Career Day Vol. 2: I Get Around Part 1

It all started when a dream I was having went ‘a little caca.’ In the blink of cosmic clock, I went from an old man living from hand to mouth to my own childhood, reliving the sixth grade. Which could’ve been fun if it’d been the universe I remembered. Fortunately, I had help - an alien Constructed Intelligence by the name of Hap. Unfortunately, while she can heal almost any hurt or illness, she’s still an immobile machine. So here I am reliving my life again putting things right that once went wrong, a kind of cross-dimensional time-traveling Lone Ranger with Hap as my Tonto. And I don’t even need a mask. (Oh Boy!”)
My apologies to “Quantum Leap!”

Disclaimer: This is a work of fiction. None of the characters, places, or anything else is meant to be represented by anything in reality. Duh! Fiction, get it? I the author reserve the rights, so please don't go posting this anyplace else without my permission. A very special thanks goes out to Cathy and all the others out there in BCTS land who have encouraged and inspired me to write and keep writing. Another round of thanks goes out to djkauf who is the fastest proofer I've ever encountered. Any remaining mistakes are all mine.

Authors note: This story continues Career Day: Wheels of the School Bus Go Round and Round. It probably won’t make much sense without reading that one first. Vol. 3 is planned, but I don’t honestly know when I’ll be able to get to it. I had a lot of problems with the end of this one which ended up in several rewrites. That of course delayed everything, and my move a few months ago didn’t help. So please bear with me. It might be awhile.

Career Day Vol. 2: I Get Around
By
Grover

I was so excited I just couldn’t sit still. Today I was free! Okay, that was exaggerating, but only a little. Today was Friday, the day before that so special day in May which meant tomorrow I was 16. I’ll get my regular driver’s license tomorrow!

Today also meant I’d spent four years and 4 months here 37 years in my own past. Well, sorta kinda. My past if the secret to anti-gravity was discovered in 1960, and alien medical machines had saved JFK, weird huh?

Trust me, I wasn’t complaining. Back in my own timeline, I was a real mess. Transgendered, fighting depression, and a piss poor employment record because of those factors, I was impoverished with little hope for the future.

Here, in this alternate universe where things took a hard left hand turn into the Twilight Zone, the same machine that’ll save JFK transformed me into a real live girl with all the options. The super-duper advanced intelligence, Hap, that ran the network had taken a liking to me. She’d even given me this kinda metal organic shaped device that looked like a closed ‘pinecone.’ It let me talk with her and let us share secrets. Mine about being a sorta kinda time traveler, and hers of being an alien, constructed intelligence, not an AI thank you so very much. Hap hated to be called artificial!

When John Glenn made it to the Moon in 1962, his crew found a wrecked alien ship. That’s where they found Hap. She wasn’t alone, but the other CI’s had some kind of programming kind of like Star Trek’s Prime Directive not to interfere with developing cultures. Hap however was a medical machine. Her dedication to healing let her get around some of those restrictions.

Because she used matter transmutation to heal, she could also replicate lesser copies. Fortunately for John F. Kennedy one of those was nearby in Dallas TX on November, 22 1963.

I know she really brought him back to life, but damn few others know that. Apparently he figured that out, too. Grateful for his second chance he made the existence of ’medical scanners’ public claiming they were just another miraculous product of the Hughes’ genius.

For all the miracles Hap could perform, she was still not from around here if you know what I mean. She could rebuild a human from the smallest atom up, but understand us? That was a little harder.

My problems were more straightforward if no easier. We talked about what could’ve brought me here. My accurate forecasting of natural disasters ruled out simply being a delusional kid. Even her mysterious companions who kept mum most of the time because of that Prime Directive thing were baffled. All I got to say on the subject is thank Gawd my name isn’t Samuel Becket. No way did I want to ‘leap out’ to anywhere, home or otherwise. I was quiet happy right here thank you so much.

I guess we were a really odd pair of friends. I tutored her about people and she helped me while making a few more improvements to yours truly along the way.

A superwoman I wasn’t. However, according to Dr Howitz the medical researcher studying me and Mom, we were close. Call it being in the top half or perhaps even quarter percent of human potential. So I guess the right answer was almost.

My Mom had also been ‘improved’ by Hap. How it all happened was rather complicated, but she’d gone from a 34 year old, couch potato, house wife to an extremely athletic woman looking years younger.

It’d been an uphill battle to keep her active, but in time she’d come to enjoy our workout sessions. It helped that Doctors Howitz, the older as well as the younger, paid us to participate in their research program. The younger Howitz was the last person in the world you would expect to find in physiotherapy. Chubby, he might be, but he moved like he was half his actual weight. However, it was his attitude that made him so good at his job.

He was the sort you wanted to hate because of the agony he put you though, but you just couldn’t when he grinned, daring you to get back up and try again. The last time, the diabolic charmer scheduled our testing to coincide with a marathon running in the city. While we did do a lot of roadwork, 26 miles all in one shot was a lot longer than any we’d tried before.

I was a little on the young side to be running, but you know who got me an exemption. There were a few glances at me as we warmed up. Maybe most people now accepted girls could be athletic without their ‘feminine’ organs popping out, but this was the ultra-conservative South.

Because of the circumstances of my transformation, I trained with my school’s track team, but didn’t compete. Maybe I could’ve made it through the maze of judges and rules, but I remembered Caster Semenya’s controversy back in my own timeline and world. With me being one of the few documented Wildcards, I didn’t think much of my chances. At times it was sticky dealing with my fellow students given I was our school’s fastest sprinter, and did very well up into the middle distances, but didn’t help support the school.

By the time Mom and I crossed the finish line, we were both ready to barbecue both of the Howitz’s. Ending up in the middle of the pack, I was happy with our performance. We normally ran five miles a day with longer ten mile runs during the weekend. Running more than double that was a challenge and a half.

Wow, am I a ditz! What has this to do with my driver’s license?

Okay, because we got paid for our ‘guinea pig’ activity, that gave me the bucks needed to fix up Da’ Car. I’m very far from a car nut, but sexy is as sexy does. Check it out! A 1958 Studebaker Silver Hawk with the optional 289 cu. in. President V8 engine with a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts giving 225 horses.

I only know that because Ricky, who helped me and Dad put it back together, is a car nut. For years it sat covered by a tarp in our barn. That is until I started hunting around for a set of wheels once I turned 15 and could get my permit.

Dad made me a deal. I could have his old sports car, if I restored it. That didn’t mean turning it into a hotrod, but taking a piece of classic metal and making it like new. Plus, I had to pay for it. He would help, but that was going to be limited to making sure I did it right.

That was almost a deal breaker. Even in the other timeline where I’d lived as a guy, that kind of auto work was way over my head. Then my best friends Vonda and Hal came to my rescue. They pointed out that our classmate Ricky was not only ‘grease’ crazy, but looking for part time work. Playing the girl-card, he was more than willing to help a pretty face.

Tall, dark and handsome, I admit he’s easy on the eyes. Both of us were gender transformees. Me, from boy to girl and him from girl to boy. Although most of our classmates accepted our changed roles, when it came down to the who likes whom, both of us were mild pariahs. They simply couldn’t forget who we used to be.

So when Ricky began helping, everyone assumed Lee had a boyfriend. Now, I’m not shy about admitting I’ve filled out very nicely. With all the running, jumping, and what have you, I was svelte, with my slimness making my curves seem all that much greater.

I had to admit we made a cute couple. Even Adam my horrible, terrible, younger brother liked Ricky. Hell, Mom and Dad both liked him too. Just so he didn’t feel left out, Darryl, my six year old littlest brother, worshiped the ground he walked on.

There was just one itsy bitsy problem. Everyone assumed that Hal and Vonda were a couple too. From childhood, as next door neighbors and friends they were always together. This is where it got complicated. Hal was transgendered like Ricky and I, but unlike us, his father was an Ogre.

RFK might’ve enacted what EDNA and the Hate Crime Bill should’ve been back in my timeline, but some people are simply flat out crazy. Hal father was one of those. After meeting the slime ball, I agreed with my friends, that the Ogre was a very real danger because he just didn‘t care.

Hal was champing at the bit for his first chance to get out of the Ogre’s cave and somewhere, anywhere, where he could be her real self, Teresa. Vonda had helped and covered for Hal for ages.

She had a secret too. I was fairly certain; Vonda was bi-sexual or perhaps lesbian. While this might seem like a match made in heaven, it got more complicated. Hal might be a boy wanting to be a girl, but he also had a hell of a crush, wait for it, on Ricky.

Just so I wasn’t left out of this multisided teenage love trapezoid, I had a thing for Vonda. Don’t get me wrong, I really liked Ricky. He was funny, sweet, and yet macho when he needed to be. As the Academy’s foremost jock and jockette, we seemed to go together.

Hell, he was even a good kisser, but he couldn’t get my motor running the way Vonda could with just one of her smoky gazes. She was aware of the tension between us, too. It was a running joke between us. We would almost get to the point of kissing just staring into each other’s eyes and something would interrupt. Someone knocking at the door, or my little brother would walk in; it always stopped us at the last moment!

Of late, something else had come up keep us apart. I think it was her not wanting to come between Ricky and me. That’s not even considering the attraction I knew she had for Hal. I knew Ricky liked girls, because although he was a gentlemen about it, he wasn’t the least bit slow about those lip-locks of his. On the other hand, I’d seen him give other guys considering looks too. I was hoping that he was bi-curious enough to accept Hal as he was until we could get that ‘plumbing’ problem worked out. It was certainly a tangled mess of teenage angst and coming of age confusion.

That was why I was so excited and nervous. With my typical disregard for caution, I was going to try and straighten out some of these misunderstandings. Although my sweet sixteen wasn’t until tomorrow, Dad had agreed to let me and my friends go out tonight. I wouldn’t be driving because I only had my permit, but Ricky already had his license.

That was a measure of my parents’ trust in him, that they’re letting him borrow Da’ Car for our double date. Tomorrow it would be officially signed over to me when I exchanged my permit for my license, but I couldn’t drive at night until tomorrow.

That was part of the deal with Dad. I could’ve had my regular license six months ago, but if I wanted Da’ Car I had to wait. I think it was just his way of keeping his little girl home and safe for just a little longer.

Truth be told after these last four years of living as a minor again after being on my own for 30 years, I was more than ready to spread my wings. However for a chance at the Da’ Car I could wait. In my original timeline, it’d been passed off to an uncle who promised Dad he was going to restore it. Instead it sat for years in a field rusting away until it was sold off as scrape.

Compared to all the Jetson like clone cars around, it really caught the eye. With the changes in the timeline with all the technological discoveries, new cars looked even more futuristic than they did in 2010. To my eye, many were just plain butt ugly. Not all mind you. The Ford Delta Vee was damn cool looking. Maybe it couldn’t fly, but it sure looked as if it should.

But put even that one next to the soon to be mine Studebaker and it came out second best. To restore Da’ Car wasn’t cheap either. Fortunately, I had several sources of income. Most I couldn’t touch, since they were reserved for my higher education or until I was 21.

I had my guinea pig funds, Career Day settlement money, and the stuff from my publisher. Oh yeah, a published writer by the time I was 14. When RFK read my story The Rainbow Land to the nation, the White House was approached by one of the big publishing houses. They got in contact with me and so with the President himself as a co-writer I was published.

We used a pseudonym for me as author of the first of three books so far. Hal and Vonda wormed the secret from me and together we did another story, ‘The Career Day Survival Guide’. Hal did the art work while I did the story. Vonda was our editor and proof reader.

It told our story of how I got admitted to the girl’s club, but we changed all the details to protect ourselves. Most of all Hal, because of the Ogre. I even picked Dr. Howitz’s brain on how much information it was safe to include telling kids how to protect themselves from adults gone loco.

The focus of our story was not to blame yourself and be smart. He liked the idea since he’d seen far too many kids coming into the emergency room because they were ‘clumsy.’

It’s true that getting published is easier if you have your foot in the door. We got CDSG on the shelves and it did pretty well too. Our third effort was in the gauntlet of the editing process right now. It too was about kids who were different. It was really about gays and lesbians, but hid it behind an ugly duckling-like analogy. Despite, the science and technology advancements this was still the 70’s. I had no idea if we would be able to sneak this one past the book burners.

Culturally these 70’s were much like the ones I remember. Just perhaps they were a little less intense without the anti-war people and draft dodgers having the South East Asian Affair to rally them with discontent. The hippy movement was still alive although the counter culture thing was already dying out. Disco was here and growing more popular. All this meant while, a lot of things were hip, same sex relationships weren’t.

The really cool thing is our joint efforts were earning my friends proceeds that I was keeping for them. This was money not only for Hal’s transformation to Teresa, but for both of their future educations. I learned the hard way back in my old timeline how bad it was to be 50 years old and have nothing but debts.

I glanced at the clock again. Even the second hand didn’t seem to be moving. Okay, I must be a lot more nervous about all of this than I’d thought. Nothing that big, really. I was just going on my very first date. Oh yeah, and planning on opening a can of worms with this lover’s trapezoid of ours.

Then the bell rang. My fellow tenth graders rushed for the doors. Coming up behind me, Ricky slickly scooped my books out of my arms.

“Let me carry those for you,” He said smiling.

Ignoring the smirks of my arch-enemy, Chris Sawyer, I smiled back, “Possession is nine-tenths of the law, be my guest.”

Chris and Ricky were big rivals on the athletic field. You name it; football, basketball, baseball, they were the school’s jocks. That however, wasn’t the reason why he bedeviled me. It was because he couldn’t forget that a few years ago, I’d been a skinny, red headed kid named Ernie, instead of the slim curvy dark brunette, Lee, I was now. For some reason he thought that gave him the right to torment me.

Despite the lessons he’d learned the hard way to leave me alone, Chris still took every opportunity to give me grief. Six feet and still growing, the goon was a real threat. I was all of five feet two with little hope of growing taller. That was what I get for being transformed right in the zone where boys hadn’t started shooting up, but girls had just about stopped their growth spurt.

Ricky cut Chris an unfriendly grin. He was actually a tad taller than and just as muscled as my nemesis.

Gawd save me from testosterone displays.

I leaned into him to get his attention. “Still picking me up at six?”

His grin turned kinda goofy, “Sure ‘nuff.”

A pang shivered though me. Was I doing the right thing or was I being a selfish bitch? Here we are at the brink of the whole dating scene and look at what I was about to do.

I made myself smile as I saw a concerned frown flash across his face. “There’s Vonda and Hal.”

My friend Hal was nervous too. He was five and half feet tall, and I doubted he would grow much more. While Hap, the ever mysterious CI, hadn’t transformed him into a girl like me, Hal had become very androgynous. I’d seen him dressed as Teresa and she was very pretty.

I wasn’t sure, but did I see jealousy flit across Hal’s eyes? Well, he or rather she did have that crush on Ricky. Inwardly I sighed, my inner doubts answered. Like it or not we needed to clear the air. Damn teen age awkwardness stumbling about with our gender and sexuality.

“Ya’ll ready for tonight?” I asked letting my southern accent flow.

I wondered if Hal was going to try and bow out again, but Vonda had his arm. “Yes, we are,” she said firmly.

She wasn’t about to let Hal weasel out on us. It was more of us trying to deal with our rather strange circumstances. Many of the rest of our class were already dating, and I didn’t doubt for an instant some were already sexually active. My parents being the old fashioned sort weren’t comfortable with me dating even at 16.

Hal however had the opposite problem. His redneck father was damn near eager to have his ‘boy’ bust some girl’s cherry. For rather obvious reasons Hal wasn’t so thrilled with that since he was the one who wanted to be … hmmm de-flowered.

So an aspect of all of this was to defuse some of the pressure Hal’s father was giving him at home. That plan was all Vonda’s. She’d been looking after our friend for so long; it was second nature for her. That damn trapezoid again, I don’t think Hal knew she wanted more than friendship.

Ricky smacked Hal in the arm. “Groovy! We’ll call from Lee’s place before we leave. See ya’ tonight!”

Still grinning, he walked me to my Dad’s red Ford station wagon. Mom smiled at us as she belted in Darryl, who’d started the first grade this year. Adam, who was two years younger than I, glared at me, but only a little. He’d already looked ahead at what he would be driving when he got his permit and license. He was sitting it. Needless to say he wasn’t too happy with the idea of being stuck with the ‘family’ car. On the other hand, he and Ricky hit it off from the very start.

So yeah, I got some grief about getting, as he saw it, the lion’s share of the attention. Not even mentioning Da’ Car, but my ‘boyfriend’ made up for it. It wasn’t as if he never got anything considering the moped he got last year. It was barely street legal. I swear he was going to get himself killed on that thing.

I was well aware of the little group of kids following us. They all knew about our plans tonight. I had a hunch they were waiting to see if I would get kissed.

As good a kisser Ricky was, I really didn’t want to fuel Hal’s green eyed monster anymore than I had to. Arggh! This teenager angst thing was bad enough the first time around! But no, I’d managed to go around and get to do the whole thing all over again.

We didn’t kiss. My parents were right there for Gawd’s sake!

All the way home, Adam made kissy noises at me. Thinking it a game of course, Darryl had to get in on it too.

I paid them no attention and concentrated on finishing up my homework. We were coming up on finals. I only had one paper to finish, and that was about it. Going though school again was a real drag, but once I hit junior high school, I made sure to take different classes than before. That really helped relive the boredom factor.

Mom kept looking back at me with a combination of smiles and worries. Her own dating experiences were the stuff of nightmares. Possibly the best thing I’d done since arriving back in time was helping my Mom deal with the sexual abuse she’d suffered as a child as well as a young woman. I’m not a doctor, but I helped convince her to seek help.

Maybe having a daughter, gave her the push she needed so she could protect me from the same things. I do know that after Master Lee sent me those books, she didn’t object to me yelling and kicking the tar out of that makeshift punching bag I’d made. I guess she figured that was better than me using Darryl. I don’t know why. He always acted like he liked it!

I sometimes wonder if I’d turned into some kind of Forest Gump. Just looked at all the famous people I’d met and for that matter, I am still corresponding with. Bruce and Linda at my insistence had autographed my copy of the Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

That was another of the ways I fought boredom in school was though my letter writing. Knowing something of the future to come allowed me to put enough hooks in my correspondence to actually get past the screeners and receive replies. While not in classes or writing, I was running, practicing Martial Arts with my brothers or fixing old cars. Keeping busy, living every day was my goal.

Well, normally, I would be doing all that. Today was different.

Mom went into drill sergeant mode as soon as we hit the door. Before I knew it, I was in a tub of bubble bath shaving my legs. As much as I wanted to soak, we were on a timetable. She hustled me out to do my hair while I worked on my nails.

With all the athletic stuff, really long feminine nails are rather impractical. I do, however, keep them looking nice if not long. As soon as we finished, that it was time to pour myself into my dress.

The cream colored cotton went perfectly with my outdoorsy tan. Of course it was below the knee. Poor Daddy would’ve never let me out the door otherwise. That’s not even considering Mom freaking out because of her past experiences.

I wasn’t anywhere near the cutting edge of fashion for 1977, but all considered I didn’t think Ricky would be complaining. Now it was time for the hard part Mom couldn’t help me with. Never the girly sort, she’d never worn much if any makeup. However now I was on my first date, I’d finally been given leave to wear it out in public.

I say that because during the countless sleepover nights with my friend Vonda, makeup was a part of the festivities. We practiced in the way all young girls did. Now that it was time for the real deal, I was way nervous. This was something I could only dream of doing in my old life.

Taking a deep breath, I carefully got to work. After the third try, I was mostly satisfied with my efforts. Disregarding the shut door, little brother Darryl ran in. “Ricky’s here! Ricky’s here!”

I sighed. My whole family was more in love with him than I was. Damn Trapezoids!

Finishing, I studied my face. It would do. Grabbing my purse, I did a quick check of the contents. Makeup for touchups, check; pads and tampons, check; disguised modified car antenna for emergency self-defense, check. Oh yeah, don’t forget to take my wallet. Brains, brains, where are you? Oh there you are!

Walking into our living room, Daddy dear was making sure poor Ricky got an eyeful of the gun cabinet. I got the tail end of the ‘Talk.’

In that scary no nonsense voice of his, Daddy said, “And remember Lee has to be home by 10 pm. If you’re delayed, we expect a phone call at the first opportunity. Do I make myself clear?”

A very anxious Ricky answered, “Yes sir.”

After a pause the poor boy asked, “What if we have an accident?”

Dad replied, “Don’t. Be careful and don’t even think about trying to show off. If you so much as dent that car you don’t have to worry about me. Tomorrow it’s her car. If I know my daughter, she’ll never let you forget it.” He said confident he’d put the fear of Gawd into his victim.

Conversation stopped as I came in. I got really self-conscious. Had I screwed up my makeup somehow? Then I saw Ricky’s face and realized what the problem was.

That confused, stunned expression meant only one thing. This was so not making my planned revelations any easier. Cotton-picking, damn trapezoids!

Looking over at Daddy, he had that same stunned look. He reached down and took Mom’s hand giving that so slight breaking of the plane of his face that we knew was a smile.

It was definitely time to break the tension. “I’m ready. You look nice Ricky,” And he did. Six-two and buff, his dark looks put him squarely in the hunk category.

Blushing, he said, “You’re beautiful.”

My traitorous libido whispered, ‘So what if Hal would be hurt. This delicious beefcake is yours. All you have to do is smile and reel him in honey!’

I fought down my hormones, blushing despite myself. “Why thank you, Ricky!”

Mom had our Polaroid Camera ready and flashed us both still red faced staring at each other. Don’t you just love parents?

After more photos, we rushed out almost forgetting to call Hal and Vonda to let them know we were on our way.

Slipping into Da’ Car, Ricky shut my door just as a gentleman should. The Studebaker gleamed under a new coat of wax. Very carefully Ricky backed us out the driveway. My family all stood there watching and waving as we left. Smiling, I waved back, as a grinning Ricky put us in gear. We were on our way!

***

They stood there watching their daughter disappear into the distance. Soon bored, the boys ran out no doubt looking for trouble to get into while their older sibling was away.

She asked leaning into her husband, “You think they’ll be okay?”

Wrapping an arm about her shoulders, he answered, “Should be. Ricky’s a good kid. As long as he’s careful he’ll be okay.”

Ernie Younger Sr. knew of his much younger wife’s hard life. The so very vulnerable woman stole his heart years ago. He’d done his best to give her a safe place where she’d nothing to fear.

However, these last four years, had changed her in more ways than one. Finding out they’d a daughter instead of a son, altered during that Career Day fiasco was a shock. In retrospective, it all made sense as so many things often did, but the turmoil it put his family through was tough on everyone. What made him sure it was the right thing to do was Lee’s smile.

His shy, stuttering, eternally anxious, little boy blossomed into a smiling, spunky, pint-sized minx of a girl. That smile lit up rooms and made even his old worn out old ticker feel good.

She smacked his arm. “I wasn’t talking about him and you know it!”

His wife turned serious with her worry. “I’m worried about her. It’s her first date and …”

He calmed her fears with a gentle caress of her face with his work worn hands. “I know.”

There were many things he could say, but he sensed that wasn’t what his wife needed. He’d seen his daughter punching and kicking the crap out of that makeshift boxing bag of hers. More, it’d been him who’d welded those weights onto that old car antenna she’d found in the junk yard looking for parts for his old Studebaker. It wasn’t flimsy metal but the next best thing to a steel whip. That thing whistling as she snapped it out right as it cracked into that bag reassured him. However, his wife needed something different.

“They will be fine. We know him, and we know her. Nothing will happen that she doesn’t want. As for what she wants,” He paused looking into his wife’s eyes. “Well she is your daughter. I know how you are.”

She popped his shoulder, “You!”

With love in his heart, he said half serious, “So like I said he’d probably be fine.” Teasingly he went on. “Unless he really does ding my Studebaker; then all bets are off. I swear she cares for that old car more than I do.”

She smiled up at him some of her worry lost. “Well it is a very special car.”

Looking into her eyes, he asked, “It is?”

Playfully her eyes looked up as she remembered her carhop days, “All of us girls, fought over who was going to wait on that gorgeous car as you pulled into the drive-in.” A spark of fire burned in her eyes. “I fought dirty.”

“So it really was the car?” He held his wife tight against him.

Still playful, she smiled, “You were a good tipper, too!”

“Really?” he said lost in her green eyes.

“Well the bench-seats might’ve something to do with it,” She suggested teasing. “Do you think she knows she was likely conceived in the backseat?”

Leading his beloved wife inside, he gave her a playful smack on her rear. After she was made so young and beautiful at the same time Lee was changed, he feared she would grow tired of her worn-out old husband. With her typical sassiness, she proceeded to show him, he wasn’t quite that old, proving with her actions that she wasn’t going anywhere. “I don’t think so, but why do you think I was so willing to let her fix it up?”

Laughing, they danced into the bedroom.

***

Then we were on our way. I knew I was preening, but we’d all worked hard getting this car to back like new. The most expensive parts of the restoration were the upholstery and the baby blue paint job since that was work we couldn’t do ourselves.

Alright, I admit was not thinking about Ricky and me as hard as I could. There was attraction between us, but honestly, on my part anyways, it was lust. I liked him and we got along, but I was fairly certain it wasn’t love. It could also be because I was a damn idiot. Really trying hard not to think about that!

Pushing that thought away, I was going to enjoy myself damn it! The radio was on, and the windows down on a glorious evening in May on the day before my sixteenth birthday. It simply doesn’t get any better!

Then we were there pulling into their driveway. Not sure how the time had passed so fast, we got out to retrieve Hal and his date.

Like Ricky, Hal had on a button shirt and jeans. Vonda and I planned for weeks about what we were going to wear. Her dress was just as long in the hem as mine, but more revealing up top. Her parents weren’t nearly as ‘traditional’ as mine.

Both of their parents had cameras out, too. The two of them got ‘snapped’ and I made sure to get them to take a few pictures for me and my folks.

I say parents, but really all Hal’s father did was watch. He was about six feet, and had a beer gut with a cigar butt hanging out the corner of his mouth. The entire time his eyes never got higher than my chest. Glancing at Vonda I saw she was getting the same treatment.

Curious, I looked over at her parents. Her Dad was smiling, but I did catch his steely eyed stare at his neighbor. I don’t think he cared for the way his daughter was being gawked at. I could only hope there would be words after we left. Neither of my friends needed this kind of crap.

As we piled in Da’ Car, I saw the Ogre shake his head. It was pretty plain that he just didn’t get how Hal ended up so girly.

That made me shake my head. Even without any formal art training Hal was an exceptional artist. There was a beautiful soul inside him. His perceptive eye saw things most of the rest of us missed. Our friend was a true treasure.

Vonda was thinking the same thing. Her eyes glowed and the love she felt for him was there for anyone to see.

Problem was he was staring at Ricky as we backed out of the drive. I wanted to roll my eyes heavenward praying for help from on high. Damn Trapezoids!

Grinning Ricky put us into gear and officially we’re off on our first date. Soon all of us were blabbering about things teenagers are always talking about. Boys, makeup, music, and everything else under the stars if not necessarily in that order.

***

Ray scratched his belly in annoyance. Just how had his boy ended looking so queer? Up to when those damn Democrats forced his boy into their damn machine, he’d been taller than all the rest of the brats in the neighborhood. Now he wasn’t any taller than that girl he was always with. Hell, his boy wasn’t even bulking up any way he should’ve. Still slim and pretty, his boy made his teeth ache just thinking about him.

And he was still doing all that prissy art shit. If Ray had his way, he’d tear all of it up. A real man had no need for that kind of crap. Next thing you know, his boy would be prancing around with beads and flowers in his hair like one of those damn hippies.

The one bright spot was their neighbor’s girl. Now she was a sweet piece of jailbait. It frustrated the hell out of Ray that he was pretty damn sure his boy wasn’t getting a piece of her. That was what real men were supposed to do. Hell, he was ready to nail her himself.

He spat out his cigar butt. If he’d thought she was hot, that chick had nothing on the one that was just here. She was one of the neighbor girl’s friends he’d seen around. Small and slim, that prime piece of ass had curves that made him hard just thinking about it.

It was too damn bad she was one of those changelings the frakking Democrats were always crying about. If they didn’t want to have their ass kicked they should’ve stayed the way Gawd made ’em.

Ray had heard the rumors she was also what the tabloids called a Wildcard. That scanner-machine thing had run crazy spitting out someone who wasn’t even human anymore. The frakking Democrats denied it, but even now and then he saw something about it in the trashy magazines. Green Beret super-soldiers, fighting monsters those things made when they malfunctioned.

He grinned nastily. She was such a little thing; he bet a real man like him could handle her no matter what that thing had done to her. Ray didn’t really believe all those stories that said freaks like her had teeth down there. Bet, she’d be begging for him to do her again, if he did.

Furious his fat wife stomped off. He glared at her. She knew better than to piss him off. Maybe he needed to smack her around some more to teach her who was the head of the house.

Then he saw his neighbor storming over. Damn frakking wanna be hippies. What was this country coming too?

Ray sighed and scratched his butt. Now he was going to have to listen to this asshole’s complaints, again, Frakk.

***

Vonda still had doubts about the movie we’re off to see, but I told her I thought the boys would enjoy it. “I read a novelization of the screenplay last Christmas. The story seems good, although I’m not sure how they’re going to do some of the effects.”

Hal added, “I’ve heard good things about the special effects. They’re supposed to be really good.”

I twisted to face the backseat. “Been reading Starlog again? I have the latest issue back home.”

Hal blushed as Vonda giggled, “You two! Between his art and your science-fiction thing, both your heads are always in the clouds. Sometimes I think you really do want to become an astronaut.”

Ricky didn’t say a word, but I saw his eyes roll.

“What’s wrong with that?” I asked her. “Space 1999 didn’t take it far enough. There’s already a moon-base. Even the Soviets has one now. Ares 11 is about to put men down on Mars again. In just a few years, they’ll have a base there too and maybe even a colony. Lots of opportunity in the Space Program.”

Vonda shook her dark auburn locks. “It just seems strange to me sometimes. Our stories are about freeing people’s minds. You know making them see that we’re all the same under the skin.

“But you are also so space crazy, it’s like you can’t wait to lift off!” She said in a slightly hurt way.

Rick interrupted, “Your stories?”

Sighing, I felt guilty because I’d an idea her hurt was because of how she felt about me. Ricky however didn’t know about our publishing successes.

Vonda blushed when she realized she’d let the cat out the bag.

Giving her a reassuring smile, I asked Hal, “It’s okay if I tell him? I think we can trust him.” I said patting our driver on his shoulder.

Reaching for Vonda’s hand, our artist nodded.

“Ricky, it’s like this. We’ve been keeping some things under cover. You remember that children’s book that came out that had the story from the President’s speech in it, The Rainbow Land?”

“That was you?” He asked.

“It was in the letter I wrote to him telling him about what really happened. Rainbow was the story I made up to explain to little brother Darryl why his big brother Ernie, was now his sister.” I explained.

“Wow,” He said impressing me by not taking his eyes from the road. My Dad had been on those early bootleggers turned racecar driver. He’d made damn sure Ricky knew where his eyes belonged, on the road.

Ricky hesitated, but asked, “Ya’ll did the Survival Guide book too, didn’t you?”

A little worried Hal asked, “How did you know?”

“Well, back when Lee still looked Chinese, she passed around some copies of things to do if your parents freaked out and tried to hurt you. Later, I saw some of your art in Vonda’s room when I visited. It’s a lot the same as the pictures in the Guide.”

While we were digesting that, He added, “So ya’ll are like famous or something?”

We all laughed.

Vonda giggled, “Or something!”

“That’s why we’ve used the pseudonyms. While I think we’ve helped a few kids, some idiots think it’s their Gawd given right to treat their chill’en any damn way they please. Unfortunately, some of them are too damn close to hand for comfort.”

Rickey answered, “Hal’s dad. Sorry man, that must suck.”

We were coming into the outskirts of Peachburg which was the closest large town to us as a group.

Hal sighed, “It’s alright I guess. Only two more years till we graduate. Lee’s saving my share for me, so my father doesn’t find out. He’d just drink it up and then beat me up for what we said. He’s in the More-the-rod-the-better instead of Spare-the-rod-and-spoil-the-child camp.”

I bit my tongue about the jerk staring at me and Vonda. She caught my eye and I knew she was thinking the same thing. My friend warned me about Hal’s father from the start. I’d returned the favor by urging her to be very careful around him too.

Ricky broke my train of thought as we pulled into our destination, Marvin’s Piggy Park.

“Are you sure you want to eat here?” He asked. “Burger King is closer to the theater and is cheaper.”

I didn’t give anyone else a chance to reply. “Yes, I’m sure. Marvin’s might be a BBQ place, but they have the best burgers. None of that frozen mystery meat hockey pucks if you please!”

Everyone laughed.

“So says the girl who eats like a bird!” Ricky jabbed.

With all the help he’d given with Da’ Car, he’d been a regular diner at my house. He’d seen how careful I was with my portions as well as what I ate.

Hey, I’m guilty! I love my meat. At the top of the food chain? No problem! However, the 70’s weren’t known for their healthy diet either. I enjoyed the food I loved, but I also made certain I got my veggies and fruits. I’d been a fat boy in 2010. There was no way I was going to be a fat girl!

I defended myself. “With all the tomatoes and lettuce, it’s more like a salad burger. And,” I added. “They have fresh cut French fries and not frozen tater sticks. Besides they’re one of last drive-ins around. We get to have a little privacy to talk.”

Ricky shrugged, “I don’t see it matters since you eat so little. Someone like me has to eat a lot more. This dating thing is getting expensive. I’m surprised you trust us to eat in your car.

Primly I replied. “Maybe I don’t hog my food down like you do, but what I do eat needs to be tasty and good for me. As for expensive, most of your money comes from me anyhow for helping with my baby.” I patted the dashboard.

He complained, “That’s what I mean! All the money I made fixing this thing up, is being spent right back on you. I end up with nothing!”

Looking at our passengers, Vonda and Hal were giggling.

Pouting I said, “But that’s how it’s suppose to be. We girls get all the benefits, while you boys get the honor of being allowed in our presence.”

The buzz of the drive-in speaker let me have the final word!

As soon as we’d all ordered, Ricky, not at all slow, asked, “So what did you want to talk about?”

Vonda and Hal were curious too. “We’re wondering about that too,” She spoke up for both of them.

I took a deep breath which had the opposite effect on Ricky than what I really wanted. His eyes had wandered south of my chin. Urgh, boys!

“Okay,” I began. “This is our first date. This might be a bad idea, but I don’t want to get off on the wrong foot.”

“You mean like the dos and don’ts, “Ricky asked.

I shook my head. “I think my Dad went over those pretty good. This is more like assumptions we’re making, I think. I could be wrong, but if I am then I’ll shut up.”

“However is there anything, anyone wants to talk about before I start?” I asked hoping one of them would speak up, but no one did.

Then before I could get started our food arrived with Ricky grimacing over the five bucks our two meals costs. Boy is he in for sticker shock in a few years!

It took a few minutes for straws, ketchup packets and all to be passed around. I bit into a delicious onion ring trying not to think about all the hard exercise I was going to have to do to work it off.

Finally we were ready to talk again. “Alright, I guess I’m first.”

I looked Ricky in the eye, as he munched. “Ricky I really like you a lot. Perhaps in time, maybe even love you, but there’s someone else here that I have a crush on.” I felt really bad as his face fell.

“Huh?” He said looking back at Hal who blushed, but not for the reason he thought.

“Hey, remember I said really, really liked, okay? But it’s not Hal.” I said looking back at Vonda.

She blushed even redder than Hal sitting next to her.

Ricky looked from me to her confused. “You mean … Her, you? He stuttered.

Looking into her eyes, I said, “I guess I have more boy left in me than I thought. Being with you makes me happy. I don’t know why, but I do.”

Turning to Ricky I said, “This whole thing is like a bad romance novel’s love triangle, but with even more sides. That’s why I opened my big mouth.”

The poor boy opened and closed his mouth. I guess I’m lucky he didn’t start choking on his food. “Wow, hmmm … I didn’t see that coming.”

I could see I did hurt his feelings. Taking another breath I took the chance of alienating all of my friends. “Ricky, there is someone who does have a crush on you here.”

Shocked he looked at Vonda, but she gave him the tiniest shake of her head no.

In a very small voice Hal said, “No, Me.”

I’d watched Ricky carefully, but he didn’t get mad. I will say the look on his face was absolutely priceless.

“Go on Hal,” I urged. “Tell him.”

Vonda with tears in her eyes nodded for him to do the same.

Awkwardly our friend, said, “Back during Career Day and I got changed into a Black girl, it was one of the happiest times of my life. I was scared out of my mind my father would kill me, but it was who I was supposed to be, you know?”

Ricky nodded. I knew he understood only too well.

Compassion in his words, he asked, “Why did they change you back? They kept us the same, well kinda,” Ricky amended.

Hal shook his head tears falling. “I was too afraid of my father. Vonda practically hid me under her bed for the whole week it snowed. I think that was what made them changed me back, although I’m like Lee.”

Blushing even more vividly, he added softly, “Except I hmmm… like boys.”

Ricky surprised me by reaching for Hal’s hand. “I get it,” the larger teen said, and then he blushed red, “I find myself looking at the other fellas too sometimes. I guess I have some girl left in me too. Mind you, I’ll deny it if any of you ever bring it up.”

Pleased, I touched him. “I think you can be sure that nothing here is ever going to be repeated.”

Still holding Hal’s hand, Ricky asked, “Are you going to get, you know, changed? Do you have a girl name?”

Shyly our friend nodded. “As soon as I reach college. That’s what the money Lee’s holding for me is really for. Vonda and Lee help me dress sometimes. I call myself Teresa.”

Gently, Ricky said, “That’s a pretty name. I would like to see her sometimes.

Poor Hal was torn between glowing and trying to hide.

He turned to Vonda who was crying in her fries. It only took him a second to realize why.

“Oh Vonda,” Hal said hugging the best he could with food and drinks in their laps.

Looking into Hal’s face, she sobbed, “I’ve loved you for so long.”

His expression was also full of love, “I love you too, but not in that way. You’ve always been there for me. You’re my dearest sister, and I’ll always cherish you.”

Sadness filled him, “But I can’t be your lover.”

I passed her a handful of napkins.

Vonda smiled sadly, “I guessed that a while ago, but I didn’t want to admit it.”

She looked at me in a way that made my heart soar. “I feel something for you too. It’s just I feel so torn. I’ve watched after Hal for so long it’s so hard to let go. I feel like I’m doing something wrong.”

Hal took her hand and placed it on top of mine. “You’re my sister, and I’ll always need you. But you need to have your own life too. I know you two have a ‘thing’ for each other. I don’t how many times I’ve interrupted the two of you almost kissing.”

Coyly looking at her, I blushed again.

Ricky glanced down at Hal’s hand he was still holding and then at Vonda and my grasp. “So what do we do now? We’d be killed at school for this. My parents are pretty cool, but I don’t think they’d be any too happy with this.”

I nodded in agreement. “Mine too. Me really being a girl is one thing. Bringing home another girl home as my girlfriend is something else.”

Hal muttered, “My Father would find some way of killing me twice!”

Vonda caressed my hand, “Mine are okay with Hal even if he isn’t exactly manly. He is still a he. They might get used to me with another girl, but they wouldn’t like it.”

A moment of silence ticked by.

I looked at Ricky and Hal. The pure adoration flowing from Hal must be as addictive as chocolate. Poor Ricky was stunned and still holding the smaller boy’s hand.

Reluctantly, Ricky suggested, “We could do nothing. I don’t want to hurt anyone, but if this came out, not only us, but a whole lot of other people too would be hurt.

I thought Hal was going to start crying again.

Vonda , used to covering their trail, had a counter proposal. “Why not do what we’re doing? Double dating happens all the time. Let everyone think we’re boy/girl? Besides, we don’t know how things are going to work out. Couples breakup all the time. I hope none of us do, but it does happen.”

Ricky sighed, “I never expected anything like this. I don’t want to hurt you Hal, but in a lot of ways I prefer Lee as my girlfriend.”

Before Hal could start crying again I interjected, “Because it’s easier?”

He sighed, “Yes. Like you said, I really like you too. You’re so damn pretty, but I’ve never had anyone look at me the way Hal is. It feels good. I’m not sure it is good. For either one of us, considering all the problems, but I can’t deny it’s there. So I guess when we go home we just pretend we’re a good time.”

I smacked him on the shoulder, “No! We’re all friends. No need to lie or pretend anything. You’re going to take me home, and I’m going to say I had a very good time because I did.”

Vonda and Hal nodded. They were old hands at telling the truth, but leaving out what they needed to.

She looked down at the makeup smeared napkins, “Lee, I think we need to fix our faces.”

A quick check in the rearview mirror showed, she was so right. “Let’s finish eating first. We’ll need to repair it then anyways.”

Vonda nodded taking a bite of her sandwich.

Conversation actually drifted over into more or less normal tropics. With the school almost over, things like what we were doing for the summer like jobs, family vacations and of course follow up dates came up.

Our task mistress, Vonda, pointed out we had our next book to finish up as well as another Hal was working on the illustrations for. This one unlike the one with the publisher right now didn’t involve gay or lesbian themes. It was more like the first Rainbow book, a humorous children’s explanation to some of the weird things adults do.

Ricky was set to work on his Uncle’s farm which meant long hours. Looking ahead, he’d wangled Friday afternoons free so he would be able to get cleaned up for date night.

We also kicked around ideas of how to derail whatever plans Hal’s father had for his son’s summer. For was certain it was going to be unpleasant and overdosed with testosterone.

“Scooping up road kill,” Hal moaned.

“Chewing tobacco tester,” I suggested.

“Mucking out a stable,” Ricky contributed, showing his farm boy background.

Vonda grimaced. “Cleaning rest stop bathrooms.”

“Gross!” Everyone ewwed.

Ricky looked thoughtful. “You know you could do what you did with me. Hire them.”

We stared at him.

He explained, “Your parents run that small truck farm. Say you’re hiring them to work there. That’ll give you three the chance to work on your books and art. If he comes sniffing around, you’ve got a cover story. What makes it so sweet is you two will actually get paid your own money. That is if your parents go for it, Lee.”

Vonda nodded, “That’s sounds like a real good idea. Lee lives far enough away to make him just dropping by unlikely.”

Hal added, “We would have to find a place with good light for my studio.”

I held up my hand. “This is bad. If he shows up and start leering at me or Mom like he did tonight my Dad will shoot him dead on the spot!”

Failing to look innocent, Vonda said, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.”

Sighing, I gave up. “They’ll probably agree. Last year, Dad added onto the house again. I ended up with a bigger room, but I’m still using my loft bed. If we move it against the interior wall, we’ll open up a lot of space near the windows. They’re pretty big so that should give you the lighting as well as the space you need, Hal.”

Ricky checked the time. “Hey we need to be going if we’re to make the movie.”

Vonda and I piled out the Da’ Car. “We’ll be right back boys!”

In the rest room, we did a rush job to salvage our faces for the evening.

“I’m sorry if I pushed things, Vonda.” I said taking out my lipstick.

She gently hugged me. “It’s alright. You’re braver than I am. I knew all along that Hal and I wouldn’t work. I was just hoping that somehow it would. You and Ricky just seemed so made for each other I didn’t want to poison that either. I guess I was feeling pretty left out. Part of me is afraid Hal’s going to get hurt by all of this. Just listen to me. This is coming out all scrambled!”

I hugged her back. “He’s had a hard time, but you can’t help him stand. Hal has to do that on his own. All you, we, can do is catch him if he falls, because that is what friends do.”

“As for us, it’s complicated. I knew you loved him, but I could see, feel, this attraction between us too. I don’t know if it could be love, but I would like to think it isn’t only lust.” I said feel my heart beat quicken and the tension rising between us.

Her lips parted and I wanted to kiss her so badly it almost hurt.

Blam, blam! “Lee, Vonda, we need to go!” Ricky yelled from outside.

The moment shattered like glass, the both of us held the other up. I wanted to cry again, but Vonda ever the strong one, whispered, “Don’t! We’ll both mess up our faces again.”

“Hold on. We’re coming.” I told our unwelcome interrupter.

To her I said, “We will find the perfect place to continue this.”

Smiling, she nodded taking my hand.

Opening the door, Ricky had no idea what he messed up. He might’ve begun as a girl, but he damn sure was all boy now.

On the other hand as we clambered back into Da’ Car, Hal gave us a wink. The little minx knew exactly what Ricky had broken up. In a bit of a hurry Ricky roared out of the parking lot.

A gently touch, but with a steel-eyed glare behind it, warned him to slow down. The traffic, as we neared the theater, got heavier. Parking was also a challenge given the usual Friday opening night crowd.

Keeping up with the fiction of who was dating who, Ricky and Hal had us girls on their arms. The line was long, but we did get into the show we wanted. Ricky almost made us late wanting snacks even though we’d just eaten. Alright, Vonda and I did have to use the little girl’s room too, so we wouldn’t have to get up in the middle of the movie.

Then, I had to drag Ricky away from the open door of the other movie playing, Smokey and the Bandit. Of course that was the movie he wanted see. Fast cars, bad boys, and lots of profanity. Oh please dear Lord don’t let the testosterone poisoning be too serious.

We got in and were able though the kindness of others found four seats together. The nice thing about this dating gig was we girls got sandwiched together with the boys protective on either side.

Hal was a little disappointed since he really wanted to be near Ricky, but this once he could suffer. With everyone trying to keep us apart it was pure heaven to be able to hold hands in the dark.

I was a little concerned about how this universe’s version would hold up. As the classic title crawl began, I sighed. “Long ago in a galaxy far away” indeed. My own journey was no less long, but I fear far stranger. Letting go of my worries I held my friend’s hand losing myself in George’s vision.

Just over two hours later, my friends unanimously voted it one of the best flicks they’d ever seen. Poor, artistic Hal was completely dazzled by the, for the time, amazing special effects.

Most of my worries about differences were groundless. The only ones even my photographic memory found were in the effects. That’s because all of George’s inspiration for this came from before the timeline split from my original. Recent changes with real space stations, and moon bases did alter some of the production designs. Nothing I couldn’t live with.

My friends were so excited from the aftermath of the movie they almost forgot about their teenage angst. We all started laughing as all of us darted glances about wanting to talk and perhaps do something about what we were feeling.

However we could also read the time. There simply wasn’t the opportunity for anything. None of us had to mention how bad it would be to break curfew on our very first date. So with smiles, and “May the Force be with you,” we dropped off our friends.

On the way back to my home, down those lonely country roads, I looked up at the night sky. The stars looked down on us, and I wondered about the future. Most people had no clue to what the first moon mission had really found up there. Hap, the alien medical CI, had come from somewhere even further out there.

“Ricky, are you mad at me?” I asked.

He smiled, “Lee, I’m not mad. Still reminding myself that with you things never happen like I expect. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, because they usually work out for the best.”

“I think we could be very happy. Maybe I don’t love you, but I’m not really sure what that is yet. I never considered Hal, for very obvious reasons. However, with him, being like us changes things, because there is something about Hal that makes me look twice, boy or not.

“We’ve got high school to get though before we can graduate. That’ll be even harder with our secret. Really hard for Hal, because I recall how it was for me.

“But like my Daddy says, anything worth doing ain’t going to be easy,” Ricky said pulling into my yard.

I knew my parents were still up from the lights. That didn’t surprise me at all.

Ever the gentleman, Ricky opened my door for me. “Here you are. Back safe and sound.”

He walked me to the gate handing me Da’ Car’s keys. Time stood still as he gently kissed my lips.

Whispering in my ear softly he said, “For what could’ve been.”

Ricky walked to his parent’s car. I watched his taillights disappear into the southern night wondering if and how big a fool I was being. As at last he was gone with only the stars burning overhead.

Looking up for wisdom from those faraway suns, I saw Vonda’s bright eyes. My memory made them as brilliant as any star.

Sighing, I had my answer. Ricky and I could be happy together. We would have a nice safe life that upset no one, status quo. He was a good man with a good heart.

The love between Vonda and me was a rosebud that had yet to blossom. It was full of all the possibilities of the unknown. Unlike, with Ricky, our bond would defy all of society’s expectations. We would face prejudices and scorn for daring to love.

While I felt attractions to males, perhaps because of my life in my other timeline, I was drawn more to other girls. However unlike me, Vonda, I think had fewer options. More than before, I believed she was lesbian. Although she never talked of it, I knew of her fears.

I smiled up at the heavens, thanking them. The choice of taking the safe path or risk it all for greatest treasure of all wasn’t a decision after all.

My parents no doubt were wondering what I waiting for. Smiling, it was time to reassure them all was well. I was home.

To be continued.


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