You Could Go Home Again, part 15 of 16

Katie had told me some about her family during our dates, and I pieced together more from what people said during the weekend. Katie’s dad had stayed male for the first five years after the Divergence, and he and Katie’s mom had married Gus a year or so afterward, who’d been his best friend, and changed into a woman right after the Divergence. Then five years ago, Katie’s dad became female as well, and rather than break up the family, they decided they’d all stay together and find another man, and if they took too long to find one, maybe one of them would turn male. They married Katie’s stepdad Iris a little over a year later, and things had been stable since then except for a couple of the children changing sex when starting a new grade.

You Could Go Home Again

part 15 of 16

by Trismegistus Shandy

This story is in my "Valentine Divergence" setting, like my earlier stories "Butterflies are the Gentlest", A House Divided, and "Nora and the Nomads". I've tried to write it as a stand-alone, but if you find it confusing, reading those earlier stories first, or at least "Butterflies are the Gentlest", might help.

Thanks to Unicornzvi, epain, and Scott Jamison for their comments on the first draft.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. So are my last several stories posted here, although I forgot to put the CC license notice in some of them.

After that I felt less stressed about hanging out with Katie, though I still didn’t feel ready to start dating again, and tried to invite other people along when Katie suggested doing something together. We went out to dinner with Radhika, Paul and George the following Friday, and talked a little about The House on the Corner, though not much. George had listened to the whole series, and Radhika and Paul hadn’t heard it at all, so we couldn’t go into plot details; it was mostly just us recommending it to Radhika and Paul, and them replying with recommendations of their own. George came over to my dorm Saturday afternoon and listened to episodes three through five with us, though he’d heard them a couple of times before.

After George left, I offered to walk Katie back to her dorm again, though it wasn’t as late as it had been last time. For the first few minutes we speculated about where The House on the Corner was going. Then, when we got to a little garden spot with benches about halfway between central campus and her dorm, she sat down on a bench and I gratefully joined her. My hip wasn’t bothering me as much these days as it had during puberty, but a rest halfway through a long walk was always welcome. The sun was setting, and I figured it would be full dark by the time I got back to Carroll Hall.

Then Katie put her hand on mine, and I tensed up a little. I wasn’t ready for this — or was I? Katie and I had been hanging out for three weeks, and it had been more than six weeks since I broke up with Larry and Bill...

“Do you want to just keep hanging out and being friends,” she said, “or are you just not sure how to be with a girl as a boy?”

“Um, can it be both? For now, anyway? I mean —” I stopped, flustered. After a few moments' thought I said: “Did you go to the symposium back in February, the one on North Carolina neospecies?”

She stared at me, the tips of her ears bent in thought. “That’s a way to change the subject. Yeah, I went to part of it.”

“Particularly Dr. Wilson’s talk about Raleigh rabbits, and how some of us have a lot stronger tendency to change sex than others?”

“No, I missed that one.”

“Well, basically, some Raleigh rabbits have a genetic predisposition to change sex really easily, whenever there’s a slight imbalance in the pheromones they’re exposed to, and some are really resistant and won’t change unless there’s a big imbalance and it stays imbalanced for a while. And some are in between. Anyway, since I went through puberty so fast, and changed sex so soon afterward, I figure I’m probably in the first category — I’ll probably change sex pretty often compared to most people. So... what if we start dating, and then I change again next semester or the semester after that? It’s almost certain to happen sooner or later.”

She was quiet a moment, and said: “I might change too. This last summer was the second time I’d changed sex, not counting the Divergence and puberty; I developed as a girl and then changed into a boy junior year of high school. But just because something can’t last forever doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile.”

“If you’re sure...” I squeezed her hand back. “Then let’s do something without George around next Friday, okay?”

She smiled. “Yes, let’s do exactly that.”

I’d usually seen Katie wearing jeans and T-shirts — sometimes boy-cut jeans with a loose crotch. “Waste not, want not,” she said; none of the clothes she’d worn back when she was a girl the first time fit her anymore, and she didn’t want to buy a whole new wardrobe at once. But on our first real date, she wore a new skirt and blouse.

“You look really nice,” I said when I met her in the lobby of her dorm.

“Thanks. You’re looking sharp, too.”

Neither of us had a car, so we took a city bus to an Indian restaurant Katie recommended that was right near a bus stop. We held hands as we walked from the bus stop to the restaurant and again after we sat down in the waiting area. We’d eaten lunch or supper together several times in one of the dining halls during the last week — sometimes Katie would come over to the dining hall near Carroll Hall, and sometimes I’d go to the one near her dorm, but usually she visited mine because I walked so much slower.

A waitress came and seated us at a booth a few minutes later. I propped my cane in the corner of the booth and studied the menu.

“The tandoori chicken is pretty tasty,” Katie said.

“I expect I’ll try it, then.” But I studied the rest of the menu before I made up my mind. I was nervous about how this was supposed to go, and trying to remember how Larry had acted toward me during our first couple of dates. I didn’t have a senior girlfriend to act as go-between and ask what the junior girlfriend wanted, and I didn’t have a car door to open for Katie, and I wasn’t sure if she’d like that sort of thing anyway. Anyway Katie was more experienced at this from both ends; I wasn’t sure how many dates she’d been on as a girl between, I’d guess, ages thirteen and sixteen, but probably more than I’d been on in the seven months I was with Larry and Bill.

Why not just ask her?

“So,” I said, “I’ve never been on a date as the guy before. And not that many as a girl, and I’m not sure how typical they were — how typical Larry and Bill are. How do you want to do this?”

“We can talk about whatever while we eat,” she said. “And we can kiss after dinner. And then we can cuddle while we listen to the next couple of episodes of The House on the Corner. How’s that?”

“Sounds good,” I said, though I wasn’t sure what all she included under the heading of “cuddling.” Did she want me to touch her breasts, or just put an arm around her shoulders, or what? I decided I’d ask later, when we were alone, not here in the restaurant. “So, I’ve got to take History 201 next semester. Which professor did you have for it...?”

When I’d paid for dinner, and we got up from the table, I put my arm on her shoulder and tugged gently. She leaned over toward me and we kissed. It was good; not as exciting as the first time I’d kissed Larry, but good. We kissed a couple of times more, sitting on the bench at the bus stop, and again on the bus.

Then we were back at my dorm room, and I put on episode six of The House on the Corner to play. Katie took off her shoes and laid down on my bed, squeezing close to the wall to give me room. I took off my shoes and laid down next to her.

“What do you want me to do?” I asked in a low voice as the opening credits music played.

“Just hold me,” she said, and I put my arm around her shoulders.

We talked for a while between episodes six and seven, speculating about where the show was going, whether the family in the house on the corner were aliens, or people from a parallel world where the Divergence happened differently, or what. Katie thought they were nonhumans native to Earth who predated the Divergence — elves or fairies or something, who thought it was safe to come out of hiding now that humanity had diversified so. I was leaning toward the aliens theory, but I admitted that the evidence supported her view nearly as well.

After episode seven, I walked with her back to her dorm, and we kissed again goodnight.

Somehow, once I was dating Katie for real, I found myself more at ease with Larry and Bill, and could relax and be friends with them. Sometimes they ate supper with me and Katie at the dining hall near Carroll Hall. I didn’t see Rob or Sarah as often as I used to; I didn’t share any classes with them that semester, and I think Rob was a little reluctant to spend too much time with me now that I was male, or Rico might be jealous. I still saw George, Radhika and Paul fairly often, and did stuff with them when I wasn’t doing boyfriend-girlfriend stuff with Katie.

Katie and I went on some kind of date almost every week for the remainder of the semester, except when we were studying for finals and working hard on our term papers. Even then she helped me out with studying for the classes she’d already taken. Radhika invited me to spend Thanksgiving with her family again, and I said I’d let her know in a couple of days, but right after that Katie said she’d gotten permission from her parents for me to spend Thanksgiving with them.

By then we’d moved on from holding hands and kissing to touching in more intimate places, though we still hadn’t had sex. I think Katie might have been ready, but I wasn’t. On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, Katie’s stepdad pulled up in front of Carroll Hall, having already picked up Katie and her suitcase and bags of laundry, and I got in his car. He asked me about myself, and I told him about my family and my history, and how I’d almost made up my mind about my major and expected to declare by the beginning of next semester, and so forth.

It didn’t take us too long to get to the Cartwrights' house in Auburn. After grilling me about myself for a few minutes, Katie’s stepdad started asking her how she’d been doing since her last visit home, which I gathered was more than a month ago. Apparently she hadn’t told them she was dating me until she asked them if I could spend Thanksgiving with them, saying that my family lived too far to travel, etc.

The Cartwrights‘ house wasn’t much bigger than the Eames’ house, but it had a lot more people in it; besides Katie’s stepdad, mom, dad, and stepmom, there were more kids than I could keep track of at first. It wasn’t until supper that they were all sitting still at once and I could count them: two high school girls, one boy in middle school, and two asexuals, one about six and one about three.

Katie had told me some about her family during our dates, and I pieced together more from what people said during the weekend. Katie’s dad had stayed male for the first five years after the Divergence, and he and Katie’s mom had married Gus a year or so afterward, who’d been his best friend, and changed into a woman right after the Divergence. Then five years ago, Katie’s dad became female as well, and rather than break up the family, they decided they’d all stay together and find another man, and if they took too long to find one, maybe one of them would turn male. They married Katie’s stepdad Iris a little over a year later, and things had been stable since then except for a couple of the children changing sex when starting a new grade.

I shared a room with Katie’s little brother Alice; there was a second bed in the room, which apparently belonged to his brother when one of his older siblings was male. At the moment both of them were female. Katie had a room to herself, but her various parents kept an eye out and made sure I didn’t go near it.

I got to know Alice a little better than Katie’s other siblings, sharing a room with him; he was thirteen, and had a big shelf full of dolls or action figures representing most of the three hundred and seventy-one neospecies found east of the Mississippi. “I’ll have all of them in another year,” he said, “and then I’ll start in on the western neospecies.”

“What about Mississippi mudcats?” I asked. “Do they count as eastern or western?”

“Both,” he said, “but I’ve already got them, look here,” and he pointed to one of the four-inch figures on a lower shelf. I bent down and looked, not wanting to pick it up — I wasn’t sure if it was a toy or a collectible. It wore a little swimsuit, which I was pretty sure most real Mississippi mudcats didn’t bother with when swimming. Its skin was a little darker than Lindsey’s. Most Mississippi mudcats have skin darker than they had before the Divergence, but some of those who were African-American before got a little lighter.

He asked me bluntly why I used a cane, and I told him about the car accident my parents died in, and how the doctors hadn’t been able to fix my broken leg and hip quite right. Then he asked me about the neospecies that lived in Nebraska, and I told him something about Lincoln bison and Omaha sheepdogs, and a little about North Platte dreamers.

About then, one of his female parents — it took me a while to get them straight — called us to supper.

At supper, I met the rest of the family who hadn’t been there when we arrived, and was introduced to them, though it took me a couple of days to get everyone’s names straight. Katie’s dad had just gotten back from a last-minute grocery run, and she and Katie’s mom and stepmom wanted to hear all about me. Katie and I told them how we met, and how we started dating, and so forth, and I told them how I’d lived in Hebron most of the time since the Divergence, but kind of glossed over the fact that I hadn’t gone through puberty until I went off to college. Water under the bridge, and I’d had enough weird reactions to that news already, back when I couldn’t avoid some explanation for why I was so undersized and young-looking.

“So you’re the only rabbit in your family?” Katie’s dad said. “That’s too bad. All my brothers are different species, but we’re fortunate that Kathy and I and the kids were all in the same change-region on Valentine’s day, even if Kathy was out running errands at the moment and Katie was visiting a friend. I was frantic, hearing about all the accidents on the news, and not able to get through to them because the network was so clogged.”

“I did get in an accident,” her mom said, “but it wasn’t too bad; I and another car behind me were already slowing down at a stop light, and he ran into me while I ran into the car that had already stopped at the light. None of us were too badly hurt, but we were so confused...! And then we waited a long time for the cops before we realized they had worse problems to deal with, and decided to just exchange insurance information and go home. But it took a while because of all the wrecks blocking the roads.”

So that led to everyone telling about where they were and what they were doing when it happened, at least everyone who was old enough to remember; and Katie’s dad filled in for Alice, who’d been with him at the time. “She was really scared,” she said, “and she didn’t seem to recognize me at first, until I spoke. My voice hadn’t changed... She was already using the potty on her own by then, we’d gotten her out of diapers just a few months earlier, and so it was a while before we realized she’d become asexual — we didn’t think to look until we heard on the news about all the other kids.” Alice’s ears were twitching, and I felt bad for him; Aunt Ellen and Uncle Tyler didn’t tell embarrassing stories about me as a child as often as Carl or Ron’s parents, but I’d been on the receiving end often enough to know what it was like.

“I was too embarrassed to tell y’all anything,” Katie’s sister Tom said. “You were so worried about Mom, and everything was so weird I didn’t want to bother you with this other weird thing.”

“When I saw I was asexual I thought it was another thing that got messed up in the accident,” I said. “I got a concussion and couldn’t remember the transformation or the wreck, but I knew I must have been in an accident because the last thing I remember we’re in the car, and the next, I’m waking up in a hospital with my leg in traction.”

At this point Katie’s stepmom Gus asked if we could talk about something more appetizing, and we changed the subject. It wasn’t until later that Katie told me what she’d been doing at the time of the Divergence: she’d been across the street at a friend’s house, sitting in her friend’s bedroom talking and listening to music. They freaked out when they transformed, like most people did, but were safe enough, unlike her friend’s mom, who was carrying a basket of clean laundry up the stairs when she transformed, and fell backwards down the stairs — fortunately she’d just started climbing the stairs, and had only two or three steps to fall, or she might have been killed. As it was she suffered a concussion and several broken bones, and was in the hospital for months. Katie’s dad had come over to get her when she hadn’t come home right afterward, bringing her little brother and sister with him since he couldn’t leave them alone, and found Katie and her friend standing by her friend’s unconscious mom, trying to dial 911 and getting busy signals. It took them over an hour to get through.

Thanksgiving morning, Katie’s parents had some work for us to do, but not in the kitchen. It was too crowded with four adults working at once. They asked Katie to watch her little siblings while they were busy. “You know Tom and Grant have to watch the little ones all the time; and you haven’t seen them in too long,” her dad said.

“Sure,” Katie said, and she and I took the little kids, Usagi and Jenny, up to their bedroom and played with them until it was time for dinner. Both of them were Katie’s half-siblings; Usagi’s dad was Katie’s dad, and her mom was Gus, while Jenny’s mom was Katie’s dad, and her dad was Katie’s stepdad Iris.

Usagi and Jenny pulled all of their toys out of the toybox one by one and showed them to me and explained them. There were a lot of toys that looked like old-style humans, hand-me-downs that their older siblings had acquired before the Divergence, and a lot of non-human toys — dinosaurs, prehistoric megafauna and robots, mostly. There were only a few Raleigh rabbit dolls.

“This is Dejah Thoris,” Usagi explained, holding up a naked doll that looked like an old-style human woman except for the bright red skin.

“What neospecies is she?” I asked.

“She’s a Martian princess,” Usagi said, and Katie laughed.

“When Alice was about four or five,” she said, “I read A Princess of Mars to her at bedtime. And we took one of the old Barbie dolls I’d bequeathed her and painted it with red nail polish to be Dejah Thoris.”

After dinner, most of us piled into two cars and drove to Knightdale High School, where the soccer team from South Garner High was visiting. Little Jenny was sleepy and needed a nap, and their mommy, Katie’s dad, stayed home with them.

Katie’s stepsister Grant (Gus’s child by her first marriage) was on the SGHS team. They did well, but the Knightdale team was doing a little better and it looked like they were going to win, until a couple of Grant’s teammates scored goals near the end and pulled ahead.

I remembered that Knightdale was where Sarah, Rob and Bill’s families lived, and I looked around the bleachers during lulls in the action on the field, to see if I could spot any of them. I finally saw Rob, and waved to her, but I don’t think she saw me. After the game I found her, though, and we talked for a few minutes before we had to leave. She told me that Sarah was spending the afternoon with Rico’s family, but her family wanted her at home today; she’d go over to Rico’s tomorrow.

In the evening, we watched a couple of movies. I sat squeezed in between Katie and Alice on one of the sofas, holding Katie’s hand, with her leaning against me and our ears brushing from time to time. It was almost as good as a date.

If you've enjoyed this and the other free stories I've posted here, you may also enjoy these novels and short fiction collection -- available from Smashwords in ePub format and from Amazon in Kindle format. Smashwords pays its authors higher royalties than Amazon.

The Bailiff and the Mermaid Smashwords Amazon
Wine Can't be Pressed into Grapes Smashwords Amazon
When Wasps Make Honey Smashwords Amazon
A Notional Treason Smashwords Amazon
The Weight of Silence and Other Stories Smashwords Amazon

If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
34 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 4003 words long.