Mr. Perfect and the Beauty Queen

1.

"I'm broiling here," I thought as the stage lights grew hotter and hotter. Flash bulbs were going off in every direction, and I had to squint, a little, even to see the first row of the audience. Dad looked bored, but Mom, Mom had this expression on her face of pure joy.

I stood, wearing only a light pink, one piece bathing suit, with a ribbon announcing my home town. The guy with the mike announced the second runner up. It wasn't me, but I almost wished it was. The contest was now down to the four of us, semi-finalists. All of us looked perfect, all of us were considered the prettiest girls on the East Coast, but out of everyone that entered, I bet that I was the only boy.

There was nothing, not even a slight wrinkle in my suit to give that away, and I didn't wear padding or anything to hide what was there, after all, I didn't have that much to hide, but still I had made it this far and I had no idea if I should be laughing or crying.

"The first runner up is.... Chrissie Daniels. Chrissie? Step up this way." In the midst of squeals from the girls, myself included, Chrissie walked up to accept her crown and robe. She would be the one going on to the National Competition, that is if I won this one.

"And the winner, of this years' Little American Beauty pageant, pre-teen division, is Traci Williamson."

Me? I stood there for a moment, completely blank. Mom said I'd win, easily, but somehow I never really believed her.

"Traci? Step this way, please."

I didn't hear the applause, or the screams from the other girls. In a daze, I followed directions, let the last year's winner put a crown on my head as two ladies wrapped a cloak around my shoulders and put a couple dozen roses in my hands.

Smile, I told myself, and I forced my lips to comply as the music played and television cameras rolled. I said something for the contest, and then it was over. I had a five thousand dollars toward college; a contract for commercials for the sponsor, some cereal I had never heard of, and doubted if I'd like, but I had to eat it anyway, and a title that would mean absolutely nothing in real life.

I hurried back to the dressing room, unable to avoid all the other girls, and the press. I had to answer a lot more questions, and still no one asked if I was really a girl. As soon as I could I changed into my street clothes, a yellow sun dress, and headed out to find Mom and Dad.

On the way home, I sat in the back of the car, silent, trying to sort things out. I still couldn't believe I had won the contest, but more than that I wondered if I should be concerned. Technically, I was a male. I had XY chromosomes, since Mom had them tested years ago, when I was four or five.

As long as I could remember, I felt that I was a girl, not a boy. I mean I couldn't pass a boy anywhere, nor did I want to, except at school and legally they had to list my correct gender. It wasn't my fault....

"Tracy?"

... that I was born with this face. But, everyone still treated me as if I had the plague.

"Tracy?" Mom asked again, and shook my kneecap.

"Huh? Sorry, Mom. Just thinking."

"Glad that you won?"

"Yes, yes I am," I said and meant it, "but I still don't believe it."

"You were the prettiest girl there by a long shot," Dad commented.

"Thanks, but I'm still not quite a girl, so why did I win?"

"Your plumbing doesn't mean anything, Trace. That can change when you are old enough," Mom added.

"I didn't mean it that way, and I can't wait, but I mean could something be wrong with me that I'm this pretty?"

"No, not at all, sweetheart," she said with a laugh. "You are a girl, a downright gorgeous girl, and that is all there is to it."

Dad nodded. "She's right, sweetie. Don't worry about that now, you will have more than enough time to think about that when you're older. Enjoy tonight, you earned it."

"Okay, Dad," I said.

We pulled into the gate to Fort Wayne Wright. The guards snapped to attention when they saw who was driving, saluted and waved us through. Dad waved, but didn't return the salute since he was out of uniform.

"Do you want me to call your sisters with the news, or do you want to?" Mom asked me.

"You can, I was going to call Jason."

"Jason? Trace, I have never understood what you see in that boy, but go ahead."

"Mom, he's my friend, not my boy-friend, but about the only friend around here I do have. He's okay, really, and he's clueless, you know, oblivious to the way I look, and the whole boy-girl thing. I swear you could get a dozen of the girls in the contest to go to his room, strip naked and all he'd want to do is play video games with them."

"How old is this kid, ten?" Dad asked.

"No, he's twelve, like me, but if you aren't the star of a comic book, he is so not interested in you. I mean, he could be nine or ten his whole life."

"I knew a kid like that in school," Dad said slowly. "Charles. Don't think he ever got married after college, either."

"Looks like we, no you, have a welcoming committee," Mom told Dad.

"I can take a day off, the Army permits it," he said, and sighed at the sight of three soldiers waiting for us outside of our quarters.

"General Williamson, sir," the first one to the car said.

"Col. Tyler, I am not here. I am on vacation, and Col. Brandt is in charge. Can't this wait?"

"I'm afraid not. Please, sir, we need you at the office, now."

"I understand. Girls, Capt. Smith there can show you inside, I had better go. I'll be home in time for the victory dinner, I swear it."

"We understand," Mom said quickly. "Thank you, Capt. Smith."

We didn't need an escort into the house, but it made Dad feel better. The problem with having him as commanding general, of even a little post like this one was that he was never home.

I called Jason, but the first words out of his mouth were, "Where have you been? We were supposed to go to Miller's today. The new 'Black Lightning' is out."

"I told you I was going to be out of town, Jay. I won my beauty contest."

"Huh? You went to some girl's thing instead of this?"

"Yeah, it would have broken Mom's heart if I didn't go. You know how it is, Captain Danger, we all have to do our duty to our mother's and our country!"

"Okay, but you want to go tomorrow?"

"Okay," I said with a sigh. "I'll go with you to Miller's tomorrow, but not to the mall, okay? If you have to go to Tomorrow, Inc, you can count me out."

"Okay, but.... See you," he said and hung up.

So much for anyone being thrilled with my news, except Mom and perhaps my sisters. My brothers probably wouldn't be that interested. Carlton was off with Marines, and Roger struggled to maintain a passing grade in College.

Dad, true to his word, for a change, joined us -- and on time -- for dinner. He looked worried about something, but didn't say much as we ate. Finally, Mom called him on it.

"Don, what is it? You look like you've been skinned."

"Do you remember Gen. Taggart?"

"Buzz cut, gung ho type that should have been a marine?"

"That's Tag to the T, Shelly, but there was an accident. He was at Fort Cooper, out in Nebraska, and he lost control of his car. He's okay, but he broke most of his bones and several major organs were damaged in the crash. He was alone, thank God, and he will make it, but he could be in a convalescent home for years over this."

"Oh, I am so sorry. Should we send him something?"

"Actually, I suppose we could bring him something, sweetheart. They want me to take command of Fort Cooper. It's a huge place, not much outside the post, but they have everything there. Now, Trace," he said looking at me. "I know this will mean another move and another school for you...."

"When can we leave?" I asked. "This is great, Dad. Are you gonna be there for a while?"

"Who are you and what have you done with my daughter?"

I laughed, with him, and added, "I hate this place, and I am like so out of here. Can I be a girl at the new school?"

Mom swallowed, and shook her head. "We can ask the school. There are some that will allow it, but I wouldn't hold your breath."

"Okay, that's all I can ask, Mom. This is great news."

2.

"Guess what?" I told Jason as I met him at the post bus stop.

"What," he answered, although he sounded a bit annoyed. He peered at me through his glasses like a slightly overgrown owl.

"We're moving. Dad has a new assignment somewhere in Montana or someplace out West."

"Huh?" he said as he climbed up the steps and deposited his money in the machine. "You're moving?"

"You could help the lady up the stairs," the bus driver chided him as I paid for the ride.

"It's okay," I said and walked back to sit down beside Jason. I made a point of brushing my skirt before I sat down. "We're leaving in a couple of days. They need a new commander at Ft. Cooper right away."

"That's horrible. We must fight this with everything we've got, Sergeant. I can't break in a new, trusty sidekick now."

"But -- but Captain, it's what Uncle Sam wants," I answered, playing along.

"I know that sometimes duty to mothers and country is the only way, but not this time. Can't you stay here for the next school year? You could stay with us, you know. Mom likes you, even though she keeps calling you a girl."

"I know, and I like her, too, but someone has to be there for my mom in this, her hour of greatest need. You can help pack stuff, too."

"Very funny," he said. "Tracy, you know I don't want you to move.... Uh, what happened to your hair?"

I stared at him for a second. "You noticed? I had it done for the beauty contest I told you about. I won, too."

He shrugged, and added, "You're always into that girl stuff, I mean.... Why are you wearing a skirt?"

"The Martians have landed and you're a pod person, Captain Danger. I've always worn skirts."

"But why?"

"Captain, quick, you have ten seconds to use your incomparable powers of observation and figure this out before the world ends.... Ten.... I wear dresses, too, and I won that beauty contest.... Nine.... Eight.... My hair didn't grow this long overnight.... Seven.... Six...."

"You're a girl?"

I started laughing. "You are a trip, Jason, a real trip. How long have you known me, and how long have I looked like this?"

"You know, something. You're really pretty," he said quietly. "No wonder Mom thought we were going to date. How can you be my sidekick and be a girl? Captain Danger doesn't.... How long have you been a girl?"

"It's okay, Captain, I'm really a boy, and I was just putting you on," I said, wishing that statement wasn't closer to the truth than the first. "Still your sidekick even if I am in Colorado or someplace. Ft. Cooper, you ever heard of it?"

"Yeah, big Fort in Nebraska, by the way," he told me. "They've got around thirty-five thousand people stationed there, and it is the home of the Army Tactical and Strategic Museum. Send me some postcards, okay? It was named after Gen. James Bryan Cooper, no relation to the writer, and he was a hero of the Indian Wars, died in battle in...."

I leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Don't ever change, okay?"

He stared at me, and shut up. Only after we climbed down from the bus at the post shopping center, did he ask me, "Why did you do that?"

"I felt like it, that is probably the only time in my life I will kiss a boy, and I don't want to say 'bye, either."

At home, with a paperback under my arm, but no comic books, Mom gave me the weirdest stare, as I walked into the kitchen.

"What happened with you and Jason?"

"Nothing," I said, and remembered. "I gave him a kiss on the cheek to say good bye."

"Apparently, he's upset about it. I think that boy noticed that you're a girl, for the first time in four years."

"He even asked me if I was. He's okay, Mom, usually a real neuter, you know? But he is my friend."

"I know, when no one else will be. You may be staying over with him for a while during this move. No more kissing, no matter what the reason. Neither I nor his mother want him freaking out."

"Okay, deal."

3.

As it turned out, it took us a lot longer to move than I thought. Dad and Mom flew out to Fort Cooper first, while I stayed with Jason and his folks, in the guest room. Mom registered me in school, as a boy in spite of her protests, and flew back to supervise the move.

School had already started when I flew out with Mom the next time. I could handle that, and I asked if I could take a couple of days to get settled in. No, she said, and that was it. Before I had a chance to get unpacked, she sent me to school, in boys' clothes. I had washed the curl out of my hair, but still it fell way below shoulder length. At least, for the first week or so I would have it easy at my new school.

4.

I carried my tray across the cafeteria and headed to the first empty table I saw. There I was, dressed in a grubby t-shirt, cut off shorts and sneakers and still the boys reacted, as they always did in a new school, by staring at me, grinning and nudging each other with their elbows. The girls nodded and glanced away.

That reaction was standard for me. Okay, so I liked the attention I'd get, for the first week or so, after that it would be back to normal. My dad's in the Army, so I'm used to moving and to new schools.

Within a minute, a girl almost as pretty as me, sat down at my table. She was dressed in a plaid skirt with a white blouse and black sandals.

"Hi, I'm Becky, Rebecca actually, and welcome to Coopersville Middle School."

"Thanks," I said. "I'm Tracy, Tracy Williamson. My Dad was just assigned to Fort Cooper. We got in last night, but I've been enrolled here for a while."

She nodded. "You don't look like the type to dress like that," she commented. "Haven't had the chance to unpack?"

I shook my head, my hair swayed with me. "I usually dress like this," I said with a grin. "I don't wear skirts to school, and.... Who's that?" I asked noticing a boy, an eighth grader, who was looking at me. This kid was downright gorgeous from his wavy blond hair, to his baby blue eyes. I smiled at him.

"That's Brad," Becky said with a sigh. "Brad Johnson. His Dad is a hot shot at the post, so you two will have lots to talk about."

"With Mr. Perfect?"

She laughed, "He's a sweetheart, really, but clueless. He's friends with just about everyone, but he doesn't have a single girlfriend, you know? I've never seen him take out a girl, or a boy for that matter."

From the way Brad was looking at me, I tended to think Becky was the clueless one. "Okay, then I don't have anything to worry about."

"You just might from the way he seems to be itching to come over here. Oh, there's Linda," she said and took off, quickly.

I watched what had to be the school social secretary hurry off, feeling her disapproval of my casual method of dress, although there was a good reason for it.

Brad walked up to my table. I smiled at him again.

"Hi, I'm Bradley," he said.

"I heard, another member of the welcome wagon? Hi, I'm Tracy, Tracy Williamson," I said returning his smile. At least his smile was genuine. Maybe he wasn't such a hot shot after all.

"Do you mind?" he asked pulling out a chair.

"Go for it," I said taking a bite of my sub.

"I saw you earlier, in Algebra, and I was wondering if you needed someone to show you around the school, and town this afternoon? There isn't that much here, besides the Army base, but there's a great mall and a few parks."

"I'd like that. Got an arcade at the mall? I'm into Battle Hammer, and Space Blaster and my Mom hasn't had time to do much except get me in school."

"I bet. I'm pretty good at Battle Hammer, myself. I'll show you some tricks I know. I'm an Army brat, too, you know. My dad's the First Sergeant at B Company."

"Cool," I said with a wider grin. "My dad's the new C.O. This is probably the last post he'll get, so I'm here for a while."

"That's right, General Williamson. He's your dad?" I nodded. "I thought they said he had a son?"

"He does," I said, with another smile. "I've got two brothers and two sisters, but I'm the only one at home now. You know," I said looking around the cafeteria. "You're making every single girl in here jealous, talking to me, don't you?"

He shrugged. "What do you mean?"

"Oh come on, Bradley, you've gotta have a dozen girls just falling all over you. They're going to hate me too, for the first week or so." No one could fake that sort of fuddled expression. This one was for real.

He shook his head. "There's Jenny, but she's cool. I don't have any real girlfriends. What about you? I thought you'd be at St. Mary's"

I frowned. "Where?"

"It's the girls' academy down the road. Most of the officers' daughters go there."

With a shake to get my bangs out of my face, I reached back and brushed my hair off my shoulders. "Possibly, but who are you calling a girl?" I asked quietly.

It was his turn to frown as his smile faltered a bit. "What?"

"Hello, Brad," I said and held out my hand. "Hi, I'm Tracy -- with a 'y'. I'm a boy." I tried not to laugh at the expression on his face.

He shook his head. "That's impossible. You -- you're the prettiest girl I've ever seen."

"You really think so?" I blurted out. "Sorry. I know what I look like, and believe me, I didn't ask to be born a boy with this face, but what can I do? I didn't want you to take me out thinking you might get lucky with the general's daughter. There's nothing that says you won't get lucky with the general's son, but that's another matter."

His face burned a bright red. "But, I mean, you -- I thought...." He stammered out. "But you walk like a girl, you even eat like a girl."

"Well, duh, and if the school allowed it I'd dress like a girl, too, but.... It's like this. Can you think of anyplace I could go and pass as a boy?"

"No, not even if you shaved your head. You'd still be gorgeous."

"Thanks. But that's the problem. I may be a boy, but I don't look just a little feminine, I look like a major babe, and I have my whole life. My folks are cool with it, so it's not like my dad's all hyper that his son isn't one hundred percent male. That's Carlton, he's my oldest brother, and he's in the Marine Corps. They worked it out long ago.

"See, the thing of it is, that everywhere I go people expect me to be a girl. You did, didn't you? So what's worse? Letting them think I'm a girl, or having everyone complain to my mom that I'm not acting like a girl? Mrs. Williamson, your daughter is so pretty but does she have to act like a slob? Tracy's too pretty to be a tom-boy, can't you dress her more lady-like?"

Brad laughed. "I can see that."

"I learned long ago, that I don't have any masculine honor I need to defend. When I'm old enough I'm going to take hormones and go through a change, but that's when I'm eighteen. So, in the mean time I act like people think I should. Let them think whatever they like, rather than try to explain to the whole world I'm really a boy, since they won't believe it. And I'm not pulling my pants down for everyone either.

"So, when I go out with Mom, or anyone else I use the girls' room, most of the time I wear skirts or dresses, and that's me. Dad buys me jewelry and perfume, no makeup since I'm not old enough, and I can relax. But this school knows I'm a boy, all my teachers know that I'm a boy, and after a while everyone in it will know that I'm a boy, too.

"After this week, any other boy that tries to hang out with me will be branded as gay, even though the gay kids don't want anything to do with me either. They'd be drooling all over you, not me. The girls don't want anything to do with me either, except the butchy ones and I don't really want to hang out with them, so I'm usually the loner."

"God, that really sucks. You'll never have a single date, since no girl would ever want to go out with a boy that much prettier than she is." Brad shook his head.

"If I have any friends, it's with the neuters."

"What?" he asked me. "We've got enough kids in the science club?"

"No, not the geeks or the nerds either. They'll still go gaga over me. I mean the kid that's going to be ten years old his whole life. The only thing in his world is comic books and science fiction. The one that wouldn't even notice what I look like as long as I can talk about his favorite topics."

"Larry Philips," Brad said and snapped his fingers. "I'll introduce you, since he's completely oblivious to the whole boy-girl thing."

"Thanks."

Brad finished his sandwich. "You're really okay, you know that? And are we still on for this afternoon? Maybe you can teach me some tricks on Battle Hammer?"

"You're on. I'll call Mom and let her know I won't be home right away."

"What about you?" he asked. "Would you go out with a girl if you could?"

"Put it this way, Brad, if I was a girl I'd be one hundred percent straight. I don't have any chance at boys since only the straight boys want to get to know me, and won't when they find out, so it doesn't matter. I can drool over you, in my room, but you're safe," I said and laughed.

He sighed, and looked at me. "No one is ever going to call me 'gay', but still...."

"For this afternoon it's Mr. Perfect and the Beauty Queen...." He raised his eyebrows. "No really, I won a beauty contest last summer -- to prove one of mom's points, but I did it."

"No one else would have a chance," he said and sighed again. "Come on, there's some kids I want you to meet."

5.

"Mom?" I said into the cell phone. Brad waited for me by the school's front door.

"Yes, sweetheart?"

"I'm going to the mall with this boy I met. He's really nice, and yes, he knows all about me. He just wants to show me around?"

"Oh, really?"

"Yes, really. His name is Brad, and he's gorgeous, but that's all it is."

"Okay, Trace, but let me know before you get your ears pierced."

I laughed. "I will. We won't be too late."

"What was that?" Brad asked as I walked over to him.

"Old joke," I said. We walked together out of the school, and I know he noticed all the boys watching us.

"Man," I heard someone say. "Why does Brad always get to be the lucky one?"

"Forget it," someone else answered. "Those two belong together."

Brad flashed me one of his perfect grins. "I'll enjoy it while it lasts."

We walked passed the row of discount houses -- "Instant credit to E-1's and above," and the pawnshops, to catch the shuttle bus to the mall. Like military towns everywhere, and I knew them all, Coopersville filled a niche for all the guys away from home for the first time, but that's about it. A small native population, enough to warrant a school system, and the army was about all the town could boast about.

"Whoa," I commented. "The mall's a lot bigger than I thought."

"Yeah, and it has one of those twenty-four theater places as well, so we do get everything that comes out."

"I'm into science fiction, blood and gore and cops and robbers. I hate the date flicks."

Brad laughed. "Okay, so do I. We'll go sometime."

"It's a date, Bradley," I said and fluttered my eyelids. He shook his head. He stood up and I followed him down the aisle as the bus stopped in front of the mall entrance. He went out the door, then turned and offered his hand to me. I smiled, and let him help me down the stairs.

"You're learning," I said as we walked away from the bus, and I noticed it took him a while to let go of my hand.

We walked through the mall, once, before stopping for a drink at the food court. They had everything here and I felt better about this move already. We headed back to the arcade, until a lady, standing by one of the more pricy boutiques walked up to me.

"Miss, just a minute. I've got something for you."

"Okay," I said with a glance at Brad.

"You can come along, too," she told him. "A girl always needs a boy's opinion."

Brad rolled his eyes, but followed us into the shop.

The saleslady held up the most gorgeous yellow dress I had ever seen. I handed over Mom's credit card, and asked her where I could try it on. She led me back to the changing room, and told me to wait there while she brought a camisole. I pulled off my t-shirt, and when the lady returned she looked at me.

"How old are you?"

"Twelve," I answered with a shrug.

"My dear, you really need to wear a training bra." She took a quick measurement around my chest, and hurried off again. A bra, I admit I had no problem with the thought of wearing one, but....

"Just your size," she said and showed me how to wear the bra. "I know how sensitive your nipples must be right now, and this will make them feel better."

She was right. I hadn't noticed that before, but as I put on the half-slip I made a mental note to check with Mom later. After getting pantyhose and matching shoes, I walked out to the shop. Brad goggled as he saw me.

"You aren't making this easy, you know that?" he told me.

"I'll take it," I said, beaming at the saleslady, "and don't worry about him. He should get his eyes back in his head in a few minutes."

I left the store wearing my new clothes while Brad carried the bag with my school clothes. His free hand brushed mine as we left the shop. I pulled away, but when it happened again, I let him take my hand and lock fingers. Now that I dressed for the occasion a lot of people were taking notice, of me, and Brad. He was quick to notice.

"Are you sure about this?" I asked him.

"Yes, and there's a dance on post Saturday night. Would you go with me?"

At that point, I didn't care if he was just being nice, or not. "Yes. But you had better meet my Mom first."

"What about your dad?" he asked me.

"Look, Mom and Dad and me had it out long ago. Something happened with me, they know it, and so do I. I'm not a boy, and I never was no matter what, and they understand it."

"Yeah, but one question." Right there, in the middle of the mall, he looked at me, and asked. "Has anyone ever tested you to be sure?"

I nodded. "I have the XY chromosomes. It's more important what's up here," I said and pointed to my head, "than what's down there, since I'll lose that as soon as I'm old enough. I can't be a mom, but I can adopt. And, I know you're wondering, what I do have is so small I don't have to tuck anything away when I put on my panties, but what is there is just like yours." I made a point of looking at his crotch, "But I'm betting about ten times smaller."

He blushed, but from the look he gave me I figured I would find out sooner or later how right I was.

"This doesn't make any sense. I'm not gay, but from the moment I saw you, I know that I wanted to -- I mean that I was going to date you. Once we got talking, I knew I wanted to be your friend."

All I could do was smile at him and wonder how long before he changed his mind on that.

Brad escorted me home. The base gave us a large house, although Dad didn't really need all the room, but it was expected that there would be something impressive for the commanding general. I led the way inside, calling out, "Mom? I'm home."

"In the living room, sweetheart," she answered. "Did you have a good time?"

With Brad still on my heels, I found my way there; surprised to see Dad home, too.

"We had a great time, there's a really large Mall on the other side of town. Do you like my new dress?" I blurted out.

"It looks great on you, sweetheart," Dad answered. "And this is?"

"Right, this is Brad -- Brad Johnson. He's the welcoming committee."

"The first sergeant's son?"

"Yes, sir," Brad said, sweating as he shook my father's hand. "Uh, Tracy wanted me to check with you, but there's a dance here on Saturday and I'd like to take her."

Dad raised his eyebrows. "And you do know that Tracy isn't quite like the other girls?"

Brad nodded, emphatically. "We talked about it, and a lot of things, today. She's one of the nicest girls I've ever met."

"And drop dead gorgeous doesn't matter?" Dad cut in.

"But so is he," Mom commented. "It's fine with us, son, since we will be there, too."

Brad looked at me, and I just shrugged. "Great. I need something to wear."

"We both do," Mom said. "Tomorrow, after school, you can show me the mall, and the store where you bought that dress."

6.

Thursday morning I woke up feeling a bit out of sorts. My chest hurt, I ached in both nipples and all night long I had sharp shooting pains through them. I pulled off my t-shirt, and stared. This was unbelievable. My nipples had grown, like overnight. They looked, to me at least, twice the size they had been last night when I went to bed.

I remembered what the lady in the shop had said, and I also remembered I was going to talk to Mom about it. Now seemed to be a real good time. "Mom," I called out when I heard her in the hallway.

"Tracy? Is everything okay?"

"Not sure, but my chest hurts."

She walked into my room, and stared at my chest. "What happened?"

"I don't know. I swear I'm not taking anything, either. Remember Monday when I got that dress with Brad? The saleslady said I needed a training bra and she might be right."

"She is, and you could have told me before this, but something isn't right. I had better make an appointment for you."

I nodded.

"And you needn't look so happy about this, either, sweetheart. It might be a serious problem, or then you could be growing up. At this point, who knows?"

==========

"Hey, Brad." Two guys I recognized from European History sat down at the lunch table across from us. Neither acknowledged that I was there.

"Tom, Bobby. You know Tracy?"

"Yeah, we've met," the boy called Tom answered. He looked like a jock, big, with a rather dull expression in his eyes. Bobby, at least, looked halfway alive in the brains department.

"Tracy, Tom's on the Football team, and one of the best players we have, and Bobby is in the Chess Club."

"So nice to meet both of you," I said, softly.

"Uh, Brad," Tom said, turning away from me. "We heard you're taking Tracy to the dance tomorrow night?"

"Yes, I am. You guys coming, or don't you have dates?"

"No, it's just that, well, you see, don't you know?"

"Huh?"

I gave Brad a quick nudge with my elbow. "I think he's trying to tell you something about me." Here it comes, I thought, does he go with his friends or stick up for me?

"You think? What?" he asked giving the boys a glare.

"You know Tracy -- Tracy's not a girl," Bobby blurted out.

"I'm not?" I asked him.

"No, you're a boy." Tom said.

"And your point is?" Brad asked.

"I guess I am," I agreed. "At least I was the last time I looked."

"You're taking a boy to the dance?"

Brad laughed. "No, I'm taking Tracy. Can either of you clowns look at her and tell me that she looks like a boy?"

"No," Tom said slowly. "She's -- I mean -- he's the prettiest girl, guy, in school, but...."

"Tracy is a girl, maybe not exactly like all the other girls in school, but a girl. Any more questions?"

"It's like your telling everyone you're gay," Bobby said.

"Am I? If I was gay I'd want to take out a hunk like Tom here, not Tracy, you should know that."

"Leave me out of this," Tom half shouted.

"If you leave me out of this, too," Brad said. "Tracy's folks don't have a problem with this, and mine don't, so that leaves just the two of you who do. Get over it."

"Brad! We're your friends, everyone in school is talking about this."

"So? Who told you that Tracy's a boy?" Brad demanded.

"The guys, but everyone knows. Tracy, tell him," Bobby blurted out.

"Tell him what? Do I look like a boy to you?"

"No, but..."

"In a couple of years when you start dating, you'd better ask your friends, or your Mom if the person you're going out with is a boy or a girl since you can't tell," I said and tried hard to put on a concerned expression, but I'm not sure I succeeded. Brad laughed as Bobby turned bright red.

Brad and I walked out of the cafeteria together. "You know, I told you this would happen. I don't want you giving up your friends for me."

"What friends? A couple of narrow-minded kids in this school don't bother me one way or the other."

7.

Mom met me after school. Surprised, I followed her to the car. "You have an appointment this afternoon at the medical center," she told me. "Something is happening here, and I think we need to know what it is."

We drove over to the city rather than go to the post hospital for this; no use this sort of news spreading. Even though my appointment was for four -thirty it took until five before I was called back to see her.

Doctor Richardson breezed into the room looking at my chart. She was young, brunette and rather pretty. She looked up at me and gave me large, warm smile. "Hello, Tracy. Sorry I've been behind schedule today. What brings you in?"

I pulled up my shirt. "I'm having problems here," I said and pointed at my chest. "My nipples hurt and everything's getting puffy."

"How old are you?"

"Twelve. Almost thirteen."

"That looks normal for a girl your age. You can buy an over-the-counter analgesic cream for the pain, but I would also recommend a training bra. That will prevent your shirts from rubbing against them. I know a lot of girls start developing earlier than twelve, but twelve is still the average age for this. Is Tracy your only daughter, Mrs. Williamson?"

"No, I have two others, but since Tracy is technically a boy, we weren't expecting this kind of -- development."

"What do you mean 'technically'?"

"He was born male. He has Y chromosomes, but right from the start it was obvious to
everyone, including Tracy that he was a girl."

"Are you?" the doctor asked me. "A boy or a girl?"

"I'm a girl," I said with a shrug. "As soon as I can, I want to take hormones."

"I see. I'd say in this case your gender identity is appropriate, but would you mind pulling down your pants?"

I undressed the rest of the way, as Dr. Richardson put on a glove.

"Can you pee standing up?"

I blushed. "No, I can't. I tried a couple of times when I was little, but it never worked right."

"The opening is in the wrong place," Mom said. "Sorry, I used to know the name of that condition, it was a mile long."

"Hypospadius?"

"That's it," Mom answered.

After a few minutes of poking and prodding, she pressed her hand into my groin in a way that made me yelp. She apologized, and backed away.

"I need to get some blood work to be sure, but..."

"What is it?" Mom asked.

"Tracy's testicles have never descended. Has anyone ever noticed that?"

"No, but couldn't that make her sick?" Mom asked.

"Yes, at this age, it can. Also, Tracy has a vaginal canal," she looked at me, but I nodded to show that I understood.

"What?" Mom asked.

"If we were to open the scrotal sac, Tracy would look just like any other girl her age. In a few years, she could have sex like any other girl as well. There are a couple of reasons this could happen. The simplest is that she is a female. How long ago were her chromosomes tested?"

"When she was five," Mom answered. "I mean her looks were obvious from the time she was two, but it took that long to convince the military to do the test."

"I see, and did you see the pictures?"

"No, they called with the results."

"I remember," I said. "I was so hoping that I really was a girl then."

Dr. Richardson opened a drawer by the sink, pulled out a package and told me to open my mouth. She rubbed something on the inside of my cheeks. "This will take a couple of minutes. We do a lot of Sports Medicine here," she told Mom.

When she came back, she had several photographs with her.

"Somewhere along the line someone made a mistake," she said and held out the first picture. "This is a picture of both sets of chromosomes. On the left you see the XX pattern for a female, and on the right you see the XY pattern for a male."

The picture looked weird. I was not sure what I was expecting, but I could see the
difference.

"This is the sample I took from your cheek, Tracy. What do you think?"

I looked at the second picture, then at the other, and then back to mine. "But you said the XX was for a female.... I'm a girl?" I asked her almost in a whisper.

Mom took the picture, and shook her head. "There is no way anyone could mistake this. But they told us that she was male."

I sighed. "Maybe they were afraid to tell the General his little boy was a girl," I said. Then it hit me. "They lied to us. I'm a girl, and..." I broke down crying, not sure if I should be angry, happy, or just sad at the time I spent by myself in school after school because no one wanted to be near the freak. Mom put her hands on my shoulders, then hugged me.

"It's okay. It's okay, sweetheart. We can deal with this."

Dr. Richardson gave me a box of tissues. "Tracy?"

"Sorry -- sorry," I said. "I don't do that a lot."

"You will be doing it a lot more, I'm afraid," Mom said. "If that test is correct, Tracy is a female?"

"Correct," Dr. Richardson answered. "The reason her testicles didn't descend is that she doesn't have them. Right now, this is called the Androgynized Female Syndrome. Somewhere along the line, when you were carrying her, she got a larger than normal dose of male hormones, or there is a protein deficiency that can cause this as well. In either case, her labia closed over the vagina to make what looked to be a scrotal sac, and her clitoris grew larger than usual.

"I think we will need to do a full workup here, blood tests to determine her hormone levels, and a more accurate genetic workup, and we need pictures; an ultra sound, a CT scan and MRI, at the very least. We need to know exactly what is there."

"Do you think there is a chance that your test wasn't correct?" Mom asked her.

"No, but to prove all this to the insurance companies and the powers that be, we need to do the rest of the work."

"Okay, so I am a girl. What happens now?" I asked.

"After we get all the pictures and lab work back, you will need to see a surgeon at the very least and possibly an endocrinologist if your hormone levels need adjusting. Right now, I would say Tracy is starting a normal puberty, but the tests will let us know, for sure. After all of that, it will be a simple operation to cut open your scrotal sac and redo it to look like normal labial folds. After that heals, you would be able to shower with the other girls, and no one could tell."

"Thanks, doctor," I said quickly. "This is the best news that I have ever got."

"What if your test is off, and Tracy is still a boy?" Mom asked.

"That would mean this is a case of Testicular Feminization Syndrome. Tracy's testes, if they are there, are producing female hormones, which still means that Tracy would be going through puberty as a girl, only sterile. The operation would remove the testes as well, since this condition almost invariably leads to testicular cancer, which is deadly in a person her age."

"So, either way, I'd be a girl, right?"

"Right. If you are a genetic male, the endocrinologist would need to give you hormones. Now, that is probably not necessary."

"But as I understood it," Mom cut in. "She has to wait until she is eighteen, for the Benjamin Standards of Care?"

Dr. Richards nodded. "The Benjamin Standards do not apply in this case, since this is now a definite medical condition, not strictly psychological. I will start the paper work necessary to change her records -- birth and school from male to female and the secretary will do your referrals to the Specialists. I'll have a technician in here in a moment, to draw some blood."

"Rats," I said. "Do you really need the blood? I can handle getting the pictures."

"Yes, we really need it."

"Doctor, if Tracy had wanted to be a boy, could you do it?"

"Yes, but it would be much harder. His testes would still be removed, but even with years of testosterone therapy I doubt if he would be able to appear as more than a very feminine looking young man. His penis would never grow into anything more than a slightly overgrown clitoris and it would never be functional, for procreation purposes. He would probably grow a beard and develop a slightly more masculine figure.

"Now, for the paperwork, do you want to stay Traci -- with an 'I', or use a more feminine name?" she asked me.

"No, Traci's fine," I said. "And I can start wearing skirts and blouses to school?"

"Whatever the dress code for girls is, or there is a good girl's academy in town, if you want to start fresh?"

I nodded. "The boys in my class are already giving me a hard time about being a boy. Can I, Mom? St. Mary's is supposed to be good."

"That is a thought..." Mom said. "I'd have to check with your father, of course, but..."

"My suggestion would be to pull her from school now, and start her back again after all the tests and surgeries are over," Dr. Richards added.

"But what do we tell everyone now?" Mom asked.

"The easiest thing would be to tell them what they probably have guessed already; that Traci has always been a girl, but there was a mistake make when she was born that caused the confusion. I think people will believe that."

Mom nodded. "With a proper hair style and clothes, they won't have any choice."

I gave Mom a long hug, and then thanked the doctor, too. This was the best news I had had in my whole life.

When I got home, the first thing I did was call Brad. "Hi, guess what?"

"What?" he asked and I could hear him trying not to sigh.

"I'm a girl, the doctor said so."

"And? How long did it take them to figure this out?"

"They're doing some tests, but it's official. I may even go to St. Mary's."

"We're still on for the dance tomorrow?" he asked, almost hesitating.

"Yeah, unless you mind me being a girl, not a boy."

"I never believed you were a boy, for real, ever. We're on."

"This is the best news I have heard in ages," Dad told me as I hung up the phone. He gave me quick hug. "I am so happy for you, sweetheart. At least the medical profession has caught up with the painfully obvious. And this, at long last, may shut Carlton up."

"What's his problem?" I asked.

"Is he still on that -- 'we need to make Tracy more of a man' -- kick?" Mom cut in.

"The last time I talked to him, he was," Dad answered.

"Too late now," I said.

"I can appreciate the fact that your brother is in the marines, and that now everything has to be so black and white, but this news will take a lot of stress off him and us," Dad said.

He turned out to be wrong about that, but I didn't realize how wrong until after dinner that evening when I heard Mom talking to Carlton on the phone.

"...no, this isn't anything weird, sweetheart. The doctors made a mistake when your sister was born. ... I know you changed her diapers when she was a baby, but.... Okay, but don't get on her case over this. ... Carl wants to talk to you," she said and handed the phone over to me.

"Hey, big brother," I said. "Best news I could have had."

"What the hell are you doing there? How could you do this to me?"

"Huh?" I managed to blurt out. "I'm not doing anything to you. I really was born a girl, well, almost a girl, but now you don't have to worry about me dressing like a one anymore."

"Do you have any idea what that would do to me if it gets out?"

"So who's gonna tell?" I asked him. "Think Dad's gonna call your C.O. and ask him to spread the news around? Maybe my doctor will write this up for one of those medical magazines and she'll use my real name. Or maybe I can just call the news people myself, or those supermarket trash magazines. Or maybe I could get Dad to take a before and after picture of me for your Corps newspaper, the Marine Times. The only one that'll blab this is you, Carl. But what would you say?

"I know," I added. "You can tell everyone that you found out your little brother is really a girl, and you're mad because your folks will let him be a girl? No, that sounds too stupid, even for you. Or..." I said with a pause. "This is between me and my doctor, you know. It's my business and you could just keep your big, fat, ugly nose out of it."

"I'm making it my business."

"Why?" I demanded, almost screaming. "Cindy and Kelley were like 'it's about time', Roger was happy for me. So what's with you?"

"Because you're a boy, and I'm not going to let you turn yourself into some sort of -- thing."

"You take that back," I shouted, unable to stop the tears from falling. I heard a click as Dad picked up the extension.

"You are nothing but a thing," Carlton repeated. "You won't be a girl or a boy and I won't stand for it."

"The decision isn't yours to make, son," Dad cut in. "I won't have you talk that way to your sister, period."

"Dad, I told you to stop him before it was too late. I can do it. I know I can. In two weeks I can make Tracy a boy again."

"Oh, really?" I said.

"Why?" Dad asked. "Do you think someone could do the same thing to you and make you a girl in two weeks?"

"No. I'm a man."

"That's just the point, son. Traci was born a girl. There's nothing wrong with this, it happens, especially with a child that was conceived late. But she got the wrong hormones or something."

"But he's a boy," Carlton insisted. "I changed his diapers enough. I know what he is."

"And you are wrong, son. I changed her diapers, too. We found out today, that her equipment is female. There is nothing we could ever do to make her a functioning male and I am not going to ask her to spend her life as some sort of neuter to satisfy your narrow-minded sensibilities. I agree with Traci on this. This is between Traci and her doctor. Not you."

"Dad, if this ever got out I'd be laughed out of the Corps."

"Because your sister had a slight birth defect that needed to be fixed? This is no reflection on your masculinity, Heaven knows. Or is it? Carlton, is there something you need to tell me?"

"What do you mean?"

"Are you having your own issues about your gender identity? Is that why you're so hyper about Traci?"

"No," he almost yelled. "I'm not. I'm just thinking of what this can do for me if it gets out."

"Then I suggest you start thinking of what Traci has been through her whole life over this. I have always tried to teach you that a man is judged by his own merits and not by the actions of others. Whether or not Traci is a girl, or a boy, has nothing to do with the way you perform in the Marines. If your fellow jarheads think it does, tell them they will have to answer to me, not you. Then again, who is going to tell them about this, if not you?"

"Dad, I'm going to take leave. Promise me you won't let them do anything to Traci until I get there, okay?"

"This is no concern of yours, Carlton and I will make no such promise. Now, do I have to call your commander and make sure he doesn't grant you leave? I do not want you here, stressing your sister out, over this. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir. It is."

"See that you mean that." Dad hung up the phone, and I did the same.

"Thanks, Daddy," I ran over to him and gave him a hug.

"Daddy?" he asked.

"Sure, I've got to figure out if I'm going to be an ice princess like Cindy or hot like Kelly."

"This I don't need, Traci. It's not a decision you have to make in the foreseeable
future, okay?"

"Yes, sir," I said, and hurried out of the room.

8.

"Traci? Brad's here," Mom called from the front door. I checked myself in the mirror, still not quite believing what I saw. My hair was colored a lighter shade and curled. My dress -- gown rather -- was a pale green with matching shoes that looked so grown up.

"Traci, we will be leaving in about three minutes."

"I'm coming," I called back. The last things I checked were my new earrings, emerald studs that were perfect with my new hair color. I turned away from the mirror, opened the door of my bedroom and walked downstairs.

"Whoa!" Brad exclaimed as I made my entrance. "I didn't think you could look any better." He gave me an orchid and Mom pinned it on my sleeve.

"You look great, too," I said as we followed Mom and Dad to the car.

The dance was at the post gym. Even though Dad wasn't in uniform, the guards at the door stood at attention and saluted as we walked inside.

"You kids have fun," Mom said, a smile dancing in her eyes as she continued. "We aren't here to chaperone tonight, but don't forget that we are watching every single move you make."

"Thanks, Mom. I really appreciate that."

I felt, and Brad noticed it too, that every one was looking at us as we walked out onto the dance floor. At that point, I realized I didn't have any idea how to dance. First time for everything, I guessed, but watching some of the other kids moving on the floor I saw that neither did they, so it didn't matter.

After that, I remember the swirl of lights and the old fashioned music. I danced with a lot of boys, not just Brad, and he didn't seem to mind when the others cut in on him.

"Here, I got you some punch, if you want to sit this one out," he told me about half way through the dance. When I nodded and smiled, he took my hand and led me off the floor.

"Thanks," I told him. We sat quietly just enjoying being with each other as we drank the punch.

"You want to get some fresh air?"

I said yes, before I remembered what he was really asking. I had seen enough scenes like this on TV, but I let him escort me outside, anyway. We walked for a while, not far from the gym, before he stopped and turned to face me.

"Tracy, I know..." he started to stammer. "I mean, you've never been on a date with anyone, but...I mean, I...God, you look so beautiful." With that, he kissed me, right on the lips. Awkward, clumsy, yes, but it was wonderful. He pulled back and looked at me, and I could see the question in his eyes.

"Why'd you stop?" I asked him. I reached up and kissed him right back.

I felt Brad relax as he slipped his arms around me and we kissed in earnest. I felt something else and it dawned on me how turned on he was. That had never been an issue for me, but I liked it so I kissed him again, harder.

I half gagged when he slipped his tongue into my mouth. That felt weird and I wasn't at all sure if I liked it. When we pulled back he gave me his warmest smile and offered his hand to lead me back to the dance. I guess he didn't notice and I certainly wasn't going to tell him.

After the dance, Brad offered to walk me home, rather than getting a ride from my parents or his. Dad agreed, and we left the gym, hand in hand, walking slowly.

"They aren't worried?" Brad asked me, looking back.

"No. I think they can trust you, and besides, there's a panic button built into my cell phone. The cops would be here in seconds to protect me from you."

"That's a good idea, but what if I need them to protect me from you?"

"You're plain out of luck," I told him.

==========

The next couple of weeks buzzed as I was shuttled from one specialist to another. Dad must have taken my crack about being an ice princess seriously, because he insisted I go back to the public school, not St. Mary's, to learn to be a normal girl. Mom took me to the office, and without any brass bands or fireworks, they made the change from M to F on my records, and that was it. The lady handed Mom a dress code for girls, and they changed my schedule around so that the kids in my new classes and homeroom would be getting a new girl, not just me again.

My first day back went just like my first day there, except Brad was there to join me for lunch. He brought his two buddies over as well. Bobby cleared his throat a couple of times, but finally apologized.

"Sorry, Traci, we heard it from everyone, you know?"

"Yeah, I know. Okay."

"That goes for me, too. Sorry," Tom said and hurried away.

"So, how are you doing?" Brad asked as soon as the others left.

"Good, I guess. The surgery was a lot harder on me than I thought, but it's my whole life."

"It's okay, I don't want to hear about it," he said, looking panicked.

I sighed and shook my head. "It's not gross or anything, but okay. I have to take shots like once a week and pills every day, but other than that, nothing."

"It's not nothing to you, or to me, either," he said. There was nothing more to do or say. We ate lunch in happy silence.

9.

In short order, I graduated from the training bra to an 'A' cup and my hips started to get rounder. By Halloween, I looked about as developed as the other girls in my class. I felt great about myself and I also started to make girlfriends for the first time in my life. I wasn't the cheerleader type, although a couple of the girls did ask if I wanted to try out and I was not the snooty rich girl type either, so I didn't fit in with the elite crowd.

Mom taught me how to use makeup and I could wear a little on the weekends when I went out with Brad, or when I had my first sleepover at Shelly's house. Everything would have been fine, except my eldest brother took leave about a week before Thanksgiving.

I walked into the house from school, tossed my books on the table for the weekend and called out, "Hi, I'm home."

No answer.

I found Mom and Carlton in the living room staring at each other. He turned to stare at me.

"You wore that to school?" he demanded, and pointed at my dress, a pale yellow one and not one of my prettiest outfits.

"I'm fine, thanks for asking. And no, I went naked and put this one on when I got home." I spun around. "You like it?"

"You're a boy, and it's about time you started to act like one. What are you wearing on your chest, falsies?"

"What an idiot. No, I don't need a padded bra, Carly. This is all me. You had better get used to it, too, because I'm not going to have them cut off, either."

"They don't give hormones to someone your age. I don't believe it."

"Carlton," Mom said slowly, "Traci is a girl, medically and physically. I don't know what it is going to take for you to realize that, but it's true. I am not going to ask her to undress in front of you to prove it, but if you won't believe me, or your father, or even her birth certificate, I am going to ask you to be quiet about it. You are free to think whatever you like, but you are not going to spoil this holiday for us with all this talk of trying to make Traci a boy. She never was a boy, and never will be a boy. It's as simple as that. If you do decide to make this an issue I will ask you to leave this house and you will not be welcome back until you can hold your tongue. Is that clear?"

"Mother, I am twenty-six years old. You can't just treat me like a kid, again."

"No, I never said that, son. You are an adult and a guest in our house. I expect you to remember that. If you continue to behave like this, Carlton, you will be asked to leave as an unwelcome guest. Is that clear?"

He glared at me, but didn't say anything as the doorbell rang. I ran to get the door. "Brad, great. Let's go somewhere."

"What?" he asked. "What's the matter?"

"My big brother, Carlton, the world class creep is here. Before he makes another scene, let's split."

"Traci? What is it?" Mom called out.

"It's Brad, Mom. We're catching the bus to the mall. We'll have dinner there and I'll be back late. It's Friday, remember?"

"Wait a second," Brad said and tried to walk inside. "I wanted to ask your brother about the marines."

"Now isn't the best time," I whispered as I heard Carlton ask Mom who the hell Brad was.

"He's a boy in Traci's class and they've been going out together this year. He's very nice."

"Traci's going out with a boy? What is he, some sort of fairy?"

Brad flushed a bright red. "I see what you mean. Okay, we're like so out of here."

"Just a second," Carlton shouted, hurrying to catch us before I had the chance to close the door. "Where do you think you're going?"

"None of your business, big brother," I said quickly. "Brad, this is Carlton, my brother and a first lieutenant in the Marines. Carlton, this is Brad, his dad's the First Sergeant at B Company. There, bye."

"Your father is in the army?" Carlton asked.

"Sure is," Brad said. "Nice meeting you, dude, but I'm taking your sister to the movies. Bye."

"That's my brother," Carlton said. "I don't care what he's dressed up as, but that's a boy."

"Man, when Traci said you were a world class creep I should have believed her. I'm not getting in the middle of this. My folks like Traci, I like her. I'd tell you where to go and what to do when you get there, but there are ladies here."

"You little punk," Carlton growled and made a fist. Brad pushed me out of the way.

"What's the matter, you jarhead? Can't take it, huh?" Brad stuck out his tongue at my brother. "Some kid calls you names and you go ballistic. What a moron. What a clown. And you call yourself a marine."

"Carlton," Mom said from behind. "You lay one hand on that boy and I will have you charged with child abuse. He's what, half your size?"

"Let's go, Brad," I said. I took his hand, locked fingers and pulled him away. I think Carlton knew better then, to say anything else.

After the movie, we rode the shuttle back to post. Brad's father waited in the car for us. Brad walked over to the driver's window.

"Dad?"

"Get in, both of you. I want to talk to you."

"I'm taking Traci home. Couldn't this wait until tomorrow morning?"

"No, it can't."

Brad shrugged and opened the back door for me. Then, he climbed in after me. Mr. Johnson waited until we buckled the seat belts before driving away from the bus stop.

"Where are we going?" Brad asked

"Somewhere where we can talk about this -- thing you're going out with."

"Dad," Brad said horrified. "How can you talk like that?"

This did not sound good. As Mr. Johnson drove off post, I fumbled in my purse for my cell phone. Brad saw the motion, but didn't say anything. I didn't push the button, though.

"It's about time we got this straight, Brad. That creature back there isn't a girl. That's a boy in drag and the more you go out with it, the more of a fairy you're becoming. I won't have it."

"I'm a girl, Mr. Johnson. I don't care what my brother must have told you. There was a mistake made when I was born and it was fixed. That's all. You've been over to my house, right? You've had dinner with Mom and Dad and we've had dinner with you guys. My Dad wouldn't let me dress up like this if I really was a boy. Come on. Please, take us home. You could always talk to my Mom or my Dad. They will tell you what's going on with me. My brother doesn't know anything and doesn't want to know anything either."

"I'm not going to let you make my son into a pansy like yourself, Traci -- or whatever your name really is. We're going to get this straight, once and for all."

He pulled into an old, fifties-style motel. I pushed the button on my cell phone and let it connect to 911. "'The Green River Motel.'" I read the sign into the phone.

"Dad," Brad said, loud enough for his voice to be heard. "It doesn't matter what Traci is, a boy or a girl. She's still just a little kid and if you do anything to her that's child abuse. Her dad will bust you down to private for this."

"You shut up," Mr. Johnson said, "or you will wish you had."

"Touch me and I'm telling Mom."

"Oh, God, you are turning into such a wuss. There, room 112. Get out and go into the room. Don't make me drag you."

I climbed out of the car, but Brad didn't. Mr. Johnson grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out. He flung Brad over his shoulder like a sack of flour and carried his son, screaming and kicking into the room.

"This is Traci Williamson, please help me, this is getting ugly," I said into the phone as I walked into the room after the others.

Sure enough, Carlton sat on the bed watching TV.

I took one look at my brother and blurted out, "Mom and Dad are going to kill you for this. Call this off before someone gets hurt, or you both go to jail."

"I've had it with you, mister," he told me. "For twelve years I have begged Mom and Dad to stop letting you get away with this. I told them I'd make you a boy and I intend to do it. It's bad enough that they let you dress up, but I'm not about to let you do this to other kids."

"Boy are you a World-Class Jerk," Brad snarled. "You don't know anything."

With a crack, Mr. Johnson hit Brad across the face. "You shut up and sit down."

Brad rubbed his jaw and glared at his father.

"I won't have my son turning into some flaming faggot like that thing."

"Dad," Brad said slowly. "Can you really look at her and tell me that Traci is a boy?"

"It's all a fake," Carlton interrupted. "Okay, so his face has always been that pretty, but the rest of it is faked."

"Do you know what he looks like without clothes on?" Mr. Johnson demanded.

"No," Brad said. "I'm going out with her, Dad. I'm not sleeping with her. For Pete's sake, she's not ready and I'm not either."

"Carlton, you're my brother. We can discuss this whole boy-girl thing later, but I'm asking you to take me home because we are family and that's all that should matter. Or, if you won't do it, don't stop me when I go outside to call Mom to pick Brad and me up."

"No, not anymore. You're staying here if I have to tie you to that chair. We're going to have it out, now," Carlton said.

"I'm a girl. I've always been a girl and the doctor proved it. What you saw when you changed my diapers was a mistake that's been corrected and the rest is between my doctor and me. Who I am isn't something that you can change and it's not something you're responsible for."

"You're a freaking boy and I'm going to prove it. Take off your dress."

"I won't," I said. "If you and Brad's father want a strip show I bet you can find one, but it won't be me. You got cameras in here for kiddy porn? You're gonna try and take pictures of me and Brad?"

He slapped me across the face. Brad jumped up only to be thrown back into his seat by his dad. Mr. Johnson tied Brad's arms behind the chair.

"That's enough out of you, young man. Now, pay attention." Mr. Johnson told Brad.

"Don't do anything stupid, Dad," Brad begged, crying.

"I'm going to do whatever it takes to protect you from that faggot. No one is going to turn you into a queer."

"It doesn't work like that. Couldn't you just tell her to stay away from me?"

"I couldn't trust you to honor that, Brad. We're going to prove what she is."

"I don't care if she's got a dick bigger than mine, Dad. She's my girlfriend and she's going to be my girlfriend no matter what. I don't need to see her naked, not like this. And it's against the law for you to see her naked. I...."

Mr. Johnson slammed his fist into Brad's face. "Shut up. Just shut up about this."

"Never say anything like that again," Carlton told me.

"What am I supposed to think? I watch the news. Brad's thirteen and I'm twelve and you've got us in this motel room and you want me to take off my clothes? Doesn't matter if I'm a boy or a girl, that will get you sent to jail, you know. Both of you."

Carlton grabbed my by the arms, spun me around so that I faced Mr. Johnson. "If you won't take that dress off, we will."

"To hell with it," Mr. Johnson said. "See what you've been going out with." He walked over to me and yanked at my dress until the straps broke. He pulled the torn garment down, then tore off my bra. "What the hell?"

"Keep your hands off me," I screamed as loud as I could.

"They're fake. Dad must have paid a bundle for those."

Mr. Johnson took my breasts in his hands and lifted them up. "No scars -- nothing, Lieutenant."

"Take the rest of it off. You'll see."

Johnson pulled the ruins of my dress off me, and then pulled down my panties. "Holy Mother of God, she's a girl."

"No, they don't do that kind of operation on kids," Carlton said and turned me around.

"Go ahead, take a good look, you slime bag," I told my brother.

He spun me around. Mr. Johnson poked at my crotch. "She's a virgin, too."

"What do you mean?" Carlton asked.

"Her cherry's not popped. What do you think I meant? That's not a boy, you stupid bastard. Your father is going to bust me down to E-nothing. And guess who is going to lose his commission over this, too."

"No. I'm telling you, there's something wrong. That isn't a hymen and that isn't a real vagina. It can't be. They haven't done the operation, at least all of it. I'll show you."

I screamed again when Carlton tried to press his finger inside me.

Someone pounded on the door. "Police, open up."

"Now see what you've done?" Carlton demanded. "Stop that screaming and let me handle this." He half threw me to the floor and went to stand by the door. "Everything is fine here. No problems. We don't need any help."

The door crashed open. Two civilian policemen and one military cop pushed into the room with guns drawn. Behind them, a policewoman came in and knelt beside me.

"Are you okay, sweetie?"

Tears rolled freely down my cheeks as she pulled a blanket from the bed and covered me up. I shook my head.

"There's an ambulance on the way. Looks like we need to get both kids to the ER. The boy's been battered and there was at least an attempted rape on the girl."

"Look, officers, I know this looks bad, but we didn't do anything wrong here. Traci, there is my little brother. We didn't hurt him."

"Those are some nasty red marks on his face, for someone who didn't hurt him, mister, and I guess you were just playing dolls with the young lady?"

"No, that isn't a girl. Not really, that's my brother."

"Sweetie," the lady asked me. "Did either of these men touch you?"

I nodded. "Both of them."

"Did they hurt you?"

I nodded again.

"Okay, save the rest for the judge. Both of you are under arrest. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law..." One of the officers said.

"Brad, I'm sorry," Mr. Johnson said, as the other man untied the boy from his chair. "I should have believed you and my own eyes, not that..."

Brad rubbed his hands and glared at his father for a second before hurrying over to me. "Are you okay, Traci?"

"I will be," I said and reached for him. He gave me a long hug and kissed the top of my head. He said nothing as his father and my brother were taken from the room.

"My dad just threw twenty-five years in the Army down the toilet," Brad said. "He thought he was doing it for me."

"I don't know what to say. I'll tell them he didn't do anything to me, really, Carlton did the worst of it. This was his idea not your Dad's."

"Don't worry about it now, sweetie. We need to get both of you to the hospital and then get your statements."

10.

The ride to the ER took just short of forever. Mom was there, waiting for us. She took one shocked look at Brad and hugged tightly him before turning to me. There were tears in her eyes.

"Are you okay?"

"Brad's the one that was hurt. I was embarrassed and manhandled, but I'm okay. What's going to happen?"

"We will talk about that after the doctors check you both out. I don't want either one of you stressed out over this more than you already are."

"Thanks, Mom," I said, and looked over at Brad. At least, they let us stay together, on different stretchers, but together.

A nurse led Mrs. Johnson back to the treatment room. She looked down at Brad for a moment, then turned to me. "You little hussy. What have you been doing to my son and my husband?"

"Me?" I asked. "I didn't do anything."

"It's not like that at all, Mom," Brad cut in. "Really. This was all Dad's and Traci's brother's idea. They were the ones that did this. We just paid for it."

"Please, Helen," Mom said. "This is not the time to start hurling insults, especially at the kids. My son Carlton, it would seem, is the one primarily to blame for this, but your husband did go along with it. The kids have had a harrowing experience and they do need to be checked out."

"Dad did this," Brad said pointing to his face. "That was his idea and only his. Carlton didn't put him up to it. Whatever Dad did to Traci, that's what Carlton did."

"Your father gave me a long, song and dance then, telling me how none of this was his fault and that Traci all but tried to seduce him."

"Should have known," Brad said. "I was feeling sorry for him, too. Both Traci and I talked until we were blue to try and stop him from doing anything."

"Brad," the nurse said, "They're ready for you in X-Ray."

"Nothing feels broken," he said.

"Which is a good thing, but that has to hurt." He nodded. "We need to check it out, that's all. We will bring him right back." They wheeled him out with his Mom following.

"Traci? Hi," Dr. Richardson said as she entered the room. "Sorry it took me so long to get here."

"It's okay," I said. "Hi, I'm really glad to see you."

"What happened?"

I told her. We talked for a while as she did a full exam. When it was over, she turned to my Mom.

"Other than getting slapped around by your son, there isn't anything wrong physically. I can give you the name of a good counselor for this."

Mom looked at me and I nodded. "Thanks, doctor. I hope this is something that she can put behind her quickly," Mom said.

A nurse showed Dad into the room. His face looked ashen gray as he looked at me. "How are you?"

"Okay, really. It's Brad that was hurt."

"So I heard. I've heard several different stories from your brother, and Brad's father about this and I would like to hear it from you, although I understand the police have everything on tape?"

"I called 911 as soon as I thought things might go wrong."

"I've always said you had a good head on your shoulders, sweetheart," Dad said. "I hope I wasn't interrupting anything?" he added as an apology to Dr. Richardson.

She shook her head as I told my story again.

"Traci," Dad said softly as I finished. "It's always been my policy never to take the side of one of my kids over another and this is hard for me. What Carlton did to you was unconscionable. I have no choice to stand with you through this and let them prosecute your brother to the full extent of the law."

"I don't understand it, Dad. I really don't."

"Neither do I, and I'm afraid we may never get the real story from him. He's been obsessing over this for years, and I don't know if there is any way we can make him stop this, except by sending him to jail. Now both he and the first sergeant are blaming all this on you kids now, both of you, for doing this to them. Where is Brad?"

"Still getting x-rayed," Mom cut in.

"Will Traci spend the night here, or at home?" Dad asked.

"There's no need to keep her here. I'm sure she wants to wait for her friend, but after that she can go."

I nodded.

A nurse wheeled Brad back to the room in the ER. His mother followed with an envelope of x-rays in her hand. Dr. Richardson took them and walked out. She came back a minute later, and gave Brad's face a full going over.

"Looks like your nose is broken, here," she said, "but there was no other real damage. Your face will be swollen for some time to come."

"How long will he be here?" Mrs. Johnson asked.

"A couple of days. They will need to bandage the nose and take more extensive x-rays to make sure we didn't miss anything."

Brad looked over at me. "Looks like I'm not Mr. Perfect anymore."

"You always will be for me," I told him. Mom and Mrs. Johnson laughed, but I didn't get it.

11.

"Hi," Brad said on the phone. The day before Thanksgiving was always a busy time for us, I helped Mom out in the kitchen, Cindy and Kelly were due home that evening and Roger would get in the next morning.

"Hi, yourself," I said and paused. "I something wrong?"

"Yeah, Mom said I can't see you anymore."

"What?" I asked him, shocked. "What happened?"

"Dad won't be home tomorrow and she blames you for it. You know, grown ups. I mean I can see you at school, but nothing else."

"That's really nasty," I answered him. "Would it help if I got Mom to talk to her?"

"Don't know. It couldn't hurt. Anything. Look, Traci, if I can't see you after school, you know, even go to the mall again, I am going to go crazy."

"Me, too," I admitted. "Okay, I'll get Mom to call your Mom when she can. Maybe when my sisters get here."

That really sucked, I thought as I hung up the phone. It wasn't my fault, but now Mrs. Johnson was blaming me, again.

"What's the matter?" Mom asked. I told her and burst into tears.

"I'll call. I'll call. Let's just finish this and I'll see what I can do."

"Thanks, Mom," I said and hugged her.

The doorbell rang. "Would you get that Traci?" Mom asked me with her hands buried in flour.

"Sure," I said and glanced at my watch. It was too early for Cindy to get in and I picked up my purse as I walked to the door with flutters in my stomach. I peeked outside through the window, first, then the peephole, but I didn't see anyone. Brad? I opened the door. No one was there, and I relaxed for a second. Probably some Post kids. I glanced both ways on the step and started to close the door when it happened. Someone grabbed me, yanked me off the porch before I had a chance to call out to Mom and dragged me toward a car.

I struggled as hard as I could and twisted until I could look up into my brother's face. "Let go of me, Carlton," I yelled out as loud as I could. "Aren't you in enough trouble? What are you doing here?"

"Get in and you won't get hurt," he said pushing me toward the passenger door of the car. "Go on."

I opened the door, climbed inside and reached inside my purse for my cell phone as he climbed in behind the wheel. I pushed the button.

"What do you think your doing?" I demanded. "You're supposed to be in jail."

"I made bail, no thanks to Dad. He wouldn't get me a lawyer, or lift a finger for me. He does everything for you, his precious little girl, but not one penny for me."

"You molested me, you pervert. What do you expect? You're gonna lose your commission, Carly. And this isn't going to help your case, you know. What do you want now?"

"Shut up. I'm going to settle this once and for all."

"Oh right, now you're gonna finish the job and rape me. Sure, why not. You won't get away with this, you know."

"I'm not going to touch you." He drove away from the house, with a squeal of tires. Turning toward the back of the installation, he drove for about fifteen minutes until we pulled up in front of a dilapidated wooden shack. "Go on. Get out."

"You sure that place is safe? It doesn't look like anyone's been here for a hundred years. What is this about?"

"Go inside and I'll tell you."

He pushed me inside, closed and bolted the door behind us, and led me to a table in the center of the hut. He set a large portfolio down on the table and took out a ream of photographs. My mouth dropped open and I probably drooled I was so stunned to see that all of the pictures were of me -- naked.

"What the hell is that? I was right about the kiddy porn. My God, you put those pictures on the Internet? What? Who's seen them?"

"No one's seen them, except me. I took them and I developed them. Now, tell me," he said and pointed to the top one. "What are you, a boy or a girl?"

The picture looked as if it had been taken during the summer. I took a good look at myself, and laughed. "Okay, bro, you look at that picture and tell me what's missing. Go on, take a good look yourself."

"What do you mean?"

"Look at my crotch, you freak. What's not there?"

"What are you talking about?" he asked frowning as he looked at the picture.

"No balls. Take a good look, brother dearest, I don't have any nuts. Never did have them, either. Go ahead, tell me that sac has anything in it."

He paused, opened his mouth a couple of times and looked at several other pictures. He looked at me.

"Now," I said, following up on my advantage. "See that dent? That one right there?" I asked him as I pointed to the first picture. "That's where my vagina is. When I was a baby inside Mom, the skin closed over my vagina cause I got the wrong hormones or something."

His whole body slumped down over the table. "You're a girl."

"Bingo, give the dork a door prize. Now can we go home? Come on, Carlton, take me home now, drop me off and I won't say one word about this to anyone, promise."

"You're a frigging girl," he shouted out. "God, all those years. All those years I flogged myself for wanting you because you were a boy. You were a girl. I wasn't gay at all."

"Come on, Carly, don't say things like that. Remember, I'm your sister, so don't get all gross on me."

"Do you have any idea what it was like for me? Growing up with you in the house? You are the most beautiful girl in the world and I wanted you. God, I wanted you. And the only thing that stopped me was the fact that you were a boy. Why do you think I took all those pictures? Just to keep reminding me that you were a boy. You had to be a boy. And all this time you were a girl?"

I backed away from him. "Yeah, that's about it. Everyone else knew that years and years ago. So that's why you didn't want me acting like a girl. I can see I now. The more of a boy I was, the more you didn't think about me. Well, sorry, bro, but I can't change who and what I am anymore than you can. I'm a girl. I've known that all my life and so have Mom and Dad. So, don't think about it anymore, take me home and don't say a word about this to anyone."

"I can't. I can't stop thinking about it. Why do you think I brought you out here to the middle of nowhere? The cops won't find us here and you can scream all you want."

"You think?" I said, and laughed. "See this bracelet?" I pulled up my sleeve. "It's a tracking device," I lied through my teeth to keep his thoughts away from my purse. "The cops can trace me, no matter where I am and guess who didn't even say goodbye to Mom when we left. She knows what things are like, even on post, and the second she calls for help, they're here."

"I can just take that bracelet for a ride, Traci. Dump it out the window, and come back here, you know. Thanks for warning me. Is that how they found us the last time?"

"You are an idiot," I said as I heard several engines pull up outside. "Guess what, Carly, we have company."

"Shit," he said and glanced out the window. "The cops are here. You keep your mouth closed."

"Carlton Williamson, this is the military police. Send out the girl, then come out here with your hands up."

"You'd better do what they say," I told my brother. "You're the one they're gonna catch with all those pictures. Don't make it harder on yourself than you have to."

"Holy shit," he said and glanced at the table.

"Last warning, Williamson, come out now."

"I have a weapon and I will use it," Carlton called back. "You stand back, and away from my car, or my sister will die. You got that, soldier?"

"Don't be stupid, Lieutenant," the cop called back.

"I am going to take my sister for a ride. You will not follow me. I will drop her off somewhere that she can find a phone and call for help. Then, I will be out of here. Is that clear? Don't make me shoot her."

"Carlton, don't be stupid. I'm too short to make a good shield. They'll shoot your head off, with me there or not. Where's your gun? I'm gonna take it outside, now."

"Listen to her," the cop called back. "Hand over your weapon, Williamson and you won't get hurt."

"I don't have one," he admitted, quietly. "I was bluffing them. I told you to keep your mouth closed, but that doesn't mean I couldn't snap your neck for you. I don't need bullets to kill."

"Oh, big, brave Marine, huh?" I laughed at him. "It's over for me, you get an injection and it's over for you too. Mom and Dad lose two kids. God, you are sick. He doesn't have a gun," I called out. With that, I walked over to the door, and unbolted it. I looked back at him, and shook my head. "There are ways to deal with stuff like this, Carly, but you -- you let it get to you. I hope you see a shrink while you're in jail."

"Don't go out there."

"Why not? You're gonna threaten me again?"

An MP pulled the door off its hinges. Someone grabbed me and carried me outside, while the others forced their way inside.

"Oh, my God," I heard someone say from inside. "Looks like we've got a kiddy pornographer. Don't say anything, Williamson, you have the right to remain silent...."

==========

"Are you okay, sweetie?" a lady asked me.

"Yeah, I'm just glad you got here so fast. That was great."

"Just hang on to that phone," she told me.

They brought Carlton out, in handcuffs. He glared at me. "This is all your fault," he said.

"You really believe that, don't you?" I asked him.

"Damn right, you little tramp. I never want to see you again."

I shook my head. "Don't worry, I don't think you will have that option for a long time. Believe me, I'm not gonna visit you in jail."

The lady pushed me toward a car and I got the message. "Did he hurt you?"

"Not this time," I said. "I just want to go home."

"We will need a statement from you, Traci, but we can do that at home. You're parents are waiting for you."

==========

Mom, Brad and Mrs. Johnson waited for us on the front porch. I hesitated before I approached Brad to closely. He gave me a huge smile, then stepped forward and hugged me before Mom had the chance.

"It's okay," he said.

"Traci, I'm sorry, I don't know what I was thinking," Mrs. Johnson said, then hugged me. "I know you aren't to blame for any of this, my husband is, and your brother, but I guess I needed to take it out on someone. I can't believe that either of them did this."

"I know. Mom, is Dad home?"

"Not now, why?"

"I think he'd better hear this from me before he gets it from the cops."

"He knows that Carlton snatched you, again, today."

"No, I meant about the pictures," I answered.

"What pictures?"

I took in a deep breath, and said, "Carlton's been taking pictures of me -- you know -- naked for years and years. I didn't know. Really. He must have hidden a camera in the bathroom back home, or something, but he had a hundred at least."

"Oh, yeah?" Brad asked.

"Don't get ideas," I told him, trying not to laugh.

"I see. And?" Mom asked me.

"And he showed them to me, today, and the cops found them, too."

She put her hands to her face. I broke free from the others and went over to her. "Do you want to sit down?"

"No, but this so much worse than I thought. I had better call your father."

With perfect timing, my two older sisters pulled up, in Cindy's car. They both hopped out, slammed the doors closed and laughed about something as they strolled up the walkway, until they saw the expression, I think, on everyone else's faces.

"What happened?" Kelly asked first.

"Carlton did it again," I said. "Talk to Mom, when she gets off the phone with Dad. Oh, this is Brad and his Mom, Mrs. Johnson. My sisters, Cindy, the really old one, and Kelly."

"I'll get you for that, sis," Cindy said sweetly. "You do look great, though."

"We're having Thanksgiving over here," Brad told me when he had a chance. "Your Mom and Dad invited us, since my Dad isn't going to be home."

"I know, it's gonna be weird without Carlton, too. Look, Brad, if I had any say in this I'd let your Dad go."

He nodded his head. "I know. Don't feel sorry for him for being stupid; he didn't feel sorry for you."

==========

In spite of everything, everyone agreed that Thanksgiving dinner was perfect. Kelly and Cindy cleared away the dishes giving me a chance to sit with Brad in the living room.

"You really do make such a cute couple," Mrs. Johnson said as she joined us. Brad blushed a bright red.

"I'm just thankful that I've got a friend -- like Brad. He's been so great since school started." That made him blush deeper.

"Yeah, but you're my girl."

I laughed and nodded. "This has been so strange," I said as Mom and Dad came out. "I mean I was used to the thought of being a boy, although I hated it, and I could never thank Dr. Richardson enough for finding out the truth."

"Neither can we," Mom commented and Brad nodded. "I think everyone is thankful that nothing really bad happened here."

"And, because of the extenuating circumstances in the first instance, Brad's father will probably be let off with a major slap on the wrist, but no jail time. I wish I could say the same for Carlton." Dad added.

"What is going to happen to Carlton," Roger asked.

"Those pictures he took of Traci growing up, I'm afraid, will hang him. They have him now on two charges of attempted rape, kidnapping, child abuse, and any thing else they can think of. He's being held on no bail, this time, and all of those charges could mean up to forty years; forty years because your brother thought with his crotch, not his head. Sorry, I don't mean to offend, but I can't believe how stupid he was."

"I know, Dad," I said. "But think about it this way. Jail is probably the best place for him, right now, and it's not like you lost a son, you did gain a daughter."



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