 314? she thought. She went up to the third floor and started counting down the numbers. Where room 314 should have been was a dim flight of stairs going up. "There it is," she thought, "at the top of the stairs." She climbed the stairs and froze in the doorway to the classroom. The teacher, easily into his fifties, overweight and balding, was leaning back in his chair, his feet on the desk and a smile on his face. It was obvious he liked being there.

In the room, chaos reigned. Paper aeroplanes and balls sailed back and forth. People were yelling over each other to be heard. It was complete and utter bedlam. Tina looked down at her roster and back up at the number on the door. She wanted to run. Before she had the opportunity to debate the issue, a strangely familiar and wonderfully mellow voice sounded in her ear.

"Hi, new here?"

She turned a bit to her left and looked up into a brilliant pair of very familiar blue eyes.

"Umm…Tina, right?"

The shock was almost too much for her. Those eyes…that voice…her knees started to get weak. "Who is he?" her mind raced, looking for the answer. Her head swam with conflicting emotions.

He saw the flicker of recognition in her eyes as she searched her brain for his name. He placed his arm around her shoulders and started to lead her into the classroom.

"I'm B…."

SLAP!!!

The sound her hand made as it connected with the side of his face was explosive. The room fell silent in the instant it took the sound to stop reverberating throughout the room. The cliche, "You could have heard a pin drop," was true. You could.

"Brad, or should I say Bradley?" she finished for him, sarcasm and contempt literally dripping from her words. "You work over at the Super Mart. You always work on Saturdays. Yes, I remember. But I do not remember ever giving you permission to lay a finger upon my person. I really don't know who you think you are, but I am definitely not your girl, your property, nor am I anyone you want to mess with. Is that understood BRAAAD?" She drew his name out, making it sound like an insult.

"Oh, and if I find that I've cracked a nail in my attempt to keep your meat hooks off my person, I suggest you find another planet to inhabit. This one will have become too small for the both of us! Is that understood?!?"

The words were delivered with a rapid, precise staccato that any rapper would have been proud to be able to replicate. Its quiet vehemence let you know she meant business and was not a lady to be trifled with. Her body language was strangely reminiscent of Felicia Rashad of the Cosby Show.

The sting from her palm and finger tips shocked Tina. Had she really slapped him and told him off in front of the entire homeroom class? On her first day? Oh no. Please tell me I didn't do what I think I just did, she prayed silently.

Brad stood there in dumbfounded silence, the outline of a hand showed vividly in an angry red on the side of his face. The imprint was starting to swell. He reached up and gently ran his fingertips over the welt on his face. He just stood there, staring wide-eyed at this heavenly creature who had so soundly and finitely shut him down. Never had he seen such fire, such spark, such beauty. He was totally captivated.

The class just stood and stared open-mouthed at the new girl. Then a lone girl's voice was heard from the back of the room. "Yeah! You go, Girlfrien'! Shut him daooown!"

And the raucous roar was back. Only that time it had a focus: Tina. The teacher, finally on his feet, came to the door and said, "Welcome, I'm Mister Mateo; you are?"

"Tina, Tina Wilson."

"Hello, Tina Wilson. I teach sculpture and pottery. I see you've already met Mister Bradley Thorndike. We were about to get started here. Please, have a seat anywhere you're comfortable. Mister Thorndike, I believe you now have an appointment with Ms. Watson. I suggest you get there post haste."

Brad just stood there staring at Tina. The look in his eye was not malevolent; it was, if anything, awe. Fantastic, she's absolutely fantastic. His mind raced on, looking for an excuse to stay in the room and view his "Goddess" for a moment more.

"Mister Thorndike, I don't think you want me to say it again, do you? Or will I need to call security and have them escort you?"

"Yes, Sir," he said slowly, "I just…."

"Left your jacket inside over the summer? Get moving!"

"Yes, Sir," he said, then left after giving one more long gaze at Tina as she made her way to a seat in the back of the room.

This is going to be a looong year, Tina thought morosely as she slowly made her way through the raucous crowd, searching desperately for a seat away from everyone. All the students she passed seemed to be either congratulating her on her handling of Brad or telling her how great it was to finally see someone do something about the class lecher. The noise and attention were unbearable.

Among the empty desks scattered throughout the room she spied a seat in the back row in front of a pottery wheel. It was between two girls. They both beamed smiles in her direction and said nothing. One was of African descent, the other was somewhat exotic looking; not quite Caucasian, but not any race Tina could put her finger on, either. Tina opted for that seat. They seemed quiet and nice enough. She made her way through the throng of well-wishers and sat, putting her books on the desk. Tina put her arms on the top of the desk, put her head in her hands and sighed, looking almost like an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

"Hey, girlfriend, Illigitimi non Carborundum."

"Huh?"

"Don't let the bastards get you down," she said with a smile. "They ain't nuthin', just a bunch 'a animals." It was the African American girl on her right. "Yo, 's like rad' the way you shut him down, Girl. I mean…."

"Thanks, I think. I just…."

"Ain't no thang." Then the facade dropped. "Look, that creep's been hittin' on us girls since ninth grade, right? So, like, he makes everyone's skin crawl, right? So like, you're the first one to be so…straightforward about it. I mean…it was epic, truly epic. Way To Go!"

"Great, I just shut down the master lecher of the school in front of a room full of strangers and all I wanted to do was have a nice, quiet, senior year. This Is Just Great." The girls just stared at Tina, not believing their ears. "That was you, after I slapped him, wasn't it?" Tina asked quietly, looking at the dark skinned girl.

"She gets an 'A' for intuition. Hi, I'm Leticia, and the quiet one here on your left is Rochelle. Kinda weird name for a Japanese American, but she's okay. Don't mind her none; she's just a mathematics genius and an electronics wizard. She don' say much, but when she does, I generally listen."

Tina swivelled in her seat to look at Rochelle. Rochelle just smiled and averted her eyes.

"Hi, Rochelle," then she turned back to Leticia, "Hi Leticia, I'm pleased to meet you; I'm Tina."

"Shit! Get the manners, Ro! Daaamn! Relax, Girl, I can see we gon' be good frien's."

The bell rang and Mister Mateo finally started to bring order to the chaos around him. "All right, people! Simmer down; you have all year to catch up on your friendships. Let's get down to business." No-one paid any attention to him. So, he calmly picked up an unabridged dictionary, lifted it over his head and slammed it down on his desk and yelled, "HEY!"

The thunderclap of the book, combined with his shout, brought the startled students to a semblance of order. "Thank you," he said politely, which earned him a titter of laughter from some of the girls in the room. Then he continued in a bored monotone reciting what had obviously become a well-rehearsed welcome to school for the semester speech.

"Now, as most of you are aware, we have forms for you to take home. They include emergency contact information, medical advisory cards and the like. Everyone should have gotten a class schedule in the mail. If you did not, please raise your hand." Everyone just sat and stared at the balding, overweight teacher.

"Good. Most of you know everyone else. If you're new, pay attention; it's the easiest way I know to introduce you to everyone. As I read the roll, please raise your hand and say 'here,' 'present,' or something to otherwise acknowledge your physical presence in the room. Those of you on other mental planes, this includes you, too." Again, he was rewarded with the expected titter of laughter. "Don't laugh, someone once used that excuse. Now…" he continued on with a bit more life as he started to read from the class roster, taking pains to try and pronounce the names correctly and spelling the name if he wasn't sure of its pronunciation.

"Why me?" Tina moaned. "What in the world did I ever do to deserve this?" She hadn't heard a word the teacher said. He'd called her name a third time before Lee elbowed her in the ribs to get her attention back into the room.

"I'm sorry to disturb you, Miss Wilson, but unfortunately you do have to come back to earth for classes. I'm sure Mister Thorndike won't be here for the rest of the week to bother you. Would you please raise your hand and acknowledge your presence in the room when I call your name?" Again the titter of laughter ran through the room. That time Mister Mateo glared at the rest of the class.

"Yes, Sir. I'm sorry."

"No need to apologise, just respond. Tina Wilson?"

"Here, Sir," Tina said raising her hand and blushing furiously.

"Thank you, Tina. I'm sorry for the unseemly welcome to the school you received this morning. Please try to give us the benefit of the doubt. We aren't all Neanderthals."

*****

A few minutes before, Sam approached her homeroom class. The butterflies in her stomach just wouldn't settle down. Glancing at the map then back at her class schedule, she continued through the hall, the milling students seemingly ignoring her.

At least that much hasn't changed, she thought as she walked. Room 201…there it is. 'Homeroom, room 202, Miss Buckler, she read off the sheet in her hand. What a name. She sounds like a real winner.

Walking around the groups of students, she entered the classroom. Its quiet order and discipline was almost terrifying. No-one spoke above a hoarse whisper. Nowhere was there any evidence of the unbridled enthusiasm typical of high school students nearing graduation. It was more like a modern office than a classroom. There were computer terminals on every desk. The desks themselves were small computer tables and were twice the size of the standard school desk. They had adjustable keyboard trays and the chairs were fully adjustable with large casters to allow the student to move easily from the writing surface to the keyboard. The cabling for the computers ran down through the desk legs and into specially designed portals in the short, tight-weave of the indoor-outdoor carpeting that covered the floor. The lighting was nowhere near as bright as she would have expected in a classroom.

A diminutive woman in an early 1960s style dress and makeup sat at the teacher's desk. Noticing Sam enter, she motioned the teen to approach her the desk. Sam gulped, smiled a wan smile, and made her way to the desk. "Good morning, am I to assume you're Sam Boone?" Her voice was high pitched, almost sounding like a falsetto. Her face was round and open, her eyes a sharp, clear blue. Miss Buckler's gaze seemed to be able to penetrate lead.

"Umm…yes, Ma'am?"

"Dear, if you don't know who you are, I suggest you stop picking fights and let your cranium rest and heal. I am Miss Buckler." She said it as though there should be some significance attached to the name. "I teach English Literature, Theatre, Speech and Drama. You are in my third period Theatre class. Here is a list of the homeroom rules, the more important of which are:

"Before the bell, you may talk quietly and move amongst yourselves.

"After the bell, there is to be no talking and all students will take their assigned seats. Yours is the third one back, by the window.

"I will not tolerate tardiness. You will receive a one-hour detention for each unexcused tardy. Three tardies and you have a two-hour detention with me.

"Is this understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"You will find that I am stern, but equitable. If you have a disagreement with something I've said, or a grievance with a punishment I have decided to levy, I expect you to bring it to my attention, in private, in a well thought out, concise manner. Do you think you can abide by that?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Sam, rowdies are not tolerated in my classes. I don't generally pass judgement on an individual's appearance; however, from the look of your face, I felt compelled to say something. I have not judged you and found you lacking, I am just warning you that I will not tolerate disturbances in my classroom. I shall never comment on your appearance or attire. My preferences in a student's grooming are of an earlier age and considered somewhat Victorian by your peers. My only requirement is that your clothing cover you demurely, be clean and well maintained. Ragged, or torn clothing shall not be tolerated. You have a clean slate here with me. Your actions, in my presence, shall determine my attitude toward you. Is that understood?"

"Yes, Ma'am."

"Very well; please take your seat. I hope you find your experience at Cliffside to be a richly rewarding and enjoyable one."

Sam smiled politely and said, "Thank you, Miss Buckler, so do I. It has been a pleasure making your acquaintance and I hope not to fail your trust in me."

Sam's response was not what Miss Muriel Buckler would have expected from the young tough in her presence. Indeed, it was a pleasant surprise. This individual would bear watching.

*****

The rest of the morning passed uneventfully for the pair. Sam had to make up a reason for her black eyes and bruised face. She said she got in a fight over turf in her neighbourhood. Nothing too grandiose, just saying that she barely held her own…but that she apparently got the worst of it. Tina just melted into the woodwork after homeroom.

By the time lunch period arrived, Tina was hungry. She made a beeline for the cafeteria in the basement, snagged a Coke from a vending machine and, finding an empty table in the back in the corner by the door, opened her lunch bag and looked at what her mother packed for her. Two plain egg salad sandwiches, a small bag of chips, a tangerine and a couple of paper napkins. She smiled; Mum always packed a decent lunch. Nothing spectacular, but it was always tasty. Just as she was getting ready to take a bite of her first sandwich, Sam sat down beside her.

"What's for lunch?" Sam asked.

"Gallus domesticus ova salad sandwiches, thinly sliced and fried solanum tuberosum and finger balls," Tina joked, wiggling her finger at Sam. Tina had pierced the end of her tangerine with the talon of her right index finger, successfully spearing the fruit at its centre. The effect was to make the orange fruit appear as described, a finger ball.

"Has anyone ever told you what a gross sense of humour you have?"

"All the time. Since when did you start drinking Mountain Spew?"

"Since they're out of Choke."

"Oh."

"I've been hearing some interesting rumours all morning."

"Like what?"

"Who do you have for homeroom?"

"Mateo, why?"

"Is there anyone else new in your homeroom?"

"Yeah, some guy named Jon."

"No girls?"

"No! I told you, the only other new person in the class was some guy. Why? What's going on?"

"Well…rumour has it that some Really Hot New Senior Babe slapped the heart throb of the freshmen set upside the head and got him suspended. According to the guys in my music appreciation class, he's a real sleaze-ball senior named Bradley Thorndike. Any comments on this interesting series of events, 'Really Hot New Senior Babe?' "

Suddenly, Tina had no appetite at all. Her face went pale. "Already?" she squeaked.

"So it was you! Hey, Doll-face, depending on who you're talking to, this guy is either super hot or lower than whale dung. Most of the younger girls in school are dying to get him to go out with them and all the guys hate him. If a girl turns him down, it's news. If a girl shuts him down, it's the lead story on C.N.N. You, My dear, are the lead story on both C.N.N. and the news at five; the front page, above the fold, headline story in second coming print for both the early and late editions; and the ONLY topic on the Front Lip!"

Tina looked like she was going to cry. "But he…."

"As I hear it, he's a real lecher. He dates a girl 'til he gets a piece, then he moves on. You done good, Kiddo."

"Yeah, 'I done good.' I made the front page, above the fold, for all the gossips in school. Now, the question is 'What makes her so special that she shuts him down so hard?' Hell, Sam, he put his arm around me and was trying to parade me about like I was his property or something, so I slapped him."

"Uh huh, you just slapped him."

"Well…."

"Do the words, 'I suggest you find another planet to inhabit,' ring any bells?" Tina started to cry.

"Hey Tina! Wha'sup? Whoa! Yo dude, what gives? Wha'chall doin' t' mah homey heah?"

"Hey! Chill! She's just upset about making the Front Lip of all the gossips on her first day. Hi, I'm Tina's friend, Sam."

"Leticia; sorry 'bout that. C'mon, girl, we goin' powder that pretty nose." With that, she grabbed Tina by the arm and all but dragged her into the girl's room across the cafeteria.

Sam just shook her head, pulled a sandwich out of her bag and began to eat it. After her second bite, she felt like she was being watched. She looked up to see a pretty girl standing there, tray in hand, staring openly at her.

"Leticia and Tina were here, weren't they?"

"Yeah, they went to, uh, powder their noses."

"Oh."

She continued to stand there and watch Sam eat. "You gonna sit down, or just stand there 'til moss starts to grow on you?" asked Sam.

"Umm…can I?"

Sam lost it. Between guffaws she said, "Sit down already. I'm…" she started to choke on the food that she was trying to swallow, "uh hem…I'm Sam. Who are you?"

"I'm Rochelle. Thanks for sharing the table."

"It's a free country. You're friends with Leticia and Tina?"

"I uh…guess."

"Tina I can believe, but Leticia? You two are like fire and ice. You couldn't get two more dissimilar personalities."

"Hey, she's okay," Rochelle said, coming to the defence of her friend. "She just does that to protect herself."

"From what?"

"Well, there aren't too many African Americans in the school, in case you haven't noticed. She puts on a really hard front to help insulate herself from the assholes. She's really nice when you get to know her."

"Sure. Hey, you in Tina's homeroom?"

"Yeah."

"So what happened in there?"

"Lee! You guys all right?" Ro shouted across the room. Leticia was leading Tina back to the table. Tina looked a little worse for the wear, having survived her first trip to a crowded girls' lavatory to have her makeup repaired.

"Yeah; the tiger lady here ain't nuthin' more 'n a pussy cat what got her tail got stepped on. Sorry for the attack, Sam."

"Hey, no prob. I was just asking Rochelle…."

"Call me Ro."

"All right; I was just asking…Ro what happened in homeroom. Tina can't or won't tell me about it."

"Dude, she was better 'n Felicia Rashad comin' down on the Cos for being stupid. I mean, she had her daooown!" then Leticia gave them a blow-by-blow, word-for-word, action-by-action, if not somewhat embellished, version of the morning. Sam just sat there with her mouth open, staring at Tina and Leticia in amazement.

"She didn't."

"She did, too, huh, Ro?" The girl just nodded her head as she swallowed a bite of food.

"Well, I guess I can see why she made 'Front Lip' now," Sam said. "Look, Tina, relax. It'll be fine. You're pretty, you're smart and you just said that slime balls don't get anywhere with you."

"But…."

"Just finish your lunch and relax. You did fine. The girls that want to date Mister Asshole are happy you're out of the running and the ones that he's pissed off are gonna line up to be your friend. You have arrived. Right, Ro?" The quiet girl just nodded her head and swallowed again. "See? Even Ro agrees. Relax."

*****

Tina felt much better after she ate her lunch. And it was nice to have company, just to chat about the morning's events. Ro finally opened up a bit and proved that she had a bit more of a personality than a fly on a wall and was actually fun to talk to. Leticia finally dropped the militant front and revealed the refined personality that was under the surface. It really was a pleasant experience for Tina.

When they'd finished their lunches, the four teens left the refectory as the Academy called it, or cafeteria as it was referred to in common parlance, together to walk around the school grounds and relax before their afternoon classes. Near the end of the period, Leticia took Tina into the girls' room to "Fix their faces."

While Tina and Leticia went to the girls' room, Sam and Ro chatted by the doors to the practice field. Sam leaned against the wall in a typical male slouch, while Ro stood facing her, her books clutched to her chest. They could watch the doors of the restrooms from there while they waited.

The practice field was the old football and baseball field just outside the school's main building. It was where the Phys-Ed classes were held. It became too small to use for games when they tore down the grandstands and built the new auditorium, so a new field was constructed several blocks away. The new sports field had six tennis courts, two baseball diamonds -- one with grandstands and one without -- a football field with grand stands, and a field large enough to play soccer or field hockey on when the main football field was in use.

"You aren't a guy," Ro said. It was a statement, not a question.

"Why do you say that?" Sam asked in mild amusement.

"You listen, I mean really listen. You talk as if you know what it's like to have a guy hit on you, you understand the umm…politics of girls and dating and you don't stuff your face when you eat. Besides, your nails are clean and neat, your hands small and delicate and you don't have an Adam's Apple."

Sam just shrugged it off. "Yeah, well…."

"Don't worry, I won't tell. Where'd you get the battle scars? Home?"

"Yeah, my father."

"That sucks."

"Yeah; I'm living at Tina's place now, though. Her Mum's really cool; she paid my tuition here and she's putting my Mum up while my Dad gets help."

"Way cool. So what's it like pretending to be a guy?"

"Actually, I'm not pretending to be anything. I'm just being me."

"But…." For as logical or illogical as it may have sounded the incongruity made her stop and think. "So like, you're gonna use the girls' room then?"

"I don't know, haven't had to yet. Right now, all the guys think I'm one of them, so…I don't know. I think maybe I'll use the boy's room, or maybe I'll use which ever one I'm dressed for, or maybe I'll use which ever's closest at the time."

Ro giggled. "I'd love to see you in a girls' room right now. I'd bet the girls have a fit."

"I think you're right," Sam chuckled. "Here they come. Damn, she's pretty."

"Who? Lee, or Tina?"

"Both, but I meant Tina."

"So you like her?"

"Yeah, I do."

Ro giggled. "Like it both ways or just…."

"I like Tina."

"Okay, 'nuff said."

"You gonna tell Leticia about me?" Sam asked.

"Not unless you want me to."

"Let her figure it out for herself. It'll be fun to see how long it takes," Sam grinned. Ro grinned and bobbed her head in agreement.

The four spent the rest of their lunch period chatting and walking. When the bell rang signalling the end of the period, Tina said, "I'll meet you after school by the car, okay?"

"Sounds good to me. Have fun, 'Really Hot New Senior Babe.' Make 'em eat their hearts out." Tina blushed as she and the other girls headed off to class. "Curiouser and curiouser, Alice," Sam mumbled to herself as she walked to her next class. "Curiouser and curiouser."

*****

Part-17

Wednesday Afternoon September 9th

After classes ended, Sam went directly to Tina's car. Tina always goes straight home after class, she thought. And if her afternoon was anything like her morning, she's gonna need someone to hold on to.

After waiting for her to show up for twenty minutes, Sam began to worry. What's taking her so long? she thought. I hope she isn't in trouble. And then Sam saw her. Tina was slowly making her way across the car park with a really big, jumbo economy size…the only word for him was NERD. Just like that, in all capital letters, with bold typeface and italics. He was at least six inches taller than Tina's barefoot five-foot ten and had to weigh in at over two hundred eighty pounds, most of it centred in his hips and butt.

Oh shit, he looks like a human pear, Sam thought mournfully, as she looked at the behemoth walking with her girlfriend. It wouldn't have been so bad if he weren't wearing the stereotypic horn-rimmed glasses with the tape at the bridge of the nose…and the pocket protector stuffed with pencils and pens. But his crowning glory, as a nerd anyway, was the plaid patterned short-sleeved sport shirt he was wearing. Oh gods no, Tina, not him! Anyone but him! Sam wanted to cry.

Their conversation was animated. He was talking with his hands, describing something, and Tina was nodding enthusiastically. "TINA!" Sam yelled, waving at her. Sam put her books on the roof of the car and waved again, then took off toward them at a trot. The nerd's face fell. She could see his attitude change and she watched his posture fall from across the car park. "I see we have another winner here," Sam said to herself as she trotted up to her friend.

"Hey! Wha'sup?" Sam gasped as she caught up with the unlikely pair.

"Hi, Sam! This is Jon. He's the new guy I told you about…the one in my homeroom."

"Hi," Jon said meekly, looking down at Sam.

"Hey," Sam said as she gave Tina a peck on the cheek. Tina looked startled and then she smiled demurely, a gentle blush coming to her cheeks.

"Umm…we were just discussing some new animation techniques," Jon said defensively, obviously ill at ease to be seen with Tina by her "boyfriend."

"Yeah, Sam. He has this really wicked animation software at home and he was telling me about a plug-in he wrote for it and…."

"Yeah, uh…whatever," Sam said, obviously disinterested. "Uh…Tina, remember, we promised your Mum…."

"Oh yeah, I forgot! After last night, she'll be calling the house every five minutes to see if we're home yet. I'm sorry, Jon. I really do have to run. See y' tomorrow in homeroom, 'kay?"

"Uh…yeah…sure…see you tomorrow. Hey, you still want to try that software?" he asked hopefully.

"Oh yeah! Bring it in!"

"Yeah, okay," he said, brightening at the thought of talking to Tina again.

"See you tomorrow!" Tina said brightly, waving to Jon as she walked away with Sam. They hadn't gotten one row of cars away when Sam took Tina's hand in hers. "You know," Tina said speculatively, "I think you're jealous."

"ME?!?"

"Yes, you," she said with a smile.

"Of him? You're right."

"Don't be; he's a nice guy and all, but…."

"Doesn't do it for you, huh?" Sam asked with a snicker.

Tina pulled her hand back and stopped walking. She just glared at Sam. "You're the LAST person I'd expect to be judging people based on their looks. He happens to be a very sweet guy, in case you were wondering. He might be really insecure and a real nerd in your book, but I happen to like him! If you can't cope with that…."

"Whoa! Slow down there, Missy. I'm sorry, I was just teasing! If you say he's nice, I believe you."

"Sorry," Tina said contritely as she took Sam's hand in hers again and continued on to the car.

"Were you really jealous?" she asked in a tiny voice.

"Yeah," Sam said, "I was."

Tina grinned a Cheshire Cat grin as they walked to the car. She started swinging Sam's arm back and forth in time with her steps. To her, it seemed like she was walking on clouds…big, pink, fluffy clouds.

*****

The whole ride home, Tina chattered about her classes and her new friends, Leticia and Rochelle. Sam just sat in stunned silence. Is this the same person I grew up with? From pariah to socialite and bubbling chatterbox overnight, I just don't believe it.

Tina pulled the car to the kerb in front of the house.

"Damn…."

"What's the matter, Tee?"

"I forgot about these," she said, pulling the lab sheets from her purse. "Feel like taking a ride?"

"What are those?"

"I have to get a blood work-up done for Doctor Bennett. I was supposed to get it done Monday, but with everything that was going on…."

"Yeah, sure. I'm up for a ride."

Tina pulled away from the kerb and headed for the address on the forms. Forty-five minutes later, the girls were back in front of the house. That time Sam was driving…and laughing.

"I can't believe you passed out."

"I don't like needles," Tina said morosely.

"How come you don't park in the driveway or the garage?" Sam asked. "It's big enough for both cars."

"Well, it used to be a skinny driveway with a separate one car garage, remember?"

"Yeah, so?"

"Well, I got in the habit of parking on the street. Besides, it's easier than backing out onto the street or backing it into the garage," she replied matter-of-factly as she reached into the back seat for her books.

"Oh." Sam slammed the car door as she looked at the neighbourhood again. It was quiet; there were lots of trees…it almost looked like they were out in the country. The houses were set well back from the street and had a lot of room between them. They were so widely spaced, they actually had rural post boxes for every house! It was hard to believe a neighbourhood like that was only a few blocks away from her parents place. There the houses were close together, the yards were small and there was no room for garages or driveways. If you wanted to know what your neighbours were having for dinner all you had to do was open the window and sniff the air. If you didn't smell anything, a quietly spoken question would be answered immediately and without the need to repeat it, if their widows were open.

"I wonder if your Mum's home," Sam said as she fished her house keys out of her pocket. "I don't see her car."

"She's probably making up for all the time she lost dealing with the two of us," Tina said as Sam unlocked and opened the front door for her.

"Yeah, you're probably right. I hope we didn't cost her any sales."

"Who, Mum? Nah, give her a couple 'a months, she'll sell city hall," Tina said with a smile.

"You don't have any heavy assignments that you need help with tonight, do you?" she asked as she hung her jacket in the closet.

"Nah, it's the first day of class, remember?" Sam replied as she looked on, something obviously bothering her. "I won't know if I'm having problems in a class for a while yet."

"Good. I have to catch up on my Philosophy homework. I've missed two classes since last Friday. I'd better get busy."

"Yeah, Uh…Tina?" she said, a pained expression on her beat up face.

"Yeah?"

"D'you think you can set me up with a computer?"

"Sure! Umm…." Tina's brow furrowed with thought. "Will an old Pentium IV be okay?" She was warming up to the subject. "I don't have anything hotter right now."

"Hell, I'd settle for an old Blackard Smell-486-SX," Sam said with a relieved grin.

"Think you can set it up? I really have to get to my reading."

"I won't have to configure it or anything…will I?"

"Nah, just set it up; you know, plug it all together and turn it on," she said. "C'mon, help me get it out of the closet."

"Okay!" Sam was excited. She was finally getting a computer.

Then something happened to the time-space continuum -- time seemed to speed up while she seemed to slow down. Tina was on her knees, digging in her closet, her head and shoulders hidden from view.

"Here's that old track ball!" she cried triumphantly.

"Huh?!?" Sam exclaimed as a grey rectangle with a cord attached sailed out of the closet, whizzed past her head, and landed on the bed. It was followed by what looked like a cue ball from a pool table. Sam ducked as it sailed past. It landed on the bed, bounced off, hit the floor with a thud and rolled under a night table. It even sounded like a cue ball when it hit the floor. "Hey! Watch it will you!?!" Sam snapped at her.

Tina went on enthusiastically as if she hadn't heard anything at all. Probably because she hadn't. "That way you don't have to worry about trying to use a mouse on the bed."

"But…."

"Use these cables so that you can bring the keyboard and the trackball over to the bed." Some wires sailed out and landed on Sam's shoulders and arms as she flailed, trying to catch them.

"The bed?" Sam asked, perplexed. Tina was oblivious to Sam; she just went on digging in the closet. Things were obviously getting way out of hand. Sam's mind just couldn't keep up.

The pile of "stuff" grew rapidly as Tina rooted through the boxes in the back of her closet. A constant stream of technobabble poured from her mouth as she dug around. When she finally emerged from the closet for the last time, there was a huge pile of stuff on the floor with wires and cables snaking over and through it all.

"There, that ought 'a do it," Tina said with satisfaction. "C'mon, let's get this stuff in your room!"

They made several trips back and forth from Tina's room to Sam's, carrying the gear. "Okay, just set it up on the dresser, plug this surge protector into the wall and plug everything into it."

"Surge…" Sam was feeling overwhelmed. Her brain felt like it needed a surge protector. It was much too much, much too fast.

"Mum said she was getting you a desk, so you can move the 'puter to it when you get it. Think you can handle all that?"

"Uh…I think so, but…."

Tina grinned. "Cool! Holler if you have any problems. I really need to study."

And with that, Tina vanished from the room. It was almost as if she'd been teleported or apparated out.

Sam just sat on the floor and stared at the pile of cables, boxes and parts. Her mind was reeling. "This is a computer?" she asked of no-one in particular. "If you'd asked me, I would have said it was a pile of junk!" She looked at a small blue box in the heap. Picking it up gingerly between two fingers by the thick, grey cable coming off the back of it, almost as if it had cooties or something, she lifted it up over her head so she could see the front of it. "iomega Zip-250, whatever that is. Well, no time to learn like the present," she said as she put the box down and proceeded to make room on the dresser for all the stuff Tina gave her.

"Just plug it all together and turn it on," Sam said derisively as the computer took shape. It took a while to figure out where all the cables and wires plugged in, but she did it, sort of. She still had a few spare parts, though.

"Well, the computers at school don't have these, so I guess it'll be okay," she said hopefully, looking at a small ball-like thing with what looked to be a lens in it and something that resembled a miniature printer.

"It can't be a printer," she thought, looking at the "Lexmark 5700" colour inkjet printer connected to the computer.

Holding her breath, she turned on the surge protector, switched on the monitor, powered up the printer, pushed the "ON" button on the speakers, and hit the power switch on the huge "CowPie-2000" desktop computer. In the fading light of the fall day, her dresser looked like a NASA control station with all the glowing lights. The machine beeped once, causing her to jump. Then, she heard a loud click, the screen flashed and a bunch of words and numbers scrolled by so fast that she couldn't read them. Then the screen just…went…blank. Her heart started to pound and her mouth went as dry as the Sahara. Had she hooked something up wrong? Then, at long last, the familiar Micro$oft splash screen appeared, wavered, and glowed brightly.

"Whew, what a relief." Her heart rate started to return to normal. Boy, it was an old computer, but it was a computer. Then…it demanded a password. "Shitshitshitshitshit! TINA!!!!!!"

*****

After Tina hooked up the little Connectit MiniCamII, an A-B switch, the Blackard Smell PageMaker and the Zip Drive, she wiped out the password and set up a new user name on the computer. Then she plugged it into the LAN, pressed some keys, and typed some stuff. It was amazing how fast she could do that with her nails.

"Okay, Sam, I gave you a user account on my server," she began. "Now, Mum has A O-Hell, so I logged her on and set up a temporary user account for you under her screen name 'til we can get you your own account. Your temporary password is 'password', all lower case. That's for the server access and A O-Hell. Change it to something that has numbers and letters when you log on, okay?"

"Okay."

"I mean it."

"OKAY!"

"Right, so, the server has a modem sharing system on it so you don't need to hook the computer up to a phone line to get onto the net; you just log on through the LAN by double clicking on this icon and typing your username and password. Think you can handle it?"

"What's my username?" Sam asked. Tina giggled. "Tina!"

"Umm…" she giggled again, " 'tinasguy.' "

"Tina's guy…Tina, I'm gonna…."

"That's what it is! All one word, no punctuation, all lower case."

"You…."

"You want a computer with access to the LAN and the Internet, right? 'tinasguy' and 'password', all lower case.

"Gee, thanks."

"A computer is almost useless unless it can access all the resources available, Sam. Don't be afraid to experiment and try things. You can't blow anything up or break anything by running the programmes and clicking on things. Treat it like a toy and you'll have fun with it and learn how to use it. Act like it's gonna bite you and it'll always be a big scary mystery to you. That thing is so old, you can't hurt it and if you break it, I've probably a dozen more just like it."

"Okay. Thanks, Tina," she said aloud. 'tinasguy'You're gonna pay for that, she thought.

"Have fun; I gotta get going or I'll be late."

"But…."

"I still have to get to student services at the university and get my regular ID, remember?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot. Umm…."

"Mum should be home soon."

"Thanks. Hey, are you turning into a mind reader or something?"

"Nah, I just remembered that you used to have to cook for your Mum, that's all. Hey, that's right! Your Mum gets out of the hospital today! My Mum should be bringing your Mum home with her."

"I know, I can't wait to see her," Sam said excitedly.

"Don't worry about dinner; Mum loves cooking in her new kitchen. If you don't mind her telling you how to do everything -- including how to boil water -- you can help her if you want, but she really won't mind cooking alone. She says it's relaxation therapy for her. Besides, you'll want to help your Mum get settled and get caught up."

"Yeah. Hey, get smart, huh?"

"Yeah, right, 'Ninety-Nine'," Tina replied referring to the female lead, Barbara Feldon, of the 1960's television show 'Get Smart.' "See y'later; have fun with the old clunker."

"Thanks, Tina. Have fun at school," Sam said, giving Tina a tender kiss on the lips.

"Hey, I gotta go, that's not fair."

"I know. That's why I did it. See y'later, 'Really Hot New Senior Babe!' "

Tina groaned as she headed out the door to Sam's room. "Don't remind me."

"Bye-ee!" Sam called out, mockingly.

"Internet, huh?" she said in a quiet voice as she sat on the bed and picked up the old Kensington trackball. "Let's see what all the hoopla's about." With that, she double clicked on the icon Tina had showed her earlier. With the cable modem on Tina's server and the ultra fast LAN, the login prompts and recognition screens flashed by. In no time at all, Sam was hooked.

*****

The first thing Sam did on her "New" computer was a little web searching. She found all sorts of sex-related info on transvestism, transsexualism, and homosexuality, but she found lots of good solid data, too. She explored the World Wide Wait and delved into concepts that, until recently, were so totally alien to her. All she understood going in was that people should be happy in life and that they should do what made them happy as long as it wasn't at the expense of another.

Sam had been surfing away for a bit over an hour when the doorbell rang. Looking at the clock, she noticed that it was just after five. "I wonder who that can be?" she mumbled as she headed for the door.

Sam peered out through the peephole in the door and saw it was Doctor Dewinter. Sam groaned and opened the door. "Hi, Doc. I was beginning to think I was going to escape having to see you again."

"No such luck, Sam. Is Jan home?"

"No, she's prolly picking my mother up at the hospital. Still wanna come in?"

"Yes, I'm still going to give you that exam. Let's go. Your choice -- bedroom or kitchen."

"Bedroom," Sam sighed dejectedly.

In the bedroom, Brandy had Sam strip down to her skivvies and gave her a thorough going over. "Does this hurt?" she asked, pressing on a rib.

Sam winced, "A little."

"But not enough to make you jump out of your skin," she said redundantly. "Good. I can't believe the resiliency of youth. You have a clean bill of health, young lady. Go ahead and get dressed."

"Thanks, Doc. So, are you gonna stay for dinner?"

"No, Sam, I'm afraid I can't. I have several more stops to make tonight," she said, writing on a tablet. "Give this to your Aunt Jan when she gets home. I have to run. And take it easy on that nose! I almost can't tell it was broken."

"Yeah, right. If it weren't for the Technicolour paint job and the swelling, you mean," Sam said through a grin as she buttoned her jeans. "Doctor Dewinter?"

"Hmm?"

"Can I…?" Sam stopped talking and just reached up and gave the physician a hug. "Thanks, Doc." They separated and started for the door.

"I have to get going, Sam. Take care of yourself."

"I will. You'll tell Missus Winchester I can go back to work, won't you?"

"Of course. Remember to give Jan that note."

"I will," she said as she closed the door. Sam all but skipped back up to her room, happy for the reprieve.

Sam went back to her web searches. What she found only served to confirm the beliefs she'd formed over the past few days. At least most of it did. Some of the views enraged her. They were as if Hitler had never died and the holocaust he inspired was the right thing to do. She had to keep reminding herself that these people had as much of a right to their opinions as she had to hers. But it was hard. Damned hard.

The one thing she found so fascinating was the preponderance of male to female related sites, fiction, non-fiction and informational. It was almost as if there were no female to male transsexuals and transvestites. There were plenty of sites talking about lesbians and lesbianism from the female perspective, but the gay male sites outnumbered even these at a ratio of more than twenty-to-one. She refused to believe that society was as skewed as that. But the more she read the more she thought she understood. It came as a sort of epiphany or great revelation.

"I think I know why…" she started to say out loud, just as she heard the front door open. She jumped up and ran for the door.

"MUM?!? AUNT JAN?!?" she yelled as she ran down the stairs, her injuries forgotten. "MUM!"

"Hi, Honey," Donna managed, as Sam smothered her mother in a hug before she could say anything more. The two just stood there and cried in each other's arms.

"Why don't I go and fix us some dinner while you two get settled?" Janice said gently. "Sam, why don't you show your mother to her room? I'm sure she'd like to relax before dinner."

"Yeah, thanks, Aunt Jan." Then, suddenly she remembered Doctor Dewinter and the note.

"Aunt Jan? Doctor Dewinter stopped by earlier and gave me a check-up," Sam rushed on, reaching into her back pocket as she spoke. "She said I should give you this."

"Thank you, Sam. Did she have anything else to say?"

"Just that I'm fine and I can go back to work anytime. Oh! And that she's sorry she couldn't stay for dinner."

"Thank you, Sweetie." With a smile, Janice turned and headed upstairs to her room.

"Let me look at you, Samantha," Donna Boone said as she held her daughter at arms length. Well, one arm's length, anyway. Her other arm was in a cast from the elbow down. She had a bandage above her right eye covering a few stitches and her face was a little black and blue. "I like the hair, I think, but the clothes…."

"Let's get you upstairs first. Then we can talk about it. Okay Mum?"

"Sure, Honey. So tell me all about your new school."

Jan took the note up to her room before she opened it. She was relieved to see that it was nothing more than an apology for skipping out on dinner and a reiteration of what Sam had said, but in much more detail. She got changed and went downstairs to fix dinner.

Sam and Donna chattered on about the new things in Sam's life until Jan called them down for dinner. They ate in the dining room, a change for Sam.

"Normally," Jan said after she swallowed a bite of food, "we just eat in the kitchen, but I think that's a bit too relaxed for this. This…is an occasion."

"Jan, I just want to thank you again for taking care of my little girl," Donna began. Sam winced at the endearment. "And for putting me up like this. There's no way I can ever repay you for all you've done."

"Donna, this is as selfish for me as it seems to be big-hearted," Janice began. "Ever since Frank and I got married, I wanted a big family. Over the years, we were only able to have one child, Tina. Then Frank died in that plane crash and I was devastated. I lived for my daughter; she is the only thing that's kept me going these last seven years. And when you look at her -- erm…him…no, her -- today, it was well worth it. Lately, I find myself wondering if things would have been different if Frank had lived, but…."

"But you're just as happy to have Tina?" Donna finished for her.

"Well, it's more like, I just want my child to be happy. Tina was never really happy as a boy. He was always getting teased and getting into fights because of his looks. He didn't have any friends…" Janice was close to tears. "Donna, I still don't know if this experiment is the right thing to do or the right way to go, but if it makes her happier to be a girl than it does being a boy, then I want a daughter."

"I thought I was going to try and talk you out of it while I was here, Jan, but I think you've made a wise choice. Right, Sam?"

"Oh, Mum, do you mean it?"

"Yes, Honey, I do. If it's what makes you happy, be the best enigma anyone ever saw," she said with a laugh. As her laugh faded, Donna's face became somewhat more serious. Turning to Janice, she began, "Now, about Sam's staying here…."

"Donna, first your husband needs to get well, so you're staying here, too. I thought we settled that in the car."

"Yes, we did, but my daughter…."

"After it's safe for you to go home, where she stays is up to her. She's eighteen and can make her own decisions on that score. If she wishes to stay here, I'll be ecstatic to have her. I have more than enough money, so it'll be no problem supporting her and supplying her with everything she'll need and most of what she'll want. She'll be able to attend the best schools and get the best education money can buy. After all, it is only money and I always wanted at least two children. With her here, I have my wish come true, if only for a little while.

"I know how hard it is to lose someone you love, but you aren't losing Sam; she's just growing up and doing what she needs to do for herself. I won't try and keep her here if she doesn't want to stay, that I promise you, but I hope she does want to stay. I wish she were my own, and that's how I'll treat her -- as if she were my own."

Donna was crying silently. "Janice, you're right, of course, but I have such a hard time thinking that my baby has left home because of something I failed to do."

"Donna," Jan began, but Sam finished it for her.

"Mum, I almost didn't leave because I was scared and didn't know where to go. I was lucky that Aunt Jan was here. If I didn't have the strength to do that, you'd still be there with him, getting beat up until he finally killed you. I know why you didn't leave. Hell, under the same circumstances I wouldn't have left, either. We both need to get professional help to get through this. Right, Aunt Jan?"

"Yes, Honey, that's exactly right. Now then, we have a wonderful steak dinner, why don't we enjoy it?"

Jan did her best to make dinner a light-hearted and enjoyable affair. The conversation centred on school and the classes Tina and Sam were taking. Only over dessert did the conversation turn back to the more serious things, like Sam's distaste for all things feminine. After dinner, they all pitched in to help clean-up.

They were taking the dishes out of the dishwasher and putting them away when Donna said, "So, let me get this straight. This all started because of a college paper?"

"As hard as it is to believe, yes," Jan chuckled. "You see, she'd been researching the topic of this paper when she ran across this web site called 'Fiction Mania.' She wound up reading stories all night and…."

*****

Tina came home at nine thirty, a little later than usual and totally exhausted. She went into the kitchen to get something to eat and saw her mother at the little table, having a cup of tea. The matching side chairs had been pulled up to it to accommodate the new residents of the house. "Hi, Mum," Tina said, giving her mother a quick peck on the cheek. "How was your day? Sell the rest of the city yet?"

"I wish! I did well enough, I suppose. So how was your day? Sam said it got interesting this morning."

"Yeah, I guess you could say that. Did she tell you about it?"

"Umm hmm," she said, nodding her head. "Care to talk about it?"

"I think so. Le'me get something to eat, and then we can talk. I'm starved."

"I'll do that for you. Why don't you sit down and relax?"

"Okay," Tina said as she got a glass out of the cupboard and the jug of milk out of the fridge. "Did Missus Boone get out of the hospital yet?"

"Umm hmm," Jan said as she put a steak in the broiler. "She's upstairs with Sam now."

"How'd that go?"

"About as I expected. Donna was very upset over the whole thing. She feels she should have done something more to help Sam."

"Man, that must be rough," Tina said.

"So how was class tonight?" Janice asked as she put some potatoes and vegetables in the microwave.

"Umm…well…."

"Got a bit more attention than you thought you would, huh?" Jan smiled.

"Yeah, I mean, yes. I had no idea it was this bad for girls."

"It's not all girls, Honey, just the pretty ones. You used to look like a girl before, Sweetheart, you just didn't dress the part. Now that you are, all the wolves are coming out of the woodwork."

"Boy, that's an apt description. It took me fifteen minutes just to get to the car!" Tina laughed.

"So, tell me about this morning," Jan said as she set a plate of steaming food down before her daughter.

"Well…" Tina launched into a detailed account or the morning's "Front Lip" news.

"You're kidding me! Him?!?" Jan asked incredulously as Tina told her about Bradley Thorndike.

"Yeah! Can you believe it? Anyway, then I…" Tina continued to tell the story as she ate.

*****

Upstairs, Sam and Donna were sitting on the bed, surfing the web together. Earlier, they both had a good laugh over some of the more way out short stories at Fiction Mania. They just had to see the site for themselves after hearing Janice's version of how Tina wound up in skirts. Some of the writing was just plain awful, portraying the characters of the stories as the Hollywood stereotyped queens that pass for transvestites and transsexuals on the tube. The spelling and grammar were worse. And the things that the writers were describing…it was just too much to try and keep a straight face. It was obvious a good bit of the writing was strictly from personal fantasy and not experience or reality.

"You know, Mum, we're laughing, but I think I can see how some men would feel like this," Sam said as she stopped laughing at one of the short stories. She started showing her mother how she came to her conclusions earlier in the day and drew parallels with the story lines they'd just finished reading.

"See what I mean, Mum?" Sam said as she typed in another URL in the address bar. "Darn it," she moaned when A O Hell beeped at her again and asked her if she wanted to stay on line. I have to get another account, she thought, and acknowledged the "nag screen." She hit the "BACK" button on the browser by accident as she was going for the "GO" button.

Donna nodded her head as she looked away from the screen. "It sure seems that way, Honey."

"Does it still bother you that I don't want to look and be like a typical girl?"

"Yes, Sam, it does, just not as much. I always wanted a pretty daughter who liked the things I liked. Who wanted to go shopping for dresses and pretty things with me. I got angry when you said that you didn't like those things, Honey. I felt…I felt like you were saying and doing those things to spite me. It was almost as if you were saying you don't like me, by saying you don't like the things that I like."

"Oh, Mum…I never…."

"I know that, Honey, but that's how I felt. It's not right, but it's honest."

The door was open, so Tina knocked on the door-jamb. "Hi, Missus Boone! Welcome home!" she said brightly. "May I come in?"

"Home…." Donna said it wistfully. "I wish it were home, Sweetie, but it's nice to think you feel that way."

"I don't know about Mum, but I do. This is your home, too. Hey, Sam, whatcha looking at?"

"Just showing Mum the Web. I found a couple of sites that…."

Tina looked at the screen. They were at the Fiction Mania site. What she saw was:


FICTIONMANIA

Fiction: Something Invented by the Imagination

Mania: Excessive Enthusiasm

For Fans of TransGendered Fiction…


"Oh no…" Tina moaned, stopping Sam in mid-sentence.

"What's the matter, Tina?" Donna asked, a smile on her face.

"Umm…. Nothing, just…. It's nothing."

"Yes, Dear, we know. Sam was just showing me the Web. And I wanted to see what got this whole gender-bending escapade rolling."

"Umm…Missus Boone…I uh…."

"Tina, we read some of those stories. I don't think there's anything wrong with a creative imagination. And you have to admit, some of those stories are really very creative. I don't approve of all of them, but they do help me to understand some of the fascination with it all."

"Well, it's just…." Tina started to try and explain herself.

"Don't, Tina; now is not the time or the place. Most of that stuff is erotica, pure and simple. Very little of it has a message that goes beyond that. It has little or no redeeming value beyond entertainment of a sort. I understand and appreciate erotica. I'm not a total prude, you know." Tina looked relieved.

"Now, since I'm going to be living here for a while, why don't we dispense with the Missus Boone stuff? Would you feel comfortable doing something like Sam has decided to do with your mother?"

"I think I'd prefer to, Aunt Donna."

Donna's smile was radiant in reply. "Come here, Honey; let your Aunt Donna give you a big hug."

While Donna was hugging Tina with her one good arm, Tina looked over Donna's shoulder at Sam, rolled her eyes to the ceiling and mouthed the word "HELP!" Sam just beamed a smile at her and vehemently shook her head no.

"Why don't I leave you girls alone to talk," Donna said as she released Tina from her one armed bear hug. Then, with a smile on her face, she got up and headed for the door. Stopping just shy of the hallway, she turned and, as an afterthought added, "And leave the bedroom door open." With that, she walked out of the room.

Sam and Tina looked at each other and started giggling uncontrollably. When they finally settled down, Tina asked, "Is she always like that?"

"Yup!" Sam, giggled again, "and boy, are you in for it."

"Why? What'd I do?" Tina asked plaintively.

"You wear dresses, you look cute and now she's your Auntie Donna!" Sam giggled again. "If you thought your mother was bad…" she let the thought hang as she broke out in gales of laughter.

Tina sat and stared at Sam as if she'd lost her mind. When Sam finally stopped sniggering, she asked, "So what? My Mum's now your Auntie Janice. What's the big deal?"

"Well," Sam snickered again, "Mum always wanted a pretty little girl to take to the hair dressers, and go shopping with, and buy pretty dresses and frilly things for. All my aunts and uncles have boys. I was the only girl in the family. 'til now," and she went into hysterics again.

"Oh no…."

"Oh yes! I'm finally off the hook! ThankyouthankyouTHANKYOU!"

"It can't be that bad," Tina said prayerfully.

After a bit of teasing, Sam and Tina settled down to discuss Fiction Mania in general. "So, do you like those stories?" Sam asked Tina.

"Before I answer that," Tina said, her mind racing for a safe answer, "let me ask you the same question, with a qualifier -- if you do, why? And if you don't, why not?"

"Smart ass," Sam accused.

"It oughta be, it attends college," came the smug rejoinder.

"Ooooh, you…. All right, it's a shame the site is closing down because I do like some of the stories. I like the ones that don't have violence and umm…forced feminisation and stuff. I think they're sweet, almost romantic in their hero's, er…uh…or heroine's quest to be liked and attractive. Besides, I think they're sexy, too."

"And do you find yourself getting aroused reading them?" Tina pressed.

"Yeah, sure, that's part of sexy and erotic, I'd say."

"Me, too." Tina said.

"Hey! That's not fair!" Sam complained. "You didn't answer the question!"

"Sure I did," Tina said smugly. "I simply agreed with your evaluation and opinion."

"But…."

"Look, Sam, I'm living one of those fantasies. I mean…."

"I am looking, Tina. I look every minute of every day."

"Huh?"

"I'm living one, too. Not the same one you're living, but it's kinda the same. I don't want to be seen as just a girl. I don't want to be little more than window dressing for some macho ass who thinks he's god's gift to women, you know?" Tina nodded her head in agreement.

"But I don't want to be a man and have to worry about how macho I look and act all the time, either. I can't cope with all the posturing and head games men play all the time. I just want to be me. I'm somewhere in-between and I like it that way. Thanks to your Mum and Linda, I have a chance to be just that: Someone who's somewhere in-between. I think it's a total rush to be feminine and masculine all in the same instant."

Tina just smiled at her. "I think it's a total rush too," she said.

"Tina?" Sam looked scared.

"What?"

"Do you want to go all the way?"

"Huh?!?" Tina's eyes got huge.

"Not sex, you pervert," she said with a nervous smile, "I mean become a girl. To have the operation and all."

"I really don't know, Sam. I really don't know. I've been lying in bed nights lately and thinking about it for hours. I like the way everyone treats me, I like all the pretty clothes, too, they feel nice, I look nice. I like all of that. But do I want a sex change? Hell, Sam, that scares me. It seems so final, so…."

Sam placed a finger on Tina's lips to quiet her. "Shh…I know…so scary," she said quietly. Tina just nodded her head. "Now, answer the question, in your own words, not mine."

"Yeah, I like the stories," Tina said, blushing furiously. "I like the ones where the main character has help from his or her family and friends, or the ones where he or she's doing it with friends like that one by Ellen Hayes."

"Do you find them erotic?" Sam asked.

"Uh huh," Tina gulped.

"Which ones?"

"My Lady's Wiles, Tuck, Seasons…ones like that."

"Tuck?" Sam asked.

"Uh huh," Tina said. "They're too long to read in just a few minutes, but I have 'em on the server. Just do a file search on the 'E' drive under stories."

"Umm…is that a request?" Sam asked, a smile on her face.

"NO!" It was almost a shout. "You just asked which ones I liked and I told you, that's all." Tina was getting tied up in emotional knots. She was definitely on the defensive.

"Okay, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get you upset, I just wanted to understand how you feel."

"Sam?"

"Hmmm?"

"You don't think I'm weird, do you? I know you said you didn't yesterday, but…. You weren't just trying to make me feel better…were you?"

"No, Honey, I wasn't just trying to make you feel better. I meant every word I said. I'm just as confused and scared as you are."

"You? Scared? Why? It's not like you're trying to decide how you're going to spend the rest of your life."

"Maybe I am, Tina," came the quiet reply. "Come on, show me how to find those stories. I want to do some reading before bed."

"But…."