"Oh my God! I'm so wet! Give it to me right now!"
My smirk seemed permanently etched on my face from the condition I had Tori in. Her petite thin frame, drenched from head to toe. Her light brown eyes narrowing as I held what she wanted just beyond her grasp, made me laugh. I knew I could be a complete jerk sometimes but it was fun. "Awe come on, how bad do you want it?"
She wrapped her tiny hands around my upper arms and wailed, "You know I don't have long before I need to be at work so let me have it."
While wrenching away from her grip, I laughed even harder. "If you want it so bad, you have to say please. I want to hear you beg like a good little girl."
The shrieking noise coming from the kitchen caused both of us to jump and turn in that direction. "What in God's name is going on in here?"
We quickly separated when Tori's girlfriend Missy stormed in the room carrying a frying pan. She pushed her dark blonde hair away from her attractive face as her expression became amused after her brown eyes rested on us. "Oh, it's just you two. I didn't know what she was up to out here." She waved the implement above her athletic five foot seven frame, "And I was gonna whoop some butt. What're you two going on about and Tori why are you wet?"
"My stupid brother won't give me my umbrella," Tori whined. "It looked like it was about to rain and I thought it was in the car. I went to get it before the storm hit but as soon as I stepped outside the heavens opened up." She shoved my shoulder to emphasize her anger, "Jerkwad here had the nerve to block the door while waving it at me."
Missy turned toward me with a stern look that had no effect because of the amusement in her eyes, "Give her the umbrella so she can get going. I swear, you live to torment her."
As she tried to reach past me to get the object we were fighting over, I pulled my sister into a hug. "I love ya sis, you know that. If I didn't pick at ya, you'd swear I was mad. Besides if they have a wet shirt contest at work you're a shoe-in to win."
She wiped the rain off her grimacing face with the bottom of my oversized dark blue tee shirt as she put her head on my chest, "Yeah smart butt, I guess you're right about that but now I have to go change."
"You don't have to change sis." I replied with a light laugh. "I love ya just like you are."
She returned my embrace. "I love you too even if you are a pain in the ass." Her look became troubled as she realized her hands could clasp behind my back. "Good God Harley! How much weight have you lost? I haven't been able to wrap my arms around like this since you were little."
Not wanting to talk about it, I pulled away and turned to the woman I considered my sister-in-law. "I have a match tonight so I won't be able to cook."
Missy smiled knowingly, "I figured as much but it's okay. I'm off tonight."
I lifted my eyebrows at Tori knowingly. My sister nodded, giving me permission, before I placed an arm around Missy, "No offense, but you're off every night."
"Love ya honey. He said it, not me." Tori said before she kissed her partner's cheek and took off for their bedroom at a full run knowing a punch would soon follow for both of us if she didn't.
"You two are weird." Missy said as she watched Tori disappear behind the closing door.
"That's why you love us." I replied. "Normal people are boring."
"It's okay smart ass. You can laugh now but just wait." Missy said as I walked with her to the kitchen. "Do you have any idea how close we are to winning the bet?"
Taking a seat at the small white dining table, I sighed thinking of the silly agreement I made with the civic club I was the membership director of. "Nope and don't tell me. Ignorance is bliss."
Missy laughed as she returned the skillet to the stove, "I have to admit that I never thought we would have a chance."
"I still can't believe you and Tori set me up like that." I replied bitterly while watching her wipe down the dark green Formica counters Dad installed years ago.
At only twenty-three, I was the youngest membership director in the long and storied history of our local chapter of the Young Citizen Club, a civic club for people aged twenty-one to forty. The YC's, as they liked to be called, had fallen on hard times recently. With so many young people leaving our small town to find jobs, the pool of potential members had dwindled substantially.
It was an ambush at the last meeting that forced me to agree to the bet set forth by my sister and her girlfriend. If the club signed up twenty new members by the deadline three days away, I would wear a costume of their choosing. I felt backed into a corner by everyone else eagerly egging me on. The fact my refusal would have cast me in a bad light ensured I couldn't refuse and they knew it.
"We didn't set you up little brother," Tori said as she walked back into the kitchen while smoothing out the pink silk button up top she had to wear for her job as the manager of a lingerie shop in the local mall. "We simply presented an idea that everyone else seemed to like. I hope we win. It will be like old times. I bet you'll be as cute as when you were little, especially since you've lost so much weight."
"I've gained some of it back!" I replied defensively. Granted it was not coming back in the same places it was before but at least I wasn't the stick figure I was when I initially lost so much.
My eyes widened as the other part of her comment finally reached my brain. I shot an embarrassed glance at Missy before looking back at my sister. "You promised to never tell anyone about that. That was a long time ago and you could talk me into anything back then."
Tori laughed. "Calm down Harley. I didn't tell just anyone. I told Missy."
Missy walked over and placed a reassuring hand on my shoulder. "I'd never tell another soul. You can trust me."
"I know that but still, it's not cool that she told in the first place." I replied.
"I already have the cutest princess costume picked out for when we win." Tori teased as she pirouetted around me.
My previous good mood was quickly replaced by a slight fear. "What do you mean when? Is it that close? There's no way!"
Tori rolled her large brown eyes. "We are only two away and I have a couple of friends in reserve that will join if asked. They don't live here full time but are around often enough to count. Face it baby brother, you're going to lose."
Missy laughed as she stretched her toned arm across my shoulders. "I think you are going to make a pretty woman. What is the feminine version of Harley anyway? Oh that's right, it's still Harley."
Tori's singsong voice joined in her girlfriend's tormenting of me. "It could be Harlot. I already have a few frilly pink things set aside at work. Plus, one of the friends I have in reserve used to be a makeup artist in Hollywood. There's no doubt she'll be happy to help." She reached up to pat me on the head in a condescending manner. "Don't worry princess, we will take care of you."
My body started to shake with rage as her words sunk in. "You sound like Dad. You can be such a fucking bitch sometimes."
I stormed back to my bedroom where I retrieved a joint before rushing outside to find a peaceful place to think.
"That was not the reaction I expected. Are you sure this is a good idea?" Missy said after Harley stormed out of the kitchen.
Tori frowned as she walked over to hug her girlfriend. "I don't know anymore. I pushed it by using Daddy's words. Daddy could be so mean to him sometimes." A tear started to fall down her cheek. "Who am I kidding? Daddy was almost always mean to him. I'm hoping he's just in one of his moods. Harley's usually game for anything and can take a joke better than anyone I know. He might like to dish it out but he can take it too. "
Missy pushed a few stray brown hairs away from her girlfriend's face before leaning down to kiss her gently on the lips. "If you say so. He's your brother so you know him better than anyone."
The couple silently watched as Harley angrily marched through the room with a hand rolled cigarette cupped in his hand discretely.
"No I don't. Nobody knows him anymore. He knows me but I haven't known him for a long time. If he has any down time lately, he stays drunk or high." Tori said after Harley slammed the back door of the house she inherited after their father passed away. "It's getting worse. It's not even nine a.m. and he's already starting. I'm really worried. He's lost a ton of weight. When I hugged him it was like hugging a skeleton. I don't know if he's still suffering the effects from the accident or what. Something is going on and I need to find out what it is so I can help. He's all the family I have."
Thankfully it was just a spot shower. Ignoring the wet ground, I slumped down underneath the old tree in the far corner of the large back yard of the house my father kept after he and mom divorced.
"Mr. O? Are you around?" I yelled out optimistically, even though I knew it was way too early. I looked in the limbs hoping to see the small owl that usually greeted me when I would come home at night. Sadly he was nowhere to be seen.
I lit the joint after seeing no sign of my wildlife therapist. Without Mr. O to keep my mind occupied, it flooded with many unwanted memories from when I was young.
Growing up I was never the most masculine child. Our mother used to say that someone had switched the minds of Tori and I. She often chided my sister for being a tomboy and me for being such a sis… That word haunts me so much I still can't say it.
We have always been polar opposites. I have long bright red hair, pale skin and grey eyes whereas my sister has short brown hair, easily tanned skin and light brown eyes. I was always taller than the other kids my age but very skinny. Tori was always short at five foot three and I wouldn't say she was fat but she was definitely chunky.
My sister worked hard to lose her weight where I worked hard to gain it. For a time we were both successful. Tori has maintained her weight loss, but after being struck by lightning the day after my twenty-first birthday, I have lost all the weight I gained and then some. Somehow I have also lost some of my height, dropping from almost six foot three to barely five foot ten.
I reached out to play with a shadow that had formed after the clouds lifted and allowed the sun to fill the sky. Holding onto shadows like they had a physical presence was a trick my sister and I always have been able to do. This particular one I lifted from under a sapling that was starting to grow nearby.
As I waved the shadow around like it was a switch similar to what my mother and stepfather used to whip me with. I remembered how her second husband claimed he saw evil in me as soon as we met. It became worse after the day he walked in while Tori and I were playing dress-up. From that moment on, he tried everything he could think of to toughen me up and I never wanted anywhere near feminine clothing since.
He forced me to play every organized sport available and watched every practice. If one of the coaches told me to work on a particular area, he would push me past the point of exhaustion to make sure I improved.
One time a coach said I needed to get better at pushups so my stepfather made me strip down to my underwear and do them in the living room. Each time I did not do it to his satisfaction he would lash out with a switch across my bare skin.
Another time the coach complained that I flinched when the baseball came too close while I was batting so my stepfather made me stand outside while he threw balls at my body. Each time I showed any emotion, he added ten minutes to the time he spent doing it.
He also made me attend his crazy church every time the doors opened. I was enrolled in awful spiritual based therapy sessions that seemed more about teaching hate than love. My stepfather's church advocated "beating the evil out of me" whenever I acted in a way that did not suit their teachings.
It's sad to say that those were some of the nicer things Bennie did to me during my formative years.
My stepfather was an evil man who did not reserve his malevolence for me alone. Many nights were spent awake in bed listening to him abuse my mother and just as many mornings were spent with her blaming me for it over breakfast.
Even though I was a well mannered, straight A student whom the teachers raved about, it was never good enough. It also didn't matter that I always did whatever chores were asked of me without complaint. My mother never hesitated to let me know that my stepfather's actions toward her were a direct result of how I behaved.
My weekends with my father were not much better. He usually sat in his recliner while ordering me to do all the house and yard work he had neglected to do during the week while letting Tori do whatever she wanted. Dad's tongue was razor sharp and he would use it to cut through me anytime I didn't do something to his satisfaction… which was most of the time.
I was princess when I was not strong enough to do whatever he ordered and he threatened to dig out the frilly pink panties whenever I started to get upset about anything he said to me.
The only thing that kept me going was one of Tori's friends. He used to offer words of encouragement and taught me some moves to help defend myself from bullies. He was a small guy with the same bright red hair I was cursed with. His kind support was still providing me hope and I loved him for that.
It's sad that I could love someone and not even recall his name.
"Do you want to talk?"
I jumped slightly and looked up to see Tori standing above me with a look of pity in her eyes.
"Nope. Don't you have to be at work?"
She nodded and took the silhouette from my hand before returning it to the sapling, "I do but I can be late if you need me."
I stood and thumped the ember off what was left of my joint before starting toward the house. "I'm good. I'm supposed to be at Randy's house in an hour to help him move. Have fun at work."
Tori placed her hand on my shoulder to stop me. Her voice was gentle and laced with concern. "Don't try lying to me Harley Dakota Smith! You are as far from good as anyone I have ever known. Talk to me."
I pulled away without breaking stride. "There's nothing to talk about. It just bothers me when you use Dad's insults. I'll see you in the morning."
I couldn't burden her with my issues. She'd been through enough and was finally at a good place in her life. If I told her what was happening with me she would worry herself sick. The pain in her eyes when I paused to look back before walking inside filled me with regret. I had to stop over reacting to everything. It was my worst character flaw and probably the reason nobody really liked me.
I attempted to smile after walking back out to embrace her. "I love you."
After closing the door, I thought about how that even though I was seven years younger than my sister, we took turns protecting each other. She used to take me places so I could escape Bennie's wrath and I figured out early on that when I acted the way Bennie wanted, his attention shifted to Tori so I tried my best to keep him angry with me.
She was finally able to escape from our version of hell after my efforts to protect her failed and Mom found out Bennie made inappropriate gestures toward her. The day Mom discovered what he tried to do, she let Tori move in with our father and immediately made sure she received the therapy she needed.
Without my sister at home, a nightmarish existence turned into pure misery. Mom's job moved her to the nightshift which left me alone with the Devil most of the time since his job as the pastor of that crazy church allowed him to be around the house more than I would have liked.
Not long after I turned thirteen, Mom kicked me out of her home because I started showing signs of independence. It wasn't fair, between the ages of four and thirteen, my stepfather spent every available moment teaching me to start acting like a man and as soon as I did, I had to go.
By that time, the damage had been done. Bennie accomplished his mission because I hated everything about myself. I hated the feminine feelings I fought to suppress with every fiber of my being and I could not stand the man I was trying to become. In an effort to hide from my feelings and prove myself worthy, I did everything I could to be liked and not be a burden to anyone.
Daddy didn't want me but thankfully Granny took me in, even though she couldn't really afford the extra mouth she had to feed. To keep from being a burden on her, I started doing odd jobs for neighbors and eventually was able to get a paper route. No job was too big or too small. I was thankful for anything I received. I discovered at her funeral that she only agreed when she found out that the state would pay her to take care of me.
It was not until high school that I was finally able to reinvent myself. No longer was I the little sis… uhg. No longer was I the little helpless nerd that everyone loved to torment. I started keeping my grades high enough to keep Granny off my back but low enough to keep me out of the honors classes. Nobody ever expected me to amount to anything so Granny was ecstatic with the grades I showed her.
Life became much easier when everyone stopped taking turns trying to knock me out when the teachers weren't looking. Sadly, the four people who succeeded still reminded me of their accomplishment whenever they saw me.
Thanks to a growth spurt between eighth and ninth grade, I was well over six foot tall. Also due to the time spent working out in my makeshift gym in Granny's old shed, I was rather well built the first time I walked through the doors of the high school.
I ditched the short, side part hair style I had my entire life and started to allow my bright red hair to grow out just to show Mom and Bennie they didn't control me anymore. By the time all was said and done, it turned out I was not a bad looking guy.
Even after all my work to change, memories of my childhood as well as the feelings that I was in the wrong body were still overwhelming at times. I learned to stifle my memories by staying busy. In addition to my class work, I became active in a few school groups and worked two jobs. On the rare occasions that forbidden feelings still got through, I would take care of them with the help of alcohol or pot.
I learned to mask my pain with humor and quickly became a master of self-deprecation. People found it difficult to tease me about something after I already made a joke of it myself. My planned worked beyond my wildest dreams.
Looking far older than my fourteen years, I attracted the interest of a few senior girls. Much to Tori's dismay, I was regular at a few of the same parties she attended. I thought she was going to lose her mind the first time she walked in to find her little brother with a beer in one hand and a cigarette in the other with a girl in his lap.
I wanted to reconnect then but she was in the midst of a full on self-destructive cycle. After a rather explosive argument that night, we came to an agreement. She would not tell people how I used to act if I didn't tell anyone we were related.
I chuckled at the thought of being surprised by my sister trying to humiliate me with the bet. She went through a phase where she refused to acknowledge we shared any of the same DNA. We also lost touch for a few years after she officially came out and everyone disowned her. I attempted many times to reach out to her but she rebuked my overtures until Dad's funeral where I was the only family to offer her any support.
She asked me to move in after Granny died. Mom and her brothers sold my grandmother's house as soon as she passed so I had nowhere else to go. I jumped at her offer because I always loved my sister and wanted her to feel the same about me. It had been my hope that by living together we could become a real family… Maybe that was just wishful thinking.
Was I really such a bad person that even someone I loved more than anything wanted me to suffer?
I laughed that I would even question that. The obvious answer was yes.
I pulled up in front of my boss's large two story yellow sided home and started removing the bed cover from my cherry red, extended cab, lifted, four wheel drive Chevy. The bad thing about owning a truck was that whenever friends needing help moving I was the first person they called.
"Ow! What the hell?" I yelled out to no one in particular as it felt like a bumblebee flew down my shirt and stung me on the left side of my chest. As I rubbed the sting, a car carrier next door caught my attention. On it was a fully customized purple VW bug convertible and an old fully restored silver VW. I wasn't sure of the make but it was really cool looking.
"What is wrong with you?" Randy asked as he stepped off his large wraparound porch wearing jeans and an old tee.
"Something stung me. No big deal."
It was odd not seeing my boss in his usual suit and tie. "Thanks for helping out," he said as he tried to flex his muscles. "You ready for a workout?"
Randy Harris wasn't a small man, standing almost six foot tall but he wasn't exactly big. I'd say he was average build if I were being generous. He was a good man who gave me my job at the paper five years ago. He had a habit of letting off color remarks slip from time to time whenever not many people were around, but I never gave it much thought. That was just Randy being Randy.
"Are you?" I laughed. "I guess we need to hurry up. Looks like the new owners are waiting to move in."
"Those aren't for here." He didn't try to hide the disgust in his voice as he continued. "We haven't sold the house yet but we wanted to get out. The neighborhood isn't what it used to be."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "You only have a couple of neighbors."
He tilted his head toward the cars. "Let's just say some of them aren't the type I want my daughters around."
I nodded even though I had no clue what he was trying to imply. "What kind is that silver car?"
"The silver one is a Karman Ghia. I think those belong to Mrs. Davenport's granddaughter since she already has one like it in her garage. She's gone with her to California to help pack everything up. Cali's moving in with her. The sweet old lady is so excited about it but I don't know why."
My brows rose in recognition. I only knew of one Cali and if it was who I thought then his desire to move made sense. "Cali Dawson?"
Randy nodded. "Yeah, she's a weird one. Fine as hell, but weird."
"Oh I know," I quickly agreed with his assessment. "She's a little bitch."
A gorgeous tall brunette started walking from the house to greet the truck driver. My heart jumped in my throat the second I saw her. She was beyond any woman I had ever seen before. Her tight black tank and tight shorts showed off the most amazingly tanned body I'd ever seen. She was scratching an itch on her breast which from my angle looked like she was fondling herself.
My tongue was probably dragging the ground as I asked Randy, "Who is that?"
My boss laughed. "Down boy, she's married."
"Just my luck," I replied. "Still, maybe I should go over and introduce myself."
His voice took on an edge of revulsion. "Trust me; you'd be wasting your time. You definitely are not her type. It's such a fucking waste."
"No woman in her right mind would ever want a little sissy like you." My stepfather's voice echoed in my mind.
I looked down at my overly thin body and nodded. There was no way a woman like that could be interested in me. "You're right. Let's get started." I glanced back in her direction one more time and was met by a pair of mesmerizing lavender eyes. The look on her face was one of confusion. Not surprising since most people gave me that look these days. She smiled and politely waved when she realized I caught her looking. I waved back before turning away and walking toward Randy's house.
The rest of the day I kept trying to catch a peek of the woman who was dominating my thoughts every time we were outside. Luckily, more than once she was in the yard looking back at me.
Curiosity was killing me. I wanted to know who the statuesque beauty was. Once the trucks were loaded, I started across the yard to introduce myself but Randy stopped me. "Let it go man. She's not worth your time."
I shrugged him off and started across the street again until I saw her backing out of the garage in a seemingly brand new blue convertible sports car. With a sigh, I climbed in my truck to wait for Randy so I could follow him.
The gorgeous woman cast one last glance in my direction before waving and pulling away quickly. I could not help but think my future was driving off without me.
"What's this I hear about a bet?" Hulking Henry said to me immediately after I walked in the dingy dressing room of the old building used to host the local wrestling matches.
Startled that a big time wrestler had heard about something so embarrassing, I cringed slightly before looking at the tall, muscle-bound bearded man. "I don't know what you're talking about."
I had the upmost respect for Henry. He was one of the toughest and shrewdest men I had ever known. Not long after meeting him, I discovered that if he liked you, he was also one of the most kind. I think it was because he was an old friend of Tori's that he took me under his wing. Even though he was only ten years older that myself, in many ways he was a father figure. I learned more about life from Henry than I had from my own father before he died.
His booming laughter filled the large room as he slapped me on the back. "Kid you are going to have to learn to lie better than that if you hope to survive in this business."
I rotated my shoulders hoping they were still in their sockets. Henry was one of the strongest men I'd ever known. Sometimes I questioned if he realized how strong he really was. "Fine. If the club signs up twenty members by Monday's meeting then I have to dress as a woman for the costume party." I recognized the look on Henry's face. He had another one of his gimmick matches in mind. "Why? What are you planning?"
He waved Chris, the other manager, over before reaching for something out of his gym bag. "I want you two to manage a loser wears a dress match."
I groaned as I watched him retrieve a hideous floral dress from his bag. If my childhood taught me anything, it was that losers wore dresses. This was something I wanted no part of but at the same time I knew that if I wanted to work tonight I had to go along with it. Henry, as the man who did the booking, had the final say.
Chris, an older guy not much smaller than myself with thinning dark brown hair, who had far more experience and a greater say in his angles, shrugged like it was no big deal. "It doesn't matter to me since Hayseed is going to be the one wearing it."
"Why does my guy have to lose?" I asked defensively even though I knew that the fans did not want to see the baby face, or good guy, do anything embarrassing. As the heel, or bad guy, the fans hated me as well as anyone I managed. They lived for the moments anything bad or embarrassing happened to me.
Ignoring my question, Henry looked at me and laughed. "I want you put up a fight. Tell Chris that you aren't going to put it on voluntarily. Make his guys force you to wear it."
"Hold on." I said in a slight panic. "I never said I agreed to do this."
"After you are in the dress make sure you run around the ring a time or two so everyone in the crowd can get a good look at you." Henry continued as if I had not said anything.
Resigned to my fate, I sat on the edge of the old tattered brown couch that was probably salvaged from the side of a road somewhere. "Yeah, fight it with every fiber of my being. I can do that." I replied with an eye roll.
"I knew you could." Henry said before he went on to tell us how he wanted us to communicate the finishes for the match to the guys we were going to manage.
After he made sure we knew what we needed to know, I reached in the front pocket of the baggy overalls I wore as part of my costume to retrieve my cigarettes. "I'll be back in a few." I quickly made my way out the side door for a smoke and to gather my thoughts.
Another way I tried proving myself was by being a pro wrestling manager. Two or three nights a week I could forget about being Harley Smith, loser. Instead I was Hayseed, a comical cross between a hipster and a country bumpkin.
Being Hayseed was a lot of fun and allowed me an outlet for my anger as well as my smart ass mouth. Henry told me I had the skills to make it as a wrestler but I did not have the weight. Although I had lost some height, at five foot ten, I was still tall enough. The problem was, at only one hundred twenty pounds I was entirely too thin to be convincing.
I used to fit my frame much better but after that damned lightning strike, my body had gone through some weird changes. I tried everything to regain the eighty pounds I lost, even going on a strong regimen of steroids. Sadly, all they had done so far was make me much stronger than I appeared and prone to bouts of rage.
It was eventually decided I would become a manager because I had a way of using my mouth to get under the fans skin and my skills in the ring made whoever I worked with look better than they were.
I had no problem making a fool of myself but having to wear a dress in front of a group of people who already hated me was asking too much. I wanted to put up more of a fight when I was asked to do it but I knew if I protested too much they would have wondered why.
A woman walking down the sidewalk caught my eye causing me to momentarily forget my troubles. It was her. The woman I saw at Randy's. Damn, tight jeans and heels did things to her butt that should be illegal. If I had trouble getting her out of my mind before, it would be impossible now.
Normally I would walk up to her with confidence and start a conversation. The two large men accompanying her as well as the little red haired girl would not have caused a second hesitation. If it was anyone else, I would wait for an opportune time, when she was alone, to make my move but there was no doubt whatsoever that the perfection I saw deserved better than someone like me.
She turned in my direction looking as if something caught her eye. I remained glued to the side of the building, admiring her beauty from the shadows. As was the case with anytime I stood in a shadow wanting to hide, I was unnoticed.
With a resigned sigh, I flipped my smoke into the old coffee can after she walked out of view before sulking back in to get my night over with.
"I heard what we get to do to you tonight. I can't wait to see you looking like a sis..." Bruiser said as I walked through the locker room.
My anger spiked and I spun around quickly to glare down at him. "Watch your mouth asshole."
Bruiser used to be called Donnie when we went to school together. He was one of my biggest tormentors in middle school. His ego was never small but it had grown even larger after he became a fan favorite.
He outweighed me by thirty pounds but I was a couple of inches taller. He still had it in his mind that I was the same weakling he knew from school so he showed no fear while taunting me. "Or what? What are you going to do?"
Knowing that a fight in the back would get me fired, I turned back in the direction I was going. "You don't want to find out." I walked away with the sounds of him and his friends laughing.
Henry rolled his eyes at the group as I passed him. "Don't let the jerk get to you."
"I'm trying." I replied bitterly.
He slapped his large hand on my shoulder. "Bruiser comes from a long line of assholes and ever since his cousin got sent off he has been trying to claim his throne as the chief."
My eyes narrowed as I looked at the group again. "Maybe I could get Cali Dawson to loan me her tire iron if she didn't hate me so much. I'd love to see him get Chunked."
Henry laughed loudly as he obviously remembered how Bruiser's cousin Chunk was castrated during a fight with my sister's high school girlfriend. "That's an idea. Maybe Tori can give her a call to find out the next time she'll be in town." His expression turned serious, "I recognize the look you are wearing kid. Don't do anything stupid in front of the crowd. You have to remember that we are just acting out there and the fans are paying their hard earned money to see our performance. Don't take your personal issues to the ring."
I nodded as I turned to walk away. "Thanks, I'll try to remember that."
Normally I could swallow my feelings but my anger had reached a critical level. I knew Henry was right and I needed to calm down. Usually when I got like this I would fire up a joint, but I knew better than to walk by Bruiser again. Instead I silently fumed while waiting for the match to start.
"Who pissed in your Cheerios dude?" My friend Roger asked as he sat down next to me.
I became immersed in the wrestling world as the result of a joke I made with him at work. Roger used to be one of the paper carriers and always talked about how he was going to be a wrestler one day. I always teased him about it in a friendly manner and lightheartedly told him that the day he started training I would too. Never being one to go against my word, the day he started training, so did I.
He shoved my shoulder. "Don't bullshit me. I don't think I've ever seen you this mad. Your eyes are crazy, almost scary. They are turning almost black, and if I didn't know better I would swear your hair is about to catch fire."
I heard the bell ring indicating the end of the match and straightened my tie before I started to stand while retrieving a pair of taped up black rimmed glasses from the front pocket of my oversized overalls. "It doesn't matter. Let's get this over with so I can go get drunk."
I put on my houndstooth fedora, grabbed my wooden cane and didn't even wait for the announcer to call Roger's or my name before shoving him out toward the crowd.
It had been announced earlier that the losing manager would have to wear a dress so the crowd was taking delight in telling me how much they looked forward to Roger losing.
All the insults hurled in my direction fueled the flame of my rage. Normally I laughed them off and responded with a tame comeback that would rile them up without being offensive. This was a small town and I had to see these people on a regular basis outside of the ring. It was usually amusing how the same people who were hurling insults tonight would be the first to shake my hand tomorrow.
The crowd seemed to be taking extra enjoyment in what they knew would end up happening to me. It could have been my imagination but it felt like every word said to me was accompanied with a small blade that nicked away at my armor. The comments I made in return were far more precise and the edges had been sharpened to perfection.
"You skinny four-eyed little bitch. I already thought you were girl so I figured you'd want to wear a dress." A woman said as I walked to the corner of the ring.
I looked for the source and saw a woman so large her butt spread across two metal folding chairs. "Hell bitch it takes four eyes to see all of you!"
"You can't talk to my wife like that you fucking fairy." Her extremely skinny husband said as he leapt to his wife's defense.
I laughed as he took a tumble across the floor while trying to make his way to the railing and held up my hands defensively. "Quick! Can somebody buy him a Snickers? I know his blood sugar is low." I pointed to his wife. "She takes all his food."
The two red haired men who helped the husband from the floor were laughing so hard they dropped him and he fell again. I recognized them immediately; they were well known hell raisers around town and good friends with Henry.
I pointed my cane at the Dawson brothers and adopted my best British accent. "Five points each from Gryffindor for being insufferable klutzes. Show more care next time Weaseleys."
They started laughing even harder as a young guy who was obviously trying to impress his girlfriend suddenly leaned over the boundary. "I usually don't hit girls but I might make an exception for you."
I looked at the attractive blonde under his arm and winked before facing him again. "Wow, I can tell who got all the good looks in your family. Dude your sister is hot. Since you're not hitting that, mind if I give her go?"
Security stepped in as he started to climb the rail between the crowd and me. "I'll kick your faggot ass!"
I backed away quickly with a puzzled expression. "You'll lick my what?" I then turned back toward his girlfriend prepared to make a lewd comment when the tall brunette I noticed outside caught my eye.
Her golden skin almost glowed and her lavender eyes grabbed my soul as she stared at me with the same desire I'm sure she saw from my expression.
Roger pulled me back right before the young guy's fist almost made contact with my face. "Snap out of it dude."
After being pulled back to reality, I jerked away from his firm grip and stomped to the announcer's table to grab the mike. "I know all of you ignorant rednecks are hoping to see me embarrassed tonight but I have to tell all of you something. Even if, by some miracle, my man loses, which he won't, it will never equal the shame each of you experience every single day from just being you."
I dramatically looked over the increasingly hostile crowd. "My God, does anybody here actually look in a mirror before you leave your trailers? Have some self-respect people. Combs and toothbrushes are not that expensive and relatively easy to use."
"What the hell is wrong with you? Are you trying to cause a riot?" Roger said as he leaned into my side so nobody else could hear. "I'd like to be able to walk out of here tonight without someone trying to kill me."
Ignoring my friend I started speaking again. "While I'm on the subject, soap and deodorant are wonderful innovations for civilized society. For goodness sake people, it IS Saturday after all. I would think ya'll would have bathed today. My nose hairs are starting to burn from the stench coming off this crowd."
"Fuck man." Roger said worriedly. "They're going to be waiting next to your truck with baseball bats."
I turned and pushed him toward the ring. "Don't worry about me, just get this over with."
I angrily stalked the floor outside the ring while the match progressed. The taunting I received from Bruiser as well as from the crowd built my anxiety, which in turn fueled my rage.
After Roger lost the match, I put up the required fight. A few wrestlers came from the back to help catch me. The crowd laughed as everyone chased me around the ring before I let them catch me. As they lifted my struggling body off the ground to carry me back to the center of the ring, Bruiser sucker punched me in the ribs.
"What the fuck Bruiser? Not cool man." Henry said as he glared at him. "Relax Hayseed. Let's just get this over with."
I allowed them to slip the dress over my head and the plan had been for them to allow me to escape the ring and run around so everyone could get a good look at me before fleeing to the back. Instead one of the guys came forward with a tube of lipstick in his hand.
As I tried to break away Bruiser punched me again. "You are going to be a good little bitch and let us do whatever we want."
Henry grabbed him by the neck. "I already warned you about that once. There won't be a next time."
"Fuck off Henry the sissy has it coming." Bruiser replied as he tried to push Henry away and moved toward me.
Before Henry could reply, I shrugged off the two guys holding me and cocked my fist back, unloading years of repressed anger as soon as Bruiser was within reach. "I told you not to call me that you son of a bitch!" As he staggered back I seized the opportunity to make him regret ever calling me that name.
Next thing I knew, I was in the dressing room with a lot of the guys standing around me. I could not understand why they had fear in their eyes while telling me to snap out of it. I blinked a few times as my senses started returning. "Snap out of what?"
Henry frowned as he motioned for everyone to back up. "You lost it Harley. Let's step outside so we can talk in private."
I looked down to see I was still in the ugly dress. My eyes searched across the room and as soon as I saw Bruiser, my rage returned.
I moved past Henry in a flash with the intent of finishing what I started. Bruiser grabbed his bag and didn't even get a single step toward the side door before I knocked him to the floor. "Who's the fucking sissy now asshole?"
I reared back to punch him again when Henry grabbed me in an arm bar. "I think he learned his lesson. We are going to talk whether you like it or not. Are you going to come willingly or am I going to have to drag you?"
The moment Henry touched me I felt a surge in my strength. I flipped the extremely large man over my shoulder and started punching Bruiser again. Soon I had five of the biggest guys trying to hold me down. After they could not get me to stop my assault, six more joined in.
I tried to get away but after a moment I knew it was a futile effort. "Fine, I'll go."
"What sorts of demons do you have in you?" Henry asked once we were away from everyone else.
I quickly removed the dress as if it were on fire and would burn me if I kept it on another second. "What in the hell are you talking about?"
Henry shook his head. "Don't play dumb kid. I watched you lose it. I weigh three hundred pounds and you tossed me like I was nothing. Only someone with some serious shit going on has that kind of anger in them."
I searched my mind trying to figure out exactly what I did to make him say that but I was coming up blank. It couldn't have been as bad as he was making it out to be.
"You were just in the right position for me to use your weight against you. You taught me that!" I replied as I balled up the dress and threw it as far as I could. "So I fought Bruiser… why does that make me have a demon? The bastard has been begging for someone to kick his ass for years."
Henry's posture straightened as he shook his head again. "You didn't just fight Bruiser. You beat the crap out him as well as anyone who tried to separate you two. You beat up every guy who tried to interfere. The only reason you didn't get me in the ring is that I recognized the look in your eyes and knew better than to get close until you calmed down. Hell kid, even after you calmed a little you still got me."
I laughed while I pulled my ponytail from where I hid it under my shirt. I knew he was pulling a joke on me. There was no way I could have done what he said. "Yeah right. That's a good one. I need to get going. There's a cold beer waiting on me down at Monday's."
Henry moved to block my way back inside. "I'm not joking Harley. You're the skinniest guy in the building. Can you imagine how it looked to the crowd when you took down everyone? They damned near rioted. The owner of the building is furious." He ran his hands through his hair in frustration. "I'm worried about you kid. I want to help but I can't if you won't let me."
Knowing better than to share my problems with anyone, much less a macho man like Henry, I felt my pockets and realized I had my keys and wallet. Everything left inside wouldn't be missed. "Thanks for your concern but I'm fine. I'm sorry and you don't have to fire me. I quit."
"Don't do that. I never said anything about firing you." I turned toward the back parking lot where my truck was parked when Henry reached out to grab me. "I'm not done talking. I'm trying to help you kid."
I dodged out of his grasp. "Well, I'm done listening. Fuck this shit. I'm doing this for fun but you know what? I didn't have fun tonight." I paused to catch my breath and hold back tears that wanted to escape. "I'm sorry I lost my temper. Thanks for trying but trust me; I'm not worth the effort. You've always been good to me and I've always appreciated it. I'll see you around."
I turned the corner cursing my situation and almost slammed into the gorgeous brunette. Great, now she probably thinks I'm some kind of psycho in addition to seeing me be humiliated.
"Are you okay?" She asked with a beautiful European accent.
I shrugged and sidestepped her while I flushed with embarrassment. "I'm fine thanks. Sorry for almost running into you and ruining everything in there tonight."
She laughed and when she did my problems seemed to melt away. "You did not ruin anything. That was most enjoyable. Your insults to the crowd were quite amusing and rather spot on. When the others attacked, you handled yourself better than anyone would have expected." She paused as a confused expression crossed her perfect face. "Your moves seemed almost otherworldly."
I attempted a shy smile. I did not feel worthy of her attention. She reached up and removed my hat before taking off my glasses and pulling the band holding my ponytail from my hair.
"You have amazing eyes. I have only ever seen that shade of grey once before." The breathtaking beauty said while fluffing my hair so it fell around my face.
Her touch was electric and fired up desires stronger than anything I ever experienced before. It felt like I needed her to breath.
"They pale in comparison to yours." I replied softly as I looked up to realize that with her heels, she was at least six inches taller than myself.
To me, women had been nothing more than a pleasant distraction. I always possessed a take it or leave it frame of mind when it came to attraction. It is hard to explain. I have always adored women but I'd never wanted anything from any woman I'd ever met other than something to distract me from my everyday life.
My feelings were different when it came to the perfect creation standing before me. There was something about her that called to my heart. If there was such a thing as love at first sight, I was experiencing it. Of course I wanted to know her in the physical sense but I desired to know her hopes and dreams more. I wanted to spend the rest of my life making sure her dreams came true.
For the first time I my life I was standing before a woman that made me want to be better than I was… to be the best version of me possible.
"What realm are you from?" She asked as she took my hand in hers. "I have never felt such an attraction before. Not even when under another's spell."
My brows creased as I pondered her confusing question. "I'm from here if that's what you are asking but I feel an attraction too. Someone would have to blind not to be attracted to you."
Her slender fingers wrapped in my hair as she pulled my lips to meet hers. The second her tongue found mine I knew I would never be the same.
"What are you doing?" A surprised little voice said, interrupting our moment. I turned toward the source to see a small red haired girl. "Daddy and Uncle Jeb are ready to go."
My heart sunk as I remembered that Randy told me the beauty before me was married. He apparently failed to mention that she had a daughter.
The woman's eyes never left mine as she replied, "Kaley, tell them I have another way home."
The little girl studied me for a minute before she grinned. "Oh snap! You're Hayseed! You really kicked some ass in there. I'd watch out if I were you though. You insulted my Daddy; nobody talks to him that way and lives to talk about it. Hulking Henry and my Daddy and my uncle are all best friends and the three of them will get ya good."
"Kaley stop being mean." The exotic beauty said while gently running her hand up and down my arm. "You know as well as I do that your father and Jeb thought it was funny."
Fear overwhelmed me as the realization that not only had I insulted the Dawson brothers, but I was caught kissing one of their wives. "Um, I got to go." I said nervously. "It was nice to meet you both."
I ran as fast as I could to my truck before anything else could happen to make a horrible night even worse.
Henry was about to walk back inside. He shook his head thinking about the crowd that always gathered around the back doors trying to get pictures or autographs and how they made a wide berth for one of the nicest people he had ever known.
He laughed as Thomas's little girl and either Cali's wife Dani or her sister Polina walked by him having a heated discussion.
"I cannot believe you told her your father and uncle were mad." The beautiful brunette scolded.
The adorable girl shrugged her shoulders and grinned mischievously. "I thought it was funny. Did you see how fast she ran when I said Henry was my friend? I've never seen anyone move like that."
"What are you up to Little Bit?" Henry said as they reached his side. "Causing trouble as usual?"
Henry stood a little taller and tried to ooze charm in the hopes that it was Polina he was talking to. Dani was a lost cause since she was a lesbian and very married but if the woman was her identical twin sister, he stood a chance. Especially if his nephew had done what Henry asked him to.
The little girl shook her head. "Not me Henry. Aunt Polina just thinks I am."
Polina rolled her eyes. "Would you expect anything less from her? She told Hayseed that you and the guys are gunning for her because she insulted them ringside."
Henry shook his head and lifted Kaley in his arms. "I swear you are every bit the troublemaker your Aunt Cali used to be."
The little girl's green eyes lit up. "Am I really?"
Henry laughed again. "I didn't mean that as a compliment."
Kaley's father Thomas walked up grinning. "Cali can do no wrong in her eyes so any comparison is a compliment. What's she done now?"
Polina told Thomas and Jeb what Kaley had done. Both men laughed before Thomas scolded the little girl about her language but his reprimand lost its effectiveness because everyone except Polina clearly enjoyed what the little girl said.
"Who is he anyway?" Jeb asked. "He has the Dawson fight in him for sure."
"Not to mention the hair." Thomas added knowingly.
Henry nodded. "Yeah, I've thought that a couple of times myself. You should have seen him before he lost so much weight. He used to look just like ya'll. He's Tori Smith's kid brother Harley. He's a good kid and a hard worker. Hayseed's usually as laid back as they come but Bruiser pushed him too hard tonight. They've had bad blood between them since grade school from what I've heard. That boy's temper is as bad as Cali's."
Thomas cut his eyes toward Jeb. "Do you think he's the one?"
"The one what?" Kaley asked her father.
"Don't worry about it baby." Thomas replied.
Jeb laughed. "I wouldn't be surprised. He went through those guys like they were nothing. Hell even I'd think twice before crossing him."
Henry moved closer to Polina. They both turned to each other to speak at the same time. Polina paused. "I apologize. You were about to say something?"
Henry shook his head. "You go first."
Polina smiled. "No, that is not necessary. You were saying?"
Henry looked like a love-struck teenager as he placed his hands in his pockets and kicked at a small rock. "How long are you in town? Maybe we can grab something to eat sometime?"
Polina appeared embarrassed. "Oh. Um. I am not sure yet. It depends on when Dani, Cali and Mrs. Davenport return from California. I am house sitting for them and plan to return home upon their arrival."
Henry nodded knowingly as he reached for a business card with his contact information on it. "Please give me a call when you know." Polina accepted the card before he remembered she was going to say something before he interrupted her. "I didn't give you the chance to say whatever is was you wanted to say. Please go ahead."
Polina shook her head. "I do not think I should. Forget I was going to ask anything."
Henry smiled. "No Ma'am. What were you going to ask?"
Polina released a nervous sigh. "I was wondering what you could tell me about Harley. Where could I find her?"
Thomas made a whistling noise before sounding like a machine gun firing before Jeb joined in. "Oh, shot down in flames."
Henry laughed as he punched both of his friend's shoulders while Polina flushed with embarrassment. He was not surprised that such beautiful woman timidly asked about the scrawny kid. He knew his ego should have taken a hit but he had been amazed for a long time how almost every woman fawned over Hayseed. "Harley is a guy but don't feel bad, most people make that mistake when they first see him. He lives with his sister and her girlfriend over on Dow Drive at their father's old place. I'm sure Jeb or Thomas can tell you where it's at."
The brothers nodded as Henry pointed to a large building directly behind where they stood. "He works at the paper during the week and usually hangs out at the bar O.S.I. Monday's after work. He mentioned that he's headed there now to get his drink on."
Polina smiled and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Thank you."
Thomas explained it was time for him to get Kaley home so everyone said their goodbyes and Henry allowed his thoughts to drift back to the kid he thought so much of.
He always liked Hayseed and tried to help him whenever he could. Sure, he was kind of weird but the weirdness only added to his personality. He was always full of surprises. He had lost probably close to half his weight in the last year or two. As a result, most people were like Polina. They thought he was a girl at first glance. People then assumed he was gay after realizing he was a guy because of his soft voice and strange gait.
Henry laughed to himself as he thought again about Polina's interest. Hayseed always attracted the prettiest women. He had proven many times over he wasn't gay by bedding almost every available woman in town as well as a few of the unavailable ones. Nobody could understand how the girly kid with big eyes was able to talk his way into almost any woman's bed. Henry guessed it was his laid back manner.
Hayseed was not afraid to approach the prettiest woman in the room to start a conversation. He always had the best jokes and funniest comebacks. He also never met a stranger and treated everyone the same. It did not matter if they were the town mayor or the town drunk, the kid treated everyone equally.
The kid was also a hard worker. Henry remembered how he used to work his tail off around town for all the old people. He had been told by others about Hayseed helping out wherever he could and gratefully accepting whatever they wanted to pay, even if it was only lunch.
He had to give Hayseed credit. The kid was fearless and willing to do anything asked of him in the ring with a smile. Henry grinned as he remembered giving him the name Hayseed. The role he played in the ring was someone who appeared to be a sophisticated country bumpkin so his opponents would constantly underestimate him. Harley embraced the idea wholeheartedly and thrived under the persona. Henry could not help but wonder if it was more than an act.
Henry assumed from being friends with his sister that Hayseed had it as rough growing up as she did. It was not until he had a front row seat to his outburst that he had an inkling of how much worse it probably was.
He briefly wondered if there could be an otherworldly cause for Harley's actions but quickly dismissed it since he'd known the kid's family for years. He reached into his back pocket to retrieve his phone before dialing a number. "Hey Tori, this is Henry. Are you busy? We need to talk about Harley…"
Given my mood, I decided hanging out with a group of friends that would spend the entire night reminding me of the bet was a bad idea. Instead I stopped by the liquor store and bought two large bottles of tequila before going home.
Another side effect of my weird changes was that my tolerance for alcohol had increased substantially. I'd have to finish the first bottle before I felt the slightest buzz and finish the second to become properly intoxicated.
I sighed as I saw both Tori's and Missy's cars in the driveway. I hoped they would be out partying since it was Saturday night but after the way my day had gone, I should have known better. I took a deep breath to bury all my feelings before getting out of my truck.
Once again I looked for my owl friend because I really needed to talk but once again he was nowhere to be seen. With a sigh I walked in the back door.
I paused at the door to see my sister and her girlfriend leaning into each other on the black leather sofa. They looked like they should be out somewhere from the way they were dressed. They also had done their hair and makeup for a night on the town, not for a quiet night in. The one thing that worried me was the old stuffed pink bear Tori cradled in her arms.
I prepared for the worst because that stupid bear had always been her comfort when things were at their worst. The poor bear was coming apart at the seams, but anytime I mentioned her getting rid of it you would have thought I asked her to kill a relative.
"At one time you loved the care bear as much as I do!" She would say anytime I mentioned it. I would always laugh because the thing wasn't even a real care bear. It looked like something you would win at a cheap carnival.
"I figured ya'll would be out somewhere." I said as I walked through the living room.
I increased my stride as soon as I saw my sister's face. She had that 'we need to talk' look and all I wanted to do was get drunk and go to sleep.
"We're about to watch a movie. Care to join us?" Missy said as she motioned toward the matching leather chair.
I shook my head. "It's okay. I've been told enough times about how having her little brother around cramps Tori's style. I'm going to turn in early. See ya'll tomorrow."
Tori huffed as she got up from the couch. "That was a long time ago Harley. You know I don't feel that way anymore. Besides, we need to talk."
I exhaled loudly before heading back toward my bedroom. "No we don't. It's been a long day and I'm tired. Goodnight."
Tori launched herself at me and wrapped her arms tightly around my waist. "Henry called a few minutes ago. There are a lot of people who are worried about you. I'm worried about you little brother. Why won't you talk to me?"
I peeled her arms away from me. "Nobody gives a shit about me. How can you even say that? I've had a bad day and I'm not in good mood. Leave me alone so I can go to bed."
She moved to block the door. "No. I'm not letting you go anywhere until you tell me what is going on with you. Are you sick? Is it something else? You can tell me whatever it is. You know I love you unconditionally."
My eyes narrowed as I turned toward the back door before she jumped in front of me again.
Feeling like a caged animal, I lashed out verbally. Years and years of buried hurts came boiling to the surface. "Unconditionally my ass! Who was it that did not want me around? Who let her girlfriend make my life hell when nobody was looking? Who left me alone with our mother? You could have stayed in touch with me. I worshipped the ground you walked on and you left without saying goodbye. The only reason you even admitted we were kin was because Dad died and I was all you had left."
I watched as tears started to form in my sister's eyes before she started yelling. "I'm sorry but I couldn't help moving out. You have no idea what I went through with Bennie. I had to break off all contact. I was screwed up for a long time."
I slammed my fist into my chest as my tears flowed freely. "You could have stayed in contact with me. You left me without saying goodbye! The only person who ever made me feel loved left without saying why. I never did anything but love you completely and just like everyone else, you cast me aside because it was convenient."
I stared at her fiercely and my voice took on a hardened edge. "For the record, I do know what you went through because the sick bastard did the same and worse to me. At least Mom stopped him when she found out it happened to you and got you help. Care to guess what she told me after I told her what he was doing to me? She told me to never tell anyone else and deal with it. She told me if I had acted like boys should then it never would have happened. She told me it was my fault. It got so bad I told Dad but he acted like I was only trying to get attention. He told me to stop lying."
Tori's mouth dropped as she stared at me in disbelief. "I had no idea. Why didn't you tell me? If I had known…"
I cut her off with an incredulous glare. "What would you have done? You would have protected me? You would have saved me? If our own mother wouldn't protect me and my own father didn't believe me, why would anyone else?" Disdain dripped from my voice. "You never protected me from your little girlfriend. Hell you wouldn't even acknowledge we were related until I learned how to act like everyone expected. Don't you dare tell me you would have done something."
I slammed my fist into my chest again as my tears started to flow freely. "I had to save myself. You want to know why Mom won't talk to me? Why I moved in with Granny when I was thirteen? It's because I held a knife to that son of a bitch's dick and told him if he brought it near me again I would cut it off. After he told Mom she would have to choose because he refused to put up with me anymore, she said that I would leave. Mom chose him over me. Dad didn't care enough to protect me or take me in when I had nowhere else to go. You wouldn't have a damn thing to do with me and Granny only took me in for the check she received. Hell I couldn't even stay in her extra bedroom. She made me sleep on her couch. You only started to have anything to do with me because of a lack of options. Nobody… and I mean NOBODY gives a damn about me."
Tori looked like I had slapped her. "How can say that about me? I swear I love you no matter what."
I gripped the door frame tightly to keep my hands from lashing out. "Oh really? Then why are you and Missy trying to embarrass me in front of the entire town? The only thing anybody wants to talk about is how they can't wait to see me in whatever fucking outfit you have picked out."
I fell to my knees before looking up. "Fuck your acting like you give a damn. People don't know what to make of me as it is. You know how hard I fought to get away from all those names I used to be called and yet you're making me go through it all over again. Things have happened to me, I can't let anyone …"
I shut up before I said too much and Tori rushed over and took me in her arms. "I thought it just a joke. I thought we could have fun like when you were little."
I shook my head as I started to get to my feet and away from her. I looked back after I opened the door. "No you didn't. You've always known how I felt and only wanted to embarrass me. I used to trust you but you're just like everyone else."
Missy rushed out when she heard Tori screaming for Harley to stop. She was prepared to break up a fight and angered to see Tori bawling in the middle of the driveway. "Did he hurt you?"
Tori shook her head. "No. I've hurt him."
Missy tried looking for red marks. "Where did he hit you?"
Tori looked at Missy as if she were crazy. "Hit me? Harley would never do that. He thinks I don't love him. I failed him and now I think I lost him."
Missy hugged her tightly. "Why does he think I made his life a living hell? I love him like he's my own brother."
Tori shook her head. "He's talking about Cali. She used to pick on him all the time and I let her."
Missy ran her hands though Tori's hair. "He's just upset. Give him time, he will come around."
"What have I done?" Tori cried as she pulled away and started back to the house. "I have to find him."
Missy followed her inside and grabbed her purse. "Let me drive, you're in no shape to get the behind the wheel."
"Awe, does the little princess need to put on her frilly panties?" My father's booming voice echoed in my mind.
"Quit being a little sissy and man up." My step-father's voice said in my head. "If you act like a girl then you have no reason to cry when you get treated like one."
I frowned as I heard my mother's disapproving voice. "You know nobody likes a cry-baby. You've got to start acting like a boy is supposed to act. It's not that hard."
I pulled over to the side of the road to gather my thoughts. They were right. I needed to man up and start acting like I was taught to act. It wasn't that hard. Like my step-father often told me, only a pussy gets upset when someone calls them a name. A man will bury that shit and never let anyone know how he really feels.
Feeling foolish for melting down, I did a U-turn and headed back home. I never should have vented to Tori like I did. Maybe if I acted like it didn't happen she would not push me.
I laughed at my wishful thinking. I foolishly dropped a bombshell on her. There was no way she would let it go. I had to man up and apologize for saying what I did. I would also honor my bet with dignity. A man never welches. If the club won the bet I would accept my humiliation with a smile and then get on with my life like it never happened.
I was surprised and slightly relieved to see Missy's car gone when I pulled in the driveway. Unfortunately her headlights appeared in the driveway before I could get out of my truck. I sighed and ran to the house before they could speak to me.
Having no more than turned on the TV in my bedroom, I frowned when there was a light knock on my door. "Come in."
Tori timidly poked her head through the doorway. "Can we talk?"
I raised my inner wall as I motioned for her to sit next to me on the bed. "I'm sorry. I shouldn't have lashed out at like that. I had a bad night and took it out on you. That was a bitch move on my part. It won't happen again"
Tori shook her head. "Please don't apologize. I'm sorry for not being there for you like I should have. I've been a terrible sister. I never should have cornered you with that stupid bet."
Feeling guilty about worrying her, I pulled her into a hug. "You've always been the sister I deserved. The bet is fine. If you win I won't put up a fight."
She pulled back just enough to look into my eyes. "That's not exactly a ringing endorsement. How many times have I come to you with my problems? How many times have you stayed up all night just to console me? I want to be here for you like you that. If something is troubling you, I want to know so I can help you through it."
I smiled and kissed her forehead. "Thank you. I don't deserve you as a sister but I promise to be better. I'm fine so you can quit worrying. I was being a little puss and shouldn't have fagged out like that. It will never happen again."
Tori sighed and rested her forehead on mine. "You're talking like Daddy and closing up on me again. Dammit will you stop doing that. We had a breakthrough. I can help you if you let me."
I hugged her tighter. "You did help. I know what I have to do. I just forgot for a minute. Our conversation brought back memories of the lessons I forgot about." Or tried not to think about.
"You aren't going to talk to me about it are you?" Tori asked sadly.
I shrugged my shoulders as I turned on my ps3. "There's nothing else to say. I was being a little bitch and shouldn't have."
She looked around my room. Probably to change topics just long enough for me to let my guard down. It was one of her favored ploys. "You really should put up some pictures or something. This room looks the same as when you moved in. It wouldn't hurt my feelings if you painted it. I couldn't believe Daddy actually thought I'd like it, you'd think he didn't know me."
I glanced around and she was right. I didn't see the need to make changes for my comfort since it was her house. This used to be her bedroom before Dad died and she moved into the master bedroom. The walls were the same very light lilac and the furniture was still white with the drawers painted slightly darker shade of purple. Other than my stuff on the dresser, it looked exactly like she kept it. Only much cleaner.
I shrugged. "Doesn't bother me. I didn't want to mess it up since he was so proud of his work."
"You keep it so tidy. I wish I could be as organized as you."
I frowned as another memory surfaced. "Old habits die hard. You don't want to know what would happen if there was a speck of dirt on my floor."
"I'm going to cancel the bet so don't worry about it." Tori said as she started to stand.
I reached out and grabbed her wrist. "Don't do that. I'm a man of my word. I knew what might happen so I'm prepared for the consequences."
"I'll say it's my idea. Nobody will give you a hard time if I'm the one who cancels it."
My anger started to spike again. "That's bullshit and you know it. If you do that they'll still blame me. We are going through with the bet and that's final."
"Are you sure?" She asked.
"I'm sure." I replied without hesitation. "I have no choice. I'm sorry for acting like such a puss about it."
Tori sighed again. "You still might win you know."
I laughed as I turned my attention to the game. "Yeah right. You already told me you had two in reserve. I know you wouldn't miss out on this chance. Don't worry. I'll let you have your fun."
"Harley that was not why I did this."
I waved toward the door. "Whatever. I'll see you in the morning."
With a frown she slowly walked out of the room. "I love you."
I chuckled at her audacity. "Sure you do. I love you too."
She sighed heavily. "Harley."
I started my game without glancing at her. "Goodnight."
Once she was gone I locked the door and rolled a fat joint in the hope that I could soon be asleep and this miserable day would be over.
"How is he?" Missy asked as soon as Tori sat down next to her on the couch.
Tori curled into a small ball as she hugged Missy tightly. "He's shutting down worse than before. I had no idea what he went through and I left him alone in that. I was so wrapped up in myself that I didn't think about anybody else. He thinks I don't love him and I can see why he does. What can I do? He's so bad he's starting to quote our father."
Missy gently stroked Tori's hair. "He's young, confused and upset. You remember how it was."
"Confused? Do you think he's gay?" Tori asked.
Missy shrugged. "Have you seen him with a woman? I haven't and Lord knows enough want him."
Tori shook her head. "No way. I'm not picking up that vibe at all plus he used to be quite the manwhore. He loves women."
"You know him better than me but you have to admit he's not the most masculine man. I could be wrong and he'll be back to his normal crazy self in no time."
Tori sat up and stared into Missy's eyes. "But I don't want him to be his idea of normal. He learned normal from some seriously fucked up people. I just want him to be himself, whatever that is."
Missy smiled. "I'm sure he will be when he's ready but you can't force it. It has to be on his terms."
Tori stayed silent for about half an hour before she sighed and started to get up. "I guess you're right. I'm going to take a long hot shower. Care to join me?"
Missy nodded as she rose from seat and stretched slightly. "A long hot bath sounds better. You go ahead and get the water started while I pour us some wine."
Hunger pangs prevented my quest for sleep. Hearing the water running in the bathroom, I figured I could sneak into the kitchen without running into anyone.
I was bent over looking in the refrigerator when I heard Missy. "Move it buster. You're in the way."
I turned towards her. "I know. I'm sorry about that. Just getting a midnight snack."
She moved closer and placed a hand over my shoulder and grabbed the bottle of wine. "I'm teasing you. You're not in the way."
I placed the ingredients to make a sandwich on a plate before stepping out of her path. "It feels that way sometimes."
Missy poured two drinks before turning to me. "Why do you say that? It's your house."
I shook my head, "No, it's Tori's house. I just live here."
She leaned against the counter. "What is up with you Harley? You have your sister tied up in knots. She just spent the last half hour crying her eyes out because she is so worried about you. I'm worried too. I hate seeing either of you like this."
My appetite disappeared the moment she mentioned how I was causing Tori distress. "I didn't mean to worry ya'll. I'm sorry."
Missy sighed. "It's nothing to apologize for. We see you when you don't have your personality turned on and know something is bothering you. I want you to know we are here for you. Your sister loves you and doesn't like to see you so unhappy. I think it's time you deal with your issues before it tears this house apart."
I tried to keep the tears from my eyes. "I'll work on it so neither of you will have to worry." Placing the plate back in the fridge, I offered a half-hearted smile. "Goodnight."
Missy frowned as she grabbed the two glasses she filled. "Goodnight."
I walked back to my bedroom and sprawled across my sister's old bed. I was a burden to Tori. I was a burden to Missy. Their relationship was too new and Tori was finally happy after being miserable for many years. Missy was perfect for her and the last thing I wanted to do was cause either of them grief.
Tori only asked me to move in to save money after Dad died and left her his house. I was happy to do it because I wanted to be close so I could protect her. She could not afford to live here on her own but with Missy to help with the bills and take care of her, Tori didn't need me getting in the way anymore.
I quickly dressed before tossing my clothes and other essentials into a duffle bag. Tori and Missy would not have to worry about me if I weren't around. If I didn't live here then I could make her think I was as happy as everyone else believed me to be.
"Oh there you are Mr. O. Now you show up." I said to the small owl that was resting on the hood of my truck.
He hooted in response and as I walked to my truck he hopped on my shoulder.
"I don't want to hear any excuses." I said as I reached up to lightly pet him. "You're going to need to find someone else to bother from now on. I'm messing with Tori's happily ever after so I'm outta here. Take care of yourself."
Mr. O. started digging his talons into my shoulder as I tried to shoo him away. Finally, after no small amount of effort, I was able to get him to let go. I quickly jumped in my truck and slammed the door before he could latch on again. Crazy bird, what got into him?
"Is Harley's truck in the driveway?" Tori asked as she joined Missy in the kitchen. "I went to ask him if he wanted breakfast but he's not there."
Missy looked out of the small window above the sink before turning to Tori with a bewildered expression. "No. Where could he be this early on a Sunday?"
Tori ran back toward the bathroom to double check that he wasn't there before going into Harley's bedroom. She yelled frantically she as stepped out with the letter. "Most of his things are gone and he left a note."
Missy rushed to Tori's side as she read it aloud. "I'm fine. Thank you for putting up with me for so long. You and Missy are great together and I'm glad you finally found love. I can see you are in good hands. I was just in the way and without my moping around the house all the time, you will get to see me at my best instead of at my worst. I love you and you can stop worrying about me."
"Why does he think he is in the way?" Tori asked as she held the note tightly. "I've always tried to make sure he feels at home."
Missy frowned as she remembered the conversation they had the night before. "Oh no."
"What oh no?"
Missy sat down on Harley's bed before she placed her head in her trembling hands and told Tori about the conversation. She looked up to meet Tori's eyes. "I only told him that so he would know we cared. He must have thought I was asking him to move out."
Tori reached for her phone and dialed Harley's number. "Come on, answer it please. Shit… Hey it's me. Come back home. You have never been in the way. Missy didn't mean to upset you. She only wanted you to know she cared. We love you and want you to call as soon as you get this."
Tori frantically called all of Harley's friends that she knew of and nobody had seen him. "Where did he go?" She became hysterical as she collapsed next to her girlfriend.
"I'm so sorry. You know I would never run him off don't you?" Missy said as she pulled Tori into her arms. "I knew when we got together you two were a package deal and didn't mind because he's so cool and lovable."
Tori nodded as she wrapped her arms around Missy. "I know. He's been taking everything wrong lately. I don't blame you. I just hope he is okay."
The sound of my phone constantly ringing roused me from a fitful sleep. I slowly sat up to see fifteen missed calls from Tori along with numerous calls and texts from just about everyone I knew.
"She found my note." I said before sending a mass text telling everyone I was fine and turning my phone off.
I opened the door of my truck and stepped out before stretching. Sleeping in an abandoned campground was not part of the plan when I left the house last night but I could not find a single vacancy at any of the affordable hotels in town. I should have known better than to think I could get a room on an autumn weekend in East Tennessee. Too many people traveled to see the myriad of colors provided by the leaves before they fell for the winter.
The last time this place was used was almost two years ago when an action movie was shot in the area. Nobody would ever forget it because the sheriff's son died during the filming of one of the stunts. Ryan Crews and Cali Dawson were local heroes. I knew Ryan from when he would hang out with Cali and Tori. He was always nice and funny. When he was around, Cali wasn't mean. The day Ryan died was a sad one for everybody.
Seeing how it was a perfect October day, I decided a nice hike was what I needed to sort everything out. I locked up my truck before trekking the short distance to the long trail that led to a beautiful cliff where I always went when I needed clarity.
As I walked the well-worn path, my mind was a conflagration of contradictions. At twenty-three, I was far more successful than most my age. I should have been at the top of the world but I was miserable. The doctors could not offer an explanation for the changes to my body but they assured me I was perfectly healthy. I had a loving sister but all I did was cause her worry. I finally met the woman of my dreams but she was married and had a kid. I had a large circle of friends but if they knew the person I was on the inside they would feel I betrayed them. I had a good job who would probably support me but they had an image to protect and keeping someone like me employed would be bad for business if my secret got out.
I made it to the top and looked over the edge. The scene was so beautiful and awe inspiring. I wondered how a God that made something this majestic could mess up so badly when he made me. I leaned forward and for a brief moment the thought crossed my mind that in one small step, nobody would be hurt by finding out I deceived them. I would never burden anyone again.
Seemingly out of nowhere, a strong gush of wind tried to force me to act on the fleeting thought that I would never actually act upon.
"It is gorgeous is it not?" A female voice said as she placed a firm hand on my shoulder to keep me from falling.
My mouth dropped after I turned to find the source. It was her, the woman from last night but it couldn't be. The woman from last night did not carry the same aura as the one in front of me. I did not feel the desperate need to know this woman like I did before.
I had no idea women as beautiful as the one from yesterday actually existed and now I had met a second one. I stared at the tan beauty with long brown hair and amazing lavender eyes without saying a word. Her single-shouldered flowing white grown seemed fitting since she looked so majestic.
"I always come here when I need to think. It reminds me of where I grew up. I find peace among Mother Terra's creations." She said as she pulled me away from the ledge. "What brings you up here?"
She looked at me expectantly for a moment before I realized she was waiting for me to reply. "Oh, I'm here for the same thing." I studied her a moment longer. "I'm sorry but I have to ask. Do you have a twin sister?"
There was a hint of sadness as she shook her perfect head. "I am sorry but no. I am an only child."
I found it odd that two women could look so similar and have the same accent yet not be related. I could not explain it but I believed the woman when she said they were not sisters. "My mistake."
The exotic beauty sat down on the ledge and motioned for me to follow. Her sadness disappeared and an amazing smile emerged as her long legs dangled over the edge. "What is on your mind that you felt the need to make such a journey?"
"Nothing important." I replied. "I just wanted to take advantage of a perfect day."
"You are not a good liar." The woman said with a gentle coaxing in her voice. "I have found that putting a voice to your worries always helps. I am willing to listen."
I shook my head. "You don't want to hear my problems. Nobody would want to hear what is bothering me."
Her shoulder gently bumped mine as she smiled. "Yes I do. I would not have asked otherwise."
I could not figure out why this gorgeous woman was bothering to waste the time to offer any comfort to a complete stranger. "No offense but why do you care? Why are you being so nice to me?"
She appeared lost in thought for a moment before she answered. "You remind me of a dear friend. Talking to you reminds me of a simpler time when she and I would sit with nature and discuss our hopes and fears. Please allow me to help you. It would make me feel as if I were helping her."
I could see the sincerity in her eyes and knew her kindness was genuine. "I guess the main things is that there is a costume party coming up and people want me to wear an embarrassing costume."
The woman looked at me expectantly. "And? What is the problem? A few hours in clothing you deem embarrassing is not worthy of such agonizing perspective."
"You don't understand." I huffed.
She nodded. "That is true, I do not. Which is why I am asking you for further explanation. You cannot give me vague responses and expect me to understand enough to offer advice."
I bristled at her words and looked out over the beautiful scenery. "I never asked for your advice."
Her slender fingers pulled my hair away from my face. "Such strong despair in one so young and attractive. Your eyes are far too beautiful to carry so much sadness. Tell me what really troubles you. I am here to help, not to judge."
My brows furrowed as I studied her. "I'm not as young as I look. I'd almost bet we are the same age."
Silky brown hair flowed backward as she started laughing. "It would be a losing wager on your part. Of that I guarantee."
Knowing her laughter would only intensify if I told her my troubles, I jumped to my feet. "It was nice to meet you. Enjoy the rest of your day."
Another strong gust of wind blasted me and again I found myself precariously close to the edge as I tried to maintain my balance.
The woman grabbed my hand. "Show care. There is no need to flee. I am here to help. Tell me what is worrying you."
I felt a strange tingling through my body before I sat down again while knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt I could trust this odd, gorgeous woman. "Have you ever felt like God made a mistake?"
She nodded. "I have felt that many times." She moved closer and held my hand in hers. "I will let you in on a little known secret. The ones people consider Gods and Goddesses are fallible. Most are essentially good and act in ways they consider to be in the best interest of the greater good, but even the most well-intentioned of them make mistakes."
I nodded at her words and how they made sense. "You make it sound like they are human."
The amazing woman smiled and the birds in the area started singing when she did so. "You are not that far off. Our origins are very similar." She frowned as she stared over the horizon before turning back toward me. "Gods, as you call them, suffer regret over their mistakes the same as humans and try to make amends."
My mind could not quite grasp what she was trying to tell me. "What do you mean?"
The beautiful woman paused thoughtfully while she contemplated my question. "Say there is a devastating storm, a rainbow will follow to provide hope that better days are ahead. If a mistake is made in a particular area, usually there will be greatness throughout the rest. For instance, if a person is born blind, their other senses become enhanced to compensate."
"That makes sense," I replied quietly.
She cocked a perfectly shaped brow at me. "Am I to assume you believe yourself to be a mistake?"
"Oh yeah," I nodded. "Very much so."
"I do not see you as such." She said as she looked into my eyes. "When I look at you, I see greatness. You have so much love that you freely give to others and in turn that love makes others better. The work ethic you exhibit pushes others to strive because they can see what can be accomplished with effort. You have a humor that puts others at ease and aids them in forgetting their troubles, even if only for a little while. You can lead in a manner that makes others willingly follow. You possess an intelligence that few can match and an inner confidence that is unsurpassed. There is nothing you have failed to achieve once you made up your mind."
I released a burdened sigh. "If I'm not a mistake then surely God must hate me."
She frowned as she looked over the ledge. "That cannot be true. You are at war with yourself. You hold on to such pain and anger that you fail to live up to your true potential. Your search for acceptance has led you to a life that is unfulfilled. You lower yourself to others expectations when you could be great. That is not healthy for you or those who care about you."
Tears tried to escape as I shook my head. "Nobody cares about me."
"Oh you could not be more wrong." She said as she pulled me to her side in a comforting hug. "You have many who care. None more so than your sister."
My voice started breaking as I buried my head into the woman's shoulder. "Nobody would care if they knew the truth about me."
"Why do you feel like that? You have so much love that you freely bestow upon those around you. Do you not think those feelings are mutual?"
"Nobody would love me knowing the feelings I fight every day or what has happened to my body." I could not believe I was about to actually voice my deepest held secrets to a stranger but something about her had a soothing effect on my conflicted emotions. "How can anyone love someone who believes they should have been born a woman instead of a man and their body seems to enforce those feelings?"
My mind shot to the amazing woman I had met outside wrestling. It was a good thing she was married so I would not have to experience the feeling of rejection after she saw what I really looked like. "I'll always be alone."
She smiled and placed a gentle arm over my shoulder before cradling me in her ample bosom. "Now we arrive at the crux. That was not hard to say was it? Do not fret over such a thing child. Those who are true to you would never abandon you. Many others have felt the same and thrived after accepting the truth of their situation and most do not have the beauty you possess."
My eyes widened with the first glimmer of hope I felt in ages. "People like me have really thrived?"
The woman nodded. "Indeed."
Fear started to creep back into my subconscious. "But I would make a terrible woman. Look at me, I am far too tall."
The woman's laughter suddenly made my concerns seem trivial as she started to speak again. "Your excuses are weak and you know this to be true. I am taller than you. Do you believe my height makes me less of a woman?"
My face flushed with embarrassment. "No. You are perfect."
My heart warmed as she smiled at me again. "As could you be Harley Dakota Smith. Deal with the pain of your past and allow it to make you a stronger person. You must learn to accept yourself and not be so dependent on others for approval. If you can do that, then you will achieve greatness."
"That's easier said than done." I replied.
"I never said it would be easy child. I am saying it is possible. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy. You are stronger than you think. I have faith that you can be the person you were meant to be."
The way she said it made me believe it too. Tears of gratitude filled my eyes as I gazed upon the amazing woman. "Talking to you gives me hope. Maybe I can make it after all." I timidly placed a chaste kiss on her cheek. "I'm not worthy of your time but thank you for giving me a small part of it."
She ran her fingers through my long red hair. "It is my pleasure. Today has benefitted me as well. You have reminded me of a youth long forgotten." Her lips met my forehead before she continued, "It will be a wondrous day when you realize your potential. You need to sleep now. Dream of the wondrous life you are capable of having and awake with a lighter heart. Greatness awaits you."
"I can see why you have stolen her heart." The kind woman said as she lifted my drowsy body in her arms. "If she had not already fallen for you, I might claim you for myself."
My eyes were slow to open. I was torn between the desire to continue my wonderful dream of a life spent with my unknown brunette beauty and the need to fill my growling stomach. Once the smell of bacon reached my nostrils, my stomach ended up winning the battle.
With a brighter outlook toward life, I sat up on the edge of my bed wondering how I got there. The last I remembered, I was sitting on the edge of the cliff talking to the lady with magnificent eyes.
"She's right you know." I said to myself as I thought of the advice the woman gave me. "A little misguided for living around here but her ideas are sound."
I could be capable of greatness if I just accepted the fact I was weird. I needed to stop yearning for my heart's desires and solely listen to what my mind was telling me. I needed to quit worrying about my internal feelings and focus on moving forward. Nobody needed to know what I was dealing with. She said I was stronger than I realized.
I could use that strength to shut the wrong feelings out.
My stomach rumbled again to remind me that I didn't have time to dwell on what happened. I barely had time to hop in the shower and get to work, much less eat.
"Oh my God you're home!" Missy screamed as I walked in the kitchen. "Tori, Harley's home!"
My sister came running from the living room while still holding the old pink teddy bear she always used for comfort whenever she was troubled and launched herself at me. "Thank goodness! I've been so worried. When did you come in? How did you get past me?"
Remembering what the woman said about how much Tori loved me caused immense sadness at seeing how worried I made her. I tightened my sister's embrace and wanted to cry but replied as a man should. "My bad. Won't happen again."
She leaned forward on her toes to kiss my cheek. "I forgave you the second I saw you. I'm just happy you're okay."
Missy offered me a plate. "I hope you're hungry."
I eagerly accepted. "Thanks, I haven't eaten since lunch Saturday. I'm so hungry I could eat the south bound side out of a north bound cow."
Missy's eyes started to gloss over. "I'm sorry for putting you off your appetite the other night. This is your home. I don't have any right to ask you to leave and would never do it anyway. Even if I wasn't in love with your sister, I'd still love ya like a brother."
I winked at Missy as I took a bite of bacon. "No biggie. You know I love you too but for the record this is Tori's home."
Tori sat down next to me after I took my seat at the table to eat. "No, this is your home too. I don't know why Daddy did that. How did you get past me last night? I slept in the recliner hoping you would come home and we could talk."
I tried to remember coming home as I took another bite of my breakfast but my mind was blank. "I have no idea." I replied after swallowing. "Last thing I remember was talking to a really hot chick I met at the cliff."
"What were you doing at the cliff?" Tori said protectively. "It's dangerous up there."
I shrugged as I sipped my orange juice. "It doesn't matter. The cool thing was this gorgeously tall woman came by. I mean she was unlike any woman I've ever seen." Pausing momentarily, I shook my head. "Actually that's not true, I met someone who could have been her twin at wrestling."
My heart fluttered thinking of her. "My God, the woman I met Saturday night was amazing." I sighed at the memory. "It was love at first sight. Too bad she's married because I could see myself spending the rest of my life with her." I shook my head again to gather my thoughts. "Anyway, the woman from yesterday, we talked and she helped me realize I need to get my shit together."
Tori had something to say but was afraid. I smiled at seeing her try so hard to be gentle with my feelings and not upset me again. "Spit it out sis. I promise I won't wig out again."
Tori grinned. "I love that you know me so well. Did you come up with any answers while you were there?"
I nodded and forced a smile. "Yeah."
"And?" She prodded.
I shrugged, "And… like I said, I need to get my shit together."
She smiled as she rested her head on my shoulder. "I won't push you but whenever you're ready to talk, I hope you know I will always be here for you."
I placed my fork on the plate and put my arm around her. "There's nothing to talk about. I know what I gotta do but thanks for the offer." I kissed her on the top of her head. "I love you."
"I love you too."
"Any word if I have lost the best yet?" I asked to change the subject even though I knew it was a lost cause.
Tori smiled. "It looks like you might win after all."
My look was skeptical as I cut my eyes toward her. "What about the two you have in reserve?"
"I haven't called them back. Hopefully they forgot all about it."
My heart overflowed with the love I felt for her at that moment but my sense of honor felt slighted. "You don't have to tank the bet because you're afraid of hurting my feelings. I would have done it without bitching in front of anyone but ya'll."
Missy laughed. "She wasn't only afraid of hurting your feelings. She was thinking about the wellbeing of the club. Apparently slipping a dress over your head and laughing turns you into a dangerous rage machine. We saw the video of what you did in the ring. If you can beat up nine trained wrestlers because they forced you in a dress, what would you do to us?"
I spit out the orange juice I had in my mouth. "There were nine of them? You're messing with me. There is no way I did that."
Tori jumped up to run in the living room. A moment later she returned with her laptop. "Would you believe your own eyes?"
I watched in awed silence at what was on the screen. To the casual observer it looked like I was a machine, showing no real emotion as I took on all comers. Anyone who really knew me, though, would be able to see the rage in my eyes. I could feel the same anger I felt that night and watched in amazement as most of my fury was aimed at Bruiser but anybody who attempted to pull me off him received more than their share of my wrath. I could not believe I took down so many that were so much larger than myself. I had no idea I could be so quick.
The melee continued for ten minutes until it looked like Bruiser could not take anymore. I casually walked back to the locker room like nothing was wrong until one of Bruiser's friends came out of the crowd and tried to pull one last sneak attack from behind with a folding chair. I ducked out of the way at the last second before giving him a beating and leaving him in a heap at the side of the ring.
"Holy shit." I said after the video ended.
Tori nodded. "I know right. It scared me to watch. You are never that calm. Did you see your eyes? Those were not the eyes I know and love. They were crazy. Can you understand why we're worried about you? That's some serious pent up rage you released. You can't keep holding it in until you pop like that. It's a wonder you didn't seriously hurt anyone. You need to talk to a professional. It helped me and I think it would help you."
"Please stop." I replied as I pushed my half eaten breakfast away and started to stand. "Just like the other night, I am finally starting to feel better but it seems like you want to push me back to that dark place. They deserved what they got. I think one blow up in twenty-three years is a pretty good track record." I turned toward the hallway. "I need to get ready for work. I'll see you tonight."
I stormed back to my bedroom to grab my work clothes before stepping in the bathroom. My mind was again a cluttered mess as I undressed. I caught sight of myself in the large mirror and cringed. No wonder people often questioned my gender.
Reaching up with my now delicate hand, I rubbed my chin for any sign of stubble but it was an effort in futility. I haven't had to shave in over a year.
My body seemed to be as conflicted as my mind. Which was why I always wore baggy clothes and never let anyone see me naked after I started changing. I had not been intimate to the level of nudeness with a woman since my changes began. I always made sure they achieved what they needed but never let them reciprocate.
It wasn't that bad when I first lost all my weight. My problem was when it came back in all the wrong places. I had two growing bumps on my chest and large nipples. I also had a tiny waist but my hips, along with my ass, were larger than a man should have. Hell, they were larger than most women I knew. Nothing fit right anymore, not even underwear.
My doctors assumed it was caused by the lightning bolt that hit me on an otherwise clear day as I walked across the parking lot at work. The physicians at the emergency room were amazed I was not hurt worse and released me within hours of my arrival. So far I had been to six different specialists and none of them could explain what was happening. Nobody could offer a plausible reason for my ongoing feminization. Even the part of my body that caused me to be identified as male was shrinking.
It was getting old to have people I didn't know stare at me questionably. Like they could not figure out what I was.
"You would make a better woman than a man." I thought as my fist smashed into the mirror. I lashed out in a lame attempt to punish myself but it did not have the desired effect. All that was accomplished was a bloodied hand and seven more years of bad luck.
In an effort to prevent my blood from drying in the engravings, I removed the class ring I purchased at the end of my junior year and placed it under the faucet. As I rinsed it off, I remembered what a big deal the saleslady made of the fact that my hands were so small compared to my height when I had to get it resized a few months ago.
Instead of pulling the band from my hair, I grabbed my long ponytail with one hand and reached for the scissors with the other before cutting it off. It was a stupid move but mildly therapeutic. By the time I finish my shower, my hair would be longer than it was before being cut.
With a sigh, I pushed my anger aside and quickly showered. While I toweled off, I turned to see my hair was now to the middle of my back.
The things on my chest were getting so large I had to wear two tight compression tank tops under my oversized uniform shirt to keep them from becoming obvious. I also had to put on three pairs of socks just so my steel toe work boots would fit.
After I finished getting dressed, I made a mental note to buy a new mirror during my lunch break. Seeing a rubber band on the dresser made me smile as I thought of a way to put Tori's mind at ease.
As I walked out of my room I twisted the rubber band until it was a tight coil when I pulled the sides. While quietly sneaking behind my sister I pulled the rubber band apart before I released it in her hair.
I almost lost my balance from laughing so hard as she screamed while I ran as fast as I could for the door.
"What happened? Are you okay?" Missy asked as she ran out of the bathroom.
Tori winced as she tried to get the rubber band from her hair. "Yeah, I'm fine. It was just Harley pulling another joke. Can you help me get it out?"
Missy laughed as she walked behind Tori and tried to untangle the band without pulling out too much hair. "Have you seen what he did to the mirror?"
Tori nodded sadly. "Yeah, there will be a new one in its place by tonight. He does that from time to time and it's always fixed by the next day. Don't say anything to him about it."
"He can't be that mad if he did this to you." Missy replied as she handed Tori the rubber band.
Tori held up the tiny object that was now more hair than rubber. "This has nothing to do with how he's feeling. He hates it when anybody worries about him. This was his way of trying to convince me he's fine. He has always tries to take care of me no matter how he feels."
She walked to the kitchen where she tossed the band in the trash. "Even when he was little he did it. There were times when I was about to get in trouble for something and he would deliberately do something stupid to get Mom and Bennie to focus their anger on him. He's very upset and as usual, is trying to take it on alone."
"If he is this upset now, what will happen after tonight if he ends up losing?" Missy asked.
Tori started to cry as she shook her head. "I don't even want to imagine it. Why did I think this was a good idea?"
I loved my job as the lead press operator at the local newspaper. My job was challenging and kept my mind busy. The pay was great and the hours were even better. Seven a.m. to three p.m. Monday through Friday were pretty amazing working hours.
My job did not actually take up the eight hours I had to work, so I spent a lot of time in other departments helping where I could and learning more about how everything worked. After five years, there was not a job in the building I could not do. During the last snow storm the owner, Mr. Mates, joked that he was not worried about his employees not being able to make it in so long as I did.
"Hey kid, come here. I need to talk to you a second." Joe Lemmons yelled out to me as I walked through the commercial pressroom at work.
I generally liked all of my coworkers except for Joe, a balding, bitter, bigoted man who worked in the commercial printing division. I usually tried to ignore comments he would make about anyone who was not straight, white or Christian. Please notice I said usually. There had been times when I could not keep my silence when he started spewing his stupidity. In spite of the fact I considered him to be an asshole, I always tried to be nice.
"What do you need?" I asked with a forced smile after walking to the sink where he was washing his hands.
His serious expression troubled me somewhat. Usually when he called me over this early in the day, it was to tell me his newest dirty or racist joke. "What's this I hear about you going to some party as a woman? You're not a fag are you?"
My body stiffened at his question. "Fuck you. I'm not gay. I have a bet going with the club and if they win then they get to pick out my costume and they've already said it will be as a woman."
He appeared to relax. "So you aren't doing this because you want to?"
I rolled my eyes. "What in the hell makes you think I'd want to do it? No way was this my idea. I was backed in a corner and thought I made the conditions too hard for them to meet."
Joe smiled as he dried his hands and slapped me on the shoulder. "Phew. I thought for a second I was going to have to make the old man fire you cause I can't work with no homos. It's bad enough you're kin to one of them. "
He started to walk away when I grabbed his shoulder. "Hold on, we're not done. What do you mean have the old man fire me? You don't have that kind of pull around here. Besides, Mr. Mates would never fire anyone for something like that!"
Joe laughed. "If someone managed to actually get hired before he found out? Yeah he would. In a heartbeat. Have you ever seen anyone other than good decent people working here? Did your dyke sister get hired when she put in her application? I love how you put the old man on a pedestal and look down your nose at me. I hate to shatter your image but he is just like me. He just won't say it out loud because it's bad for business. I don't know why you're so upset, it's not like you have anything to worry about."
"I'm upset because it's wrong. I'm fucking pissed because you insulted my sister. Say something else about her. I dare you." I said as my fists clinched hoping beyond hope he would provoke me further.
His small beady eyes rolled before they squinted in anger. "Fuck you kid. This is a free country and I'll say whatever I want about anybody I want." He reached into his pocket for the small pocket knife he always used to threaten people. "You better unclench those fists before I have to teach you a lesson you won't soon forget."
It was my turn to laugh as I sneered at him. "Yep, it's a free country which means I'm free to kick your fat ass. I'm not scared of that little thing." I reached out and snatched it from his hand. Everything happened so fast that Joe could not believe it when I laughed and waved the small knife back in his face. "You're slow old timer. I'll have this thing shoved up your ass before you know what happened."
As I moved to take the old bastard down, Randy ran up to separate us. "Harley go grab a smoke and calm down." He took the knife from my hand tossed it at Joe. "And you need to put that back in your pocket."
A couple of other guys ran up when neither of us offered to move. Randy grabbed my arm and dragged me outside. "How many times do I have to tell you? You can't let him get under your skin."
I was still fuming as I reached into my pocket for my cigarettes. "Fuck him, you didn't hear what he called Tori and said to me about Mr. Mates."
Randy frowned as he stared at me. "Yeah I did and he's not that far off about the old man."
I stopped and turned toward him. "What the hell does that mean?"
Randy sighed. "Mr. Mates is a good man but he's old. His beliefs are different than yours. He isn't as vocal as Joe but I know firsthand he believes the same things. I have a narrow list of criteria for people I can hire." He placed his hand on my shoulder. "I understand you're more open minded than most because of your sister and all, but you need to stop being so vocal about how you feel. Some opinions are tolerated and some aren't. People are tired of hearing you go on about your beliefs. It's going to get you in trouble."
My brows furrowed as I glared at my boss. "Me go on? I'm not the one who spews stupidity with every other word. I only say something when I can't take it anymore."
"You need to grow some thicker skin then because people are getting tired of it." He responded matter of factly.
I'm sure my face matched my hair as I stared at him. "So let me get this straight. You're telling me that if I had been gay I never would have been hired? If I were to walk in here tomorrow and say I'm gay that I would be fired? That in spite of everything I do here, it is okay for Joe, the laziest fucker on the payroll, to say anything he wants but I need to keep quiet if I want to keep my job?"
Randy nodded. "Pretty much. Are we clear?"
I nodded angrily. "We will be after you answer one more question. Where do you stand?"
Randy shrugged his shoulders with an annoying arrogance. "They're not wrong in my opinion."
With a resigned sigh, I pushed past him to go back inside. "Okay then. Shut up and do the fucking job I'm paid to do. Got it loud and clear. Do I need to apologize to Joe for making him insult my sister?"
Randy shook his head as he followed me closely. "Don't be an ass. I think you two need to avoid each other if possible."
"No worries there. I may be an ass but I'm not a dumbass. Nothing will happen at work." I replied sarcastically.
His voice became stern as he yelled behind me. "Nothing will happen outside of work either."
I was oh so tempted to flip him off and walk out right then but reason won out. Jobs were hard to come by and quitting without notice was a sure fire way to make sure I would have a hard time finding another one. It would be painful to keep quiet if I heard something I did not agree with, but if that was what I had to do to keep my job until I found a new one then so be it.
For the rest of the day, I contained myself to my immediate work area instead of offering to help out when I had down time. I left for lunch earlier than usual and didn't come back for almost two hours. Many people stopped in to ask if I was okay and I assured them I was. I didn't wait for three o'clock. As soon as my job was complete, I left.
I rolled myself a joint as soon as I arrived home and by the time I finished it, my mind was sufficiently numb enough that I could face the rest of the day. With nobody home yet, I decided to go ahead and fix the mirror before anyone needed the bathroom.
"Whatcha doing?" Missy startled me as I stepped out of the garage with my toolbox. I was so lost in thought that I did not hear her pull in.
"Replacing the mirror." I replied as I noticed she was still in her work clothes. "I can wait if you need me to."
She smiled as she headed for the house. "No, it's okay. I'll wait until you're done. I saw the new one in the back of your truck. That thing looks awkward. Do you need any help?"
I shook my head. "Nah, I have a system. It would probably be harder if I had help."
"Harder if you have help huh?" Missy said with a smirk. "I'm not touching that one."
A small smile crossed my lips. "Good idea. Tori would kill both of us if you did."
Our good natured banter was just what I needed. I could feel my anger starting to lift.
She glanced down at my injured knuckles. "So you are used to doing it alone?"
I chuckled as she held the door open for me. "You could say that. I know the easiest way to get the job done to my satisfaction."
Missy laughed as she followed me while removing her jacket. "What have those poor mirrors done to you anyway?"
"Showed me what I looked like." I replied as I walked away.
To my dismay she followed me into the rest room, her previous humor was quickly replaced by confusion. "What the hell does that mean? You're not ugly."
I rolled my eyes but otherwise ignored her as I prepared everything.
She stared at me in disbelief. "I know you've lost some weight but I don't think you're the least bit ugly. A lot of my friends talk about how good looking you are. They aren't even into guys and would sleep with you given the chance."
That did not help in the slightest. Of course I would be the one man lesbians would sleep with.
"Hell, if I were not in love with your sister and was into guys I'd totally do you." Missy added, apparently thinking it would help my fragile ego.
My brows lifted as I laughed quietly. "I'm sure you would."
She lowered the lid before sitting on the toilet. "Why are you laughing? I'm serious. You're a good looking guy. I can't begin to count how many times Tori and I are asked if you're dating anyone."
I shook my head and started removing the old mirror. "You wouldn't say that if you saw me naked."
Her eyes drifted the length of my body. "As much as you work out it has to be nice. From what I can tell, you're body doesn't look bad. Then again you never wear anything that fits."
If she only knew.
Having removed all the pieces of broken glass, I began loosening the mounting brackets. "Yeah, I hide it well."
Missy leaned back slightly and crossed her arms. "Now I'm intrigued. Let me see."
"Let you see what?" I said as I cleared the path from the door.
"Your body. Come on, we're family. It's not like I want to do you. I'm just curious."
"No way in hell. You're nuts and Tori would kill both of us if she found out." I replied as I walked out to retrieve the new mirror from my truck.
Unfortunately she was waiting for me to return. "Are you sure you don't need any help?"
I shook my head again as I slid the mirror into the brackets, wincing when I used my tender chest to help balance the glass. "See, I have a system."
Missy nodded. "I can see that. Now back to what we were talking about. What's wrong with your body?"
I huffed in frustration as I tightened everything in place. Her questions were getting annoying but I was tired of staying mad all the time. "It's just too sexy. Mirrors can't contain the awesomeness of me in my full glory. After a while they end up cracking from the pressure of trying to reflect it properly."
She laughed. "I'm sure that's it."
I placed my tools back in the box and grabbed the trashcan before walking to the door. "It's all yours. I suggest you take it easy on the mirror for a couple of days. Let it get used to all the sexiness that lives here."
She nodded as she headed to her bedroom. "I'll try to remember that."
Mondays were usually my day to cook but since the YC meetings were in the conference room of a restaurant and meals were provided, I had the afternoon free.
The joint from earlier was not having the desired effect. I was still angry about what happened at work and anxious about the meeting. Knowing I couldn't numb my mind enough to forget my troubles and still function at the meeting, I started cleaning to keep my mind occupied.
At a little after six, Tori joined me at the sink where I was rewashing all the pots and pans. "Looks like you've been busy. The house looks great."
I smiled before leaning over to kiss her forehead. "You know what they say about idle hands."
"I guess so but you need to finish this up before you’re late."
I snapped a salute while splashing water on my sister. "Aye Aye."
She laughed as she backed away. "You're lucky I need to change anyway." After I started walking off she placed a tender hand on my shoulder, "Don't worry, we'll get through tonight together."
The sincerity in her voice was soothing as I turned and smiled. I could tell she meant what she said. "Thanks."
"Looks like you escaped by the skin of your teeth." Janice, the club president, said to me after I sat down beside her. "Unless two more people show up in the next couple of minutes."
To someone who had never met her, Janice was far from the most beautiful woman. She looked slightly older than her thirty-five years and was average height, about five foot five, with a build that was borderline chubby. She wasn't ugly by any means but she wasn't exactly pretty either. Janice was one of those women that people generally didn't pay that much attention to. Where her beauty really showed was in her personality. She was very energetic and optimistic. Her encouraging words could bring out the best in anyone.
I released a sigh of relief. "I have to give everybody credit. They came closer than I ever expected."
She nodded. "That they did. Thanks for agreeing to it. I'm almost disappointed they lost. It would have been epic."
Feeling relaxed for the first time since this thing started, I allowed myself a genuine laugh. "I don't know that I'd say that."
Janice joined me in laughter. "I would. Everyone was looking forward to it. It's been all they've talked about." She looked at her watch and began to rise from her seat. "I guess it's about time to get started."
"I'll round up any stragglers and get the door." I said as I started to stand with her.
"Excuse me? Is this where the YC's meet?" A woman called out as I started to pull the sliding divider so the club could have privacy. With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I realized I just lost the bet. No matter how much I wanted to, I couldn't run them off. That would be cheating and my honor would not allow me to win that way.
My jaw dropped as I saw two of most beautiful women on the planet. They exchanged odd glances with each other after I turned to face them. One was either the gorgeous woman from the cliff or the gorgeous woman from outside the wrestling match. I studied her closely and since I did not feel the immediate attraction, I figured she had to be the one from the cliff. The other was an extremely attractive, short, red haired woman with prism eyes that I immediately recognized.
My mind drifted back to when she and my sister were inseparable and how she always had a fresh insult at the ready so I'd leave them alone. She was far from my favorite person in the world but she couldn't be that bad if she was with the woman who helped me so much.
I adopted a smile I wasn't feeling and stepped to the side as I motioned toward the conference room. "Yes it is. Please come in."
Tori lied to me and what's worse is she used Cali Dawson to hammer the final nail in the coffin of my social life. Why would she do that?
Cali's smile was breathtaking as she offered her hand. "I'm Cali Zoyra and this is my wife Dani. Have we met before? You look very familiar."
The fact she was married to a woman did not surprise me one bit. The fact she look so feminine did. If anyone told me that one day I would see Cali in a low cut, figure flattering retro style dress, sky high stiletto heels and trendy jacket I would have called you a liar.
Another thing that did not surprise me was that she had to ask who I was. After all, she only saw me almost every day for years. In that moment I forgot about being nice for the club's sake. My brows furrowed as I stared angrily at the petite red head. "I can't remember you ever calling me by my name so I'm not surprised you don't know me."
"Should I?" She asked as her brilliant prism colored eyes flashed with confusion.
I shook my head. "Nope." I had a hard time keeping my temper as she shifted uncomfortably and reached out to touch my arm. "Would it help you remember if I let you give me a wedgie or maybe give you a reason to insult my mannerisms?"
The look of astonishment on her face was priceless as she gasped, "Harley?" Her body language changed from that of a confident young woman to one who seemed to be genuinely shamed and apologetic. "I guess you have every right to react like that. I'm sorry about all that back then."
I nodded and forced my smile to return. "Good to see ya Cali."
She relaxed and granted me another beautiful smile. "I can't believe how much you've changed. You're making me feel old." She turned to the statuesque woman next to her. "Harley, this is my wife Dani. Dani, this is Tori's brother Harley."
I extended my hand. "It is nice to finally get your name. I feel foolish for not asking yesterday. I also want to thank you, you helped so much."
A look of confusion crossed her exotically perfect face. "Please forgive me but I believe this is the first time we have met."
I shook my head. "No it's not. We met yesterday."
Cali interrupted and pulled Dani closer to her side. "I can vouch for her, we just got in from selling our house in California. We were in Hermosa Beach until this morning."
I scratched my head as I stared at Dani. I realized her eyes were a slightly lighter shade of purple and the woman from the cliff's hair was a little longer. Dani was not quite as sexy as the woman I met at the match and her touch did not set my desire ablaze. I never imagined the woman I met on the cliff would be comfortable in a low cut lavender top and tight leather pants but otherwise all three were nearly identical. "My God, there are three of you."
Cali's brow's lifted in surprise as she shifted nervously. "What do you mean three? Dani has a twin sister but she's not a triplet."
I felt like I was starting to lose my mind. "Oh, then I'm sorry. I must have been confused. It was good to see you again Cali." I replied with a cheeriness I didn't feel. "Nice to meet you Dani."
Feeling like a fool, I turned away. I guess I just imagined the whole thing. I knew it was too good to be true. There was no way a woman as perfect as the one I met, the one who had dominated my dreams the last two nights, would show an ounce of attraction to me. I had been an even bigger fool to believe what the woman at the cliff said could really be true.
Cali gently grabbed me by my elbow to pull me back. "You really believe you talked to someone who looks like Dani don't you? Where did you talk to her?"
The concern as she met my eyes gave me hope that she had matured over the years and was not the cruel person I remembered.
I nodded as a strange sensation of trust flowed through me and I suddenly wanted to tell Cali everything. "Which time? The first I had seen while helping a friend move, your cars are really cool by the way. I didn't meet her until I was leaving wrestling and she cornered me outside. That woman was absolutely perfect and made me feel things I never felt before. The other happened yesterday. I was up at the cliff, close to the closed campground but given the state of mind I was in at the time, I'm not so sure anymore."
My mind compared the three. "Each woman is vastly different. The first one was beyond perfect. Her eyes melted my heart and made me believe my life would be nothing without her. The other had a regal quality, almost like she was above it all but very nice and caring. It's weird because all three look so similar. I guess my mind put a friendly face to the words I wanted to hear."
Realizing I said too much, my face flushed as I shook off the odd feelings running through me and tried to pull away from Cali's firm grip. "Please forget I said anything. It doesn't matter. I'm going to go crawl under a rock now."
The couple exchanged surprised looks before Dani smiled. "Maybe you met my sister after all. She has been staying at our house and went to a grappling contest with Cali's brothers and niece on Saturday night. She enjoyed it very much."
I smiled at their attempt to convince me I wasn't crazy. Nobody could have enjoyed the spectacle I made of myself. "I'm sorry for making you uncomfortable."
Cali reached for her phone and played with it a moment before showing me a picture of Dani and her sister. My heart leapt with recognition of the woman I wanted more than I wanted to breathe. My finger ran down the side of Cali's phone. I studied my mystery woman's dark brown hair with just the right amount of sheen. I found myself amazed by her high cheekbones and light purple eyes that even called to me through a picture. I reached up and touched my mouth as I remembered how it felt when her full lips rested on mine.
My hand moved down to cover my heart as I continued staring. "She's the one I met Saturday. My God she is perfect." I realized what I said and flushed as I looked up at Dani. "Not to say you're not but she's… she's…" I couldn't quite find the words I wanted to say. "just perfect."
I wanted to run and hide after making a fool of myself so I was thankful when Tori rushed over with a worried look. "Cali, Dani, it's great to see both of you but why are ya'll here? I thought you said you weren't going to make it."
Cali smiled as she hugged Tori. "You've been after us to join ever since we told you we were thinking of moving back. Now that we sold our house in California, we figured what the heck." Cali then looked at me and winked. "Plus your last message said something about needing us to win a bet."
I frowned when I realized Cali hadn't changed after all.
Dani smiled. "Yes, I have experience in that area and would be pleased to help." She then gazed lovingly at her wife. "It would bring back many fond memories."
Apparently Dani wasn't any better.
My eyes cut to my sister as they filled with disappointment. She told me she had stopped trying to win. Obviously she lied.
Cali apparently sensed my discontent. "Unless it will cause trouble. We don't have to join."
I swallowed my sense of betrayal. "Nonsense. We'd love to have you. Let me be the first to welcome you both." I turned toward Tori with a smile that didn't quite reach my eyes. "Can you find them a couple of seats? I need to see if anyone is loitering in the parking lot. Tell Janice I'll be back before everyone finishes eating."
I was halfway through the restaurant before she even had a chance to respond.
Once in my truck, I dug in my ashtray for the remains of the joint I smoked at the campground. Everything at the cliff was just my imagination. It had to be since I could not even remember how I got home. The only soothing words I'd heard since this whole costume nonsense started ended up being my mind trying to justify how I wasn't as fucked up as I knew myself to be. In my intoxicated state I let my mind imagine the woman I wanted more than life itself and have her tell me it was okay to be the way I was.
It was silly of me to believe otherwise. Tori didn't care about me, work would fire me if they knew and the club only cared about seeing me humiliated. I would honor my bet because I gave my word but after it was over, I'd disappear to a new life somewhere that nobody would be able to laugh at me again.
"Is he okay?" Cali asked Tori as they walked in the conference room.
Tori shook her head. "He's been a wreck ever since he realized he might lose the bet. I hadn't heard from you so I told him that he probably won. Now, because you two showed up, he is going to think I lied to him. The fact it's you only makes it worse. He likes to pretend everything's fine but something's wrong. He's sick or something. He's lost so much weight and his mood swings are crazy. He got in a huge fight with like eight or nine guys this weekend and disappeared after I tried talking to him about it. Now he's closed himself off. I'm worried but feel completely clueless on how to help."
Dani placed her hand on Tori's. "Do not worry. I used to know someone who was a great guy but sometimes had to dress as a woman for his job. He fought anyone who questioned his manhood and tried to shut out those closest to him. It sounds to me like your brother's reactions are normal. I am sure he will be fine."
Tori appeared to relax. "Yeah, you're probably right. I guess I'm being over protective."
Cali eyed her wife knowingly before hugging Tori. "Dani is right. I wouldn't worry."
Tori smiled before pointing to an open table. "Here you go. Let me find Missy and we'll join you."
"Thank you for putting her mind at ease." Cali whispered as Tori walked away with a little more pep to her step.
Dani smiled as she looked at her wife. "My pleasure. I understand her worry." Her expression turned more serious. "I'm confused. He can tell the three of us apart. He picked out Polina in a picture when nobody but you and Mother can even do that in person. Polina said she met the woman of her dreams. She did not say anything about a man. Plus, Mother never said anything about talking to Harley when she asked us to watch over him. Outside of your family, she generally avoids society. Why do they have such an interest in him? Do you think it's because he looks so much like…"
Cali cut her wife off as she shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. Polina was right about meeting a woman. Mother is right as well. Harley does need help, but from what I felt, he needs either a psychiatrist or Renee more than he needs us."
"Why would Renee…" Dani replied before Cali's meaning sunk in. "Oh really? I'm going to ask Polina to look through my eyes to see if he is the one she told me about when he comes back."
Cali nodded. "Yep, he wants to be a woman but is fighting his feelings. There is something else going on that I can't figure out. He is totally in love with Polina even though they only met for a brief time. He loves her as much as I love you but I can sense no ominous forces at work concerning those feelings."
Cali rubbed her head as if it was starting to ache. "He was able to shake it off when I used my gift plus my memories don't separate as easily for him as they do with everyone else. My default memory with him is Ty's. Harley was always different and got picked on a lot. We bonded over that. As Ty I was very protective of him and treated him like the little brother I always wanted. He was the only person who looked up to me. I tried to include him in whatever we did. But in the past I have now, I made that poor guy's life hell. It's as if I turned on him, like I deliberately mistreated him." She looked up and saw Tori and Missy approaching. "We'll talk about it later."
Feeling more relaxed, I put some eye drops in before walking back to face the consequences. At the door I buried my anxiety and managed a smile before walking through.
The club greeted me with laughter and catcalls when it was time for my report. Many commented how they could not wait for the party. In spite of the fact I was falling apart inside, I maintained my smile and laughed at everyone's jokes.
The one saving grace, if you could call it that, was the fact that the party was only five days away. My social execution would be sooner rather than later. Many of the women and a few of the men yelled out their ideas on what I should wear and how I should look. The ideas ran the gamut, everything from a baby girl's dress with petticoats and pigtails to full blown, Pretty Woman style, street walking bimbo and every embarrassing costume in between.
As the meeting progressed, their comments became more pointed and shifted from clothing to my physical appearance as well as my voice and mannerisms. While I laughed everything off and pretended to enjoy everyone's teasing, the comments definitely were ripping me apart emotionally. It felt like every sets of eyes in the room could see straight through to my inner self and that seeing the real me was the cause of their amusement.
Thankfully, anyone who believed they would play a part in assisting with my humiliation became sorely disappointed after Tori stood up and whistled loud enough that people in the other room were startled.
"We decided at the last meeting that I would be in charge of the costume and nothing about that is about to change." There were a few gripes and complaints from the others who apparently had grand designs on my ultimate degradation but Tori stood firm. "The way everyone is acting, you would think we're back in school and it makes me ashamed to be a YC. We made a deal and I don't intend on changing the bet after the fact. That's not fair to Harley and would make us look like sore winners."
She turned so our eyes could meet. "I gave him my word that I would be the one who chose the costume and I will fight anyone who tries to make me a liar."
I smiled and realized that while she might give me hell, heaven help anyone else who tried to do the same. She was protecting me as staunchly as I would her.
There was some more whining from a few members until Janice stood and motioned her arm toward me. "You don't see Harley trying to back out do you? He would certainly be within his rights to do so with how you are all acting. No, he is accepting your rude comments in a manner that emits the demeanor of someone I am proud to have associated with our fine organization. I believe we need to show him the same class he is showing us." She banged the gavel she had been holding. "Tori will be in charge of the costume and this is not up for a vote."
After Janice moved on to other areas of club business, I excused myself under the pretext of needing the restroom. I quickly walked around to the back of the building before allowing my anxiety to take over. I leaned against the red brick wall and dropped to the ground before hugging my knees tightly to my chest.
"Everybody knows. Everybody knows. Everybody knows." I kept repeating to myself.
"Stop freaking out." I said as I clutched two fistfuls of hair. "You haven't given them a reason to know. You are going to give yourself away if you freak out. Dani's sister wouldn't want a man who acts like you're acting now."
I started hitting myself in the head with my clinched fists. "You're going to give it away if you keep this up. Stop being a pussy and let them have their fun. You're going to be humiliated regardless. You knew this might happen when you made the bet. Man up you fucking sissy."
With a deep breath, I rose to my feet. Before walking around the building, I smoothed my hair back in place and straightened my ill-fitting dress clothes.
"Good enough," I said to my reflection in the plate glass door before I pushed through to finish the meeting.
Less than a minute after I returned to my seat, I watched Cali walk in the room and resume her seat before exchanging worried whispers with my sister. They stopped after noticing my eyes upon them. I gave them a reassuring smile I didn't feel before returning my focus to the meeting.
Moments later I could sense the presence of the woman I loved. I looked toward the table where Dani was seated. She was staring at me lustily and somehow it was like she and her sister had switched places. As our eyes met, I felt an attraction that was not meant for Cali's wife.
I cocked my head in confusion and somehow knew it was not Dani's eyes I was looking into. She blinked suddenly before looking away and adopting a thoroughly embarrassed expression. She leaned down to her wife's ear and whispered something that caused Cali to appear shocked.
Shaking my head, I dispelled what happened as my mind playing tricks on me again.
"We are all headed down to Monday's. Are you coming?" Janice asked as I helped her put everything away, hoping everyone else would be gone by the time we finished.
I shook my head and yawned for added effect. "I don't think so. It's been a long day so I'm headed home."
She stopped what she was doing before walking in front of me and staring up into my eyes. "Are you okay? You never turn down a chance to party. Are you and Tori fighting? Both of you seemed off tonight."
A smile crossed my lips as I remembered how my sister stood up for me. "Nope, we're good. I'm just really tired. It was a weird weekend and I had a bad day at work."
Janice frowned. "I saw the video. What was that about?"
I shrugged as I finished what she had stopped doing to talk to me. "Bruiser has picked on me since we were in middle school and I finally had enough. It's no big deal." I looked around to see we were finished. "Well, I'll see ya Saturday night. Call me if you need anything before then."
"Are you sure you're okay? Is this about how everyone acted tonight? If it is I'm sorry. Personally, I think they went overboard with their comments." She said with a concerned look on her face.
I tried to chuckle but it sounded a little off. "I told you I am fine. I'm used to the teasing, ask anyone close to my age, they'll tell ya. Anyways, I'm out. See ya later."
I didn't have the heart to tell her that after the party I was done with the club. These people weren't the friends I thought they were.
To my dismay, Tori's car as well as the Karman Ghia I saw Saturday were parked on either end of my truck effectively blocking me in.
"We figured we'd wait for you before we headed to the bar." Tori said once I reached her car.
"No need, I'm sure ya'll have a lot to catch up on. You don't need me hanging around. Have fun and I'll see ya later." I replied as I walked toward my truck.
Cali stepped out of her small customized antique sports car. "Come with us Harley. It'll be fun. Just like old times. I can call Dani's sister to make sure she joins us."
Her last sentence almost caused me to change my mind but I did not want that wonderful woman to hear all the embarrassing stories I was sure Tori and Cali would share. Such an amazing lady would never be interested in someone like me anyway. It was just wishful thinking on my part.
Instead, I shook my head as I unlocked my truck. "Thanks for the offer but that's what I'm afraid of. I look bad enough on my own without ya'll piling on. I was just in the way back then and would probably be even more so now. It was good to see ya again Cali." I looked around her to wave at her wife. "You too Dani. Welcome to the club. I'm glad both of you could join. Please tell your sister I said hello. Have a good night."
I started my truck and waited patiently for either car to move so I could leave. After a minute I watched Tori sigh before getting into her car and pulling forward. With an attempt at a friendly wave I pulled forward and headed home.
I walked to the tree in the back of the yard after I got to the house. Thankfully Mr. O. flew down from his perch to greet me.
"Hi old friend. You have no idea how good it is to see you. It's been a bad day…"
I awoke with the sun, realizing I had fallen asleep at the base of the tree. For the first time in my life, I had no desire whatsoever to go to work. I would be content to go inside to my bed and stay there all day, every day for eternity. In the comfort and solitude of my room, I would not have to spend eight hours with a group of people who wanted me to keep quiet so they could speak their narrow minds without conflict. I would not have to hear everyone's jokes at my expense. Most importantly I would not have to pretend I was okay with what was happening.
I groaned as my sense of duty won out. The importance of hard work had been drilled into me when I was very young and like most things I learned back then, it was a lesson I could never forget.
Luckily both Tori and Missy both had the day off and weren't awake yet so I was able to make it in and out of the house without anyone asking me again if I was okay.
Work was as bad as I thought it would be. I stayed to my department most of the morning except for a couple of times when someone needed help. Even though everyone kept asking what was wrong, I did what was asked without small talk. This was my job and I kept it strictly business.
Around lunch time, Randy approached with a shocked look on his face. "There is woman outside who said she needs to talk to you."
I cocked my brow as I looked at him. "Thanks. Are you okay?"
Randy shrugged slightly before he smiled. "She is even more beautiful up close."
I didn't question him any further before hurrying outside to see who needed to see me.
"Hello." A sultry European voice said as soon as I stepped outside.
I turned to see the woman of my dreams wearing a tight blue tee shirt under a form fitting leather jacket and equally tight jeans that accented every delectable curve. She was holding a single red rose. An overwhelming desire consumed me before I gasped slightly and a single tear of joy escaped. "It's you and you are real."
Her light violet eyes sparkled in the sun as she smiled and walked to me before placing the beautiful flower in my hand. Her four inch stiletto boots gave her a distinct height advantage as she looked down at me. "Oh yes Harley. I'm very real and had to see you again to make sure what I felt the other night was also genuine." She placed the flower she was holding into my trembling hand. "Although this will never compare to the beauty I see in you, please accept it as a token of my blossoming desire."
She ran a gentle finger up the side of my cheek to catch my tear. "What is bothering you? Tell me your problems and I promise to make them go away. You will never have a worry after this moment my angel."
Her words had me in shock. I was the man who should be seducing her, not the other way around. In spite of what my head was telling me, my heart was already hers to do with as she pleased. If she desired to take the lead then I was not going to argue. My only aspiration was to make this amazing woman happy.
"Aren't you married?" I asked timidly. "Your daughter said her daddy was looking for you."
She shook her head. "No, those men are my sister in law's brothers and the girl is her… um, niece."
I felt an overwhelming relief upon hearing she was single but the fact still remained; she was too good for me. There was no possible way I deserved even a second of her attention. "Why are you here?"
The smiled she bestowed upon me was beyond anything I'd ever seen. "You have been invading my dreams since Saturday night. I tried to see you after work yesterday but you had already left. I was beginning to think you were but a figment of my imagination until my sister told me that you had been thinking of me in the same ways I think of you. I went by your house last night but you did not answer your door."
I couldn't stop the frown that formed as the memory of the meeting invaded my mind. I looked away in shame. If she'd already talked to her sister then she knew of how I made a fool of myself.
The woman of my dreams grabbed my chin and forced me to look at her perfect face. "What is troubling you so? My feelings for you are too strong to allow any pain to fill those wonderful eyes."
Something in her words dissolved any doubt I felt. "If your feelings for me are equal to what I have for you then I no longer have anything to worry about."
She allowed her beautifully full lips to meet mine. "I do not know why my heart is so willing and eagerly surrendering to you but I am not going to argue with Cupid's aim because it feels true."
My heart warmed and a giggle escaped as a thought occurred to me.
"What is amusing my love?" She asked with a glorious grin.
My face flushed slightly. "I'm about to pledge my eternal love to woman whose name I don't know."
She laughed lightly as she rested her forehead on mine and took my hands in hers. "Yes, I can see why you would find that funny. I am Polina Destiniya Zoyra and from this moment forward my heart belongs to you. I vow my never-ending love and support. If you feel joy then I will as well. If you hurt, I will ache with you. Whatever affects you my angel, affects me."
I stared into her amazing eyes and allowed myself to get lost in them. "I, Harley Dakota Smith, freely give my heart to you. My life is now yours. I promise to spend the rest of my life devoted to you alone. You have my trust, passion and eternal love."
I repeated her pledge back to her. "From this moment forward, my heart belongs to you. I vow my never-ending love and support. If you feel joy then I will as well. If you hurt, I will ache with you. Whatever affects you, affects me."
She pulled me in for another passionate kiss as soon as I finished my pledge. I wanted nothing more than to convey how strongly I felt for her. The taste of honey on her lips was delicious. A warm feeling engulfed me and it was almost as if I started to glow. I could feel the happiness and joy radiating from Polina.
My eyes widened. "Did you feel that?"
Polina nodded with a glorious smile as she licked her lips. "Yes. You taste of delicious nectar. That is our love combining. I felt your heart warm my body. Our bond is now unbreakable."
She kissed me again passionately at the same time Joe and Randy exited the door I partially blocked. They froze when they saw me in Polina's arms.
"The fat one is the one who has been troubling you." My love whispered more as statement than a question. "He is small minded and has not learned the value of acceptance. He has insulted your sister and threatened you with physical harm recently. You used to hold the other in high regard until he showed you that his mind is just as narrow."
I nodded in amazement that she understood my feelings.
"This job no longer brings you happiness." Again, it was a statement. Not a question.
I shook my head, "I enjoy the job. It is the people I work with that I no longer like."
"You cannot have one without the other. If you no longer enjoy your coworkers then you no longer enjoy your job." My love said matter-of-factly.
Joe grinned and pulled his pants up higher on his waist as he approached. "Hello beautiful lady. Is there anything I can help you with?"
Polina rolled her eyes. "The one you are with has already informed you of the purpose for my visit. You cannot even help yourself push your large rear away from the dinner table. Why do you think you can assist me? You act interested in me when I am not even the type you desire. Are you trying to make a show of misguided dominance?"
Randy laughed loudly as the words had an obvious effect on Joe's demeanor. "You're wasting your time. Let's go."
Joe stared at her harshly and I immediately prepared to handle him if he stepped out of line. "This is a restricted area. Employees only. I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
I started to move toward him but Polina placed her hand on my chest and shook her head before looking at him again. "I came to accompany my love to lunch. We were just leaving."
Randy's mouth gaped so wide a truck could have parked in it before he gathered himself. "Your love? You mean Harley?"
Polina took my hand before lifting it to her lips and gently placing a kiss. "Of course I mean Harley. Why do you sound surprised? Harley is beautiful inside and out, unlike you."
Randy bristled at Polina's words. "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"You hide your ignorance and hatred but it is there nonetheless. Your mind is narrow and you view anyone different than yourself as less. That makes you ugly to any who are enlightened. Your life will remain lacking until you change your ways." She gently tugged on my hand. "Let us take our leave. I am famished."
Joe laughed as I turned to follow her. "Look at him, following her like he's her little bitch."
Before I had a chance to respond, Polina released my hand and invaded Joe's personal space with the tip of her long slender finger. "You will apologize for your crude behavior or face my wrath. Nobody insults the love of my life without consequences."
Joe tried to act brave but it was obvious that he was anything but. "What consequences young lady? You can't do anything to me. I'll have you arrested if you touch me."
The laugh Polina released carried a touch of something sinister. "You hide your true desires behind bigotry and false bravado. The next time you decide to do what you judge others so harshly for doing, everyone will discover the person you have spent years trying to hide. Have fun living in the light of the day." She placed her hand in the small of my back and pointed me toward the parking lot. "Shall we go Angel?"
I nodded before Polina guided me toward a brand new dark blue Audi TTS roadster convertible and opened the passenger's side door. Once seated, she leaned down to place a kiss on my lips before closing the door and walking around the car.
Another giggle escaped as I saw Joe and Randy staring in amazement at the treatment I was receiving from the most amazing woman in the world.
"How long do we have before you must return?" Polina asked after she assumed her place behind the wheel.
"An hour." I replied before realizing I didn't really care about my job anymore. "Or longer if we need it."
After she started the car, she moved my hand so it rested on her thigh. "That is not nearly enough time but I will treasure whatever time we have together."
Five minutes later she pulled in front of the Stonehouse. The nicest restaurant in town. I glanced down at my stained, ill-fitting uniform in a panic. "Oh no. We can't eat here with me looking like this."
My new love frowned. "I think you look amazing regardless of what you are wearing. I only want the best for you and have been led to believe that this is the finest dining facility in the area."
I nodded. "It is but there's a dress code and what I'm wearing does not meet their standards. Can we please go somewhere else? I promise to bring you on a night when we have time to enjoy the atmosphere without being rushed."
Polina smiled. "Of course. I will never make you go somewhere that causes you discomfort. Where would you prefer?"
"There is a small diner on the next block that has a wonderful lunch menu." I replied.
When we arrived outside Medieiro's Café, Polina hurried around and opened my door before I had the chance to remove my seatbelt. After we walked to the café, she held the front access open and motioned for me to enter first. She refused to allow me to hold her chair for her. Instead she insisted on doing the same for me and placed a gentle kiss on my lips before taking her seat across from me.
Throughout our meal we talked as if we had known each other forever. Halfway through the meal she reached across the table to grab my hand. "What does this symbolize?" Polina asked as she examined my ring.
"It's my class ring." I replied with a hint of confusion. "Didn't you get one when you were in high school?"
Polina shook her head as she removed it and placed it on different fingers on her hand until she found one it fit. Much to my embarrassment, my ring finger was the same size as her pinky. "No Angel. My sister and I never attended conventional school." She looked at the ring closely after she removed it from her hand and noticed where it had been resized and spun it around to where the repair was visible after placing it back on my finger. "What is this?"
I hid my hands under the table in shame. "I have lost a lot of weight and had to get it adjusted to fit."
Polina nodded in understanding. "Is that also why your clothes hang on you?"
Small tears started to form in the corners of my eyes. This was the moment when she found out I was a freak and leave me. I'm sure my voice was trembling as I replied. "I've had some changes lately and the doctors can't figure out what is wrong with me"
Polina's beautiful eyes filled with worry. "You are sick my love?"
I shrugged slightly and my fear made me feel like I was shrinking even more. "Not exactly. The doctors say I'm perfectly healthy. Actually I am beyond healthy. I'm stronger than I ever was before and have not had so much as a sniffle. Even my allergies are gone." My body may not have been changing in that moment but my voice became very small and softer than ever before. "It's just that I've been going through some unexplained changes. I used to be taller and heavier. Two years ago I looked a lot like those men you were at wrestling with. Now my body is far less masculine."
She sighed with relief as she reached across the table to comfort me. "I think you are beautiful as you are. If you are healthy then please do not worry yourself."
In that moment any insecurities I held concerning my changes decreased substantially.
When the check came she refused to allow me to pay. "It is my place to take care of you." She told me before handing the waitress the money to cover our check. "Allow me to indulge you in a manner befitting a beauty such as yourself."
My face flushed. I never imagined being comfortable allowing someone else take the lead. I was not raised to be that way. A man's job is to take care of his woman. Yet for reasons I could not begin to understand, her treatment felt completely natural and very flattering. I would gladly switch roles with her if that was what made her happy and I could feel that it did.
Polina unbuckled my seatbelt and pulled me into her arms as soon as she parked next to my truck. "I love you. There is more to me than most but there is also more to you that we do not yet know. We will discuss everything tonight. I have already promised Dani I would go shopping with her and her sister in laws but I want to see you after we return. Is that okay with you?"
I smiled and nodded as I nuzzled into the crook of her elegant neck. "I'd like that very much. Let me give you my number."
She handed me her phone where I dialed my number and hit send. "Now that we know how to keep in touch." I frowned as I looked at the clock on her dash. "I have to go."
Polina nodded before she kissed me again. "I understand. I am counting the minutes until tonight."
She exited the car as I reached for the handle. I giggled when she showed her disappointment that I was already out of the car before she made it around by pursing her lips together like a duck. "I wanted to do that."
I leaned forward and made the same face. "I'm sorry sweetheart. If it makes you happy I will wait from now on."
Polina grinned and pulled my body tightly to hers. "That would make me very happy. Have a great rest of the day." Her lips once again met mine. "I love you."
I placed my head on her shoulder. "I love you too."
She walked me to the employee entrance and I could not help but to stare in awe at her beauty as she walked back to her car.
The rest of my day went amazingly well. Joe stayed to himself while many others stopped by my department to inquire about my new love interest but all I did was smile. They didn't deserve to share in my happiness. I cheerfully stayed to myself because I had thoughts of Polina to keep my mind occupied and spirits lifted.
On the way home from work I stopped to fill up my truck at the Gas n Go despite a nagging feeling of foreboding. As soon as I started filling the tank, my unexplained apprehension suddenly became clear when. Two cars screeched into the lot, each stopping in a way that made sure I couldn't leave.
"If it isn't sissy boy," Bruiser said as he confidently stepped out of one of the cars carrying a baseball bat. I watched as all the guys I fought at wrestling the other night started climbing from both vehicles.
Panic was beginning to creep in as I reached in the back of my truck for my cane only to realize I left it in the dressing room with all my other things. I had no idea how I defeated them the last time so I was afraid I couldn't do it again.
I knew I had to do something or I was in real trouble so I started acting much braver than I felt. "Seriously, Bruiser? Just let it go man." I motioned at the other guys who were ready to harm me. "I'm sorry about what happened but I'm not sure if ya'll can handle another round."
My phone started ringing at the same time as everyone turned to see Cali's car screech into the parking lot. The guys jumped out of the way as Cali came to an abrupt stop next my truck before jumping out and running to my side while taking on an offensive stance. "Do we have a problem here fellas?" The tiny red head glanced at my phone. "Go ahead and answer it. Tell Polina I'm here and you're safe."
Polina sounded relieved to know Cali was by my side but I had to end the call quickly because Bruiser pointed his bat in my direction. "This is between us and sissy boy. He doesn't need a little girl fighting his battles." He started to laugh as he looked at his friends, "or maybe he does. Only a sissy would let a girl fight his battles."
Anger and confidence swiftly overrode my panic. The fact that Cali was famous for her fighting skills might have also contributed to my switching emotions. "I didn't need any help Saturday night asshole. Put the bat down and I'll show you I can do it again."
A few of the guys recognized Cali and it was obvious by the fear in their eyes that they lost their desire to fight. One of them whispered something in Bruiser's ear.
He looked at Cali then back to his friend. "She's the one who hurt Chunk? No way!"
Cali smiled and maintained her cool. "Oh, you've heard of me? Good. I suggest all of you get back in your cars before we are forced to teach you a lesson."
She lurched toward them and laughed as four of the guys climbed in the second car and drove away without saying a word. She then turned her head toward me. "I'll get the bat but after that he's all yours. How does that sound?"
I smiled and winked at the tiny woman whose hair matched my own. "That sounds great. Thanks."
Quicker than I thought possible, Cali made her move. Before Bruiser knew what happened, she was back by my side with the bat in her hand. She placed her free hand on my arm. "Your move, Harley. Show me what you're capable of."
With a confidence unlike any I had felt before, I found myself ready when Bruiser attacked and threw his fist hoping to make contact first. I never noticed it before but he was a sloppy fighter who telegraphed his moves. It was like I knew what he was going to do before he did it. I ducked his punch easily before landing a few of my own in quick succession.
Out of the corner of my eye I saw another guy advancing and spun around with my foot, catching him just beneath the chin with the tip of my steel toed boot and sending him to the ground.
After I resumed my attack on Bruiser, the third guy tried to grab me from behind while the fourth charged. I let the guy at my back hold me so I could use him for balance. I jumped and locked my ankles around the advancing attacker's neck and twisted my legs. The guy yelled out in pain as he started to fall. As I spun out of the grasp of the man holding me from behind, I punched his windpipe causing him to back way while trying to catch his breath.
Once back on my feet, I smacked his nose with the palm of my hand. I kicked the man who initially attacked to ensure he remained down. Knowing those two were incapacitated, I turned my attention back to Bruiser but relaxed when I realized he was still in the same position and making no move toward me.
"Good job. You were able to stop yourself. That shows you have remarkable restraint. Go pay, then we need to talk."
I glanced back to see Cali replacing the nozzle and putting my gas cap back in place as if nothing happened.
Having no intentions of talking to her, I walked through the barrage of injured assholes without comment. I thought Cali was some martial arts master. I angrily punched one of the men who was trying to get to his feet. I assumed she was going to help. I felt another guy ready to attack again and turned before kicking his right knee with such force that his leg bent in manner nature never intended. Other than taking the bat away, all Cali did was watch.
While I paid for my gas, a police car and the Sheriff's SUV pulled into the lot. I sighed and prepared to face the music as I stepped back outside. To my surprise, Cali greeted Sheriff Crews with a huge hug. It was only then that I remembered his son and Cali were really good friends before he died.
I did a double take as I saw a mini Cali jump out of her car. It was the little girl from wrestling. I didn't realize the other night that she could not have been more than seven and was the spitting image of the woman standing next to me. She smiled as she looked up. "That was so cool the way you whooped their asses!"
"Katelyn Dawn! We've talked about that! Get back in the car, I'll be there in a minute." Cali yelled.
I laughed as I dropped to my knees and offered my hand. "Thanks Katelyn. I'm Harley."
She smiled as she shook my hand. "I know who you are. Everybody calls me Kaley." She rolled her eyes toward Cali. "Unless I'm in trouble."
I laughed again. "I know what you mean. That's the only time I ever hear my middle name."
Her little green eyes studied me closely. "I like your eyes. Our hair is alike. Are you a relative I never met?"
I reached out to hold a few strands of her red locks between my fingers. I had not met many people with the same shade of bright red. "I'm not sure."
"Aunt Cali, is she kin to us?" Kaley appeared embarrassed and looked at me again. "Wait. Is she right? You are a girl aren't you? You sound like one."
"Kaley! Be nice!" Cali scolded. "Do you like it when someone asks how old you are and doesn't believe it when you tell them you are almost eleven?"
Hearing her age shocked me but I tried to hide it as Kaley visibly winced. "I'm sorry."
Instead of being upset like I usually became when someone asked that, I smiled. It was my fault since I slipped up and used my natural voice while talking to her. The precious girl meant no harm, she was confused and if I was being honest I couldn't blame her. After my conversation with Polina I no longer felt the same shame as before. "It's okay. I might not look like it but I am a boy."
"I'm sorry Harley." Cali said with her face turning almost as red as her hair. "We were on our way home from surprising her at school when Polina called saying you needed help."
"Thanks for stopping." I replied as I started to stand when the Sheriff started to walk over. "How much trouble am I in?"
The tall, slightly overweight man extended his hand. "None at all. Caligirl told me it was self-defense."
"Thank you." I replied as I relaxed. "I just hope he leaves me alone from now on."
Sheriff Crews frowned and shook his head. "I kinda doubt it. His family isn't exactly known for learning lessons." He bumped his hip into Cali. "Isn't that right?"
The little girl giggled. "Maybe Aunt Cali should give Harley the tire iron now and beat the wait. He can denut him like that other guy and this time I can watch!"
"Kaley, get in the car right now!" Cali shrieked.
The police officer that had walked to my side laughed. "Now that's an idea."
Sheriff Crews grinned before he shook his head. "Does it make me a bad man that I don't disagree?"
The dispatcher said something over the Sheriff's radio. He sighed and turned to give Cali another hug. "I have to run. I know the missus would love to see you while you and Dani are in town. Love ya girl." He turned toward me. "If I were you I would keep an eye open. I doubt he considers this over."
I nodded. "Yes sir, I understand."
The police officer smiled as he offered his card. "My name is Rex. Here is my cell number and if you have any trouble please don't hesitate to call."
It was slightly uncomfortable as his hand lingered on mine longer than it should have and his eyes bore into mine as if he were trying to silently convey a hidden message. I pulled back and thanked him before he walked away with another glance and smile in my direction.
I was trying to figure out what was with Rex's odd behavior when Cali pulled me from my thoughts. "I think you have an admirer. Do you want to leave your truck here or would you prefer we follow you home so you can leave it there?"
She smiled teasingly as her eyes drifted to the patrol car as it pulled away. "I think Rex likes you. He couldn't take his eyes off you."
I released a disbelieving huff. "Um, I don't think so."
Her eyebrows lifted as she cocked her head in my direction. "Whatever. We need to talk. I'm about to take Kaley home and we need to discuss a few things afterwards. What will it be? Are you leaving your truck here?"
"Aw." Kaley whined as she stuck out her bottom lip and stomped her foot. "I want to stay with you Aunt Cali."
Chuckling as I walked to my truck, I looked over my shoulder at her. "Have I done or said something to give you the impression that I agreed to talk with you?"
"You kinda owe me." She replied.
"How do you figure that?" I asked angrily. "You just stood back and watched."
"Aunt Cali took that guy's bat away so he couldn't hit you with it." Kaley said.
Cali nodded before adding, "Not only that but just by me being there, four of the guys left. I had your back and kept you from getting arrested. It's not my fault you didn't need me to fight. I was still ready if needed. I'd say you owe me."
I sighed in resignation. I did owe her, big time. "Do you mind following me home? I'm afraid they will do something to my truck if I leave it here. Do you remember where I live? It's Dad's old house."
Cali nodded. "I remember, meet ya there."
I called Polina on my way home and gave her a brief play by play of what happened. I also told her I would probably be with Cali until she finished shopping and asked her to call me when she was finished.
As soon as I stepped out of my truck and Cali pulled in behind me, Mr. O. swooped down and landed on Cali's hood with a fierce look in his eyes.
I walked over and moved him to my shoulder. "What you doing out this time of day?" I asked as I lightly ran my hand over his feathers. "This isn't like you. These are my friends so I need you to be nice to them." Through it all, his large eyes focused on Cali's car.
I motioned for them to get out of their car. "I'm sorry. Mr. O has never done this before."
Cali seemed surprised as she stared at the owl in amazement. "No need to apologize." She bowed slightly and extended her arms with her palms facing upward. "It is an honor to make your acquaintance wise one. I believe I have met one of your brethren."
To my astonishment, Mr. O flew to her hand and after a moment appeared to nod his head. After he flew back to my shoulder, Cali motioned to the little girl. "This is my niece Kaley. She is also a friend."
Kaley's smile was huge as her bright eyes took everything in. "You have an owl like in Harry Potter Harley? Can I pet him?"
"He's not my pet." I replied. "Mr. O is a friend who lives nearby and comes to visit every once in a while. If I'm being honest, all this is surprising. He's never acted like this before."
Cali studied my feathered friend and I closely as she spoke to her niece. "This is different princess. Harry Potter has an owl as a pet that's kept in a cage. In this case, Mr. O protects Harley. He is free to do as he wishes."
Kaley frowned and nodded her head. "I understand."
Mr. O appeared to look in Cali's direction and nod as a confirmation of her assumptions before flying to Kaley.
The precious little girl's smile returned as the small owl rested on her shoulder. "How cool is this Aunt Cali?"
Cali's prism colored eyes were overflowing with love and joy as she took a picture of her niece with her phone. "It's very cool. I think you should thank him for doing that."
Kaley turned her head so she could look at the owl. "Thank you Mr. O."
"Wise one, I have been granted gifts that will allow me to protect Harley in your absence." Cali said while looking at the owl. "I give you my word that he will be safe."
Mr. O hooted before he flew off into the trees behind the house.
"That was unexpected." Cali said to no one in particular as she opened her door. "Kaley get in the back seat. Harley, are you ready to go?"
I nodded as I held the door open for the adorable little girl, waiting for her to crawl in the back before folding my body into the small car.
"Sooo…" Cali said with a lilt in her voice. "You and Polina huh?"
Kaley giggled as she leaned forward between the bucket seats. "I caught them kissing Saturday night. I think they would have done it behind the building if I didn't stop them."
"Kaley!" Cali yelled as her face flushed. "Put your seatbelt on and do we really need to have another talk about manners?"
"Sorry Aunt Cali but it's true." Kaley said behind me. "I didn't mean to make you mad Harley."
I laughed as I glanced back at the precious girl. "It's okay Kaley. I'm not mad at all." I smiled as I thought of the woman I loved and glanced at Cali. "Kaley's probably right. If Polina had wanted to, I wouldn't have said no. I can't explain it. It was like love at first sight. I'd do anything for her."
Cali smiled. "It must be. She lights up at the mention of your name exactly like you are doing at the mention of hers."
After dropping Kaley off, Cali drove to the cliff I visited over the weekend. Instead of taking the path to the top, she headed toward the base.
"Your fighting skills are impressive." Cali said as we started walking. "Do you mind if we try some techniques? I want to see your level of knowledge."
I shrugged as we came to an open area. "Sure."
Cali turned to attack and knocked me on my butt. She taunted me, telling me I could do better. I jumped up and invited her to attack again. The second time I was able to fend her off successfully. Her speed started to increase but due to my increasing aggravation at her taunts I was more than able to keep up. In fact she had a hard time defending herself after I became the aggressor. I started using her own moves against her and she could not provide a defense against it. Eventually I found myself standing over her while she was prone to the ground with a shocked expression.
"Where did you learn to fight like that?" Cali asked after she rose to her feet and started walking down the path again.
I didn't answer for a moment while I considered her question. I may not have remembered the fight Saturday night but everything I did at the gas station was burned into my memory. "I'm not sure. Lately it feels like I can see something once and figure out how to do it. Also from my wrestling training. I'm a manager you know?" She nodded that she did before I continued. "I don't know if you can remember him but Tori used to have a friend who taught me a lot when I was little. It seems like he was really into martial arts and taught me some self-defense moves."
I tried to remember who it was that taught me but it was almost like something was preventing me from remembering. I rubbed my temples to ease the pain that was starting to set in. "How can someone who meant so much to me just escape my memory like that? You have to remember him. He was a little guy, close to your age and had our hair color."
Cali looked at me with worry before leading me to a fallen tree just off the path. "I don't know who you are talking about."
"Tori doesn't remember either. She tells me I'm crazy anytime I ask about him."
Cali's anxiety was palpable. "It's okay I don't need to know his name. I was just trying to compliment your skills, not upset you."
I shook my head as I sat down. "You didn't upset me. It's just that whenever I'm feeling down, his words of encouragement keep me going. He was such an important part of my life and I can't even remember his name. At the time I loved him like a brother. In fact I still do. How can I feel so strongly yet not remember?"
Taking a seat beside me on the log, Cali put her arm around me. "From what Tori has told me, you seem to have a lot on your mind lately so it's understandable."
I pulled away from her quickly and started to stand. "What do you mean? What has she told you?"
"Nothing other than she is worried because something is bothering you and you won't talk to her about it." Cali replied.
I relaxed a little as I moved back toward the path. The lace of my work boot caught on one of the fallen branches causing it to untie. As I retied the laces, a small crack opened up in the wall blocking my memory and I snapped my fingers. "Ty!"
Cali jumped to her feet. "What?"
"Ty, his name was Tyler Daw…" I turned to look at the confused, stunningly beautiful woman beside me. The wall in my mind crumbled and I was suddenly flooded with strange memories. Memories that were not possible. Memories that I knew were true. I tried backing away but fell on my butt instead. "Oh my GOD! How is this possible?"
What made her so special that her life got a rewrite and my hell continued? Why did she change from a guy who looked out for me into a girl who tormented me? Why did she get to become a beautiful girl with the world at her feet while I continued to be someone everybody would wind up hating?
"How is what possible? How do you know that name?" Cali asked as she approached.
"Stay away from me." I yelled as I crawled away before getting to my feet. "I trusted you! Why did you turn on me after you changed? I loved you but you abandoned me. What did I ever do to deserve being treated like that?"
Cali's eyes filled with tears and she dropped to her knees. "I don't know. I really wish I did. I'm so sorry. I became the person you see almost two years ago. It happened not far from where we are standing. Along with my new life, I was given a new past that I know I lived. I was awful to you the second time around and have no excuses for what I did but please know that I feel horrible."
"Never mind!" I replied bitterly. "I know why you did it. You're just like everybody else and didn't want to associate with the person I was back then. What makes me think you won't do it again?" Cali reached for me when I turned to walk off. I angrily jerked my arm away before turning with clenched fists. "Stay the fuck away from me."
I started running the path back to where we parked as fast as my feet could carry me. I changed directions when I realized going to her car was only going to lead to another confrontation. I wanted to call Polina to come get me but realized I left my phone in Cali's car. Instead, I continued running through a wooded area until I came upon a clearing beneath the cliff.
Hearing Cali still calling out to me, I searched for a place to hide until she left. I noticed a small crack in the side of the rock barely large enough to fit through. For the first time since I started losing weight, I was glad to be so thin.
I noticed a small stream flowing down the cave and with Cali's voice getting louder I decided to follow the water. I ran as the path continued downward with many crooks and curves. I had no idea how long I had been running when I entered a large open cavern.
The fact that I could see this deep underground was amazing. There was a soft phosphorescent glow emanating from what appeared to be thousands of cracks running along the stone walls and ceiling. The water I was following ended at a stone bath. Eager to explore my new surroundings, I ran my fingers over an altar that was beyond anything I had ever seen. There were odd scratches on it but otherwise it was an intricate masterpiece.
I studied the ancient carvings along the walls until I heard a voice behind me. "Hello Harley. It is good to see you again."
I sighed deeply. My imaginary friend was back. Choosing to ignore her rather than submit myself to more worthless hope. I silently walked back to the small stream and bent down to take a drink. I was losing my mind. That was the only logical explanation for everything. The stress of balancing the life I wanted and the life that I had been taught was right had started taking its toll.
"I said hello Harley." The woman said as she walked behind me.
Without looking in her direction, I made my way over to a corner of the room where the floor had a small layer of dirt covering it and laid down. Believing I was just tired from the fight, I hoped I would awaken to realize it had all been a strange dream.
"Why are you not speaking to me? Have I done something?"
I closed my eyes so tight they hurt and covered my ears. "You are not real. You are not real. Stop trying to make me weak."
"Why would I want to make you weak? I only want to help you."
Without opening my eyes, I shook my head. "That proves you're not real. Only Polina wants to help me."
"I can assure you that I am very real. Why are you acting in such a manner? I am one of many who want to help. I thought we moved past this already."
I heard another voice. "I believe that is my fault Mother."
I opened my eyes to see Cali walking toward the woman who looked so much like her wife. "You failed to mention meeting him to us. Considering your rules concerning revealing your existence, when he saw Dani and thanked her for your chat, we didn't know what he was talking about and told him he was mistaken."
The woman Cali called Mother frowned. "I can see my oversight now. I do apologize." She walked over to me and offered her hand. "I believe a proper introduction is long overdue. I am Danica and Polina's mother Zaria."
My brows furrowed as I studied her closely. "How can you be their mother? You look to be the same age."
Zaria motioned the length of her body with both hands. My mouth dropped in amazement as she transformed into an elegant older version of herself.
"Is this more in keeping with your expectations of what a mother should look like?" She said with a gentle smile.
I looked to Cali for confirmation that what I was seeing was real. She smiled and nodded as if reading my thoughts. "It's unbelievable but true. Finding out about all this freaked me out at first too."
"What are you?" I asked as my eyes went back to Zaria who had reassumed her more youthful form.
She smiled as she sat beside me. "Although I am not comfortable using the term, based on our earlier conversation, I suppose I am what you would call a Goddess."
I could not believe what I was hearing but somehow, just like Cali also being Ty, I knew it all to be true. "Are you the one who messed me up?"
Her smile was laced with sadness as she shook her head. "Our kind was not gifted with the ability to oversee creation but I must say that you are many things Harley. Some of which we have yet to discover, but a mistake has never been one of them. My daughter would not bond herself to a mistake."
"Are you the one who changed Cali and gave her an entirely new past?"
She nodded. "Yes, that was my doing."
A hope I never before felt filled my heart. "Can you do that for me?"
Again she shook her head as she looked upon me with pity. "I cannot. Had Callista not given her life in this very cavern to save mine, I never would have done something so drastic."
Disappointment enveloped me as I stood to walk from the cave. "What have I done to make you hate me?" An accusatory finger pointed at the petite red head. "Why did you make her treat me so badly the second time if I was not a mistake?"
"Hate is a negative emotion that I refuse to allow entrance to my consciousness. Regardless, I could never hate someone as wonderful as you. I did no such thing child. I improved Callista's relationships with others to give her a better life." Zaria replied defensively.
Cali stepped forward to block my escape while looking at Zaria. "No Mother. Harley is correct. As Ty we were very close but as Cali I have been horrible to him. I have been borderline cruel. I was everything I stand against when interacting with him in this life. I would also like to know why you had me treat him so bad." She offered her hand to Zaria. "You may see for yourself."
I watched in amazement as Zaria accepted Cali's hand and they stared into each other's eyes for a moment before Zaria pulled away with a frown. "That was not my doing. Who could have interfered in such an intrusive manner and I not know?"
"Could it be the Thetans?" Cali asked.
Zaria thought for a moment before shaking her head. "I cannot rule that out with absolute certainty but how would they have known what I was doing? No. This has a different feel to it."
"He shows signs of having gifts. He was able to pull away from my manipulation when I questioned him concerning meeting you." Cali said without looking at me. "He also detected when Dani and Polina shared sight."
Was that the strange feeling of trust that flowed through me as she touched me that night? What did she mean shared sight? Was that what was happening when I felt Polina's presence at the meeting? I realized that whatever was happening was very serious when they began discussing me as if I was not there.
Zaria nodded. "I noticed them myself. Polina could never share such an all-encompassing bond with a mere mortal. Yours did not develop with Danica until after your gifts started to develop. Only eternal beings can form eternal ties."
"He is also showing other signs." Cali added. "I watched him fight and his reflexes are faster than they should be. He could sense when others were about to attack. His strength and reflexes are greater than mine and he was able to outrun me."
Zaria appeared distracted for moment before huffing loudly. "Give me a moment. My daughter is in a full on panic over feeling Harley's pain. I will be back as soon as she is calm." I looked on in amazement as she disappeared in bright light.
Cali paced impatiently, ignoring my presence. I tried to figure out why they were so concerned. Of course I was stronger than Cali, I work out almost daily and had at least eight inches in height over her. The same holds true about how I out ran her. Why is that a big deal? Of course I could sense the others were about to attack, they telegraphed their moves. Anyone with a modicum of training could do what I did.
Zaria reappeared and my only concern became Polina. "Is she okay?"
She smiled. "Yes child. My daughter is worried but I have convinced her that you will be fine."
I was not quite as confident concerning my mental state but became distracted when Cali's tone became accusatory toward Zaria. "Is there something you are not telling me? Harley has a wise one keeping guard over him."
Zaria seemed genuinely surprised at that last statement. "Truly? Then my suspicions are confirmed but how? She has never allowed a man the pleasure of her body. I need to have a conversation with my cousin."
Cali appeared proud of herself. "That was my thought as well but I dared not suggest it."
"You are becoming very astute." Zaria tilted her head in my direction as she continued to discuss me with Cali. "I need you to delve into Harley's past. See if you can sense anything that would have caused your behavior regarding him to change."
"I don't know if I can but I will try. He is immune to many of my gifts. It is harder to search him than you if you were unwilling." Cali turned to me with concern etched across her face. "I have a confession. In many ways I am like Mother. I also have abilities that many would find hard to believe. May I search your memories to see if anything sticks out in your mind? I give you my word I mean you no harm."
My eyes widened as I stared at her. "I still don't trust you."
"I can't say that I blame you." Cali replied with a frown. "But I swear on everything I hold dear that I'm sorry for how I treated you. I want to know why it happened and hopefully help you in the process."
Her words bled with sincerity and I also wanted to know what happened. I instinctively knew I could trust her but past hurts tried to argue against it. I was not sure if I could let someone who once treated me so horribly access to my mind. I started to cry as I relived the torment she caused me growing up.
"I know you hate me and it hurts so bad. I swore that I would never make you sad." Cali's voice started to break. "Please don't cry cause I will too. Never forget that I love you. Ignore the bad as you grow. You are stronger than you know. When you are troubled pick out a star. Use it to remember how strong you are."
Cali repeated what Ty told a hysterical eight year old who did not want him to leave for California. I thought back to Ty kneeling before me and trying his best to keep it together. Looking back with adult eyes I could see Ty was as broken in that moment as Cali is now.
She held up her pinkie. "I will not hurt you again. I swear."
My pinkie locked around hers. "Do it."
A relieved smile crossed Cali's face. "Thank you. Please relax and grant me entrance. I promise this will not hurt."
I released a deep breath and opened my mind as I offered my hand. I discovered that I could see as easily into her past as she could mine. Neither of us had the best of childhoods.
Cali's eyes overflowed with tears almost immediately. After five minutes she released me before wrapping her arms around my neck. "I'm sorry for everything you've been through. I'll never let you down again." She looked up at Zaria. "Someone has tampered with her life from the beginning but it is not the Thetans although a recent event might be caused by one of them."
"Who is it?" Zaria asked as she moved to our side.
"I don't know." Cali replied with a look of fear. "They lurked in the shadows manipulating events."
"The Shades." Zaria muttered angrily.
"The what?" I asked. "What are they?"
"I think they work for the three old hags who control the metaphorical thread of life of every mortal from birth to death. You probably know the women as Fate." Cali replied. "Even God's and Goddesses' can't contest them."
Zaria sighed. "That is the legend. The truth is far more complicated. We share an uneasy truce. There are rules both sides must abide by. Not much is known about them other than the three ladies were more figure heads than anything and they were rendered obsolete eons ago. The Shades have taken a more active role but we do not know what that is. "
Frustration filled my core. "You mean my life was predetermined to be like this?"
Zaria shook her head. "No, I fear something else is afoot."
Cali released me and took Zaria's hand. "There is more. I leapt back a few generations after I discovered an interesting coincidence. It is something I could not see in myself but when looking at it from an outside perspective… well you will see."
Zaria's eyes widened. "Oh my, that does change things considerably. We need to have a talk with her to see what she has to say."
Cali nodded before she glanced at me. "I believe Harley should be there as well. It would be difficult for her to deny anything in Harley's presence but first give me time to explain the lesser aspects to her."
"I believe you are right but allow Polina the chance to explain the deeply personal aspect." Zaria said. "I will go to her and let her know what is about to happen. We will do the other tomorrow. That will give me enough time to gather everything I need."
"What about the lightning? Do you also feel that is odd?"
Zaria nodded, "It is but I do not understand it. I hope she can provide some insight when we see her." A bright light started to envelope Zaria before Cali reached out. "Can you give us a lift back to the car? It would save a lot of time."
Zaria nodded. "You have it within you to do this as well. If you would ever agree to proper training, I could show you."
Cali rolled her eyes. "Please Mother, now is not the time for that."
Zaria grinned and suddenly bright light surrounded the three of us.
A moment later I was sitting in Cali's car rubbing my eyes. She laughed as she started the engine. "Sorry about that. I should have warned you to keep them closed."
I knew I should have been more freaked out about learning there was a whole different world that existed alongside the one I lived in. I wasn't sure if I was still in shock but I felt strangely liberated, like I was receiving a confirmation of long held beliefs.
"Hey big brother can you do me a favor and meet me at Thomas's house as soon as you can. Looks like I found out who was in those baby pictures." Cali said into her phone before laughing loudly. "No silly I'm still in California. Dani came to town by herself to go shopping with Renee and Trish. I just want you to go over to look at his pictures of me. Of course I'm in town. Okay love you too. Bye."
She placed another call as soon as she finished. "Hey sis. I wanted to let you know that Harley is safe. I'm keeping her awhile longer." Cali listened for a moment before trying to sound reassuring. "Calm down. I promise nothing will happen. She may experience strong emotions but I'm here to help her through it… I know it's your place to do that but you're shopping aren't you?… Stop it, just stop it! You're not helping anyone by being like this."
Cali glanced at me and saw that I was experiencing every emotion Polina was feeling. "Damnit! Will you calm down! Harley is going through enough without your worry being added to her emotions. I have this handled, if you're truly needed you will know. There is no need to come now. I promise I'm taking good care of her... Fine you can talk to her."
"Hey sweetheart." I said as soon as Cali handed me the phone.
"Are you okay my love? Do you need me to come to you?" Polina asked frantically.
"I'm getting better. I've learned a few things that have been a shock to my system. I'll need you later so you can help me process everything." I replied.
"Of course Angel. I will always be here for you."
I couldn't help but to smile at her pet name for me. "Other than worrying about me, are you having fun?"
Polina laughed lightly. "Yes but I wish you were with me."
"I wish I was with you too." I whispered earnestly. The need to be in her arms was overwhelming.
Next thing I knew I was standing in front of the woman I loved. I launched myself into her arms. "Thank you for bringing me here."
Her eyes widened in shock. "It was not me Angel. I do not possess that gift."
Zaria appeared beside us and was visibly shaken upon noticing my presence.
"Thank you, Mother, for bringing Harley to me so I could see with my own eyes that she is fine." Polina said as she held me in her arms.
Zaria sounded rather nervous as she responded. "You are welcome. Now that you have seen for yourself, she must return."
I handed the phone back to Cali as soon as found myself back in her car. "She's fine now, Zaria let me see her."
Cali looked angry as she answered the ringing phone. "Tell Mother a little heads up would be nice before she does anything like that again. I almost ran off the road when …" Her expression changed to shock as she listened to whatever Dani told her. She glanced at me nervously before she started talking again. "No shit… Wow, I can't even do that… No, not a word… Okay, I love you."
"Love bonds take some getting used to." Cali said as she placed her phone in her purse. "What you and Polina share is almost unheard of. Mine didn't form with Dani until after my change. We've loved each other since shortly after we started dating but the bond didn't finalize until after my gifts started to manifest and she had to…" Whatever she was thinking about made her frown. "Let's just say she gave me a part of her essence."
I nodded even though I had no idea what she was talking about. All I knew was that the woman I loved was beside herself with worry for me and now she wasn't.
Cali attempted to smile. "We are connected more than either of us realized. When Mother, I mean Zaria, altered my past, she thought I was not close to anyone after my mother died so she sort of did a complete reset. She improved almost every relationship I had. She didn't know she needed to pay extra attention to our connection."
She reached across and took my hand. "Don't get me wrong. I always thought of you as my kid brother. I saw you as someone who reminded me of myself and someone I could help. I always went out of my way for you because I saw a familiar pain in your eyes. I loved it when I was able to make it go away. I felt like the king of the world when I was able to make you smile."
Cali released her grasp to turn into one of the oldest and nicest neighborhoods in town. "Anyways, I suspect the Shades saw greatness in you and having knowledge of my change, did something to you so I would not be able to stand being around you. They may be afraid of what could happen if we discovered our past."
She pulled onto the cobblestone paved driveway of a large beige sandstone mansion and parked next to Polina's car before turning to face me. "I will never forgive myself for how I treated you. I swear on everything I hold dear that I will never let you down again. No matter how you choose to live your life." She laughed and waved her hands at herself. "I mean, I can definitely relate to being in the wrong body. It's been almost two years and at times it still feels wrong. I will try to mind my pronouns around others but when we are alone, you are now and will forever be my sister."
I laughed timidly. "Saw that did you?"
She pulled me into a hug. "I didn't need the trip into your mind for that. I went outside to check on you at the meeting and heard you talking to yourself. I did see a few things though. I know why your Dad always treated Tori better than you."
My eyes widened. "You do?"
She nodded. "I've never been good with sugar coating things so I'm just going to say it. He never believed you were his child and seeing you was a reminder of your mother's infidelity. Turns out he was right because my father is your father."
I didn't want to believe her but what she said made too much sense. Of course Dad, I mean Mr. Smith, I mean… I don't even know what to call him, but no wonder he always treated me as if I were in the way and left his entire estate to Tori instead of both of us.
Still, I would rather have had the man I knew as Dad around me growing up than Cali's father. I remembered Mr. Dawson from my stepfather's church where he had helped with my therapy classes. He always singled me out and it scared me how he seemed to hold me to a higher standard than anyone else. That man was pure evil.
I reached up to grab a handful of my hair before waving it in Cali's direction. "That kinda explains this."
She laughed as she grabbed some of her own. "I guess it does. Want to meet your brothers?"
"I don't have much of a choice since you warned one of them I was coming." I said as I reached for the door handle.
"Good point." Cali replied with a snicker.
My body filled with unbelievable laughter as a thought occurred to me. "I can't believe I'm a Dawson brother now. If people had known that growing up maybe I wouldn't have picked on as much."
Cali frowned and shook her head. "It never worked for me. Sometimes that name felt like a curse. Trust me on that."
I walked over and pulled her into a sideways hug. "Sorry, that was a bad joke. I know firsthand what your…" I paused to correct myself. "I mean our father was like. I'm glad I was the bastard child and only saw him in that terrible excuse for a church."
Her look was troubled. "I never remember him being a religious man when I was growing up. I thought he didn't join a church until after I left town."
"Oh he wasn't." I replied bitterly. "He never went to the services that I know of, he only took part in my therapy classes."
Kaley came flying from the back door effectively ending our conversation and leapt into her aunt's arms. "You changed your mind about letting me spend the night! Thank you, thank you, thank you."
Cali laughed as she kissed her niece. "Nope. You know the rules, you have to sleep at home on school nights. Don't worry, we'll have Friday night, Saturday morning and all day Sunday."
Someone would have to be blind not to see now much my newfound sister adored her niece.
Cali started toward the large house. "Come on and be yourself. After all, everyone is family here."
"So he is a long lost relative after all?" Kaley said with a know-it-all grin. "I knew it!"
Cali laughed and nodded. "Kaley, this is your Uncle Harley."
Kaley's brows bunched together as she stared at me and held my hair in her small hands since it was no longer in a ponytail. "You say you are a boy but I looked it up. Harley is a girl's name."
I laughed as I placed a finger over Cali's mouth to prevent her from fussing at Kaley. I was already falling in love with the little girl's lack of a filter. "Apparently not. My name is Harley Dakota Smith."
Kaley started smiling. "That is a pretty name…" She leaned closer and adopted a serious expression. "For a girl. Are you like a lesbian except instead of acting like a girl, you act like a boy? It's okay if you are." Her adorable eyes cut to Cali. "Some of the coolest people I know are lesbians."
I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard as Cali scolded her niece. "Katelyn Dawn Dawson! How many times do we have to talk about being rude?"
Kaley placed her hands on her hips and her little lips formed an adorable pout. "How am I going to learn if I don't ask questions?"
"She has a point." I said from my spot on the driveway where I fell to catch my breath. "She's just curious and very perceptive."
Cali cut her eyes in my direction and I could tell it was taking all she had not to also laugh. "She doesn't need your help."
Kaley studied me a moment longer before she snapped her fingers as if she had suddenly figured out the meaning of life. "Oh, I get it now. Harley isn't a girl who wants to be boy is she? She's like…"
Cali dove and covered Kaley's mouth. "You know better than to EVER talk about that. Do you know how bad it would hurt her feelings to hear you mention it?"
Kaley appeared to be genuinely apologetic as she dropped her tiny head. "I'm sorry but I think it's really cool."
Cali kissed her niece. "It's okay princess. We can talk later but it is not your place tell people about that."
"What am I missing?" said a deep voice from the doorway.
Two large red haired men walked out on the back deck before the taller of the two, who was at least five inches taller than me, with red hair sticking out from under a worn ball cap came over and offered me a hand up. I looked on in amazement at our similarities as he smiled, "Hi, I'm Thomas. Good to meet you."
I recognized him from the times he came to watch Henry wrestle. They had been friends for years. "We've met. Sorry about the Gryffindor joke. I'm Harley, it's good to see you again."
The other guy walked over and slapped my shoulder. "Don't apologize, that was some funny shit. We haven't laughed like that in ages. I'm still looking for someone I can use that line you had about needing four eyes on." He grabbed my hand. "I'm Jeb by the way. Do you prefer Harley or Hayseed?"
I laughed. "Either is fine. You can call me whatever you want so long as you say it with a smile."
Jeb laughed again. "Henry was right, you're funny."
Thomas cut his eyes to Cali. "I was doubtful when Jeb said you were on the way over and why but I'd say you're right baby girl."
Jeb grinned. "I've often thought he might be the one." He shoved Thomas for acknowledgement. "We were talking about it after seeing him whoop up on all those guys Saturday night."
Thomas nodded as Kaley tugged Jeb's arm and he picked her up. "You should have seen him and Aunt Cali this afternoon. It was awesome! There were nine guys but Aunt Cali scared four of them off. Then Harley kicked all their…"
"Kaley!" Thomas and Cali yelled in unison.
She pouted again as she looked at them. "What? I was going to say butts."
Thomas grinned and took her from his brother. "Uh huh. I'm sure you were. Don't you have homework or something? Just because your Mom has gone shopping with your aunts doesn't mean you're going to get away with slacking off."
She nodded, "Yes sir."
He kissed her cheek before putting her down. "I suggest you get to it then young lady."
After Kaley left, the four of us sat around a table on the spacious deck of what I found out was the house they grew up in. I found I really like Cali's, well I guess my, brothers. They were genuinely funny and you could feel the love Cali, Thomas and Jeb had for each other. We didn't talk that much about the man whose blood we shared. Instead we discussed a wide variety of topics and found we had more in common than I thought possible.
We talked for well over an hour and Jeb turned to me after Cali left to help Kaley with her homework and rested his muscled arm across my shoulders. "I can't wait for you to meet my wife. I think you two will get along great."
His words were innocuous but I could not help feeling there was something left unsaid. I looked at him expectantly, hoping he would offer more of an explanation. When he didn't say anything further, I smiled timidly. "I'm looking forward to it."
An overwhelming joy filled my body as soon as I felt that Polina was near. I jumped from my seat to see a minivan coming up the road. Seconds later Cali and Kaley joined my side.
"Damn." Thomas said with a laugh. "Harley can sense people coming just like those two."
Polina rushed from the van and wrapped me in her arms before lifting me off the ground. "I have missed you so much. How are you coping with everything Angel?"
"I missed you too." I replied after we broke off of kiss. "I'm good but even better now that you're here."
The two women I didn't know exited the van and stopped in their tracks as their gaze drifted from me to Cali, Thomas and Jeb before coming back to me.
"Honey I want you to meet my brother Harley." Jeb said as he stepped up to kiss the tall auburn haired woman before leading her to Polina and I. "Harley this is my wife Renee."
Renee cocked her head questionably toward her husband before extending her hand and smiling. "It's nice to meet you Harley."
"You too." I replied. There was something familiar about Renee. A kinship that I couldn't figure out.
I heard Renee as she leaned into her husband trying to be discreet. "Why did you call her your brother?"
A woman with light brown hair who was only a few inches taller than Cali stepped forward to hug me. "Hi Harley. It's good to put a face to the name. Polina has told us all about you. I'm Thomas's wife Trish."
I blushed wondering what all Polina had said as I returned Trish's embrace awkwardly. "Nice to meet you."
Dani smiled and placed a hand on my shoulder as she walked past on her way to greet her wife. "It is good to see you again. Maybe my sister can calm down now that she sees you are safe with her own eyes. Welcome to the family."
I watched as she hurried to Cali and lifted her off the ground. From the greeting they gave each other, you would have thought it had been months since they last saw each other. I noticed Dani whisper something in Cali's ear that surprised her. She looked at Polina and I with a big smile before nodding to her wife.
Polina didn't give me a chance to get acquainted with Trish and Renee. I barely had time to tell everyone goodbye before she led me to Trish's van where she grabbed quite a few bags and then continued to her Audi.
Once on the road I asked where we were going. Polina shook her head and smiled, telling me it was a surprise and to trust her.
My curiosity piqued as she left the city limits and turned on the road that led to Gatlinburg but I didn't ask again because I did trust her completely. Polina used the time on the road to explain her mother to me and told me she had gifts of her own. She shared stories of growing up in her mother's realm and I found it odd that the fact she had lived more years than I could imagine did not bother me in the least.
If anything I found myself humbled that such an astonishing woman loved me.
We never ran out of things to talk about while we were on the road. I loved listening to her regale me with stories from her life. She gave me her full attention as I told her everything about myself.
She looked on in surprise when I told her my favorite musical artist was Belle or Sara Collins Carson since she now sang under her real name. I noticed her eyes glisten as I shared with her how Belle’s songs helped me through many difficult times. She lifted my hand to her lips while I told her how I probably would not have made it if not for the latest album Sara made with her husband Adam Carson.
I could feel regret and sadness growing within the woman I loved as I talked. "What's wrong?"
Polina shook her head slightly and wiped away a tear. "It is hard to explain. I know Sara. She is extraordinary and my stupidity caused her more pain than anyone should endure. She has forgiven me and I consider her a good friend but I cannot help but to believe I do not deserve the happiness I receive from you."
I leaned across to rest my head on her shoulder. "You deserve the world. I wish I had more to offer than my heart. I feel as if you are getting the short end of the stick. If anyone doesn't deserve this happiness it is me. You are the answer to a prayer I didn't even know I made."
She pulled me to her lips while still traveling at close to ninety miles an hour. "You are more than I could have ever hoped for my Angel. I love you so much it hurts."
I wondered where we were going after we drove through Gatlinburg and she continued making a series of turns until the area became more remote. My heart leapt into my throat as Polina pulled into a place called The Chapel at Honeymoon Hills.
Polina pulled around to a small log cabin before finally stopping. "I made the reservations after lunch and Mother brought me the keys earlier. I want to be alone with you tonight since I tend to be loud."
I tried to smile even though I felt a tinge of disappointment. "I thought you were asking me…" I laughed lightly at the absurdity of my thought. "Never mind."
My loved smiled as if she were holding a secret before she rushed around to open my door. "Patience Angel." She cut off my next thought before I had to ask. "You have tomorrow off from work. As far as anyone knows you have had it planned for the past month. I also left a note for your sister reminding her you would be away so she would not worry."
"But how?" I asked before smacking my head. "Oh yeah. Gifts."
Polina nodded as she retrieved the bags from her trunk. "I thought you could use a shower before we eat." She looked at the ill-fitting uniform I was still wearing from work. "I bought you some things while I was shopping. I hope they fit."
I cringed as I stepped out of the shower in front of the large mirror and once again saw the full extent of my changes. I rubbed my hands over my chest and swore those damn protrusions had grown even larger. My waist seemed to have further narrowed causing my hips to be even more pronounced. My eyes drifted between my legs and cursed silently because my manhood was even smaller.
How could any woman, much less one as fantastic as Polina, ever look at me and feel an ounce of attraction. It was not fair for me to hide this from her. If we hoped to have a lasting relationship then I needed to be honest. I knew I had to show the woman I loved what she was getting so she could leave before I grew so attached that the end would shatter me.
A tear escaped knowing it was already too late for that. I was hopelessly in love forever more. If she rejected me, I would never love again.
I reached for one of the white terry cloth robes provided with the cabin and timidly walked to the living room where she was patiently waiting for me to finish. I felt so guilty I could not bear to stare into her beautiful eyes when they lit up as I approached.
She started to speak but I held my hand up to stop her. "Please let me say this. I know you said whatever happened to me didn't matter to you but I'm afraid you'll change your mind once you see the full extent of the damage." I nervously undid the belt before allowing my robe to fall to the floor. "I want you to know I love you. It is because of that love that I will completely understand if you want to end this. You are such an amazing woman and you deserve the best man available." I had to pause to keep from completely breaking down. "As you can see. I am not much of a man anymore."
I turned my head so I couldn't see her disgust and tears filled my eyes as Polina gasped. My fears were confirmed when I heard her get out of chair. I fully expected to hear the front door open until I felt her hands resting on my shoulders.
"Look at me Angel." I opened my eyes and was shocked to see her staring at me hungrily. "You are even more gorgeous than I could have imagined." Her thumbs tried to wipe away my tears but they were flowing too fast for her to keep up. "Never be ashamed of who you are."
Tiny goose bumps formed as her fingers moved down to glide over every new curve I possessed.
"You're not revolted by me?" I asked with no small amount of doubt laced in my voice.
"Revolted? Goodness no." Polina replied while giving me a look as if I had lost my mind. "It is as if someone invaded my slumber and pulled you from my dreams so they could come true. Search our bond Angel and tell me what you feel."
I closed my eyes while concentrating on our inexplicable bond. I did not feel a single negative emotion. Not disappointment, not disgust. I only felt an overwhelming amount of love and gratitude for whoever helped us meet. My body filled with the almost uncontrollable desire she felt for me.
Polina lifted me in her arms and carried me to the king sized bed. "Let me show you how beautiful I believe you to be."
I tried to remove Polina's top as she hovered over my naked form but she stopped me. "This moment is not about me. I need you to be comfortable with who you are becoming." She lovingly caressed my cheek. "I know you are conflicted about what is happening to you. I have no issues with you wanting to be a woman. In fact, I believe your attempts at masculinity are holding you back. It is important to me that you have no doubt about the fact that my love is unwavering. Whatever happens, we will get through it together."
Polina spent the next hour showing me how desirable she believed me to be. I was not used to anyone wanting to please me and kept trying to reciprocate but the woman I loved remained steadfast. Anytime I tried to touch her anywhere other than her back or hair she stopped me. I wanted her to enjoy our moment as much as I was doing. She assured me that seeing my pleasure was more than enough.
Eventually I dropped any and all protests so she could have her way with me. The only exception I made was when she tried touching between my legs. That was an area I no longer received pleasure from. That little thing was essentially useless and the cause of most of my mental conflicts. If not for being born with it between my legs, my life growing up would have been vastly different.
I never knew such pleasure could be gained without actual contact in that particular area. I was completely satiated and reenergized concerning whatever lay ahead of us when Polina held me once she finished.
"How are you feeling?" She asked as she ran her fingers through my hair. "Tell me what you are thinking."
My smile was genuine as I stared into her amazing eyes. "I feel like I can handle anything life throws at me so long as you are by my side. I love you so much." My hand ran along the inside of her thigh. "I wish you would allow me to return the favor though."
Polina pulled me tighter to her body. "You have always taken care of everyone else. There will be times when I need your care and support but at this moment I want you to experience what it is like to come first."
I lifted my eyebrows. "I most certainly did, multiple times and I thank you for that."
She playfully shoved me. "That is not what I meant. Well maybe partially it was but I want you to know that you will always be my first priority." My stomach picked that moment to speak up about the fact it had been a long time since we had shared lunch. Polina laughed as she pulled me from the bed. "I guess our next priority is food. My Angel needs to be well fed so she can keep up with me tonight."
My love released me and walked to the door where she dropped the bags when we walked in. "I was not sure what your style is since I have never seen you in everyday clothing. I bought a small variety. You can pick whatever you like."
I nodded as she laid four different ensembles across the bed. One was a hunter green sweater dress with black tights. That one was out because, well, because it was a dress. The next was a heavy dark blue turtle neck sweater and matching knee length skirt. I liked the top but did not like the idea of wearing a skirt in public. The third was a python print semi sheer top with layered styling and a pair of boot cut jeans. The top was cute but far too feminine for me to ever be comfortable wearing. The last was an ivory colored cowl neck tunic sweater and low rise dark blue skinny jeans that I adored but believed was entirely too sexy for me to ever wear without being laughed at.
My heart wanted to try everything on but my head stopped me. I might have been less conflicted if there was something less feminine. As it was, I didn't feel comfortable with any of her choices. I would have been much happier wearing my normal baggy clothes that hid the body I now possessed. My eyes drifted between the choices before nervously ceding the decision to Polina. "What would you like for me to wear?"
Polina's excitement evaporated at my less than enthusiastic response. "You don't like them? You can be honest."
With a depressed sigh I wrapped my arms around her waist. "I love them. They would all look fantastic on you but people will laugh at me if I wore something like that in public." I voiced the words my stepfather often said as I was growing up. "A man pretending to be a woman is joke that anyone with a set of eyes can see right through."
"You are not pretending Angel." Her voice was gentle as she shook her head. "Nobody will laugh. I promised to never make you uncomfortable but I am afraid you are going to make me a liar. I don't know how to tell you this but you draw more attention to yourself by trying to look masculine."
There was probably more truth to her words than I was willing to admit but I was not ready to make such choices myself. She obviously had more knowledge on the subject than I did. "Which one would you like for me to wear?"
"That's not how this works. The decision has to be yours." She replied. "I want you to be independent and develop your own sense of style."
After I did not move, her beautiful eyes started to plead with me as much as her words. "Please do this for me. Pick out something to wear. We are far enough from your home that you won't run into anyone you know and nobody will give you a second look unless it is to get a better view of your beauty." Polina's perfect lips brushed mine. "I will protect you if anyone tries to start trouble. Please do this for me."
With a nod I picked up the turtle neck and the boot cut jeans.
"I like that Angel." Polina smiled at my choices as she pulled a pair of flesh colored thong panties from another bag. I timidly took them before walking toward the bathroom to change.
My love followed and watched me from the doorway as I slipped the panties over my hips. I didn't want to admit it but they fit better than the boxers I normally wore. I glanced in the mirror to see that with the tight thong pushing my tiny excuse for manhood into my body, nobody would ever guess the gender I was born.
"Can't you see how gorgeous you are?" Polina asked after noticing I was checking myself out.
I shook my head with tears trying to escape as I reached down to pick up my tank tops. She had no clue what doing this for her was doing to my fragile psyche.
"What are you doing?" She asked.
"They mash my chest down." I replied as I separated them so I could put them on. "Otherwise they get annoying. They seem to have a mind of their own when I move about." I jumped up and down to emphasize my point.
Polina giggled as her eyes locked on my mounds. "Oh Angel. You know a bra would work better than those tank tops."
"They aren't large enough to need a bra." I defended.
Polina disappeared for a moment before walking back in with one in her hand. "Yes they are." She walked behind me held the black garment in front of me. "Put this on. I will help you."
When I hesitated, she placed the cups over my chest and fastened the back. "It is me with you. There is no need to be embarrassed. This is part of being a woman."
I reluctantly nodded as I slid my arms in the straps. Maybe I was as weak as Bennie said I was. Especially if I was letting a beautiful woman talk me into making such a fool of myself.
Polina reached into the cups and situated me before she adjusted the straps to fit properly. My knees melted at her touch in such a sensitive area and my nipples sprang to life. I looked down to see my chest sticking out farther than ever before. I could no longer deny the fact I had a healthy pair of breasts.
She lightly kissed my shoulder. "Doesn't that feel better?"
I wanted to curl up on the floor and sob as I met her eyes in the mirror. "Not really. It is a stark validation that they are there. With the tank tops I could plead ignorance."
Polina reached down and pinched my butt causing me to jump. "How about now?"
Instead of bouncing like they did a moment ago, my breasts stayed in place. I spun around and dejectedly had no choice but to admit she was right. "Okay, I see your point. How did you know what size I wore?"
"I didn't." Polina replied. "That is one of mine. It appears we are the same size."
My hands shot to my breasts as I stared at hers. "There is no way they are that big."
Dani smiled as she lifted her sweater over her head and moved beside me. "See, they are the same size."
The amazing sight temporarily had me forgetting my troubles. I licked my suddenly dry lips as my hand moved to the white lace covering her chest. "I think I need to investigate further before I can give a qualified answer."
Polina giggled as she moved my hand away. "Not until later. We need to eat."
My fingers trailed down her toned stomach toward her belt. I was almost drooling at that point. "Oh sweetheart, I know what I want to eat. I have never been as hungry for anything in my life."
I could tell Polina's resolve was weakening until my belly betrayed me by growling again. She shook her head as she gathered my hands in hers. "Not yet Angel. After dinner I am all yours to do with as you please. The sooner you get dressed, the sooner we can return."
Not needing any more motivation. I was in the jeans and turtle neck in a flash. I glanced over my shoulder before picking up the brush. "Would you wear the ivory sweater for me?"
"It would be my pleasure." Polina responded before walking out to get it.
"Sweetheart." I called out after I finished brushing my hair out. "Do you have anything I can use to pull my hair back? I can't find my tie."
Polina walked back in looking amazing. The cowl neck sweater showed just enough cleavage to make my mouth water and the skinny jeans she had on hugged her delectable derriere just right. "You can't find it because I threw it away. I like it when you wear your hair down."
She turned me away from the mirror as she brushed my hair so that it had more body and some fell to the front of my shoulders. "You don't even need makeup to be beautiful."
After Polina spun me back around. I looked at myself and could not see what she saw. To me I just looked like the same feminine guy except in female clothes. The different fit of what I had on emphasized the curves I hated so much. "Why did this have to happen to me?" I said before collapsing in a paralyzing fear.
"Oh Angel. This is who you were meant to be." Polina said as she pulled me into a tender embrace. "I was trying to gently guide you to the inevitable but now I believe you need to know the truth."
She carried me out of the bathroom and placed me on the bed. "You are special in so many ways. You were supposed to be a girl at birth but something tampered with your destiny. For reasons nobody has figured out, your original essence has been slowly breaking free. In a few short days the last vestiges of your masculinity will be gone and you will be as female as I am."
While curled up in the fetal position, I shook my head trying to deny a truth I had long suspected. "I can't be a woman. It is wrong for me to be one. Becoming a woman will be my undoing. "
Polina ran a finger through my hair. "Why do you think so little of yourself? I think you are wonderful."
My entire body was still trembling. "I know you are trying to help but you don't understand. Men hold the strength and any man who willingly gives that up deserves to die. I will never have friends. I will be rejected by those I love. They are going to kill me for this."
Polina held onto me as if her life depended on it. "I would never reject you Angel. Our love is eternal and that means I will never let anyone hurt you. Tell me, who wants to kill you?"
I tried to remember the source of the voice but all that did was cause a tremendous throbbing in my head. I screamed out from the pain. "I don't know but I was always told I could never let go of my masculinity. My manhood is greater than any gift. Being a man means strength. I remember the voice saying I would be conflicted at times but if I ever found myself losing the battle for my essence, drastic measures would need to be taken. It would be better for me to die than to be an abomination."
Polina looked up. "Mother I need you!"
A moment later the room filled with light before Zaria, Dani and Cali appeared.
The second Dani entered the room, my fears evaporated.
Zaria looked at Cali. "Find out who has ingrained such a thing so deeply that it would have this effect and take it away."
Cali rushed to my side and took my hands. "Will you let me in?"
I nodded and could feel Cali enter my memories. This time was different than the last. I felt the struggles she endured as she coped with what happened to her. Her initial fears were not that different than what I was feeling. I could now see how strong Cali really was.
She gained strength by ignoring the words she had been taught in her youth… She gained strength from overcoming her past… She gained strength by fighting for what she wanted… She gained strength by fighting the inevitable and forging her own path... Most importantly she gained strength from the woman she loved.
Cali, even when she was Ty, never let anyone, other than herself, decide her fate. She did not let what others thought deter her. She overcame any obstacle placed in her path. There was only one other opinion that mattered to her and it just so happened, that person had the same face as the only opinion that should matter to me.
I saw Cali fighting for her place, even in the face of insurmountable adversity... I saw a woman who most would dismiss because of her petite size, take her place in a world of men and succeed... I saw her defeating men almost three times her size before she even knew she had gifts... I saw a happy life full of friends and family was possible. I only had to fight for it. I realized what the voices had ingrained in me was wrong.
I joined Cali's side in my mind as she searched my memories.
"What the hell?" She said after noticing my presence. "You startled me."
I smiled at her response. "I figured you could use some help."
Cali nodded. "Yes. This is harder than anything I've done before. Whoever implanted these thoughts have worked hard to keep their identity hidden."
"I don't think it's as important anymore. I've broken the bonds. Whatever they said can't bother me now. Thank you for letting me see how you overcame everything. It taught me that I can be true to myself and strong at the same time." I found myself suddenly overcome by Polina's worry. "I'll be right back. Keep searching but I need to check on the woman I love."
Before Cali could respond I jumped into Polina's mind. "Please calm down sweetheart. I'm fine."
"Harley?" She responded. "How are you doing this?" Her consciousness hugged me tightly. "I love you so much. I know this is hard on you but we will get through it together."
"I know. I love you too." I replied. "I can overcome anything with you by my side. Thank you for getting help."
"Are you okay with what is happening to you?" She asked.
"Yes I think so." I said as I looked around her mind. "Wow there are a lot of pictures of me in here." I started to understand what she had been trying to tell me. I did look silly when I was trying to hold on to my masculinity. The newest of her pictures was of me before I melted down. Seeing myself through her mind made me realize how beautiful she believed me to be.
I also saw a conversation between her and Dani where Polina professed her love. I noticed how intently Polina listened as Dani shared the mistakes she had made with Cali and the advice their Mother had shared. Polina was bound and determined to make sure I knew how special I was to her. She was not going to let me go through this alone.
"I get it now. I can see myself how you see me." I giggled as I voiced a thought. "Where do you keep the pictures of you naked? You know, the ones right after you step out of the shower and look in the mirror?"
Polina laughed as she started pushing me away. "Get out of here. Go back to your own head and I'll let you see the real thing as soon as we are alone."
I turned to kiss her. "Okay, okay. I love you."
"I love you too."
I returned to my mind and found Cali wandering around aimlessly. "It's easy to get lost in here isn't it?"
Cali shook her head. "It isn't that bad. Although I will have to admit some corners are kind of scary. I thought my dad was bad to me but he was probably worse to you. Even then, I think your stepfather has him beat. No, my problem is, whoever did this has covered their tracks very well. They hid behind anything negative anybody told you but whoever it is hasn't been around since you turned twenty-one."
"It doesn't matter anymore." I replied hurriedly so she would finish up. "What they did has lost its effect and if they return I'll know they are here."
Cali nodded thoughtfully. "I guess you're right. Are you ready to go?"
I nodded as I playfully gave her a shove. "Yeah. I asked Polina for pictures of her naked when I was in her mind. She promised to let me see the real thing as soon as we are alone so get out of here."
Cali and I were both laughing as she stumbled backward and fell on her butt.
"Hey you didn't have to shove me that hard!" Cali said as she got to her feet. "All you had to say was you needed privacy. I gotta say though, having seen the real twin of what you want to see. I'd do the same thing."
I walked over to hug Polina while still laughing. "I guess I don't know my own strength. Sorry about that."
Polina grinned as she kissed my forehead. "What did you tell her?" She pinched my butt when Cali and I started laughing even harder. "You told her what I said when you were in my mind didn't you?"
Zaria and Dani looked at us with confusion. "Are we missing something?"
Cali nodded as she walked over to her wife. "Harley joined me when I entered her mind."
"Then jumped over to mine so I would quit worrying," Polina added.
"Then pushed me back to my mind so hard that I fell but everything is fine now." Cali said before telling them everything she already told me.
After she finished, she looked at me and winked. "I guess the lovebirds probably want to be left alone."
My stomach growled again and Polina shook her head. "Why don't all of us grab something to eat before you go?"
Cali pulled her phone from her back pocket. "It's two in the morning. I doubt anything is open."
Zaria's bright light surrounded us and when it dimmed we were seated around a large table with an umbrella in the middle. Each of us were wearing summer clothing and had plates of food that were delicious but far from healthy.
After taking a moment to marvel at the yellow sundress and sandals I was now wearing, I dove into the chili cheese fries as Zaria looked at Cali and made a Tsk sound. "I cannot believe you considered time to be an obstacle. The newest addition to our family needs nourishment."
Cali laughed as she looked at the triple cheeseburger in front of her. "My bad Mother. Where and when are we?"
Zaria shook her head as if to say she wasn't going to tell us.
I looked at Cali as if she were crazy. "Look around. You know where we are. We've been here before."
Cali's gaze turned to the surrounding area. "Okay, we are at Dollywood. So I guess now we have to figure out when."
Dani and Polina gasped at the same time. "Awe, look at them. They were so cute!"
I turned to see what they were talking about and couldn't believe my eyes. Cali's niece and another little girl were comforting a crying child who could not have been more than three or four. “Who is that with Kaley?"
Cali dropped her burger and started to stand. "That's not Kaley. Come on."
Without another word, Cali and I both stepped away from the table so we could hear what was being said.
"I wanted the pink bear." The child cried.
"I know you did but your Mom said no. The blue one is just as cute." Kaley told the upset toddler with a soothing gentleness in her voice.
"I don't want da bwue one. Why won't Mom wet me hab the one I want?" The child asked. I'm glad I couldn't see her face because listening to her pleas was bad enough without also seeing the tears.
Kaley held the sad child tight in her arms. "She says pink is for girls. If you promise to stop crying I'll win one and your sister will keep it in her room so you can play with it whenever you want."
I gasped and tears started streaming down my cheeks as a buried memory resurfaced.
A big pair of hopeful grey eyes looked at the young Cali with hope. "You pwomise?"
"I promise Harley." The younger Tori said before she pulled me away from Cali and kissed my cheek. "It can be our very own care bear. We can share it and it will be our special secret, just like when we play dress up."
Cali nodded. "Anytime either of you are worried or scared. The bear will take care of you."
I watched as a huge smile crossed my tiny face before I wrapped my little arms around my sister's neck and looked at her best friend. “Thank you Cawi. I'll be good I pwomise." My little lips met my big sister's cheek. "I wuv you Towi."
I looked over at Cali as I wiped away my tears. "She still has that bear and it still provides her comfort."
"I tried to find out what happened between the two of you." Zaria said after walking up behind us. "As you both can see. The contempt Callista held was not always there. At one time the two of you were close in this reality."
Zaria placed a hand on each of our shoulders. "I know both of you consider your childhood painful but there were also happy times mixed in."
Polina pulled out her phone and snapped a picture of the cheerful children. "The three of you were so cute together."
Dani nodded as she moved to get a better angle for her shot. "I can only hope our children will get along so well when we are ready."
I saw how much Tori had always tried to take care of me. "Could whatever caused Cali to turn on me also have caused the years that Tori wanted nothing to do with me?"
Zaria nodded. "I think that may be the case."
"I'm going to kill whoever did this." I growled as I thought of all the time Tori spent alone because some otherworldly being forced her to avoid me.
Polina pulled me into her loving arms. "We will make whoever did this pay. You are not doing anything alone."
I nodded, smiling at the knowledge that I no longer had to tackle life by myself. "Thank you. Can we get Tori another bear while we are here? Her old one isn't going to last much longer."
Polina nodded as she turned to Cali. "Do you remember where the bears were?"
After returning to our table to finish our meal, we made our way to the games area. We were having so much fun trying to win the bear that we ended up winning two. Polina and I decided to keep one for ourselves and give Tori the other.
Gentle kisses on my neck roused me from a pleasant dream. "Good morning sweetheart."
My arms reached out to pull my love closer. "Good morning."
The wonderful memories of the night before filled my consciousness. We had so much fun playing the games and riding the rides. I even talked Polina's mother into riding a few with us. I loved seeing everyone enjoy themselves. It easily was one of, if not the, best day in my life so far.
The only odd looks I received the entire time was when Polina and I would forget where we were and showed each other affection. Other than that, the only attention we attracted were from the men who were checking us out.
When Zaria returned us to the cabin, it was only ten o'clock. I was thankful she gave us much more time to enjoy each other before we had to face another day.
"How did you sleep?" I asked while already knowing the answer. My love collapsed after her fourth orgasm and was asleep before me.
Polina's face lit up. "Wonderfully." She reached around to grab my butt. "You are amazing in more ways than one."
I giggled as I tried squirming away from her grasp. "How much time do we have before we go to your mother's?"
"We have another eight hours." She said after looking to see it was a little after nine in the morning. "We need to get dressed."
I started to pout at the thought of Polina covering her amazing body. "I thought we could stay here until it's time to go."
Polina laughed as she got out of bed and pulled me into her arms. "Tempting as that sounds, I have other plans."
After our shower, I tried to get dressed in the same outfit as before since I had not worn it long last night but Polina stopped me. "I know this goes against what I have been saying but…" She took a deep breath. "Until we find out who has been manipulating your life, Mother says you need to look as masculine as possible."
I could understand her reasonings but that didn't mean I agreed with it. I finally started coming to terms with who I was and was ready to show the world. Together, we could defeat whoever came after us. "Wouldn't it be better to be open so whoever it is will show themselves?"
Polina shook her head emphatically. "No. I think they are afraid of what you will become. If they know they have failed, they will likely try something drastic that could harm innocent victims. Think about the Tori you saw at the amusement park. Your sister always looked out for you until something changed that. They have already used her once before, what would stop them from doing so again? As long as they think their plan is unaltered they will make their next move in private."
I nodded. "You're right but I don't have any clothes other my uniform."
She handed me a bulky sweater and baggy jeans. "Taken care of." She placed the ponytail holder in my hand. "I retrieved this from the trash."
After I finished getting dressed, the person I saw in the mirror still looked more female than male but that was okay. With the hold of my past gone, I looked forward to my future as the woman I was meant to be.
When I walked out of the bathroom, Polina led me to the spacious deck of the cabin. Once outside, the woman I loved dropped in front of me on bended knee. "My Angel, we face difficult days ahead and I would be honored to face them at your side as your wife. We have already made our pledges of love. Our bond is eternal but our vows were said in private. I want our love to be recognized by everyone in the eyes of the law."
She pulled a thin gold band from her front pocket. "Do me the honor of becoming my husband."
I shook my head as I dropped beside her. "I can't do that."
Tears filled her eyes and I could feel the disappointment welling inside of her. She started to speak until I placed a finger over her lips. "You said it yourself, I'm not a man. I can't be your husband but would be honored to be your wife."
Tears filled the lovely eyes of the woman I loved as she wrapped her arms around my neck. "I love you."
An hour later Polina and I were standing before a close family friend of Zaria's who agreed to officiate the ceremony. He looked to be the same age as everyone else but I already learned that appearances were deceiving. Plus, he carried an aura that did not surround humans. Zaria introduced him as Eros.
Dani was standing to the side of her sister and Cali was by mine. I hated that Tori wasn't here to join in our joyous occasion and backed out until Polina assured me that after everything was over, we would have a far more elaborate ceremony with all our family and friends.
After we were pronounced married, Polina whisked me back to our cabin. We basked in each other's love until a knock on the door interrupted us. Dani explained their mother needed to see them and that Cali would bring me when everything was ready.
After my wife and I said our goodbyes, I followed Cali back to town in Polina's car. It was much more fun to drive than my truck. As an excuse to drive it a little longer I called Cali and suggested that we needed to eat before we went to visit Zaria's realm.
"What do you think of our brothers?" Cali asked me as we waited for our food. "They seemed to like you."
Tired of hearing me gush over my wife so much, I think she was eager for a new topic.
"They're pretty cool." I replied. "I was surprised they accepted me so easily. I mean, the fact I exist had to be unexpected yet they acted like meeting a long lost sibling happens all the time and it's no big deal."
Cali laughed. "It is a big deal but we knew you were out there somewhere. After our father died, Thomas and Jeb found pictures of a red haired baby who favored us with grey eyes and unsigned letters giving updates on your development."
This bit of news made me cringe. I hated to think how my mother described me to others. "What did the letters say?"
"Nothing really but then again we only found them for your first year or so." Cali said as she reached across to give my hand a reassuring squeeze. "It was mainly, I assume your mother, giving brief updates then asking my father to reconsider his decision to end their relationship. She went on and on about how willing she was to leave her husband and how she would even give up her daughter if he said yes."
I felt an ache in my heart that caused me to rub my chest. At first I thought it was caused by my mom's action but quickly realized the ache was coming from Polina. "Something is wrong."
We were interrupted when the lady who greeted Cali so enthusiastically when we came in brought our food. Cali could not help but laugh as she questioned how two people as thin as us would be able to eat as much as we ordered but I was too focused on the woman I loved.
I closed my eyes and allowed my mind to travel to hers. "What's wrong sweetheart?"
Polina mentally hugged me. "The Shades are worried about my presence in your life. Mother has told me you would be safer if we maintained our distance until this is settled."
"How long will that be?" I asked.
"She said it could be days or it could be weeks or even longer. She doesn't know."
My stepfather's laughter filled my ears as the memories of many times he seemed to build my confidence up before shredding it even further surfaced. "You are so gullible." He would tell me. "How many times can I do this before you realize how worthless you really are?"
My insecurities stepped forward. "It didn't take you long to have second thoughts. Why did you marry me if you were going to leave me the same day? Did you think it was funny to build up the girly boy before breaking him? I knew it was too good to be true."
I pulled my mind back and reached into my pocket to retrieve Polina's keys. Not wanting to make a scene, I placed the keys on the table before standing with the excuse of needing the restroom. Cali didn't pick up on my distress because she and Miss Bessie were wrapped up in a lively conversation.
Figuring Cali would drive up and down the main drag to find me, I walked behind the diner and through the small patch of woods to the small neighborhood behind it. As I walked home, I deliberately avoided main roads and stuck to the side streets.
"Son, you will never have a normal life until you act like a man should." My mother's voice echoed in my mind.
Polina tried to access my mind but I blocked her. I could feel Zaria trying to sense my presence and I blocked her as well. I couldn't understand why they were bothering. I wasn't worth the effort. I left the blocks in place so I wouldn't have to worry with each attempt.
"Aw look at little princess." The man I previously thought of as my father said in my head. "I think she's gonna cry."
From the beginning, I could never understand what Polina saw in me and now it was becoming clear. She saw what everyone else saw: a weakling that would do anything to be accepted, someone she could have her fun with for a little while. A person she could build up so she could laugh at while breaking me down.
"Dang Tori, how can you call him a brother?" A teenaged Cali said to me. "Go get me one of your old dresses so everyone can see what a sissy is supposed to look like."
I was so focused on my grief that I didn't see Bruiser's car speeding up the road. It was not until I rolled across his hood and saw his laughing face before smashing into his windshield that I even knew he was there.
As I lay in the deep ditch writhing in pain, I still could only think of the woman I loved, wishing she felt the same. As the darkness started to overtake me, I reached out to her. "Goodbye sweetheart, I love you."
An older version of Zaria walking in with Dani at her side caused Cali to end her conversation with Miss Bessie.
"What's wrong?" Cali asked as they sat down.
Zaria's expression was grim as she looked at the untouched plate of food. "Where is Harley?"
"She went to the restroom." Cali responded before realizing Harley had been gone awhile. "She should be back any moment."
"I don't think so." Dani said as she held up the keys to Polina's car.
Cali stared at her wife bewilderedly. "Why would she run off? We were laughing right before Miss Bessie walked up to take our orders."
Zaria sighed and rubbed her neck nervously. "Because I refused to let Polina return. Her presence was making the Shades expand whatever they have planned. It was not safe for either of them. When Polina told her, Harley took it to mean she was never going to return. All the insecurities we battled yesterday returned with a vengeance. Harley believes Polina ended their relationship."
"That's silly. Anybody can see how much Polina loves Harley. How can she feel that way?" Cali said while looking toward the restroom door expecting Harley to walk out at any second.
Dani grabbed Cali's hand. "Baby, think about it. You doubted my love and we had been together for years. Harley and Polina have not known each other for but a few days."
Cali closed her eyes and tried accessing Harley's mind but was thrown back. "She's not letting me in."
Zaria nodded. "She is doing the same to Polina. Harley is powerful. She is blocking my attempts to find her as well. I should not have taken such drastic action. Now she is in the open and distracted by grief. It would be better to have Polina close than Harley left completely unprotected."
Seconds later a frantic Polina ran through the door. "Something is wrong. She's hurt badly, I can feel it. She let me in long enough to say goodbye."
Zaria pulled her daughter into her arms. "It will be alright. We will find her."
Polina jerked away and grabbed her keys from Dani's hand. "What are we waiting for? She cannot be that far away."
Mr. O was resting on my chest when my eyes opened. "How long have I been out?" I asked him.
He leaned closer to my face. "Two hours in your time."
I laughed as I tried to get to my feet. "Oh we can communicate now? That doesn't surprise me."
Mr. O moved to my shoulder. "I am glad you can finally understand me. You are in danger."
Last thing I remembered was being hit by Bruiser's car. "No shit Mr. Obvious. Next time I see that son of a bitch, he is going to pay dearly. "
"No, from others," he said as I started to stand. I realized when the gravel dug into my feet that I had been knocked out of my shoes.
I reached for my phone to call Tori to pick me up but the shattered screen showed it had been ruined from the impact. "I don't care. I'm tired and want to go home."
After I slowly crawled out of the ditch I found myself in, I tried to take stock of my injuries. Rotating my shoulders caused no pain. Neither did jogging in place. It amazed me, considering my clothes were soaked in blood and half torn off. There was not a logical explanation for why I felt so good.
"You should care. The Shades have started watching you again," Mr. O said as he retook his place on my shoulder.
Not finding my shoes anywhere, I gave up the hunt and resumed my trek home forgoing my earlier decision to avoid main roads. I decided the quickest route possible was best. "Let them look. They won't see much. Maybe they'll be doing everyone a favor by finally acting on whatever it is they have planned."
"I have seen you through many struggles Harley, but have never seen your spirit so broken," Mr. O said worriedly. "What troubles you?"
I shook my head. "It doesn't matter." I rubbed my chest as it ached for the woman who rejected me. "I was being stupid to believe anybody could love someone like me."
"You are many things, but stupid has never been one. You are starting to attain your gifts. You are destined for greatness."
I released a primal scream as I glared at the small owl. "Not you too. I'm tired of hearing all this bullshit about how great I'm going to be. I'm a fucking freak that everyone loves to laugh at!"
My ears picked up the distinctive sound that only Cali's car made. I quickly dove behind a tree so she wouldn't see me as she passed. Mr. O left my shoulder and hovered in Cali's path.
"Traitor!" I yelled as turned to run away when Cali's car screeched to a halt.
"Harley, wait!" Cali yelled out as I ran as fast as I could down the sidewalk.
Zaria appeared directly in my path, causing me to turn and run through a few yards to get to the next street. I stopped in my tracks when Polina's car pulled next to me.
I turned to run away from her but before I could get away, she jumped out and tackled me to the ground. "Never scare me like that again Angel." She pulled me into her arms. "I thought I lost you."
I didn't want to get my hopes up too high so I didn't return her embrace. "I thought you weren't allowed to return. Why are you here?" She tried kissing me but I turned my head.
"Why are you being like this?" Polina asked. "I love you."
Tears started falling from my eyes. "No you don't. Nobody does. I've had my hopes built up before only to have them crushed to a fine powder. You told me you weren't coming back."
She lifted my chin so I could look in her eyes. "How can you say that? I love you more than anything. You assumed I was not coming back. You came to me at the moment Mother told me it was best to stay away. I never said I agreed. I had no intentions to ever leave you. You are my wife. We are bound together."
Her voice became serious and almost angry. "You scared me to death over nothing more than your insecurities. I have been beside myself for the last two hours not knowing where you were." Her eyes carried a fierce determination as she shook me violently. "Never doubt my feelings for you again."
While I could not understand why she loved me, I could feel that she did. It overwhelmed me so much that I would never question it again. My head dropped in shame. "I'm sorry."
Her hold on me became tender and loving. "You are forgiven. Let me get you home."
"What happened to your clothes?" Polina asked as she noticed them for the first time.
I looked at her sheepishly. "I wasn't paying attention and Bruiser ran me down with his car. I ended up getting knocked out of my shoes and landed in a ditch."
Polina gasped as she ran her hands over my body. "Are you okay my love? Where are you hurt?"
"I’m not," I answered honestly. "Mr. O said I was out for a couple of hours but when I woke up I felt fine."
"Who is Mr. O?"
As if he heard his name the owl flew down and rested on Polina's hood. I pointed at him. "That's Mr. O."
Polina turned and bowed in reverence. "Greetings wise one. Thank you for looking out for my spouse when I could not."
The small owl looked at me with surprise. "Spouse? When did this happen?"
I giggled at his reaction. "I told you about her the other night. We got married this morning."
Mr. O appeared to smile before he spread his wings. "You have done well. Now that I know you are safe, I will take my leave."
"Okay. Sorry about the traitor comment. Thanks for everything."
"I understood you did not mean it," he said before flying away.
"What did he say?" Polina asked as she started her car.
"He was surprised but likes you," I replied.
On the way to the house Polina called Dani and told her she found me. She told Cali to come to my house in twenty minutes so I would have time to shower and change.
The look on Missy and Tori's faces when we walked in was priceless. I quickly realized they thought the woman holding my hand was Dani. I leaned in close to Polina with a mischievous grin. "Play along."
She nodded with the same smile I had. I'm sure she and Dani had done this sort of thing many times.
"Where have you been?" Tori said as she rushed toward me. "What happened to you? I've been worried to death."
I pulled Polina closer and put my arm around her waist. "A little romantic getaway." I kissed my wife's cheek. "Isn't that right?"
Polina nodded as she lovingly gazed at me. "Yes. We needed some privacy."
Tori was nervous as she stared at us in disbelief. "Is that why Cali sounded frantic when she called a few minutes ago asking if I'd seen you? Is that blood?"
I shrugged as I pulled Polina toward the hallway. "I don't know. It doesn't matter. We need a shower. I'll be back out in a few."
It took all we had in us not to laugh as Tori kept trying not to look at Polina. "You're going to take a shower… with her?"
I nodded. "Of course. She promised to clean me up if I let her get me dirty."
Without another word we disappeared into my bedroom to gather my clothes before stepping to the bathroom.
"You know she is freaking out right now." Polina said through fits of laughter.
I nodded again. "Oh I know. I can't wait to see her face when Cali walks in."
My wife kissed me passionately. "I want you so bad right now I can hardly contain myself."
I held my arms open as the water cascaded down my body. "I'm not stopping you."
She sighed and pulled away. "I know but your sister and her girlfriend are in the other room in a panic and we have company coming."
After we dressed but before we stepped out of the bathroom, Polina called Dani. "When you arrive have Cali come in the back door alone and you follow shortly afterwards." My love giggled at whatever her sister said before adding. "We never said I was you. It is their fault for assuming I am."
Tori and Missy exchanged worried glances as we walked back to the kitchen arm in arm.
"What's wrong?" I asked as Polina took a seat and pulled me into her lap.
"Can we talk privately?" Tori asked as she nodded her head toward the living room.
I wrapped my arms around Polina's waist. "We don't have to do that. You can say anything in front of the woman I love."
"I can't say that I'm comfortable with what you're doing." Tori said nervously. "Did you know she's a married woman?"
I smiled and kissed my wife's cheek. "Oh yes and I'm very happy that she is too."
The sound of Cali pulling in the driveway made Tori run for the door. "Shit, shit shit! I'll try to get rid of her."
"Damn Harley…" Missy said as she watched her girlfriend dart out of the room. She didn't get the chance to finish before Cali rushed in with Tori hot on her heels."
Cali acted like she was about to cry. "How can you do this? You said you loved me!"
Polina glanced back at Cali. "I never said I loved you. I can never love anyone as much as Harley."
Cali grabbed my shoulder and yanked me forcefully to my feet. She winked, knowing I could sense her pending attack. "What have I ever done to you?"
I ducked her fist and shoved her across the room. "You know what you did!"
Cali did a somersault before landing on her feet and storming back toward me. Polina jumped from her seat and into my arms. "Stop it. You have to accept my choice."
"Like hell I do!" Cali snarled.
Tori darted between us in hysterics. "Stop it! I can't believe this is happening." She turned to me. "What has gotten into you lately?"
I palmed my wife's luscious butt. "Oh come on sis. Have you seen what she looks like? I couldn't resist."
Tori stared at me as if I had grown another head. Her mouth opened a couple of times to speak but nothing came out. I couldn't hold it in anymore and started laughing uncontrollably which caused Cali and Polina to do the same.
"Am I missing something?" Missy asked since Tori still couldn't speak.
Cali hugged me before sitting down at the table. Soon I joined her with Polina in my lap.
Tori glared at me and Polina before turning to Cali. "You're okay with this?"
Cali nodded. "I think it's great. I couldn't be happier for them. Harley got one hell of a woman."
I smiled at Cali before I kissed Polina. "Thanks. I couldn't agree more."
Tori put her hands on her hips and stared angrily at all three of us. "If Harley walked in and kissed my wife like that, I damned sure wouldn't be congratulating them. I'd be kicking some ass."
Cali grinned as she looked at Tori. "I would too."
"Then why aren't you kicking his ass right now?" Missy asked.
"Because she's not her wife." Dani answered as she came in the room laughing and pulled Cali into her arms.
Missy and Tori's mouths both dropped as their eyes darted back and forth between my wife and her sister.
"I'd like you to meet my wife Polina Zoyra. As you can see, she's Dani's sister."
Tori turned and punched me in the shoulder. "You scared the shit out of me."
Polina laughed as she offered her hand. "I do apologize but given Harley's penchant for pulling jokes. We could not resist. It is nice to finally meet you."
Tori accepted Polina's hand and turned it so she could look at the golden band matching the one I would never take off before looking up at me. "Did you just say wife?"
I nodded as I held up my hand. "Yep. We got married yesterday."
My sister started laughing again. "Yeah right. Like you could get me twice in the same day. You only met her this weekend. I mean, look at her. Did you really think I'd believe you two are married?"
"What? You think I'm not good enough for her don't you?" I said defensively.
Tori laughed again. "I'm not exactly saying that but come on Harley."
Polina started walking toward the door. "Excuse me a second." She walked out briefly before stepping back with her purse and a glint of annoyance in her eye. "I'll have you know that I find Harley to be the most beautiful being ever created. Her beauty shines both inside and out." She pulled out our marriage license and handed it to Tori. "Since you are so quick to dismiss your sibling, maybe this will convince you."
Tears filled Tori's eyes as she stared at the parchment. "You didn't invite me. Her sister was there but I wasn't." It broke my heart the way she looked at me. "I understand why though. I haven't been the sister I should have been and for that I can never say I'm sorry enough."
I pulled her to me and held on tighter than I probably should. "I love you so much. You've always been great. Never doubt that. You're the only person who has always had my back no matter what." I tugged her chin to force her to look at me. "I'm sorry for how much I've worried you but I'm good now. It just took time to figure everything out. Thanks for never giving up on me."
Polina walked out again before coming back holding something behind her back. "When I asked for Harley's hand she immediately accepted. When I pulled up to wedding chapel, she…" Cali coughed and lightly shook her head. "I mean he almost didn't do it because you weren't there. It took some serious begging on my part and I only received a yes after I promised we would have a proper service later."
I smiled as I looked at my astonished sister. "When we do I want you where you have always been. Standing by my side."
My wife handed Tori the pink bear. "Harley never goes anywhere without a piece of you in his heart. When we saw this, Harley refused to leave until he won this for you."
I kissed the top of my sister's head. "She is for both of us but you can keep her in your room and I can visit whenever needed."
Tori lit up as she hugged both me and the bear tightly. "I thought you had forgotten. Thank you."
Missy went to the cabinet and retrieved six glasses. "I think this calls for a toast."
I spoke to Cali's mind while Polina and Dani became acquainted with Tori and Missy. "I'm sorry for how I acted. I freaked out when Polina told me she couldn't come back."
Cali glanced at her wife. "There's nothing to be sorry for. Believe me when I tell you I understand. There are still days I wonder why Dani loves me."
I nodded. "Yeah, I'm still wondering if this is too good to be true."
Cali looked at me knowingly. "It is, but that doesn't make it less real. She loves you more than anything. You should have seen her when we couldn't find you."
I wiped away the tear that had started to form. "I never meant to hurt her. I thought she was leaving me."
Cali nodded again. "Now you know better."
I lifted my brows as we continued our silent conversation. "Yeah."
"Angel, your sister is staring." Polina said through the separate connection we shared.
I turned to see four sets of eyes staring intently. "Shit." I uttered aloud.
Tori was smiling. "I haven't seen you do that in years."
"What do you mean?" Cali and I said in unison.
"Oh come on Cali." Tori replied. "I can understand Harley not remembering since he was so young but not you. When Harley was little he talked more with telepathy that his mouth."
I searched my memories but was coming up blank. "Why don't I remember?"
Tori started to tear up. "Probably because of Bennie. We used to speak with telepathy when we played dress up so nobody could hear us. I think it was the day after we went to Dollywood and got care bear that he caught us and went ballistic." Her tears turned into sobs. "He carried you straight to his church and I didn't see you for three days. I asked Mom where you were and she told me you were fine and to mind my own business. I don't know what happened while you were gone but you were never the same. I couldn't stand to be around you after that."
I cringed as I started to remember that day. "It was bad."
Polina took my trembling hand. "How bad? You need to get out so it loses its hold."
Tori rushed to my side and grabbed my other hand. "She's right. Let it out."
I buried my head in my wife's shoulder as I shared one of my darkest memories. “Bennie wouldn't let me take off the dress. He cut his arm and made me drink his blood. He said his essence would make a man out of me."
I turned to look at Cali. "Mr. Dawson was there too. They took turns doing unspeakable things all the while saying that if I wanted to be a girl they would treat me as one. I thought it was over when they put me back in boy clothes and started rewarding me. They praised me and told how great it was going to be when I grew into a man. Then they made me put on another dress before the two of them did whatever their sick minds wanted while telling me that was the life that awaited me if I really wanted to be a girl. After three days of that back and forth I wanted nothing to do with anything feminine."
I turned back to Tori. "You wanted to know why I snapped at wrestling. That was why. Having laughing angry men force me into a dress was more than I could take."
Cali rushed over with huge tears falling down her cheeks. "He was worse to you than he ever was to me."
I nodded. "It didn't stop there. At least once a month, I would have to go for therapy sessions. They would take turns making me wear a dress and having me do things with them that even a whore would refuse." I glanced at Tori. "After you moved away and mom starting working nights it got worse. Bennie would torment me constantly and make me take mom's place in their bed."
"Oh my God. I bet he touched me knowing I would tell Mom and she'd get me away from the house. I left you alone in that hell." Tori cried. "And because of the bet, I've been making you relive everything. No wonder you've been so upset. I'll never be able to make this up to you. I'm so, so, so sorry."
I opened my arms for my sister to come to me. "You didn't know. You never would have done it if you knew. I never should have said those things to you but I was hurting. I’m okay now, thanks to Polina. She's shown me there is nothing wrong with me. Through her I learned to love myself. If a woman as wonderful as her can love me so completely then I can't be that bad."
My wife kissed the top of my hair. "I think you are wonderful."
Tori pulled away. "You aren't letting me off that easy. I was selfish and you suffered because of it. That's it. The bet is cancelled. I don't care what they say. There is no way in hell I'm letting you relive those memories. If the club doesn't like it, they can kiss my ass."
I shook my head. "No it's okay. I don't care what anybody thinks anymore. I actually can't wait for it now. My one condition is that Polina is going to be the one who helps me get ready. I want you and Missy to be as surprised as everyone else."
"Are you sure?" Missy asked. "We won't do anything that hurts you."
Polina smiled as she answered for me. "We are sure. It will be a fun night."
The next two hours were spent talking Tori down. She was so wracked with guilt she was practically inconsolable. Cali and I decided it was best to wait to tell her about who was really my father. I didn't think she could take anymore revelations.
Eventually we were able to talk about happier topics. Thankfully Tori and Missy accepted Polina unconditionally. The plan had been that Polina and I would stay with Cali and Dani until we found a place of our own but Tori was having none of it. She insisted we stay there and refused to take no for an answer.
It was odd waking up in Polina's arms in my bedroom. I absolutely didn't want to get out of bed but I knew I had to if I wanted to keep up appearances. Polina and I had a long talk as we cuddled after I brought her to multiple orgasms last night. With her prodding, I agreed that I would quit my job as soon as we defeated the Shades.
I lightly kissed my sleeping beauty before climbing out of bed and making my way to the bathroom. I discovered last night that my days of standing to pee were over when I tried and the pubic hair covering the area caused a wide spray that made me spend an extra five minutes cleaning up everywhere.
I trimmed the area with scissors as I waited for the water to warm up. Once in the shower I removed the remaining hair and was not shocked to see that it was not much larger than the area above the top knuckle on my pinkie and had somehow moved lower between my legs. If what Polina said was true, and I had no reason to doubt it wouldn't be, I would be a complete woman by the end of the week.
It occurred to me as I washed the rest of my body that a few days ago that news would have terrified me but now I was looking forward to it. I dressed in the bathroom so I wouldn't wake my wife and when I walked out to the kitchen Tori was waiting with a fresh cup of coffee made the way I like it. "What are you doing up so early?" I asked as I took a sip.
She smiled sadly. "There aren't going to be many more days with you here so I'm going to make the most of them." She noticed my frown and continued. "Don't take me wrong, I couldn't be happier for you. Polina is great."
I knew she wanted to say more but held back. "But… Go ahead. I won't get mad."
Tori sighed. "But isn't this rather sudden? You just met her this weekend and now you're married."
I couldn't help but to laugh. "And how long after you met Missy did she move in?"
My sister's sheepish grin was adorable. "Touché. I guess I'm being selfish again because it's not going to be the same with you gone."
I walked over and wrapped my arms around her neck. "You make it sound like I'm going to disappear completely. You have Missy and don't need me around all the time anymore. We are moving on to the next steps in our lives. I'll still be close, just not under the same roof."
She shook her head. "No you won't. You have always been bigger than this small town, you just couldn't see it. Now that you know how great you are and have a wife who has been all over the world, you'll want to spread your wings and fly." Her tears started to fall. "The part of me that wants what's best for you understands your need to get as far away from here as you can. You deserve better than what this place can offer. But the selfish side of me wants you to stay so I have my family close."
A smile crossed my face as I wiped her tears away. "Polina and I have already talked about it. We are going to travel because she wants to show me the world but we're not moving away. Both of our families are here and it is where we want to be. I love you too much to stay away for long"
My sister seemed sincerely relieved as she looked at the clock. "You have to get going or you're going to be late. I love you too."
As much as I hated to do it, I ended up having to wake Polina up. "Sweetheart, where are your keys? You have me blocked in."
"They are in my purse." She said through half closed eyes. "Take my car to work. You look good in it."
I laughed as I kissed her and couldn't resist a little teasing. "That's not it. I know what's going on. You just want to drive my truck."
My wife smiled as her eyes fully opened. "You caught me. Have a good day my Angel. I will see you at lunch."
There was a different atmosphere at work. I couldn't figure out what was going on but wasn't worried enough about it to ask anyone. I planned to stay to myself just I had done all week. Maybe thirty minutes into my work day, Randy approached. "I have good news. I'm going to need you to work late the rest of the week."
Something was off. Randy wasn't quite himself. "Why? What's going on?"
He sighed angrily. "We need you to help us pick up the slack since Joe was fired yesterday."
I turned in shock. "Fired? I thought he was Mr. Mates' pet."
Randy nodded. "He was until yesterday morning."
"The damned fool was caught at the roadside park blowing another man. Mr. Mates saw his truck and stopped thinking he was broke down. The old man fired him on the spot." The way he laughed after saying it frayed my nerves.
I found myself torn between laughing at the situation and being angry that Joe was fired for being gay. I chose anger. "Sorry, I have plans."
Randy seemed surprised at my answer. I usually jumped at the chance for overtime. "You have to. We have deadlines to meet."
Shrugging as I turned away and started working again. "Maybe Mr. Mates should have thought of that before he fired Joe."
"This isn't going to help your job security." Randy said angrily.
"I could really give a shit." I turned so were face to face. "As a matter of fact consider this my notice. I'll give you two weeks to find my replacement."
Randy's eyes widened in shock. "What? Why? You never liked Joe."
I nodded. "You're right, I can't stand him, but that doesn't make the reason he was fired right."
"Come on Harley. Think this through. You're going to throw away your career over principles?"
"This quit being a career on Monday." I replied with conviction. "Now it's just a place to work."
"Is this about what I said? If it is I'm sorry. I was simply trying to help you out. Mr. Mates would never fire you."
I laughed. "Oh yeah he would. Just wait and see."
Randy shook his head adamantly. "He's not stupid. He knows it'll take three people to replace you. You can't do this before the Christmas rush."
I slightly relented. "I'll do what I can during regular working hours but at three I'm going home. Also, I won't quit until after the rush but I'm telling you that you need to make plans. I have the feeling I won't be here next week and it won't be my doing."
Randy walked away when he realized I was not going to budge on my decision. Ten minutes later I was summoned to Mr. Mates’ office.
Jim Mates was a large intimidating man with a deep gravelly voice. I used to consider him a wonderful old man who genuinely cared about his employees. Once a quarter he would give us a bonus based on the profits. He also believed in helping the community so he was super supportive of my leadership role in the YC's, even paying me for the rare times I needed off during work hours for club activities.
"Have a seat Harley." He said as he motioned toward a chair in front of his oak desk. "Randy tells me you are upset that I fired Joe and have turned in your notice."
In spite of everything I could not disrespect the man in front of me. He took me under his wing from the day I started and offered encouragement at every turn.
I nodded as I took my seat. "Yes sir but it is more than that. I would rather have this conversation on Monday."
"You are here now and have my undivided attention. What can I say to make you stay?" He realized I was not willing to negotiate and continued. "Randy told me about what happened with you and Joe on Monday and also what he told you afterwards. He said you were rather upset."
I nodded. "Yes sir, I still am."
He rose from his seat behind the desk and moved to the one next to me. "I feel the need to correct one aspect of what Randy believes. I did not fire Joe because he was gay. I fired Joe because he was a hypocrite. I respect other people's beliefs just as I expect them to respect mine."
I looked across at the man being more caring than I had ever seen him before. "Sir, can we please have this conversation on Monday?"
"I have my reasons but I'm not ready to share them yet." I replied.
He sighed, seemingly resigned to the fact I was not ready to negotiate. "Very well. Is there anything I can say to convince you to work late?"
I shook my head. "No sir. My wife and I have plans tonight." I lied but didn't really care. "But I promise to work extra hard during normal hours. Given how much Joe normally did in a day I think that should be more than enough."
"I think you are right." He replied before pausing. "Did you say wife? When did you get married?"
I couldn't help but to smile and twist my wedding ring as I thought of the woman I loved. "Yesterday. That was why I took the day off."
"Why am I only hearing about this now?" He asked in a way that I knew his feelings were hurt.
"Sir, I have never been one to broadcast my personal life. I didn't tell anyone beforehand." I replied truthfully before glancing at the clock on the wall. "I probably need to get back to work if I hope to get everything done before I leave."
"Of course." Mr. Mates replied as he offered his hand. "Congratulations on your wedding son." Hearing him say son made me cringe, hopefully he didn't notice.
I was so busy that it felt like lunch time arrived earlier than normal. As promised, Polina was waiting outside the door. Mr. Mates’ secretary must have told the others about my marriage, I swear that woman must have a bug planted in his office because she always knew everything said during his closed door meetings. Over half of my coworkers walked out of various doors wanting to meet my wife.
She was her usual charming self as she graciously talked to everyone while keeping a possessive arm around my waist. I laughed imagining how they were going to swarm me after lunch for additional information. After five minutes Polina politely excused us and led me to the passenger side of my truck.
"I figured we were going to take your car." I said as she held the door for me.
She shook her head. "I really like your truck."
I looked at her skeptically. "You mean to tell me that you would rather drive this that your brand new car?"
"I really would." She replied after walking around and climbing behind the wheel. "I dreaded it this morning but after driving it, my opinion has changed. I never have to worry about anyone blocking my view when I try to pull out or not seeing me as I go down the road. If I had known how much fun these are I never would have bought that. I think I want to drive this out to a field and see what it can really do."
I laughed at her enthusiasm. "Does this mean the car is mine now?"
Her eyes were hopeful. "Unless you prefer your truck. I can always trade the car in."
There was no doubt in my mind this was now her truck. I didn't matter that I ended up with one of the coolest cars on the road, I would have gladly let her have it and ride a bicycle it if it made her happy. "No, you keep it."
She squealed as she leaned across the seat to hug me. "Thank you Angel."
As we ate our lunch at the same café as before, she told me we were expected at her mother's after work because there was someone I needed to meet. I asked who it was but she wouldn't give me more information.
I told her about Joe and she admitted it was her doing. She insisted she did not make him gay, she only arranged for him to be caught. She explained it was only fair he endure a taste of the ridicule he unfairly dispensed to others.
My wife listened intently as I explained my conversations with Randy and Mr. Mates. I told her I could tell my changes would soon be complete and that Monday was as long as I would be willing to wait. Thankfully she agreed it would be best to wait until then.
As she dropped me off, she gave me a new phone she had picked up earlier explaining she did not like me going anywhere without having a way to contact anyone. She laughed when I spoke to her mind as a reminder that we didn't need a phone anymore. She said it would keep Tori happy having a way to contact me and I agreed. We also arranged to meet at Cali and Dani's after I got off work and go to her mother's as a group from there.
A pair of boots in the bed of the truck caught my attention. They were ragged and torn as if they'd been run over by a car. "Where did you find them?"
Polina's grin equaled the one she gave while I told her about Joe. "I paid good money for those boots so when I found them being displayed in a window as if they were a trophy. I felt the need to retrieve them."
I wanted to ask more but was afraid of the answer I'd receive. Luckily she didn't give the chance before pulling me into her arms and kissing me passionately. "Have a great rest of the day."
As I suspected, everyone in the building stopped by to ask me about Polina and ask if I really turned in my notice. Luckily I was too busy to really talk to anyone. They were just being nosey and didn't deserve an answer. By the time three o'clock rolled around, I was actually ahead of schedule.
On the way to Cali's I stopped to get gas. As I stood in line to pay, a thin man about my height glanced nervously at me. There was something familiar about him, but I couldn't figure it out. He fumbled with his money when it came his turn to pay and rushed out quickly.
I looked for him as I walked out to the car and immediately recognized the car he was climbing into because it still had the imprint of my body on the hood. "Bruiser?" I yelled out questionably although I knew it was him only much thinner and apparently weaker.
He jumped when I called his name and locked his door as I approached. "What the hell happened to you?"
He started his car and put it reverse. "Why don't you ask your wife? She said this was payback for yesterday."
I laughed as he sped away. Goddess I loved that woman.
After I arrived at Cali's she explained Polina and Dani had left early. She told me their mother was not exactly pleased with Polina for a couple of things she had done recently and that her sister went with her moral support. I asked how much trouble she was in but Cali laughed and said it was no big deal. All Zaria would do is make Polina endure a lecture and that both girls had learned long ago to tune those out.
My newfound sister was unusually quiet as we headed out of town. As we again approached the parking area near the same cliff bottom we visited earlier, she turned towards me. "Are you up to meeting more long lost relatives?"
"If it means some answers then I'm all for it." I said as I reached for the handle.
A small owl landed on my shoulder before I was completely out of the car. "What are doing here Mr. O? This is a long way from home." I said as I reached up to pet him.
"This is an important meeting. I feel it is best if I attend." He replied.
"Thanks, I'll take all the support I can get."
Cali bowed slightly when she saw the owl. "I am honored by your presence. Have you come to accompany us?"
Mr. O's head dipped slightly and Cali smiled before she said, "You might want to close your eyes this time. Mother, we are ready."
A bright light enveloped us and after it dimmed I found we were in a large circular white room.
Something didn't feel right and I looked down I realized why. My baggy clothes had been replaced with a white toga and instead of my steel toed work boots, golden sandals were on my feet.
"Greetings Harley. Welcome to my realm." Zaria said as she walked toward me. "The welcome extends to you, wise one." She added to Mr. O who was still resting on my shoulder.
"Thank you." I replied while not even trying to hide my amazement. "This is something else."
Zaria smiled. "Thank you. I know you came in search of answers but the person who has them has not yet arrived. I must ask a favor of you. Can you stand behind those pillars?" She pointed to a wall behind the magnificent throne that held many doors that were obstructed by large columns. "You will be able to hear the conversation but it is important that you do not let your presence be known until I call for you."
I nodded. "Yes Goddess, whatever you say."
Cali snickered as Zaria cringed. "Mother doesn't like to be called that."
My face flushed. "I'm sorry, what should I call you?"
"Since you have captured my daughter's heart, I suppose you may call me Mother as well." She replied before motioning to the columns. "Please go now."
Mr. O and I barely made it behind one of the columns before Cali said, "Hi Attie, I'm glad you could make it."
A female voice I had never heard before replied with a touch of sarcasm. "Hello Callista. You know I always love it when you call me that."
Cali giggled and carried genuine affection in her voice. "I know you love me no matter how serious you act."
Attie did not sound amused as she greeted Zaria. "Hello cousin, I hope there is a reason for you to summon me other than to submit me to your daughter in law's attempts at humor."
"Hello cousin, and yes there is, but I will allow Callista to address that." Zaria replied.
Cali's voice had lost all traces of humor when she started to speak again. "Do you know of a woman named Abigail Dahlsen?"
Attie's voice became defensive. "Why are you asking me such a question?"
"It's important." Cali pleaded. "Please answer honestly."
Attie sighed. "You know I do or you would not ask."
"What were you thinking?" Zaria asked. "We are forbidden from such acts."
"You weren't there. You failed see the atrocities. You did what you usually do when there is trouble. You remained in your realm with your head stuck in the sand." Attie said bitterly. "The world was at war and some took the opportunity to treat the towns left behind as their own personal playground…"
I listened in amazement as she shared a story that I assumed was an answer to Cali's inquiry.
Rage and disgust enveloped me as I appeared in a small European town among the screams and cries of the many women left behind when their husbands left to fight in the war. As I surveyed the damage, I knew the cause was not a human battle and I refused to allow those who did it to continue with their exploits. People once considered these men Gods, it was repulsive.
I angrily roamed the streets in search of Bengahamen and Abrahm. The twin favored followers of Theos whom I knew to be responsible. A scream coming from inside a bakery led me to find Abrahm ravaging an unwilling woman on the front counter.
Uncontrollable rage overcame me at the sight of the poor defenseless woman being subjected to such indignities. Death was not punishment enough for such a sorry excuse of a man. I wanted him to suffer in the same way as the many women he had forced himself upon.
With a simple wave of my hand, I transformed him into that which he respected the least. To further humiliate him, I transformed myself into a version of his previous male body and forced myself on his now female form.
Bengahamen walked in midway through my assault and Abrahm begged him for help but all his brother did was laugh and tell him if he so weak as to become transformed then he deserved what happened.
After I finished having my way with Abrahm, I found Bengahamen and did the same.
As my fury quelled I realized I may have gone too far and offered them a way back to their previous life. I brought them together and explained to them that once they truly learned to respect women they could return to their previous body. Eventually Bengahamen learned his lesson and his masculinity became restored but Abrahm never learned.
The last Bengahamen had heard from his now sister was that she lived by the name Abigail Dahlsen and ran a brothel in the seaport's red light district before disappearing with a boy she was raising as her son.
I could hear Cali sigh as Attie finished up. "Allow me to finish your tale. Abigail immigrated to the mountains of East Tennessee and changed her last name from Dahlsen to Dawson. That was not a random boy she was raising as her son. He was the result of your attack and actually her son. That son had a son and he became my father."
"You are the great grandchild of Abigail Dahlsen?" Attie asked with surprise in her voice. "Why could I not sense that?"
"I don't know." Cali replied. "Especially since I am also your great grandchild." There was a hint of amusement in her voice as she added, "Hello grandfather."
There was a long pause of uncomfortable silence before Attie spoke again. "How dare you come to me with such wild accusations! I have no heirs! Other than hair color we look nothing alike."
Zaria huffed in frustration. "This is an untruth and we both know it. You have carried an added interest in Callista from the moment you knew of her existence. She possesses more than a few of your personality traits and you cannot tell me you have not noticed."
Attie sounded increasingly irritated as she raised her voice. "I need more proof if you expect me to believe such a wild tale. I have not sensed a blood bond."
My heart leapt into my throat as Zaria called out to me. "Harley will you join us please?"
Timidly I stepped from behind the column and gasped as I got my first look at the woman Cali called Attie. Our appearance was so similar that it was scary. We shared a face, hair and eye color. Our height was within a couple inches of each other. Even our general build was the same, right down to the size of our breasts.
Everything I used to hate about myself looked amazing on her.
"Who is this?" Attie asked as her eyes focused on Mr. O. "Wise one come and explain why you are with this person."
My feathered friend flew to her shoulder and they carried on a quiet conversation before her eyes welled up and she extended her hand in my direction. "Come child."
I inched closer and she met me halfway before taking my hands in hers. A moment later she pulled me into a hug. "Forgive my doubt. I am sorry I did not know of your existence. I am your great grandmother Athena. I am so proud to have you carry my blood. You have endured much and persevered."
Athena turned toward Cali. "I ask your forgiveness as well. I knew there was a reason I was drawn to you but not what it was. How could I not know about either of you?"
Zaria stepped forward. "I believe I know."
Mr. O suddenly released a screech that could wake the dead and his wings expanded to full width as he moved back to my shoulder and his eyes scanned the room beyond the throne. "Harley, step behind the Goddesses."
Cali was by my side in the blink of an eye. "Something is here."
"No Thetan can enter my realm." Zaria said as she also scanned the room.
"Abominations!" Many low hissing voices whispered from all around the room. "The accord has been broken. All must be set right."
I wanted to cower in fear from the scary voices that seemed to be emanating from everywhere at once but I had no place to hide.
"Show yourself." Cali yelled. "I'll show you what an abomination can do."
A series of shadows began emerging to surround us. "Two lives have not gone according to our plans. This must be made right."
Cali's eyes scanned the dark forms angrily. "What is that supposed to mean?"
Zaria formed a bright light in front of us causing the shadows to move back. "It means they are upset with us for finding the two of you."
"Who are they?" I asked in a voice much higher pitched than I had planned.
"The Shades." Athena replied curtly.
One of the shadows formed directly in front of Zaria. "The accord that allows us to live in peace has been violated. The one you call Callista should have never survived the jump from the cliff and Harley was prevented from allowing nature to take its course at the same location. Neither should still be alive."
My heart leapt to my throat and my stomach started doing back flips. What did they mean I should not be alive? I twisted the symbol of my wife's love as I wondered why it was every time I felt an ounce of happiness something stepped in to knock me back.
"Neither of those instances were in breach. Tyler survived his fall. His fight with Adorious Dunamas led to his demise which removed him from your rolls and placed Callista in ours." Zaria replied angrily as she used her light to force the shadow from her personal space. "As for Harley, there was nothing natural in that wind. It was chance that I happened to be at that spot when she needed a friend. There was no grand plan on my part, which is more than I can say for you."
Zaria was right, she was a friend when I needed one the most.
Athena stepped forward with small flames flickering at the ends of her hair and a menacing glare. "I do not believe that it is us who have violated the treaty. Why have you been hiding my heirs’ existence from me? Why do you interfere with the lives we have touched? Why have you tampered with Harley's being and subjected the child to such internal conflicts?"
Tampered with my being? How had I been tampered with? Was that why I always felt like a mistake? Were the Shades why my heart and head constantly battled until I met Polina?
The voices did not sound as confident as before when they spoke again. "We have interfered with nothing. How dare you attempt to transfer your guilt to us."
The tips of Zaria's hair started to flame the same as Athena's. "How dare we? It appears as if you are working in league with our enemy. Your kind allowed one of my protected kingdoms to be decimated by a volcano while I was away dealing with the Thetans. You chose Callista's friend to be the one killed in the explosion instead of merely injured. You allowed Sara's son to die at the moment she was starting to find complete happiness with the same man you had killed. The final transgression is how you have constantly had your fingers woven into the fabric of Harley's wellbeing. What is your interest in Athena's heir?"
I did not want to be these beings. Neither Zaria nor Athena looked like women to be trifled with. This was becoming crazier by the minute and it all seemed to be centered around me somehow.
"Is this to mean you will not allow us to claim these two mortals?" The voices asked.
I grabbed Cali's hand in a death grip as I awaited someone to answer.
"They have never been mortals and you have always known this. They are of my blood and therefore beyond your reach. I have long suspected your kind to be working against the rules set forth by Mother Terra but with my youngest heir, I have found the proof I need." Athena answered furiously. "If it is a war you seek, then by making it personal it is a war you shall receive."
I'm not a mortal? What the hell am I?
Athena released a primal scream at the same time as Zaria flooded the room with her light.
"There is no place you will be safe from my gifts." Zaria said as her light became so bright that closing my eyes did not help shield them from the burn.
"Nor is there a place you can hide that my friends cannot find you." Athena said as the room filled with small owls screeching in answer to her call.
The shadows screamed out in pain. "There cannot be mixed bloods with manifested gifts. Especially the young one. We were only following orders."
In an instant the owls were resting along the ledges that went around the room and Zaria's light dimmed.
"Explain." Athena said.
When my eyes finally focused again, it appeared the shadows were more transparent than before. "The prophecy states Her gifts will be limitless and power unsurpassed."
I turned to Cali who looked as surprised by this information as myself.
"It also says jealousy of others could prevent mankind's salvation when victory is within her grasp." Athena replied. "Who ordered your interference?"
"We cannot say. We would be destroyed."
The flames on Athena's hair lit again. "Ignorant beings! Do you believe you will survive if you do not answer my question?"
The shadows receded even more. "Can you guarantee our safety?"
Cali released my hand and stepped forward for the first time since everything started. "You can either keep quiet thus ensuring your demise or you can tell us what we wish to know and hope we find whoever it is you are protecting before they find you. The way I see it, you only have one chance at survival and it is growing smaller by the second."
There was a long silence before a single voice coming from a shadow that was standing some distance from the rest spoke up. "It was originally Theos but now his favored has assumed leadership."
Athena anger rose again. "And where can I find Bengahamen?"
When nobody answered Zaria's light flooded the room briefly before subsiding slowly. "My cousin asked a question."
"At the ruins." All the voices said in unison.
Athena waved her hand. "Very well, you may go. Leave with the knowledge that if any of your kind betray us again, we will release our wrath without mercy. If you interfere with any life we have touched, we will release our wrath without mercy. If you come near my heirs again, we will release our wrath without mercy. Also know that if any of you warn Bengahamen, he will likely keep his promise. Become our ally because we are your only hope of survival."
"We will abide by the conditions you have set forth. Thank you for your mercy." The voices said before all the shadows disappeared.
Zaria looked in my direction. "This is the safest place for Harley until we return."
"I concur." Athena added before she gave me a reassuring smile. "Fear not. We will return soon."
Cali removed her stilettos and held them firm. "I'm ready."
Without any further fanfare, I found myself alone and only knew four things to be certain… One, my life was in danger. Two, my life would never be the same. Three, I never wanted to piss Athena or Zaria off. And most importantly, my wife would help me get through this.
Other than those pieces of information, nothing made sense. How could I possibly be so important? I was a nobody who, until I met Polina, always felt so wrong.
I was startled from my thoughts by a menacing voice coming from a shadow forming in front of me. "It was not wise of them to leave you alone."
Before I could respond, Polina stormed through one of the many doors in the back of the room. "What made you think she was alone? If anyone is unwise, it is you. You just ruined your kind's only chance of survival and sacrificed your entire race. How dare you come into my mother's realm and threaten to harm the one I love!"
The shadow started to move toward her. "They will never know because there will be no survivors to tell them."
Polina lashed out with her light at the encroaching darkness to no avail. She started choking as the shape of dark hands wrapped around her throat.
The thought of her being in danger caused me to fill with panic. It felt like my life would end if anything were to happen to her. Despite my terror, I realized I might be able to help and rushed over to lure the shadow away. It shrieked in surprise as I punched it in what I believed to be its midsection. It quickly released Polina and tried to slither away, but I was not going to allow it a chance to return to harm her.
"What are you?" The Shade said as it attempted to escape. "We are untouchable. You are a freak of nature."
The being screamed in pain as I tackled it to the floor. "I'm not a freak!"
It appeared to be trying to fight back but when it made contact, the punches only felt like a strong gush of wind. The sensation was identical to what almost pushed me over the cliff. That realization intensified my rage. "This is the third time this week you've tried to kill me. You won't have another chance."
Warmness engulfed me and suddenly the shadow shrieked in agony before becoming nothing but a ball of smoke that evaporated into the air. I looked around wildly for it to resume its attack. "Where are you hiding asshole?"
"Angel, I think you killed it." Polina said with amazement as she pulled me into her arms. "How were you able to touch that thing?"
I shrugged as a chill came over me. "I don't know. It's something I've always been able to do. I thought it was a trick with light or something. I never realized I was grabbing anything real when I did it."
Her beautiful eyes widened. "You mean you can grab shadows?"
I nodded as I reached out for the shadow extending from one of the pillars and held it like a baseball bat. "My sister and I both can do it. We used to use them to play catch or baseball when we were little. I never imagined being able to do something like that would save my life."
The way Polina smiled at me was reassuring. "That is really cool. How many people know you can do it?"
"Nobody other than you and maybe Cali, I'm not sure. The first time Mom saw Tori and I doing it, she freaked out and made us swear to never let anybody know," I replied as I replaced the darkness at the bottom of the column.
I shifted uncomfortably as her eyes continued to devour me. "You have shaved my love. I like it."
My hands immediately covered a certain part of my anatomy when I realized I was naked. "Where are my clothes?"
Polina grinned as she walked closer. "They turned to ash after you lost your temper and caught fire."
I tried to back away as her fingers ran down the side of my body. "I what?"
She pulled my hair away from my neck and leaned in. "Most women with gifts also have fiery tempers."
My desire was overwhelming as I felt her heavy breath on my bare skin. "Oh, I didn't know that."
The tip of her tongue found the edge of my earlobe. "Can you feel how much I want you right now?"
Her advances were weakening my resolve. In an effort to stop her, I put some distance between us. “I’m not sure this is the right place to share out affections."
The woman I pledged my life to nodded her gorgeous head. "Any place you stand naked before me is the right place." Her fingers tweaked my bare nipple. "You are now my wife which means we can share affection wherever we wish."
"Oh yeah?" I replied before allowing my eyes to drift the length of the perfect body she had hidden beneath a tight white tee and jeans. "I don't see you walking around au naturel."
Polina grinned as she reached for the hem of her top before pulling it over her head. "That can be remedied rather quickly."
I was ready to let my wife have her way as she undressed in front of me. Polina was absolutely, without any doubt, the most perfect creation ever made by the Goddesses.
"Oh, I think you like what you see." Polina said seductively as she opened her arms. "Come show me how much you like it."
My body reacted quicker than my mind and before I realized it, her lips were on mine as she pulled me into an embrace. So long as I could be in Polina's arms everything was right in the world.
"We have an eternity my love. Now that I have found you, I am never letting go." Polina said as she moved in for another kiss.
The connection between us was indescribable as the light from our spark temporarily blinded me.
Our moment was ruined when Cali laughed lightly behind me. "Are we interrupting?"
Polina sighed and pulled me even closer as if she were protecting me. "Actually yes you are. I do not walk in when you are about to have congress with my sister."
"Then maybe you should have found someplace more discrete than my throne room." Zaria said with a hint of amusement in her voice.
I glanced up to see Athena staring at me in astonishment. "Harley, you are male."
Cali laughed. "Good catch there Attie. Nobody can accuse you of being obtuse. Why is it you are just now realizing that? You were in Harley's mind. The majority of her conflicts are over her gender."
Athena appeared troubled as she spoke. "Her essence is so very feminine that I assumed her conflicts were about having masculine qualities." She turned toward me. "How do you see yourself child? Do you think of yourself as male or female?"
"Female." I answered without hesitation.
Polina pulled me closer. "Can we have this conversation at another time? Harley has had a traumatic day. We were attacked while you were gone."
All amusement disappeared the moment Polina mentioned the attack. Zaria stepped forward. "Who else would dare enter my realm?"
"It was the Shades again Mother." Polina replied. "Can we get dressed before continuing this discussion?"
Zaria waved her hand and once again I was wearing a white toga. I glanced over to see Polina again wearing her jeans and a tee.
"Why do I have to wear this while she gets to wear normal clothes?" I protested.
Zaria rolled her eyes before waving her hand again. Next thing I knew, I was wearing Polina's tee and jeans while she had on the toga.
Polina laughed. "When I was talking about letting Harley in my pants Mother, this was not what I had in mind."
Zaria pursed her lips for a moment before speaking. "You requested to be clothed and now you are. They fit and you are sufficiently covered. Tell me what happened."
I looked down and realized that Zaria was right. I was completely covered but the same jeans that hugged Polina's butt and made it look so scrumptious also did the same for mine. My hands wandered idly down my ribs to my backside as it really hit home how feminine I was.
"I am not known for my patience. One of you needs to tell me what happened in our absence." Zaria said angrily.
Her tone jarred me from my thought. "Oh. Sorry about that. It's just I'm still not use to how much I have changed." Zaria continued to stare at me expectantly so I quit rambling. "One of those shadow things attacked again and I killed it."
The other's eyes widened in shock as Polina told everyone what transpired in their absence.
"I remember Tori showing me how she played with shadows years ago but I never gave it a second thought." Cali said after Polina finished.
"I wonder how that is possible." Athena added. "It has always been believed that the Shades could only be defeated with light."
Polina shrugged. "That is what I thought as well but Harley interacted with it as if it had a physical form and when she lost her temper, the being screamed and disappeared in a puff of smoke."
"Since we share blood, I wonder if I can do it too." Cali mused before her hand moved through a shadow. "I guess not."
I once again grabbed the shadow from one of the columns and held it as a weapon. "You have to will it to be a solid item." I hit it on the floor to show its rigidity before I replaced it at the base and ran my hand through it as Cali had done. "Otherwise it will not work."
Cali concentrated before trying again to no avail. "I can't do it. It had to come from your mother's side since both you and Tori can do it."
"There is more in your blood than our kind." Athena said thoughtfully. "I cannot help but wonder if there is more to the Shades than we know. Could you ask your mother about this?"
I shook my head violently. "No. We haven't spoken in years and I have no desire to break that streak. She wouldn't help me anyway."
"Senka Manea Theson is a bitch who wouldn't lift a finger to help her children." Cali said to help explain my mother to the others. "She only cares about herself and her social standing."
Both Zaria and Athena spun to face Cali. "Who did you say?"
"Senka Manea Theson." Cali repeated. "Do you know her?"
"What is her husband's name?" Athena asked.
"Benjamin Theson." I replied bitterly. "He's is a sick evil man."
Zaria looked at Athena. "That would explain why there were only Commons at the ruins." She turned to me. "Do you know where they live?"
I nodded. "Of course, they have the same place just outside town that they had when I was little. Why? What's going on?"
Athena grabbed my hand before turning to Zaria. "Harley and I will go. I need you to find out what is it is the Shades have withheld while we are gone. If your assistance is needed I will call for you."
A fear I hadn't felt since I was a child started to take hold. I found it odd that I had been able to take everything about these people in stride. I felt no fear around these otherworldly beings but the idea of visiting my step-father had me ready to scream for the hills.
"Do you really need me to go with you? I don't see how I could help." I said with more than a little trepidation.
Athena's eyes softened as she felt my fear. "He cannot harm you. I will never allow another person to cause you distress. I believe it is fitting for you to see how I plan to punish him for his misdeeds."
I was still unsure about going until Polina stepped forward to grab my other hand. "Where Harley goes, I go. Another set of experienced eyes could be advantageous if the Shades are lurking." She leaned in so only I could hear. "You need to go so you can truly break the hold he still has over you. Let me help you defeat your demons."
I smiled as a feeling of gratitude filled me when I stared into her caring eyes. "Thank you."
Athena paused thoughtfully. "That is wise Polina." She turned to Cali. "I need you to talk to Harley's sister. See if she knows anything that could assist us."
"How do I do that without revealing our nature?" Cali asked. "It isn't like I can walk in and tell her everything that is happening."
"Don't mention you and I being related. I want to be there for that. You and Dani can go with the pretense of helping Polina plan my costume. Tell her that given my delicate mental state it should be thought out carefully." I said as inspiration hit. "During the conversation ask her if she can still do her shadow trick and just let your questions come from natural curiosity. If that fails, do the trust thing you used on me."
Cali smacked her head as if she had missed the obvious. "Good idea, I should have thought of that."
Athena winked at Cali before grinning at me in admiration. "I see which of my grandchildren has my aptitude for intellect."
"Yeah yeah whatever you say Grandpa Attie." Cali replied lightheartedly.
Athena tightened her grip on my hand as she wrinkled her nose at Cali. "Let us go." She looked at Zaria. "Call for us if you need assistance and we will do the same."
I stared absently at the living room of my mother's home. Nothing had changed in the ten years since she escorted me out with a suitcase in hand explaining that it was for my own good. It still had the same white walls and light teal carpet, the same floral sofa, the same darker teal curtain over the same large window that overlooked the same immaculately kept large front yard.
My mind flooded with memories of the abuses I endured while living within these walls. The abusive words that were said filled my ears. The pain of the strikes Bennie frequently offered felt as if they were happening all over again. The indignities he put me through while making me succumb to his deviant urges seemed to be happening all over again. The utter feeling of abandonment at my mother refusing to protect me rose to the surface.
Once again I was the broken, worthless child that resided here.
Polina gently tightened the grip she had on my hand. "You will be okay. I am here and will not let anything happen"
"I love you so much." I said as I fought to contain my emotions.
"You have allowed your past to hold more power than it is worth. It is time for you to confront it and let it go." Athena said as she gently wiped away my tears. "You are stronger than the child who was forced to endure such travesties and it is time you realize that."
Polina nodded as she kissed my cheek. "I can feel the strength in you. You can do so much. All it takes is for you to trust your core instead of allowing everyone's words to cause you pause. Stop second guessing yourself out of fear of rejection and act on your instinct. Remember how I see you."
Realizing I needed a moment to gather myself, Athena walked toward the door leading to the kitchen. "I will give you two time. Find me when you are ready."
I rested my forehead on Polina's. "Everyone has pushed me away when I behaved like you are asking."
She wrapped her arms around my waist. "This is an old conversation. I am not going anywhere. We are forever."
Being in that horrible house caused my insecurities to return with a vengeance. "Why are you being so nice to me? Why do you care? I'm this fucked up, timid…" I caught sight of my overly feminine form in the large mirror above the couch and paused. Nobody would guess that I had an ounce of masculinity in me. "I was going to say man but I'm not even that. I don't know what the hell I am but I do know I'm not one worthy of your love."
Polina was about to reply when we heard the back door open as Athena stepped back in the room. "We will discuss your insecurities later. Right now we have a task to complete."
As a group we walked to the kitchen where my mother was placing a few bags of groceries on the counter. She had not changed much since I last saw her. Everyone always commented about how much Tori took after her for a reason. They were the same five foot four and both worked hard to maintain their trim figure. Mom's eyes were a colder brown than those of my loving sister and her brown hair showed signs of grey at the scalp where she was in need of a touch up.
Mom dropped one of the bags to the floor as soon as she noticed our presence. "Who are you and what do you want? My husband will be home any minute. Leave now and I won't call the police."
It shouldn't have hurt that my own mother didn't recognize me but it did. I foolishly held onto the hope that deep down she had at least a little love for me.
"I am glad we will not have long to wait." Athena said as she stepped toward my mother. "But in the meantime I have some questions for you Senka Manea Theson."
Mom tensed and reached for her purse. "Who are you?"
"I am no one to be trifled with. What is your connection to the Shades?" Athena replied.
"The who?" Mom asked nervously. It was painfully obvious she knew what they were.
Athena's face took on an expression that showed she was in no mood for my mother's denials. "Do not play stupid with me. It will be much easier for all involved if you answer my questions honestly."
I knew mom always kept a small pistol in her purse for protection so I also knew what she was planning as she placed her hand in the small bag.
I stepped forward and placed my hand on her shoulder. "Don't even think about it Mom. All the gun will do is piss her off. I suggest you tell her what you know."
Mom pulled her hand from the bag clutching the small .38 which she pointed between my eyes. "Who are you?"
Just when I thought I could not be hurt any worse, she proved me wrong. Tears once again started to fall as I stared into her eyes. "You don't recognize your own child?"
Her eyes hardened. "What kind of game are you playing? You aren't Tori."
My anger spiked as I grabbed to pistol from her hand. "For God's sake Mom! I know you only cared about her but I thought you'd at least recognize me."
Mom gasped as she stepped back before allowing her gaze the drift over my entire body. "No No NO! You can't be! They promised! Last time I saw you, you were a strapping young man. What have you done to yourself Harley?"
"I didn't do anything." I cried. "This is all natural."
My mother's open palm made contact with my face causing me to step back in surprise. "You can't be a woman. They told me if you were, you would die an early death. I did not go through all this hell for them to go back on their word." She started crying and wrapped her arms around my neck as she cried hysterically. "They promised you were going to be a man. You have to be a man."
I hugged her tightly. "What do you mean Mom?"
"The Shades." She sobbed. "My father came to me the day before you were born. He was very worried and said that a female of your bloodline would not be allowed to live beyond her twenty-first birthday. He told me of a prophecy about a female who carried all bloodlines. It said she would be hunted and not be allowed to live long enough for her powers to manifest. Grandfather promised me the only way they could save you was for you to be male."
My mother stared into my eyes with remorse. "I made a mistake when I let myself be seduced by Jonah Dawson. I had no idea he was not completely human. Your father and I were not getting along and I had a moment of weakness. It was a sudden consuming desire that went away as soon as he finished."
She reached up and gently touched the red area where she had slapped me. "My sweet child, you were more than I could have ever hoped for and never should have suffered because of my misdeed. I begged Jonah to help raise you because I knew he had the experience to raise boys. I was even willing to let the man you thought was your father raise Tori if Jonah would accept us into his family. I knew your sister would be safe with her father and I wanted you to live a long life baby."
Mom wrapped her arms around my waist and held on for dear life. "Every time I saw your feminine tendencies start to show, it scared me to death that their spell had not worked. I love you so much that I made a deal with the devil. Bennie promised he could make a man out of you. After he and I married, every time I saw you act in a feminine manner my heart broke a little. I wanted to cradle you in my arms but something I can't explain made me say horrible things to you. I'm so sorry for how you were raised but it was the only way I knew to save you."
Athena and Polina looked at each other. "A Compulsion."
I wiped my own tears away before I leaned down to gently kiss my mother's cheek. "I love you too Mom. I'd say you did your job because I'm twenty-three and still breathing."
She managed a small smile. "I guess so but at what cost? I ended up losing the best parts of me. I miss you and your sister so much. Bennie made me cut of all contact but that didn't stop me from loving either of you. Can you ever forgive me?"
I nodded. "Of course I can."
Athena stepped forward and pulled my mother away from my side. "Can you please tell me how you met Bengahamen?"
Mom looked to me questionably.
"Let me introduce you to my great grandmother, the Goddess Athena." I replied.
She paused as if in shock while her eyes drifted between my great grandmother and myself. "Now I know where you got your eyes." Mom said before turning toward Athena. "My father introduced him to me. When Harley's feminine tendencies were becoming overwhelming, he told me Bennie could help. Bennie told me if I would leave my husband and become his wife, he would make sure Harley became a man."
Athena nodded. "Who is your father?"
Mom opened her mouth and series of almost unintelligible sounds came out. I instinctively understood the language she was speaking and the name she was saying.
Athena nodded again. "I have met him. Your father is a good man. I am sure he was doing what he thought best to protect those he cares for."
Polina walked behind me and wrapped her arms around my waist as Mom and Athena talked. "Did you understand what she said?"
It felt so natural to be in her arms that I relaxed and leaned my head backwards to her shoulder. "The best interpretation I can give is… Autonomous. In the language of the Shades, his name means free-will."
"I have heard of him." Polina whispered. "He has long advocated less involvement in the lives of humans."
"What is a Compulsion?" I asked my wife while Athena and my mother continued their conversation.
"Someone like Bennie can place an idea in someone's mind then manipulate their feelings so they feel the dire need to act on said idea. Your mother wanted to protect you. Bennie compelled her so that she believed the way she treated you was proper. He probably did the same for her to sleep with your father but I have no clue as to why." Her voice became pained. "It is beyond cruel. Having to live under a Compulsion is horrible."
I could feel her ache and regret so I tilted my head up so I could look in her eyes. "It sounds like you know from experience."
A single tear trickled down her cheek. "I do and the costs were great."
"Do you think he could have done the same to Tori and Cali?"
Polina paused thoughtfully. "Tori yes, Cali I am not so sure. To be as cruel as both you and Cali have said Cali was, it is so far against her nature that a Compulsion would not have endured so long unless…" She hugged me tighter. "He gave you some of his blood which we are repulsed by."
"I'm gonna kill him." I muttered angrily.
Mom jumped as the clock started chiming to indicate it was six o'clock. "You must go. Bennie will be home any minute. I promise not to tell him you were here."
Athena shook her head. "Your husband has violated a treaty he made with me and that has consequences."
Mom's panic did not ebb. "If you must deal with him fine, but don't involve my child. Bennie has strong friends and I don't want Harley in danger."
Polina stepped forward. "Nothing is going to happen to Harley. I would die before letting anyone harm her."
"Who are you?" My mother asked skeptically.
I laughed as my love's chest swelled with pride. "I'm Polina and I am Harley's wife."
Mom's eyes cut to me as I pulled Polina into my arms before showing her my ring. "Yes Mom, we're married."
Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of a shadow moving toward the door. I dove to the floor, wrapping my arms around its neck. "Oh no you don't. You're not going anywhere."
"Unhand me." The shadow said. "Else there will be dire consequences."
"Harley don't!" My mother screamed. "He will kill you!"
"Oh no he won't." I sneered. "I am not giving their kind another chance. This one will die in a puff of smoke like the last who attacked me.""
The shadow started speaking in its natural tongue. "Kill me if you can. It does not matter. Bengahamen has already been warned. He will not return now that Athena is aware."
"Calm your storm child." Athena said as she placed a hand on my shoulder to tamper my anger. "We need this one alive so we can carry it back and question it."
I nodded while keeping my hold on the struggling shadow.
Athena looked toward my mother. "Senka it may not be safe for you. You are welcome to accompany us."
My mother shook her head. "I'm not worried. My father will protect me. Just promise me Harley will be safe."
Athena nodded. "You have my word."
I looked at the woman who had sacrificed so much for me without anyone's knowledge. The woman who had to abandon her children and place herself in the devil's den so they would be safe. "Mom please come with us. We can be a family again."
Mom shook her head adamantly. "I can't baby. The council of the Shades are fractured. I don't know as many details as the one you are holding but I am certain that you are the key. A war is coming and I can help you more by staying here. I love you and please tell Tori I love her too." Mom's eyes met Polina's. "Make sure Harley always knows love since I never could." She turned toward Athena. "Go now before others arrive. Please keep your word to keep my child safe."
"I promise." Polina replied earnestly. "She is my life and possesses my eternal affection."
Athena nodded and next thing I knew we were in what had to be her throne room.
"Tell me what you know!" I screamed at the shadow.
I felt it trying to access my mind and my consciousness allowed it entry before I gained a firm grip on its mind as well. Moments later I was so angry by what I found that the Shade died in a puff of smoke like the last.
I wiped my hands as I started to stand.
"I told you we needed to question it." Athena said angrily as she glared at the disappearing smoke. "You will learn to follow my orders or lose your birthright."
"He wasn't any use to me anymore and had knowledge that could not be shared. Most importantly, he was going to hurt Polina if he was ever set free." I replied with the same anger in my voice and stepped closer to my great grandmother. "I'd like to see you try to take anything away from me that I can use to protect her. I'll tear Heaven and Earth apart to make sure the woman I love remains safe."
Polina's eyes widened. "Why would it hurt me?"
I walked over and pulled her into my arms. "Because he knew the Shades can't touch me anymore. Not only can they not touch me but I am their greatest threat. When he entered my mind it gave me a gateway to his. I know what they are planning and he needed to die."
Athena's hair started to flare as she stared me down. "It is not up to you to decide who lives and who dies. That decision was mine to make."
"When it came to that particular Shade, the decision was mine and mine alone. He had been lurking in the shadows of my life, planting seeds of diffidence. Always making me feel inferior." I'm sure my own hair was in flames as I stepped up so we were face to face. "Others have been controlling my entire life. That stops now. Not even you can interfere anymore."
"I will not allow such impertinence." Athena said as her finger poked my chest. "You need to understand your place."
"And you need to understand…" I shifted into a shadow before stepping backwards. "That there is more to me than anyone realizes."
"How did you do that?" Athena asked. "That has never been one of our gifts."
I retook my form. "No it hasn't but it was one of his." I stepped into the shadow coming from a column. "I am part Shade and coming into contact with him woke that side of me. The small amount of your blood gave me the ability to have powers greater than what they normally have."
Feeling her building worry, I knew it best to put her mind at ease. "That's in addition to whatever gifts of my own that will arise. This cannot be revealed except to those I trust with my life. That is why the Shade had to die. I was angry but anger was not the reason for my action. I have your wisdom Grandmother so I understand what would happen if others found out. Do not worry, I will not misuse what I have been given."
Polina beamed with pride as she kissed me. "Your secret is safe. I won't even tell Dani."
Athena appeared unsure but chose not to push the matter further. "What else did you find out?"
I guided Polina to the steps in front of the throne and asked her to sit down before I climbed in her lap. "Privileged Shades are allowed to interact with humanity so long as it is not intimate. They didn't want to take a chance at the prophecy coming true. The rest are supposed to guide human’s lives from afar."
"What prophecy?" Polina asked.
Athena cast an annoyed glance at my wife. "Not now. I will show you later." Her eyes set on me again. "Please continue."
"My grandmother possessed exceptional beauty. So much so that my grandfather found her to be irresistible. He tried the direct approach but he was rebuffed. My grandfather, who is the king, broke the rules of Shade and man when he had relations with my grandmother without her knowledge as she slept. My mother was conceived as a result."
"The day before my grandfather was to take a wife of his kind, he visited my grandmother one last time. He was hoping my grandmother would willingly be with him but again she refused. That was when he saw my mother. The thought crossed his mind to kill her but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Knowing what would happen to both him and my mother if anyone found out, he would visit her in her dreams and emphasize the importance of keeping her abilities a secret."
"The father and daughter developed a close bond as she grew. He allowed her to live her life without interference but as you know, Mom and Jonah Dawson had relations which resulted in her getting pregnant. Such a mixture of races is unheard of. I am the only one to carry the blood of your kind, the Thetans, the humans and the Shades."
"I never should have survived birth. When I did, my mother's father feared what I might become and wanted me dead but Mom begged him to let me live. She said she would do whatever he asked so long as I was allowed to have life. My grandfather relented and turned me male to mask the blood of my great grandmother since the Thetan blood was weaker and already diluted to the point of their power being practically nil so nobody would notice my existence. His greatest dread was, that if your blood ever established dominance, what I would become. He brought Bennie in to ensure any feminine tendencies were eliminated before they started and to guarantee that I grew into a man."
I turned to Athena. "Bennie agreed eagerly because of my relation to you, Grandmother. He took great pleasure in tormenting me and happily took his anger at you out on me. My grandfather told him under no circumstances could he take my life. If the time came for me to die, it would be on his order alone. After I turned twenty-one and was still male, they believed they had been successful and stopped watching me so closely. Without their full attention, the spells broke and I started to revert to who I was meant to be. Nobody noticed because the lessons they taught me from the time I was a child were so ingrained that I was able to hide what was happening out of fear."
"My grandfather is a good man at heart but my grandmother's refusal hurt him deeply. I can't be sure but I believe he is working under a Compulsion. He leads a group of Shades who like to be called Paraclitus. They want to take away the free will humans now possess. The majority of the Shades do not share their beliefs but the few who do are powerful. My grandfather changed his stance after having his heart broken and pride injured but did not have the support to act until now. The Paraclitus are days away from making their move."
"Where does your mother fit in this?" Polina asked.
"It is exactly like she said. Mom thought she was saving me. Her father had her believing what she was doing what was best for me. I really believe Bennie has an ulterior plan because I can't see him as a man who would willingly work with others."
Athena leaned forward thoughtfully. "What is our next move then?"
"Nothing at the moment. The ones who are most dangerous are lying low after what happened earlier. As much as I hate to say it, I need to go back to town. They will lower their guard if I resume my life." I turned to Polina as soon as I felt her concern. "That includes you. They know about you and I already. If you were to disappear they would suspect we are on to them."
"Are you sure that is the wisest course of action?" Athena asked.
I nodded as I assumed the form of a shade. "Having awakened my abilities, I can move undetected among them. Also, I can now hear their summons so when they call to regroup, I will know. Any aggression from us will only delay their plans. We have to be ready to wipe them out the next time they gather. I am going to need both of you to help."
Polina's gaze was questioning. "How can we help? We can't even touch them."
I resumed my normal appearance and rose from her "I need your support when their words cause me to doubt myself."
"Since you are taking care of the Shades, I will handle Bengahamen." Athena said.
"Oh hell no." I replied angrily. "That bastard is all mine."
"I understand your desire to make him suffer but I also have reasons to make him pay. You are not strong enough to fight him, I am more than up to the task."
I moved toward her. "There is not a reason you can give me that will keep me from having my vengeance on that bastard for what he's done to me and my family."
The tips of Athena's hair started to flame again. "The fact I forbid it is reason enough."
Polina laughed watching the two similar women quarrel causing Athena to shift her attention. "What is amusing?"
"You should see the two of you." Polina giggled as she waved her hand at us. "It is as bad as Mother and I when I was younger."
Athena rolled her eyes. "There is no way we are that bad. You and Zaria bickered over trivial things."
Polina laughed again. "The two of you are not arguing over what needs to be done, not even how it gets done. You are fighting over who gets to do it. No that is not trivial at all. What does it matter so long as he receives justice?"
Athena and I calmed down and stared at each other momentarily. I could tell she was as embarrassed by her outburst as I was at mine.
"What if we come to an agreement?" I said after smiling sheepishly at my wife. "Whoever finds him first will get the honor."
Athena nodded. "So long as we summon the other so we can witness it. We have the mental link so we will know when the other is needed."
Polina pulled me over to Athena. "That was not so hard was it? Okay we have to go if we hope to resume natural appearances."
I looked at Athena. "Thank you Grandmother. I'll see you soon."
"It is my pleasure. You make me proud." Athena said as her hand rested on my cheek. "Where do I need to send you?"
My smile was mischievous as I shook my head. "Nowhere. I got this."
"How did you do that?" Polina asked when we appeared outside of my sister's house. "I can't even do that."
"Yes you can." I replied. "You haven't really tried because all you had to do was summon your mother. It's easy when you think about it. Summon your light, then imagine it shining down on where you want to go and poof. You are there." I pointed to the tree in the back yard. "Try sending yourself there."
I felt her hesitation and took her hand in mine. "You can do it sweetheart. I'll go with you."
A moment later we were surrounded by her light and when it dimmed we were exactly where we needed to be.
My love's smile was contagious as she wrapped her arms around my neck. "I did it!"
"I knew you could." I replied proudly. "You can do anything you set your mind to."
Polina's eyes drifted the length of my body. "You are still wearing my clothes. Let me see if I can fix that."
Seconds later I looked down and laughed at my oversized black sweatshirt and baggy jeans. Polina was back in her clothes.
"What's so funny? Don't you like it?"
"It's not that." I jumped up and down. "You forgot my tank tops."
My wife started to laugh with me until excruciating pain wracked my body. I dropped to my knees clasping the middle of my body.
"What is wrong Angel?" Polina asked frantically as she sat beside me on the ground.
"I don't…" I had to take a breath. "I don't know."
Polina wiped the sweat forming on my brow. "Hold on my Angel. I'll find help."
I shook my head. "Don't leave me." I screamed out from the pain as well as my overwhelming fear. "Please don't go."
Polina waved Dani over as she as she ran out of the back door with concerned look. A look of familiarity crossed Dani's face as she stared at me. "She should not be awake for this. We need to get her somewhere private."
"What is happening?" Polina cried as she cradled my body. "What have the Shades done to her?"
Dani was gentle as she leaned down next to her sister. "It is not the Shades. This is the final phase. Harley is becoming complete. It is an extremely painful process. Thankfully it will not last more than an hour. Let us take her to Mothers. There is no privacy here or at my house and they would want to call an ambulance."
I screamed out again as another sharp pain hit and thought I was about to die. My hand reached out to the woman I loved. "I wish we had more time together. Thank you for the brief time we shared. I'm sorry."
"You are not going anywhere." Polina said adamantly as she wiped the sweat from my forehead.
Athena appeared next to me. "Why is she awake? Let us take her to my realm."
As soon as Athena finished speaking I was lying nude on a soft bed. She ran her hand through my hair. "Sleep now and when you wake all will be well."
I felt my body relax and my eyes closing but not completely. I expected slumber to follow but it didn't. I could still feel the extreme pain but could no longer move. I tried to speak to tell my grandmother what I was feeling but all that could escape my lips were moans.
When it felt like my insides were ripping apart, I tried to scream. The tears falling from Polina's eyes flowed faster as she sat beside me.
Dani came up behind her and tenderly started rubbing her back. "I remember sitting by Cali's side while she endured this. I spent an hour thinking Mother was forcing me to watch the love of my life suffer before traveling to the Elysian Fields. I know it looks bad right now but Harley is going to be fine soon."
Dani looked at me before she started speaking again. "After she wakes up, don't make my mistakes. Remember this is all new to her and she will need you more than ever. Have patience when she has trouble with things that we consider trivial."
She started crying as what must have been a troubled memory resurfaced. "Never give her a reason to doubt your love. When she needs to vent about the way people treat her after this, listen intently. It does not matter if what she talks about is something women have endured for years, it will be new and disturbing to her. If there comes a time that her neediness in the initial days becomes troubling to you, talk to ME. Do not ever allow her to think, even for a second, that she is becoming a burden and causing you distress because she will be emotionally fragile in the following weeks until her body adapts to her new hormone levels."
Another excruciating cramp hit but I tried to stifle my moan so I wouldn't interrupt their talk.
"No matter how much it hurts watching the person you love more than life itself struggle to adjust to a new life she did not ask for, you must remain her rock. Make sure she knows that the change of dynamic in your relationship does not change how much you love her."
Polina appeared confused. "But sister, the dynamic in our relationship will remain the same. I have always treated her as the beautiful woman she is. She was struggling to maintain the life she had because it did not match the one she wanted. She will thrive once she can freely be herself. I want Harley to need me and live for the moments when she trusts me enough to share what is in her heart." Suddenly it was like a light went off in her head and she wrapped her arms around her sister's neck. "This is what you went through in the aftermath of Cali's transformation isn't it?"
Dani nodded. "I made so many mistakes that I almost lost her. I don't want to see Harley struggle in the same way Cali did and more importantly, I do not want you to go through this alone."
"These situations are different. Cali changed almost overnight whereas Harley has been slowly adapting since she turned twenty-one. The shock will not be as great." Polina hugged Dani tightly. "Oh sister, I had no idea what you were going through. If I had, I would have been there for you. I am sorry I was not."
"I know you would have." Dani said as she wiped her eyes. "You were still bound to your husband at the time. He would not let you out of his sight. I am happy you are no longer with him."
"Not as happy as I am." Polina replied. "Prior to meeting Harley, the happiest day in my life was the day I escaped that bond. I hope that bastard is still wandering the desert in search of himself."
The next pain I felt was in my heart. I thought our bond was unbreakable but apparently I was mistaken. From what Cali told me, she was transformed less than two years ago which meant that not too long ago Polina was married. Is our bond so weak that she could easily move on after using her gift to wipe my mind?
I screamed as the most intense cramp yet struck. As it hit I felt an odd wetness cover the lower half of my body. Somehow I looked down to see the white silk sheets turning red.
Polina rushed back to my side but I backed away from her. "Leave me alone!"
Another cramp hit and more blood flowed from my middle causing me to curl into the fetal position.
"She should not be awake." Athena said with alarm.
I glared at my great grandmother. The pain in my heart as well as middle caused my anger to rise to dangerous levels. "Fuck you! I was never asleep, only paralyzed. Did you find it funny to leave me to experience everything but not able to speak?" My gaze shifted to my so called wife. "Fuck you too. I heard what you said. I thought what we share is special but I guess not. If you think I'm going to let you send me off to some desert when you tire of me and escape our bond like you did with your husband then you are seriously mistaken. I'm getting out of here before you have the chance."
I tried to climb out of bed so I could escape but fell to the floor instead. Polina rushed to my side and carried me to a large tub. "It is not like that Angel. I swear. Look into my mind and see for yourself."
The water was warm and inviting and allowed my physical pain to become at least bearable. I felt Polina pulling me into her memories and I was too weak to resist. She forced me to feel what she felt with the man she was bonded to then she made me feel what she felt for me. They were completely different. With the man she was married to, she felt compelled and forced to have feelings that were not her own. With me everything felt natural. She basked in the love we shared.
She showed me how terribly the man she married treated her. How he never encouraged her and cut off all contact with her family. When they were together she felt isolated and alone.
Then she showed me how the way I looked at her made her feel invincible. She had me relive the moment I taught her how to use power she did not know she had and how my encouragement made her love me even more. Then she showed me scenes from Dollywood when I didn't even know she was looking as I laughed with both Zaria and Dani at different times."
"You see Angel?" She said lovingly after guiding me back to my own mind. "I was under a Compulsion when I was married before. What I feel for you is real. I can never and will never leave you. We are forever."
I wrapped my arms around her neck. "I'm sorry. I love you so much that the thought of losing you scares me."
"I know." She said as her fingers ran through my hair. "I am the same way. I promise to build your confidence so that you will never doubt us again."
Athena approached timidly. "Accept my most sincere apologies. I was trying to help you sleep through this so you would not suffer. I do not understand why it did not work."
I nodded and cringed as another cramp hit. Before I had the chance to respond, I felt the call of the Shades. "Someone saw me become incapacitated. They are about to set their plan in action. We must go."
I looked at Dani as either Polina or Athena magically covered me in flowing white gown. "You and Cali stay with Tori. They are after her as well."
Dani's face paled. "That was why I initially ran out when you arrived home. Kaley hurt herself at school so Cali rushed to be with her. Tori had not made it home from work yet and was not answering her phone."
I tried to reach out to my sister via our mental connection and was met by darkness. Not the type of darkness that implied death but the type that I felt when I connected with the Shade in Athena's throne room. They were trying to shield her from detection by my wife's family, not yet knowing that my Shade side had manifested. Tori was alive but unconscious and at our grandfather's palace.
"We have to go." I said angrily. If they further harmed my sister, I would wipe their entire race from existence. "Now."
After Polina sent Dani back to Missy, I grabbed her and Athena's hand. "Hopefully we will not have to resort to violence but stay out of the way if it comes to that."
They nodded before I carried us to a large meeting room hidden within my grandfather's palace. I expected it to be dark since they live in the shadows but I could not have been more wrong. The room was bright with many windows allowing the sun to shine on golden walls and white marbles tables.
We marched confidently to the head of the table. I could feel the heat of my anger rising as I spoke, "I cannot allow you to follow through with your plans. Surrender now and I will allow you to live."
My grandfather glared at Athena. "How dare you enter without permission! You cannot stop us! You cannot even touch us! We will return to a time when we were the Gods!" He looked to someone who must have been a soldier. "Kill her."
"What is he saying?" Polina asked.
I wished my wife had the ability to understand their language but could not answer because a soldier charged my great grandmother. The moment I grabbed him, the soldier disappeared in a puff of smoke.
There was a collective gasp in the room as my grandfather rose from his seat. "What are you?"
"You don't recognize me Grandfather?" I said evenly. "This ends now. Give my sister back to me. You will not begin this senseless attack and I am going to make sure you never again interfere with our lives."
He backed away from me as if I were contagious. "It cannot be. I was assured the time had passed for you to manifest."
I sensed four more soldiers readying their attack. I moved to stand in front of them. The thought of how much they could harm me was frightening but nowhere near the fear I felt at not being able to protect those I loved. I decided trying to bluff my way out of the situation was my best bet. "Stow your weapons unless you wish to join your comrade. Your kind cannot harm me."
Ignoring my warning, they charged. Shock rocked me as their swords moved through me as if I were a shadow. After I recovered from the revelation; I touched two with my light causing them to evaporate in a screaming cloud of smoke. As the ones who were in position to witness my act looked on in frightened disbelief; I grabbed the other two by their necks before dragging their struggling bodies to the middle of the room so that everyone could get a good view of their demise. "I am giving you the chance to surrender. I will not allow mankind to return to the Dark Ages."
I turned back to the king. "Please Grandfather. I would rather not destroy you. My mother has lost so much already but I will if I have to. Please give my sister back to me." I allowed the tone of my voice to express how I felt as I continued. "The Shades have always prided themselves in their ability to see past emotions for the sake of the greater good. Your kind realized long ago that mankind had evolved to the point of earning free will. It was decreed that every life was a complex web of decisions and it was up to each person to decide which path they would take. Just because you do not agree with mankind does not give you the right to take back what they rightfully earned."
His black eyes lost some of the fear and anger they'd been holding as they remained focused on me alone. I knew I needed to choose my next words carefully if I hoped to get through to him. Lowering my voice so no one else could hear, I stepped closer and took his hands in mine. "I understand the pain of rejection because of how you told my mother to treat me but… I have also learned to move on from past hurts and discover forgiveness. You are being Compelled by an outside force."
I reached within his mind to break the compulsion that had been placed. "If you will end this foolishness then I will forgive what you have done to me. I know you are a good man Grandfather. You need to move on from the hurt my grandmother caused and relish in all you have. Your kind needs a leader who puts them before himself. What you are doing is personal and I cannot allow it to happen."
The anger rising within him put me on high alert as he gripped my hand tightly. "Who did this to me?"
My grandfather nodded and kissed my cheek. "Thank you." He steeled his expression before turning to address those remaining in the room. "My granddaughter has shown me the error of my ways. This ends now. Whoever has my other granddaughter will release her now."
A sword flew through me and lodged in my grandfather's side before a large Shade approached angrily. "If you are going to allow a child to destroy what we have spent years planning then you no longer deserve to lead Father. I challenge your authority and vow to take your place on the throne."
I reached out and sent the being to whatever version of hell the Shades believed in before stooping beside my grandfather. After removing the sword I placed my hand over his wound and prayed for a miracle that would heal him.
The crowd gasped again as he stood unscathed. I had no idea Shades could heal so quickly but then again, I didn't know much about them at all. Judging by the reaction of those present it was not a common gift. That must be why he is king.
"Where is my sister?" I said angrily as my thoughts refocused on what was important. "I will take all of you on if you do not turn her over immediately."
"Kill the abomination!" Someone in the back of the room yelled before half of the room charged while a few ran toward the exits. Many others joined us to stop the attack.
Athena and Polina ran for the corner as I reached out and dispatched any aggressor I made contact with while my grandfather and his supporters fought off their attackers with swords. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple of Shades approaching my wife and grandmother. I wished they had my abilities to protect themselves instead of having to rely only on Polina's light.
Five more Shades attacked me, taking my attention off them briefly but when I looked up again, they were fine. In less than a minute the coup was over and my grandfather remained in power.
A young Shade woman walked in carrying a lifeless Tori in her arms. Could I have been so preoccupied with the battle that I failed to protect her? Tears started filling my eyes before the woman smiled. "She is fine. I believe the shock was more than she could take. From what I understand, she put up quite the fight before they were able to take her."
I rushed over to check for myself. To my relief, what the woman said was true. My sister was only sleeping.
"Please know that I had nothing to do with her abduction. I volunteered to watch her so that I could ensure no harm came to her." The woman said and I could feel she was telling the truth.
My grandfather turned to me showing great regret. "I can never apologize enough for my treatment but please know I am eternally grateful to you for showing me the error of my ways before it was too late."
He started to speak in a language I could not understand. After he finished, he smiled and kissed my cheek again. "That is the language of our ancestors. I am now bound to my word that so long as I am king we will never again try to take away what mankind has earned."
He looked to Athena. "Thank you for giving her the wisdom to stop an old fool before he made a grave mistake."
"It was not I." Athena said as she shook her head. "I only became aware of her existence two days ago. Her strength and wisdom are her own doing."
I pointed toward my wife. "If you need to thank anyone then thank her. Her love gives me strength."
My grandfather smiled as he reached out to Polina. "I am forever indebted to you. What can I do to show my gratitude?"
Polina smiled as she pulled me into her arms. "Promise not to interfere with Harley or Tori again."
He nodded. "You have my word."
The woman holding Tori handed her off to Athena before walking up and taking my hand. "Thank you for saving our grandfather. I have been trying to persuade him that his plan was not right but our uncle convinced him otherwise. My name is Candidus. I am your cousin. It is my hope we can become friends."
I smiled as I shook her hand. "I would like that Candi. Thank you for keeping Tori safe."
"Candi?" She smiled brightly. "I like that."
The events of the day were starting to take its toll as my adrenaline waned. My knees began to buckle as I looked up at Polina. "We need to go home my love. I am about to pass out."
"What is wrong?" My grandfather asked worriedly as Polina lifted me in her arms.
"She is still weak. She was in the midst of the final stage of her transformation when she brought us here." Athena responded.
"If she could do this in a weakened state," Candi said with awe, "what is she truly capable of?"
"Anything." My grandfather replied proudly. "Everything. The only limits she will face are in her mind."
The smell of bacon roused me from my slumber. I opened my eyes to see Polina holding a tray piled high with a wide variety of breakfast foods. Her smile was glorious. "Good morning Angel."
I sat straight up as only one thought entered my mind. "Tori!"
Polina sat the tray on the dresser before sitting beside me and wrapping me in her arms. "She is fine and has no memories of the encounter. The girl you called Candi said she is a fighter. Your sister could not kill them like you can but she could fight them as if they were human. It took ten Shades to subdue her. Athena removed all traces of the incident when we returned."
"Yeah, nobody ever wanted to cross the terror twins. That's what they called Tori and Cali back in the day." I said with a relieved smile.
Polina grinned. "Are you ready for the first day of the rest of our lives?"
I started laughing. "Am I ever! I love you so much."
My wife winked before she placed the tray in my lap and kissed me passionately. "I know, I love you too. Dani said you would need to replenish your reserves. She warned me that you would be famished so I made extra. Eat until you are full and don't worry about the calories."
I smiled with my mouth full of food. "I wasn't. I've seen Cali eat. I know I'm not going to get fat."
Polina sat beside me and guided my hair away from my face. "How are you feeling?"
"Wonderful." I replied immediately. "Relieved the worst is over and eager to start this new chapter. How long have I been out?"
"It's Saturday. You depleted your reserves and crashed hard."
Panic filled my eyes. "Shit I missed work."
Polina laughed. "No you didn't. Athena went in your stead. I wish I could have seen it. Afterward she was rather aggravated and threatened to alter a few of your coworkers, Randy mainly. Be prepared for her to encourage you to no longer remain employed."
I laughed imagining the situation. "That's a given. It's a matter of when, not if."
My love took on a serious expression. "How are we going to handle this? I recommend altering everyone's memory so they accept you without question."
I shook my head. "Absolutely not. I want to know who my friends are. I know I can't be totally honest but I want to be as truthful as possible. We will tell everyone I was born intersexed and my parents raised me as a male despite my protests." I gazed lovingly at my wife. "I'll explain that I was at the end of my rope and closer than anyone knows to losing my mind until an amazing woman came into my life. She convinced me that there was nothing wrong with me. In falling in love with her, I learned to love myself. So long as she is by my side, nothing else matters. If they do not accept me then it is their loss."
There is little doubt that had I not had a plate full of food in my lap, she would have launched herself on me. Instead she leaned forward and allowed her lips to meet mine.
"Are you sure?" She asked after pulling away. "It will open you up to much hate in this town."
An involuntary giggle escaped. "Oh and just being a lesbian is so much better? This is how I want it to be. It is important to know whom I can trust."
Polina nodded. "You are right. I was only wanting to make things easier for you but what is easy does not make you strong."
After I finished eating, a satisfied belch escaped before I could stop it. I blushed as I rubbed my tummy. "That was wonderful. Thank you."
My wife started laughing. "That is no way for a lady to act but I am glad to know you enjoyed it."
I moved the tray and pulled her closer. "Hey just because I'm a woman now, that doesn't mean I'll ever be a lady. Besides I have lived with my sister and Missy too long to be fooled into thinking women don't act like this when nobody else is looking."
She kissed me again. "You are definitely a lady. You're my lady."
I reached down and pinched her lovely bottom. "Dang right I am and never forget it."
While I retrieved two tanks tops, Polina stared at me. "What are you doing Angel?"
"I don't want anyone to see the changes until tonight and I need to use the restroom."
"Tori and Missy left for work an hour ago. We are alone until five."
I smiled as I dropped the tops in my waste basket. "I guess I won't need those anymore then."
"You will once more." She replied. "Unless you want to get ready for the party here."
After considering the options for a moment, I left the tops in the trash. "They will have too many questions and I'd rather they ask them here."
"Hey sweetheart," I called out as I walked back into the bedroom. A thought struck me while I was alone. "How were you able to defeat the Shades that were moving in on you and Athena? I would have thought your light would have harmed everyone."
Polina shrugged. "I have no idea. The entire experience was almost surreal. Not long after I began understanding their language, one grabbed Athena and she reflexively struck out in an attempt to protect herself. To our astonishment, she made contact. I lashed out at the one coming towards me and I also was able to touch it. Athena and I think it must have something to do with being in their world."
"Who would have thought they'd be at their weakest at the place they consider their haven?"
Polina nodded, "I know right. I guess that is why they keep it so hidden." She pulled me into her lap while adopting a seriously sensual expression. "Enough about that. You have new parts I need to explore."
The next few hours were spent in bed with Polina teaching me the joys of being a woman and me showing her my appreciation for the lessons.
"I can't believe I let you talk me into this." I yelled out as I stared at myself in the mirror. "When you said big reveal, I didn't know you meant it so literally. I'm going to freeze my ass off."
Polina had spent the last hour fixing my hair and getting my makeup just right. All I was allowed to wear while she worked was a smile. She took great pleasure in touching me whenever and wherever she wanted.
After she was satisfied with her work, she handed me a brown leather bra with gold armor covering the molded cups and spandex panties in the same color brown. She also gave me a matching pleated brown leather mini skirt that was accented with gold. Once those were on, she helped me with the gold armbands and brown leather knee high boots with a four inch chunk heel.
My costume emphatically showed the world I had become a woman. The tiny top made my breasts appear larger than they were. My bare midriff exposed a tiny very toned waist and the pleated skirt accentuated my already wide hips and long fit legs.
I could hear her laughing through the bathroom door where she decided to get ready so she could surprise me. "There is also a long jacket but you cannot have it until we leave."
I retrieved my wallet from the dresser and pulled my money, driver's license and debit card from it. Before I placed them in the small ammo pouch that was part of my skirt, I looked at my ID again. I smiled at my new last name and the F that was now on it. I always wanted to take her name since mine was that of a man who was not my father and she convinced me having the F marker would avoid confusion when trying to use my debit card and her credit card if the need ever arose.
"What do you think?" Polina said as she entered our bedroom.
My laughter was almost uncontrollable after I turned toward her. She was wearing a body hugging white mini dress with a pair of white wings, a golden halo and white three inch stiletto pumps. "You look heavenly but I thought I was the angel?"
She groaned at my joke before smiling. "You will always be my angel."
"That was supposed to be for me wasn't it?"
She nodded. "It was but after seeing you in action I felt that one was more appropriate."
I pulled her into my arms. "I'm going to let you see me in action as soon as we get home."
The sound of the back door opening ended our moment. "Wait here until I call for you." Polina said as she headed for the door.
I leaned into the door so I could hear what was being said. Polina and I had already discussed how we felt the conversation needed to go.
Tori and Missy both whistled when my wife greeted them. "Damn you are going to get Harley into a fight tonight. The men aren't going to leave you alone."
Polina giggled. "Thank you but I do not think I will be the one the men are going to be looking at. Tonight is Harley's night."
"Is he already in costume?" Tori asked nervously. "How is he holding up?"
"We've been worried." Missy added. "We would have stayed home from work if you hadn't been here."
"I know you have noticed the changes Harley has gone through over the last two years." Polina said.
"You mean the weight loss?" Tori asked. "Yeah, everyone has noticed that."
"I know he hates whatever is happening to his body." Missy added. "He let that slip one day."
"That was why she broke so many mirrors. She told me about that." Polina replied. "She had a hard time accepting what was happening but that has changed. You might want to sit down."
"Why?" Tori asked. "Is it something bad? He's sick isn't he? That's why he's lost so much weight. My brother is going to die."
Polina's voice was soothing. "In a way you are correct. Your brother is going to die but not in the way you think. She is as healthy as one can be."
"He went through this alone." My sister cried. "Do I have enough time to make it up to him?"
This was not going to plan. Neither of us expected my sister to meltdown thinking I had some terminal illness.
"Angel, please come show your sister you are fine." Polina yelled out.
Tori's tears stopped the second I came into view and Missy's mouth almost dropped to the floor.
"How in the hell did you hide that?" Missy asked while allowing her eyes to roam my body. "Damn you are hot."
Tori slapped her girlfriend's shoulder before running to me. "No wonder you were so moody and withdrawn. I can't believe you went through these changes alone. How could I not notice?"
I hugged her tightly. "I hid it well. You know I never wanted to be a burden. I always believed it was my job to protect you."
Tori pulled away and gasped for breath. "Okay, first off you were never, are never and will never be a burden. You are my little … sister and you can always come to me. Second, no more hiding your feelings from me. That's a guy thing and you obviously ain't a guy anymore. Most importantly, you are going to have to figure out a different way to hug me." She poked my breasts. "Those things almost smothered me."
I laughed as I pulled her to my side. "You have a deal."
"God." My sister said as she rubbed her hand over my toned tummy. "If I didn't love you so much I'd hate you. You give your wife a run for her money in the looks department."
"Not hardly." Polina scoffed. "She exceeds me on my best day and I am not complaining."
"Shit, anyone who complained about having to sleep with her would have to be crazy." Missy muttered.
"What did you say?" Tori said angrily.
I laughed as Missy darted to my sister. "That came out wrong. I can't think of Harley that way, Ew."
Tori put her hands on her hips. "Ew? Ewww? Does that mean you don't accept my sister?"
Missy shook her head. "Not Ew because she's ugly. Ew because it's Harley. Wait, that sounds like I don't think Harley is a woman. Hot damn, she's a woman alright." She looked at me again and tried to lift the front of my skirt. "Have ya'll been messing with me? There's no way she was ever a guy."
Tori pushed Missy away but she tried not to move. "I was trying to complement your new sister baby. You know I love you more than anything."
There was a knock at the front door which was odd because nobody ever used it.
I patted Missy on the head. "You keep trying to dig yourself out of that hole while I see who is out front."
I smiled as I turned the knob expecting to freak out a Jehovah's Witness or a salesman but was surprised to see my mother.
I held the door open wide. "Come on in Mom. This is a surprise. We were going to visit you tomorrow."
Mom's eyes about bulged out of their sockets as she stared at me. "Is that what Athena makes you wear?"
I laughed as I hugged her. "No ma'am, I'm going to a costume party tonight and agreed to let Polina pick out what I wear."
She stepped inside. "That's your wife correct?"
I nodded as I closed the door behind her. "Yes, you met her already."
Her lips pursed as she studied me. "Are you sure that is appropriate? You're showing a lot of skin. I don't want you to give off the wrong impression."
I never, in a million years, would have guessed I would be having this conversation with my mother. The fact the child she raised as her son had become a woman did not phase her. Neither did the fact I was married to a woman. No, it was that I was showing so much skin that had her worried.
My voice was filled with gentle teasing as looked down at her. "Did you come over to lecture me on how to be a proper lady?"
Mom smiled sheepishly. "Of course not. Bennie hasn't been back and even if he does show up, I'm done with him. Father told me what you did and that you were not well. I wanted to check on you and say thank you."
"I'm great now. The changes are complete. I'm now one hundred percent woman." I replied with a smile.
Her arms wrapped around my waist. "I'm so happy for you, baby girl." She looked up with some trepidation. "I am hoping you will forgive me and we can be a family again."
"I'm all for it but we'll need to work on Tori." I said. "Let me go get her."
I reached out to Polina silently. "Mom's here. Can you keep her company while I talk to Tori?"
Mom stared at the floor. "Tonight might have been a bad time but I couldn't help myself. I had to see you. I can come back if you want."
I lead her to the couch as Polina walked in. "Nonsense. Wait right here and do not leave."
I stepped back into the kitchen to see Missy still groveling. I pulled my sister away. "We need to talk."
"Why? Who was it?" Tori asked.
I grabbed her hand. "It's Mom. Bennie is out of her life and she wants to make amends."
Tears started to fill my sister's eyes. "Why should we let her? She was awful to you and disowned me. She can go to hell as far as I'm concerned."
"She's been in hell for the last eighteen years. Bennie controlled every aspect of her life." I led Tori to the table so we could sit. "Now that he's gone she desperately wants to be a part of our life. I know you think she'll never win a mother of the year award but she did get you far away from him when she found out what he tried. She disowned you to protect you."
"And you believe her?" Tori said angrily. "She treated you worse than me. Why are you defending her?"
"I can't say right now but I know she's telling the truth. She's the only mother we have sis and she did what she had to do to protect us."
When I realized she was not swayed, I grabbed her hands and looked her in the eyes. "Do you trust me?"
After she nodded, I reached into her mind. "I wanted to take the time to explain everything but now I can't. This may come as a shock but I am going to transfer my memories of the last few days. Please don't overreact and you can't tell Missy. You will understand why afterwards. You have to promise to never tell anyone."
She held up her pinkie. “I promise."
Tori gasped and hugged me tightly a minute later. "Oh my God! That explains everything!"
Missy looked utterly confused as Tori dashed to the living room. "What is going on?"
I smiled as I stood up. "It's a sister thing."
"You two are so weird sometimes." Missy said teasingly as she followed me to the living room.
I walked in to see Mom and Tori embracing while Mom tried to apologize over and over. Polina and I quietly stepped out of the room to give them a chance to talk. A few minutes after that Missy walked out.
"I figure they need to be alone." Missy said before turning to Polina. "Can you help me with my costume since Tori is busy?"
A half hour later I returned to see Mom and Tori smiling and laughing. "Hey sis, do you want me to tell everyone you can't make it?"
She laughed. "And miss everyone's reaction? Hell no! It's going to be effing epic!"
Mom slapped Tori's knee. "Watch your language young lady. People will think I didn't raise you right."
"What? I said effing." Tori smiled as she looked at me. "Apparently it's okay to be a lesbian but heaven forbid I curse."
Mom shook her head as she started to stand. "I don't care who you love so long as you're happy and for the record, H E double hockey sticks is a curse word." She gave Tori a kiss before she addressed both of us. “You two have fun. If I promise to cook dinner for everyone tomorrow, will you come see me? I expect Missy and Polina to be with you."
Tori eyes glistened as she hugged her mother. "We'll be there."
Cali and Dani walked in. I wanted to laugh at Cali's leprechaun costume. Dani had to have planned her own costume with her sister since she was wearing a matching outfit to Polina's except in black.
You could have knocked Cali over with a feather from Dani's wings when she saw my mother.
Mom looked at Dani. "I thought your costume was white?" Her look was disapproving when she saw her hand linked with Cali's but she didn't say anything.
Tori noticed the same time I did and winked at me. I pretended to be shocked and hurt as she walked over to Dani worriedly. "I thought ya'll were going to wait. Damn did you have to blindside her tonight."
I almost felt guilty as Mom took my hand and led me to a chair. "It's okay darling. Mama is here now. Nobody is going to hurt you again. I'll help you through this." She stood with epic anger and turned to Dani with her index finger extended. "How dare you hurt my daughter like that! You gave me your word!"
Tori tried to jump in front of her. "Wait Mom. Calm down."
Polina walked in, clueless to our joke, to see what the yelling was about. Mom's mouth clamped shut and she allowed her stare to drift back and forth. "I apologize." She said to Dani as her cheeks started to blush.
Mom slapped Tori's shoulder. "That was terrible." She turned to me. "And you! You should be an actress little Missy. I thought your heart was breaking."
I hugged her as I pointed to Tori's girlfriend who looked better than she ever had. My wife could do amazing things with makeup. "No, that's little Missy."
Mom studied Cali for a moment before recognition sat in. "Callista Dawn? Is it really you? My goodness, you have certainly… um… blossomed."
"She was going to say grown up." I said as I walked over and rested my arm on top of Cali's head. "But we know that would be a lie."
Cali elbowed me in the ribs. "That's not funny."
"Yes, it is." Polina said while laughing. "Grab her Angel. We can get her pot of gold."
Dani started laughing as I lifted Cali in my arms. "I told you my sister would have a joke ready if you chose that."
Mom interrupted our fun at Cali's expense. "I guess I need to go before you are short on time."
Cali gasped as I sat her down and stared at my mother. "Not you too Mrs. Theson?"
We all laughed when Mom realized what she said. "I didn't mean it like that Callista. I was trying to point out that there is little…" We started laughing again and she turned bright red. "Oh dear. I need to go."
Mom gave Tori and I quick hugs before she rushed out.
"That's the last person I ever expected to see." Cali said after Mom left.
Tori smiled. "I know, me too. She and Bennie aren't together anymore so she wants to try to be a family again."
"I'll explain everything." I said as I pushed Tori toward the door. "Hurry up and get dressed."
I saw Cali's brothers and their wives talking to Henry outside the building as we pulled into the parking lot of where the party was taking place.
"After Cali told them about the party they wanted to be here for you." Polina said.
I smiled thinking about how much my family had grown recently. "I bet they are going to be surprised."
My wife shook her head. "I bet not. They are more perceptive than you think."
Cali, Dani, Tori and Missy were already out of their cars and talking to the others as I waited for Polina to open my door for me. I tried to close my jacket as we approached but was not having any luck. "Where are the buttons on this?" I muttered.
Polina laughed joyfully. "And hide that perfect body? No no no Angel."
My new brothers and their wives smiled knowingly as they stared at me. Henry, on the other hand, carried something different in his aura. He became hyper focused and almost started drooling as I greeted everyone. Polina was amused by the fact Henry was being over animated while talking to me. He kept teasing me by calling me Angel like my wife did.
After a moment of small talk Henry looked at Tori. "When is Harley going to get here?"
I punched his shoulder. "Very funny smart ass."
He was confused by my reaction and rubbed his shoulder as if it really hurt. "You have quite the punch Angel but why am I funny?"
Thomas starting laughing. "Oh my God, he doesn't recognize her!"
Henry turned toward his friend quickly. "Why would I recognize her? I just met Angel a minute ago."
"Maybe if I wore baggy clothes you'd know who I am." I said with a grin.
Henry still wasn't getting it so Jeb smacked him on the back of the head before pointing at me. "That's Harley you dumbass."
Henry stared at me dumbfounded. "No fucking way!"
I nodded. "It's really me."
He turned without saying another word and stormed off.
"That wasn't what I expected." I said with a frown. Suddenly this didn't feel like such a good idea. "Let's go on in so everyone else can be disgusted by me."
Oddly it was Renee who put an arm around me as she looked at Polina. "Can you give us a moment? This is an area I know all too well." She led me toward the corner. "Let's have a talk before we go inside."
"I wish I could tell you that most won't react like him but many will. It's never easy." Renee said once we were alone. "It's sad to say this but you'll get used to people not wanting anything to do with you simply because they think what you are doing is wrong."
I tried to fight my tears because I didn't want to ruin the makeup my wife worked so hard on. "How do you know?"
Renee smiled. "Because we are alike. I was cursed with a male body at birth too. Coming out is the hardest thing you'll ever do but it is so fulfilling at the same time."
I stared at her in shock. "No way! I never would have guessed."
"Thank you but the same can be said for you." Renee replied with a comforting grin. "You have an advantage I never did when I came out."
I thought of my supernatural past and nodded before she made me realize my thoughts were wrong.
"You have a large loving family who supports you. Lean on your wife when you need her. You have two sisters and two brothers who have your back plus Trish and…" She wrapped her arms over my shoulders. "myself."
My smiled started to return. "Plus others."
Renee nodded. "I didn't have anyone but Cali's grandmother in person and my brother and Jeb over the phone. Keep in mind that all of us will be here for you and I can help you avoid the mistakes I made. I will also be here when your friends hurt you. There will be times when only someone who has gone through this will understand. Never hesitate to call or come by when you need to talk."
"Thank you." I hugged her tightly. "You have no idea how much this means to me."
"Do you think you are ready to go in now?" She asked as she returned my embrace. "Remember, if anyone tries to start any trouble, your brothers will be more than happy to kick their ass for you."
I laughed as I nodded. "Absolutely." We were still laughing as we turned the corner.
Polina ran up as soon as we came into sight, taking me away from Renee. "Are you okay Angel?"
My arms circled her waist as I leaned up to kiss her. "I'm great now. Let's go shock some people."
A crowd of my friends circled Tori and Missy as soon as we walked in with everyone asking when I was going to get here.
Only Janice, who was dressed as a witch, recognized me. Her smile was wide as she ran up and hugged me. "Wow you really got into the spirit." She stepped back to get a better look. "You look amazing. Are you sure you're a guy?"
"Thanks." I replied with a laugh. "Truth be told, I never really was and knew I couldn't hide it after tonight."
"Why you'd hide a body like that is crazy." She said with a laugh. "If I had it I'd wear… well I'd wear what you're wearing."
Everyone stared in amazement as they slowly figured out who I was. Many approached with questions and congratulations while others kept their distance and whispered among themselves.
I ignored the whispers and stayed with my wife and family at a large table. A few friends who were supportive would stop and talk between my taking turns dancing with my wife or brothers. Jeb and I were walking back from the dance floor when a drunk Roger approached.
"Can you settled a bet between me and my friends?" He asked while trying to maintain his balance.
"Sure thing." I said with a smile, knowing what was coming.
"Are you Harley Smith?"
I shook my head. "Not anymore." I held up my hand to show off my wedding ring. “I’m Harley Zoyra now."
He threw his beer bottle to the floor causing it to shatter. "What the fuck kind of freak are you? I've undressed in front of you!"
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah and let me tell ya, I wasn't impressed."
My family jumped to their feet and came running as he leaned forward. "You need to get out of here before I kick your ass."
Jeb grabbed him by the collar. "Nobody is going to kick my sister's ass. Got it?"
My heart swelled at my newfound brother defending me. I patted Jeb's chest and winked. "I got this." I turned to Roger. "Let's step outside to talk about this and after we're done, if you're feeling froggy then all you'll need to do is jump."
He took a swing at me and I easily grabbed his arm before forcing it behind his back. "Let it go Roger. We've been friends too long for it to end like this. Walk away and we'll talk when you're sober."
He struggled to get away without success. "Fuck you faggot."
I could see both Jeb and Thomas chomping at the bit to get their hands on him. As much as I wanted to fight him, I knew they wanted to more. "Do ya'll want to take him outside?"
Jeb grinned as he grabbed Roger. "With pleasure." He looked over at Thomas. "Bring his friends."
Polina walked over with my coat. "I guess it is time to go."
Trish looked at her watch and elbowed Renee with a laugh. "They made it until after midnight before there was a fight. I think that's a new record."
Cali ran up with a huge grin. "Come on, maybe we can get a couple of good shots in before the boys finish them off."
I nodded eagerly. "Okay, I'm right behind you."
The girls laughed as they looked over at a frustrated Polina. "Welcome to the family. You can't take them anywhere together and let them drink."
By the time Cali and I made it outside the fight was over. "You snooze you lose." Thomas yelled with a grin as he dropped the guy he had been fighting.
"Yeah slowpokes." Jeb said while still holding Roger in a headlock. He twisted my former friend's head so he could look at me. "Is there anything you want to say to my sister?"
"I'm sorry." Roger whispered.
Jeb punched him in the ribs. "What did you say? I don't think she can hear you?"
"I'm sorry!" Roger yelled.
"That's better." Jeb said as he released him.
Thomas kicked him in the butt. "Get out of here and if you bother her again, we'll find you."
I laughed watching Roger and my old friends run away until I heard a familiar voice approaching. "Harley, can I have a word?"
"Asshole. How's that for a word?" Jeb said to Henry. "I thought you were better than that man."
"Yeah." Thomas added. "You think you know somebody. We've been friends forever but Harley is our sister and if you're here to start trouble we'll have to end it."
Henry held his hands up. "I don't want trouble I swear. I just want to talk to Harley alone."
"Whatever you have to say, you can say in front of us." Cali said angrily as she stepped to my side.
Henry laughed nervously. "Do you think I'm stupid enough to do something to piss all of ya'll off? I want to apologize, that's all I want to do."
I nodded my head to the corner. "Come on." I held my hand to everyone so they wouldn't follow. "I can handle him if he gets out of line."
"Damn she's cocky." Thomas said with a grin as he watched me walk away. "I like it."
"She is not kidding." Polina replied seriously.
"No she's not." Cali added. "She can outfight me."
"Alright then." Jeb said as he glanced at Thomas. "I almost wish Henry would do something stupid. That would be a sight."
"So much for thinking she is a delicate flower." Renee said with a grin.
"She must be a rose because she has thorns," Trish added with a laugh. "Harley is a Dawson to her core."
"What do you want?" I said to Henry once we were out of earshot of the others.
"Look, I want to apologize." Henry said as he rubbed his neck nervously. "It's just that you caught me by surprise and I didn't handle it well."
"Oh you think?" I replied with an eye roll.
Henry sighed. "This is weird for me. I have no problems with who you are and I'll fight anybody who gives you a hard time."
"Then what was that earlier?" I asked
"What happened earlier was when I saw you, I thought you were the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I used to think Polina held that honor but you…" He motioned the length of my body. "Damn, you are gorgeous. You are the type of woman that makes a man think about settling down. I thought your name was Angel since that's what Polina called you. I never imagined a more perfect name."
I started to get very uncomfortable. "Um Henry, I don't know what to say."
He held his hand up. "Please let me finish. When I realized that gorgeous woman is the same kid I've looked out for, well it was a shock to my system. Then my best friends started laughing at me. I reacted defensively. It had nothing at all to do with you. I'm not that good with surprises and you kid, surprised the hell out of me. I was wrong to react like I did and I'm sorry."
I offered my hand. "Apology accepted."
He grabbed my hand and pulled me into a hug. "Thanks."
He held me a little long than I liked. "Henry, you do know I'm a married woman right?"
He released me as his cheeks reddened. "No I didn't. Who's the lucky guy?"
He started laughing. "No shit? Damn, all the good looking women worth having in this town are lesbians."
Once again I noticed Henry's different aura. "What are you?"
"What do you mean?" He started laughing even harder. "That's a loaded question. I can be whatever you want me to be."
Realizing it was a stupid question, I shook my head. I was probably being paranoid. Polina's worry told me we had about a minute before she joined us. "Never mind, come on before my wife loses her mind."
We were still laughing as we walked around the building to see the cops talking to everyone.
Renee was under Sheriff Crews' arm and they seemed to be laughing at something Cali said. The Sheriff's smile disappeared as soon as everyone looked in our direction. He looked down at Renee. "Who is that with Henry?"
Renee smiled. "That's my sister in law Harley Zoyra."
"Where do I know her from?" He asked as he studied me.
"She used to be a Smith. Daddy, that's Tori's sister." Renee replied.
"She's my sister too." Cali said proudly. "Don't forget that."
"Our sister!" Thomas and Jeb yelled in unison.
The Sheriff shook his head and looked at me again before turning to Cali. "The one I met the other day?"
Cali nodded. "Yes sir."
"But… but…" He looked to his daughter. "Is she like you?"
"Yes Daddy, she's like me but kinda different. The idea is the same but she has all the plumbing." Renee replied with a slight laugh.
He reached for his wallet before handing a twenty to the police officer who had joined him the other day. The officer accepted with a huge grin. "I told you so."
"He bet me twenty that Harley was really a girl." Sheriff Crews said to Renee's question glance.
"Daddy you're awful." Renee said as she playfully slapped his chest.
"Lord Almighty." Sheriff Crews said as he looked at his daughter's far less revealing princess gown before looking at me again. "If you ever wear anything like that in public, I'll lock you up at the house, husband or not."
Cali laughed as she invited me over. "Harley wanted to make sure nobody had any doubts about who she is."
One of the deputies looked at his partner. "Phew, it works. The only doubt I have is if a woman that fine would go out with me."
Polina stormed over to stake her claim. "She's taken. Thank you."
The sheriff looked at his deputies while still laughing. "Down boys." He turned to me. "If anyone hints at giving you any trouble, call me. I won't tolerate any harassment."
"Thank you sir." I replied.
He looked at all of us. "I think ya'll need to call it a night. The drunken hour is approaching and I'm afraid someone else will beg ya'll to beat up on them and I really don't have time for it."
Thomas whooped loudly as he pulled Trish close. "Party at our house, come on!"
My head was pounding the following morning when I woke up. "What the hell?" I muttered angrily as I sat up. "I never get hangovers. What did I drink?"
My lovely wife laughed as she handed me a cup of black coffee. "Before or after we left the party?"
"After." I replied. "I remember going to Thomas and Trish's but not much after that."
She laughed again. "I think it was called moonshine. You drank everyone under the table. You made your brothers proud."
I rubbed my temples. "Considering I usually can't get drunk, I hate to think how much I had. Why ain't I self-healing?"
Polina leaned down to kiss me. "Because it was self-inflicted. Your gift does not cover deliberate acts."
"Then you do it." I mumbled.
She laughed again. "Sorry Angel, healing is not one of my gifts."
I sighed wishing she had the ability to heal me. "I guess I'll have to learn to show moderation next time."
She laughed lightly before her hand gently rubbed my temples. "If I could make you feel better, believe me I would."
I smiled as slowly the pain eased. "Ah, maybe my self-healing is working after all."
My grin was mischievous after I started feeling better. I tossed my wife to the bed and opened her robe before I crawled between her luscious legs. "I want some breakfast."
I tossed on a sports bra and a pair of yoga shorts before pulling my hair into a high ponytail. I decided to let Polina sleep off our morning fun while I cooked some actual breakfast.
Missy stumbled in sleepily as I was cracking eggs. I quickly poured her a cup of coffee and greeted her cheerfully. "Good morning."
She took a sip before glaring at me. "What's so good about it? Why are so chipper? You drank more than anyone. I figured you'd be asleep all day"
I looked out the window to see a perfect fall morning. "I've been up awhile. Today is the first day of my real life. I can't wait to get started."
She nodded thoughtfully. "Help me clear things up. I'm slightly confused and Tori's explanation didn't really help."
"Okay, I'll try." I said.
"This much I understand so far. You are also Cali's sister?" I nodded. "You were born with both boy and girl parts?" I nodded again as that was the story we were telling others. "You tried telling your parents you were a girl but they forced you to be a boy?" I nodded again. "As you grew up the boy part stayed the same tiny size while the girl parts grew around it?" I nodded.
"If you are a girl and have been a fully developed one for a while. Why did you wait until now to come out as a girl? I know Tori would have supported you if had done it before this."
I smiled since her question was an obvious one and waved my hands over my body. "As you can see, I'm very much a girl but it was drummed in me since I was little that I was supposed to be a boy. I was scared of everyone's reaction. No offense to you or Tori, but it wasn't until I met Polina that I got the strength to be myself."
She nodded thoughtfully. "But you still like girls. I thought most men who become women like guys."
"So what you are saying is… Now that I'm living as the woman I'm meant to be, I should like men just like you do?" I replied not bothering to hide my sarcasm.
Missy blushed. "Okay, that was a stupid question. Now are you a girl like me girl? I mean do you have a monthly visitor and all that?"
I groaned remembering Cali pulling me aside to warn me about that aspect. It was a drunken conversation filled with entirely too many ugly details. "Yeah, and all that."
Her grin was mischievous. "Duh, I've lived with your moodiness long enough that I should have realized it."
As I giggled and stuck my tongue out at her, Missy's expression became puzzled. "How can you talk to other people's mind and how did you do that disappearing thing when we were trying to get you in the house last night?"
"What disappearing thing?" I asked nervously.
"When Polina and I were trying to help you from the car this morning you giggled and said 'I got this' and disappeared. We looked for you everywhere and finally found you in bed sound asleep."
"Are sure about that? You had a lot to drink too." I reached into her mind and altered that memory to show me running to the bedroom when she turned to check on Tori.
Missy shook her head. "Not really. I guess I was drunk too."
Polina walked in and wrapped her arms around me from behind before nibbling my ear. "I saw that."
I poured her a cup of coffee and nodded. "Don't let me drink that much again. It could be dangerous."
She nodded. "We were going to have that talk this afternoon. Expect my mother and Athena to want to have a little chat as well."
I groaned loudly. "Uhg, that can't be good."
She kissed my exposed neck. "It will not be that bad. By the way, forget what I said about ponytails. If you keep it high like this, I find ponytails sexy."
I shooed my wife and Missy over to the table so I could finish cooking.
Tori stumbled in sleepily as I prepared everyone's plates. "I smell coffee and food. I'll take both please. More of the first and a little of the second."
I laughed looking at my sister, she hadn't been that hung-over in years. "You look like you slept well."
She casually flipped me off as she accepted the cup I made for her. "I wish I had your constitution. Nobody should look that good after the night you had."
"That was one for the history books." I replied thinking of the good times and ignored the bad.
I laughed again as she leaned her head onto my shoulder and whispered, "I wish I knew someone who had the gift of healing."
When I exposed Tori to my memories I slipped up and let her know everything, my gifts included. I embraced her and filled her with healing energies.
She skipped to the table and smiled brightly as she sat down. "There is nothing that makes me feel better than one of your hugs."
Missy looked at the change in her girlfriend who had gone from ill and grumpy to bright and cheerful before leaping to her feet and wrapping her arms around me. She sat down with a huff afterward. "I didn't feel anything."
Polina laughed. "I think it is a sister thing. My sister can always help me feel better too."
"You are all weird." Missy said as she picked up her coffee cup.
"I'm sure you'll be the topic of many conversations today." Tori said to me as she reached for some toast.
Polina nodded. "Most men could not take their eyes off her."
"The women I talked to don't believe you were ever a guy." Missy added before laughing. "Except for those that have intimate knowledge that you were."
"Hold on." I interjected. "There are not any who have knowledge of that particular body part. I never let anyone see that after I started changing."
Tori laughed. "Then why have so many of my friends always praised your prowess?"
I blushed and cut my eyes toward Polina. "It wasn't that many and you two should know that you don't have to use a certain body part to be satisfied."
My lovely wife sat a little straighter in her chair and I could not tell if she was angry. "Yes it was. While your sister and I waited in line for the restroom almost everyone was comparing notes. When Tori pointed out who I was, they each congratulated me on the lifetime of wonderful sex you will grant me. They said I was the luckiest woman in the world."
I ran to sit in my love's lap. "Do you think they're wrong?" I nuzzled her neck. "My sole purpose from now on is your pleasure."
She grinned as she tilted her head to give me more access to her lovely neck. "No, they are right."
"Get a room." Missy yelled with a laugh as a piece of bacon flew past our heads.
Polina and I spent the first part of the day at my Mom's, where we had fun reconnecting. It turned out that without any outsides influences my mother was quite funny. Polina and Missy stepped outside to allow us a chance to chat privately.
Mom and I told Tori about being part shade and at the mention of the name, my sister's memory regained everything she'd forgotten about her abduction. I assured her it would not happen again but if it did to reach out to me and I'd be there instantly. To her credit, Tori was amazingly cool about the whole thing and wanted to meet our grandfather. Mom said she would arrange it.
We left Tori and Missy with Mom around four to visit my great-grandmother who tag teamed with Zaria chewing me out about getting drunk and foolishly exposing my gifts.
I sat calmly and let them get it out of their system while my wife kept giving me a "been there, done that." look. They toned down their lecture when I started crying about how new everything was to me and claimed I didn't know I could get intoxicated anymore. The discussion stopped completely when Athena caught me winking at Polina. She was laughing so hard she couldn't fuss at me anymore and Zaria was so astonished to see me and Athena joking around that she was speechless.
"I do not know why you are nervous." Polina said as she helped me with my makeup. "If they fire you it is not a big deal. You already told them you were quitting."
I sighed nervously. "I know it shouldn't matter but it does. These people were an important part of my life before a week ago. It's going to hurt if they reject me."
Polina kissed me tenderly. "I understand Angel. Rejection hurts regardless the source but remember the important people in your life love you. You could avoid this if you would allow Mother or Athena do a reset like they did with Cali. It is standard for situations like this."
I started getting dressed in my altered uniform. "Sweetheart we have already talked about this. I want to know where I stand with my friends without resorting to my gifts." I reached for her loving hand. "I have a safety net but most, like Renee when she came out, don't. Maybe by stepping forward, the next girl will have it easier."
My wife's beautiful eyes were filled with pride. "You are right Angel."
After putting on my new work boots that I didn't ask the origin of, I pulled my hair into a high ponytail and turned to Polina. "How do I look?"
"I am the wrong person to ask because I always find you beautiful," she said as she embraced me. "We will need to get your ears pierced this afternoon when we are shopping."
My hand flew to my lobe. "Do I look bad without earrings?" My insecurities started to show again. "Maybe I should wait until everything is perfect. I still have my old uniforms."
Polina laughed. "You are already perfect. I was simply making an observation, not a critique."
I leaned in for a kiss. "I will either be home in an hour or after three. Wish me luck."
"You do not need luck. Everything will work out how it is meant to." She handed me my purse. "Do not forget this."
"Argh. I forgot all about that. Thanks." I walked back for another kiss. "I love you."
My sister released a whistle as soon as I stepped out of the bedroom. "How can you make those ugly clothes look so good?"
I shifted nervously. "You really think I look okay?"
Tori laughed. "Hell yeah. Don't sweat it sis. They are either going to accept you or they won't. I learned a long time ago not to let the haters get to you."
"I guess so." I replied as I looked at the clock. "I got to go."
My loving sister placed her hand on my shoulder. "I'm only a phone call away if you need me."
I walked into work like it was no big deal and casually made my way to Mr. Mates’ office.
He quickly stood after I knocked. "Yes young lady. How can I help you?"
"Sir, we agreed to speak today about my future." I replied nervously.
He studied for a moment and I could tell the exact second recognition set in. He ushered me in quickly and shut the door. "My goodness Harley, what are you doing here dressed like that? What if someone else recognizes you?"
I motioned over my body. "This is who I am now. I don't care if anybody recognizes me because I'm not going to live a lie anymore."
He sat behind his desk and stared at me silently for a few moments. I fidgeted under his gaze and was almost tempted to enter his mind to find out what he thinking but resisted.
"This is why you wanted to wait to discuss your resignation?" He finally said.
"So am I to take it that you are pretending to be a woman now?" He asked.
I bristled at his question. I was expecting it because Renee warned me, but hearing him say it raised my ire. "No sir. I am a woman and have been my entire life."
"What does your wife think about this?"
A smile crossed my lips as I thought of the woman whose love encouraged me to be myself. "She is fine with it."
He shook his head in obvious disgust. "So she has no problem with people thinking she is a lesbian?"
"No sir, not one bit. She doesn't care what others think so long as we are happy."
"Can't you wait to do this?" He asked while running his large hand over his balding head nervously. "This is bad timing."
"No sir." I replied. "I've spent my entire life trying to live up to others expectations and it only made me miserable. It's time to live for myself."
"That sounds rather selfish." He said.
I nodded at another statement Renee warned me he would probably make. "Maybe it is but I can't continue going down the path I was on. I'm not about to continue punishing myself so people who don't care about me can be happy."
"Are you insinuating I don't care?" He asked angrily.
Leaning forward, I twisted my wedding band for strength. "Well sir let me ask you this… Has it crossed your mind to ask if I am happy now or have you been concerned about how my decision affects you?"
His cheeks flushed as he leaned backward. "That's not a fair question. What about the others who work here? I have to think about them too."
"Yes sir, it is. Your answer proves my point. Your concern for me only goes as far as how it affects my performance here." I stood and motioned over my body. "I am the same person you begged not to quit. Same clothes, different fit. Same name, same hair, same eyes, same set of skills that made me one of your most valued employees. All that has changed is perspective. I see myself as a woman and you see me as something less than a man but not quite a woman."
"You assumed I would fire you because of this?" He asked.
"Am I wrong?" I replied. "I hope I am but I can already tell I'm not."
Mr. Mates stood and walked to the door. "I really do wish you the best Harley but I have to think about how the public will react when they find out. You already tendered your resignation so I'm not firing you. I'm only accepting it and not requiring you to work out your remaining time. You will receive pay for the time you agreed to work and your standard yearend bonus."
My eyes started to water as I rose from my seat. "Thank you sir but that won't be necessary. You don't owe me anything. Can I leave by your private entrance? I don't want everyone's first time to see me to be like this."
He nodded and walked to the back door. "Take care of yourself."
"You too and thank you again for giving me a chance when nobody else would." I said while reaching for my sunglasses from my purse before walking away without looking back.
Polina was waiting by the back door as I walked in. I rushed to her waiting arms and let the hurt out.
"Oh Angel." She said tenderly as she gently rubbed my back. "It will be okay. Let it out. I'm here."
"I already knew this would happen. I was prepared for it when I walked in." I cried. "Why does it hurt so much now that it has?"
"Because you have a good heart and expect those you care about to be the same way." She kissed the top of my head, "And it always hurts to find out you were wrong."
Tori walked in asking Polina a question but forgot what she was going to say and rushed over as soon as she saw me. "Oh Harley. I'm sorry."
I wiped my eyes and tried to smile. "I'm okay. Don't worry about me."
My sister punched my arm hard. "Stop doing that. You promised you wouldn't close yourself off to me anymore."
I nodded. "Sorry."
She pulled me away from Polina. "Just don't do it again. This is a cry worthy occasion and I'd be worried if you were happy about it."
My phone started blowing up with calls but I left it in my purse. "Word must have gotten out. I figured it would be at least lunch before everyone found out."
"I guess that means we get to have a head start on shopping." Polina said, trying to cheer me up.
Tori smiled as she caught on to the plan. "You are going to come see me for your essentials aren't you? You get the family discount."
I laughed. "Yes but nothing pink and frilly. That's where I draw the line."
"You have a deal." My sister replied before the house phone started ringing.
"I'm not here." I said as she walked over to answer it.
"Hello." Tori said before winking at me. "Oh hey Randy. She's not home can I take a message?" She listened for a moment and flashed with anger as she spoke again. "I said SHE'S not home. Why do you want to talk to HER? Mr. Mates already said all she needed to hear." She listened a moment longer before laughing. "Serves ya'll right! Hell no I'm not going to ask her that. He should have thought of that before making his decision shouldn't he?"
She hit end on the cordless before laughing. "That was Randy. Apparently Mr. Mates’ secretary overheard everything and told everyone else. So far at least a quarter of the people have walked out in protest. He wants you to call him."
I smiled at the thought. Maybe my coworkers thought more of me than I believed. "They did?"
Tori nodded proudly. "Yep and more want to quit but can't afford it. Randy's afraid the building is going to implode before it's over."
"What did you say hell no to?" Polina asked before I had the chance.
She shook her head bewilderedly. "He wanted me to talk to you and see if you would wait until the first of the year to do this. He said they can't handle everything without you."
"Maybe they should have thought of that beforehand." Polina said.
I started thinking about my coworkers and how most of them couldn't afford to quit. I was honored they would take such a stand but I couldn't let them do it. I also found no happiness thinking of how abandoned Mr. Mates must be feeling. He deserved it but that didn't stop how I felt. I did take great joy in thinking about how hard and how late Randy would have to work just to come close to what I did in eight hours. I'd never darken the doors of the paper again, no matter what Mr. Mates or Randy offered, but I still felt bad for everyone left there.
"Stop it right now!" Tori yelled at me.
"What'd I do?" I asked defensively. "I'm just sitting here."
"You're actually considering putting your happiness on hold for them. I'm not going to let you do it." She said as she moved inches away from my face. "None of this is your fault."
"I agree," Polina said decisively before I could reply. "I promised to support you through anything but decisions that affect your happiness and wellbeing are not included. I must insist you not return. We do not need his money to survive. You gave them a chance and they declined. End of story."
I tried to voice what I was thinking but she stopped me by pinching my lips together. "I said, end of story."
I raised my brows at my wife, surprised she took such an unyielding stance and furious she dared to physically force me not to talk. She was right, I'd already come that conclusion myself but she still should have allowed me to say what was on my mind. "I guess it's settled then."
She smiled, happy that I relented so easily. "Get dressed so we can shop."
"Yes ma'am." I said bitterly as I marched to the bedroom. I allowed my anger and disappointment to hit her like a ton of bricks once I was out of sight.
She followed behind me. "You can be upset with me if you want but I promised to take care of you and that is what I am doing."
My eyes rolled as I turned to her. "That's not why I'm mad."
"Enlighten me then." Polina said in a sarcastic tone.
My anger raised a notch higher. "Never stop me from voicing what's on my mind again."
She was about to respond when I slammed the door in her face and locked the door.
A ball of light appeared in front of me. "If you wanted to lock me out then you should not have taught me how to travel."
I closed my eyes and thought of the cliff where I went to think. I blocked everyone from accessing me as I looked across the horizon. The more I thought about how my wife unilaterally decided what was best for me without asking my opinion, the angrier I became. How dare she treat me like a child who didn't know how to conduct my own life. She knew what I endured growing, she should be more understanding.
"Are you and my daughter having your first fight?" Zaria asked.
I spun around. "How did you find me? I blocked everyone's access."
My mother in law laughed as she took a seat on the edge of the cliff. "My, how quickly you forget. I know where you go to think. Tell me what is troubling you."
I angrily spewed everything that was on my mind and Zaria patiently listened.
"Do you feel better?" She asked when I finished.
"No," I replied as I sent a small rock flying across the sky.
"Then maybe you should be voicing this to your wife. You have very valid points which I agree with completely, but she will never know unless you tell her."
A bright light surrounded her and the moment she disappeared, Polina appeared. Her anger was apocalyptic as she stormed toward me. "How dare you disappear on me?"
"Oh yeah?" I replied with matching rage. "How dare you make a decision about me without allowing me a chance to speak? We are supposed to be partners and equals. You just stepped up all 'This is my wife and she doesn't know shit so I'm going to make the hard decisions. She doesn't know any better.' Well fuck that. You can't decide without my input."
"Angel you were about to make a mistake," she replied with far less animosity.
"How do you know?" I asked angrily. "Did you give me a chance to speak or did you pinch my lips to shut me up?"
Her head dropped in shame. "You were not thinking of going back?"
I shook my head adamantly. "No I wasn't but even if I did, we would need to discuss it as a couple. I was never allowed to voice my mind growing up and I'll be damned if I let anyone force me back into silence! Neither of us need to make decisions about the other without talking about it. I was thinking how hard life was going to be on my coworkers without a job and how I needed to talk them into going back until they found something else but I never considered going back there."
She wrapped her arms around me. "I guess this is the part when I beg your forgiveness."
I nodded. "Uh huh, and?"
She started kissing my neck. "And tell you I will never do that again."
I nodded again and started to grin. "Uh huh, and?"
Her hands cupped my backside. "And I profess my everlasting love."
I nodded again and smile brightly. "Uh huh, and?"
She lifted me into her arms. "And promise to carry you home so I can make love to you."
I kissed her deeply. "That's a start."
After Polina apologized over and over and over again, I stayed in bed unable to move.
"We need to get dressed." She said after she returned from wherever she had been while I dozed off.
She laughed as she slid in the bed next to me. "You need to get up Angel."
"We need to go shopping."
I rolled over and ran my fingers over her perfect belly. "Nuh-uh. I'm unemployed now. I see no reason to ever leave this bed again."
The sound of a lightning strike just outside my bedroom window caused me to jump from our bed. "Get dressed." I whispered as I gathered a tank top and yoga pants. "My stepfather has decided to visit."
I reached out to my great grandmother. "He's here. Remember our deal, I get to decide his punishment. Please don't let your presence known until I say."
Athena appeared in front of me. "As you wish."
I glanced back at Polina before I walked out of our bedroom. "Stay with Athena my love."
Bennie grabbed me from behind as I walked to the back door. "My my, you have certainly blossomed Harley." His mouth moved toward my ear. "I must say you are far more attractive than I could have hoped when I lifted the spell the Shades placed on you."
The courage I possessed concerning confronting the man who made my childhood hell evaporated in an instant.
"Are you the cause of this?" I asked with a real fear as I tried to escape his grasp. This position was far too familiar and the scared child within me emerged. "You spent my entire childhood trying to make me masculine. Why would you do this to me?"
His laugh was sinister. "I need someone to bear me an heir. Our kind can only impregnate a female with Thetan blood already in her veins. There had never been one before Callista Dawson but she is protected and therefore beyond my reach."
"All it took was a jolt to lift the spell the Shades placed on you." The large hand resting on my stomach starting drifting downward. "You however, are unknown to all. It did not even take a Compulsion to get your biological father to help. He knew, as I did, that a male child with combined blood would be most powerful. With my help, he seduced your mother and impregnated her. Once that was done, I only had to bide my time and condition you to accept my authority. It was with immense pleasure that I cut everyone out of your life so that nobody would protect you. "
I feigned ignorance. "How did you cut everyone out of my life? Are you why Tori abandoned me, Mom treated me the way she did and Cali was so cruel to me?"
You could sense the sick pride in his voice. "Oh yes. Your mother and sister were easy, all it took was an idea implanted in their mind. Callista was more difficult, I had to force you to ingest my blood to make her hate you."
"You're a bastard." I screamed as I tried to escape his grasp.
"Calm down. You know you want me." His tone became soothing. I could feel him trying to Compel me. I stopped putting up a fight as he continued, "taking my time with your transition was most enjoyable. To see you slowly change and become everything I taught you to fear was such exquisite joy. Knowing your lineage only makes this that much sweeter."
"What lineage do you mean?" I asked. "I thought you and my grandfather were allies?"
He laughed again. "Not him. He was a means to an end. I was able to manipulate a past hurt to my advantage. His aspirations vary from mine so greatly that he is of no consequence." Bennie spun me around so his disgusting lips were mere inches away from mine. "No you stupid child. I am talking about the one who allowed this moment to come to fruition. I cannot wait to tell her what I have done."
My stomach began to churn at the smell of his rancid breath but I could not back away as he forced his tongue into my mouth. For reasons I could not begin to understand, a laughter built inside me as his large hands roamed the body his interference allowed me to have. I was in a full on giggle fit as I felt a power build within me. In that moment, I had no idea why I had always been so afraid of him.
"You really did not think this through did you?" I said after biting his invading tongue and pulling away with surprising ease. "By allowing me to become the woman I was meant to be, you also allowed the gifts I inherited from Athena to manifest."
While surprised by my actions, Bennie did not seem that concerned. He smiled as he started to speak, "Harley, you know your place is underneath me. You have given in to your feminine desires and as such you will become my new bride. You are not strong enough to resist me."
An inexplicable wind whipped through my hair as I felt him trying to Compel me to be with him. Prior to meeting my wife, it might have worked. Now that I knew her love for me was unflappable, there was no way he could convince me to do anything that would break my vows to her.
"I… could… easily… kill… you… for all you have done but that would be letting you off easy." I said while malice dripped from every word.
I looked over his shoulder. "Grandmother would you like to have a word with him before I finish?"
Athena smiled as she stepped from the kitchen. "Did you honestly believe an heir of mine could be so weak? I am deferring your final judgment to her. She has earned the right and I believe whatever she has in mind will be far beyond anything I could come up with. After all she learned torture from you."
Bennies eyes widened in fear as he raised his arm to make his escape.
I laughed as I embraced my Shade birthright and allowed my shadowed form to leap into his body and when I did, I could feel his energy drain. After resuming my physical form, I stepped closer to him and grabbed him by the collar before forcing him to his knees. "You are no longer a Thetan." I spoke to Athena's mind before she nodded and stripped him of his muscular strength, leaving him an abnormally tall and extremely thin with exaggerated features. "You are not even much of a man."
"I am sending you to your temple and allowing you to keep your identity so others of your kind know what will happen if they want to continue their idiotic quest for supremacy."
"My brothers in arms will avenge me." He said angrily although in his current state, his words carried as much threat as an angry Chihuahua.
Athena leaned forward so that she was inches away from his face. "Did you avenge your brother that day in the bakery or did you laugh and walk away? When the others see what my granddaughter has done they will know not to cross her. They will make you suffer many of the same indignities you made Harley endure."
Bennie's eyes filled with fear when he realized Athena was right. "Kill me. Kill me please! Harley, I know you want to see me dead."
I shook my head. "No, your death will come at a time my grandfather sees fit. Now that you are human your death is up to the Shades." I looked to my right. "Isn't that right?"
I smiled as my grandfather emerged from the shadows. "Yes it is Granddaughter. Bengahamen, for your betrayal, I foresee you living a long life."
Bennie was crying as I sent him away.
I embraced my grandfather. "I'm glad you got my message."
He laughed as he accepted me into his arms. "I would not have missed that for anything. Thank you for summoning me."
"That was brilliant!" Athena exclaimed proudly. "I was only going to turn him into a woman. Your plan was much better."
"I thought about that." I explained. "But that would mean I considered being a woman is a punishment when it isn't. In his twisted mind women are nothing more than a receptacle for men's desire. If he suffered indignities after I turned him female, he would think that was the reason for it."
"You are truly wise." She said as she pulled me away from my grandfather. "I am honored to call you my granddaughter."
My grandfather smiled and kissed my cheek. "As am I. May I visit from time to time? I would very much enjoy knowing you better."
"I'd like that." I replied. "I know Tori wants to meet you too."
As he stepped back into the shadows Athena approached. "I hope you will allow me to be a part of your life as well."
I wrapped my arms around her neck. "I would love it but what should I call you? Something tells me you don't want to be called Grandmother." I grinned mischievously. "Should I call you Attie?"
She bristled momentarily before her lips set in a thoughtful line. "I must admit I am not a fan of either choice and I feel that you using my given name is too formal."
I snapped my fingers as a noticed the symbol on her armor. "I got it! A name I can use around others without revealing your identity." I pointed to the owl engraved just below her breasts. "How about Birdie?"
Athena laughed so hard she had to bend over to catch her breath. "I believe that will work but if anyone else calls me that they will suffer greatly."
"You know Cali is going to run with that name once she finds out." Polina said joyfully.
My great grandmother nodded. "I know that to be true but it is better than Attie. I amend my last statement to include her." She turned to Polina with a pointed finger. "I am still cousin to your side of the family."
I wrinkled my nose as a disturbing thought entered my mind. "Wait, does that mean my wife and I are related? Damn, I become otherworldly and am still a southern cliché."
Polina laughed again. "No Angel. Mother was adopted so even though we are cousins there is no blood relation."
"Phew." I replied with an exaggerated wipe of my brow. "That's good to know."
Athena laughed again. "I will take my leave. Take care."
I hugged her again. "Bye Birdie. I love you."
After Athena left Polina lifted me into her loving arms. "That was amazing! I cannot begin to explain my pride in how you have handled yourself throughout everything." She started laughing. "I have never seen Athena act like she does around you. She is normally so serious. In all the years I have known her, it is only around you that I have seen her laugh. You bring out the best in everyone around you."
"Except Bennie." I added.
She laughed again. "Yes, except him." She started toward the bedroom. "You are not getting out of shopping Angel so I suggest we get dressed."
I followed her dutifully. "Yes dear."
Athena reappeared as we walked in the bedroom with a troubled expression. "Forgive me but I only realized something after I departed and need clarification."
"Sure." I replied, worried about what it could be that worried her so.
"You did strip Bengahamen of his Thetan powers and turned him human did you not?" She asked.
"I don't know. I felt something as I stepped inside him. I think I only drained him temporarily. Did I do something wrong?"
"Oh my, that slipped my notice as well." Polina gasped. "How will he react?"
"What?" I asked nervously. "Did I break a rule or something?"
Athena had to sit on the edge of my bed. "No child, not exactly. There has never been a rule against it because there has only ever been one who could do it. Before you, only my father could do such a thing. I do not know how he will react upon finding out. We could keep this a secret if not for the fact you sent Bengahamen back as a warning." She grabbed my hand tighter than I would have liked. "That painted an enormous target on your back."
"You make it sound like I committed a cardinal sin. I only drained him to keep him from raping me!"
"I know that," Athena said calmly, "but Father is proud to be the only one who can remove another's gifts. I am afraid he will not handle this news well."
My wife pulled me in her arms and held tight. "What should we do?"
"Nothing." Athena replied. "Carry on like you have been doing. He may not do anything but never let down your guard in case he does." She gripped my trembling hands. "You are the strongest woman I have ever met. I have no doubt that you can take on anything life throws at you. If anything happens, call on me and I will be there for you."
Polina suggested a shopping trip was exactly what I needed to take my mind off possibly pissing off the mighty Zeus. At first I was resistant until she left momentarily and returned with her sister. I begrudgingly allowed Dani access to my mind so she could suppress my fears.
I decided on the hunter green sweater dress with black tights and black knee high boots. Polina nixed the entire outfit explaining I would be trying on too many clothes and what I had chosen would be a pain to take on and off. At her suggestion I slipped on a light blue long sleeved scoop neck tee, a pair of her faded jeans that I barely was able to get past my hips and fastened. Once dressed, I dug out a pair of black flats that could be taken on and off easily.
She was holding the door to the truck open for me when a car pulled in the driveway. A frown crossed my lips when I turned to see who it was."
"What do you want Randy?" I asked as he stepped from his car.
He did a double take before he spoke. "Harley? Damn I almost didn't recognize you."
I crossed my arms under my breasts. "Why are you here?"
His eyes fixated on my visible cleavage. "Um, I wanted to talk to you about coming back to work."
"They don't speak," I said as I placed a hand over where he was staring. "Eyes front."
He nodded as he looked me in the eyes. "Sorry about that. Are those real?"
I rolled my eyes. "No. I borrowed them from my wife but I have to give them back after we get home."
Ignoring my smart ass comment, his gaze drifted downward at my tight jeans. "Where do you hide your dick?"
Polina stepped over angrily. "Inside me. I give it back to her when she returns my tits." I laughed as her finger poked his chest. "You have used up your quota of inappropriate comments. What is the purpose of your visit?"
He backed away. "I need Harley to come back to work."
"Not happening." I replied.
"Come on man. The place is falling apart without you."
"First off I'm not a man." I said in an amazingly calm manner considering his general disregard for me. "Secondly, the old man should have thought of that this morning. I came in ready to work and he told me to leave. I'm sorry you’re having issues but it's not my fault. I gave you heads up this was going to happen."
"Just get us through the rush." He pleaded. "That's all I am asking. After that you can lead whatever perverted life you want to live. I'm not judging."
"Get out of my driveway." I ordered. "We're done here."
"Don't be like this. You owe me for giving you the job in the first place. You need to quit playing dress up and fulfill your obligations."
"You are closer than you know to pissing me off. I said we're done. Go back to work Randy."
He grabbed my arm forcefully. "I'm not going to let you ruin your life over some slut you just met."
In an instant I had his arm behind his back and forced his face into the hood of his car. "Never touch me asshole and if you EVER insult my wife again, I'll make sure you can't speak for a week. How many different ways do I have to say no? It didn't have to be this way but you had to push it didn't you?"
While still holding his arm, I opened his car door and threw him in. "Shut up, drive away and forget you ever knew me."
Without another word, he backed out of the driveway and turned toward town.
"You really need to get a handle on your gifts. Do you know what you just did?" Polina asked after I turned back toward her truck.
I nodded. "Yeah. I defended your honor and told him off."
She laughed as she helped me in. "Besides that."
"I didn't do anything else." I replied.
She walked around and climbed behind the wheel. "You wiped out his memory of you." She laughed again. "From now on, anytime anyone mentions you he will not have any idea who they are talking about. That is going to make buying his house rather difficult."
I started laughing as well. "Oops." I reached out and undid my accident. "All fixed but I guess your mother and Birdie are going to want to have another talk with me."
She nodded as she started the truck. "I would say so."
"Wait." I said when it dawned on me what she said. "What do you mean buy his house?"
"I hope you don't mind but I put in an offer Tuesday after we had lunch. I knew then that I wanted to live here and what better place than across from my sister?" She frowned. "Unless you would prefer someplace else."
I knew the bond they shared, anyone could see it. They needed to be close after many years apart. If she was happy then I was happy. "No, that house is perfect."
Polina made a beeline for the store where Tori worked as soon as we arrived. My wife quickly started telling her about Randy's visit and my reactions. I couldn't help but to fill with joy at how quickly they were becoming close friends.
I was mortified when Tori led me to the dressing room so she could properly measure me for a bra.
"Calm down." Tori scolded. "You don't have anything I haven't seen before. Wouldn't you rather me do it than anyone else?"
"Of course I would." I replied. "It's just this isn't something I ever imagined happening."
My sister laughed. "Me neither. What's it like having all those gifts?"
I did not attempt to contain smile. "It's pretty cool but also nerve wracking. I have to be careful all the time. I accidently wiped out Randy's memory of me when I told him to forget I ever existed."
Tori gasped. "You didn't!"
A giggle escape. "I did but I fixed it after Polina told me about it. Her mother is going to be so mad. Her and my great grandmother have already chewed me out about getting drunk and disappearing when Missy tried to help me in the house."
Tori appeared confused. "Missy never said anything about it to me."
I grinned again. "I know. She doesn't remember it happening."
Tori slapped my shoulder. "You're terrible. Don't you dare use your gifts to pull a joke on me. Take your top and bra off." She glanced down and shook her head at Polina's jeans that were almost too tight. "Take everything off. You need complete measurements."
"Why? I whined. "These are tight enough that they shouldn't make a difference."
Tori laughed as she slapped my bottom. "Just do it young lady."
After I finished removing all my clothes Tori stared with her mouth wide open. I shifted nervously under her gaze. "Stop staring! You said I don't have anything you haven't seen before so stop looking at me like I do."
She shook her head and grinned. "You can put your panties back on. I didn't think you'd take me so literally."
My cheeks flushed as I scrambled to untangle them from my jeans and put them back on. "Sorry."
"No problem little sister, at least now I know you're complete." She grabbed her tape measure and started working. "I'm sorry for staring but damn. You're gorgeous. I'm totally jealous."
"Good." I replied with a grin. "We're even then since I've always been jealous of you."
Tori's eyes widened. "Why were you jealous of me? I was a pudgy little thing back then." Sadness started to show as a light went on in her head. "Oh, I'm so stupid sometimes. Mom and Dad both treated me better and I had the body you wanted."
I knew I needed to head off the oncoming apology. Tori had been apologizing so much lately it was getting annoying. "Well… I don't know if I wanted the exact body you had back then. Now maybe but not back then Chunky Punk."
I should have waited until I was dressed before saying that because when Tori slapped my bare thigh it stung something fierce.
"Get dressed." She said between fits of laughter. "I'll meet you outside."
My sister and wife were deep in an enjoyable conversation when I joined them. Polina was holding my measurements as she turned. "Angel, have my bras felt tight on you?"
I shrugged and motioned toward the front of my cleavage. "Through here maybe but I don't know. I thought bras were supposed to be tight."
She smiled. "No. You have grown a size since you became complete."
"Oh joy." I said sarcastically as I looked down at them before grabbing my hips. "I'm getting fatter here too ain't I?"
"Why on earth would you even think such a thing?" Polina asked.
"Are you taller than me?" She nodded. "Am I am a size larger than you?" She nodded again. "Then I am fat."
Tori reached up and slapped me. "Don't you dare try to feel bad about the body you have. You're freaking gorgeous you crazy bitch. Women come in all shapes and sizes and ninety nine percent of us would sell our soul to look like you."
She caressed the red mark forming on my cheek. "I'm sorry for slapping you but someone needed to. You had so many insecurities in your old life and I'll be damned if I let you have any in this life. I just saw you naked and there is not any fat anywhere." Tori looked to Polina. "Tell her!"
Polina took me in her arms. "Angel, you are everything I find beautiful. I wouldn't change a single thing about you and you know I could if I wanted."
I looked to the floor in shame. "I'm sorry."
"You're forgiven," they said in unison. "Don't do it again."
We ended up spending the rest of the day shopping. My wife refused to let me pay for anything explaining again that she wanted to take care of me. We went back to take Tori to eat when she had her lunch break and she insisted going with us to get my ears pierced. It wasn't as bad as she had made it out to be. We finally left the mall after filling up both the extended cab and the bed of the truck with more clothes, shoes, purses and accessories than I could ever imagine wearing.
From there we went to Thomas's where he was holding a cookout. We ended up being the last to arrive and Polina parked my, I mean her, truck right next to its green counterpart.
Thomas walked out to greet us. "Nice truck." He said as he gave me a hug. "You have good taste."
"Thank you." My beautiful wife puffed her chest out as Thomas cut his eyes toward her in disbelief. "I will have you know this is my truck."
He laughed as he looked at me. "Let me guess, you have the Audi now?"
"I do." I replied with a laugh. "I bought the truck to fit in but she loves it. I'm not about to complain. I look good in a convertible."
"I'm sure you do." Thomas released me and walked over to my wife. "Maybe we can compare notes on how to fix them up."
Polina nodded and they started a deep conversation over possible modifications. I laughed and started toward the back.
Kaley came running around the corner and smiled when she saw me wearing the jeans and scooped neck tee. It was then that I remembered something from Cali's mind… Kaley was her daughter.
She ran into my open arms. "That's much better. I like that a lot more than those ugly boy clothes."
I kissed her adorable cheek. "I do too."
"Kaley." Cali yelled from behind the house. "Where'd you run off to?"
"I'm over here with Aunt Harley." She answered. "Look at how pretty she is Aunt Cali, she's almost as pretty as we are." Kaley said to Cali as soon as she came into view.
Cali laughed. "Yes Princess, she is."
"What do you mean almost?" I said as I tickled my niece.
Kaley started laughing. "You're too tall to be as pretty as us. Short women have it going on. Tell her Aunt Cali!"
Cali beamed with pride as she took her daughter from my arms. "Dang right and don't let anyone tell you differently."
Everyone greeted me warmly. Nobody would have guessed I had only known these people a few days. To them I was family and that's how they treated me. It was odd how everyone split into groups. Cali and Polina stayed close to Thomas and Jeb. They discussed a variety of topics ranging from vehicle customization to sports.
Dani and Trish constantly stayed in conversation about their favorite books as well as Kaley's exploits and various amusing things their spouses had done.
Renee and I talked incessantly. We mainly discussed transition in the beginning but the topic drifted to the similarities between her former job working at ad design firm for Sara Collins and mine at the newspaper. I peppered her questions about my favorite singer but something about the topic made her forlorn. We also discussed her family and then her brother Ryan. I could see how much losing him hurt her. I thought back to the conversation Zaria had with the Shades. The way I understood it, Ryan was still alive. If he was alive why didn't anyone tell Renee? She was too sweet to suffer as she has. I'd have to ask Polina about it later.
Kaley was adorable as she drifted to whomever paid her the most attention which was usually Cali. I did manage some quality time with my niece on her trampoline though. She wanted me to teach her some wrestling moves. Everyone laughed when I made it look like the little girl could body slam me.
It was reassuring how that no matter where I went, I could always feel my wife's eyes on me. Every once in a while she would come to check on me or I would do the same for her.
One time after Polina checked on me, Trish yelled out so everyone could hear. "I remember when Thomas used to do that for me."
Thomas grinned and replied, "Yeah? Well if we still did what they do every night instead of once a week then maybe I would."
"Is that so?" Trish responded with a raised brow. "With an attitude like that, it might become once a month."
"Ew." Kaley yelled as she put her fingers in her ears. "There is a child out here who doesn't want to hear about sex!"
Everyone laughed as Trish turned bright red but her point had been made. Thomas did not let her red Solo cup empty the rest of the night.
After we finished eating, Thomas, Jeb and Cali asked to speak with me in the study.
"Harley when our father passed away he left a sizable estate." Jeb said after he closed the door. "We knew you existed as we divided his assets."
"We just didn't know who you were." Thomas added. "We split everything four ways in case you ever showed up."
"I don't want anything from him." I replied as it sunk in what they were saying. "Just having all of you accept me is more than enough."
Cali placed her hand on my shoulder. "I told them what he did to you. If anyone deserves this it's you."
"I know he was a mean son of a bitch." Thomas said. "Believe me, everyone in this room knows how sick he could be."
Jeb nodded. "Each of us has our own demons to deal with because of him."
"That's why you need to accept this, not to mention the fact you don't have a job anymore." Cali said as she handed me a statement. "This is the account we put in trust. It's yours."
I didn't even look at the piece of paper as an old memory surfaced. "You will never ask for a dime of my money. I worked my ass off to earn it. It is mine to do with as I see fit. No sissy bastard child is entitled to a red cent."
The three of them gasped and lost all coloring in their faces. "Holy shit you sound just like him."
Cali stared at me worriedly. "How long did he ingrain that into you?"
It was only then I realized what I said and started to cry. "For years." I stood up and kicked the chair across the room. "Damn, I thought the son of bitch was out of my head."
Polina rushed in the room and gave everyone a hard glare. "What did you do to her?"
All three shook their heads. "Nothing. Another memory surfaced." Cali said.
My loving wife took me in her arms. "It's ok Angel. Let it out. I have you."
Everyone stood quietly while I sobbed into her shoulder. The memories were just as raw as before. "Why can't I shake this?"
She rubbed my back. "You have only started confronting your past. It will take time."
Cali pulled me from Polina. "I still have nightmares from time to time. It's okay to cry."
Thomas took his turn hugging me. "There's nothing wrong with getting it out of your system. We all do it from time to time. You can't keep blocking it out. Believe me, I've tried."
Jeb grabbed me away from Thomas. "Yeah, sis. It will eat you alive if you let it fester. Each of us have bouts of rage over it. That's why you need to take the money. In a sick way you earned it. We all did for having to put up with him. Use it to live a happy life just to spite the bastard." He lifted my chin. "Imagine him looking up from hell and seeing you live a happy life as the woman you were meant to be and spending his money on whatever you wish. That's the best possible revenge."
I laughed as I wiped away my tears. "Thanks. I love you all."
Cali and Thomas reached out and I was swallowed into a group hug. It was uplifting to share my pain with these three.
After they released me, I finally looked at the paper and couldn't believe my eyes. "This is a fourth?"
They all nodded with a smile as I handed it to Polina. "Looks like we're set for life."
Polina smiled and didn't bother looking. "We already were. We have each other."
Cali laughed as she leaned close. "Just so you know, she's already worth more than that. You married into money little sis."
I looked down at the plain gold band on my finger and laughed. "Then why are there no diamonds on my ring?"
Jeb and Thomas laughed. "Yep she's a woman all right."
Cali punched both of them before I had the chance. "Hey, women aren't that bad."
Polina was still laughing as she yanked me into her arms. "I was waiting for our proper ceremony for that."
As we walked back out on the deck I saw an older Zaria and Athena talking to Dani, Trish and Renee while Kaley buzzed around them.
"Birdie! It's great to see you!" I exclaimed as I ran over to hug her. "I'm glad you're here."
Cali started laughing uncontrollably. "Birdie? Oh my Goddess, I love it!"
Athena started laughing after she hugged me. "Yes, Harley thought it was appropriate and it is better than Attie."
Zaria shook her head. "Amazing. If I knew all it required for you to relax was having a family of your own, I would have pushed you into having one eons ago."
Thunder in the distance from an oncoming storm caused all conversations to come to a halt. It was more ferocious than any thunder I had ever heard.
"Oh no." Athena and Zaria said in unison as storm clouds filled the night sky.
A bolt of lightning struck in the middle of the deck and when my eyes recovered from the bright flash, everyone minus Trish and Renee, were standing before an older man with flowing white hair and a matching beard wearing a white robe with a fully restored Bennie standing by his side.
Polina gripped my hand tightly as Athena approached him.
"Hello Father." She said nervously as she bowed before him.
I gasped when I realized we were standing before Zeus.
"What's going on?" Jeb and Thomas asked Cali bewilderedly.
Cali shook her head as she removed her stilettos. "Not now. You have no gifts so you are not a threat, Shut up and pray he doesn't notice you."
Kaley looked around at the throne room so massive it made us look like ants. "This is really cool!"
Cali grabbed her niece and kissed her before handing the adorable girl to her father. "No Princess, this isn't cool. Please be quiet. We're in danger and I couldn't take if you were to get hurt."
Zeus nodded politely. "Daughter, explain these descendants. You disobeyed my decree about procreation."
"It was an accident Father." Athena replied meekly. "I was not aware of their existence until recently."
It was shocking to see her so docile. If I wasn't scared before, her behavior made me so.
"Nonetheless," He stated without emotion, "my law has been broken and abominations have come into being. This will be rectified immediately."
"Not again." Cali and I said simultaneously.
I was getting very tired of being called that. My eyes narrowed on my step-father wondering what he told Zeus about me.
Zeus cut his eyes toward Bennie, "do not worry. You will be rewarded with the one you desire for bringing this to my attention."
"Please Father, no!" Athena begged like a little girl trying to save her favorite toy from the trash bin. "If anyone should suffer for my misdeeds it is me alone. Do not take it out on my heirs."
Zaria stepped forward showing more anger than I thought possible from her. "I refuse to allow any harm to come to these people that I now consider my family."
Zeus turned his lightning bolt in Zaria's direction and fired a shot that hit directly in front of her. "What makes you believe I will allow anyone, much less you, to speak to me in such a manner?"
Danica and Polina moved in front of Zaria. "Leave our mother alone!"
His aim focused on my wife and her sister. Without any thought for her own safety, Cali charged him. Before Zeus knew what happened she was standing beside him while holding the lightning bolt. "Never threaten my wife!"
Zeus waved his hand in Cali's direction and she fell to her knees. Kaley struggled to escape from Thomas's arms as Cali screamed. My half-sister’s legs twisted in different directions and blood started flowing from her midsection. At the same time Dani cried out as she ran to her wife who was reverting back to her husband who also appeared to be mortally wounded.
Zeus waved again and Dani collapsed next to Tyler. Zaria and Polina took off the moment they saw Dani in distress.
Zaria clinched her hand and released a solid ball of light that caused Zeus to stagger backwards and Bennie to fall over. "I have had about enough of your heavy handed rule. Now that I see you have chosen sides, I am going to accept Mother Terra's original offer to oversee all."
Zeus waved his hand toward my wife and she fell to her sister's side. "You know that is not possible. I removed what made you so powerful upon our arrival many years ago. I may not be able to harm you but I can do whatever I wish to those you love."
The second I saw my wife fall to the floor an overwhelming anger brought me out of my shock and I started charging toward Zeus. "NO!"
From out of nowhere, a fierce wind made Bennie fly through one of the marble columns, causing it to break where he made contact. It also stunned Zeus as he fell backwards out of his toppled throne.
"I'm alive my love." Polina said through our connection. "But I am mortal now, as is Cali. I will live but if you do not do something, your sister is going to die."
I had no idea what to do. My half-sister screamed out from the pain and I knew she was minutes away from death. My wife and her sister remained prone with the ground, unable to move. My eyes cut to Athena for the help she always promised but she remained frozen in fear of her father. The sound of my niece's hysterical cries reminded me that almost everyone I loved was in danger of being removed from existence and I would end up being forced to bear Bennie the child he desperately wanted.
Zeus rose and moved his throne back into place as he waved his hand toward me. I felt him trying to gain access to my mind. I dropped to my knees, the same as the others as something inside me changed.
I finally understood why everyone was so afraid of my existence and why Bennie craved a child born with my blood. It took the fear of losing all that was important to free my abilities. I began to understand that my gift was the ability to absorb the gifts of everyone I came in contact with. It was why I could flip Henry so easy after he touched me at wrestling. It was why I could anticipate everyone's attack at the Gas N Go after Cali touched me. It was how I managed to go to Polina while she was shopping after Zaria transported Cali and I back to the car.
Not only that, but I could also give gifts. It was how Polina could now travel through light like her mother and Dani couldn't. It was how Athena and Polina were able to defend themselves during the battle with the Shades. It was the reason Polina made me feel better after I drank more than I should.
I could also strip power. I did not need to assume the form of a Shade to step into Bennie and drain him. I could remove his powers anytime I wished.
A power that was greater than had ever existed flowed through me. In that moment I realized the only change that was happening was that I was beginning to understand the scope of my abilities. They had been there awhile; I only needed to acknowledge their existence to be able to tap into them.
With a renewed confidence that I could save my family, I partitioned a section of my conscience. It was not a large space, just barely big enough to establish a connection to Zeus without allowing knowledge of, or access to, my gifts.
I absorbed everything he had before knocking him down again with a wave of my hand. I reached out to restore what he had taken from Dani, Polina, and Cali, taking extra care to make sure my sister's wounds disappeared as she returned to her female form. I made Jeb, Thomas and Kaley sleep before removing any memory of the encounter. I also reached out to Renee and Trish and eased their anxiety.
Once finished, I glared at the arrogant God as he remained prone with the white floor. "You have no right to take their birthrights!" After Cali returned to normal, my eyes cut to her and Dani. "Take care of our brothers and niece. Do not leave their sides until I tell you. I love you all." With that, I sent them home.
In disgust, I turned toward Athena, who had not moved an inch since Cali made her attack. "You just sat back and allowed him to hurt them. You did not even move when he turned his wrath toward me. I was wrong to look up to you."
"Harley NO! You don't understand." Athena yelled as she finally rose to her feet and turned to Zeus. "Father, it does not have to be like this."
"You should have left us alone. You are supposed to remain neutral." I said angrily as I filled his mind with all the abuses I endured at the hands of the man standing next to him. "That you have taken the side of my tormentor before gaining the full story makes you ill-informed." I decided to make him suffer the worst aspects from my point of view. "That was the future you planned for me when you agreed to hand me over to him!"
"Stop this!" He screamed as he grabbed the sides of his head. "What are you?"
I glared at the man many used to worship as I moved back to my own mind. He stared at me with fear quickly becoming his dominant emotion as I stepped forward so we were face to face. "What am I? That has yet to be decided. I know I am a sister, daughter, granddaughter and friend. Most importantly I am the wife of the woman you just tried to injure. I could have been your ally if not for the fact you harmed the woman I love. Now I am your greatest fear come to life!"
I glared at Bennie as I removed his powers and strength so he could not escape. "Who helped you?"
He looked to Zeus for help but I dashed his hopes. "He is not going to lift a finger to assist you unless he wishes to share your fate!" I turned toward Zeus. "Isn't that right?"
Zeus punched me in the chest, a failed attempt to put some distance between us. Anticipating his attack, I removed his powers and physical strength with the blink of my eyes. When I did not budge from his assault, he stopped dead in his tracks. Understanding he met his match.
I reached out and lifted Bennie off the ground. "Who helped you?"
"I cannot say!" He screamed between his cries of pain caused by my flaming hands.
My grandfather emerged from the shadow of Zeus's throne. "Yes you can and yes you will."
I refrained from further punishing Bennie because with what I planned next, he wouldn't be able to answer anyone short of Hades himself.
"How did you gain access to my palace?" Zeus asked furiously. "That goes against our treaty."
Many other Shades emerged as my grandfather lowered his head in my direction before facing Zeus. "This amazing young woman granted me entrance. The rules have now changed and we no longer recognize your dominance." He turned toward my stepfather. "Who helped you?"
Bennie shook his head again until I wrapped my hands around his neck. "Answer!"
"The Paraclitus!" He screamed between his cries of pain.
My grandfather stepped closer. "You lie! They have been disbanded."
Bennie shook his head. "No, your grandson is planning to avenge his father's death."
One of the shadows charged toward us. I dropped Bennie and grabbed the attacker before causing him to disappear into a puff of screaming smoke.
My grandfather made a show of bowing before me. "Granddaughter may I carry him to my kingdom so that he can point out those who work against me? I promise to personally deliver him to Hades once I am done." After I nodded, he turned toward Zeus. "This amazing young lady carries my blood in her veins and is therefore beyond you. I have personally seen she has a good heart and is just in her decisions. Any move against her will be considered an act of war."
As my grandfather dragged Bennie back into the shadows, Zaria moved to my side. I grabbed her hand and restored everything that had been taken from her long ago. Her smile was sinister as she realized what I had done. Her furious eyes cut toward Zeus. "Yet again you chose to listen to the wrong people. Only now there is someone strong enough to stand up to you. This situation could have been avoided had you come to us and asked about them politely, in a civilized conversation. Instead you summon us with your bolt, involving kind people who need not know the details of our existence, before summarily passing extreme judgment based on lies."
I stood proudly as Zaria pointed to his chest and forced him to step back as she pressed. "On top of that you harmed my daughters! From this point forward we will no longer answer to you or your rules. My realm is beyond your reach. You have forgotten our purpose and why Mother Terra allowed us to retain our gifts upon our arrival. I suggest that you learn who it is you can trust because you have listened to the wrong people for far too long. You will leave the descendants of Abigail Dawson in peace. If I discover you or anyone under your direction has attempted to harm them OR my family in any way, WE will return to claim your throne."
Zaria turned toward Athena. "You disappointed me today. To stand back and watch as we were attacked yet do nothing is beyond pale. You allowed Callista to suffer when she did what you should have done. How could you watch without trying to defend your heir?" She pointed to me. "She is of your blood and acted in the manner I expected from you. I always come to you for guidance cousin but it is now time for you to seek out some of your own."
"Polina and Harley, we are done here." She looked to me again. "If you have taken Zeus's powers, please return them to him."
"Very well." I stared at Zeus and gave back what I had taken with one exception. He would never again be able to take the gifts my family possessed. "You can have them for now but if you EVER come for me or anyone I love, I promise that you will be placed on my grandfather's rolls." I stepped forward so there was barely enough room for an ant to crawl between us. "You asked earlier what I was… The thing is… I don't know yet. This is all so new to me. I am mixture of four races. Right now I am striving to be the best of each. Don't give me another reason to become the worst."
"And you Grandmother." I said in abhorrence as I turned to face her. "You said you would be there for me but where were you a few minutes ago?" My tone softened at seeing her tears starting to form and the fear she held as she glanced toward her father. I could feel she was truly sorry for not taking action and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that it would never happen again. "It's okay, I understand you're scared of him but I learned to overcome my fears, maybe it's time you do the same. The choice is yours to make."
I turned to Zeus again. "What type of father must you have been to cause such fear in your own daughter? That stops now. If I hear of you doing anything to intimidate her, I will return and show you how it feels to fear someone. We can be friends or we can be enemies. The choice is yours."
I walked back to my wife's side. "Let's go."
Zeus collapsed in his throne after the three women departed. "Daughter, explain to me what that youngest one is. She stripped me of my powers." He stared at her with bewilderment in his eyes. "How could she stop me from stripping her gifts? How could she restore what I had taken from the others and how could she grant the king of the Shades entrance to my realm?"
"She is very powerful but she also as she said Father." Athena replied. "Harley is a good and gentle soul who represents the best of us but if pushed can also represent the worst. She is a fierce protector of those she holds dear and will stop at nothing to ensure their safety. I have seen her heart and greatness lies within. Her gifts allow her to gain from those she is around."
A large man with a shaggy brown beard wearing wrestling attire walked in the room. "I have known Harley for many years Father. I did not know why I was so drawn to her until now. I spent that time teaching her to fight in preparation for a day such as this." He paused once he stood in front of Zeus. "She learned love from her sister as well as from her wife. She learned sacrifice from her mother. She learned determination from her other sister. She learned patience from her mother in law. She learned self-worth from her wife. She also learned cruelty from the man you took at his word. You have surely figured out that she also has my sister's fierce temper."
"Heracles, how could you betray me in such a manner?" Zeus asked, astonished one of his favored children could be capable of such treachery. "I granted you immortality."
Henry joined his half-sister’s side. "That was not my intention Father. I have always championed you as a just leader but after witnessing how easily Bengahamen could lead you astray, I now have my doubts. I originally moved to the area where they reside because I sensed trouble and tried to inform you but as has been common for you over time, you were not willing to listen. In the years that I have resided there, I have grown close to the family you wanted to destroy. They are all cut from the finest cloth, in spite of the hardships they needlessly endured. Each of them are upstanding individuals who you should be proud to claim as descendants. I am surely proud to count them among my closest friends and that was before knowing we shared your blood."
"I only know the women." Athena added, emboldened not because of Heracles words, but by both of her granddaughters actions as well as Harley's willingness to offer forgiveness. "They are kind souls that, by all rights, should be angry at the world for how they were treated early in life. Under Zaria and her daughters' guidance, they have thrived and shown themselves worthy of every gift they have received." She moved closer to her father and placed a kind hand on his shoulder. "I am afraid that you have lived in the clouds so long that you have lost touch with the difference between right and wrong."
Zeus rose from his throne with his arm raised. "How dare you say such a thing to me!"
"My sister is only speaking the truth." Henry said calmly, stepping forward to protect her from his father's threat. "In hindsight I can see that in many ways, you have been wrong more than you were right. From everything I have seen and heard about the Zoyra clan, they take no actions with malice yet you constantly strive to make them obsolete."
Athena nodded, "I sat by silently upon our arrival in this world when you used Zaria's pain and youth as an excuse to usurp her power out of fear but I will not make the same mistake twice. She has given you a chance because ultimate rule is not something she has ever aspired to. She has never been a threat yet you have always conspired against her out of fear. You have turned a blind eye to the Thetan's actions for entirely too long. You almost destroyed my heirs out of your desire to retain a throne that has little meaning anymore."
"That is not the reason for my actions." Zeus said, entirely too defensively. Henry's laugh caused him to stare angrily at his son, "Am I amusing you Heracles?"
"Yes father, very much so. If you wish to retain your throne then you are going about it in entirely the wrong manner."
Zeus's brows bunched together. "Enlighten me."
Athena stepped forward. "I personally watched Harley allow the Shade king to keep his throne when by all rights, she should have killed him. It was not because she could not do it, it was because she saw the good he was capable of." She took her father's hand. "Show both Harley and Callista the good man I know you can be. If you befriend them, they would be your greatest ally. No being would survive going against the heirs of Athena."
Henry nodded in agreement, "You could not ask for two better people to be on your side. Please Father, you do not want them as your enemy."
When Zeus said nothing, Athena turned away. "I must leave you Father as I have amends that need to be made." She paused with a regretful sigh, "I only hope they will forgive me."
"Hold up. I'll go with you." Henry said as he rushed to her side before looking back at Zeus. "Father please consider what we have said before you charge to action. This is a war you won't win."
"I owe you an apology." Athena said, looking up at her half-brother once they were alone in the grand hallway of Olympus. "I have shunned you in the past but I am not too arrogant to admit my mistakes. I am proud to call you brother."
Henry laughed as he draped his arm over Athena's shoulder. "No problem sis. Let's go check on our family." He noticed a man walking up with a sheath of arrows slung across his shoulders and carrying a bow. "Can you give me just a second? Don't leave without me."
"Hey Cupe." Henry called out. "I've got a bone to pick with you."
The tall but muscularly slender man turned. "Heracles, you have spent too much time in the small town. You are adopting their vernacular."
"Yeah yeah, whatever." Henry said as he approached. "I thought you were going to hook me up with Polina? Now she's gone off and got married before I could woo her."
Cupid laughed heartily as he held up his hand defensively. "You told me she needed someone strong to care for her. You did not specify who that person should be." He started walking away as he looked over his shoulder with a smirk on his full lips. "Besides Uncle, even you have to admit Harley is more her type than you could ever be."
The moment we returned to the deck of Thomas's home, Zaria did her time trick so that no one without gifts knew what happened. Cali and Dani rushed to our side as soon as we turned the corner. Both women were frantic. Dani pulled Zaria and Polina into her arms while Cali launched herself at me.
"I was so worried for you." Cali said as tears fell down her cheeks. "Are you okay? Why did you send me away? I could have helped."
"I'm fine." I said as I returned her embrace. "You did help because I didn't have to worry about Kaley, Jeb and Thomas. If you stayed, who would have protected them?"
"You're right. Thank you." Cali leaned back enough to look in my eyes. "How did you do it?"
I didn't know what to say. I was afraid if those I cared about knew the extent of what I was capable of, they would be at risk.
"Yes, Harley saved everyone." Zaria said after I hesitated. "She restored what Zeus had taken before ensuring he would not bother your family again." She turned to address my worried expression, "Harley, you need to establish a link to those you care about so that they can contact you if they are ever in trouble. I am sure your gifts are becoming common knowledge throughout the realms and it is beneficial for your family to know they can count on you."
"Yes Mother," I replied before reaching out mentally to everyone I loved and forming a mental bond that would let me know if ever they were in danger. "It is done."
Zaria smiled as she gazed on Cali and I. "I do believe the two of you will be the ones to bring peace." She leaned forward to kiss each of our foreheads. "I am proud to have you in my family."
Renee walking to the edge of the deck looking for us reminded me of an earlier thought. "Why is it Renee does not know her brother lives?"
Cali's eyes filled with tears, "Ryan cannot know of his past life. He has evil within him that would escape if his memory returns."
"I could remove it easily." I said as I looked at my sister in law staring up at the stars. "It would heal a huge hole in her heart."
Cali and Polina both shook their heads. "Ryan and Sara have endured so much and are finally happy." Polina said. "The life they have now is everything they always desired. Their love is a thing of beauty. It is best to leave it be."
"Ryan has been properly mourned and everyone involved has accepted his passing. To restore his memory would cause unnecessary pain to all involved." Cali added.
"But wouldn't be better for her to know he lives?" I asked, not understanding why she couldn't have at least a small amount of peace. "I think she suspects something because any mention of Sara makes her sad."
As Zaria dropped her head, I felt her guilt. "I believe deep down she suspects something. We can alter the mind but never the heart. In order to prevent her going to visit Sara and inadvertently recognizing Adam, we had to implant her with a sense of dread about visiting her former boss."
"That's just mean."
My wife nodded, "It is but before you, we had no other choice. Zeus was the only one who could pull the evil from him completely and we knew he would not assist us."
Reaching out to Renee mentally, I removed her innate sadness while following her link to Ryan/Adam and removed the small trace of Thetan that remained. After I finished, I grinned in satisfaction. "Done. No worries about him reverting."
"We still cannot tell Renee," Polina said. "Ryan has no memory whatsoever of this life. It would not be fair to Sara after everything that's happened and it would be worse for Renee."
Kaley ran around the corner of the house. "I've been looking everywhere for you. Why are ya'll out here?"
Cali smiled as she lifted the little girl in her arms. "We were just talking. We are headed back right now."
"Henry's here." Jeb said when a truck pulled up the driveway as everyone was about to sit down to eat. "It looks like he has a date too."
I turned to see Athena climb out of the passenger's side. Cali and I exchanged confused glances before she sat Kaley down. ”Go on Princess, I'll be back in a minute." Together, we walked out to greet them.
"Birdie, how do you know Henry?" I asked.
"She's my half-sister." Henry said nervously. "On our father's side."
Cali's hair started to ignite. "No shit? Where were you earlier when your father attacked us? Jeb and Thomas are supposed to be your best friends and you were going to let Zeus erase them and Kaley from existence."
My own anger started to rise as it occurred to me he must have known what was going on with me yet played dumb. He even went so far as to force me into a dress when he obviously knew the anguish it would cause. I shoved his chest, sending him flying into the side of his truck, causing a huge dent in the shape of his body. "How dare you show your face around here after everything you've done?"
"Hold on!" Henry said defensively as he regained his balance. "I had no clue about either of you until about thirty minutes ago. I saw Father's storm and as soon as I could leave discretely I went to his palace to find out what was going on. By the time I arrived, everything had been settled."
Cali offered him her hand, "Hello, I am Callista Dawn Zoyra, wife of the morning star Danica Zoyra and daughter in law of the Goddess Zaria." She motioned toward me, "This is my sister Harley Dakota Zoyra, wife of the evening star Polina Zoyra, Granddaughter of the Shade king and also daughter in law of the Goddess Zaria. Who the hell are you?"
The large man huffed angrily, "Dammit Cali, both of you have known me almost your entire lives."
"Obviously not," I said, not bothering to hide my disdain.
"I swear I had no idea." Henry replied. "Zaria hides her realm well. I am not now, nor have I ever been your enemy."
My anger rose another notch as I remembered asking him about his aura. "I can be whatever you want me to be. Do you remember saying that to me?"
Henry offered his hand to us. "My given name is Heracles. Search my mind if you don't believe me. I give you my word that I'm on your side."
Cali and I grabbed his hand at the same time. I relaxed when I saw that he was being sincere as I witnessed the conversation he and Athena had with their father. I allowed Cali to see past the limits of her gifts so she could also witness him defending us.
"I'm sorry," I said as I hugged him, "thank you for what you said."
"Yeah," Cali added, "thanks."
I turned toward my great grandmother and hugged her as well. "I know how hard it is to finally stand up for yourself. I am proud to share your blood. I love you"
Athena initially tensed in my arms but gradually relaxed and returned my embrace. "And I you. Thank you for showing me the error of my ways. I will not fail you again." She released me and grabbed Cali. "Either of you."
Henry led us to Thomas's back deck while Athena stayed behind to talk with Zaria who was walking in our direction. "I believe it goes without saying that I need your discretion concerning my past."
"Your secret is safe so long as you keep ours." Cali said with a smile.
Henry laughed as he placed his massive arms over our shoulders. "What? Do you think I'm going to take the chance of having either of you as my enemy? Hell nah, I ain't stupid. I honestly think Harley is as strong as me and I know you can move quicker than I can think." He took on a more serious tone as we reached the bottom step of the deck. "I am in your corner. If you ever need me, you only have to ask."
"So, when are going to invite Randy over to see what you've done to the place?" Cali asked Polina and I with a wicked grin as we gave her grandmother a tour of our new home. Dani and Cali had seen it before since they helped from the beginning.
We spent the last six months fixing up our new home. To say Polina hated the bland, dark interior would have been understating the depth of her revulsion. We spared no expense to completely redo the house from top to bottom. We repainted every room white and replaced the dated flooring with light plush carpeting. It was mutually decided that we wanted to keep our furnishings sparse so every room had an open feel to it.
My beautiful wife laughed as she led us to the great room where we planned to have everyone congregate for the house warming party we were hosting. "I believe when he declined his RSVP he said something about it being a cold day in hell before he or his family associated with the likes of us."
"Oh wow!" Granny, as Mrs. Davenport insisted we call her, said as soon as we entered the large expanse that used to be three different rooms. The entire back wall had been replaced with large plate windows so we could enjoy natural light during the day and have an unobstructed view of the beautiful mountains in the distance. "I love this!"
They say your home is your palace and I wanted my queen to be happy. I leaned into Polina's side with a contented smile. "Thanks, we do too."
Tori and Missy didn't bother knocking as they walked in the back door. "Where is everybody?" Tori yelled.
I turned to see they were overdressed as well. I didn't give it much thought when Cali, Dani and Granny came over wearing dresses but to see Tori actually in a skirt threw me. I looked down at my blue shorts and white tank before looking up at my wife. "Did you tell everyone this was a formal party?"
Polina smiled as she nodded. "Yes I did. Why don't you go change. I left a dress on the bed that I want you to wear."
Before I could reply, Tori and Cali grabbed my arms and led me up the stairs. Tears started falling from my eyes as soon as I saw the amazing white gown spread out across our king sized bed. Both of my sisters nodded as I turned for confirmation.
"Polina thought today would be the perfect day to give you the wedding she promised you." Tori said as she embraced me. "Mom will be here in a few minutes to help us get you ready."
Cali pulled me toward the large window overlooking the back yard. I noticed a flurry of activity as people scrambled to set everything up. "She's been planning this since the day ya'll bought this place. Your poor wife has been worried to death you would catch on to what she was planning since you can invade our minds so easily."
Shocked to discover I could love Polina even more, I wiped my eyes as I shook my head. "I don't do that anymore unless it's an emergency. I had no idea."
Cali led me to the large bedroom window overlooking the back yard. "Polina arranged it all. Down to the last detail."
I looked on in amazement as people scurried about getting everything set up. My eyes focused on a large man being berated by who I assumed to be his boss. I turned toward my other sister. "Tori, come here. Is that who I think it is?"
She laughed after looking at who I was pointing to. "It sure looks like Joe. I wonder if he knows whose wedding this is?"
"Oh he knows." Cali said with a grin. "That's the only reason Polina hired them. She wanted to make sure he was here to see it."
Dani walked in and led me to the vanity. "Let's get your hair and makeup done. Everybody will be here within the hour."
I was amazed at the speed in which she worked and in what seemed like no time at all, she made me look prettier than I ever thought possible. "Thank you," I whispered as I stared at myself in the mirror, amazed it was really my reflection looking back at me.
Dani beamed as she lightly kissed my cheek. "No. Thank you for making my sister so happy. It is a joy to see."
She excused herself to help Polina finish getting ready as Cali handed me a white lingerie set. "We thought your wife might enjoy seeing you in this later."
I smiled in anticipation of my love's reaction. "I think you're probably right. Thank you."
"You are going to be standing beside me aren't you?" I asked Tori as she helped me get dressed. I wanted her to be in my wedding, not just watching it.
She paused long enough to embrace me. "Where else would I be?"
Mom arrived just as Tori zipped up my dress. She gasped as I turned in her direction and rushed to take me in her arms. "You are beautiful baby girl. I'm so happy for you."
"Thanks Mama." I said as I fought hard not to ruin Dani's work. "I never thought I'd love someone so much."
Tori quickly intervened. "I hate to break this up but there are more people wanting to see Harley before the ceremony."
"Who is walking you down the aisle?" Mom asked as she was being shooed from the room. "Father is here if you want me to ask him to do it."
"You are so old fashioned Mom." Tori said with a teasing grin. "Harley doesn't need anyone walking her down the aisle."
"Grandfather is here?" I asked, amazed he would attend.
"Oh yes." Mom said. "There are quite a few from his side of the family. I'm meeting relatives I never knew. I can't wait for you to meet your cousin Candi, she's a hoot."
Moving across the room, I looked out of the window at the gathering friends and family as I considered Mom's offer. Everyone I cared about were getting acquainted with each other. I loved my Grandfather but he had only been in my life for the last six months or so. I could only think of one man who had been like a father to me for years. "Cali could you ask Henry to come up here please?"
She nodded as she made her way toward the door. "Of course."
Trish, Kaley and Renee walked in as Cali made her way to the door. "How do I look Aunt Cali?" Kaley asked as they passed each other. The similarities between her and Cali were even more pronounced with them in the same dresses and matching hairstyles.
"You're gorgeous Princess," Cali said as she leaned down to kiss her cheek. "I'll be right back."
"I'm your flower girl." Kaley said proudly as she twirled for me. She looked adorable in a matching silver dress to what Cali, Tori and Renee were wearing.
I dropped to my knees in front of her and pulled my niece into my arms. "I don't think anybody has ever had a prettier flower girl."
"We want you to wear this as your something borrowed." Renee said as she clasped diamond bracelet around my wrist.
"My grandmother gave it to me on the day I married Thomas." Trish added. "Renee and I both wore it for our weddings, so hopefully it will bring you as much luck as it has brought us."
"It's perfect." I held my arm up and twisted it so I could behold the beauty it held. "Thank you."
Athena and Zaria walked in appearing older than I was accustomed to seeing them. I laughed wondering if I would ever get used to seeing them like that.
My great grandmother placed a small box in my hand. "Thank you for letting me share in your special day. I believe your customs call for something blue."
I gasped as I opened the box to see a platinum necklace with a diamond owl pendant whose eyes were two large blue diamonds. I launched myself at her and wrapped my arms around her neck. "Birdie, this is too much. Thank you."
"It is but a small token of my gratitude." She said as her voice started to break. "Thank you for forgiving me."
"The change you have brought on those I care for is nothing short of amazing." Zaria said after Athena and I ended our embrace. "But it is nothing compare the transformation I have witnessed in you since that day we met on the cliff. I am proud to have you in my family."
Everyone left to take their places when Cali and Henry returned. The large man appeared confused and nervous as Cali escorted him in. I was touched he actually trimmed his shaggy beard and wore a three piece suit for the occasion. Henry was a very attractive man when he took the time to clean up properly.
"Wow Harley, you look amazing." He approached cautiously, "you wanted to see me?"
I nodded as I looked up at him. "You have always been like the father I never had. I learned as much or more from you than anybody else. Would you consider walking me up the aisle?"
Henry was genuinely shocked. It showed when his eyes almost bulged from their sockets. "Wouldn't you rather have a family member do it? I mean, I just met your grandfather. Shouldn't he be the one to do it?"
"Henry, you are family." I said as I gripped his huge hand. "You were family when I had none. It wouldn't be right for anybody else to do it."
He nodded as he wiped a tear from his eye before leaning down to kiss my cheek. "I'd be honored kid."
As we watched first Cali, then Tori leave to take their places in front of the larger than expected crowd, Henry started laughing. "I never realized how important your wife is. Not everyone is able to have Cupid himself officiate their wedding."
"That's not Cupid," I said as I peeked out to see who he was talking about. It was an amazing sight to see how many of my friends were in attendance. Fewer than I expected bailed on me after I started living my life as the woman I was meant to be. Standing beneath the archway next an utterly adorable Kaley was the man who married Polina and I the first time. "I think his name is Eros."
Henry nodded, "I believe I know my own nephew. Eros is Cupid." He grinned as he continued, "I think every major deity is here. Jeb and Thomas almost got in trouble when Aphrodite walked past and they couldn't stop staring."
"Which one is she?" I asked as I snuck another glimpse at the guests. On Polina's side were a gathering of the most beautiful beings you could imagine. On my side, there was just as much beauty just in smaller, less otherworldly packages. It was then that I noticed our attendants. Cali and Dani stood on Polina's side while Tori and Renee were on mine. All were wearing identical silver cocktail dresses that I knew Polina picked out because they reminded her of my eyes.
"I'm sure you will meet her later." Henry said before laughing at the diminutive man who had been opening and closing the door as everyone exited. "Holy shit I almost didn't recognize you Bruiser."
My eyes turned to the thin man in a pink and white tux. His cheeks flushed as he tried not to make eye contact. "Nobody calls me that anymore."
Amusement was not my prevalent emotion as I scowled at the man who once tried to kill me. I stepped to him and glared down. "Why are you at my wedding?"
"It wasn't my idea." He replied as he cowered in fear. "Normally I'm part of the wait staff during receptions. When your wife discovered I worked for the company she hired, she insisted this be part of my duties. She seemed to take particular joy in the fact I no longer even have the strength to unload chairs..." He paused and finally looked at me. "I deserved what she did to me. I'm sorry for how I treated you in the past and I know you have every right to hate me. I have learned to hate who I used to be. Please know that I really am happy for you and wish both of you nothing but the best."
He truly had learned his lesson. I could feel that he was telling the truth. Not knowing what to say, I smiled and gave him a gentle squeeze on his frail shoulder. "Thank you."
Henry pulled me back to his side as the bridal march started to play. "In case I forgot to mention it earlier, you look beautiful kid." He leaned down and lightly kissed my cheek before slipping his arm under mine. "Are you ready?"
"I've never been more ready for anything in my life." I replied.
My heart swelled as everyone I cared about turned when we walked out. Henry nudged me as something flew past the corner of my eye. "Would you look at that."
Following his line of sight, I was overjoyed to see Mr. O perched above the arch where I would be publicly pronouncing my never-ending devotion to the woman I loved. The small owl extended his wings and bowed when our eyes met. I nodded at my old friend with a smile on my lips. Our interaction brought on a series of awes from those on my side of the aisle and gasps from Polina's side.
I was thankful to have the large man escorting me when Polina stepped into view. She wore a matching dress to the one she picked out for me. Her beauty took my breath away and I stumbled when our eyes locked onto each other. I doubted I would ever understand why she loved me so much, I was just thankful she did.
My love had tears in her eyes when Henry handed me off to her. "I did not think it could be possible for you to be more beautiful Angel, but you are."
"If I am, it is because of you," I said quietly. "Everything I am, is due to your love."
Eros smiled as he started to ceremony. I can't remember much of what he said but the adorable sight of my niece handing us our rings was something I'd never forget.
"Our love is forever," Polina said as she slipped the large diamond on my finger.
"Never to be broken," I said as I slipped an identical diamond on hers.
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