TG Universes & Series:
Synopsis: Fred's life is coming apart, and in his desperation, he is gambling on a very extreme strategy. After a meeting with Anya at the park, however, he discovers a new, less final way to save what's important to him.
This story is copyright by the author. It is protected by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Most of you know me. You've seen me countless times, I'm sure. And yet, if you met me on the street, there is no chance that you'd recognize me. I prefer it that way; I'm a little ... embarrassed by my occupation. To say that it's unusual would be an understatement. Unlike many models, I can bask in my anonymity, content with a perfectly normal - or mostly normal - life.
It all started a couple of years ago. Things weren't nearly as rosy then as they are now.
I used to work in the IT department of a dot-com company. Hah, that's a joke! At the end, I _was_ the IT department. What started as a very promising career move ended up being a cruel joke by the fates. One month after I exercised my stock options, the market tanked. To make a long story short, I had to sell at a huge loss to avoid major tax liability. That wiped out our savings.
Oh, yeah. I forgot to mention. I'm married. Elise and I met in college; she was a sophomore when I was a senior. When I got my bachelor's degree, she quit, preferring marriage to the rigors of getting a degree. Elise is about average height and quite shapely. Auburn hair, brown eyes - what can I say? I was helpless before her charms. And me? I laugh. I'm not much to look at. Six-foot nothing, one-hundred sixty pounds. Light brown hair, and strong Norse features - at least, that's what my grandpa Ole always said. I'll never win a contest on looks. But obviously, something caught Elise's eye.
We're quite happily married now, but for a while, it was touch and go. As the company slowly sank, Elise and I started fighting. It was hard on our kids, Jeremy and Melissa. Jeremy's grades started to sink, and Melissa got pretty withdrawn and rebellious. With no savings, saddled with a mortgage payment we could no longer afford, we were living hand-to-mouth on what was left of my salary and Elise's job as cashier at the local WalMart.
Things kept getting worse. My car was repossessed; I ended up with a third-hand broken-down Ford Escort. The kids needed some major counseling to handle the situation; hell, Elise and I needed some counseling. But with the cutbacks, we didn't have any health insurance, and so the counseling didn't happen.
After one royal knock-down drag-out argument that lasted most of a night, I moved a few things into my office at work. To my thinking, it really didn't matter; it saved on gas and frustration commuting, and besides, I spent so much time there anyway. Of course, that added to Elise's burden, so our weekend battles became even more heated.
I knew the worst was coming with my job. One day, we were all dreading it; the next, it happened. It wasn't like we weren't ready; my own resume had been on the street for a few months. But the entire area was suffering, and jobs were rare. I didn't get anything. I went from a high-flying IT manager to an associate PC salesman at a department store. At least it was a job.
We were stuck in a quagmire. Elise talked about finishing school, but we couldn't afford to give up her income. There was no way we could sell the house; the housing market collapsed right with the job market. We owed more than it was worth - a lot more. Slowly, day by day, we slipped further and further behind. The creditors were starting to call. And I was raised too proud to file for bankruptcy.
I was at the brink of disaster. No matter what I tried, what plan I came up with, there was no way forward. We were ruined. As I sat, evening after evening, wallowing in self-pity, I began to think that it was my fault. Everything that Elise and the kids were suffering through was because of some poor judgment on my part. If only I'd stayed with the big government contractor. If only I'd have bailed at the first sign of trouble. If, if, if. Let me tell you, when you start to dwell on all the 'ifs', you're pretty close to rock-bottom.
Counseling would have caught the dark turn my thoughts were taking - if we could have afforded it. Black thoughts engulfed me, thoughts originating from a depression so deep as to leave me helpless. And strangely, the thoughts started leading to a desperate gamble to save Elise and the kids.
There was one ace left up my sleeve. We had mortgage insurance on the house, and the company had left me with a life insurance policy. It wasn't much, but it was a couple hundred thousand - enough for Elise and the kids to pick up their lives and start over again.
Slowly, my twisted plan took shape. Late one autumn morning, after the kids left for school and Elise started a double shift at WalMart, I sat at my computer and typed a note explaining that I still loved Elise, and I was sorry that I couldn't provide the kind of life she deserved. I was going to take my own life so she could escape the poverty trap I'd led my family into.
With the note done, I e-mailed it to Elise. She'd find it when she got home - probably around eleven that night. I carefully took the photographs of Jeremy and Melissa from the frame on my desk and tucked them into my shirt pocket. I did the same with our wedding picture. Somehow, I think I was expecting the familiar images to comfort me as I set about my own demise. I marched out the door of our house for the last time.
The plan was simple; I'd drive along the coast road as fast as the little car could go, and then deliberately swerve into a bridge support pillar. At nearly ninety miles per hour - I'd checked to see just how fast the little car could still manage - and with no seat belt, I calculated my chance of survival at almost perfectly zero. I was lost in a strange trance as I drove. Everything passed in slow motion, like I was already separated from time itself. Signs I'd never noticed seemed to float ethereally by the car.
It was then I saw the sign. Bikini Beach Water Park. Funny, but as often as I'd driven that road, I'd never noticed it before. I turned my attention back to the road. And then, I turned back to the sign. Something about it seemed to be beckoning to me.
My mind, twisted as it was by my mission of doom, reformulated my plan. Okay, so dying in a flaming twisted wreck suddenly didn't seem so good. It wouldn't be fair for Elise to have to identify my remains. But if I just simply drowned .... I gave my glove compartment a quick check; the sleeping pills were still there from all the nights I'd actually slept in the car to avoid another fight with Elise. New plan. Take a large dose of pills, and then go to the deep pools. I could barely swim, and if I were tired too, well .... I smiled to myself. If I drowned at the park, maybe Elise could sue the pants off the owner as well.
My foot switched from the gas to the brake and I turned into the parking lot. Still not knowing why, I walked slowly across the hot asphalt toward the ticket booth. There was no line at the booth, but a steady stream of women, young and old alike, walked directly to the entrance turnstiles and entered the park. I stepped up to the booth nervously.
The young lady inside smiled sadly at me. I felt a chill run down my spine; it felt like my soul was naked before her, and she understood my predicament. "Hello, Fred," she said, her voice matching the sad look in her eyes. "I'm glad you decided to come."
I was so bent on my own destruction I that I didn't even notice that she'd called me by name. "I'd like a...ticket. Please."
The pretty brunette handed me a ticket as if she'd been expecting me. "This is a one-day pass. It expires at midnight. And please remember to shower. Health department regulations, you know."
Numbly, I took the ticket and joined the line of people waiting at the turnstiles. A couple of girls looked at me and started to giggle, but when I looked at them, the giggling stopped, replaced by looks of surprise before the eyes darted away. I'm sure my face was an unpleasant mask of black determination, a grim outer sign of the doom I felt in my soul.
The men's room was strangely quiet and small. It seems odd now, but at the time, I barely noticed. I stripped off my clothes and pulled on the swim trunks which were somehow in my hand. For the briefest of seconds, I wondered how I'd come to be holding them, since the only trunks I had were still at home in my dresser. But then I pulled on the shorts and stepped mechanically to the shower, twisting the lever and stepping under the warm stream of water.
My strangely-heightened senses marveled at how the water seemed to be massaging every fiber of my body, leaving my muscles tingling and refreshed in a way I hadn't felt for months. The strange thing was, the tingling didn't stop when I shut off the shower.
Little things were feeling odd, but not alarmingly unusual. The shower handle seemed higher at the end of the shower than it had mere moments before when I'd first turned the shower on. The shower seemed infinitesimally larger, as if it had grown ever so slightly. Even the locker room, outside the shower stall, seemed subtly changed.
As I stepped out of the shower stall, I got the odd feeling that my balance was off. My casual stride seemed altered somehow, like my center of balance was lower. I could feel my hips moving side-to-side as I walked, ever more hesitantly, toward the door. Something wet slapped at my neck, and annoyed, I swatted a hand behind my head.
With the awkward jerk of my arm, I felt something move on my chest. Something tugged and pulled against my pectoral muscles in a way I'd never felt before. It seemed as though a weight hung from my chest. I frowned, displaying my frustration and irritation at these minor nuisances. Up until now, the heightened awareness had been interesting, even fun. But now it had gone overboard, I was convinced, sending jumbled messages from my body to my brain. To highlight the absurdity of what my brain was trying to tell me, it seemed as though my feet were smaller, exposing less skin to the tile floor and thus not being as chilled! Of course, this was a totally preposterous notion I assured myself with my well-practiced left-brain thinking.
And then I turned the corner and saw the mirror.
The abrupt shift in my thinking slammed my logical left-brain. All the facts had been gathered, filed neatly into categories for later analysis. Even as I'd been walking, the analysis had begun. I can vividly remember, just milliseconds before I rounded the corner, that the facts weren't making any sense, that the hypothesis required to have the data fit was an impossibility.
But, as I said, I saw the mirror. The impossible was suddenly confirmed as not only possible, but also real. My left-brain struggled to fit the new data, to somehow, impossibly rationalize my reflection in the mirror. It failed, and in a desperate attempt to deal with the inconceivable, it turned control over to my under-utilized right brain, which in turn panicked. All the right brain could think of doing, given the facts so neatly laid out before it, was to scream.
There I stood, staring open-mouthed at the impossible reflection of a young semi-nude girl, and screaming just like the stereotypical girl would. I even sounded the part, higher in pitch and lacking in the resonance of standard male vocal apparatus.
After what seemed an eternity, but in reality was only about a minute, my left-brain decided it had had enough rest. My head dropped as I moved my gaze from the mirror to my actual body.
On my chest were a pair of magnificent feminine orbs, easily a large B if not C cup. My hands, transformed somehow into the fine delicate feminine shape that they now held, shot up toward the breasts. And yet, somehow, though I desperately wanted to touch them, as if to prove that they were a mere illusion, I couldn't will my hands to move that last centimeter. They stopped, cupped, just shy of the mammaries, their female shape belying the fact that I'd been male scant moments earlier. Clinically, I noted that my fingernails now extended half an inch beyond my fingertips, with a coating of light burgundy or maroon enamel.
Between my breasts was a valley inviting my gaze downward. My stomach had none of the well-toned and defined abs that I'd struggled to keep, even through the marital problems and hyper-extended work hours. My stomach was flat and smooth, extending to a moderately narrowed waistline. Further down, I could see that the swim trunks had been altered as well; now, instead of generic boxer shorts, my hips and crotch were clad in a modest but still revealing bikini bottom, a scanty bit of light blue spandex which barely covered my crotch.
The sides of the bikini rode high on my hips, revealing shapely curves that were impossible for a man. Though I couldn't see, I could tell from the feel that the changes had affected my posterior as well; I knew that when I looked, my ass would be rounder and more womanly. My hips extended down into smooth legs, barren of hair and seductively curvy, ending in petite little feet with painted toenails, unlike my male size thirteens.
There was no getting around the one final check. My right hand slid down slowly, inexorably, until my fingers caught the waistband of my bikini. I held my breath as I tugged outward, pulling the bikini away from my body, trembling with dread anticipation. Finally, I acknowledged the last bit of evidence, and with a soft slap, the waistband snapped back against my tummy.
It was gone. My manhood. My dick. The big _it_. My crotch was empty. Well, not really empty. Just devoid of a male sex organ. The main problem was that what I _did_ have was female apparatus.
My right brain tried to force a panic attack while I contemplated the totality of the change. Fortunately, my left-brain caught the move and force my emotions back into check; now was definitely _not_ the time to panic. I could feel the tug-of-war raging in my head; my logical half wanted to fully analyze the situation, to see if it was some elaborate trickery or illusion, and if not, to understand how such a change could have been manifested. But my emotional brain, already charged with dark emotions from my current quest, wanted to cry out in anger and rage. It wanted to find and punish whoever was responsible for this assault on my identity.
I glanced back at the mirror, at the face I now wore. My hands shot to my cheeks. I was pretty! Not gorgeous, but also far from homely. I had the face of an attractive young woman. My eyes looked bigger and softer; I rationalized that since my face was smaller, they only looked bigger. My lips were definitely fuller than they had been, but only a little. For some reason, I was relieved that I didn't have the full pouty lips I'd seen so often on strippers and sex idols. As quick as the thought came, it vanished, leaving me puzzled as to its origin.
My cheeks were a bit more defined, enough to make me look more feminine. Gone was the rugged chin and strong manly nose. My new nose was smaller, more refined, and ever-so-slightly upturned, giving it a graceful and dainty appearance. My chin was soft and smooth, devoid of the perpetual five-o-clock shadow that had plagued me since puberty, and without the squared appearance so treasured by past movie-stars like the Duke. And my hair! It was a light brown, almost strawberry blonde in appearance, although I knew that hint of red could be an artifact of the lighting. Though it was wet and hung limply about my neck, I guessed that the style was feathered from bangs in front to just past shoulder-length in back.
A knock interrupted my self-analysis. I felt my jaw drop, and I suddenly realized that I was about to get caught in this body - and that I was going to have some explaining to do. My hands clutched automatically over my exposed breasts even as the door opened.
The stab of bright sunlight momentarily hid the intruder; when the door banged shut, I could see it was the brunette from the ticket booth. She gave me a knowing smile. "I was beginning to wonder if you were coming out."
I stared open-mouthed at her for half a lifetime. "You ... know? You know I changed?"
She smiled pleasantly. "Yes, Fred, I know." She held up a bikini top, which she'd somehow produced. She grinned. "Yes, I made the swimming trunks the same way."
My mind raced. She was one hell of an illusionist. Or .... My left brain ruled out the other possibility, but my right brain kept reminding it of one of Sherlock Holmes' principles. When you've ruled out all other answers, the one that remains, no matter how illogical, must be the truth. It had to be ....
"Magic," the girl confirmed. "My grandmother and I use magic to run this park." She got a wry grin. "By the way, my name is Anya. It's a pleasure." The grin faded. "I hope." Quite abruptly, she sounded deadly serious.
I gulped. It was as if she knew the mission I'd been on. "Fred Lewis." Then I shook my head, feeling silly. She knew that. She'd called me by name at the ticket booth.
Anya nodded, barely smiling. She stepped around me, to the locker I'd stashed my gear in. Deliberately, she pulled out the bottle. "I hope you won't be needing these." She slipped the sleeping pills into her pocket.
I started to object, then I dropped my gaze. I'd been caught, and I knew it. Slowly, everything started to come unglued; it felt as if every stitch of my life's tapestry were coming unfurled at once. My mind reeled under the assault of a year's worth of bad memories. And then, somehow, the dark clouds of my mind parted for a second, illuminating my intentions, and I staggered in the sudden light. I started to collapse, and Anya caught me, guiding me to one of the benches.
"I brought you here," Anya said slowly after I'd cried for at least ten minutes, something I hadn't done since fourth grade. I looked up, into her soft sympathetic eyes. "I could feel your dark thoughts, and I knew I had to do something."
"You ... brought me here?"
Anya nodded. "I had to do something!" she said in protest. "You were about to throw away the gift of life! I ... couldn't let that happen." There was pain in her eyes, an unspoken agony that I felt rather than saw.
"I don't understand." The words sounded distant, as if someone else was speaking. "You...brought me here? How?"
The corners of Anya's mouth turned up ever so slightly. "Magic. I ... sensed your thoughts." She tried to suppress a shudder, but failed. "I ... helped you think that the car crash idea wasn't good, and I substituted the drowning idea."
It wasn't making any sense. None of it. "But why ...?"
Anya shook her head sadly. "Your ... decision ... would have a profound impact on your wife and children." She saw my eyes widen. "Oh, yes," she said slowly. "I may not be as good as grandmother, but I'm learning to ... read ... the future."
"So you turned me into a girl?" My mind mulled the possibilities. "So ... what? You changed reality or something?"
Anya shook her head. "No, nothing that drastic. You've just turned into a girl. It's just a local change, affecting only you." She flashed a little grin. "It's much easier that way. Bending reality is really hard work."
I felt my eyebrows lower into a frown. "So if I'm still me ..." I shook my head. "That means nothing is changed. I've still got nothing to live for." I dropped my gaze to the floor, tasting bitter defeat once more.
Anya lifted my chin so she could look me in the eyes. "I've given you a chance to think. A chance to look for another way." A sudden grin crossed her face. "As Spock would say, there are always alternatives."
My mouth dropped open; she'd read my mind and knew that the Star Trek quote would get my attention. I sat, dumbfounded, contemplating what she'd said.
Anya had a serious expression. "Promise me you won't do anything drastic in the park," she said in a soft but commanding voice. She stared at me, sensing my hesitation. "Promise me."
I knew she wasn't going to let me leave without a promise, and I knew she knew that once I gave my word, I'd never go back on it. "Okay, I promise." The answer came slowly, but when I glanced up, I saw that Anya was satisfied.
"Now why don't you go out and have some fun. Try to relax." She stood and pulled me to my feet. "I've always found that when I quit thinking about a problem, the answer appears." Then she noticed that she was still holding the bikini top. "Oh, and put this on. Grandmother really doesn't like topless sunbathing."
I took the small wad of blue fabric, and with an ease that startled me, I put it on as if I'd been doing it all my life.
Anya read the surprise on my face, and she laughed. "When you change, you kind of inherit some feminine skills." She took my arm and led me to the door. "By the way, you really can't go by Fred here." She eyed me up and down, and I felt my cheeks redden. "Not like that, anyway."
"Felicity," I said softly, speaking the first word that popped into my brain.
"Felicity." I turned to Anya, a half-smile creeping onto my features. "It was my grandmother's name, and if I'd have been born a girl, dad said they'd have named me Felicity."
Not quite knowing what to expect, I let Anya lead me out of the locker room. A couple of ladies glanced my way, their faces bearing a knowing little smile, and I looked away even as the red stain of embarrassment lit up my cheeks. "Does everyone here know...that I've been changed?" I finally asked Anya.
She laughed, a very delightful and pleasant sound. "No, not everyone. And if you just relax, no-one else will know either."
I glanced around, and saw that she'd been leading me deeper into the park. I saw women and girls strolling about, happy and carefree, all enjoying the amenities of the park. Slowly, it dawned on me that I wasn't seeing any guys. I turned to Anya to ask her.
She must have read my mind again. "No, there aren't any guys here, Felicity." She smiled as she used my 'adopted' name. "This is a haven for ladies, a refuge from the prying and lecherous eyes of men." It sounded just like it had come from a sales brochure. "So you won't have to worry about any guys hitting on you."
I nearly stumbled; to be honest, I hadn't considered that angle. "Uh, Anya? When do I change back? Or do I?"
Anya seemed taken aback by my question, then she laughed. "Just changing you into a girl wouldn't solve your problems, and it would have made more for your family. So yes, you do change back. Sometime around midnight, when the pass expires."
"Anya!" A voice was calling out behind us. "Anya!" Anya and I turned in unison, looking down the path to see who was calling her. One of the staff, prominent in her Bikini Beach polo shirt, came trotting up to us. "I thought I saw you coming down this way."
Anya frowned at the intrusion; I guessed that this was about business. "What's up, Vicky?"
Vicky gave me a quick once-over, then turned her attention to Anya. "Greg is at the front gate. He said it's important."
Anya's frown deepened. "Why doesn't he just come in?" Even as she spoke, I could see the answer dawning on her features. "The ad shoot," she said. She gave me a quick glance, and I could see her concern. "If he's here ...." She seemed to be concentrating for a moment, her eyes half closed and her brow furrowed. Then she looked up at me and smiled. "Come on, Felicity. Let's go see what Greg needs, then I'll finish your tour of the park."
Apart from learning that Greg was Anya's boyfriend, I learned nothing during the walk back to the gate. I noticed a rather average looking guy standing by the turnstile, watching with a detached interest as girls came and went from the park. I knew, instantly, that he was attached, and while he was watching the girls walk by, it wasn't with any interest. But as we neared, his eyes riveted on Anya and he broke into a smile. I knew that this guy was Greg. He was several years younger than me - and probably still a student. He had a very exuberant grin, a boyish innocence that was reminded me of all the new hires at my old company. Full of youth and hope and ambition, unaware of the perils that awaited them in the fiercely competitive real world. Someday, I knew, Greg's optimism would be dashed, to be replaced by a more realistic cynicism.
Anya stepped through the exit gate and gave him a quick hug. I was left alone, standing inside the gate, wondering why I was there. "Problem?" she asked.
Greg sighed. "Can't fool you," he said in mock protest. "One of the models came down with food poisoning." He looked very unhappy. "So Randy isn't going to be able to finish the job and we won't get paid."
Anya looked very troubled. "And you've already fronted the models ..."
Greg nodded. "About three thousand," he finished. He rolled his eyes. "I was hoping maybe you could..."
Anya shook her head; she knew what Greg was going to ask. "Nope," she said simply. "Once - maybe. But not again. Remember? You agreed."
Greg nodded slowly. "I know," he said. Then he looked up, right at me. His eyes were focused on me like laser beams, scanning me up and down. I felt a chill run down my spine. "But if your friend here ..."
Anya glanced at me, then she got a wicked grin. "You know, that just might work."
"What are you talking about?" I asked nervously. I sensed that the two of them were up to something, and I didn't like the feeling it gave me.
Anya nodded to Greg. "Meet you in the office," she directed. He started walking toward a low gray building, while Anya took my hand and pulled me the same direction. "Greg is an amateur photographer," she explained. "He and a fraternity brother bid on a job for a department store chain. They got the bid, but one of the models had to back out. What Greg fears is that if they don't have enough different models, they'll lose the contract, and the money they've already fronted to the models."
We paused a moment to step into the building, into the water park's office. Anya gestured toward a chair, and I sat. I felt my actions were odd; for some reason, my legs refused to splay out at a relaxed angle from my slumped body; instead, I sat upright, and my left leg crossed automatically over the right one. I shuddered when I realized that it was a very ladylike action.
Greg joined us. He sat down the way I would have, had I been a guy. "Okay, I'll get right to the point. We're doing a photo shoot for the ladies' clothing section of a spring sale catalog."
I felt my jaw dropping open. "Ladies' ... clothing?" I glanced at Anya and saw her nod. "You want me to model ... ladies' clothing?"
Greg glanced at me, puzzled, and then slowly, his eyes widened. "Oh," he mouthed softly, and in that one sound, he indicated that he knew everything.
Anya glanced at me, then back at Greg. "Why don't you wait outside so we can talk?" She scooted him out the office door, then came back beside me.
Before she could say anything, I laid into her. "What the hell do you think you're doing with me?" I demanded. "First, you change my body. And now you want me to pose in ladies' clothes for a catalog?"
Anya let me rant, all the while staring impassively at me. Finally, she laid her hand gently on my arm. "There are always alternatives," she said. I shut up, rebuked by the words of Spock. "Look, Fred," Anya said bluntly, "you were going to kill yourself for some insurance money. Now, with a little temporary change, you have an opportunity to make some money - and still be around for your wife and kids. That sounds like a pretty good opportunity if you ask me."
I frowned. The logic of what she was saying was perfect. Still .... "But as a girl? In girls' clothes and stuff?"
Anya grinned. "Look on the bright side." She watched my mouth drop open; how could there be a bright side to any of this. "No one except you, me, and Greg, will ever know it was you. No one." She sensed that my determination was softening. "There's a five hundred dollar modeling fee, and if any of pictures are used, a bonus of fifty per picture." She nodded as I grasped the potential. "That's more than you make in a week at your sales job. And it's just for one afternoon of photos."
I was torn. A ray of hope had entered my miserable life. And yet, that ray had a downside that was, frankly, weird. Sure, this looked good. But for the long term... "I don't know," I mumbled. "It'll help. But only for a few days."
Anya nodded to me. "Right now, you need to take things one day at a time." She sensed my hesitation, and she continued. "Which is easier? Thinking about modeling girl's clothes, or thinking about your kids' faces as they stare into their dad's casket? Oh, and one more thing you hadn't considered. When you left a suicide note, you invalidated your insurance." She watched as my jaw dropped open; I hadn't considered that. "Your policy has a suicide clause. Your family would have lost you, and gotten nothing out of it but grief and misery."
I flinched. Her comment was dirty pool, and she knew it. Slowly, I began to realize that I'd been so wrapped up in my own problems that I hadn't given serious consideration to how it would affect Elise and the kids. I looked back up at Anya, fighting tears. "Okay, when you put it that way, it doesn't seem so bad."
The ride with Greg to the studio was deathly silent. He knew that I'd been changed. He was polite enough not to say anything, and I sure as hell didn't want to talk about it. I just sat there in my skirt and polo shirt and sandals, letting the wind blow through my hair as I stared blankly ahead. Yes, even my clothing had changed, from a pair of Dockers, a T-shirt, and tennis shoes into a very female outfit. The white skirt was sexier than I would have liked; it ended about two and a half inches above my knee, exposing a _lot_ of my curvy legs. I wouldn't have minded the polo shirt so much except that it was a snug fit, with the result that it emphasized the curves of my breasts. The open toes of the sandals displayed my painted toenails. I shuddered again at the thought of just how feminine I looked. At least I wasn't wearing any of the makeup that was in my purse.
Oh, yeah. Purse. As in a woman's handbag. Another little gift of the change. Packed with makeup and other woman's things - including, to my horror, a couple of tampons. This nightmare just seemed to go on and on.
My first impression of Greg had been correct; he was a college student working for a few extra bucks. That made me feel nervous; what kind of photography studio was I going to? If it even was a studio? Maybe he and his partner were just working out of seedy warehouse space somewhere in the shadier side of town. The more I thought, the more nervous I got. I had all of thirty minutes experience being a woman, and here I was out on my own, unescorted, with a guy I barely knew, going to a job I had never contemplated at a location I didn't know.
It was to my profound relief that we turned into a large strip mall and parked opposite a bona fide photographer's studio. I even recognized the place; we'd had the kids portraits done here a couple of years ago. As we walked in, me still quite nervous, Greg called out, "Randy, we might be in business after all!"
I assumed it was Randy that came out of the back. He was dressed like Greg - casual college student - and he looked, if anything, a year or two younger than Greg. He stopped abruptly when he saw me. I could feel his eyes critically scanning up and down my body. "Hmm," he mumbled. "Maybe ...." He turned to me. "You have any experience in modeling?"
I shook my head. "No." The word was soft, tiny.
Randy rolled his eyes and sighed. He glared at Greg. "We need a model, not an amateur," he snapped.
Greg held up his hands defensively. "Anya said she'd do okay."
Anya's name had an electric effect on Randy. He froze, his mouth half-open in protest. Slowly, he turned back to me. This time, I felt naked under his scrutiny. He reached out and lifted my chin; instinctively, I pulled away. "Well," he finally muttered, "she's got potential." He turned, finally acknowledging me. "Go in back and get changed. The outfits are numbered on the hangers. Start with number one." He strode purposefully to the back of the shop.
Greg glanced at me and shrugged. "He always gets like this when he's shooting," he explained. "You should have seen him the day we shot over at the park." He led and I followed him to the back of the shop, and he pointed to the dressing room. "Go and get changed. We've got a lot of work to do."
I heard some female voices around the corner, and I guessed that other models were busy posing. Not knowing what else to do, I nodded and opened the door, determined to get this over with.
I came back out like a frightened rabbit. Greg saw me, and he got concerned. "What's wrong?" he asked quickly.
My eyes were wide as saucers. "There's a ... girl ... in there!" I stammered. "A naked girl."
Greg frowned. "What did you expect? Dancing bears?"
"But ...." I started to protest. This was getting weirder with each passing moment. "She's ... naked!"
Greg took my arm gently. "Look, I don't know if you realize it or not, but right now, you're a girl, too." He shrugged his shoulders, and I realized that not only did he know the secret of Bikini Beach, but he'd probably been changed a few times himself. "So there's really nothing strange about seeing another girl naked. I know it's weird the first time or two, but you get used to it."
The door opened, and the girl walked out. My jaw dropped further; she was wearing only underwear! Greg, on the other hand, didn't seem to notice. "I think Randy's ready for you, Renee," he said nonchalantly. She nodded and walked casually toward the other room, where, presumably, Randy and the cameras were.
"But ... she's in her underwear!" I protested anew.
Greg's eyes widened and his jaw dropped. "I thought ... Anya told you!"
Now I felt really scared. "Told me what?"
Greg gulped. "This is a lingerie shoot," he finally said, sounding a bit embarrassed. "We're shooting models in lingerie."
I sank against the wall, totally stunned. "Anya didn't tell me," I finally snapped, trying to stand tall and firm. "And neither did you!" I was just about to turn and walk out when I got a brief mental image of my wife and kids looking over a coffin. I know it was Anya's doing, and it sent a shiver up my spine. I sank back against the wall and swallowed hard; this was going to be totally embarrassing - no, make that humiliating - but I really didn't have any other choice. After taking a few deep breaths, I opened my eyes and glanced up at Greg. I could see sympathy in his eyes, as if he knew the depth of my plight. But he couldn't. Not unless he like Anya .... "Okay, I guess I'll do it," I mumbled. "It's not like I have a lot of other choices."
Greg went back to his job, which as near as I could tell, was gopher for Randy. I went into the dressing room and picked an empty chair. Slowly, feeling both nervous and embarrassed, I stripped naked, then I took the first outfit down. I blushed. I'd have given anything to see Elise in an outfit like this; it was a red lacy demi-bra with matching panties. I felt weird as I pulled the panties on; on the one hand, I was putting on ladies' underwear. On the other hand, the panties felt nice. Soft, smooth, silky. Almost erotic. I felt a chill run down my spine - again. Next, I picked up the bra. If I hadn't seen Elise put on a bra for the years of our marriage, I would have been confused. As it was, I slipped it on, using the same technique Elise used. And to my total surprise, I got it on as if I'd been doing it for years!
Just as I was adjusting one of the straps, the door opened and one of the other models came in. She smiled at me, and I blushed. I was a guy. Usually, anyway. But she didn't know; she thought I was just another girl. Without giving me a second thought, she stripped off her bra.
Her boobs were smaller than mine, and not as perky. I recoiled at the thought; here I was, in a dressing room with a disrobing girl, and all I could think of was that I had better boobs? Did this mean the magic had made me weird? I felt a surge of panic; was I going to be attracted to guys? How much had I been changed?
Greg called through the closed door, and I swallowed hard. Do or die time. Time to parade out for the photos. I felt my hands shaking as I opened the door. I tried to smile confidently; it was difficult. In only underwear, the breeze from the air conditioner was chilly. I glanced down, and in horror, I saw my nipples standing erect, as if to poke through the suddenly inadequate bra. I shook like a leaf as I followed Greg to the other room.
Randy glanced at me, then I saw him shake his head at Greg. I'd forgotten to put on any makeup and comb my hair. Sighing, Greg sat me down at a small vanity strategically located for last-minute touchups for the models. "This will only take a second," he said soothingly. I know he could see me shaking.
"You've done this before," I said with certainty as he expertly applied a touch of blush and some light eye shadow.
Greg smiled. "Once or twice." He picked up a tube of lipstick pursed his lips. "Like that." When I mimicked him, he applied the color quickly. "Actually, it's more like dozens of times."
I felt myself frowning. "So are you ... like Anya ...?"
Greg laughed softly. "No, she's the one with the magic. I'm just a normal, everyday guy." He leaned back, then he picked up a brush. A few quick tugs and my hair met his satisfaction. "Okay, that should do it. Now just relax."
Randy manipulated my pose quite professionally; even though he made it clear that his only interest was in getting good pictures, I felt helpless and vulnerable, standing as I was in only underwear and in a shapely feminine body. His every touch was a cause for alarm; my skin seemed so much more alive, more sensitive, more _sensual_. Though it was a sensory experience, I felt that this body was betraying me simply because I was noticing these things. My mind was racing as I struggled with the internal conflict and mixed signals. Was I enjoying being a woman? Could it be that I liked the pleasant tingling of arousal as the satiny fabric of the very feminine bra caressed my sensitive and erect nipples? Or was I hyper-sensitive because I was so out of place, that the sensations were making me feel paranoid?
After a few shots, Greg peeked over Randy's shoulder. He whistled appreciatively as he looked at me posing. I felt a shudder of embarrassment, a pang of self-consciousness at my situation. "She's a natural," Randy said softly to Greg, but not so softly that I didn't hear it. My already-crimson complexion turned even redder.
I think my mind kind of shut down for self-protection. I don't really remember a lot about the rest of the photo session. The best I can remember, it was an endless stream of makeup and lingerie; changing from one set to another, pose after pose. Some pictures were solo, some were with the other girls. I wore lingerie that I never knew existed. Bras, panties. Demi bras. Teddies. One-piece shapers. Corsets. Bra, panty, and garter combinations. And the endless barrage of flashes.
It was almost eight when we finished and I got back in my regular clothes. Greg gave me a ride back to the park, to my car. Slowly, the fog was lifting from my brain; as I climbed from Greg's car, I wondered if it had really happened - had I just spent the better part of the day as a lingerie model? It seemed so unreal, like a dream. Still dazed, I started across the parking lot toward my car.
"Felicity!" I heard the call from behind me, but it had no meaning to me. "Felicity!" Again the call.
It was annoying. I turned, just to see who was calling to whom.
To my surprise, it was Anya calling - to me! She was walking briskly out of the park, and she was trying to get my attention!
"Well, how did it go?" she asked as she neared me.
I know I still looked a bit dazed. "Okay ... I think."
Greg had caught up to me as well. I'd been in too much a stupor to realize it. "Yeah, the first time can be kind of disorienting."
Anya smiled. "I understand you did quite well." She gave Greg a quick wink. I know I had a confused expression. "Greg called while you were dressing," Anya explained. "Randy thinks you're a natural."
I didn't know whether to blush or scream. "Uh, thanks. I guess."
Greg held out an envelope. "You almost got away without this," he explained. I opened the envelope and pulled out the check. I glanced up, then back down. "We assumed you're freelance, which means you have to take care of the reporting and deductions," he continued.
I glanced back up. "I can't cash this!" I finally stammered. I held the check out to Anya.
Anya glanced at it, then she dropped her head, shaking it in disbelief. She finally held up the check to Greg. "You made it out to Felicity Lewis," she scolded.
Greg started to say something, then he realized what he'd done. He nodded sheepishly. "Sorry," he mumbled. He trotted back to his car, returning in a few seconds with a new check. He gave it to me, and I saw it was to F. Lewis. "That should work, shouldn't it?"
Despite my confusion, and anger at being truly identified as Felicity, I smiled. "Yeah." Then a sudden thought intruded on my moment of peace. I turned to Anya, feeling panic-stricken. "Oh, my God!" I nearly screamed. "The note! Emily ..."
It took a second, but Anya realized what I was talking about. "Oh, damn!" she swore.
I turned. "I've got to get home."
Anya grabbed my arm. "You can't," she said firmly, and as I struggled to get free of her firm grasp, I realized why. I wasn't Fred.
I felt the panic surge through my veins. Elise normally waited until after she and the kids had dinner to check her e-mail, but it was well past that point. "She's got to have read her e-mail by now! She's probably called the police already!" I felt tears starting to leak from my eyes, tears of helplessness and shame for what I'd done. "What are we going to do?"
Anya sighed heavily. I guessed that she felt guilty for not having seen the entire thing through. Her eyes closed for a few seconds, and she seemed lost in concentration. Finally, after what seemed hours, she opened her eyes. She grasped my arm, quite firmly. "Hang on."
The world exploded in a shower of light, and I flinched involuntarily. I felt as if I were swirling through a gigantic whirlpool, torn between a tug on my arm and the forces around me. I dared not open my eyes; the experience was frightening enough without some Twilight Zone effects as well. I felt another force and heard a soft pop, and there was suddenly firmness under my feet. I pried my eyes open slowly.
Anya stood beside me in the den of my house. Elise was sitting frozen at her computer, staring open-mouthed at the monitor. Her face was ashen, and her cheeks were tear-stained. Who knows how long she'd been staring, reading and rereading my suicide note, shocked so deep that she was frozen in disbelief.
When she heard us, she turned, her mouth dropping even further open as she saw us appear. "Who ...?" she finally started to stammer. It was easy to read the confusion in her voice. "Who are you? How ...?" She looked faint; I guess I could understand that - if two strangers had magically appeared behind me, I would have freaked out, too.
Anya placed her hand gently on Elise's shoulder. "It's okay, Elise," she said soothingly. "It's okay."
Elise didn't look soothed. "Who are you? What...what are you doing here?" She glanced at me, and I felt myself redden. "How ... did you get here?"
Anya smiled her warmest smile. "Magic, Elise." She glanced over Elise's shoulder, and her face darkened.
I felt the same chill. I could read the computer screen, the damning words I'd penned only hours ago, the words that told her that she was now a widow. Guilt at what I'd been trying to do smashed at my senses, leaving me reeling.
Anya was good, that much was certain. "Elise, we came here to tell you - and show you - that Fred didn't take his life," she said calmly. "I ... managed to convince him not to."
"Who are you?" Her voice was rising; I could tell that Elise was moving from being stunned by our appearance to wariness and alarm.
Anya glanced at me. I felt fear; how could I tell Elise that I was her husband? "Friends," she said.
"Magic," Elise mouthed again, staring all the while at me. I blushed yet again. And yet, I knew that she was almost convinced. I knew everything - how we met, where I proposed, even the little hourglass shaped birthmark on the inside of her left thigh. But still she harbored doubts. Elise was very intelligent, and, this time, that was working against Anya and me. Despite the evidence piled before her - our appearance, a little demonstration by Anya, and the fact that I knew things only Fred would know - she was having trouble accepting the existence of magic.
"Magic," I answered softly. Even as I uttered the word, Elise's grandfather clock began to chime softly. Twelve chimes. Midnight. I glanced at Anya, who nodded to me. It was time for the ultimate proof.
I felt my body starting to shift. Unlike the change in the shower, I was acutely aware of the changes. I could feel my bones changing, the muscles stretching and growing around them, the tingling in my scalp as the long strawberry blonde hair retracted, leaving me with my dark brown masculine haircut. I glanced to see the fingernails drawing back in even as the enamel faded. All the while my body was changing, my clothing was changing as well, the fabric flowing like liquid as it reformed itself into the clothes in which I'd started the day. In seconds, it was over. Fred was sitting on the couch next to his wife.
"Convinced now?" Anya asked slyly.
"Oh, my God!" Elise cried over and over as she stared. Then, with tears falling from her eyes, she threw herself around me, holding me more tightly than ever, her body shaking as she cried on my shoulder. I heard a slight pop, and I knew Anya was gone again. Elise still clung to me, bawling her eyes out.
When she let go, my eyes were stinging. I felt ashamed of what I'd nearly done to Elise. "I'm sorry," I mumbled.
Elise took my cheeks between her palms. "Fred Lewis," she said, her voice quavering between scolding and fear, "don't you ever, ever do that to me again!" Her tears began to flow anew. "I promised to stick by you for better or worse. We'll get through this. Together." She stared deeply into my eyes. "Together. Okay?"
I was slowly realizing just how badly I'd scared her with the note. It shook me. "Okay."
Elise wasn't about to let me off that easily. "Promise me you'll never do anything like that again." I muttered an okay, but she wasn't satisfied. "Promise!" she demanded.
My eyelids dropped to mask the fluid welling from my tear ducts. "I promise," I answered.
She hugged me again, and then she pulled back. She stared at my chest. For a second, I felt panicked - had something gone wrong with the magic? Was I still part girl? But Elise pulled an envelope from my pocket. "What's this?" she asked.
I reddened and looked down. "After I changed, Anya's boyfriend came by the park. He was going to tell Anya that they'd lost a deal on photographing ads for a catalog because a model was sick. When he saw me," I was really blushing now, "he asked if I'd take her place."
Elise's eyes widened. "You spent the afternoon ... modeling?"
I nodded. "That's my paycheck."
"But ... you were a girl!" Elise protested. Then slowly she added up the facts. "So you were modeling girl's clothes?"
I looked away even as I flushed a brighter shade of crimson. "Lingerie," I mumbled, embarrassed like I'd never been in my life.
The money helped stave off a couple of creditors, but within a week, we were back to square one. I didn't know what to do, but I knew I couldn't go through with my last plan. Somehow, Anya had said, things would work out.
It was Sunday afternoon. We were sitting on the patio, enjoying one of the rare days when neither of us were working, when I got the call. Anya wanted to see me at the office. And Elise, too.
When we got there, Anya and Greg were waiting. I glanced nervously at Greg; how could I face him, knowing that the last time I'd seen him I was a woman?
"Sit down, please," Anya invited. "Coke? Sprite?" I took a Coke; Elise had just water. After she'd served the drinks, Anya sat down. "You're probably wondering why I've summoned you here?" she asked.
Greg snickered, and she elbowed him. "Well, it's funny! You make it sound like a mystery novel or something!"
Anya rolled her eyes. "Greg, show them the proofs."
Greg opened a notebook and started flipping through a lot of photographs. Elise looked at one or two, then she stared at me. Hard. I blushed and turned away. I was humiliated beyond belief by having done the pictures in the first place; now Greg and Anya were displaying them - to my wife! I sat and stared into a remote corner of the office while the three of them flipped through the pages. Finally, I couldn't hear any more turning pages. I turned my head back, only to see Elise staring at me. Her eyes were wide and soft, and she had an almost awe-struck expression. "What?" I asked sharply.
Elise shook her head the tiniest bit. "You ... you're good," she said admiringly. I felt my jaw drop, then I snapped it shut angrily. "No, really!" she said. "These are really good."
I glanced at Anya, and she nodded. So did Greg. "The CEO thinks so, too," Greg said. "The phrase he used was 'wholesome beauty'. He liked it. As a matter of fact, he asked - no, he demanded - that we get you in some of the pictures for the spring lineup and the swimsuit line."
My jaw dropped open again. This sounded crazy, impossible. I was being offered a job ... but modeling women's clothes!
Greg read my confused thoughts. "The job pays five thousand," he added.
I glanced at Elise, and saw her mixed emotions. On the one hand, it was a job, and the money would go a long way. And she was proud of me for the job I'd already done. On the other hand, it meant I had to turn into a girl again.
"No," I answered softly but firmly. "I ... can't. Not again."
Elise took my arm. "But it's a job, honey," she pleaded. Her voice betrayed her inner conflict.
Elise's pleading and the logic of a job were weakening my resolve. It _was_ a good opportunity. A thought occurred to me. "Where, and how long?"
Greg looked down, and I instinctively knew it was bad news. "Next week. All week." He sounded sheepish, as if he knew I wasn't going to like the rest of the news. "And it's in Atlanta, at the company headquarters."
I let my eyes close as I exhaled slowly. I found my head shaking. "No," I mumbled. "Not for a week."
"Fred." Elise waited until I looked at her. "We need the money."
I closed my eyes again and nodded. "I know. But ...."
"But nothing. We need the money. And it's a job."
I knew Elise was right. I knew I was trapped and had to take the job. Desperation does that to a man. I glanced at Anya. "So how will this work?"
Anya bit her lower lip. More bad news. "You'll have to have a pass for as long as your trip."
"I'll stay a girl the whole time?"
Anya nodded. I let my head fall into my hand, the heavy weight of my thoughts propped up by my elbow and the arm of the chair. I felt the weight of the world on me - Elise was right; we really needed the money. But a girl? For a week? I hadn't enjoyed the time I'd been changed before, and this was going to be much worse. But we _did_ need the money .... Finally, I lifted my head. All three were staring at me. "Okay," I finally gave in.
The flight was awful; the guy next to me tried to hit on me the entire trip. I ignored him, and he tried. I was rude, and he tried again. He was getting a bit tipsy, and he tried even harder. I felt very self-conscious - how do women handle boors like that guy? Fortunately, we landed, and I escaped his unwelcome advances.
I felt the cabbie leering at me through his rear-view mirror. The porters were helpful - too helpful. More lustful gazes. With a great sigh of relief, I shut the door behind me, safe within my room. At least for a while.
I'd never been intimidated by big cities before. There was always something to see and do. But now? I huddled the rest of the day in my room, afraid to show my face. I wondered how women faced these things on a day-to-day basis. Then I realized that they'd grown up with it, and they had learned how to deal with these kinds of situations - or to ignore them. But me? I was a guy in a girl's body, and I realized, to my surprise and horror, that I knew nothing about how girls act and react to the world around them. I was a babe in the woods, so to speak, the ultimately naíve little girl in the jungle of the big city.
About eight, my hunger was past ignoring. I feared going out to the hotel restaurant, but after scrimping for so long, room service seemed a horrible extravagance. I went carefully down to the restaurant, paranoid and watching around me. I felt like I was being examined, lusted after, by every guy in the place, and that even after I made sure to wear the least revealing, least flattering dress Elise had packed for me.
Dear Elise. She'd known what I'd be up against. And bless her heart, she'd prepared. There wasn't an outfit in my suitcase that wasn't concealing or plain. Granted, I had a bigger bust than she did, which made some of her outfits tend to display my, uh, curves a little more than I would have liked. Still, she did a good job. I escaped the restaurant and returned to my room unmolested. But it was still very unnerving!
I woke early and showered, then spent a considerable amount of time drying my hair. I'd tried to control the process instead of letting the instincts take over, and as a result of over-aggressive toweling on my head, I'd gotten my hair totally tangled and snarled. I wanted to scream or cry from frustration by the time I got the tangles out. By the time I got dressed and got some makeup on, I realized that it was too late to get breakfast at the restaurant. Now, not only was I alone, female, and frustrated, but I was also late and hungry!
Fortunately, I'd done a little recon the night before, and I knew the hotel had a coffee shop. But when it got there, it had a line of waiting customers - probably like me, they'd run behind and were trying to grab a bite. I sighed and glanced at my watch - I was really going to be late if I didn't high-tail it now. My stomach answered this thought by rumbling. To make matters worse, a young businessman noticed me glancing anxiously at my watch. He gallantly said I could go ahead of him if I was in a hurry.
I smiled as I said thanks, not sure if my features were going to appear as just plain thankful, or send some kind of sensuous signal to the guy. Inwardly, I hated myself for having gotten into this mess. If only. If only a million other things had gone differently .... I sighed to myself as I paid for my bagel and coffee. I was stuck with this as a job - at least temporarily - and that meant I was stuck spending some time as a woman.
I'm sure the cabbie was leering at me as he drove me to the studio. I didn't have time to notice; I was busy eating my bagel and cream cheese and drinking my coffee.
The coffee did it. Some caffeine in my system helped calm my jangled nerves. At the same time, it felt ... different. Almost exhilarating! I felt very energized, like I could walk through the photo shoot in minutes. I walked into the studio with a definite spring in my step.
As I entered, I glanced around and saw the old grandfatherly gentleman sitting patiently in a chair. The receptionist took my name and even as she started to check her list, the man stood and strode to my side.
"Miss Lewis?" he asked in his warm friendly voice.
I turned from the receptionist. "Yes," I answered cautiously. I didn't know this old man, and I was uneasy to the point of being paranoid.
He smiled warmly. "I'm Mr. Randall, the CEO of ...." He didn't finish; I'm sure he thought I was going to faint or something.
My eyes bulged when I realized that I was talking to a multi-billionaire. _The_ Mr. Randall - Warren P. Randall the Third, the man whose name was synonymous with lingerie and fine women's clothing, had been waiting for me.
"I'm ... Felicity. Felicity Lewis," I stammered. I didn't really know how to greet a CEO.
"Yes," he smiled warmly, "I know." He took my arm gently and led me toward the back of the studio. "Some of my staff are here, and I'd like you to meet them before you get started."
I didn't know Warren P. Randall from his face, but his name .... Two companies ago, I'd worked on an intranet project for his corporation. The corporation, while not the largest lingerie maker in the country, was the largest privately held company which specialized in that line, and other women's garments and accessories. The Randall family had started and successfully built the company from a small corset shop in New Brunswick, New Jersey, into the huge corporation it now is. One thing I'd definitely noticed on the earlier job - unlike some competitors, they didn't go for unrealistically proportioned models in sexy poses. The company had a wholesome image that seemed somehow out of place.
In retrospect, I should have felt nervous about being led around by a rich old man. At the time, however, I had no experience, and being in awe of a billionaire who took time to meet a lingerie model, thoughts of trouble just didn't occur to me.
'Some of his staff' was an understatement. There was Emma, the vice president of research and development, Arthur from marketing, his sister Bea from advertising, and several assistants and deputy assistants. If a bomb had exploded at that moment, I think the company would have lost its top three tiers of management.
"Now, Bea, don't you agree that she's perfect?" Mr. Randall gushed proudly after introducing us.
Bea, I guessed, was about fifty-five. Shorter than me, she was stocky. Not fat, but solidly built. She wore her graying hair in a tight bun, and her face was worn with experience. Her lips were pursed tightly all the time, and with her old-fashioned glasses, she looked a bit like a librarian. I felt like I was being examined under a microscope as she gazed up and down my body. "Yes," she finally said, and her voice had a soft quality that belied her somewhat harsh appearance, "I think she'll do nicely." She pulled the glasses from her nose, dangling them on a chain around her neck. "Assuming," she continued in a stern tone that matched the piercing glare she was giving me, "that you meet the standards of our little company."
I withered under her gaze. "Uh, I'm not sure I follow," I said cautiously.
She frowned as she continued to stare at me. I honestly didn't know what she was talking about, and she didn't seem willing to give me any hints.
Mr. Randall came to my rescue. "What my sister is saying," he said in a fatherly tone, "is that we work very hard to protect the image of our company." His gentle face took on a slightly more stern appearance. "We did a little background check on you," he continued.
My eyes widened, and I felt panic rising in my throat. If they'd done some background checks, then ....
"And, much to our delight, we found nothing that could prove ... embarrassing ... to the company."
Bea's face softened - a little bit. "We don't like to discover that our models have seedy backgrounds," she said. "Alcohol abuse, exotic dancing," she said the words as if they were distasteful, and I knew that, to her, they were, "you know, that sort of thing."
"Oh." I felt a ton of weight lift from my shoulders. "Uh, no, I've never done any of that."
"And we like it even less when our models move on into those sorts of ... disreputable professions." She half-smiled, and instead of feeling relief, I suddenly felt nervous. "Warren, I'll handle it from here. Why don't you go back to your office and try to be useful?" There was an air of familiarity about her comment, as if it were an inside joke. But it was also clearly a command; she was in charge from here on out, even if Mr. Randall was the CEO.
We went back into the dressing room of the studio. Bea shooed out a pair of ladies, company employees I surmised, and she sat me down on a sofa. "Do you sleep around?" she asked bluntly.
I know the shock showed on my face. "I beg your pardon?"
"Do you sleep around?" she repeated.
I shook my head. "No," I managed to croak. "But you had to have seen the report," I managed to add. I felt terribly uncomfortable with Bea's questions.
"Are you a virgin?"
"Uh, yes," I whispered while I dropped my head, blushing. Just after I'd changed for the trip, Anya had mysteriously hinted that my body - my female body - was still virginal; at the time, it seemed odd. Now I understood why.
Bea watched me squirm, then she laughed. "You know, it's always interesting to see how a girl reacts to that question. And I know it's terribly personal, too." She smiled. "But you see, we have to make sure our models fit the image of the company." She sat back. "I knew from the first glance that Warren's judgement was right." She read my puzzled expression. "Your outfit. Very conservative. Very lady-like." She nodded approvingly. "You'd be surprised how many models show up looking like ladies of the evening, and then expect to model our lines of clothing."
I nodded dumbly. I guessed that I'd passed her inspection.
Without hesitation or question, I stood.
"Take off your clothes, please." I stared at her, my mouth slowly dropping open, not sure I understood the order. She looked directly at me. "Take off your clothes." Slowly, uneasily, I obeyed, slipping off my skirt first and then unbuttoning my blouse. I stepped out of my shoes and skirt as my blouse slid off my arms, leaving me standing in my panty hose, panties, and bra.
From her pocket, Bea produced a tape measure. Quickly, expertly, she took my measurements, jotting them down as she did so. I heard her humming and muttering to herself as she worked. But I didn't have the courage to question her.
"Okay, now the bra."
I slipped off my bra, relying on the programmed instincts since my own brain was numbed by what was happening. She stepped back, examining me carefully, then she turned me to the side. Arms up, arms out, arms down. Side, front, bent forward. All kinds of poses. Finally, she let me straighten up. Bea smiled at me. " I started the business in a fitting room. I could tell, without the tape, that you're a 34C." She beamed. "And of course, I was right!" She sat back down, indicating that I should put my bra back on. "You know, you really should get a professional fitting. That bra just doesn't do your figure any justice!"
I clasped the bra behind my back. "So I take it you approve?" I asked meekly.
Bea laughed heartily. "Honey," she roared, "I've seen a lot of models in my day. And you're one of the best I've ever seen!" She was beaming. "Warren was right. You have a natural modesty and innocence about you that you can't hide. It's the perfect image for our line." She grinned. "If I do say so, you've got about the most perfect breasts. And, honey, I've seen a lot of them in my day!"
I felt a shudder of relief course through me; I was terrified that I wasn't going to get the job, that Bea might disapprove, or that there was something in this mysterious background check, or another dozen unspoken fears. Or worse, that she might discover that I wasn't really Felicity; that I was Fred, a guy who had been magically changed into Felicity.
"Go ahead and get dressed," Bea suggested as she sat down. "My staff has some work to do with the photographer before you'll get started, so we might as well relax."
Slowly, very conscientiously, I began to pull on my clothes. Bea suddenly rose and strode out the door, leaving me shaking. Why had she left? Did I give something away? She returned, though, before I got my blouse buttoned, carrying a tray with a silver tea set, which she set on the vanity. "I thought you could use a cup of tea," she volunteered when she saw my expression. While I finished buttoning, she poured two cups.
I gratefully took a cup from her. My nerves were jangled. Doing a photo shoot for a small-time advertising circular was one thing; performing in front of the heads of a major corporation was another. One slip-up and I was done. Then I started; where had that thought come from? I was Fred, an unemployed computer engineer, not Felicity, an inexperienced newcomer to the modeling scene.
"You seem a little nervous," Bea said, making small talk.
"Oh, I've done ..." I dropped my eyes. I'd wanted to boast that I was experienced. But I couldn't. Something about Bea wouldn't let me. Like Aunt Bee of Mayberry, I felt like I was obligated to honesty. "I only did the one shoot a couple of weeks ago," I admitted sheepishly. "Yeah, I guess I am nervous."
Bea laughed. "You'll do fine," she assured me. "You know," her voice went soft, almost conspiratorial, "sometimes, models are at their best when they're nervous. It tends to bring out a wholesome innocence. We like that."
I tried to smile. "I hope so. I hope I don't disappoint you." I took another sip of tea. "Mmm," I said, surprised. "This is good."
"It's herbal tea," she explained. "With a touch of honey. Much better for you than all that caffeine."
I nearly choked on the sip in my mouth. I suddenly understood my jitters. I'd had two cups of coffee since rising, my normal pace. But I was in a much smaller body, and undoubtedly, my tolerance for caffeine wasn't as high. Thus the jumpiness. "Um," I began to explain my surprise, "I think I had a bit too much coffee this morning. More than I should have, anyway. Maybe that's why I feel so nervous."
"Maybe," Bea laughed. "And maybe some of it is being a small-town girl in the big city. You know, any decent girl would feel a bit out of place on her first trip here."
The first day went well, if you could call a demanding photographer and Bea's perfectionism and a grueling day going well. I was exhausted when we wrapped up the day's shoot at six. One of the photographer's assistants, who had been especially nice to me, asked if I wanted to join him for dinner; Bea seemed rather pleased when I turned him down. I was too tired, and far too uneasy. I just went back to the hotel, called room service for a light meal, and then soaked in the tub. If anyone ever says that modeling is easy work, I defy them to do a full day of changing, redoing makeup, and having to hold unnatural poses for agonizingly long times. Even with Bea Randall and her assistants helping, I was exhausted by the end of each day.
The second and third days were more of the same. We were doing all kinds of lingerie, and to my gratitude, most of the shots were my torso only, which meant my face wasn't showing. Even though it was really kind of a 'borrowed' face thanks to Anya's magic, it still didn't seem right to be showing it in pictures where the rest of my body was clad only in underwear.
But that doesn't mean I wasn't nervous. Even after three days, I still was terrified. What if I gave away my little secret? Was I doing things the way a true woman would? Was I being _too_ nervous? Having my nerves jangled for days on end took its toll on me, both physically and emotionally. If it hadn't been for Bea, I don't think I could have gotten through the ordeal. She was like an aunt during the entire shoot. It helped a lot.
We wrapped up shooting early on Friday morning, so the company invited me and the photographer's staff to headquarters. Bea had set up a little party, as much to thank us as to celebrate getting a first-class photo shoot done, and ahead of schedule to boot. I wasn't scheduled to leave until early Saturday afternoon. Anya and I hadn't wanted to take any chances, and if we'd been running late, it would have been less risky to have the pass go through Saturday.
I wanted desperately to get home, there weren't any openings on earlier flights. Besides, even if I did get home, I was stuck as a girl until Saturday evening, and I couldn't very well hang around the house all day. The kids didn't know my little secret, and they would wonder, and probably talk about mom's friend.
So I went to the party.
It started quite nicely. The wholesome image the company projected to the public was maintained inside the corporate walls as well. The management of the advertising department had meat and cheese plates, rolls, vegetables, and such catered. Punch was provided, but it was strictly non-alcoholic. Everyone was very polite, almost formally so. The photographers and I were treated almost like royalty.
Maybe I'd gotten too comfortable. Maybe Bea had helped lull me into a false sense of security. Maybe I just pushed my luck. In any event, what happened next was purely my own fault.
As it got later in the afternoon, I decided to go back to the hotel. When I indicated that I was leaving, Ray, one of the assistant photographers - the same one who had been so nice the other day - volunteered to give me a ride. I considered it for a moment, then I decided I didn't really want to trouble Bea and her staff to call me a cab.
Ray was nice - to a point. When I got back to the hotel, he asked if he could buy me dinner.
Any woman worth her salt would have known what he was up to. I, being new to the game, didn't. We had dinner in the hotel restaurant, and Ray ordered a bottle of wine. Now, I know that all the warning signs were there. At the time, however, I really wasn't paying attention. As I said, I think I got lulled.
The next thing I knew, we were up in my room, and Ray was groping at the buttons on my blouse. I was very drunk, and though I was trying to fight him off, I wasn't being very successful. Besides, with the alcohol in my system, I was starting to get a little bit curious about the warm feeling inside.
I tried to stop him. I really wanted him to leave me alone. But I was a tiny weak woman, and drunk at that, and I couldn't make him.
I awoke Saturday morning feeling the hangover from the wine, and almost immediately, I knew that my nightmare wasn't just a nightmare; it was all too real. I could feel it - inside me, I could tell. I hurt, and there was a small bloodstain on the sheet. I tasted the bile rising in my throat as I realized what I'd done; I ran to the bathroom fearing that I was going to throw up.
My emotions, so tangled by the week's events and the faint memory of last night, were a jumble of mixed feelings. Anger at what had happened. Guilt that I'd let it. Sadness that I'd lost something. Hatred of Ray for taking advantage of me. Hatred of myself for letting myself get into the position where I'd been changed. Frustration that I hadn't heeded all the warnings. And many, many more. Into this jumble, logical, rational Fred stepped to assert control.
First things first - I had to get cleaned up and get ready to fly home. I was an emotionless robot through my now-familiar morning ritual of showering and getting ready. Next was the packing. It should have been simple, but everything I picked up to pack reminded me that I was a woman, and as a woman, I'd been taken advantage of. I cried my way through the morning.
Breakfast was a self-imposed ordeal; I felt like every eye was on me, knowing my secret and my shame, and was judging me for my stupidity and recklessness. Tears streamed down my cheeks as the elevator doors closed and I began the ascent to my room.
The worst was yet to come. Bea was waiting in my room. She'd come by to give me my paycheck and to ask if I'd be interested in modeling more of their clothing lines, most specifically, the new swimsuits. She knew, just from looking at me, that something was really bothering me.
I ended up spilling my guts about what I'd done the night before. As I talked, crying the whole time, she watched me, non-critically, and when I finished explaining what had happened, she held me and let me cry on her shoulder.
I was deathly afraid that she'd be disappointed in me and I'd lose my job. But it turned out that she knew exactly what I'd been through; Bea confessed that long ago, she'd been treated the same as I had. The important thing, she told me, was what I decided to do from here. She'd seen many girls go through it; they seemed to either learn and never repeat their mistakes, or they decided their morals weren't realistic and became 'fast' women.
It was easy to reassure Bea that I didn't ever want to do that again. I was upset that it had happened once, and the thought of sex with a man made my stomach churn. It _wasn't_ going to happen again. Because I wasn't ever going to change and model again. It was that simple - I was never again going to be in the vulnerable position I'd been in.
Bea seemed to sense how determined and honest I was about the 'mistake', as she called it. She gave me a hug and assured me that it was our little secret, and that if I wanted to model for the company some more, she'd be pleased to have me. I got the feeling that Bea found me to be a kindred spirit of sorts.
I was more than rude on the flight home; I was downright bitchy. The guy beside me asked to be moved. When Elise picked me up at the airport, she knew something was wrong. I sat in silence on the trip home, her many questions about the week going unanswered. We both carried in my bags, and when Elise carried one to our room, I simply dropped the other bag and retreated to the family room.
I didn't hear Elise glide into the room; only when she sat beside me did I stir. And that was to turn even further away from her. My cheeks were very tear-stained. Damn this body and its hormones! I couldn't stop crying for anything.
"What happened?" Elise asked simply.
I shook my head. "Nothing," I mumbled between sobs.
Elise put her arm around me. "Did you ... you know?"
I collapsed against her, my entire body convulsing. "I tried ... I didn't want to ...." My words were barely coherent through my sobbing.
Elise just held me close. It was up to me to talk.
"It ... seemed ... so ... innocent," I finally sniffled. "I ... was ... so ... stupid!" I bawled some more.
"I'm sure you tried to stop him," Elise said soothingly. "But you're new at this, and you don't know how a girl is supposed to handle these kinds of situations."
"But...I was just a cheap slut!" I bawled. "I let myself ... get into the situation!" My face was buried in my hands. "It's all my fault," I cried over and over.
Elise stroked my hair gently. "The innocent girl goes to the big city," she cooed. "You were just too pure and innocent and trusting, and some slick guy took advantage of your innocence."
"But ... I was a virgin ... until it happened!" I sobbed. "I didn't want it to happen! I didn't want to have sex with a man! Not ever!"
"I'll help you learn. Next time, you'll be prepared. You won't fall for any of the tricks."
"There won't be a next time!" I sobbed. "I'm never going to change again!"
Her hands paused momentarily; she hadn't considered that my reaction would be so extreme. And yet, she could easily understand. I'd been hurt, been made to feel cheap, and I didn't want to put myself in that position again. She kept stroking my hair lovingly as I cried in her arms, until I fell asleep. Somehow, she got me to bed.
"You've got a call." Elise called out to the patio, where I was grilling burgers. The kids were lounging around; it was a rare event for the family to be together and not fighting.
"Who is it?" I asked, irritated. I didn't want to burn the burgers.
"It's Anya," she called back.
"Shit!" I muttered under my breath. I checked the grill, then stalked inside. "The burgers should be done in a minute or so. Don't let them burn." Elise shrugged and went outside to tend the cooking. I picked up the phone. "Hello?"
"Hi, Fred." There was no mistaking Anya's voice. She sounded rather cheerful. I hadn't told her about the unpleasantness on the last trip.
"What's up?" I asked cautiously. Somehow, I knew that if Anya was calling, it was because there was another gig.
She confirmed it. "You know the Ice House, the brewery? Well, they want to do a commercial, and they're looking for young ladies to ...."
"Not interested," I interrupted her.
Anya was taken aback; it took several seconds for her to recover. "But ... it's even better pay than the photo ads," she rebutted. "It'll be easy. Local shoot, one day."
"I'm not interested," I snapped. Then I hung up the phone. In a few minutes, it rang again, but I ignored it until the answering machine picked up the call.
I stomped back outside, my pleasant mood suddenly fouled. I took over at the grill just as Elise was starting to pull off the burgers. She eyed me, wondering what was up, as she moved aside. "What's up?" she asked tentatively.
I shook my head. "Nothing." I didn't even look at her to answer; she didn't need to see the distress in my eyes.
We finished eating, but without much conversation. I was very troubled by Anya's call. We still needed the money, and the job would have been helpful. It had been four weeks since the big shoot and the incident, and in that time, I'd turned down Anya and Greg twice. Each time, it got harder. Money was tight, and my job cut back on my overtime. Things were looking a little bit better, but my job prospects were still grim. In short, I needed the job. But my ego had been seriously wounded, and I just couldn't take any more changes.
Elise waited until we were cleaning up the dishes, working together in the kitchen like we usually did. "What did Anya want?"
I took the plate and started to dry it. "Nothing."
"She said it was a good opportunity. A couple of thousand for one day shooting a commercial."
I was surprised to find out that Anya had been talking to Elise. It
felt like she was going behind my back. I didn't look at her; I could
feel her pleading eyes drilling into my soul. "I ... can't."
She sighed; the sound added tons to my already heavy burden. "Fred," she said softly, "we need the money."
I knew she was right. There was absolutely no denying that funds were getting tight again. I tried not to look at her or even give an outward sign that I'd heard.
"The brakes on my car are squealing." Elise waited to see if I'd heard. "I had Dennis in the shop take a quick peek." She watched my shoulders stiffen. "Oh, don't worry. He didn't charge us for it. Anyway, the front brakes are in pretty bad shape. Dennis said it's dangerous to drive, especially when they get wet."
I set down the plate automatically, since my eyes were closed. My head shook slowly from side to side. I knew Elise was right. But whenever I thought about changing, I couldn't get the image out of my mind, the recurrent nightmare. I was stuck in that body, the young, sexy woman's body, and I was getting addicted to sex, sex with any man who had a penis. Every time I had the nightmare, I woke covered with sweat, and I had to check my body to ensure it wasn't real. I never told Elise, but somehow, I suspect that she knew.
"I talked to Anya today. She says you've turned down a number of jobs." She stopped washing, turning toward me. "Why?"
I clutched the counter-top so Elise wouldn't see my hands shaking. "I just can't," I answered, trying to hide the pain from Elise.
She rested her hand on my shoulder. "I know," she said softly. "We'll just figure out something else."
I shook my head, my eyes screwed tightly shut. "There isn't anything else," I finally said, my words so soft that she barely heard them.
"Are you sure?" She sounded worried, bless her heart.
I nodded slowly, trying to force the nightmare from my mind. "Yeah," I said, sounding completely unsure. "I guess I have to do it."
"You checked with Bea Randall?" I asked Anya, incredulous. We stood beside the gift shop, surrounded by throngs of Bikini Beach patrons coming early to enjoy the park.
Anya nodded slowly. "I hope you don't think I was out of line. It's just that, well, that was a good contract, and I'd hate to see you do something that closed out future prospects."
I stood, dumbfounded by her thoughtfulness. It was almost like she was my agent and was protecting my future. "I guess you're right," I said, shaking my head slowly as my long tresses bobbed around my face. I swatted at the longer hair, annoyed as usual by the changes. I was out of place, since I was wearing my street clothes. It made me feel a bit less conspicuous than the small bikini of the first change, and when I changed, I needed every morale boost I could get.
Anya's grandmother walked up to us. There was something on her face that I didn't quite understand, but Anya took immediate note. The worry on Anya's features made me worry, too. "Can I talk to the two of you in my office?" she asked plainly. She turned and strode in the direction of the low gray office building, confident that we would follow.
I glanced at Anya to see if she knew what was going on. From her expression and demeanor, she didn't think it was serious. She merely shrugged.
The interior of the office building seemed dark, but that was only because it was so bright outside. When my eyes adjusted, I took a seat across the desk from Anya's grandmother. Anya sat down beside me.
"Anya," grandmother began slowly, "you've been using the park to change Mr. Lewis so he can earn some extra money modeling, right?"
Anya didn't flinch. "That's right," she said evenly. "In every case, he paid for a pass for the appropriate length of time."
Grandmother held up her hands defensively, laughing. "Whoa," she said. "I know he's paid." She was trying to make sure I didn't feel awkward, but she was only partially successful.
"So?" Anya asked cautiously. I could see her concentrating, as if she were trying to read grandmother's mind.
"And you've been helping arrange his, um, _her_, work, correct?"
Anya's eyes suddenly widened. "Oh, of course!"
"What?" I was confused.
"I've been using the park resources, namely the water, to help you with business, not recreation," Anya explained, "and using my own time to help you line up work."
"So, normally, you'd pay an agent to find you work. And grandmother thinks that Bikini Beach should get a small percentage, since our business is involved in your, uh, work."
"A piece of the action, is that it?" I asked, trying hard to keep the sarcasm out of my voice and only partially succeeding.
"Ms. Lewis," grandmother said firmly, catching my attention. "Anya could have let you go through with your original plan, in which case, we wouldn't be having this conversation. She didn't, and I'm proud of her for that. But we run a business here, and you're taking advantage of my granddaughter."
I dropped my head, ashamed of the truth in what Anya's grandmother had said. When I looked back up, they were both looking at me. There was not the vaguest hint of judgment in their eyes, just ... something I couldn't put my finger on. Compassion was part of it, and understanding. "What do you think is fair?" I asked Anya.
Anya looked straight into my eyes. "Normally, an agent gets ten to fifteen percent," she said quickly. "I'd say that ten percent, split seventy-thirty between myself and the park is probably fair." She glanced at her grandmother, who nodded her head ever so slightly.
"I guess that's fair," I said. And suddenly, I understood. Anya was learning how to be a businesswoman. Her compassion to save me the first time was humanitarian, and grandmother expected no less. But the second time, and the third...that was beyond compassion. It was becoming business. And as such, Anya was expected to look out for the best interests of Bikini Beach and herself. "I'll get someone to draw up a contract," I added hastily.
Grandmother laughed, and I started. "Oh, no," she said through her mirth. "Don't bother. I have no time for those blood-sucking leeches." She glanced at Anya, who nodded agreement. "Unless _you_ need a contract, that is."
It was up to me. Did I trust them? "No, if my word is good enough for you, then your word is good enough for me."
Grandmother looked at Anya; once more, there was that strange expression, as if they were communicating mentally. Anya merely nodded, and then she rose and walked quickly from the office. When I turned back to grandmother, she was looking at me with a curious expression. "You had a rather ... bad experience." No judgment, no accusation. Just statement of fact.
I dropped my head, ashamed. "Yeah," I managed to mumble. I could feel my cheeks reddening with shame.
"But it wasn't your fault, was it?"
"Yes, it was."
"No, it wasn't." I looked up into her stern expression, and in her eyes, I saw understanding. Just like in Bea Randall's eyes. "It wasn't your fault. And you shouldn't feel guilty."
"But ...." I wanted to say something, anything, but there weren't any words to express the turmoil in my heart.
"But you hate changing, don't you?" Again, a statement of fact. I nodded, leaving my head hanging. "And yet, you continue to change, facing the horror of what happened before, having to live in a body you don't like. Why?"
I looked up sharply. "I don't have any choice, do I?"
Grandmother smiled. "You do it out of love. Love for Elise, and for your family." There was a warmth in her countenance that I didn't know possible. "That is why I let Anya work with you."
A thought hit me. "But if you knew, then you also know ... that I'm going to have to do more of this." She nodded, her expression grim. "A lot more?" Again, a nod. A darkness settled into my heart. I really didn't like being in this body. And yet, I had to, to keep my family together. And from grandmother's indications, I was going to be doing this for a while.
"That frightens you, doesn't it?" She smiled as if laughing at a private joke. "It frightens you that you might get to _like_ it." I nodded, and she laughed again. "Well," she added, "that part I can't help you with. It's all up to you whether you like your female alter ego or not."
I got home early, feeling pretty good about the day. The commercial had been very successful; I wore a teeny bikini and showed off my body while I sang the praises of men who drank beer from the brewery.
Elise had worked all weekend, so she had the day off. It was nice to have her home, just in case. We had a quiet dinner; the kids were out. While we were watching a movie, Melissa came home. She eyed me suspiciously while Elise explained that I was a friend from work. I really didn't think she bought the story, but she did go to her room and get on the phone. I didn't understand it; she'd hung out with her friends at the mall all day, and now that she got home, all she wanted to do was call them to talk about what they'd done and plan the next day. Or something. I wasn't really sure I wanted to know.
It was about eleven that we heard the door opening and someone coming in. As the feet padded softly across the dim kitchen, Elise snapped on the light.
And she promptly screamed. I ran to the kitchen to see what was going on, and I felt like screaming, too. It wasn't Jeremy. The intruder was one of Melissa's friends. The girl, about eighteen, was about five-six, one-twenty-five, and quite generously curved. She had long wavy blonde hair and spectacular blue eyes on a face that stunningly gorgeous.
"Mom, it's me!" the girl complained as Elise threatened to call the cops. "Jeremy!"
I felt a chill run down my spine at the words. Elise halted her threats. "What kind of sick prank do you think you're pulling, young lady?"
"Mom, I'm Jeremy!" the girl complained again. "I did just like Dad did." The girl turned toward me. "Isn't that right, Dad?"
Elise turned white. I felt my heart race. "What do you think you're doing?" I demanded in my soft feminine voice. I hadn't yet mastered sounding stern.
The young lady - Jeremy - turned to Elise. "Mom, can I talk to Dad about this? Please?"
Elise wasn't happy, but she went back to the family room. I pulled a couple of chairs from the table and sat down. Jeremy sat down across the table from me. "What do you think you're doing?" I demanded again. "How ...?"
Jeremy grinned mischievously, and I knew beyond a doubt that it was my son. That grin couldn't be faked by anyone else. "I followed you this morning," he said. "I wondered what you did, and what you and mom were arguing about the other day."
My eyes narrowed. "Discussions between your mother and I are private," I scolded.
He shrugged. "Whatever." Then he smiled at me. "Anyway, I decided to follow you - to find out where you were getting the extra money."
"Our money problems ..." I began.
"... are none of my business," Jeremy finished mockingly. "Yeah, yeah, I know. I've heard it a million times." He scowled. "But they _are_ my business. They affect me - and Mel, too!"
"So what did you do?" I asked. I felt panic, fear that what happened to me might have happened to him.
Jeremy smiled. "I was just at the mall, hanging with the girls," he answered. "You'll never guess who Suzanne Hollings is sleeping with ..." he started, whispering as a seasoned gossip.
I cut him off. "Enough. Is that all?"
"Yeah," he shrugged. "Why?" Then his eyes narrowed, and I could almost see his mind racing. He was going to figure it out, of that I was sure.
"Well, don't do it again."
"What if I want to?" Jeremy asked defiantly. "What if I like it?" He saw me blanch, and he realized that he'd said something wrong. "So why do you do it?" He pulled a picture from the clutch purse he was holding. As he unfolded it, I felt my knees go weak. "That's you, isn't it?" he demanded. It was one of the pictures of me from the Randall lingerie job, wearing a demi-bra and matching panties, and my face was clearly visible.
"That's different," I said hastily. "It's a job. We need the money."
Jeremy grinned. He'd won this round. "Yeah, right."
Something told me that Jeremy was going to get into trouble if he went back to Bikini Beach.
Over the next three months, I did a gig about every other week. Most of them were small; the store Sunday advertising flyers, small catalogs, and a couple more commercials. The money wasn't great, but it kept us in the black, and we were even getting a bit set aside. A very tiny bit. Still, it felt like progress. And there were not yet any openings in information technology. I felt like I was trapped.
Over the weeks, Elise's attitude toward me changed. At first, I didn't notice. But eventually, I couldn't help seeing it. One night, after the kids were in bed, Elise and I were watching the television. It just happened that one of my commercials came on. Elise's entire demeanor changed abruptly, like a switch had been thrown. I watched her through the remaining seconds of the commercial, and then I confronted her.
It took a lot of prying, but eventually I got the truth. It was unbelievable, but Elise was getting jealous of me. Of my success as a woman model. Of my looks. She admitted to having mixed emotions; on the one hand, the extra money had saved our marriage. But on the other hand, I was a girl for the ads, and when that happened, I was better looking than she was. She was afraid that I was getting too successful as a woman, and that I might decide to stay, leaving her stuck with the kids.
I laughed, and Elise got mad. It took quite a while to calm her down and to convince her that I really, really hated being a woman. I didn't like it in the least bit, even if I'd gotten used to the idea. Not comfortable, used to. It was very comforting to Elise to discover how much I hated being a girl.
It was precisely four weeks later that we had trouble with Jeremy. Early Saturday, a girl came home. Jeremy. Just like before, but even more curvy, especially up top. Elise went nuts, scared at how he'd changed himself. I tried to caution him. It turned out that he'd changed two or three other times that we hadn't known about. He'd been working odd jobs and scrimping to save money for the Bikini Beach passes. We just hadn't caught him before.
I tried to intercede; it seemed to me to be just a young male curiosity thing. But Elise, I could tell, wasn't convinced. She wanted to ground Jeremy. I got him off the hook, which it turned out was a bad thing. He went out with the girls clubbing.
I was almost sleeping when he came in. Something didn't sound right. Normally, Jeremy was super-quiet when he came in. This time, though, it was as if he didn't care. I slipped from the bed and went to the kitchen to greet him.
The sight that greeted me brought back my own nightmare. Jeremy was a mess. His clothing was ripped and disheveled. His face was panic-stricken. I knew.
"You want to talk about it?" I asked cautiously.
Jeremy shook his head. "Nope."
"You had sex, didn't you." No question, just certainty.
Jeremy glanced at me, then he dropped his head and began to sob. "Uh huh," he mumbled through his blubbering.
I sighed heavily. "I thought so."
"How would you know?" Jeremy demanded, his voice conflicted between anger and humiliation.
"Because," I began evenly, "it happened to me, too."
Jeremy's head popped up, his eyes wide in surprise. "You, too?"
I nodded slowly. This time, I could talk to him without my cheeks burning from shame.
Jeremy tried to say something; his mouth moved, but nothing would come out. "You ... got laid ... too?" he asked, his voice quavering with uneasiness. I just nodded. "But how ...." Jeremy looked confused. "Did you like it? Is that why you keep ...?"
I slapped him hard, right across the cheek. "Damn you," I nearly screamed, "I _tried_ to warn you! I tried to persuade you what could happen!" My face was burning, but this time from my anger. "I tried, even when the memory of that night hurt me!" Tears were stinging my eyes. "But you wouldn't listen, would you?" All the emotions I'd bottled up burst to the surface at once, leaving me dazed in a muddle of feelings.
Jeremy rubbed his cheek, then he dropped his gaze. "I guess I had that coming," he mumbled. Finally, he looked up at me. "You didn't like it, did you?"
I fought the memory. "No," I answered simply. "I didn't. It was almost a rape!"
Jeremy rubbed away a tear. "Neither did I." He dropped his gaze again. "I got so confused. I was having fun with the girls. But when the guys came, I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know how to act. I was scared."
"That's how I felt, too."
Surprise was written on Jeremy's features. "Like you were out of control? Like you were so ... so vulnerable?"
The realization that I'd had those feelings too hit me like a bomb. "Yeah," I admitted softly. "Exactly." Inwardly, I was shaken to my core. That was _exactly_ how I'd felt, but had never found the words to say."
It was almost exactly the one-year anniversary of my first modeling job that I came home from another shoot for the Randalls. This one was for their major mail-order catalog for their swimsuit line.
Elise had dinner set up when I got home. I asked what the occasion was, and she just smiled and reminded me of the anniversary. I was startled. It hadn't seemed like that long. And yet, at times, it seemed like it had been a lifetime. And to my pleasure and chagrin, it hadn't gotten any easier. If anything, I disliked my 'second career' even more than at the start.
We got a little drunk, me still in my female body. And we ended up getting, uh, intimate. It was weird. I felt strongly attracted to Elise, just like always, and when she put on her red and black teddy, I really started getting aroused. Then, she pulled out a skimpy little outfit for me, and we cuddled. Eventually, we ended up making love - both of us as women.
When I awoke, I was in my old male body. I glanced at Elise, sleeping peacefully on my arm, and I puzzled. Was she really bisexual? Or lesbian? One thing was certain - she'd been the aggressor the evening before. I was still pondering the question when she woke up.
Elise started to get amorous, but I couldn't get interested. What we'd done the night before bothered the hell out of me. Elise, to my amazement, was also confused. She'd never been attracted to another woman before; I was her first. But since the other woman was really her husband, it seemed to be okay. It didn't make sense, but it seemed okay to Elise.
"How'd the shoot go?" Elise asked as she sipped her tea at the kitchen table.
I shrugged. "Another job," I answered without giving it any more thought. I was in my model body. "And they gave me the swimsuits as a perk."
Elise shook her head. "A perk?"
It was funny; most of the time, I couldn't use them. "Maybe Jeremy can use them."
Elise stiffened. "Don't." Something about Jeremy was bothering her greatly.
I knew what it was. "We're going to have to confront the issue," I said, trying to sound as calm as possible. Inside, my guts were churning. After the sex incident, I thought that Jeremy had gotten over his curiosity. It turned out I was wrong. Unlike my changes, Jeremy's were 'global', as Anya called it. Everyone but Elise and I knew him as Jillian when he changed. I shook my head; Anya must have _known_ what was going to happen, and in her own way, letting Elise and I remember Jeremy helped us prepare for this very moment.
It took a couple of months, but eventually, his comfort at being with the other girls overrode his fear and anger about the incident. Eventually, he even confronted the boy, Mark, about it. It turned out that _both_ of them had been drunk. Mark had huge regrets; he'd let his friends' dares and ribbing get to him. I turned out he was a really decent young man, and he and Jillian became friends, and then they even started dating. Jeremy was spending most of his weekends as Jillian just so she could date Mark.
"But ...." Elise shut up. Finally, she looked at me, and I could see the sadness in her eyes. "We're losing him, aren't we?"
I nodded sadly. Elise couldn't understand one thing. Jeremy was my son. A son. A male heir, someone to carry on the family name. Just like some say there's a special bond between a mother and her daughter, so is there a bond between father and son. Unlike the woman-to-woman bonding, a father and son didn't have a spoken bond, but rather, something a little more nebulous. "We don't have a choice," I added.
Elise sniffled. "Why?"
"I don't know." I lowered my head, feeling the stinging of tears. "But he's spending more and more time as a girl. He doesn't really talk - except when he's a girl."
Elise nodded sadly. "I know. I wondered if you noticed that." She shifted her gaze and stared out the window, at the appropriately gray skies of the threatening thunderstorm.
"So what do we do?"
Elise sighed. "His birthday is coming up. Maybe ...."
I knew the answer. We'd offer him a lifetime pass for a birthday present.
Elise trembled with her sorrow. "And if we don't? Why don't you talk to Anya? Make her refuse to get Jeremy any more passes." She sounded desperate.
I shook my head sadly. "We could block it until he turns eighteen. After that ...." Elise knew what I meant, and she dropped her head under the weight of the inevitable. "And if we prevent him from changing, then he's going to resent us."
Elise's eyes were closed against the inner turmoil. "I know." She sat silently for nearly a minute, while lightning flashed outside. "So we get it for his birthday?"
The irony wasn't lost on me, nor on Elise. I'd started the whole thing, and after a year of being a woman for modeling jobs, I still disliked changing. Jeremy, though, didn't. He wanted to change for good. I didn't understand.
I'm working again, thank goodness. A retail chain decided to revamp the entire IT system, and overhaul their web presence at the same time. The funny thing is that I found out about the job while I was doing an advertising job for the chain. I overheard the managers talking while they reviewed the advertising campaign with the photographer. When I told them that I'd overheard, and that my brother Fred was pretty well qualified and might be perfect for the job, they were skeptical. But I had their names, and when I changed back, I got my resume right past the HR department and onto their desks. After that, the interview couldn't have gone better; I knew what they wanted and what strengths to emphasize. I landed the job.
I'm still modeling, though. We need to rebuild the college fund for Jillian and Melissa. Jillian has been a surprise; without the peer pressure from the jocks Jeremy hung with, Jillian has turned out to be a very sharp girl, and she's set her sights on Stanford, for a degree in engineering. When I checked the tuition, it helped persuade me to keep modeling.
For some reason, Elise doesn't want me to stop modeling, either. I don't understand that one. It's not sexual; except for that one night, we haven't done anything while I'm changed. She has helped me a lot with how women think and act, and it's helped. When I did another job for the Randalls, I was hit on all the time. Thanks to Elise, though, I didn't feel as helpless. Vulnerable, yes, but not helpless. It boosted my confidence greatly when I got through that job without any further damage to my reputation or purity.
I'd really like to quit. Between modeling and running a burgeoning IT department, I'm almost overloaded. If it weren't for Jillian's upcoming tuition and fixing Elise's car, I'd quit in a heartbeat. I still hate being a woman.
Anya says I'm an enigma. Most guys who change as often as I have end up changing permanently. They get used to it, and even quickly start to like it. Some stay oriented toward women sexually, and some end up liking sex with men. But not me. I don't like it, I don't want sex with guys, and I don't want sex with other women. It's more than enough that I _am_ a woman from time to time for my second job.
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