Bridges

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Dedication:
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to real world persons or events is unintentional. However, one of my long-time online friends recently received successful gender surgery, and knowing of her upcoming experience gave me a beginning idea for this story.

So, this story is dedicated to my friend Jane.

Wishing you all the best!

[Prologue]

The woman sat near the corner table in the hospital surgery waiting room. She ignored the news show running on the wall TV, although she was glad at least it wasn’t Fox. Instead she read a book on her iPad Mini. It was an old favorite, but its protagonist was about to undergo the same surgery as her friend in one of the operating rooms. She had hoped it would reassure her or divert her, but she found even that fictional description too distressing. So, she closed the iPad, slipped it into her bag on the table, and moved the crocheted shawl over her shoulders up around her head to provide a little padding. Then she leaned back against the wall, closed her eyes and remembered.

Actually, she had met her friend twice, although it took a while to realize that.

[Two years before]

The walk signal at the corner turned on and the man trotted across the street and waved as he passed a car waiting to make a right turn behind him. Then he continued running as he approached a bridge over the arroyo. He slowed to a walk, but he stretched his pace a little to catch up with a younger man he recognized walking a little bit ahead of him. There were many regulars he occasionally encountered on the 5k course around the Academy, but the encounters were usually just a smile and a wave. And they were often going the opposite direction. So, he matched pace, pulled down one of his earbuds, and said what he hoped was a cheerful “good morning!”

“Good morning” the other man replied and continued walking for a couple minutes. They shared a few comments about the weather. Then he said “time to pick it up. Have a nice day!” and switched to a slow run.

“I like to do intervals too” the first man said and picked up his pace. They ran together for a couple minutes, then dropped back to a walk. For the next mile they exchanged a few comments about their exercise habits and their jobs. Then they turned and headed uphill and the conversation stalled. At the top though, they recovered their breaths and resumed their chat as they skirted the edge of a gated community across the street.

“You set a good pace!” the first man said. “It encourages me to keep going.”

“You do pretty good yourself,” the younger said. “I’m Jose.”

“I’m James. This is where I try to pick it up a bit. Might as well take advantage of the down slope!” and he grinned a bit. “And maybe there’ll be some cheerleaders waiting when we turn the corner!”

“Fat chance of that!”

“You never know. There were some waiting a couple months ago, but that was an organized event.” And they continued their jogging.

At the bottom of the hill they paused to wait for the crossing signal.

“This was fun. Shall we do it again?” James asked.

“Good idea. How about tomorrow morning?”

“Sure. How about 7:30?” And it was set. After that, they met and jogged together once or twice a week for several months. After a couple weeks they swapped phone numbers and email addresses to coordinate. Occasionally they would have a quick breakfast at the McDonald’s across the street or meet somewhere else later when they were cleaned up. And so it continued, for a while…

The second time they met took a while to realize.

When he returned to his house, James went into the garage and got a pair of work gloves and some tools. He started working on the front yard, pulling a few weeds, trimming the unruly branches of the elm shrub in the corner, checking on the flower box. ‘One of these days I should think about a real landscaping,’ he thought. But then he went inside and cleaned up.

He took a thorough shower, shampooing what remained of his hair, using his favorite vanilla-scented moisturizing body wash. Then he got some shaving cream and a razor from a little bag hanging in the shower and started on his body. He carefully shaved his underarms, the front of his body and his legs. Then he rinsed off, dried with a towel and applied moisturizer everywhere he could reach. He carefully shaved his face and used an old pair of barber shears to trim stray hairs from his nose, ears and eyebrows. Setting them aside, he took a tight blue gaff from the top drawer, pulled it up and tucked himself away. As he did this, the woman began to emerge.

Morgan, as she called herself, put on a slightly larger pair of light blue nylon panties and a matching bra with a little bit of padding. Then she reached into the second drawer and pulled out a pair of breast forms which she inserted. She took an auburn wig down from its holder on top of the chest of drawers, shook it out and placed it over her head. She looked towards the mirror, adjusted it a little and some of the tension inside began to relax. Then she pulled on a short skirt, stepped into a pair of ballerina flats, and returned to the mirror.

She combed out her hair, clipped the sides in place, and applied a little makeup. Some concealer for the dark patches under her eyes, a little eyeliner and mascara, a couple touches of gloss and a rosy lipstick were enough for today, she thought. Then she took out a sleeveless top and pulled it on and walked to the dresser to pick out a small pair of clip-on studs. She added a fine silver chain around her neck and then walked out to the kitchen table and sat down to plan her day.

She boiled some water and brewed up some black tea, then set it aside to cool. She made a tuna sandwich for lunch with a little cole slaw on the side. When the tea had cooled, she stirred in a can of peach nectar with some honey for extra sweetness, then transferred it to a pitcher. She poured some into a glass with ice and put the pitcher in the refrigerator.

Then she went to her computer and worked for a while, reviewing email, discarding most of it but noted a couple recipes and crochet patterns to try. She reviewed several things her friends had shared online, smiled and commented on a few, and shared one article of interest that had popped up on her news feed. Then she got up, took her iPad and went to the bedroom to kick back and read for a while. Eventually she napped.

When she woke, she did a few chores and got out a frozen fish filet to cook with some rice and a light salad for supper. She felt lazy, but it wasn’t as much fun cooking for just herself. After cleaning up, she went back to the computer and looked for the local transgender chat site. It was Saturday night and more people showed up to chat this night. It was the highlight of each week and yet it was difficult. Each week seemed to drift through a sort of grey funk, not really bad, but not really good either. When the man’s wife had died, he mourned for a while, then sort of coped, then decided to accept grief counselling. That had led to a recognition that he was somewhat depressed, which led to discussing his awkward feelings that sometimes (a lot) he felt more like a woman, and she needed to express herself. They had talked about letting her attend group meetings or even go on short outings, but she had never felt up to it. But the chat sessions seemed to let her be a bit more real. And she missed them when something interrupted.

The evening chat started with typical news.

“Did you read about the lady who had her surgery at age 60?”
“Yes, that’s amazing! It’s a wonder what they can do now.”

“I saw that one school in Oklahoma shut down for two days because some kid’s mother got in a huff when she learned about a transgender girl using the restroom on the first day!”
“Word must travel fast in a small town like that!”
“At least the administration and teachers are supporting her!”
“unlike our president!”
“That twat! I told you he didn’t mean it when he made that campaign promise.”
“yes, but things are looking up. Vermont may have a transgender governor next year.”
“I know but she is already getting death threats. Some people just can’t stand change.”

“I hope they learn to face up to it. They can’t just go back to the middle ages.”
“Do you think Alexandra can win in Massachusetts? It would be amazing to have one of us in the House!”
“Add a couple Muslim ladies and that would really put Donald’s pants in a twist!”

Then things drifted over to more personal matters. One girl, Carolina, thought she would be able to join some of them for their monthly dinner outing.
“You should join us too, Morgan! “
“Yes, please!” said Lisa. “It’s very low key and the servers are nice.”
“We do it on Thursday night. The men will be in the bar watching football and we can just relax and enjoy ourselves.”
“If you don’t drink too many $5 margaritas!”
“You know that was only once !!!!”
“Please Morgan. I know it’s a big step, but you’ve talked about wanting to do more and this is an easy way to do it.”
Morgan replied that she would definitely think about it.

Then the chat shifted to lighter subjects, a nail salon visit, shopping end of season sales, a sewing project.

One by one, they signed off and ended their evenings.

The next morning James met Jose and they did their circuit together. They talked about local news: another crazy shooting in the southeast heights; sports: the Dodgers had looked great earlier in the year but were losing out to the Cardinals who were on fire at the moment. Whether the local college would continue their soccer team. They planned to meet up for a cancer run fundraiser at the college football stadium. And of course, the weather. The mornings were finally getting a little cooler as the monsoon rains kept up, but it made the days very sticky.

They shared coffee and McMuffins and departed.

James showered, dressed, and made a run to the farmers market. He got some tomatoes to make salsa, blueberries and oats for his breakfasts, a couple sausages and a salmon filet from the butcher counter and some peaches just because they were on sale.

He put them away, then read and napped for a bit. When he awoke, he changed again and Morgan emerged. It was another relaxed day, unlike weekdays when James waited tables at a small local restaurant. She spread some potting soil along the back wall and planted seeds for pansies and forget-me-not’s. She cleaned up and cooked and canned a small batch of salsa. Then she took another shower and gave herself a thorough shave. She played with makeup colors, trying to figure out what she liked with a purple scarf.

But mostly she wondered if she would actually go to the dinner on Thursday. She could avoid it again. But somehow it seemed as if she really ought to try. So, she resolved to give herself a shopping outing and take the big step. First, she went back and forth trying to decide which of her newest scarves she should wear. Morgan liked purple, but she wasn’t sure she liked it with her favorite auburn wig. Perhaps she should wear the short black wig? But she really thought she should stick with the longer hair for a first impression. So, she decided on the red scarf. It seemed to bring out some of the highlights in her wig too.

On Monday after work, James went to Kohl’s to shop. He poked around in the men’s section and found a sweater he liked. Then he diverted to the sale racks in the back of the women’s section. He had gotten casual about this after several years. There weren’t all that many customers at this time of day. And the clerks were happy to just cash him out. He poked around, sifting through dresses till he eventually found three he thought Morgan would like. Then he slipped into the changing room and she tried them on. One just didn’t quite fit, but she went back and forth on the other two. She finally settled on a black and white patterned dress with short sleeves.

On Tuesday, he found a BOGO sale at a discount shoe store and tried some choices in a back aisle. He found a pair of ballet flats that seemed a better fit than her old ones and some medium heel pumps in black patent leather.

Wednesday was another shopping day at the farmers market. But he lingered at a rack of hats, checking out a couple but deciding to skip them.

On Thursday, James headed out for his usual walk/run and was glad to see Jose crossing on the other side of the intersection. They chatted about how their weeks were going and prospects for the upcoming football season. The Cowboys seemed set to go and rested their offensive starters for a game while the Chiefs were still struggling with their defense. Jose told about a software project that was nearing completion. He was coding the GUI objects for an application that used AI to integrate infrared imaging with radio and cell signals to better describe activity at a scanned location and even identify some of the people. The Air Force Laboratory people managing the research were getting eager to see the results. Then they set out on the trail.

The late August weather was turning cooler, but it was a bit muggy. And there were the usual fall events coming up. Jose suggested checking out a new Italian restaurant near the interstate that was supposed to be quite good. James suggested Friday, but Jose had plans so they settled on Saturday. Neither mentioned plans for that night.

After they separated, James showered and changed and left for work. He was retired and didn’t really need the money. But he enjoyed meeting people and helping make their day just a little better. And it was good to have some extra money to spend!

When he returned home, he showered again to wash off the food smells. He patted dry, applied the moisturizer and Morgan took over. She started by working on her nails. She trimmed and filed them, taking care to shape them into rounded ovals. Then she applied the red nail polish selected to match the scarf. She let a first coat dry while she watched a mystery show on Netflix. She paused it to apply a second coat and watched the rest of the show. It was still a bit early, so she made herself lie down, do a meditation exercise and relax. After about 10 minutes, she got up, went to the mirror and began. After at least a couple retries, she was satisfied. Then she carefully slipped on the new dress and shoes, added a necklace and some clip earrings, picked up a purse and went to the door. And she paused.

In the waiting room, the woman set her stuff aside and stood up. There was no news yet, but she walked over to the desk and asked anyway. Then she went down the hall, took a drink of water and used the restroom. Returning to her place, she sat down and remembered. It had taken so much effort just to get to that point and she had no idea what was ahead of her. The same was true of her friend in the OR.

She sat down and thought, remembering how she gathered her nerve.

Morgan opened the door, stepped out and locked it and walked quickly to her car. She fastened the seat belt, started the car, checked herself in the mirror, looked around and carefully backed the car out of the driveway. Then she drove to the restaurant and found a parking place.

When she walked inside, she asked for the Cholla group. That was what Lisa had called their little dinner get togethers. She said they were prickly but succulent and sometimes they would actually blossom! The greeter directed her to a large table in one corner, where she saw 4 or 5 ladies seated. When she got close, the greeter waved to the table, “here is the Cholla group, what would you like to drink?”
“Ice tea, thanks.” She said and then looked at a blonde lady who looked to be in her late 20’s and seemed to be the lookout. “I’m Morgan, is Lisa here?”
“Yes! I’m Lisa,” the blonde replied. “We’re so glad you could join us.” Then she made introductions. “This is Dorothy, Stefanie, Amari, and Carolina.” She said and they each turned to face her. They each welcomed her but when Carolina turned towards her, they both stared at each other for moment and laughed.
“Fancy meeting you here!” Morgan said as Carolina exclaimed “we have to stop meeting like this!” For some reason it just felt right for Morgan to lean over and hug Carolina. Carolina hugged her back and they both laughed.

Lisa asked, “do you two know each other? I thought you had never been on an outing before?”

And Carolina replied, “sort of but not entirely it seems! We’ve been having some drab get togethers for a while. But I’m sure this will be much more fun!”

Then the tea arrived, Morgan took a drink and explained how they met and went running together but neither had realized their shared secret. The ice was broken, she forgot her fears and joined in the general conversation about stuff. The food was good, but she hardly noticed as she just enjoyed the evening. When it was time to leave, she and Carolina spoke for a moment. “This was fun. Shall we do it again, just the two of us?”
“Sounds like a great idea. Do you like Italian?” Morgan asked. “How about Saturday?” and she chuckled as Carolina replied, “but of course!”

“Arrivaderci!” Morgan called, and they departed the restaurant. As she sat down in her car, Morgan realized she felt more relaxed than she had in a very long while.

And thus their friendship began. The next few months were a whirlwind as they helped each other come out of their shell and discover a new self. There were shared bonding experiences. Getting their ears pierced together. Makeup lessons at a mall store. The pain of body waxing. A salon makeover.

Sundays became little girl day as they watched classic girl movies, tried to learn how to sew doll clothes and gave each other crazy makeovers. Giving each other nicknames. Morgan became Morg and Caroline became just ‘Lina.

James had a long discussion with his therapist and decided it was time for Morgan to go full time and start her real-life test. And then she had to do the nervous explanations. Her parents were deceased, but her son and daughter proved to be easy and supportive. They even tried to talk Morgan into joining them for a drag show in the downtown club district one Saturday.

James explained the situation to the owners at the restaurant. It was a new situation for them, but they sometimes watched the Kardashians on the TV when business was slow in the afternoons. It helped that they knew he was reliable and good with the customers. They decided that Morgan would start waiting tables the following Monday.

And mostly it went well. Her previous regular customers were a bit surprised but happy to have the same great food. And Morgan put extra effort into serving them. A couple of them wanted to chat at length about Caitlynn Jenner and Orange is the New Black and favorite places to go shopping. But one customer was upset about getting green chile instead of red and yelled, “If you can’t even figure out who you are, I’m not surprised you can’t get my order right either!” and stomped out of the restaurant. But most customers hardly noticed, and life went on.

After a couple months, Carolina also made the jump to full time as well. Appearance didn’t matter as much for her programming work. But she had to visit the organization offices on base for progress meetings and presentations. So, she had to jump through a lot of hoops to get state and base contractor ID’s corrected. And there was one old school colonel in an adjoining office who always glared at her and muttered when she walked by. Fortunately, the contract was already established, that officer wasn’t directly involved anyway, and her state had a strong law protecting LGBT’s against discrimination. So ‘Lina’s life eventually settled down as well.

They had great fun shopping for Halloween costumes and Lina greeted trick-or-treaters as Captain Marvel with Morg beside her as Black Widow.

When basketball season kicked off, they bought matching “Strength in Numbers” T-shirts and enjoyed weekly outings at a local sports bar to cheer on the Dubs. There was always a bet on whether Lina’s favorite, Steph, or Morg’s favorite, Klay, would get more splashes. And they had fun squealing at each successful shot and occasionally flirting with some of the bar-goers. All seemed well and good, but that was where the big change started.

Lina’s software program was delivered to the Air Force and she was tasked with training the drone operators and airborne command staff on how to use the program, access various levels of information, and avoid a lot of common mistakes. Training week was very busy with a lot of time spent in long days on base. Because of this, Lina decided to meet Morg at a location closer to the base for the Thursday night basketball game. They were enjoying some Asian barbecued wings and nervously watching the Dubs work to catch up with the Lakers when the waitress brought over two more of their drinks.

“The gentlemen at the next table appreciate your enthusiasm for the game and hope you enjoy the drinks!” she said.
“Tell them thanks,” Lina replied and glanced at the table and froze for a moment. One of the two men smiling at them had been in her class just that afternoon. Then she smiled and nodded to him and the men both smiled back. Lina took a sip of her apple margarita and then turned to watch the game.

“What’s up with the men?” Morg asked. “Although he is good looking!”
“He was in my class just this afternoon. What are we going to do?”
“Enjoy the game and we’ll see. Was he a good student?”
“I think so. He was watching the screen, not just my hemline. And he had one good question about the program.”
“Go, Klay!” Morg screamed and their attention returned to the game.

At the end of the quarter, their two admirers approached the table. The student introduced them, “I’m Gary and this is my friend Harold. It’s good to see you’re interested in goals besides identifying terrorists. May we join you?” Lina and Morg exchanged eye gestures, then Lina accepted.

“We’ve both been Spurs fans since we went through training at Lackland. But I have to admit the Warriors are amazing.” Gary said, and the conversation took off from there. At least it did for Gary and Lina. Morg and Harold exchanged some talk about their jobs, favorite dining places, and current NBA players and then focused mainly on the game. But Gary and Lina were focused mainly on each other.

Midway through the 4th quarter, the Klay and Steph hit back to back 3 pointers and the Warriors were on a run to take a 12 point lead which held up for the win. Morg and Lina thanked Harold and Gary as they left. Morg went home with a dozen wings that Lina was too busy to eat, and Lina went home with Gary’s phone number. A couple days later, she accepted an invitation for a date.

The first date was a success, so Lina decided she needed to explain her status on the next date. And the week leading up to that was nervous for both Lina and Morg. Lina was hot and cold on her decision to tell, her therapist explained that there was no absolute best way to do it, and Morg wondered if she would run out of ways to calm Lina down and yet encourage and support her. But somehow when Friday night arrived, Lina was ready and Gary, it seemed, was ready as well. He had thought there might be something special about her but couldn’t help liking her a lot. And he explained that one of his fellow drone operators at his last assignment had been a TG in transition and she regularly aced her qualification tests. But mostly he just wanted to get to know Lina.

And she got to know a lot about him over the next several months. And Morg just saw Lina on their morning runs and an occasional Sunday.

So the months went by and Morgan became more comfortable and relaxed as a woman, even though she couldn’t see herself as complete. And she was considered too old for the surgery.

But Carolina was younger. And after a very successful year in real life, she was approved. And she asked both Gary and Morgan to be there for her.

But life, or the world, intervened. There was another outbreak of violence in the Middle East. And Gary’s unit was deployed to help fight it. And now Morgan sat by herself in the waiting room, thinking of what had been, and what was happening now with both her friends, and what might soon happen.

It had been a long wait, and she dozed.

James had been worried about his wife for a while. She hadn’t been in particularly good health since a stroke a few years before, but she seemed to be having more trouble than usual just walking around. So, when she started running out of breath just walking down the hall, he took her to the local urgent care. They gave an exam, diagnosed a heart attack and sent her by ambulance to the hospital. After some more tests, the cardiologist confirmed that she needed bypass surgery. But there was a problem. She had a fungal infection on her skin that needed to be cleared up before they could take out the veins for the bypass.

A dermatologist prescribed an antifungal cream and three times each day James rubbed it over her skin. After a couple days the dark spots lightened and receded. But on the fourth day when he was applying the cream, she gave a jerk and went limp. He felt for a pulse, couldn’t find it, called 911 and started CPR. About 10 minutes later the ambulance arrived with the emergency techs. They took over and hauled the couple to the hospital in the ambulance.

And there James sat in the waiting room. And wondered what the doctors were doing to try to revive his wife. And wondered if it would work? And how would she be? He waited and his mind drifted.

The view below showed the surgical team at work. The doctor’s back blocked a clear view of the body. The assistants were using some equipment while a monitor on the table beeped and signals flowed across the screen. It was hard to see but she knew one was the pulse of life. The beeps were steady but occasionally one seemed to skip. She strained to see better, but her point of view was fixed for some reason.

The doctor made some adjustment and leaned over the body. Then an alarm went off. The beeps stopped. The squiggly line on the monitor went flat. The doctor called a command to the assistants and they placed a couple pads on the chest. The body shook and rose, but there was no signal. They applied the shock again. But still no signal. No beeps.

“No!!! No!!! Please no!!!” the woman cried out.

Someone was shaking her shoulder. “Wake up, Ma’am. Are you all right? Were you having a bad dream?”

What was happening? The woman opened her eyes and looked around. There was no view of the operating room. She was in the waiting room as before.
“I don’t know.” Morgan said. “How is Carolina? Is her surgery over? I think I had a dream. I’m afraid something might have happened to her.”

The receptionist gave her a glass of water and said “please drink this. I’ll check right away.” And she walked back to the counter.

Morgan watched her nervously and her heart seemed to pound. She was still upset. Was it just a dream? Or had she seen something?

“Thank you. That’s very good news. I’ll tell her.” The receptionist said and gave Morgan a big smile and a thumbs up signal. Morgan relaxed but her body felt cold now. She pulled her shawl up over her shoulders and waited.

A few minutes later a man in a colorful scrub uniform came into the waiting room and called her name. “Please come with me, Morgan. Your friend is doing very well, and they’ve taken her to a recovery room. I’ll take you there and you can wait with her.”

They walked down the hall and around a couple turns and into a large room with a bed behind some curtains. Her friend was lying on it, still asleep from the anesthesia.

Morgan walked over and carefully gripped Lina’s hand. She held it and relaxed. They had finished this stage. Soon it would be time for life to take a new course.



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