Have a Heart

Kerry has a heart condition and his doctor tells him to take a vacation. The adult camp he goes to offers an opportunity to learn a new life-changing skill.

Have a Heart
By Angela Rasch

Chapter One
Total Eclipse of the Heart – Bonnie Tyler

There’s nothing quite like a three-hour walk in the north woods to help you make a life-changing decision. A perfect breeze cooled me, a puffy, snow-white clouds offered contrast to the otherwise flawless sky, and birds chirped as if they were asking if they could clean your house. Every hundred feet, or so, I did my part to add to the world’s perfection, by kicking a small stone off the asphalt shoulder of the highway.

I can only imagine how beautiful Northern Minnesota had been before greed altered the landscape. The local merchants deeply respected the wants and desires of the average tourist. Vacationland shopkeepers overwhelmed by lust, courted the hordes from Minneapolis bearing their bulging wallets.

The lakes sparkled, and the DNR did their best to keep them well-stocked with walleyes, the favored catch of every angler. National franchises stood ready to strip the cash from the pockets of the summer visitors, but their normal chrome and glass buildings were disguised to fit the Northland’s self-image. The McDonald’s had a log façade with Paul Bunyan standing in for Ronald. Even the grocery store was masked as a country general store, a task made all the more trying by a well-stocked deli that featured all the latest for the hipster foodies.

The resort I was staying at was called the Never Inn, suggesting a whimsical approach to manning the front desk. Quirky names were ubiquitous. The town bar was called “The Office” – giving a hint for a gently misleading comment to your spouse about your whereabouts.

The Dairy Queen looked like thousands of others and had been named properly. At $4.35 for a vanilla cone it was placed conveniently next door to the White Sand Bank, which had a touristy exterior that could be easily confused with a ski-lodge.

I have a decision to make. They’ve told me I’ll never have true happiness unless I become compassionate. They say compassion becomes more fulfilling when it is practiced with someone who we find “significant”. I’ve never had a “significant” other.

I’d dressed as comfortably as possible in a bulky Red Hot Chili Peppers t-shirt and khaki shorts. I was out for a walk and hadn’t planned on seeing anyone up close. I hadn’t brought my billfold and couldn’t buy even a dollar-per-ounce cone.

All my life I’ve felt as out of step as Paul in that photo of the Beatles crossing Abbey Road.

In an effort to solve my malaise, I had hired a group of professionals to work with me to change my life. I’d expected they would suggest a new hobby, like horseback riding or collecting stamps. My wildest imaginings had them sending me on an around-the-world voyage.

But. . ..

I’m not sure. I can understand their logic. I can accept the need for change. What they’ve suggested sounds intriguing. But. . ..

It isn’t done. Not by someone like me. People who do that sort of thing are either extremely sad teenagers or those pitiful few who are famous for being famous. I support the teenagers who have a need for change. I’m less inclined to understand the publicity seekers, whose insatiable thirst for attention fuels a constant quest for just the kind of thing my mentors have suggested.

I have another few hours to decide. Then I’ll either pack my bags and forfeit twenty percent of the $30,000 deposit I paid to them – or acquiesce to what they said has been my destiny since the day I was born. They’ve earned the $6,000. I’m not flinching out of concern for the money. But. . ..

My life has been soooo bad that I’m afraid to simply pack my bags and go home. Loneliness has its advantages. However, when weighed against the life others seemingly have, it sucks – totally sucks. I don’t have a living relative. The people I call my friends seem to accept me, and probably will accept whatever decision I make. But. . ..

They’ve promised me I will be happy!

And I’ve fought this feeling of wrongness all my life.

I’d left the small town of Nisswa behind me forty-five minutes ago and had two miles to go to the gravel road that entered into the resort. I was walking against traffic on the ample left shoulder of Highway 77, a two-lane asphalt road with a posted speed limit of 50 MPH due to its twist and turns around several of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes.

The even more serpentine path going forward that they’d prescribed had started eighteen months ago. . ..

Chapter Two – Eighteen months earlier
Baby, Baby Can’t You Hear My Heart Beat – Herman’s Hermits

“Okay, Kerry . . . you can put your shirt back on.”

I’d set an appointment for a physical after reading an article online about high blood pressure. I’d been experiencing anxiety and headaches.

“Normally high blood pressure doesn’t have any symptoms,” my doctor explained. He had been my doctor for ten years, and I’d seen him twice. Once when I strained my back playing tennis and another time when I had a stint with a monster flu bug. His med school diploma placed him in his mid-forties, but the stress from his profession caused him to look almost fifteen years older. He was tall and probably had been a basketball player in high school. Yet, he didn’t seem like those jocks who had been so vicious to me during my schooling.

“In your case you have a borderline hypertensive crisis,” he said. “Your 160/108 blood pressure requires medical treatment.”

I shook my head in disbelief. “I’m a few years beyond thinking of myself as immortal, but I don’t think I’m ready for heart problems. I’m only thirty-one.”

“Many people your age have high blood pressure.”

“But . . . I’m not fat. According to the charts on your wall, I’m almost underweight.” I pointed to a line on the men’s chart. “For someone 5’6”, at 136 pounds I’m at the bottom of my bracket for ‘normal’ for a small frame.”

“Have you been experiencing nosebleeds?” He’d ignored my self-analysis.

“No.”

He entered a note in the desktop terminal. “Any shortness of breath?”

“No . . . not unless I run up several flights of stairs.”

The concern etched on his face frightened me. “According to my Fitbit I’m in great shape,” I bragged, while showing him the device on my wrist. “I normally get in my 10,000 steps a day!”

“Your Fitbit should tell your heart about your wonderful health. Look, Kerry, I’m going to put you on daily blood pressure medicine.” He handed me a prescription. “Take this to you pharmacist and follow the directions on the label. Don’t fool around with this. You need to take care of yourself!”

“I have been working a little hard,” I admitted. “I started my own business five years ago and. . ..”

“Let me guess. You work fifty hours a week and take two weeks off a year.”

“That’s not even close,” I laughed. “I haven’t had a vacation since I opened my doors, and I work at least ten hours a day -- seven days a week.”

“You need to realize that you could have an event.”

“An event?” That sounds ominous.

“Blood pressure readings like yours are often a strong indicator that something serious is about to occur. That could include a heart stoppage.” His frown emphasized the gravity of his remarks.

“Ohhh.”

“This is serious business,” he warned. “There are some side-effects from the medication I prescribed. You can expect that you’ll lose all the hair on your arms and legs.”

“Really?”

He laughed. “Hell, Kerry, half the guys in my gym are shaving their arms and legs for swimming, or running, or just because they like it that way.”

“Ohhh?” He’s got to be kidding. But, what do I care? My health is the important thing!

‘I want you to buy a sphygmometer. It’s a device much like the instrument we used to test your blood pressure. I want you to check your blood pressure every day. Once when you’ve been active, and then again when you’ve been resting for at least five minutes.”

“Okay.”

“If the drug you’ll be taking doesn’t have a sudden and positive impact, we’ll look at doing some other things. Further, I want you to go down to the lab this morning and allow them to draw blood. Your test results will tell me a lot more about your overall condition.”

He handed me a piece of paper. “Take this work order along with you to the lab.”

“Okay.” He’s scaring me, but I suppose that’s part of his job.

“Kerry,” he asked pensively, “are you married?”

I hung my head. “Women and me aren’t a great combination.”

“Men do marry men in this state,” he offered.

I chuckled. “I like women. They just don’t give guys like me the time of day. They want someone tall, dark, and handsome. That’s three strikes against me.”

“You’re good-looking. A few days in the sun would fix the dark part. In fact, I think you should take the next two months off and see if you can relax. Is that possible?”

I thought for a moment. My business is almost on autopilot. In truth, my manager is better at running things than me. “I’m not much for vacations. I enjoy working.”

He shook a stern finger. ”You’re a candidate for heart disease.” He rose from his chair. “I’ve been reading about impressive results controlling blood pressure through the use of hormones. The endocrine system uses hormones to regulate your blood pressure. The nexus to preventing coronary heart disease is still not firmly established, but in your case I think it’s worth considering.”

“I see. Would I become sterile?”

He stood with military rigidity and peered at me as if I were a specimen. “That’s why I asked about your marital status. Some of the side-effects, in addition to the arm and leg hair loss you’ll have from your other medication, are tough on married men.” He paused and wiped a speck from his thick glasses with a cloth he’d taken from a drawer. “Don’t think too much about hormonal therapy just yet. I’m going to consult with a cardiologist once I get your results. Come back to see me in four days. I’ll know more after your lab work has been done.”

He handed me a pamphlet on high blood pressure, and then slid the pocket door behind him, leaving me holding the shirt I still hadn’t managed to put back on.

My business has done quite well. I have an attractive offer to sell it for more money than I would ever want to spend in my lifetime. Too much money is a curse. Maybe it’s fate telling me to change how I live?

I don’t want to die young!

When I woke this morning all I could think of was wasting two hours of precious time I could devote to my business on a physical check-up. Now my top priority is my health, and my business has become an afterthought.

Chapter Three
Don’t go Breaking My Heart - Elton John and Kiki Dee

“I asked you to see me again in four days. What happened?”

I shrugged and grinned at my doctor. “You know how it is. Every day is another adventure when you own your own business.”

He shook his head. “You’re a walking time bomb. I thought I made that clear. Did you at least take your pills every day?”

Pills! I forgot to get that prescription filled. I could feel my face turn crimson. “I’m not a big fan of prescription drugs,” I offered. “I have a friend who’s taking fish oil and Niacin for his high blood pressure.”

“That regimen has been discredited.” His tone suggested his dissatisfaction with me.

“It’s only been six weeks since I last saw you, and I’ve exercised nearly every day,” I bragged. “Maybe exercise alone will do the trick. I feel great.”

“I don’t like ‘maybes’ for my patients when there’s a better medical alternative. And, I thought I told you that high blood pressure isn’t something that you can always feel.”

My doctor studied me over my file stretched out before him on his desk. The file was much thicker than what it had been during my check-up. “My consult – the cardiologist – agreed with me. You’re a prime candidate for hormonal therapy.”

“That doesn’t sound right,” I objected. I’d found time to do some research of my own online.

“Some hormones can act to prevent sodium reabsorption and inhibit the release of ADH. Other hormones can actually increase blood pressure. The study I’m following and the regimen I’m recommending will do the job for you, along with diet, exercise, and those pills you’ll now take.”

The doctor knows best. I promised with a nod to be responsible concerning pills. “The last time we met you described a possible downside.”

His face reddened. “Ahem! I want you to fully understand that I would only recommend this treatment to patients who are in dire need of a turnaround in their condition. You’re one of them. Because you’re an intelligent young person, I think you can readily understand that a healthy heart forms the base for a healthy life.”

I waited quietly to hear what it was that was causing him so much discomfort in telling me of its adverse side effects.

“There’s a good chance. . ..” His voice broke a bit. “If I could trust you to maintain a healthy regimen . . . but you’ve proven that won’t happen.” He stopped. “Here’s the thing. You’ll probably develop breasts.”

“Breasts?” I couldn’t have heard him right. That’s something I’ve dreamed about, but never dared think possible.

“Uh huh.” His face was noticeably flushed. “If I thought there was a better way, I would recommend it. But, you seemingly are the kind of person who needs a lot of help taking care of himself.”

“I’ve been on my own since I was a teenager,” I argued. “My parents died in an auto accident and I was forced to manage things on my own. I’ve done okay, and. . ..”

“If I could trust you. . .. You’re a workaholic.”

“My only talent is my ability to work long, hard hours,” I insisted. “My work is all I have. It’s what I live. . ..”

He raised his hand to stop me. “As a businessperson I’m sure you’re quite persistent working toward your goals. I’ve had too many clients . . . good businessmen . . . like you . . . die. I buried one yesterday.” A tear trickled down his face.

He cares more than his profession allows. “What do you want to do?” I asked quietly.

“It would start with a shot today. I will arrange to have a nurse come to your place of business every other week for a year -- after that -- to give you a booster. You won’t absolutely have to take any pills, but it will help if you do.”

I nodded resolutely. “I’ll take them. I’ll make it part of my daily schedule. They’ll be right in my desk and scheduled on my Outlook calendar.”

***
(Over a year later)

“It’s been over a year since I started you on hormones and your blood pressure has come down some . . . but not enough.”

“Is it because I’m getting so fat?” I asked my doctor.

“Fat? Your weight is actually down, a bit.”

I nodded. “Uh huh. My weight is down a few pounds, but my pants no longer fit. My bottom is bigger . . . and my top. . .. I’ve had to wear an ace bandage around my chest at work to keep people from gawking.”

“I noticed your development,” he said as he felt my abdomen. “I warned you about that.”

“I didn’t think it would be . . . so much.”

“It varies. How large you’ll get depends a lot on your genes. Was your mother voluptuous?” His attention shifted to my ankles.

Voluptuous? “I . . . I never thought of her that way.”

“I suppose not, but did she have larger than normal breasts?”

“Uh huh. I suppose you could say that.”

“Then you probably will, too -- probably a cup smaller.” He had me sit up, and then tested my reflex by tapping my knee.

“Cup?” I asked.

“Bra cup. I’m going to increase your Metopolol prescription. It might cause drowsiness.”

“I’m fine,” I insisted.

“People tell me how fine they are every day. And then I have to see them lying in the hospital hooked to a monitor after major surgery. I’m not impressed by your self-diagnosis.”

I bit my lip and hung my head.

“We talked a year ago about you taking a vacation,” he said, obviously changing the subject. “It’s now at a point where I’m going to have to insist on it.”

“Why?”

“Your blood pressure isn’t responding the way I’d like. You’re still in that danger area. You need a wholesale change in your lifestyle.”

“I’ve been getting closer to a deal to sell my business. I could accelerate the process.”

“See that you do. Also, I’m going to have my nurse call you every other week to bug you about going on a vacation.”

“I got the message. I’ll do it.”

“You certainly will, or you can find yourself another doctor.”

Chapter Four two months later
My Heart Will Go On – Celine Dion

“I don’t know the first thing about vacations,” I admitted. “To tell you the truth, I was surprised that a travel agency still exists.”

Sarah laughed. “People tend to think they can do without a travel agency, handling everything for themselves online. Usually, the people we serve are those who spent a ton of money on a dream vacation they arranged for themselves online, and then had one problem after another.”

I nodded. “The last vacation I had was a few years out of college. I tried to visit ten major league ballparks in ten days. By the seventh day, I was ready to swear off hotdogs for life.”

She smiled. Her face showed years of contentment, although she couldn’t have been much older than me. She has a heart-shaped locket that most assuredly carried pictures of a loving husband and two beautiful children. Her iPhone was probably bursting with digital evidence of her familial passion.

Sarah’s nice. If she isn’t married, I wonder if she’s interested in a “small, light-skinned, and average-looking” guy. But even if she is, how would I ever explain what I’m hiding beneath my ace bandage. Besides, when we first met, she had the same reaction all women have with me. They smile, but after they give me a quick appraisal, deciding if I’d be a fit mate, their eyes lose interest. It only takes a nanosecond for them to tell me “NO” without saying a word.

“We like to pride ourselves in taking the time to find the right vacation for our clients, and then make sure they get the best pricing.”

Her hair looks like it had been colored by a chemist. In fact, her overall appearance screams two words, “High Maintenance”. If I ever get to the point where I’m willing to try an online dating service I wouldn’t be too disappointed by someone like her.

I looked around her office at several awards for “Top Service Provided”. “That sounds good. I wondered why I had to fill out such an extensive questionnaire. I thought for a moment that I was taking a personality test.”

She grinned. “In a way you were. The more we know about you, the better we can satisfy your needs.”

“I just need to get away from things and relax.”

“We all need that.” She wrinkled her forehead. “You said you toured ballparks, but your questionnaire states that you don’t really care for sports.”

“That’s right. I’ve been turned off by the violence in professional football, the redneck attitude of the baseball players, and the thugs that play in the NBA.”

“So a vacation planned around sports wouldn’t really interest you, is that right?”

“I do like the outdoors, but watching grown men act like children is out. I’m not into hunting or fishing, either.”

“You stated that you would be willing to spend in excess of $10,000 for a three-month vacation. Three months is a long vacation, and I know that our questionnaire is normally used for much shorter vacations. What is the maximum you’d spend?”

I thought for a moment. “I need to do something completely different. I’m on doctor’s orders to get away from it all. It’s important to me, so I would spend as much as $100,000 if you can assure me I’ll come back a changed person.”

“Wow! This is going to be fun. We plan all kinds of vacations, but we do our best work for people who are willing and able to pay for the finest accommodations.”

“I’m not worried about whether the hotels are rated five stars. In fact, I’m not even concerned that the vacation involves a hotel.”

She smiled radiantly. “Have you ever been to a camp?”

I laughed, but then noticed she seemed to be serious. “I had three of the worst weeks of my life at Camp Granada.”

“You’re kidding. Did you really go to Camp Granada?”

I raised my fingers for scout’s honor. “And . . . I begged my “muddah” and fadduh” to “take me home”. I was half the size of the other guys in my tent. They seemed to think that duct taping me to the flagpole was funny . . . every time they did it.”

“Ouch. But would you consider an adult camp? We could check first to see if the have a “no bullying” policy.”

I giggled. “Are you serious? I’m really willing to pay for a full-fledged vacation. I’d go beyond the $100,000, if it seems worth it.” My business sold for far more than the original offer, once I introduced competition for the buyer.

“Have you ever had a secret desire to become a clown?”

I shrugged.

“Bigtop Camp will teach you all you would ever want to know about clowning. They include expert training in juggling, tightrope walking, stilt walking, magic tricks, and even how to ride a unicycle. You get to keep the red nose. The ten-week course is $12,000 including room and board, but you have to agree to help tend the animals.”

“You’re messing with me.”

She laughed. “I’ll bet they have a course in pulling each other’s legs.” She gave me a brochure to inspect.

“Bigtop Camp. That’s a Big ‘No’.”

She pulled a thick folder from the file behind her. “We get a lot of mail from adult camps. Most of them are camps set up where you play sports with old superstars.”

“No thanks.” She has the self-assurance of a marketing professional.

“I got that message. How about Dance Camp?”

“That’s better than Clown Camp.” Only slightly.

“Let’s see. They’ll teach you how to jump around, shuffle, bump, Lindy hop, Shim Sham, waltz. . .. They list over fifty dances. The camp lasts five weeks and costs $675 a week.”

“I can’t even imagine who would attend that camp. Not me, that’s for sure.”

“Cowboy Camp?”

“Nope!”

“Boatbuilding Camp?”

“For real?” She’s teasing!

“It’s a two-week session and you sleep in log cabins.”

“You’d have to hold a gun to my head the entire time.”

“Speaking of guns, how about Zombie Camp. They’ll teach you how to prepare for the Zombie Apocalypse.”

“That sounds very useful.” I winked.

“You bet it’s useful. They even will teach you how to hot-wire a car. Oh dear, it’s a one-week camp for $525.”

I shook my head. “Sketchy.”

“There’s a space camp for wannabe astronauts that’s out of this world.”

I grimaced at her joke, and then shook my head.

“There’s a camp that will teach you how to make moonshine, one that will show you the basics of being a mermaid -- or in your case merman.”

I wonder if she noticed my breasts? “Maybe this camp idea isn’t for me.”

She held up a hand. “There’s a camp that I’ve sent four clients. Every one of them has raved about it and given me letters of recommendations for my file, which I’ll share with you if you have an interest. The thing about that camp is that it’s a minimum of four months at $15,000 a month. They ask that you place $30,000 in escrow for them to use for extraordinary expenses. Oh yeah, they actually recommend that you stay five months, if at all possible.”

“You’re not suggesting something kinky,” I asked shyly.

“Absolutely not,” she stammered. “It’s non-sexual.”

“Where is it, and when does it start?”

“It’s located at Never Inn lodge in northern Minnesota. Grace Camp opens the second week of May when it’s just warm enough to put the docks into the water. You would be there until possibly the middle of October. I’d have to check on openings because they’re very popular.”

“What’s ‘Grace Camp’s’ specialty? What do they do that makes them so great?”

“That’s up to you. Grace Inc.’s motto is ‘We help you move thorough life, with Grace.’ For the first week, they have a personal trainer follow you around to get to know you. Sometime during the second week you’ll sit down with your trainer and draw out a plan for the duration of your time. I had one person who always wanted to be a rock star. They brought in people to train her full time: voice, dance, personality . . . everything. They set up small gigs and a back-up band. When she left she said it was the best time of her life, even though she decided she really didn’t have what it took.”

“Couldn’t sing, huh?”

She shook her head. “She has the voice of an angel. Musicians have a rough life. She saw what she would have to do to succeed, and then decided it wasn’t for her. I have to warn you that in her case she went through all of her escrow and spent another $40,000 . . . besides.”

“Money’s not that important. I’m not sure I want to do anything strenuous. I need relaxation.”

“Another one of my clients had always wanted to read and understand the classics. They arranged for a tutor and two or three noted authors to personally guide her through ten weeks of intensive reading enjoyment.”

“I’m more of a John Grisham kind of reader.”

“Aren’t we all?” Her face showed signs of longing. “I sent a man there who was very much like you. He seemed lonely. I’m sorry if I’m being too familiar, but you seem like you could use a friend.”

“No offense taken,” I allowed. “You’re just doing your job.”

“Thank you. If I get too nosy, just tell me to buzz off. That man decided that what he really needed was better people skills. I’m not saying that your people skills are bad, because they aren’t. You’re actually quite charming. But for him it was a life-changing event. I get a card from him, once a year, on the anniversary of the day he finished his camp. We’re very good friends.”

I could feel myself flush. “How on earth did they figure out what all those people wanted to do?”

“It’s what they do. Within a week to ten days they’ll know more about you than you do. Trust me.”


Chapter Five

Put a Little Love in Your Heart – Jackie DeShannon

So here I am walking down Highway 77. Not a care in the world, except. . ..

I’d been at Grace camp for a week. Their staff interviewed me extensively and gave me a complete physical. They had me complete dozens of tests. Each test seemed comprehensive, but only led to one more, and then another, and another.

I soon found myself telling them things – things I’d kept hidden for years.

I worked with Gabi and Mike. Gabi seemed to be in charge. Gabi was perky and forceful, but fun. She seemed to be an encyclopedia of knowledge. They didn’t offer a lot of personal information, and I didn’t pry. Gabi’s fashionable clothes delivered only the message she wanted to announce. She carried a silver trumpet’s mouthpiece in her purse and brought it out to finger when she seemingly wanted to say more than what she was.

I assume Grace, Inc. has tight guidelines.

Mike was built like a professional athlete with arms that were no strangers to a weight-room. His biceps would look great in a “gun” show. He comes across as a terrific catch for Gabi, if the company that employs them allows intra-company relationships.

Like Gabi, he was a fountain of knowledge, but Mike seemed to be the more playful of the two. He was a self-described “student of mankind” and liked to drop tidbits of “interesting” knowledge into our conversations.

For example, shortly after we met Mike said, “People often misspell ‘bellwether’. They think because it has to do with predictions that it’s tied to the ‘weather’. In fact, a ‘wether’ is a castrated ram and the lead sheep in a flock. The bellwether usually wears a bell.”

Gabi usually just rolled her eyes when Mike started on one of his stories. I found the two of them very cute and extremely interesting.

When we started, Gabi, short for Gabrielle, seemed like that older sister I never had.

“Sister?” She had asked when I told her how I felt. “Families are pretty much a concept with me. I like the idea, but have never really been part of one.”

She didn’t offer more information, and I didn’t pry.

Every day she became more and more of . . . a friend. I realized that our ages weren’t really that different and wasn’t surprised when she revealed her age as twenty-nine – three years younger than me. Her voluptuous hair looked like something straight out of a Reuben painting.

She hadn’t been too shocked by my breasts. In fact, she showed me how to use a pencil to determine if I needed a bra.

I do. That’s something else I need to think about!

Yesterday afternoon had been the big day. I was given their findings. They told me what they thought would be the best new skillset for me to take on to become a much happier me.

Gabi had met with me alone. She’d arranged to have an early evening meal with me in my cabin. Dinner was a strawberry salad with small bits of chicken.

The food served by the Never Inn staff was tasty and nutritious. My guess was my doctor would have approved.

She had handed me a bound portfolio of papers. “We actually knew what our recommendation would be after the first thirty-six hours. The last nine days were spent verifying our findings. There’s really no doubt. Kerry . . . to find happiness you need to undergo sex reassignment surgery.”

“Huh?!!” I’d expected just about anything but that. “Is this a joke of some kind?” I’d mentioned to them some deep yearning, but didn’t think they’d run with it.

She had opened an identical portfolio to the one she’d given to me. “Every test we gave you indicated the same thing . . . and with very strong indicators. In fact, I’ve been working for Grace, Inc. for more years than many people think people have lived on Earth, and I’ve never reached a more indisputable conclusion.”

“Did Mike agree with this?” I asked. The thought of the very masculine Mike seeing such a recommendation seemed especially embarrassing.

I continued to mull over their proposal while I walked the road back to the Never Inn.

My high school soccer coach once said, “Kerry, why are you always so angry?” That had taken me by surprise. I didn’t have anything to be angry about except the injustice of it all. Why did I have to be so small? Why did the big jocks get all the attention from the girls? Why did some of the boys dislike me . . . for no apparent reason?

My aunts and grandmother were always saying, “It’s too bad you weren’t born a girl. You have such pretty hair (skin, eyes, etc.).” How’s that supposed to make me feel?

When I played dress up games as a small child, it seemed like my cousins and friends always wanted me to wear a dress.

People are always mistaking me for a woman over the phone, or even in person. I don’t ask for that. It just happens. Since I’ve grown out my hair a number of clerks have addressed me as “Miss”.

I don’t judge activities as male or female. If something interests me, I just do it. I love knitting and crocheting, so they’re my hobbies. I also like to do rock-climbing.

What would have been my reaction if Gabi had told me, “Kerry, we think you need to become a stud. We’re going to put you through a regimen of steroids and weightlifting. At the same time, we’re going to teach you how to make women want to sleep with you.”

I would have declined that proposal out of hand. So . . . why is this so attractive to me?

I guess deep down I always been envious of women, but for dozens of reasons never thought seriously about making a change to be one of them, even though I did think of it . . . a lot.

Chapter Six
Cold Hard Heart – Jon Bon Jovi

My walk was coming to an end, and I still hadn’t made a decision. Everyone wants to be happy. I don’t feel the strong revulsion I thought I might have to the idea of becoming a woman. In retrospect much of what I would call “me” did seem more feminine than masculine. Mike has emphasized that my decision must be because I really want the change, not because they’d recommended it, or because I thought it was what someone else wanted for me.

I stopped for a moment and applied a liberal amount of cherry lip balm to my severely chapped lips.

To give myself a bit more time to think, I turned into a small park that bordered on Gull Lake. The park contained five picnic tables and barbecue pits that faced a small bay. It was a secluded spot, and since it was a Tuesday in early June, I was the only person around, except for a young couple in an aluminum fishing boat about sixty feet off shore. On any weekend, the small park would be shrouded in smoke coming off brats and burgers, the park being perfect size for a moderate-sized family reunion.

I sat down on the whitish sand in a spot that I thought would shield me from the people in the boat, so as not to burst in on their solitude. They seemed to be enjoying nature without the obnoxious hip-hop, rap, or rock that people my age and younger seemed to want to “share” with the world.

The oarlocks on the dated boat appeared whimsical and superfluous when noted at the same time as the outsized outboard motor that pulled the prow out of the water, even when it was shut down.

I pulled my knees up, and then buried my head in my arms, vowing to find an answer for Gabi. She had hinted at what would come next, in that she said Mike would be helping with much of my transformation.

Mike seems to be a very sweet person.
When I first met him, I thought he might be a professional athlete, but his amazing wit and intellectual approach to our discussions changed my mind. He was too compassionate to be a jock. His wisdom would have been less jarring coming from someone twice as old as he appeared to be.

It was strange, but several times when Mike entered the room I was sure I’d seen a blue aura sparkling around him. He had quickly taken on the role of protector and seemed dedicated to the task of releasing my emotional and physical destiny.

I trusted Gabi and Mike, but they’d emphasized that I had to exercise my free will.

“You can’t skip a bullet across the water.” The woman’s voice surprised me. She sounded like she was ten feet from me rather than the one hundred and fifty to two hundred feet it really was. “The bullet will just pierce the surface into the water. I’ve seen too many movies to think otherwise.” She sounded like she was teasing him and enjoyed it immensely.

“Chuck and me probably are the only ones around who can do it,” he crowed.

“Chuck and ‘I,’ ” she corrected him.

“Fuck you, Bitch. I’ve got twenty dollars that says I’m right.” Her taunt had apparently hit him in a spot that was raw from some past sin.

I looked up with curiosity.

His worn cargo pants suggested long hours as an artisan contractor. A sinister barbed-wire tattoo circled his left bicep. A mustache hung below his nose that seemed so totally incongruent with his face that it had to have been attached with Elmer’s Glue-All.

“You’re on,” she laughed. “That’ll be the easiest twenty I ever made.”

“Bullshit. You’ve made twenty plenty of times while lying on your back.” He laughed cruelly.

“You’re such a loser. I shouldn’t have let you talk me into coming along today. You’re stalling,” she said. “If you can skip a bullet, prove it.”

She was a few years younger than me and quite beautiful, although her attractiveness appeared marred by that kind of professional smile you see on a seasoned waitress. Her voice had a hard edge that matched the her sardonic grin.

He stood in the boat, which in itself looked dangerous, because the small craft rocked more than what I would have liked. He leaned down, with what appeared to be a very large handgun held about eight inches above the water’s surface. His face also lacked warmth, but in a way that he might have practiced in front of a mirror, to convince the world of his heartless nature.

His eyes!!!! I shuddered. Never have I seen so much chaos in a person’s eyes. My heart went out to him in sympathy for whatever it was in his life that made him so miserable.

Neither person in the boat looked as happy as they should’ve been in such an idyllic setting, in Chamber of Commerce weather.

They don’t realize how content they should be. They’re not faced with gender disorder.

The sound of his gun startled me. It felt . . . too close.

“That bullet didn’t skip,” she stated flatly.

“ ‘That bullet didn’t skip! That bullet didn’t skip!’ I don’t really give a fuck if it did or not, Bitch.”

“Stop it! Watch where you’re pointing that damned thing. You’re scaring me!” Her hands were shielding her from the gun -- that he was waving in her direction.

“No,” he snarled, “I’m not scaring anyone. I’m killing you.”

A bullet sent her right hand flying in an ugly direction and apparently then smashed into her shoulder -- spinning her to face away from me, out toward the middle of the bay. The gun fired again . . . and again. He held it inches from her chest and couldn’t have missed her heart.

She hadn’t said another word and now was motionless.

I had somehow gotten to my feet during the carnage and was frozen in awe of the horrid spectacle.

The young husband turned toward shore. “Hey, boy!” he shouted. He held something small up in front of his face, apparently to prevent me from seeing him clearly.

I’d know him anywhere.

“Boy! I need some help. She got in the way and. . ..” He brought up his gun and started firing. . .at me!

From that far away, in that rocking boat, his odds of hitting me were almost nil. Yet, with bullets flying around me I ducked behind a large jack pine, wishing it were twice as big.

He fired twice again. “Damn!”

I heard a splash, and then took off running. I hadn’t seen her face after she’d been shot, so all I could remember was her once raw beauty.

“You better run, boy,” he shouted. “Run and keep your fucking mouth shut. Or . . . I’ll kill you . . . and your mother.”

While I ran, the sound of his boat’s motor starting and taking off across the bay allowed me to coast to a walk.

I leaned over and tossed my breakfast into Highway 77’s ditch.

Chapter Seven
Heart Full of Soul – The Yardbirds

Mike’s words came back to me. “A rotary phone is a simple machine. You have to allow the dial to spin freely back to its original position for it to know what number you dialed. If you push the dial to go faster, it will think erroneously that you dialed an eight, instead of a nine.”

The Never Inn used phones that gave the appearance of having been built in the forties, but probably were much newer.

Mike’s amazing with electronics.
I’d had a real problem with the resort’s wi-fi until he saved me.

I was willing to think of anything to keep the alarming images of what I’d seen out of my mind . . . which proved impossible.

“Brainerd police.” The cigarette-smoke impaired male voice made that statement seem more like a question.

“Are you the person I’d talk to -- to report a murder?” It was a murder. Omigod!

“Listen, sweetheart. When gals like you come to our lake country, you sometimes get a little bored. Stop and think a bit before you say anything else. It’s a crime to waste taxpayers’ dollars on a wild goose chase. This ain’t your high school. If we send a squad out, it better be for something that’s for sure real. Now . . . you can take a second to think because I’ve got another call coming in . . ..”

The music-on-hold was a polka band. I’ve never danced a polka. As a man it seemed ridiculous . . . but as a woman it might be fun. I’d grown up in a Polish community and had watched the ladies in their costumes. It would be fun to make a flowing skirt. . ..

“You’re still on the line?!” It sounded like a condemnation. “Are . . . you . . . sure . . . you saw a murder?”

I swallowed. “I saw a man with a gun shoot a woman. She appeared to be very dead.”

“Okay, honey. I warned you. I’m going to patch you through to the chief. This sort of crap is above my pay grade.”

The polka started again, as if the pouring of beer into large ceramic mugs had never stopped.

“Sheriff Carr here. How can we help you?”

My mind froze. Her pleasant voice wasn’t what I expected. “Are you the person I need to speak to about a dead woman?”

“Hank told me you want to report a shooting. Am so sorry for the delay. Are you okay? Are you in a safe place? Where exactly are you?” Her concern was obvious.

“The Never Inn,” I revealed. “I’m in cabin fourteen. It’s the third cabin in from the highway on the left-hand side of the driveway.” I stopped to make certain I was providing accurate information. “I think I’m okay. The man with the gun took off in a boat. He killed her. They were playing a game with his gun, and he killed her. It wasn’t an accident, or anything like that. He meant to do it.”

“Is the boat on Gull Lake?” From the pace of her voice, she seemed to be taking notes. “Did you see which way he headed, after he left the Never Inn?”

“It wasn’t here, at our resort,” I explained. “He shot her in the bay, by the public picnic area, about a half mile north of here.”

“I know the place. Kids like to hold them darned keg parties there.”

“He tried to kill me, too. He shot at me, but I ran away.”

Her audible gasp came through the phone. “You stay where you are. Is someone with you. . .your father, or husband?”

I couldn’t bring myself to explain. “I’m okay. I’m here by myself, but I’m okay. If I need someone, I can call Mike and. . ..”

“Stay inside. Don’t call anyone. Just sit down and try to calm yourself. Are your hands clinched?”

I realized that my hands were both griping the phone, as if it was my salvation. “Uh huh.”

“Just relax. We’re going to check out the murder scene, and then I’ll be over to take your statement.”

“Okay,” I whispered. “Okay,” I said a bit louder to be sure she heard me, but she was gone.

Less than five minutes later I heard a siren scream on its way to where I’d witnessed the shooting.

That patrol car must have been in the area. Brainerd is about fifteen miles from here.

The air was alive with sirens for the next twenty minutes. They all drove immediately to the small park . . . six of them.

I waited twenty minutes, and then decided that I might as well take my morning shower, as it could be quite a while before they finished with the crime scene.

When she finally arrived, I was just getting out of the shower. I tossed on the lavender, mid-thigh kimono that the Never Inn supplied for its guests. It was slightly big and very plush. I wrapped a towel around my shoulder-length hair and formed a quick turban.

I may have been my nervousness, or maybe she regarded me as a suspect, but in that nanosecond of appraisal I saw intense interest in her eyes. And, her interest didn’t fade. That’s a first.

The Sheriff looked like a Scandanavian Jennifer Lopez. Her flawless skin and radiant blue eyes invited a stare that made my blush when I realized what I was doing. Her uniform was tailored to emphasize all the right places . . . and she had “all the right places.” The black nametag that luckily gripped her breast proudly stated “Sheriff Ashley Carr.”

Her lips are captivating and as sensual as I’ve ever seen.

“You’re so lucky,” “Ashley” said.

“I know. He could have killed me.”

“Yep. . .that too. What I meant was you’re so lucky you look so lovely coming right out of the shower.”

I suddenly felt naked, and then clutched the robe closer to me.

“I’m high maintenance,” she admitted. “I get up pretty early in the morning, just so people don’t have to puke at the sight of me. But you. . .. A dash of lipstick and you’re ready for the fashion runway.”

Lipstick? That must be my cherry lip balm.
I reeled thinking about where to start with my explanation.

“That’s a delightful perfume you’re wearing,” she said with unbridled enthusiasm.

“It’s Never Inn’s guest shampoo,” I explained.

“You betcha!” She agreed. “A sophisticated woman like you probably doesn’t use perfume in the morning, at the lake, in your cabin. I get calls all day long to drop in on people. Most of the time, they’re hot, sweaty drunks. You’re quite different than . . . at least I have make-up on.” She beamed.

I sat and pressed my knees together to make sure I wasn’t telling her something she already didn’t know.

She opened her notepad and became serious. “This is bad business. My crew is checking the area by the lake, but they’re not really finding anything, yet.”

Her voice didn’t sound accusing, but she apparently wanted answers.

“It was a small fishing boat. One of those metal rowboats . . . about fifteen feet long, maybe.”

“Yep . . . go on.”

“It had a motor in back that the man had to pull a rope to . . .. He killed her. The man on the phone didn’t believe me, but he killed her.” I’d brushed my teeth three times, but I could still taste my bile.

She moved to sit by me on the couch.

I traced the ridges of the corduroy and marveled at the intricacy of the pattern.

“Would you like me to call a doctor, honey,” she cooed. “You’re so pale. Are you okay? We could get the county nurse up here, pretty quick. Shock can be something terrible.”

“I’m fine, but my stomach is . . .. I lost my breakfast, and now I feel like I’m having cramps?”

She nodded knowingly.

She thinks I’m having my period! Every minute I’m getting deeper into this.

My face burned with shame.

“What’s your name? I’m Ashley.” She took my hand and felt my pulse. “You might need a doctor, or at least a strong shot of something. Do you have any bourbon? I guess you’re old enough for a drink if you need one.”

“I’m not sure my stomach would like . . ..”

“Let’s get the basics, and then you can lie down. Sometimes a soothing nightgown and a few hours sleep are better than booze and sedatives.”

“Kerry,” I said. “My name is Kerry. My home is at 16886 Britanny Way, in . . ..” For the next five minutes, I told her about myself, leaving out only that information that would have embarrassed us both -- my gender. She seemed surprised by my actual age. . .and at the same time – more interested in me.

“Can you describe what you saw?”

“I’ve already told you about the boat. The woman was in her late twenties and the man a little older. They both were in good shape. They both would be called good-looking. They seemed to be your average married couple. From how they sat in the boat when I first saw them, they’d been married for a number of years.”

“Why do you say that?” She stopped writing. Her hands looked too small to handle the huge gun that hung from her hip.

“It’s a beautiful day. They were in a secluded cove. Yet they sat apart from each other. If they were newlyweds they would have been all over each other.”

She nodded. “You said you’re single. Have you ever been married?”

I shook my head.

“I haven’t either, so I guess the two of us can only speculate as to how married people act when they’re out of sight from the world.” She laughed. “Heck. I’ve never had more than three dates with any one guy, so I’m no pro on dating and certainly not at marriage.”

Is she a lesbian? No, that’s too stereotypical.

“Do you have a boyfriend you can call and lean on?” She asked.

I shook my head, again. The end of my towel turban brushed against my back.

“Me neither,” she admitted. “I hear tell that men can be useful for that kind of thing. I like them, but haven’t found one yet who can separate me from my job. My mother and father had a great marriage. When he died, she apparently couldn’t live without him. She had a heart attack two days after his funeral. Never had any heart problems until then. I love being in law enforcement, but it’s not what you’d call an aphrodisiac.”

Someone as nice and pretty as her shouldn’t have any trouble meeting men. Omigosh! I’ve been staring at her breasts! I blushed again. I need to push on. “He was dark. When his tee shirt pulled up on his body, his tan line was very distinct. She had strawberry-blonde hair – cut short. His hair was black and it looked like he’d shaved his head about a month ago and was letting it grow out. His gun was big and loud . . . very loud.”

I told her what I had heard the two of them say. “Yes, I’m sure he said ‘I’m killing you.’ I won’t soon forget that.”

“I suppose you won’t. When he was shooting at you, did you see any of the bullets hit a tree or anything?”

“I wasn’t paying attention to that. One second he was holding something in front of his face so I couldn’t see him . . . and the next he apparently decided I was a threat that needed to be eliminated. Say . . . I’ll bet that splash I heard was him chucking that gun into the lake.”

“Uh huh. I don’t have a budget to call in divers at this point. I’m going to have one of the squads park at the end of the resort’s road for a few hours. My bet is that guys as far away from here as possible. But, if he gets curious just the site of a cruiser will keep him away. You get some sleep, and I’ll come back tomorrow for another talk.”

“You seem so calm,” I observed. “Do you investigate a lot of homicides?”

“My day is filled with petty thefts and traffic violations. Every once in a while we get a bad vehicle accident when people’s blood alcohol content gets beyond where it really should be. We’ve never had a murder case . . . and if you took a vote of my staff about now, we still don’t. We’ve got no body, which is supposedly important if you have a murder to solve. In fact, we have no physical evidence at all. No bullets. No blood. Nothing.”

“Don’t you believe me?” I searched her face for suspicion, but only found compassion mix with intrigue. She must be bi-sexual.

“Absolutely, I believe you. Every word. I can tell you’re not the kind of person who runs around making up things. If you don’t mind me saying so, you’re the kind of woman I always hoped my brother would find. He goes for a much different type. You would scare him. You’re too pretty and much too intelligent for Eric.” She giggled in a very un-sheriff-like, but quite attractive way. “When he finally gives me a nephew or niece, I’m afraid they aren’t going to win too many spelling bees, judging by the girls he’s brought home, so far.”

I realized that she had been sitting right next to me for quite some time and that she had an obstructed view of my chest, given that my robe had fallen slightly open. I clutched it to me.

“I’m very sorry you had to see what you did,” Ashley said. “I’m sorry for the both of us that it occurred. Despite what my deputies think, I’ve got a big case to solve . . . and it’s not going to be easy. There’s hundreds of those old, aluminum rowboats on this lake. Tourists come and go every day, so I can’t just go back to Brainerd and take roll to see who’s missing.”

I nodded. I don’t want her to leave, but my eyes are suddenly heavy and it isn’t even noon. “What if he dumped her body overboard?” I asked. “Will the body be lost forever?”

She frowned. “Unfortunately, drowned bodies are something I have some knowledge about. I’ve got over fifty lakes within twenty-five miles of my office and every year we. . ..” She stopped and apparently decided I’d thought enough bad thoughts for one day. “We figure about five days. It takes longer in the spring when the ice has just gone out and the water’s freezing cold. If an overweight person had a heavy meal with lots of beer just before falling in, it can happen in three and a half days or so. From what you’ve told me I’ve already estimated it could be as long as a week.”

“What’ll I do in the meantime?”

“Don’t talk about this with anyone,” she said. “Try not to think about it. How long will you be in the area?”

I thought for a moment. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be here for several more months.

“Good. Once we have a habeas corpus,” she winked, “things will start buzzing, and we’ll need your help, when we get a suspect. Just get on doing what you were going to do before this morning.”

She left after making me promise one more time to stay in my cabin and take care of myself.

One thing’s for sure. During the last hour, I’ve moved quite a ways toward transitioning. Heck, for all practical purposes I’ve been a woman for the better part of an hour, and it fit me nicely. It’s almost as if fate’s made the decision for me.

I went into the bathroom and checked the medicine cabinet. It was stocked with a number of feminine items that I had noticed, but not given a lot of thought. I opened a package of women’s Lady BiCs and found a can of female shaving cream. Within minutes I was in a tub of warm water cleaning off what little hair there was on my body.

The next time she sees my chest she won’t be looking at fuzz.

When I was done I stood before a mirror and saw . . . me . . . a much improved and happier me.

Chapter Eight
Your Cheatin’ Heart – Hank Williams

An hour later, Gabi and Mike knocked at the door of my cabin, looking for my answer. They’d heard the sirens and noted that a police car had been parked in front of my cabin.

“There was some trouble this morning that I saw,” I said. “It was when I was on my walk. I’m not supposed to talk to anyone about it. Sheriff’s orders.” My half-lie seemed to dishonor the memory of the woman in the boat.

“Have you reached a decision?” Mike asked. “We’re eager to get started with your transition. As soon as you sign the consent forms we can get moving.”

Gabi smiled widely. “Mike’s goal is to rid the earth of the toxins associated with fright. He eliminates fear by barreling through things. Take your time, his approach isn’t always as heavenly for everyone involved as he thinks it is.”

“Talk about reputations,” Mike said, shrugging off Gabi’s warning. “Gabi is known for responding to people who call upon her, by pushing them into action that ends up being beneficial. We’re both a little pushy when we see someone who needs a nudge.”

“I hope that’s true,” I said, “because I’m asking both of you to help me become the woman that's within me.”

“Great,” Mike said. “It’s your destiny.”

“It’s not so much a transition as it is a release of your spirit,” Gabi said. Her enthusiasm had reached a new level, something I would have thought impossible.

“I like the name Kerry,” I said. “I’ve always felt it to be rather asexual. But, maybe I like Karen better.”

“Karen’s a very nice name,” Gabi said. “It’s derived from Catherine. There was a Saint Catherine of Genoa.”

“She’s been in a bit of a snit since the change in Catholic doctrine about purgatory,” Mike said quietly. “Perhaps you taking her name will lighten her up a bit.”

“Huh?” At times, I can’t follow what they say.

“What’s important now is getting you on your way,” Gabi said. “I imagine you have some questions.”

“There are some things that have been bugging me.” Maybe a thousand things. “My uncle suffered from obsessive compulsive disorder. How can a person know if their desire to change their gender isn’t a form of OCD?”

“Let me ask you a question,” Mike said. “Are you looking to change your gender, or are you hoping to change your physical presentation to match your mental gender.”

“More of the second,” I admitted. “I’m fairly certain I was born a woman in the wrong body.”

“Your need to match your mental image with your physical being is very real. OCD is largely a problem of imagining what could possibly go wrong and then allowing that fear to overcome your life. My specialty is fighting fear. Fear has been my enemy since . . . well it seems like since the beginning of time.”

“Are either of you religious?” I asked.

They glanced at each other.

“In what way do you mean?” Gabi asked.

“Have you read the Bible?”

They both nodded.

Mike stood and stared out the window at the lake sparkling in the afternoon sun. “There are parts of the Bible that are very personal to Gabi and me,” he said softly.

“That’s what scares me.” My voice broke a bit. “I know what’s in my heart and believe what we’re going to attempt to do is morally pure and correct, but the Bible says it’s an abomination.”

“The Bible says a lot of things are an abomination,” Gabi said. “Some are . . . some aren’t. Believe me, my familiarity with the Bible is far beyond what you can imagine and what we’re planning is well within the Divine Power’s plan for how you should live your life.”

“I was raised Catholic,” I stated. “I have a very hard time accepting the Church’s position on God’s plan for creation. From what I understand the Church believes the human body should be used as God planned it.”

“What do you think they mean by that?” Mike asked.

I grimaced. “I think they mean that a marriage should be between a man and woman and people should understand that a man is a man, and a woman is a woman.”

“Where does that leave transgenders?” Gabi asked.

“On the outside looking in . . . I think,” I said.

Gabi touched my shoulder. “I’ve been delivering the same message to people for a long, long time. There are those who use the guise of religion to try to scare you into giving them power and wealth. It’s not anything new.”

“But the Church. . .,” I stammered. “The Pope is infallible.”

“I’m not a Catholic, and neither is Mike,” Gabi said. “However, we do know quite a bit about their rules and regulations. The Pope is only infallible when speaking specifically on doctrine, and when he specifically states his word is infallible. That hasn’t occurred since 1870.”

“Pope Francis seems like a nice guy,” I opined.

“I’m quite sure he is,” Mike said, “but he’s trying to hold together an institution that is extremely conservative in a fast-changing world. The Catholic Church has a long history of making decisions based on what will fill the pews on Sunday. It all started in about 300 AD when efforts were made to unify Christianity. The founders of the Catholic Church took a little of the most popular rituals from paganism, a feast day or two from this religion, and a parable from that religion, and created a Church. They did it for all the right reasons, but in the process maybe should have looked more to the teachings of Christ. For example, as recorded in the Bible Christ didn’t really spend any time condemning transgender or gay people. They were simply accepted as part of the community.”

“How do you know that?” I asked. I just have to do like Sheriff Ashley said and act normal while going on with my life.

“Do you think you were the first person in history to have intense feelings of personal dissatisfaction because your body and mind don’t match?” Gabi asked. “Do you think Liberace was the first gay man?”

“No . . . I know that homosexuality was part of the social fabric in ancient Rome and in Greece.”

“Uh huh,” Mike said without judgment. “The Pope says his opinion is based on “natural law” but what’s natural about excepting a birth defect as non-correctible.”

Mike has such a calm demeanor. He seems to be a very old soul. “But . . .but what about all those supposedly religious people who condemn homosexuality and transgender.”

“Spare parts,” Gabi said with a smile. “People who say things like that must’ve been made out of spare parts.”

I stared at Mike, not understanding.

He smiled. “You know what a mule looks like?”

I nodded.

“Legend has it that the Divine Power isn’t much for throwing things out. Some say she’s the original recycling freak. A mule is what she made from leftover parts after she created horses and zebras.” Mike stopped for a moment and measured his words. “Mules aren’t esthetically her best work, but imaginative. Same with the rhinoceros -- that’s spare parts left over from making elephants. When someone makes a statement that is that out of line with the Divine Power’s Grand Plan, we stop and think that maybe she was doing things with spare parts again.”

“That’s folklore I’ve never heard before.” I grinned. “I guess I’ve compared some of the religious leaders to jackasses before.”

“Folklore?” Mike looked puzzled. “Say, I heard a good one the other day. Do you know why God created religion?”

“Michael. . ..” Gabi said, in what sounded like a soft warning.

“It’s okay,” Mike said with a dismissive wave. “The answer is . . . She didn’t. Man created religion in his own image. And, like man, religion is flawed.”

“I know religious people say and do things that aren’t necessarily in my spiritual interest,” I said, “but I’m still uncertain. We’re talking about a major change in my life.”

“You’re one of the lucky ones,” Gabi said. “Think about gender being a representative number between 1 and 100 with 1 being totally male and 100 being totally female. Most people fall within 1 through 10 and 91 through 100. They identify quite strongly with one sex or the other. Like you.”

“The other day I registered for Facebook,” I stated, “and was presented fifty-eight gender options. That’s quite a bit different than the old ‘male’ or ‘female’ boxes.”

She smiled and gathered her thoughts. “I would say you’re about a 95. That’s why we believe so strongly that you should have sex reassignment surgery.”

I could feel myself frowning. “Even though I agree that I’m very much identifying as a female, I still worry. I’ve been reading studies on line that indicate twenty percent of those who have had sex reassignment surgery are unhappy with that decisions.”

“Many people who shouldn’t have the surgery feel pressured into it, “ Mike said. “Using the 1 to 100 scale, many who are in the area of 60 to 80, who are commonly crossdressers, feel compelled to have the surgery to legitimize what they do.”

“I don’t understand,” I explained.

“What Mike means,” Gabi said, “is that in the LGBT community crossdressers are deemed by some to be inferior in their commitment – compared to transsexuals. The crossdresser feels like a pervert because of the strong attraction to female clothing. They seek to solve that problem by having surgery. When they realize after the surgery, that they don’t identify all that strongly with being a female, they become quite dismayed with their decision.”

“I see,” I said. “How will I know for sure that I’m a true transsexual and not a crossdresser?”

“It’s your destiny to be a female,” Mike said. “Gabi and I have been through this so many times. You really need to trust the experts on this one.”

“You want me to have faith?” I asked.

“Precisely,” Gabi said. “Have faith, with Grace. That could be our new corporate motto.”

Uncertainty gnawed at me. “Let me back up the conversation a bit. You’re both so convinced that sex reassignment surgery is valid. Why?”

“I don’t know why people have such a hard time with that,” Mike said. “Do you know anyone who has a child who was born with a birth defect?”

I thought for a moment. “I have a cousin who was born with a cleft palate.”

“Birth defects cause problems in how the body works. One in thirty-three babies in the United States is born each year with a birth defect.” Gabi paced while she spoke. “Very few question corrective surgery for a cleft palate, yet people seem to become extremely judgmental about correcting the birth defect of being born in a body that is the wrong gender.”

“I get that,” I agreed, “but so many, many people say that we are either a man or a woman and God’s will isn’t changeable.”

“Those people conveniently forget about intersex babies,” Mike said. “Ask professionals at medical centers how often a child is born who is so atypical in terms of genitalia that a sex differentiation specialist is summoned. They’ll tell you the number comes out to about 1 in 1500 births. But a lot more babies are born with subtler forms of sex anatomy variations, some of which won’t show up until later in life.”

Gabi sniffed. “Some of the spare parts people say that those people who have corrective surgery are violating God’s temple. They say the transgenders can fix the problem through work with a psychologist. As far as I know there has never been a successful attempt through mental therapy to convince someone they’re not in the wrong body. That’s like convincing someone that the sky is green simply by repeating that lie enough times.”

“But,” I said, “the Bible clearly tells us that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost and not our own to do with what we want.”

Mike laughed. “The Holy Ghost knows a fixer-upper when he sees it. Actually Kerry, no one is made of spare parts. We have to be careful when we joke like that, because people take us literally. . .especially those made from spare parts!”

“Religion,” Gabi said, “makes a lot of things much harder than they need to be. For example, religion gets everyone stirred up about abortion.”

“Gabi and I have argued about abortion . . . forever,” Mike said. “I believe women should have the control of their bodies. Gabi . . . not so much. Hey Gabi, did you know Hitler’s mother considered an abortion but the doctor convinced her to keep little Adolf. Makes you think!”

Gabi rolled her eyes. “That’s an urban legend.”

Mike laughed. “Not if you were there.”

We were interrupted by a knock on the door of my cabin. It was Sheriff Carr.

“I hate to bring you bad news,” the Sheriff said, while gently pulling me out away from the cabin for a private talk. “Someone was showing your picture around Nisswa and asking if anyone knew you. They made the mistake of showing it to one of my deputies who recognized the cove where the problem you reported occurred as the background in the picture. My deputy asked the man for identification and kept a copy of the picture. When he turned over the picture to me, I saw it was you.” She handed the picture to me.

“That’s me right after the woman was shot. I can tell from the look on my face in that picture that I was terrified.”

“Uh huh. You said he shielded his face with something before he started to shoot at you. That ‘something’ must have been his smartphone, when he took your picture.”

“You’re right. Did you arrest him?”

“No . . . the guy turned out to be a private investigator out of Duluth. Someone sent him a letter with three one hundred dollar bills in it. It said that if he could find out your name and where you were located he would pay him $1,000 more. The letter was anonymous. The letter stated that the P.I. would be contacted in three days and would arrange for an exchange of information for cash.”

“That’s great, you can set the murderer up and grab him.”

She smiled. “More than likely the murderer will think things through and never show. I just wanted you to know someone is out there with a picture of you, who could be trouble.”

“Do your deputies believe you now?”

“My deputies are only going to believe a murder occurred when they see a body. There’s something else.” She bit her lip. “One of my deputies ran your picture through face recognition software and came up with a hit on your current driver’s license.”

“Ohhhh,” I said softly. “I’m transitioning,” I explained. “I was going by Kerry, like I told you for your report, but it’s ‘Karen’ now.”

“I think it’s wonderful that you’re finding yourself and doing something about it.” She smiled broadly. “It also explains things. I was beginning to wonder. . .. I’m so darned attracted to you, and I’ve never been into women.” She stopped abruptly. “I’m sorry! That was so insensitive. Now isn’t the time or place for me to say such a thing. My mind is often in neutral when my mouth has already hit third gear.”

“That’s okay,” I said. “I’m . . . ahhh . . . attracted to you, too.”

She quickly regained her professional demeanor, excused herself and left.

Chapter Nine
Every Beat of My Heart – Rod Stewart

That night I was startled out of fitful sleep by loud banging outside of my cabin. I froze in my bed terrified that if I moved I would offer an inviting target to anyone peering through the sheer curtains on my bedroom window. At the same time, I was deathly afraid not to move.

I considered calling the Sheriff, but thought she might take that as a ploy to see her again.

The noise continued for the better part of an hour as if whomever it was intended to scare me to death, rather than simply shoot me.

In the late hours, I thought about that poor woman. Did she have children? Was she pregnant? Had she ever loved her husband? Even in the short time I watched them it was obvious they weren’t even friends.

Finally, it became so silent that I could hear waves lapping against the beach and I eventually went to sleep lulled by the hypnotical rhythm.

The next morning I discovered a raccoon had been going through my garbage and spread it over the lawn under my bedroom window.

Gabi and Mike arrived at 9:00 and started my transition in earnest.

They spent no time getting me decked out in a simple skirt and blouse, with appropriate make-up and jewelry.

I put in long hours practicing walking in heels. I laughed at first when my Gabi suggested I balance a book on my head, but I quickly learned how wonderfully it worked to help me keep my head up and my shoulders locked back in what she called the “neutral position.”

The scent Mike selected for me was something called “Heavenly” which seemed to be an inside joke between the two of them. I had to admit I thoroughly enjoyed its soft, sexy mixture of peony and musk fragrances.

“Heavenly did win a Fifi in 2000,” Mike stated.

“A Fifi?” I asked.

“A Fifi is an annual award given by the Fragrance Foundation,” Mike explained. “They’re not always right with their choices, but in this case the judges did themselves proud.”

I shook my head at the breadth of Mike’s knowledge.

“You’re the easiest transition we’ve ever done,” Mike said. “I came here today expecting to have to teach you the basics of “feminine movement” and the “how-to” of female walking, sitting, and standing. But you do everything quite naturally, right down to holding your hands properly.”

I blushed. “Once I put on my bra this morning, everything seemed to click.” And, I’m no longer feeling those twinges.

“We’re going to spend some time on make-up and hairstyling skills,” Gabi said, “but I don’t see any reason you and Mike can’t try a public trial run day after tomorrow.”

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“You and I are going out to dinner,” Mike said. “We’ll go to one of the finer steakhouses on the lake and have an elegant meal. It will be a great step forward for you.”

“Oh. . ..” was all I could muster.

“Hey!” Mike laughed. “I’m not such a bad date.”

I studied him. He’s handsome and confident, you betcha. But he’s not Sheriff Carr. “You’ll do,” I said. Until I can go out with the real thing.

Gabi jumped up. “Let’s get crackin’. Your vocabulary is already passive and your voice . . . nearly perfect. Just relax completely and allow your voice to float up to its natural tone. You’ve been forcing it down to sound manly. After your date with Mike, we’ll work on the finer points . . . for the next three months. Did you ever see the movie My Fair Lady? We’re going to make you perfect.”

I gasped, and then giggled knowing that I had two wonderful angels guiding me.

***

The next day Mike took me golfing.

Gabi went shopping for me and provided a skort, which was seventeen inches long, so it was barely there. My sleeveless top showed off my arms and underarms, now bare of any hair.

Mike hit from the championship tee, and I started from the ladies’ tees, which were fifty to one hundred yards closer to the pin. For the first time in my life I could play a competitive round. I shot an eighty-two and bested Mike by three strokes.

His loping strides attacked the fairway as if challenging the world to battle.

My natural gait swayed and danced with the two-wheel cart that carried my pink bag with the Hello Kitty head covers.

I felt cute and totally at ease, especially when the breeze played with my styled hair.

Mike caught me running my fingers over my smooth arms. “Ancient Egyptian priests would pluck every hair from their bodies.”

“How do you know these things?”

“When you were wasting your time learning how to sink twenty-five-foot putts, I was studying mankind.” He grinned and reached into his wallet to pay me the $5 we had bet on the outcome of the round.

“Where do you call home, Mike?” I asked

“Gabi and I move around to wherever the job takes us. Neither of us really has what you would recognize as a home base.”

I nodded. I can understand a workaholic, having been one.

***

Two days later I found myself on Mike’s arm, entering Walleyes on the Bay. Our reservations were for 8:00 and we arrived on time.

After spending nearly fifteen minutes enjoying a glass of wine, Mike asked for the prime rib and I opted for the pan-seared salmon.

“They have the most extensive menu I’ve ever seen in a white linen restaurant,” I remarked.

“I remember when restaurants started having menus,” Mike claimed, with a wink. “It was in a small town in what is now known as Iraq. Up until that time, restaurants only served two dishes, Take It or Leave it.”

He chuckled and I grinned at his audacity in telling such a groaner. He’s very good company, even though I know his intent tonight is quite serious in refining my transition.

I excused myself and went to the ladies’ room. Although it was my first time, it didn’t hit me until I was fixing my lipstick in the mirror.

I surveyed who I had become and decided she was a much better “me.” I had checked the other woman in the restaurant and felt I was appropriately dressed in my cranberry, Calvin Klein, cap-sleeve, cutout-neckline sheath. My diamond earrings were the only jewelry I wore. My hair was long enough for Gabi to style it to match my outfit.

“This is wonderful,” I gushed to Mike, after he rose to pull out my chair.

“Did you know, Karen,” he started, “the average woman puts on lipstick 2.4 times a day, and only 11% put on lipstick more than four times a day?” He arched an eyebrow indicating that what he’d said was in some way, profound. Then he cast an eye around the restaurant. “I’ve never taken a woman to dinner who wasn’t being slightly competitive with the other women in the room.”

I blushed.

“So,” he said with another wink and a grin, “how do you think you stack up?”

I bit my lip. “I’ll bet they’re all really nice people.”

“Uh huh.” He laughed. “How about the young lady sitting over against the window. Her back is toward that gentleman who appears to be here on his own.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’ll play.” I turned to judge my competition and suddenly felt my blood run cold. The man sitting by himself was the murderer -- and he’s staring right at me.

I tried to remain calm, turned slowly, and then reached into my purse and dialed the number the Sheriff had given me for her cell phone. “He’s here.”

“Is that you, Karen? I was just about to call you. Some fisherman hooked the body of a woman that matches the description you. . .. We picked up her husband. He didn’t look at all like the man you described. So we played him. We told him his accomplice had already confessed. The husband was out of town the day of the murder, but broke down under questioning. His brother did it because he couldn’t stand the way she treated her husband. We know the killer. He’s a bad one. He just got out of the St. Cloud correctional facility where he did four years for armed robbery. We’ve got an APB out on him, but. . ..”

“He’s here,” I said again. “The murderer is in the restaurant with us. We’re at Walleyes on the Bay. I’m pretty sure he’s recognized me.”

“Are you certain it’s him?”

“Absolutely. No one could forget those eyes.”

“Listen carefully. I’ll be there in four minutes, I’m just north of you on Highway 77. You get out of there. Don’t run, but move quickly. Get in your car and head for the police station in Brainerd. Stay at the station until I can talk to you. We’ll handle this.”

After the phone had gone dead, I turned to Mike. “We have to leave. Now.” I tried to keep my voice calm and at a normal conversation level.

“I’ll get a bill. . ..”

“No time for that. We need to leave immediately,” I whispered.

He nodded and rose while offering me his arm. We walked at an even pace, being careful not to glance toward the man who had murdered his brother’s wife.

“There’s a killer in the restaurant,” I said, once we were near his car. I hadn’t noticed how poorly lit the parking lot was when we had gone into the restaurant.

“Are you okay?” Mike asked. He looked in control, as always.

“I witnessed a murder a few days ago. And. . ..”

“Aggh,” Mike said, while his eyes rolled up into his skull.

The murderer stepped out from behind Mike -- as Mike collapsed into a heap on the parking lot. The man had a huge knife in his hands, that was dripping with Mike’s blood. “You’re not a boy.”

“Why did you kill Mike? He didn’t do anything.”

“Isn’t that how it is? Wrong place . . . wrong time. You’re the only thing that can tie me to getting rid of that piece of garbage whore. She was making my brother miserable. She tricked him into marriage in the first place with a false pregnancy. That bitch deserved to die. I had it all fixed so that it would look like a car accident. Her body would have burned to ashes. Then you came along.”

“Your brother has already confessed and implicated you.”

His face turned uglier.

The poor man is deranged. I wish I could do something for him.

“You’re a lying bitch just like her.

The knife slid easily into my neck and severed my jugular. One minute I was as alive as anyone, and the next moment I faded to. . ..

Chapter Ten
You’ll Be in My Heart – Phil Collins

The first thing I noticed was that my musky perfume made the transition, with me, into the afterlife. It now smelled less like a beguiling pheromone and more like a simple affirmation.

People were moving in parallel lines in two opposite directions. They were on moving sidewalks like in major airports.

The people all appeared calm and . . . quite attractive. They appeared to all be dressed and groomed impeccably. It looked like one very large television commercial that would lead you to believe that you were the only person in the world who didn’t look like a movie star.

There was very little difference between the two lines except for the eyes. Those in the line I stood in had placid eyes. It was obvious that serenity was at the core of my lines being. Those in the other line . . . a line that contained maybe a third of the people in my line . . . had eyes a lot like those I’d seen on that killer.

There’s no doubt that the poor man needs psychological help. We all make bad decisions, but when you’re mind is impaired those decisions are even harder to make properly.

The sidewalk stopped for a moment and my breasts jiggled in my bra. I looked down and realized I possessed the body of a female. I smiled happily. I look exactly like I hoped I would after all those surgeries Gabi had told me I’d go through. My hair cascaded to the middle of my back.

I was wearing a strapless, empire gown. It was turquoise chiffon and perfectly fitted to me so that it rested lightly on the top of my toes, which were in a pair of delightful strapped sandals. It all felt very comfortable and FUN!

I glanced at the others, in both lines, and affirmed I was appropriately dressed.

A light tap on my elbow brought my attention to Mike, who was standing beside me. “You wouldn’t expect the blind not to be able to see or those who lost limbs to be impaired?”

“There’s not just two genders,” I remarked, “I just noticed one person changing like the direction of the wind.”

“It’s been like this for a very long time . . . ever since God made man.”

“Am I in the right line?” I asked hopefully.

“You’re in the line going to your just reward. The other line will go to a place very much like college. Except, all they do is attend class. They don’t sleep. They don’t get breaks. They aren’t there for an eternity – it just seems that way. As soon as they understand that a tranquil existence is all that is needed to gain their reward, they’ll be in this line.”

“Tranquil existence??? What about accepting God as your savior?”

“God created man. He wants man to appreciate his creation. If you become happy with yourself you’re showing God your appreciation for what he has done for you. In truly becoming happy with his work your heart has accepted him as your Savior.”

“What would have happened had I decided not to accept the need for transition?”

“I’m afraid you would have ended up in that other line.” He nodded slowly.

“Thank you for saving me from that. But. . .I’d like to believe that’s so, but. . ..”

“Didn’t God say, ‘Love they neighbor as thyself’?”

“Most religions have a version of that as their cornerstone.”

“Uh huh. And if you look at that simple sentence you understand that part of it is loving thyself. Love thyself and do unto others in a similar fashion. But first . . . love thyself. You were very unhappy with yourself and needed to make a decision to fix that. At that moment, when you decided to accept you nature, you made God very happy, and he wanted you to join him.”

It all makes such good sense.

“You’re Michael, aren’t you?” He’s the archangel.

“Yes. And Gabi is known here as Gabriel.”

“She’s the only female archangel.”

“She’s the only one mentioned in the Bible, but there are quite a few. There are changeable archangels, too. Heaven is a very natural place.”

“Why spend so much time on me?” I asked. “I’m not anyone special. And, you’re . . . Michael.”

“Everyone is offered whatever Grace is needed,” he stated. “You only got your fair share.”

“Why didn’t you stop the murderer before he killed his brother’s wife? You should have helped him before he did so much wrong.”

“That’s the prime directive. We don’t mess with free will. He will spend some time with psychiatrists and social workers. Then eventually he will come here and go to college, for a period of time. One day you’ll see him and his eyes will be much different.”

Something’s wrong. “Why do I still have this ache in my heart longing for a relationship with Sheriff Ashley?”

“Because you still love her.”

“Is that even possible? I’m here and on to new and different things . . . and she’s . . . on Earth.”

“Don’t worry. I told you that heaven is a natural place. Love is natural.”

“Will I ever see her? Will she love me, as much as I love her?”

“You’re meant for each other,” he said with an earnest smile. “She’ll be here tomorrow?”

“Do you mean “tomorrow” in heaven time, which means she’ll be here after she dies which will be about fifty more years in Earth time?”

He shook his head. “Ashley arrived at the parking lot seconds after you and I died. The man who murdered you was hiding in the shadows while she checked you and me for non-existent signs of life. Ashley wept bitterly, while she called an ambulance. Then she noticed a mustard-colored jeep pulling out of the restaurant going as fast as it could. She followed in a high-speed chase, which ended when the Jeep spun out of control. She walked up to the Jeep expecting to find a dead man, but he was alive enough to shoot her with a pistol. He’ll recover, but she’s on life-support and will be here in ten more hours ‘Earth time’.”

“I’m not sure how I should feel. Ashley was shot, but I feel excited about seeing her.”

“However you feel is natural and how you should feel. There are no more tests for you.”

“If you and Gabriel hadn’t come to me through Grace, Inc. what would have happened to me?”

“Everything that happened to you was your destiny. Had you denied yourself your destiny, it would be just like as if you turned down the opportunity presented to you. You would have come to these lines with chaos in your eyes. You would have been in the other line. All else would have been the same.”

I nodded. “Are . . . are my mother and father here?”

“They are.”

I didn’t feel any remorse or guilt, only curiosity. “What will they think of . . . me?”

“They’ve been waiting for you for a long time . . . just the way you are.”

“I feel so happy.”

“Isn’t that what we promised you?” He looked slightly upset that I had ever doubted him. Then he grinned, naturally.

The End



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