Bikini Beach: Mr. Mom



Bikini Beach: Mr. Mom
Story by Ib12us

Synopsis: Since the death of his wife, a widowed father found there was no one to turn to for help in raising two small children. A co-worker suggests a place to relax where she works part-time, Bikini Beach. Is this a chance for him to understand how to raise a ‘tween daughter?

Bikini Beach: Mr. Mom.
Story by Ib12us

The author is grateful for the help, suggestions and editing done by his editor. As always his touch has enhance my stories.

This story is copyright by the author. It is protected by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

~o~O~o~



 
 
 

Designed to provide maximize comfort, sensors, hidden within the mattress, indicated a drop in pressure which would cause discomfort for its occupant. With a minimum of noise, the air compressor switched on, sending a stream of air once more to maintain the mattress at its pre-determined settings, thus ensuring its occupant need not suffer due to their inability to move.

Kneeling off to one side of the bed, a brown haired man in his late twenties kept hold of the woman’s hand, refusing to let go even as he felt the warmth fade away. Within his hand he kept hold of hers, just like he did when they said their vows, promising to cherish through richer and poorer, through sickness and health, never realizing how soon those vows would be tested. No more would he hear her complaints of his leaving clothes tossed on the floor, or how he’d forgotten to pick-up some item at the store. No more would they share the fun of walking through garage sales or thrift stores in search of something that caught her eye as they scavenged through other peoples junk.

Without warning, or shame, a wail escaped his lips and echoed throughout the house for all to hear. Except there were none, for he was alone now, just the two of them in the early morning, having sent the kids to spend time with his family, too young to understand what was ailing their mother. Even the day nurse hadn’t arrived yet, not scheduled to arrive for another few hours. Alone, the only one to hear his cries of agony were himself and his god.

Somehow comforted, yet pained, he knew she would suffer no more, through the agonizing procedures that had extended her life for those extra, but precious, few months she had left. Not once did she complain, yet he knew from the pain on her face what she endured, when the orderly placed her on the table, positioning her in discomforting ways. She just held his hand and grimaced before a smile creased her face once more, telling him she was fine, before he stepped away, to sit in the waiting room, to hope and pray it would be her last.

Only once did her resolve break, upon hearing the news that the treatments were ineffectual. He’d never seen her cry and give up hope, except on that day, and in the privacy of their home he cradled her as best he could while she sobbed uncontrollably, knowing she’d never see her children grow. Afterwards, she’d made him promise to care for their children, and to find another, to carry on with their lives. Keith knew he’d only keep half that promise, for none would ever replace her.

Picking himself up from beside her bed, the rhythmic pumping of the compressor continued to press on as it pumped air into the mattress, no longer needed. Bending over, he kissed her forehead, and noted the time of her passing, to have it forever engraved within his memory, his tears falling unabated upon her face. Her eyes closed, he imagined her free at last, free from the pain that had ravaged her body, wishing only to have his pain end so easily.

Pushing away his own aguish, Keith knew now was not the time to be thinking of himself and his pain; he had more important matters to attend to. Others to look after, duties to perform. Let the dead look after the dead, the good book said. But nowhere did it say how he was supposed to endure the ache he felt in his heart, dreading the calls he had to make. He continued to look at his wife as she lay there after he dialed and placed the necessary phone call, notifying the hospice to send over the nurse and ambulance, followed by the funeral home. Once more, he remembered the promise he’d made her. He’d take care of the kids. They were his responsibility, yet he had his doubts. Would he, could he, do it alone?

*************

“Look if you’re going to keep wasting me and my kid's time, tell me,” Keith said into the phone, “quit pulling my chain.” He heard the beep after he pressed the number to leave the message on the voice recorder.

As he led his kids once more to the parking lot, they could see his frustration, especially the 'tween with curly blond hair. Not only had he lost the one counselor who had kept his word earlier, but his replacement never bothered to show up at any of the appointed meeting places. ‘Well screw them’ he thought, and headed back to school to drop off the kids once more. He had work to do as a school counselor, and he’d figure out how to proceed. Hell, if he could manage students deciding their fate in life, surely he could figure out how to manage and raise two kids of his own. Thank God for the school daycare across from the elementary school. Otherwise, he’d never have enough time, what with school coming to a close. So many kids depended on his advice. He couldn’t let them fail.

Looking once more at the two kids in their booster seats, he knew he couldn’t fail them either. “It’s okay, Reba. I’m just upset.”

“I know, Daddy” she said, hugging him tightly before she buckled herself in. “Can we make cookies like Mommy used to?” She was hoping he’d say yes.

“We’ll see, honey. I have a lot of things to do. We’ll see.” Keith could already see the disappointment in her face.

*************

Sitting behind his desk, Keith gazed upon the picture of just the three of them, no longer a fourth. Peg insisted that Keith have it taken, just the three of them. She knew what was happening, and the picture represented that final outcome. Startled out of his reprieve, he barely heard the door open when the young girl entered. “Leave the door open, Tamara,” he said and indicated the seat in front of him. He didn’t want anyone to ever think the unthinkable. Not that any ever suspect he would. Still, he wasn’t going to take the chance. “So what have you decided?” he asked once he pulled up her file on the computer.

“Well, I was thinking of applying that cheerleading scholarship with Southtech,” she answered, blowing a bubble.

Keith gave her a disapproving look. With her grades she could do far better, but he knew her reasoning behind it. “I take it none of the other scholarships came through?” He could see the disappointment in her face. “Don’t give up hope. You’re smart, and you have the grades to back you up. Work on your generals till things get better, then reapply. I know you can do it.”

“Thanks for the understanding, Mr. Sinclair. Mom and Dad were disappointed when the loans fell through, and they said even with this scholarship it would be tough, but it’s the only one we could afford. With Dad starting a new job, we couldn’t use his income right now when applying.”

“Just do me one favor,” he asked.

“What’s that?”

“Drop the dumb blonde routine. You’ll find its more trouble than its worth. You could get in trouble with the staff, or find yourself in some compromising position and damage your reputation. Your grade average is a three point eight, close to a three point nine, and it’s not worth the risk.” Keith saw her blush. “You really should consider acting,” Keith said with a smile. “I’ll write up the necessary recommendations, and using a cheerleader scholarship is nothing to sneeze at. It can take you through the first two years, and I’m sure you’ll have better choices later on. Many girls have gone on to find very good careers starting with far less.”

Printing out the necessary papers, he watched the teenager leave, only to hear a familiar feminine voice outside his office, and approaching his door. “Sage advice coming from a man. Most of my girlfriends were pregnant before they even finished the first semester.”

“Maybe having to raise a daughter has given me a better understanding of what to expect.”

“Maybe.” The athletic coach took a seat. “So how did the meeting go?” she asked, her voice hopeful of the outcome.

“Another no-show,” he muttered, his anger evident. “What’s the point of me going only to have nobody even show up? This isn’t just about me, Lisa. It's about Rebeca and Bobby, too. Pulling them from school and taking time off ...” Keith’s hands clenched into a tight fist, his ire building once more.

Lisa understood the dilemma Keith was facing. A widowed father with a ‘tween daughter and young son kept him busy with not just his work, but also their schoolwork and after-school activities. Eventually, he’d have to confront the difficult task of discussing menstrual cycles and body development with Reba, something no man could fully understand. Still, that was just one of the many daunting tasks he faced with raising a daughter without a mother. “You’re worried you won’t be able to help Rebeca through this.” She knew from experience what he was going through. Her own father had difficulty in raising a girl with two older brothers.

“We had six girls drop out due to pregnancies this last semester. She’s starting to keep some things from me, and I’m afraid of messing up. Your dad seemed to do a pretty good job raising you. What did he do?”

“He had help. If it wasn’t for my aunt's insistence of spending time with me during the summer, I’d never have known what to expect when I grew older.” Keith heard the light laughter coming from her. “Dad couldn’t wait, at times, for those visits, and honestly, neither could I. They gave me a chance to be away from my brothers during the summer, and sometimes during the winter. I love the snow, but those winter months could be brutal,” she added with a chuckle.

Keith laughed. He and the kids had listened to her stories of living on the outskirts of civilization when she'd visit for dinner. From some of her tales, he’d often wondered how she didn’t end up being eaten by a bear, or coming off as some sort of Annie Oakley. “Wish my sister-in-law was like that. She’s trying to pressure me about having the kids stay with her. Says it’s to relive me of my burden.”

“What about the support groups? Did they pan out?” Lisa asked, trying to steer the conversation back to the difficulty at hand.

He shook his head. “They're not for me. It’s all about the women and their needs. It's all wives losing their husbands or going through divorces. Seems I’m part of a hidden or ignored group. Message boards are rife with fathers seeking answers, but it seems the only thing people suggest is meeting other single or divorced mothers. Those that I thought would pan out only led me to singles groups looking for a husband.”

Lisa could only laugh at the results, but then she became serious. “Keith, why don’t you take the kids to the waterpark? I’ll be working there again this summer, and they do have plenty of activities for them.”

“Don’t you think they’re a little young for you to be prospecting for?” Keith joked in friendly banter. Most of the staff knew of Lisa’s desire to have a winning swim team, and her work at Bikini Beach provided that opportunity. It was a way for her to not only teach kids about diving, but to look for potential recruits. With Coach Vincent’s retirement years ago, the team had virtually gone by the wayside. With her arrival the year prior, Lisa made the team one of her top priorities. Taking a summer job at Bikini Beach gave her the chance to scout and teach those that came to the high school. Of course, she never turned down any kid, even if they were from rival schools. ‘Good chance to observe the competition’ was her only response.

“They’re never too young, Keith," she said, playing along. "It’ll give you a chance to relax, and you need it, because you’ve been tense these last few weeks. Reba’s asked me if you're mad at her or Bobby. She worries about her daddy, Keith."

"See, she’s starting to become afraid to talk to me."

“You confuse her. I just told her you were busy with school. Look, they have a daycare service for kids Bobby’s age, and the staff can watch her while you lounge around and rest. And they have rides the family can share.”

“I’ll think about it. Right now … “ he turned his attention to his job, and the next appointed student, “I need to help these kids make some serious career decisions.” Lisa rose from her chair, knowing the conversation was over. Before she turned to leave, Keith wondered aloud, “You never told me, how did your application go for adoption?”

Keith heard the heavy sign and knew. “Rejected again. They think I’ll just take up their offer and become an emergency drop-off for overnight or weekend stays. They have a bias against single woman adopting.”

Keith could only nod in understanding. Most didn’t know of her circumstances, only that it pained her in not having children of her own. Reba and Bobby helped fill that void, but only temporarily. “I’m sure things will change. Give it time Lisa.”

Lisa gave him a warm smile before leaving. “Always the optimist, aren’t we. Just think about my offer. If you do come, tell Grandmother I sent you. I think Grandmother's letting Anya run the ticket booth now, so she may give you a family discount.”

*************

Keith passed by the second beach, not liking what he had seen, and pulled back onto the main highway. Every year, the beaches were becoming more and more unsafe. He’d watched when several kids, or rather hooligans, harassed those strolling on the boardwalk while several others threw their litter about, not caring who walked on it. Seated in the back, two disgruntled kids let him hear their displeasure at being cooped up inside the car with the water so close by. “Why can’t we go here, Daddy?" Which was closely followed by. "I gotta go to the bathroom.”

“Quite touching me there, Bobby! That hurts,” Reba complained when Bobby poked his sister on her chest.

Irritated, Keith bellowed, “Leave your sister alone, _now_." He watched Bobby try to poke his sister once more, only to catch his father’s glare in the rearview mirror. Even at six, he knew when he’d been caught dead to rights.

With school out, Keith had tried to spend more quality time with his kids and relax. But with a rambunctious boy and a 'tween girl in the house, he was constantly on his toes. Bobby took up most of his time, while his sister seemed to spend more time in her room. Most of her friends had gone off to visit relatives or on vacation, while she had nothing to do. He understood her need for privacy, but he had no idea how to talk to her. With her mother gone, he watched her go from a talkative and energetic girl to a sulking little 'tween. Rarely did she tell him what was bothering her. Several times, he tried to coax it out of her, only to be rebuffed.

Heading once more towards home, he had heard the kids voice their displeasure, till he noticed the billboard that advertised a safe and fun environment for the family. Since it was still early in the morning, he followed the directions on the billboard and took the next exit. Keith followed the signs, not that he needed them, since he could easily see the park off in the distance.

“Daddy I have to pee real bad,” Bobby whined, urgency in his voice.

“Just hold it for a little longer, sport. We’re almost there.” Heading into the parking lot, Keith pulled into the nearest available spot, not caring about how far he’d need to walk. Hurrying, he lifted his son out of the booster seat while Reba grabbed their towels and clothes. She was visibly excited to finally go swimming. Rushing across the parking lot, he barely noticed the women in their skimpy clothes and bikini tops. Keith hoped for their understanding when he headed straight to the front of the line. “I hate to barge," he said with a pleading tone, "but my son … he needs to use the bathroom.” The woman he’d interrupted seemed annoyed, until she caught the urgency in his son's face. The young blond-haired girl behind the counter seemed slightly perplexed as in what to do.

“This way Mr. Sinclair,” he heard a voice call to him. Keith turned towards the voice of an elderly woman, who waved for him to hurry over. She held the door open for him to enter a grey building sitting off to the side of the park entrance.

Once inside, Keith found his son being taken from him as he waited for his eyes to adjust.

“Here's the bathroom, Bobby,” the old woman said as she guided the boy.

“I can do it by myself. I’m a big boy,” he said sternly, before closing the door behind him.

“I know you are,” Keith heard a distinct and familiar voice ring out. “So are you here to take up my offer or use the restroom?” Lisa inquired, slightly amused at what had brought him to the park. When his eyes adjusted, he found himself unintentionally focusing on the swimsuit Lisa wore. The tight, one-piece swimsuit show-cased her figure, with her firm breasts and delightfully-curvy derriere. He had seen her many times before in the school's loose fitting gym clothes, and in jeans at her apartment. Only now, with a more revealing swimsuit, he could appreciate why some of the boys always looked forward to gym with her. “Well, perhaps both.”

“And who is the young lady?” the elderly lady enquired, already knowing the answer, but still being polite.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Keith stammered, finally pulling his eyes away from staring. His cheeks reddened with embarrassment at being caught staring at her. “This is my daughter, Rebeca.”

The girl stared at the older woman momentarily, before she cast eyes downward as a chill seemed to go through her.

“Don’t be afraid, child. I don’t bite,” the old woman said in a friendly, almost grandmotherly voice.

“Boss, I’d like to introduce Keith Sinclair. He’s the one I told you about,” Lisa said by way of introductions.

Shaking her boss’s hand, Keith felt as if she was staring inside of him, and just like Rebeca, he, too, felt a chill run through him. Finally, she smiled. “Just call me Grandmother, please,” she said before she gestured toward a section of the office with casual seats and a small sofa.

“I need to get back,” Lisa said, excusing herself under the watchful eye of the portly woman. “I have a group of teens that need to be evaluated, and if I know the swim coach, she’s probably has them milling around waiting for my return.” Passing by Rebeca, Lisa gave the girl a quick hug. “Maybe I’ll have time to see you later,” she said, looking at Grandmother momentarily, “and we might discuss a few things in private.” Lisa could see the appreciative look the 'tween gave her. Sighing, she released the embrace, hating to do so.

Hearing the door open from the bathroom, the old woman continued, “Lisa, why don’t you go ahead and take the children inside, while I have a discussion with Mr. Sinclair? Have Diana print their passes and drop them off at the child care center. He can meet them there once he’s inside.” Nodding her understanding, Lisa gathered the two and headed out.

Once alone, Grandmother turned her attention back. “My condolences Mr. Sinclair. Lisa said it came as a shock when you learned of your wife’s cancer.”

“It was aggressive, stage four," he said, feeling the pain all over. "There was nothing they could do. We prepared as best we could.”

“But to be alone that day, nobody there, just you and her. It’s been, what, a year since her passing?”

Keith looked at the old woman, that chill once more evident, only now it seemed the back of his hair stood up. He’d told no one what happened that morning, not even Lisa. It was as if she were reading his mind. “Eleven months, fourteen days,” he said when he finally answered.

“Yes, Mr. Sinclair, I am reading your mind," she stated matter-of-factly. "But that’s not the real reason I wanted to talk with you alone. Lisa told me how hard a time you’re having with your family - especially your daughter.”

He didn’t understand why, but Keith felt comfortable telling this strange woman what had been bothering him. “She won’t open up to me. Ever since her mother’s death, she’s slowly pushed me away. I’m worried about her, and with the runaround I’ve gotten with counselors, I don't know what to do. I’m doing it blind. If it wasn’t for Lisa’s help with Reba, I wouldn’t even know what clothes she liked.”

“Tell me Keith, if you don’t mind me asking, how far would you be willing to go to help your daughter? To understand what she’s going through. Adolescence is a hard road for any child, but with the added burden of losing a mother …."

“Grandmother, I’d give almost anything to help my daughter, my family. I want her to know I’m there for her. I just don’t know how to reach out to her.”

Laughing, Grandmother answered, “Don’t worry Keith. I have no desire for your soul, but let’s finish this discussing inside. I have a business to run, so purchase your passes, change in the men's locker room, and be sure to shower before you enter the park. It’s a health regulation. Your children have now done the same.”

*************

Keith changed into his swim trunks inside the men’s showers. Surprisingly, it was smaller than most locker rooms he'd seen. He’d placed his clothes inside a locker. Stepping inside the shower, he’d closed the curtain and prepared himself for the shock of what he expected to be cold water to hit him. Instead he found the water to be surprisingly warm, and he let that warmth of water flow over his body. He changed the setting to a pulsating jet stream, and with his eyes closed, he let its warmth massage the tension from his shoulders. Finished and feeling refreshed, he stepped out of the shower, only to feel a wet slapping on the back of his neck. Twisting his head, he felt water fall off of him and noticed a swath of brown hair bobbing around in his peripheral vision. Moving towards the door, he remembered the mirror he'd seen when he’d first entered the locker room.

In the short distance to the mirror, he found a difference in his movement, along with a slight jiggle to his chest. It was when he looked down that Keith’s breathing began to quicken. Before his very eyes, two perky breasts now stood straight out in front of him. He placed a hand against the wall to steady himself against a feeling of disbelief. He saw how slender and delicate his hand had become, with well-manicured nails painted in a semi-clear gloss. Still trying to steady himself, he looked into the mirror, only to see a woman staring back at him, her face covered in fright. Only wearing a skimpy black bottom, she looked like a younger version of himself. Her thin waist curved downward and out into generously-curvy hips.

Up top, her body showed off the youth of her perky breasts that most boys would lust over. Her face still showed a youthfulness of late teenage years, even though he found himself thinking that her age was twenty-two. He recalled, strangely, how she hated having to be carded when she purchase her drinks. While he watched the mirror, the image distorted slightly as the door opened and someone entered. He backed up out of nervousness, almost dizzy with fright — afraid that another man was coming inside.

“Take a deep breath,” Grandmother said when she stepped fully inside. She helped him to sit down on the bench. Slowly Keith regained some control as little stars formed and then faded away from view.

Grandmother looked relived. “I was afraid I’d lost you.”

“Lost me?” Confusion crossed his face.

“Yes dear. That was the reason for the talk, and showing you that I could read your mind. I was trying to prepare you. Most men don’t readily accept the idea of being changed into a woman, and their male personality is submerged into the female aspect of who they become. Hence, they don’t fully remember what they’ve experienced when they come to the park. If this happened to you, you’d never understand how to help your daughter.”

“But why? Why a woman.”

“My park was made for woman to come and enjoy themselves without the fear of being leered at or belittled. When I saw how you were looking at Lisa, I was afraid that you’d succumb to the magic.”

“I would never ..,”

“No, not intentionally, but you’ve gone without ... companionship ... for so long that it couldn’t be helped. Your love for your wife runs deep, but you are still a man with needs. The parks magic projects your desires into who you become. Besides, what better way to understand a girl than to be a girl?”

“Was?" And a thought went through his mind. If he’d been changed that meant ... “Bobbie ... what did you do to her? What did you do to my niece?” The words sounded wrong, as if he should have been saying 'daughter'.

Silently Grandmother moved her fingers, casting a small spell to calm the hysterical girl. “Nothing is wrong with her. As I said, men and boys are welcome to come to the park, only once they enter, they are changed to girls. Bobbie and Reba are waiting for you inside. Now please put this on,” she said, handing him a matching black top. “I don’t allow topless sunbathing. Tell me, what is your name?”

Without thinking Katie secured her top. ”Katie, Katie Sinclair. That’s not right, it’s Katie, Kat to my friends.” She could see the little smile on Grandmothers face. “Is… is it permanent? For both me and Bobbie?”

“Only for the duration of the pass, which in your case, expires at midnight tomorrow. I offer a variety of passes; daily, two day, weekly, and others. The most expensive one, of course, is a lifetime pass. I’m sure you can figure out what happens with that one.”

Relieved, Kat continued, “Does Bobbie know? I mean, does she remember like I do?”

“No, as far as she and her sister are concerned, she’s always been a girl. One day when she’s older she may remember, but not right now. It would cause confusion to her young mind. Now enough of the questions. Go find your nieces and enjoy the park. Use the time to reach out to Reba. Oh, and I charged you for daycare service for Bobbie. It'll give you more time with Reba.”

*************

Kat snatched another fry from Reba’s plate when she became distracted, her head turned. Kat heard Bobbie giggling, which alerted Reba something happened. “Hey, no fair,” Reba complained.

“Finders keepers, squirt.” She smiled; it had been a pleasant morning for the two while they enjoyed going down tube slides together. It had been even more enjoyable when Kat heard the giggles from Reba when Kat’s top came off on The Pipeline and Tahiti Twister. During the last one, she noticed Reba looking at her own chest. Reba had started budding months earlier, but she sensed there was more to it. “What’s the problem?” she asked, concerned.

Reba looked at her aunt, unsure, and even embarrassed. “It’s nothing really.”

Being a man, Keith wouldn’t have understood, but as Kat, she’d watched Reba constantly adjust her top, shifting it around. She sensed what was happening from her own experience. “Let me guess - it itches and doesn’t fit right.”

“Yeah, I wanted to tell Daddy but …”

“But you thought he'd laugh at you, or worse, embarrass you when he took you clothes shopping. Am I right?”

Reba nodded. “Mommy used to take me,” she said, sadness in her voice.”

“And I bet that you just picked out the first one so you could leave quickly. Well I guess there’s only one thing to do.”

“We’re going to have to leave, aren’t we?” She was clearly disappointed they were leaving so soon after she was just starting to have fun.

“I can’t have one of my favorite nieces suffer in something that’s uncomfortable. We’ll let your sister have fun over at the daycare while we take a stroll over to the gift shop. I remember seeing a lot of bikinis, and I’m sure there are some cute ones in your size. The two of us can have some fun trying them on, and we don’t have to leave. You need something that fits and is comfortable. Remember that. I’m sure your dad would understand.”

Surprised, Reba looked at her aunt. “Are you sure? I mean, Daddy was so happy when I picked it out.”

Hand in hand the two made their way towards the gift shop. “I bet he was happy because he thought you were happy. Your daddy never really understood why girls liked shopping.” A memory surfaced and she recalled where her brother was impatient when he’d been forced to take her to department stores looking for just the right set of clothes. “Well, not with me anyway. I’d spend hours going over clothes. Now let’s hurry. We’re wasting time, and girl, we need to find you something that fits and that you really like.”

It only took an hour of searching, and Kat could see the difference in Reba. She looked very pretty in the multi-stripped two piece bikini and it fit her. Kat could tell she really liked it. What was really important was that the new bikini didn’t irritate her chest. Once Kat paid for the new swimwear, they tossed her other swimwear into the trash without a second thought. Returning to the park, the girls picked up Bobbie and went to get something to eat.

Kat snatched another fry from Reba’s plate, smiling at the young girl. Reba reached for one off of Kat's plate, mimicking her aunt, a toothy grin on her face.

The rest of the day, all three had more fun. Bobbie said that some of the kiddie slides were magical and that she turned into a duck and other animals — a story that sounded unbelievable, but knowing about the magic, Kat couldn't help but wonder. Although there were some rides the kids couldn’t ride, they enjoyed the raft rides and going around the lazy river. Kat listened to Reba talk. She was attentive when Reba started talking about her clothes and when she asked what boys were like. But still, Kat could tell that there was something Reba was holding back. Even Bobbie seemed to want to say something, but was unsure how to express herself.

*************

The ride home had been quick once they’d showered off at the park. Kat noticed how careful Reba was with her swimsuit. Once on their way, she decided to just make a quick stop at one of the fast food restaurants, since they’d stayed until closing. Bobbie looked exhausted, but seemed to have some untapped source of energy. It was a normal decision, but it seemed to bother her. She thought how her brother did it all too often. It wasn’t that he didn’t like to cook, but being a school counselor had kept him late some days, and other days, he felt too exhausted to want to cook. It was at that moment she noted how strange it felt to think of herself in that manner. ‘Well’ she thought, ‘tomorrow is another day and we’re going to have a nice home cooked meal.’ Fast food was okay once in a while, but it was more important her nieces had a nutritional meal. Kat chuckled at how Lisa always told her brother the same thing.

************

Kat grunted when she lifted Bobbie off of the couch. Even though Bobbie was lighter, Kat found out how much weaker she had become. Just carrying the exhausted girl to her room seemed like a struggle, which startled her. What Keith had no problem with lifting, she found herself struggling with.

Looking inside Bobbie's room, Kat didn’t seemed bothered by the stuffed animals, dolls, and play house that were there, not that it should. Gone were the toy cars, race track, and other boy toys. Boy's clothes had been replaced with girl's jeans and shirts, mixed in with small dresses hanging in the closet. Helping Bobbie out of her clothes, Kat didn’t even think twice about dressing Bobbie in a little girl’s nightgown.

Walking by Reba’s room, she noticed that the 'tween girl, too, was getting ready for bed. Reba looked in deep thought while she fidgeted with her buttons. “Something the matter?” Kat asked.

“Nothing.”

“Uh huh, when you say ‘nothing,’ it’s something. Now come on, you can tell me.”

Reba lower lip trembled. “It’s just that …,“ her eyes misted up, followed by tears, “I… I miss her … I miss Mommy. Daddy doesn’t seem to want to talk about her and ….”

Kat held her breath at what a jerk her brother was being. Guiding Reba over to the bed, she comforted the young girl. “I miss her too, baby girl. And so does your daddy. It’s just that he doesn’t show his feelings like we girls do.”

“But he took all of Mommy’s stuff and threw it away.”

Kat felt ashamed; she realized that her daughter believed that Keith had just discarded her stuff like the trash. “That’s not true. Look around the house. There are many things that your daddy has of your mother. And he didn’t just discarded her clothes. He donated most of them for someone else.” Getting up, she headed into his bedroom, taking the girl with her.

Rummaging through his closet, she continued, “Well not everything.” She brought down a small box, placed it on the bed, and opened it, to the astonishment of Reba. “Your daddy was going to give this to you later on, but I think it would be okay if you know about it now.”

“Mommy’s jewelry!” the young girl exclaimed excitedly.

“Uh huh, your mom wanted you to have them when you got older.” She watched Reba’s eyes light up, slowly picking up a few of Pegs rings and brooches. Kat paused momentarily when she found herself not only accessing her memories but those of Keith’s as well. Hers showed the two of them playing dress-up with Reba imitating her mother. Whereas Keith’s had him watching Peg and Reba from afar, not wanting to intrude upon the mother-daughter bonding that was taking place. She found being able to access both sets of memories a bit unnerving and eerie.

Putting aside the feeling, Kat once more stepped into the closet. Reluctantly, she removed the sweater from the hanger. Taking a long whiff, she could still smell the fragrance from the many times Peg had worn it. Her essence seemed to perforate the garment.

She’d never realized how deep the hurt was for Keith. He’d push his feelings down as he dealt with the funeral, and then work, while he smothered his own grief.

“Why don’t you take this? I’m sure he won’t mind,” she said, handing her the item.

More tears welled up in Reba’s eyes as she grabbed hold of the sweater and hugged it tightly. “It was Mommy’s favorite.”

*************

Kat woke to the discomfort of having something pressing against her chest. Trying to raise herself up, she felt the resistance of a small body pressed against her. Gently, she rolled the sleeping girl aside. Sometime in the middle of the night, Bobbie found her way to the bed. Squirming her way between Kat and Reba, she had managed to nuzzle herself next to Kat. Kat heard Bobbie whisper, she was sure, goodnight to her mother, and just like Reba, Kat found out how much Bobbie missed her mother.

Earlier, that night, both Kat and Reba were content to lie next to each other and talk. Never had Reba opened up to her when she’d been Keith. Kat found that there were more personal things Reba couldn’t, or wouldn’t, want to discuss with her dad - things she only told her mother, and now her aunt. Somewhere during the night, the two of them had drifted off to sleep, with Reba wearing her mother’s sweater.

Wiggling from Bobbie's grasp, she worked her way to the bathroom. She noted that the sun hadn’t even risen yet. She’d always been a morning person, just like her brother. Finished with her business, she figured that a shower could wait a little longer, after the kids were awake, and headed to the kitchen to make herself some coffee.

With a freshly brewed cup, Kat went about the task of gathering mixing bowls and other utensils to prepare breakfast. Reaching up, she paused momentarily when she brought down an old and worn mixing bowl decorated with faded imprints of cookies, cakes and sweets around the outside.

For her it meant little, but to Keith, the bowl represented more. The bowl was the first of many items Peggy would collect, when they’d first married, and decorate the house with. As she set it down on the table, the feelings it evoked were disconcerting. Once more she had images of how the kids grew excited when Peg brought it out. Such a simple item meant a lot to the kids, for it meant their mommy was going to make them special treats - treats that all of them would enjoy, such as sugar cookies or brownies, and if they were lucky, a home-made cake. Part of her seemed to remember when, on a visit, she watch how Peggy, and the kids went about, turning the kitchen into a disaster area. Not once did she complain when Bobbie smeared chocolate on her face after she dipped her fingers into the bowl. Her mother scolded her, but lightly, while Reba licked the spoon or accidently spilled a little batter while she helped to pour batter into the pans. The fun times they had together, while Keith popped into the kitchen himself to taste the icing or whatever the kids were making. He’d then go man the grill, while she’d play hide-and-seek outside or pushed them on the swing-set to keep them occupied.

Earlier memories surfaced about how she and Peg had girl-to-girl conversations. They shared secrets and she learned how much Peg really liked her brother, even though Kat was too young herself to understand. Kat began to wonder just how powerful the magic was, and she shivered slightly, frightened as to whether the memories were real or fake, while a part of Keith faded into the background.

Treats had always been Peggy’s specialty. Today, she decided, would be a special day for the three of them. She took another sip of her coffee, then searched through the refrigerator for strawberries and blueberries and pancake mix, while she waited for the kids to awaken. Breakfast would be the beginning for the three of them. Then there were other tasks she needed to do. She didn’t know how far the magic extended, but today was another opportunity she wasn’t going to waste.

***********

The two stared each other down, one across from the other, till the clown-faced girl giggled and a smile creased Reba’s face. Multi-color ice cream covered her mouth from where she’d licked the double-scooped cone. Earlier, something told Kat she should drop Bobbie off before she went clothes shopping with Reba, and so she imposed on Lisa to care for her. Lisa had been all smiles and understanding. “I don’t mind, really. We’ll have a great time, won’t we, munchkin?” she practically purred before shooing Kat away. You two have a great time. If you want you can even leave her overnight. In fact, I insist. We can go back to water park.”

Kat looked at her suspiciously, and was rewarded with a wink from Lisa as she whisked Bobbie inside, closing the door and leaving her alone before she could give a rebuttal.

Exhausted, the two of them had placed their shopping bags next to each other. Once more, Reba had started to shut her out, not wanting to open up. It wasn’t till Kat started pulling out clothes and giving a critical eye that Reba began to open up. After giving a once-over on a single-pleated skirt, she placed it back before going to the next size. One or two more she’d place in the cart, while with others, she would hang them back on the rack. “Mommy did the same thing,” Reba said, her voice once more tinged with sadness.

“Yep, it’s to see how they look on you. We girls have to coordinate what looks best on us. Not just fit, but how they look with our hair and our eyes. That’s why it takes us forever. That and the fact it’s fun.” She put another item back, “You miss her very much don’t you?” Reba just nodded. “Well it’s okay to be sad and miss her. I miss her too. She was my best friend. Did you know that my brother and her were friends around your age?” The astonished look said it all. “You mean my doofus of a brother never told you?”

“Daddy’s not a doofus,” Reba said, defending her daddy, but in a quieter voice. “He just hurts and doesn’t like to talk about it. Sometimes… sometimes when he thought I was asleep, I’d hear him crying, calling out mommy's name. He doesn’t like to talk about her.”

A part of Keith deep down felt the shock at hearing that revelation. Kat pulled another top that looked good on Reba. “When Miss Lisa took me shopping once, I told her and she said he was lonely inside. He’d lost his best friend and it would take time to get better.”

“Yes, it'll take time for him. Dad, your grandfather, never like it when he cried. He’d tell him that big boy’s didn’t cry, so your dad would hold it in somehow and wait. I remembered he’d go for walks when he’d been hurt and I’d follow him. That’s why my nicknames Kat. I was silent as a cat, and he never knew I was following him. I’d hear him cry later on, and then he’d stop and then come back home.”

“Tell me another story about Daddy, please,” she heard from her niece, pulled from her reminiscing.

Wiping Reba’s face, Kat went into another tale about her brother helping to clean the barn when he and her had visited their grandparent’s farm. He’d slipped in the muck from the horses and cows stalls. “Eww, gross,” Reba exclaimed in laughter.

“Yep. He was covered all over, and stank so bad, Grandmother wouldn’t let him inside. He had to take a bath in a wash bucket out on the porch. Our cousins all came around to watch him.” She laughed at the memory. “He stood outside, red with embarrassment, with just a small towel wrapped around him, while they heated up the water on a wood burning stove. That’s how old the house was.

“Wow.”

*************

Leaning on the porch railing, Keith sipped on his morning coffee and watched the sun come up. Just like Grandmother had promised, he’d changed back several days ago. Over the next few days, he tried to work through what he had experienced. As far as the kids were concerned, an aunt had come to visit while he had to attend some seminar out of town.

His mind had been fuzzy when he awoke the next morning. A part of him remembered the weekend, while another part was disjointed for him. What was important, though, was the insight into his daughter's feelings than he’d ever had before - not only Reba’s, but Bobby’s also.

As a student counselor, he was used to listening to young adults express their fears as they prepared for their future. Why wouldn’t he listen to his own children? Were they any different? Watching the morning sunrise, it dawned on him why. He had been pushing his own feelings away, not wanting to deal with them as he waited for what he considered an expert to help him through, and in the process, he'd pushed his children’s feelings away, too. It was his responsibility to listen to his kids, not some stranger. Sure, he needed help raising two small kids, but he had help all around, if he’d only let them.

Lisa was a good example, having moved back from the Midwest a year prior. He’d first met her while he had gone to renew his teaching certificate at the local college, and again when she accepted the Physical Education job at the high school. She and Peg had hit it off well, and they’d stayed friends since. She had been willing to help as she gave advice on Reba. As he thought about it, he realized that she hadn’t been like the other woman who tried to take advantage of the situation. She understood his feelings. Only once did he try to be more intimate, and she rebuffed him gently, understanding it was more grief than anything else. He had been ashamed afterwards.

Grandmother had been right - he needed more insight on raising a girl. Still, even with some of Kat’s memories, he knew there was more to learn. There were things Reba wouldn’t talk to him about, even when she grew older, perhaps too embarrassed to discuss them, or just needing a woman to confide in. Perhaps, he thought, perhaps there was another way.

After parking his car, Keith trudged across the parking lot to the ticket booth, with Reba by his side. He’d noticed how so few men came, but those that he did see frequently had children of their own. A few gave him a quick glance before turning their attention back to where they were going. The few who he did make eye contact with showed their nervousness that someone else knew their secrets.

Keith and Reba bypassed the ticket booth and walked directly to the grey building, pressing the intercom button as soon as they approached the door. “Why are we here Daddy?” Reba asked, curious.

“I need to talk to the owner, sweetheart, and it concerns the two of us.” Hearing the click of the door, Keith pulled it open and the two walked inside.

*****Nine months later********

Kat woke with a start when she realized that an arm was draped across her body. From the previous two nights, she’d let the man have his way with her - not that she was complaining. It was with mutual consent that she she’d hooked up with the guy, and she didn’t have any regrets. The ecstasy to which he'd taken her couldn’t be compared. Positions she’d never dreamed of doing fulfilled the lust that had taken control over both of them.

With Lisa watching her nieces, Kat enjoyed their night's affair. That was, until she awoke with him again for a third time, her head hurting from what had to have been too many drinks.

Unwrapping herself from his arm, she staggered unsteadily to the bathroom, wondering how long she had been asleep. She didn’t need to turn on any lights, as the sun streamed into the house, letting her know that it was well past sunrise. After peeing, she felt the crustiness of something between her legs that shouldn’t have been there. Suddenly, and with a dreaded feeling, she looked into the bowl, confirming what she suspected.

Clothes had been strewn everywhere, his mixing in with hers. She glanced at the nightstand when she went back to the side of the bed. To her dismay and horror, the box of condoms lay unopened.

Grabbing her phone, she speed dialed the number as she walked to the kitchen after wrapping a robe around herself.

“Hey, Kat, it's about time you called. Did the two of you have fun again last night?” Lisa asked with a giggle.

In a panicked voice, Kat answered softly, “Lisa, please tell me that I didn’t do what I think I did.”

“What? Sure you did. I mean, you’re the one who called asking to keep the kids for a third night.”

“I did? Oh god, no, no, no.” Kat couldn't hide the growing distress in her voice.

Lisa’s voice changed from amused and happy to concerned “What’s wrong?”

“We did it again only … “

“That’s a good thing right? Wait, what do you mean only? He used protection didn’t he?”

Kat’s silence said volumes. “I’ll be right over. Reba can watch her sister. She’s old enough.”

******Ten days later*******

Kat chewed on her fingernail in the bathroom, waiting the necessary minutes. Kat nearly fainted when she saw the results. “Oh my God, NO! Dear God no!”

Kat dialed the number. “Hello?” Lisa said, uncertainly.

“I took it again. I don’t know why, but I took it again.”

“But this morning?”

“It doesn’t matter. I took it again and it came back positive.”

“Are you sure?”

“Damn straight I’m sure. Dammit Lisa, I’m pregnant. I can’t be pregnant! What’s going to happen to Bobbie and Reba?”

******Three years later*******

The sound of screaming kids scampering about in the amusement area drowned out any hopes of conversation. In one of the separate party rooms at the Fun Zone, Kat placed the cake in the center of the table. Party plates and hats in place, Kat took a seat to take a breather after setting up the arrangements. The last few days had been full of hectic preparations, with baking cupcakes and a birthday cake. Then there was the selection of what presents for the birthday girl. Shopping for party favorites had been another task, and she had to choose and assemble the party favorites that would appeal to both girls and boys.

Pulling the envelope out from her purse, she re-read the letter slowly before she carefully folded it and put it back. It could wait till later, for right now there was a birthday party to finish. She’d deal with the problem later.

The noise in the room increased briefly when Lisa strode in. “Sorry for taking so long. I sent the birthday girl to the go carts.”

Kat noticed a look of excitement on Lisa’s face, her face waiting to be asked. “Okay girl what’s up? You’ve got that ‘ask me quick' look, and when you called to say you’d be a few minutes late, you were clearly excited.” Kats own excitement was evident.

“You know those promotion videos we’ve been trying to get replaced?” Lisa asked enigmatically.

“Yeah,” Kat replied, puzzled, and the grin on Lisa’s face grew wider. “No way!” Lisa nodded her head enthusiastically.

“Come on spill, quit playing games. Tell me,” Kat insisted.

“Tomorrow morning. It’s the girl I told you about. She agreed to let the NRD’s record her diving and swimming.”

“You’re kidding!” Kat's excitement growing. In the time she'd been a woman, she'd spent a lot of time with Lisa, and had heard much of this 'miracle girl' that Lisa seemed to be always talking about.

“No,” Lisa said, pulling up a chair. “She’s that good. Liz and I have been using her the past couple of days to help teaching. She notices things that you wouldn’t believe. It’s almost scary. Some of the girls - those that listened to her - started improving. She didn’t brag, or act better than them, or belittle them. She just told them to keep trying, and it worked. It's like she's a natural at teaching! A few were frustrated at first, but they kept going, and their confidence increased as they improved. Suddenly others noticed and started asking for help. A lot of the older girls didn’t want to admit that a girl younger than them could offer suggestions, but they're coming around." She chuckled at the memories. "When she agreed, we let her on the platforms to practice. That girl put them _all_ to shame. None of my best girls even came close. I’d never seen someone that's such a natural! She's even got the girls competing to outdo each other, which they _never_ did before.”

She paused to take a breath from her excited babbling. “Kat, you wouldn’t believe what that girl can do. You should have seen her when we let her practice for tomorrow. The other girls were pretty awestruck when she took to the top platform. Some of those dives …." Lisa’s face lit up. “Usually she seems almost scared, but when she hit the boards, it was like she was a different person - so confident and sure of herself.”

“And here I thought the orphanage was finally letting you keep one of their kids.”

“Not likely,” Lisa said, a sticking point she didn’t like, putting a damper on her mood. “At least they’re still letting me handle some of the emergencies.”

“Yeah, but only during the summer. I thought for sure that boy, Craig, would be staying.”

“Three weeks, and then a foster family took him in. Like I said, I’m just a staging point, nothing more.”

The women ceased their conversation when the door opened and a gaggle of nine and ten year old kids poured into the room, excited at having cake an ice cream, Bobbie , the birthday girl, was most excited at the presents.

*************

The middle aged woman stepped out of the rental car, dressed in a long grey skirt and white blouse. She smoothed her skirt before she headed to her brother-in-law’s door. Living out of state, she hadn’t visited since her sister’s funeral five years prior. No vehicle appeared to be parked outside when she drove up, and with no windows in the garage door, she couldn’t be sure if anyone was home. Ringing the doorbell, she waited patiently for an answer, planning on surprising them with her early arrival. When none was forthcoming, she pulled out a spare key wondering if it would still fit. Satisfied it still worked, she let herself in.

“Hello. Is anyone home?" she called out. When there was no answer, she placed her purse on the coffee table, confused at the home's décor. The home had the feel of a woman’s touch, from the wall decorations to the furniture's upholstery. Sprinkled throughout were small knick-knacks of the type that were unexpected from her brother-in-law. On her last visit, she had clearly noticed that he had taken down most of her sister's items after the funeral. Keith had clearly been distraught over Peggy’s death, and had removed most of the reminders of her presence.

Looking through the house, she became more confused when she peeked inside the master bedroom. It most definitely had a woman's touch to it, from the curtains that decorated the windows to the comforter, and even to the little items placed on the dressers. She could smell the fragrance of lilac in the air. Snooping around, she opened several dresser drawers, only to find nothing but female clothing for a young woman. Thinking she’d somehow entered the wrong home, she found a family picture next to the bed. Upon close examination, she recognized only one person. The girl with blond curly hair, Rebeca, had started to blossom into a very pretty teen like her mother. Several inches taller than the other youth, she stood next to the other child who looked faintly like her brother, but more feminine, with her long hair and waif features. Sylvia was sure it was Rebeca’s younger brother Bobby.

Walking out of the master bedroom, Sylvia stepped into one of the children’s rooms. Instantly, she recognized Rebeca’s room, with a picture of her mother and her displayed on her nightstand. The change seemed to be that there were pictures of boy bands displayed on the wall, and several other slight changes in décor of a girls taste going from a ‘tween to a teenager. Sylvia crossed the hall into the other room, expecting to find a boy's room. She was startled to find the room decorated in the fashion of a younger ‘tween. Bobby’s room was decorated in the 'Hello Kitty' theme that a lot of girls his age fancied. Shocked, she checked the closets, and found dresses, sweaters, and other items no boy would be caught dead wearing. Nothing in the room indicated a boy occupied the room.

“Hello? Who’s here?” a soft soprano voice called out. "Show yourself.”

As Sylvia stepped back into the living room, Kat gasped at who stood before her. “Sylvia? What are you doing here?”

“I should be asking the same thing of you,” Sylvia shot back, her eyes narrow with suspicion. She could see past Kat, to see Rebeca standing outside. “What’s going on here? And who are you?”

“I live here. This is my and the kid's home. I’m Keith’s sister. Surely you recognize me.”

Sylvia staggered backwards at the implications of what the young woman was saying. Plopping down into a chair, Sylvia was overcome by who she almost recognized by her features. “Keith? Is that… you?”

“No, I’m his sister Katie,” Kat replied.

“That’s not possible. Keith doesn’t have a sister!”

Ushering the kids inside, Kat said, keeping a wary eye on Sylvia, “Reba, help your sister put her presents away, and then wash up. This may take a bit.” Both girls gave Kat an expectant look as they made their way past their aunt. When Sylvia saw the long tress of hair on Bobby, her jaw dropped in disbelief. It wasn't just the hair, either. She could see the outline of a training bra noticeable through the shirt he wore.

“What did you do to my nephew? And where’s Keith?” Sylvia's voice grew stronger in volume.

“Look, let’s talk somewhere alone, away from the kids. I don’t want to frighten or upset them.”

"What the hell is going on here?” Sylvia demanded again, her anger becoming more evident.

“Either step outside so we talk civilized, or you can just leave.”

Still in shock, Sylvia grabbed her purse and stormed towards the door, “I’ll be back, and I’ll have the police. I don’t know what you did, but I’ll be damned if I’ll have you turn my nephew into some freak.”

“Bobbie isn’t a freak. You can either talk with me, or you can call the police. I don’t care. Just be prepared for the repercussions.”

Following her outside, Kat watched as Sylvia screeched out of the driveway, all the while giving her a disgusted look. Kat could only shake her head as she plodded heavily back inside, her mind awhirl as she tried to figure out how to handle this unexpected wrinkle.

*************

Kat had just finished putting Bobby’s suitcase and camping gear in the trunk of the car when the police cruiser parked directly behind her car, blocking her exit. She scowled; she knew she was pressed for time. Sylvia’s rental car pulled up to the curb behind the police car.

Turning toward the officers, she smoothed out her dress, her face grim with determination. Both kids were seated in the back and were looking out the windows at what was happening. “Is there a problem officer?” Kat asked in a respectable voice.

The officer motioned Kat away from the vehicle. “We received a report of a strange woman who doesn't belong at this address, claiming to be the sister of the owner. It was suggested that she had somehow altered her nephew's appearance and gender.” The officer eyed the car, seeing the look of the kid’s faces, one wearing a cap.

“Well I guess that would have to be me, officer, although you’ll find that’s who I am. My brother owns this house, and I'm his sister.”

“You have some form of ID miss?” the officer asked insistently.

“Yes, sir. In my wallet.” She yelled over her shoulder to the car. “Bobby, can you bring me my purse, please?”

Bobby crawled from the car with Kat's purse in hand, and handed it to her. Rummaging through the purse, she pulled out her wallet and then handed her driver’s license to the policeman. “Here you go officer.” Kat noticed how the officer eyed Bobby. Clad in jeans, tennis shoes and a short sleeve shirt, he had left the top buttons undone.

The officer noted nothing to him indicated Bobby was a girl. He did notice a tan line on his shoulders, perhaps from wearing a t-shirt out in the sun. “Can you remove your cap for me, son.” Taking it off, Bobby displayed a crew-cut. The officer's expression remained impassive. With her license in hand, he strode back to the cruiser and his waiting partner. “Run a check on the license and the tags.”

Kat watched Sylvia’s expression change from a smudged look to one of dismay when she saw how short his hair was... “But, she could have had him cut it off.” Sylvia exclaimed. “What about his room?”

“What about his room?” Kat asked, “If you wish to look it over, fine, but I’m going to be late.”

“Oh?” the officer inquired, suspicion returning to his gaze.

“Yes. Our church is sponsoring a camping trip, and Bobby is signed up. He’s supposed to be meeting the group of kids and chaperones at the church before services. He’s been looking forward to it since school ended.”

Bobby gave a toothy grin to the officer. “Yeah, yesterday I celebrated my tenth birthday, and Aunt Katie promised me I could go. It’s part of my birthday present.”

“Do you mind if I have a quick look?” the officer asked.

“No, not at all, if it doesn’t take too long,” Kat replied, clearly impatient.

“Her license and the car check out,” the other officer said, having joined them from the police car.

“I’ll make it quick. I appreciate your cooperation in this matter, Ms. Sinclair,” the first officer said. The fact that her identity had checked out seemed to make him less suspicious.

As they walked into the house, Kat excused the mess. “I’m sorry about the clutter but we’re kinda rushed for time.”

“Perfectly understandable. I have one of my own, although mine prefers not to set foot out of his room unless it’s to eat or use the bathroom,” the officer joked.

Kat could only laugh, especially when she saw her sister-in-law's expression when she too took a look in the bedroom. She saw no girls' items. Everything in the room, including the toys, were typical of a boy. Even the curtains and bedding were different. With posters of Pokémon and bugs on the walls, there was no indication that the room ever belonged to a girl.

“Well I won’t be keeping your time, Ms. Sinclair,” the officer said, seeing himself out. Before leaving, he gave Sylvia a distasteful look for wasting their time.

“Now if you’ll excuse me,” Kat said to Sylvia, hurrying to her car, “I might be able to get Bobby over to the church before they leave. Reba, call Mrs. Ketchfield. Ask her to tell the driver we’re running late and to please wait.” Kat gave Sylvia a critical eye as if deciding. “Make yourself at home and ‘maybe’ you’ll listen to me when I said let’s talk. Reba and I’ll be back once church is over, probably around noon.”

Sylvia just stood in shock, dismayed at the turn of events.

*************

Sylvia flipped through the photo album, staring at the pictures. Several she had recognized, yet were slightly different when she was younger. The girl that claimed to be ‘her’ brother-in-law's sister was featured in several with her sister Peggy. Hearing the door close, she glanced up to find both Reba and Kat watching her.

“It’s a little disconcerting when you think about it. Look, I want to apologized for this morning, but I did warn you,” Kat said simply.

“Just who are you? I mean, there’s no way you could have faked half this stuff. You’re not a long lost sister and…"

“No, I’m not. Like I said, I’m Katie, Keith’s sister. If you don’t believe me, go ahead and call up Mom and Dad.” Kat rubbed her temple. “Grandmother did warn me that something like this could happen.”

“We are still going to the water park Kat, aren't we?” Reba inquired, her voice sounding hopeful.

Turning her attention to Sylvia, Kat said invitingly, “You’re welcome to come. It might help to explain what’s going on if you do. And I did promise Reba that I’d spend more time with her while her brother was gone.” She gave her niece a mock stare, “Although I suspect she’s going to abandon me —again- once she sees her friends there.”

Kat heard the giggles when Reba rushed to her room to change. “I hope you don’t mind waiting while I change. My feet are killing me in these heels, and I’d like to get comfortable.”

*************

Standing alone in line, Sylvia noticed the women all around her with skimpy shorts and tank tops. No more than a few men were in the ticket line where she was waiting her turn to purchase a ticket. Off to one side, she noticed five to six college boys in a deep discussion, whispering among themselves. One produced a deck of cards, and each took a turn at grabbing one randomly from the deck. With a fist pump, two of them headed to the back of the line, while the others waited. “They're deciding which of them gets the free drinks tonight.” The voice startled her and she found that she was in front of the ticket booth.

“Why would they be doing that?”

It’s hard to explain under the present circumstances,” the girl said, being exceptionally vague, “but I’m sure you remember your days when you went out clubbing.” The dark-haired girl replied from inside, giving her a knowing smile.

Both Kat and Reba had gone through the express line and were waiting for her on the other side. “I remember there were ways of not paying for your drinks while still having a good time. But sometimes it could work against you, depending on who was buying the drinks.”

“Exactly. It’s the middle of the month, and money's tight for the undergrads until they get money from home. A few of them play a modified version of Russian Roulette when they visit. Several have, as they say, bit the bullet.”

“I don’t understand,” Sylvia replied, perplexed at the strange remark.

“Ask Kat. She can explain it,” the dark haired girl said with a mischievous smile.

Thinking of Kat reminded her on why she came. “So how much is a ticket?”

“We don’t actually sell tickets. This is an exclusive members-only park, but we do have a few guest passes available.” The girl quoted a price.

“That’s rather steep for a water park, don’t you think?” The girl didn’t answer. “I hope it’s worth the price,” Sylvia said as she handed over her credit card for a one-day pass.

As she changed and showered, Sylvia looked over her figure and compared it to several of the other women her age. While not a ravenous beauty, she still had a nice figure, even though she had a tiny paunch in the front. Self-conscious of her minor flaws, she couldn’t help compare herself to the others. It didn’t help her ego when she saw Kat emerge in a little two piece number that accentuated her youthful figure. In fact Sylvia found herself a little jealous of the vixen.

Seeing the look, Kat tried to play it down. “I work hard to keep this figure, and coming here is the safest place for me to have some fun with Reba without someone eyeing me for their conquest. Besides you're no slouch yourself.”

“Kat’s right, Aunt Sylvia, you do look very pretty.”

Sylvia looked at her niece. Reba's body was forming into that of a young pretty girl. Her hips were a bit curvier, as were her growing breasts. The gangly look was slowing giving way to a shape that boys her age would surly notice - if they hadn’t already. Given her two-piece suit, Reba seemed ready to show off her attire. “Thank-you.”

Sylvia couldn’t help but enjoy the rides the three rode. They even enjoyed a laugh when both Sylvia and Kat raced down one of the water slides, only to find their tops had come off when they exited. She enjoyed watching the other two try and catch waves on boogie boards. Reba whooped and hollered when she outlasted Kat in the wave pool. Claiming exhaustion, Sylvia found a lounge chair. And true to Kat’s speculation, Reba soon begged to head over to the Junior Lifeguard Academy.

Acquiescing, Kat watched the girl scamper off. “Took her longer than I suspected,” she commented as she pulled another lounge chair near Sylvia.

“She’s growing into a lovely young girl. Nothing what I expected when I showed up yesterday.”

“No, but it has been five years since you last visited, and it wasn't a pleasant one if I recall.”

“How do you know that? I don’t even recall you at the funeral.”

“Let me answer your question with a question. When we entered, how many men did you see come in?”

“Very few.”

And how many have you seen since we’ve been inside the park? And think of Bobby, too.

The question caught Sylvia by surprise. “None. But what has that got to do with Bobby?”

“Look, yesterday, you were right about Bobby. I tried to talk with you, but you weren’t ready to listen. Then after this morning …."

“You mean Bobby was a girl? How is that possible?” Sylvia still believed that what Kat was suggesting was impossible.

“Oh, come on, Silve. Stop doubting what you already know. It’s in the water.”

“But that means ...?” Her open-jawed astonishment gave way to a narrow-eyed suspicious stare at Kat. Kat just only nodded. “Why?”

“He never remembered being a girl here, and Bikini Beach is one of the safest water parks around. I could come and be close to my niece and nephew without any fear.”

“Never?”

“Not till recently. It started off as a way for him to learn to swim and play. Lisa had suggested it as a family thing. The beaches around here aren’t safe anymore. And a lot of the other parks are run down or closed. It’s all about making money and giving the customer so little.”

“So he does know?”

Getting up Kat stretched out her limber body, pushing her breasts forward and upwards when she stretched backwards, not wanting to carry the conversation further there. “Let’s get something to eat and drink over in the Wild River area. They have an awesome menu if you’re hungry.”

At the River Landings dining building, Kat selected a salad along with a coconut smoothie, while Sylvia ordered a veggie burger, sweet potato fries, and a diet soda. Finding a free table away from the rest of the crowd, Kat continued where she had left off.

“Not all boys recall what happens here, even when they grew older. Reba quickly learned not to say anything. She discovered that the hard way after she told a friend, and the other girl started teasing her about making up wild stories. I had to explain that some would never believe her. She accepted that, and when Bobby became Bobbie, she had a sister for the duration of the pass.”

“So yesterday?”

“Was swim practice for him. It just so happened it coincided with his birthday. He was upset this morning, though, when some of the gifts didn’t change.” She chuckled at what some had been. “I promised him I’d take back those items he didn’t want. I have the receipts. He’ll have a chance to buy whatever he wants when he comes home.”

“So he accepts it?”

“Yes, now. It’s funny, how it happened a few months back. We came as usual, expecting Bobbie to step out of the shower room, only that time, she looked frightened. Anya, that’s the owner's granddaughter who you met in the ticket booth, came over and had a talk with her. Later that afternoon, Bobbie confessed she knew what happened, and that she thought I was punishing her. The three of us had a heart-to-heart talk, and I asked her to think of the many other times she’d come.”

Kat took a quick bite of her salad and a sip from her drink. “Reba told her she’d never told anyone except that one time, and found out that was a mistake. Bobbie remembered all that had happened before then, and the fun she had had. When she changed back the next day, he didn’t seem to mind. So we just continued on. Everything changes back after the pass expires, unless, it seems, she gets gifts, clothes, or other items as a girl. Only if it's bought in the park does it change. Well, for boys anyway.”

“Well come on,” Kat said when both had finished their meals. “We’re wasting time, and there’s so much to do.”

“Easy for you. You're young.”

“Oh, don’t give me that. The park was meant to be enjoyed. I'll tell you what, let’s just take a leisurely jaunt around ‘Old Man River’, or we can watch Reba playing on some of the challenges. It’s fun to watch her fall when she tries to maneuver across the Safety Scramble or distract her when she’s climbing up the Mountain wall.”

"That’s so mean,” Sylvia said, surprised.

With an almost evil grin, Kat said, “Yes, yes it is.”

*************

Sylvia couldn’t take any more of sitting in the living watching Kat and Reba prepare dinner. Like a stranger in some outdated twilight episode she felt out of place and useless. “Well, at least let me help set the table," she complained.

“You’re more than welcome,” Kat stated as she continued to stir a pot of boiling noodles. “The plates are in the second cabinet to the right, and the bowls are on the cabinet next to them. Silverware is in the top drawer next to the dishwasher.”

Being allowed to help the past few days had been very relaxing. Twice more they had gone back to park where Reba usually hung out with her friends. Only on a few occasions did she hear Kat and Reba arguing, but they settled their disputes just as quickly. “Set the table for four, if you don’t mind. Lisa’s coming over tonight.”

“Just how far is this relationship with Lisa?” Sylvia asked, wanting to know. It seemed to her that she and Kat were always talking on the phone or meeting over coffee to chat.

Kat paused, her shoulders tensing at the hidden meaning. “We’re not lovers, if that’s what you mean. We’re just very good friends, and even if we were, let’s leave the Bible rhetoric out of this. I’m still a church-goer, and so are the kids. She’s a friend who's been there for me. She’s helped me through some rough spots these past few years when no-one else could, and I’ve been there for her when she's had difficulties.”

The two had had the religion debate before. Where Kat seemed to accept the use of magic, Sylvia questioned it. The two had had some heated debates a few times when Reba wasn't present. The two had finally agreed it would be off limits. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply ...” She found it to be a sore subject, considering how it conflicted with her own beliefs.

“You’re not the first. Reba, go ahead and put the salad down and get washed up. The chicken is almost done.”

Reba understood the hidden meaning and left, wondering what was going to happen.

Placing the food on the table, Kat continued, “Look, before Lisa arrives, I’m asking you don’t question her about her family unless she brings it up. There are things in her past that she doesn’t like to discuss. They are quite personal.”

“Fine, but answer me this. Have you ever ...?”

Kat answered with a wicked smile. “You’ve had sex.” Sylvia's tone was accusatory.

“Why shouldn’t I? It’s wonderful, and I enjoy it.”

“But that’s …”

“A sin? Don’t patronize me," Kat scolded. "I heard about some juicy tidbits of what you’ve done in your past. You lost your virginity when you were fifteen. You caught a few STDs with unprotected sex, and you kept it hidden from your parents.”

“What?!”

“Please! Girls talk. Especially me and Peg. Remember, I was her friend, too. You told Peg about your exploits.”

“But that was between ....“

“I know,” Kat said sympathetically. “You didn’t want her making the same mistakes you did. You thought Keith would just take advantage of her, even though they were the best of friends. She said it was the best advice you’d ever given her. It proved his love for her. Look, Sylvia, I’m not judging you. I’m trying to do the best I can for my niece.”

“You took it to the extreme, it seems.”

Laughing, Kat replied with a twinkle in her eyes, “Yes, and it’s helped me in more ways than one.”

*************

Lisa swirled the wine in her glass, laughing. “Oh you should have seen her, dancing up a storm to nobody there. Guys would try and make a pass at her, and she’d flirt with them, grinding her body to theirs, getting them all hot and bothered, only to push them away. Girl, you had no shame teasing them like that.”

“It was fun. Besides we all know what they wanted, and I wasn’t in the mood for it. And they probably wouldn't have been, unless they wanted a Bloody Mary.”

“You mean to say you were on your period.”

“Yep, the tail end of it actually. Life goes on, and I was in a partying mood.”

Dinner had been splendid, and the house was filled with laughter and serious discussions over the meal. Reba told how she’d been spending time with her friends discussing music, clothes and boys. All the woman seemed to have their own opinion on each of the subjects especially on boys. Reba laughed at some of their thoughts.

Tired from a long day, Kat shooed Reba to bed, much to the girl's consternation. Reba wanted to hear more of their discussion. Making sure she was finally asleep, the three older women went into seriousness matters unfitting for a young girl.

“She’s going to break a lot of boy's hearts when she starts dating,” Sylvia commented once more. The wine had loosened up all of them.

“I know,” Kat said with a worried expression. “She’s a smart girl, and she keeps me on my toes with her growing interest in boys. Thank God I still have a few more years with Bobby.”

“That’s going to be one interesting conversation,” Lisa said, laughing at the thought.

“I’ll be able to handle it.”

“Still, with you being a party girl, how can you expect Reba to not follow in your ways? After all, the example you're setting for Reba is on the wild side.”

Looking at Lisa, Kat went silent for a moment. “You're right. I was teaching her how to be promiscuous, how to be a sexy slut. I … had what they call a ‘scared straight’ moment. I learned from it, and I vowed to never let it hamper my relationship with her. I had to put a damper on my wild side for the sake of the kids.”

“Scared straight?”

“It was close to two years after Peggy’s death,” Lisa said, seeing the nod from Kat. “My brother Lester dropped by to pay me a visit. He's a sweet guy, but sometimes he’s a little too sure of himself. Kat took an interest in him.”

“Don’t blame me! He’s a hunk,” Kat said. Her eyes had a dreamy look in them at thinking about him.

“Anyway” Lisa said, drawing Kat’s attention back to the subject, “he was spending time visiting when the two decided to hook up. It was mutual, and the two knew what the other wanted. Lester’s a big boy, but I warned him what I’d do if he hurt Kat.”

Taking another sip of wine, Lisa continued to the story. “For the first two nights, we went out to the Coconut Club enjoying ourselves. Afterwards, I’d take care of the kids while those two had their own private party.”

“You really were a slut.”

“Don’t you dare judge me, Sylvia, after the number of boys you had! A girl has her needs, just like a man. Unlike you, I took precautions. I douched even when he used a condom. I didn’t drink in excess - in fact I set myself to a two drink limit.”

“Kat, simmer down. It wasn’t your fault,” Lisa said soothingly.

“Damn straight it wasn’t, nor was it your brother's.”

“I told him I was sorry afterwards. Grandmother almost wouldn’t let me back after what I did.”

“I don’t understand,” Sylvia said, confused about the change in direction the conversation seemed to have taken.

“Lester and I had agreed to go out one last time. He understood my desire to just dance that night, and he was being a gentleman about it. The club wasn’t rocking like it usually did, though, and a few of the frat boys from Semper Tri Omega invited us over to their house. I wish we’d have turned them down," Kat added, regret dripping from her words. "I never suspected that some of the Semper Tri’s would stoop so low.”

“Who are the Semper Tri Omega’s?"

“A frat group from the college. A nice group of kids to hang out with — mostly,” Lisa explained. “Unfortunately, a few unsavory guys joined the frat. Kat called saying they’d be heading over there for a bit. When she didn’t return to pick up the kids, I thought they were just staying out longer, having a good time. Kat called, I don’t know around ten-thirty, eleven o’clock the next day. She was pretty upset."

“Near panic, really,” Kat elaborated.

“I rushed over to find Lester still out cold. After finally rousing him, we found out that he didn’t remember much, except he’d taken an inebriated Kat home. He said she was all over him. After that, neither of them remember much of anything.

“I … I had unprotected sex," Kat admitted. “I douched daily for five days. I didn’t care. Afterwards I fretted, praying for the best. Each day, I’d take a pregnancy test, breathing a sigh of relief when it came back negative. That was, until the last day.”

“And?”

“If … if a man transforms into a woman and becomes pregnant, they can never change back,” Kat stated, clearly upset. “Ever.”

“But if you were pregnant, where is the baby?" Her jaw dropped and her eyes widened with surprise. "Wait, you didn’t.” Silvia exclaimed. Kat just remained silent. “Tell me you didn’t.”

“It wouldn’t have mattered,” Kat said softly, taking a sip of wine. “Grandmother warned me what would happen if I became pregnant. Once it starts, your old life is over. You could have an abortion, but you'd still remain a woman. It’s part of the magic. It’s up to the person to seek protection. I knew that. Unless Grandmother has prior knowledge, she can’t stop it.”

“Kat, don’t," Lisa pleaded. “Quit blaming yourself.”

“I didn’t want to be a mother. I was scared shitless of the consequences and what it meant to my niece and nephew. They mean that much to me.”

Kat took a final sip of wine, apparently more than she should have had. Her voice had become tempered. “Look, let’s not discuss it anymore. It's a painful memory.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Let’s drop it, okay! It’s getting late, and there’s a meeting I have to attend tomorrow. I’m sorry, but I need to get some sleep.”

“Will you be dropping Reba off at the park as usual?” Lisa asked.

“I’ll watch her, if you don’t mind," Sylvia requested.

Kat just nodded while Lisa pulled Kat closer. “Let’s go girlfriend.” She led Kat to the bedroom, waiting till she was in bed, and then she gently closed the bedroom door.

“Do me a favor. Make sure she calls me in the morning. Tonight’s going to be a rough night for her,” Lisa asked Sylvia.

Sylvia eyed the bedroom door wondering what had just occurred, before she followed Lisa out to her car. “What was that all about?” she asked, her curiosity not letting her go.

“Too much wine, I suspect. It’s not my place to discuss it, Sylvia, but if she wants to talk, wait until morning. She’s ashamed of her actions.” Getting behind the wheel, she continued, “When the test came back saying she was pregnant, she went ballistic. If she wants to talk more about it, it’s up to her.”

“But … how could being pregnant cause her to lose the kids?”

“Ask her in the morning. It was nice meeting you." Lisa sighed. "Kat's a wonderful person. Don’t let this one episode make you think otherwise. She’s done wonders with those kids. She'll be the first to admit that she's made a few mistakes, but that’s what growing up is all about - learning from your mistakes right?”

*************

Sylvia woke to the sound of grunting and moaning. Cautiously, she stepped out of the guest room, listening for where the sound was coming from. Stopping in front of the master bedroom door, she paused when she heard another moan from behind the door. As she moved back, she distinctly heard the sound of a man within the room, clearly in pain judging by the intense sounds he made.

Standing in the doorframe of her room, she watched in astonishment when a lone figure stepped out, clad only in grey shorts and an open robe, and doubled over in pain. Gasping, she couldn't help but exclaim, “Keith!” She grabbed hold of him when he staggered forward down the hall towards the living room.

“Goddamn it”, he grunted, gasping for air. He plopped down onto the couch, his body twitched from the stress that the transformation had exerted on him.

“Keith what’s going on? Are you ill? Should I call a doctor?”

“No… no … maybe,” Keith insisted. “Just let me rest,” his body convulsed once more while he let out another low groan.

“What’s happening?”

“Transformation shock. Too many transformations back to back. Hoped being female longer would ease the transition. Guess I was … ugh… wrong,” Keith clasped his hands around his abdomen.

“Help me up,” he groaned, and he tried once more to stand. After Sylvia helped him up, he leaned on her. “Need to walk around. Hope it helps …” Sylvia steadied him as he stumbled about.

“But why?”

“I promised Reba I’d spend more girl time with her. She’s at an age when she has questions she wouldn’t normally ask of me, but she’s more comfortable with Kat. I don’t mind - it’s a nice relationship.” Keith leaned once more against a chair, Sylvia maintaining her hold for support.

“You did all this for her?”

“And Bobby.”

“Bobby?”

“Sure, think of it. They both each need a mother and father for their questions. So I become one or the other as needed. Only, the best I could do was become my own sister.” Keith headed once more to the couch exhausted.

A light flickered on and a startled girl stared at her father. “Daddy!” Reba exclaimed before rushing towards her father.

Plopping herself next to her father, Reba embraced him. “Daddy, you didn’t have to do it. You could have said no.”

“What, and miss out on some of the best times we had with your aunt at the park?” He winced in pain. “Just wish it didn’t hurt so much afterwards,” he said, trying to give a weak laugh. “Of course, we’re going to pay a small price, aren’t we sweetheart?”

Reba gave her dad a weak smile. “It’s okay, Daddy. I don’t mind. We can talk too.”

“That’s my girl. Now back to bed. I’ll be going back soon myself.”

“Promise?”

“Promise. The pain's almost gone now. I’ll have the park's doctor check me out later.”

Sylvia watched the exchange between the two, in awe at what Keith was willing to put up with for his daughter. Keith headed back to his own room once Reba was satisfied her father would be alright and went back to bed.

Glancing back at Sylvia, Keith said, “We can talk more later. Too much wine, and then this .... I’m going to be looking forward to that morning cup of coffee. Probably miss my usual morning sunrise.”

Sylvia bade him a goodnight before he closed the door and she headed back to bed. She tried to reason with herself on why she came, but she could only conclude that she’d have to reevaluate her original purpose.

**************

Keith awoke to the smell of coffee. From the light filtering through the blinds, the day looked gloomy. Still mostly dark, the room didn’t have a welcome, sunshiny look either. Getting up, he noticed that the pain he had had gone through during the night had lessoned considerably. He didn’t dare tell them the true extent of the excruciating agony he suffered, for fear of causing a panic. Clad in his pajamas and robe, he walked unsteadily out to the kitchen.

“Morning Keith” Sylvia greeted him warmly as she placed a cup in front of him. “Straight black, if I recall correctly” He took a seat at the table. “Sleep better?” Her voice carried the concern she felt.

“Yeah, thanks. Where’s Reba?”

“She's at a friend’s. She looked in on you twice, really concerned. It seems you really scared her. We talked for a bit about how you two had connected at the water park.”

“I didn’t mean to scare her.”

“Tell me, why do you do it?”

“Told you - Reba needs a mother in her life, just as Bobby does too sometimes. She and Bobby see Kat as fulfilling that role.”

“That’s why I came to visit.”

“No. You came to take them away from me. I got your letter. No offense, but raising my children is my responsibility, not yours.”

“So you’re trying to be it all and do everything?”

“I've been doing it for the past five years. I’m not the only single father in the world. Did you know that there are a lot of support groups for single or widowed mothers, but not one for single fathers?”

The look on Sylvia’s face was all he needed to know. “Even members of my own church wondered if I could hack being a single parent. They weren't sure if I was man enough to run my own household.” Realizing the amount of frustration in his voice, Keith took a long sip to help him calm down. “I almost left the church when the women started telling Reba how to behave, and that she needed to come to them for advice. Unwanted advice, I might add. That girl is something! Don’t ever call her a dumb blond.” He chuckled lightly. “She told them they weren’t her mom, I was, and it wasn’t their place.”

“Mom?”

“Yep, her Mr. Mom, who not only takes care of her, but someone she could turn to when she needs to talk, just like Bobby.”

“I guess I misjudged you, Keith. And Reba.” With a little trepidation, she continued, “I’d like to ask, if you don’t mind, about last night. Lisa said I should ask you. I know it’s not my place, but what happened afterwards - after you found out you were pregnant?”

Taking a deep breath, “You have a right to know, I guess. It would have affected everyone, even you.”

“The magic is that strong?”

“Yeah, all of my reality would have changed.” He leaned back in the chair. “After I, or rather Kat, took the pregnancy test again and it came back positive, she, I, had a meltdown. Grandmother warned me of the consequences of becoming pregnant, and that reality would change - and not for the better. I would have ceased to have ever existed, while Kat would have taken over and you would know me as her.”

Sylvia grasped the implications of what he was saying. “They wouldn’t exist either, neither of them would have been born. But what about if Peggy married someone else?”

“Wouldn’t have been the same. Maybe she’d have a boy or a girl maybe both, maybe none - who knows? But in either case, they wouldn’t be mine, and she would have still died. I wouldn’t have just lost Peggy I would have lost my children, too.”

“Ever since the funeral, you’ve hounded me about taking care of my kids, just like several others who thought I couldn’t do it. Sure, I packed up a lot of Peggy’s stuff. It all reminded me too much of how much I missed her. It was, in hindsight, a big mistake. Those times we visited - you tried to convince my children that you would be a better parent." He shook his head firmly. "Sylvia, I’m not going to let that happen.”

“Keith, I was only doing what I thought was best for your children,” Sylvia was taken aback at the ferocity of how he acted. “I heard rumors of how you went out late and partied.”

“Please, Silve it wasn’t me - it was Kat. Reality changed here locally, not totally. That was another mistake. Kat's several years younger, and more outgoing than I am. I’m a family man, while she’s a single young woman who likes to party. She grew up that day. She found out what was at stake.”

“So I received false rumors, then.”

“Not really, just skewed ones. You sent me a notice saying you were coming to take them away, with a court order based on Kat's flagrancies. Keith grabbed an apple to munch on. “You’re more than welcome to visit, Sylvia. I even insist, because they like you. But don’t even try and take my kids away from me. You’ll lose and never know it.” There was an ominous threat in his voice.

“What are you saying?”

“Think of it. I go to Bikini Beach and I buy a lifetime pass." He paused to let the implication sink in. "If I can’t have my kids, no one can.”

“You wouldn’t.”

“Let’s not find out, shall we,” his voice hard as steel. He slowly, stiffly, rose to leave, “I have a meeting to get together. A group of men who, just like me, are single fathers. Husbands who lost their wives. I’d invite you, but it’s a men’s-only get-together. No offense.”

“No, none taken. Keith, if it’s alright with you, I’d like to stay a few more days, and spend some time with my nephew when he returns.”

Keith clasped hold of her hands. “You're more than welcome to stay. Now I need to get ready.”

**********

The support group gathered in the small room, seated in clusters around small, informal tables. Pizza and drinks had been provided by the local pizzeria. Children of varying ages were scattered around the room, either gathered in same-sex groups of older children, or with their fathers in the case of younger children and toddlers. A few stood, leaning against a wall. The tables of children were occupying themselves with games or teen talk, while their fathers continued the main group discussion with those with more experienced.

“Well gentleman, I guess we can call it a day. I appreciate you all for coming. You're more than welcome to continue talking, and if you have questions, you have not only my number, but the numbers of other fathers. Check out the website. I've posted a new 'helpful tip of the week'. And remember, no question is a stupid question."

“Oh! One last thing. The owner of Bikini Beach wanted me to remind those of you who had planned to spend the day at the park, she has graciously extended your discount for this weekend due to the inclement weather. Weather is something she can't control." This comment elicited a round of laughter from some of those that knew. “Just remember to mention you’re with the ‘Widowed Fathers of Children'.” Keith stepped from the front of the room toward the soft drinks, signifying that the meeting was over.

“Mr. Sinclair? Do you have a moment?" An elderly gentleman stepped toward Keith as he walked to the refreshment table.

Keith shook the gentleman’s hand firmly in greeting. “Sure. What can I do for you?”

“I’d like to discuss your support group if you don’t mind. I’m with a medical research organization, and we’d appreciate your input on why you started this group?” Walking with the gentleman, Keith began a deep discussion of the pitfalls of being a single father and the lack of societal support for those who were in the same situation as he was.

*************

Keith loaded the car with Bobby’s gear. Having returned from church camp, Bobby was excited at being back home, and he wanted to tell both his dad and sister what he had done and learned. But he really wanted to spend more time with his dad now that he was back.

“Wait till we get home, sport. Your Aunt Sylvia will want to hear it too.”

“She’s still here?”

“Yep. She wants to spend some time with her nephew, as well as her niece." Looking at his dad, the boy seemed nervous. “It’s cool. In fact, she said she’d like to go back to the water park, but only if you want to. She’s leaving on Monday. Maybe two days wouldn’t hurt you if you feel up to it. She said your birthday present will be a gift card that you can spend after she’s gone.”

“You’re not coming, Dad?”

“Not this time, sport. Maybe in a few weeks.”

Reba pulled Bobby aside. “She’s not going to do what we thought she was going to do.”

“Really?”

“Kids, we can discuss this in the car on the way home. Right now, I think someone needs to take a bath. Didn’t they make you take one while you were out there?”

Bobby grinned that toothy grin of his. “I took a shower last night, Dad.”

“I thought so, and then you stomped in every mud hole and puddle before you boarded the bus this morning before home,” he said teasingly, slightly shoving his son. "Let’s go. Aunt Sylvia's waiting.”

***********

Balancing a plate of freshly-baked brownies, Keith pressed the buzzer for entry into the grey building. The call he'd received from Anya had been strange, asking that he stop over the first chance he had. She wouldn't give him any more details on the phone.

He had parked as close as he could next to the building, and as he walked to the door, he recognized several of the vehicles, including Lisa's and one belonging to Vicky's friend Rob. Frowning, he wondered what was going on.

Ushered inside by Grandmother, he placed the plate on an available table. Rob was comforting Vicky, while Holly and Lisa sat together talking with Anya over in the casual part of the office. “What’s going on?”

Grandmother looked at him intently for just a second. “We had an incident earlier today. I've been keeping the girls calm until you could get here to, perhaps, talk with them. Let them discuss what happened, since you’re aware of the magic and have some psychology experience. A small session, if you will, to let the girls tell you what happened."

Holly, who had included psychology in her college courses, gathered herself up and approached him, wondering aloud, “Who does the counselor go to, Keith, when they need to talk? Who do they talk to when they're troubled?”

He could see her body quaking, obviously troubled by whatever happened. Her cheeks were tear-stained, from recent crying. Holly wrapped her arms around him, hugging him tightly. He held her in a comforting, fatherly manner.

Lisa spoke. “The young girl I talked about, Keith? She changed back. She wouldn’t stay liked we hoped she would … but Anya and a detective found him injured, pretty badly, and they brought him back. We almost lost her today — it was almost too late,” she explained, her own voice shaky. “If it wasn’t for Holly’s and Vicky’s intervention, convincing her to stay, Grandmother said she would have change back again, and wouldn't have made it."

When Holly released her tight embrace, Keith turned to Lisa. She, like Holly, needed comfort, and she wrapped her arms around him. “She’s the best diver I’d ever seen and she would have ….”

Keith held her firmly not wanting to let her go. Now was not the time for him to talk, only to listen and let the girls talk.

*************

Keith stepped outside into the late evening to catch a bit of fresh air. He hadn’t paid attention to the time as the women talked, mostly listening, but asking an occasional question here and there. Experience and training had taught him that it was best to let them talk first, explain what they feared or expected. It wasn’t his place to judge, but to understand. If he didn’t understand then he’d ask a question to guide the conversation. Each of the women had a tale to tell. When they all finished, he remained quiet momentarily. “You girls did the right thing, never forget that, for it saved her life, be thankful.”

“Thank-you, Keith, for coming over," Grandmother said quietly to Keith. "If you don’t mind, I’d like you take Lisa home. Right now, she needs someone to be with her, to keep her company.”

Keith looked at Grandmother, surprised. “You’re her friend, Keith," she continued. "All I’m asking is to be with her as her friend. Holly and Vicky have others, but Lisa only has you. You understand her.”

“What about Sylvia? If she discovers the game I played with her ...?”

“What of her, Keith? You won. I know that she won’t take your kids,” Grandmother said with certainty. “You came into the park knowing how close you were to having ‘Transformation Shock’ syndrome. You even told Reba you shouldn’t, but did so anyway, against my wishes,” Grandmother pointed out.

“Yes Grandmother, and you let me,” Keith countered. “I took the chance of letting her know about Kat and the park. If she hadn’t seen me as Kat, and Bobbie's change, she wouldn’t have believed, and she would have tried to take my kids from me. I gambled with my kids' future. I pulled the trigger each time, first risking Bobby’s exposure, followed by the park, Reba’s knowing, and finally my change, wondering if she’d leave.”

“Telling her of your transgressions and what happened later was your doing Keith, not Kat's. You may not realize it, but you have control over her, not the other way around.”

“I sweated five days, Grandmother, as Kat, praying till the pass wore off, not knowing if I’d change back.”

“And we learned from it, Keith. Just like Sylvia, we learned how far you’d go for the sake of your children. There are many things I can’t anticipate, Keith. I didn’t know you would take a second test that day, and that the second pregnancy test would turn out to be faulty. I was trying to teach you a lesson by not telling you. I failed that.” Grandmother placed a reassuring hand on Keith’s shoulder. “If Anya hadn’t checked on you after Lisa called, and stopped you….” She left the rest unspoken.

“No, Grandmother, you didn’t fail. I believe someone else was teaching me a lesson. It was my mistake, and I’m grateful to both of you, really I am. I did learn from it. I learned a harsh reality that girls have to face.”

Keith clenched his fists, his body tensing up at the unpleasant memories. “I almost broke my vow to protect my children. If I had just waited till the next day .... I panicked." I ... liked the sex too much. I didn’t want to tamper down Kat's libido when I changed.” Keith shook his head at the irony. “I still do. I just learned to be a lot more cautious now.”

“You know that we’ll never allow you to buy a lifetime membership.”

“I don’t have any intention, but I’m sure you know that. If Sylvia had called my bluff and dared me to change, she’d have won. You and Anya wouldn’t have let me back knowing what I’d do. I’d have given them up. I’d never harm my kids.”

Keith drew a deep breath. “She seemed so convinced after the change. Still, I had to see how far Sylvia would go, just to make sure. I hoped and prayed she’d take the bait and back down. I didn’t expect Reba to wake up, though. I think that was the tipping point. Later, I had a talk with Reba, alone, telling her everything would be fine.”

“Dr. Chasity said you shouldn’t change at the park for at least a month, and then only with restrictions.”

“It's fine. Reba knows, and she understands. She does talk to me on some matters, just not some of her more personal ones.”

“She will, Keith. She loves you for what you’re willing to do for her.”

Keith didn’t care to discuss it anymore. He changed the subject. “Grandmother, I know you don’t have to, but ... between us - will Lisa ever get that adoption?”

“Her future was always full of uncertainty,” Grandmother said. “Now someone seems to be entering her life, and Vicky’s and Holly’s to a smaller extent.”

“The girl, perhaps?”

“Somehow she’s with her, Keith. I don’t understand how, but I see her being with Lisa.”

“I’ll keep that confidential, although I suspect you knew that I’d never tell, or else you wouldn’t have told me. I’ll take Lisa home, and talk with her more. Sylvia can watch the kids.”

“Let’s go back inside then. I understand those brownies Reba made go well with ice cream.”

“I have to warn you, Grandmother, they’re the gooey type, a little too rich and fattening for my taste,” Keith patted his belly. “You know I have to watch both mine and Kat’s figures.”

Fini



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