The Princess Trap

----------=BigCloset Retro Classic!=----------
Complete

The Princess Trap

By Tyrone Slothrop
and Wanda Cunningham

Copyright  © 2006 Tyrone Slothrop and Wanda Cunningham
All Rights Reserved.

 
Alan Carter finally descended past terror and settled into oscillating despair. As much as he liked the pastel green dress, he regretted not wearing jeans tonight. The dress fit nicely, emphasizing his slender waist and lending him an air of feminine sophistication beyond his years but you couldn't really run away in a dress very well. Not that he had an opportunity to run now but the dress seemed to emphasize his vulnerability somehow.

He shook his head. How stupid, worrying about clothing when he probably wouldn't live through the next few hours.

 


 
Admin Note: Originally published on BigCloset TopShelf on Tuesday 02-20-2006 at 2:30 am, this retro classic was pulled out of the closet, and re-presented for our newer readers. ~Sephrena
 


 

Teaser Scene- Sunny California

Pacific Coast Highway, somewhere near Santa Barbara, July 7, late evening

Alan Carter finally descended past terror and settled into oscillating despair. As much as he liked the pastel green dress, he regretted not wearing jeans tonight. The dress fit nicely, emphasizing his slender waist and lending him an air of feminine sophistication beyond his years but you couldn't really run away in a dress very well. Not that he had an opportunity to run now but the dress seemed to emphasize his vulnerability somehow.

He shook his head. How stupid, worrying about clothing when he probably wouldn't live through the next few hours.

The plastic restraints binding his hands behind his back forced him to sit bolt upright on the car seat with his breasts thrust forward. His captor occasionally reached over to squeeze one. Alan closed his eyes and prayed the prosthesis would stay on. He knew the man would not be happy when he discovered the truth about Alan.

And if Alan were not rescued, he would be discovered. If he were rescued, he would be discovered--pain, torture, death and humiliation, either way, just a matter of timing and degree.

Fred Robin Restaurant, Pleasanton, Off I 580, July 7, lunchtime

Cecilia tried to remember when a pleasant lunch had crossed the line into ugly. She had been sitting in the booth with Brian, exhausted and happy, waiting for his Mom to pick them up. The basketball game had been tiring but fun, and she had made almost every outside shot she tried. She remembered suppressing giggles in the pleasure of the moment; Brian had smiled at her and she had grinned back at him.

Now four big guys they barely knew sat in the booth, preventing their escape, and ordering food on their tab. One of them kept making comments about Alan’s sexual orientation, which normally would have pissed her off, except Cecilia was being Alan right now and didn't know for sure how she should react. She prayed the ace bandage holding her chest flat held under her sweatshirt.

Cecilia could see Brian going through the anguish of a thirteen-year-old boy caught in a situation that demanded more maturity than he possessed. He wanted to yell for help but did not want to look afraid. Short term relief traded for a long term reputation as a wuss. Empathy was a great thing but there was nothing like experience to make another alien concept clear for her. And now she had to use the bathroom, even a men’s public restroom.

When the waitress delivered the burgers, Cecilia saw her chance to at least relieve herself. Clambering quickly up over the booth, she jumped on the empty bench next to them and went directly into the men’s room. Just as she entered the stall, she felt someone grab her shoulder from behind.

Chapter 1: Meet the Twins- Santa Barbara, California , Late June

The California coastline curves away from the Pacific Ocean at a certain point, about halfway down from the Golden Gate to the Mexican border. The South Coast of California begins here, gilded by the sun and more protected from the storms out of the Pacific. The beaches are wider, the surfers are browner and the blessed weather lures more people to move to paradise every year.

Santa Barbara, once a sleepy village of farmers and fishermen, anchors the top of this curve; the northernmost city of Southern California or the southernmost of the Central Coast, it's a political question not a geographical one. Santa Barbarians see their city as separate from the smoggy metropolis to the south and the foggy one north of them, and many contrive to insulate themselves with money to increase the feeling of alienation. With enough millions one can browse through the terra-cotta-gabled shops, dine in the fabled restaurants, and then go home to watch splendiferous sunsets from the deck of one's very own storied mansion.

A particular home overlooked the ocean from the crest of a bluff, three well-maintained acres surrounded by privacy fences keeping out the rest of the world. The current residents had only recently moved in earlier in the spring.

Alan Carter woke up to the annoying prodding of his twin sister Cecilia. At thirteen, she had a slight advantage in strength and almost imperceptibly in height over her brother, but clearly showed a superior attitude.

"Alan, you promised we would go for our run early this morning, now get up!” Cecilia commanded, pulling the covers off her brother. She stood five-feet-eight inches tall, a thin and well-toned girl with her black hair up in a pony tail that matched her black running suit and shoes.

The twins exchanged identical blue-eyed glares but Alan got up without argument (there wouldn't be much point) and wandered into his bathroom for his morning wake up ritual. Cecilia followed to grab his black hair and pull it up into pony-tail to match hers while he brushed his teeth.

“Cissy! I can’t go running on the beach with that!’ Alan protested. (Cissy was Cecilia’s nickname because neither twin had been able to manage "Cecilia" until they were nearly five.)

“Come on, Alan! No one knows you here--besides, I miss 'Allie'. She hasn’t visited me since we moved from Ventura! Mom is already at the store and we can switch like we used to at our old house.” Cecilia said, half-pleading and half-demanding. Allie was the nickname Alan used when masquerading as his sister.

Alan knew he would go along, he almost always went along with Cecilia and besides, he enjoyed the masquerade. Twins growing up have a special bond, sometimes evidenced in games and rituals. When they were younger, they delighted in the confusion engendered amongst their friends and parents by switching roles. As they got older, Alan had been the one to insist on keeping their hair long so they could maintain the option as long as possible. Cecilia (Cissy) had agreed but made Alan settle on a length which worked for her in her sports activities, knowing Alan’s preference for fantasy games on the computer would have him tend to very long styles she would find a nuisance to deal with on the soccer or softball field.

Alan kicked Cecilia out of the bathroom for some privacy. “All right, Cissy. We just have make up school work to do anyway today. Now leave me alone and I’ll be down in a minute.”

Cecilia smiled as she went downstairs to grab a juice from the kitchen.

Allie (Alan), matching black sweatsuit and pony-tail bouncing, came down the steps a few minutes later. Felipa the housekeeper looked at the twins, blinked her eyes, shook her head and went back to managing the household accounts. She'd gotten used to the twins games years ago and tacitly kept many of their secrets.

She and her husband Jesus, the groundskeeper had taken positions in the Santa Barbara property when the Carters had moved. She had known the twins since they were five, having been their part-time housekeeper back in Ventura. Although approaching sixty, she looked somewhere between forty and fifty and Jesus seemed similarly preserved. Their children were all grown and they had been ready to return to Peru to retire when June Carter begged them to help run the much larger and more complex household. A full-time position with health and retirement benefits made a convincing offer, and they were officially listed as employees of June’s Accessories, Ltd.

Outside, at the western edge of the huge yard, a steep flight of wooden stairs led down the bluff face to the beach. Officially, all beaches in California are public but if you live in a wealthy enough neighborhood you can achieve a certain privacy that certainly resembles ownership. The two apparent girls chattered to each other in the abbreviated shorthand that seems to be the hallmark of twins everywhere.

"You got?" asked Allie making a waving motion with one hand.

"Nah," said Cissy. "More fun."

Allie grinned. Of course it was more fun to run and play on the beach than to do one's homework but they both knew their parents wouldn't let them slack off too much. Felipa had probably already been deputized to make sure they got things done.

They paused on the landing halfway down. Out of sight of the house or any other thing made by human hands except the stairs, they soaked in the scenery for a moment. Surf a little over two feet high rolled in gentle breakers against black rocks and white sand, playing tag with the shorebirds. The sky changed from deep azure at the horizon to brilliant aqua straight overhead. As the sun rose in the east (out of sight behind the bluff right then), the colors of the sky would fade like denim in the wash but at the moment, its palette was more Gauguin and less Levi Strauss.

The Channel Islands were mere smudges in a low-lying mist miles off shore but the sea itself seemed a thousand miles deep, a darkly vivid mirror of the sky.

"Pure gorgeousity," sighed Allie.

"That's not a word," scoffed Cissy.

"Ought to be."

"Isn't."

Allie held up a finger. "Dictionary."

Cissy nodded; they would look it up later to settle the point. "Race," she said and slapped her twin on the butt.

"Hey!" exclaimed Allie, annoyed that Cissy had declared a contest she was sure to win and then taken a cheater's lead. Down the stairs they thuttered and onto the beach. Cissy ran for the pleasure of being young and strong and Allie ran for the joy of being a twin.

Nearly half a mile from the stairs, just before they reached the more publicly accessible parts of the beach, Allie called out, "Race you back!"

"Hey!" protested Cissy, whose five-yard lead had suddenly become a fifteen-yard handicap when Allie turned the race around. Back they ran, not loping this time but pressing their limits. Their ponytails bounced and their sweatsuits did what sweatsuits are supposed to do, turning darker with their exertions.

For the first 300 yards of the return trip, Allie maintained the ill-gotten lead, but slowly Cissy's longer stride and greater endurance ate up the differential. In the last 50 yards, Cissy summoned up reserves of stamina that Allie had never really acquired, finishing in a power sprint and almost overtaking her twin.

Finally, Allie touched the stairs less than a yard ahead of Cissy.

"Cheater," gasped Cissy.

"Huh-uh," said Allie. They both laughed as much as they could, panting and grinning as they walked around a bit to cool off overheated muscles. On some mornings, a mile would just be a beginning for Cissy. Running on the soft sand at the beach made running anywhere else seem easier and she enjoyed the athletic challenge. For Allie, running with Cissy became companionship and nothing more; a mile several times a week fulfilled that need, easily.

After climbing back up the stairs with only slightly less energy than they had gone down, the twins found Felipa’s scrambled eggs, toast, milk and juice waiting for them in the breakfast nook. They ate like teenagers, finishing all of it quickly and Cissy drank another glass of milk.

Felipa watched them eat. She could tell them apart at the table easily, even when they dressed identically. Cissy enjoyed her food more; Alan had always been the finicky one. Not that they couldn't fool her if they wanted to, swapping mannerisms as easily as they might hair ribbons. Alan's facility at this disturbed her a bit but she kept her own counsel on the subject.

“Your Mother wants those essays done in the next two days, you two. She told me to remind you. You still need to finish your old school work. Now get upstairs and scoot!” she said, grinning when the twins had finished.

The twins ran upstairs to their respective showers as if they hadn't already ran a mile and climbed stairs four times as high.

Chapter 2: Allie Returns — Carter Home- Santa Barbara, late June

As Alan got out of the shower, a familiar feeling of anticipation came over him. He had missed being Allie, fussing with his clothes and hair, playing at being a girl. Cecilia treated him differently then, too, in some subtle way he could not identify.

Already getting into the role, he patted himself dry carefully and wrapped his hair in a towel turban, then checked his appearance in the mirror and smiled. Allie, his female identity, looked back at him. Satisfied, he donned a robe, stepped into the hallway and knocked on Cecilia’s door. She told him to enter and he found her sitting at her vanity wearing an identical robe.

"Your turn, sister. I did it the last time.” Cissy said, smiling at him as she indicated the various rollers, brushes and curling irons.

Allie smiled and began rolling up Cissy’s hair in her usual style. He had become quite accomplished at it over the last few years, and she frequently maneuvered him into being the stylist. Frankly, he did the better job and seemed to enjoy it.

Finishing with his sister's hair, Allie sat in the vanity and began rolling his own hair in exactly the same style. They always did it this way when playing their masquerade, one of them doing both hairstyles. While Allie worked, Cissy finished getting dressed, choosing a medium-length loose denim skirt and a blue chambray blouse.

Finishing with his hair, Allie selected a similar denim skirt and top from Cissy's closet, along with some tights. Allie's skirt had ruffles at the hem and the blouse was pink with more ruffles at the yoke and down the front.

Cissy could have predicted his choices, just as he could have predicted hers. "You forgot the bra, Allie. Shouldn’t be out without supporting your boobies!” Cissy laughed.

Allie grinned, looking pointedly at his sister's chest. “Support what, Cissy? I left the binoculars back in my room.”

Cissy threw a pillow. Her ‘A’ cups were a sore point with her, given that Mom was so well endowed, but she knew she had set herself up. “You just wait, Allie, by next year, I'm going to have to get you implants to pull this off.”

“I think Mom and Dad might catch on then, Cissy. It may be time to call an end to this game.”

Cissy looked at Allie and saw the hurt in his eyes. She was always torn about whether to encourage her brother or not, but they always had so much fun and he seemed to really enjoy himself. His mention of Mom and Dad was also touching on a nerve.

She always wondered why she preferred Alan to be Allie, and in her most honest moments, knew she was a little jealous of his being a boy.

Cecilia (Cissy) was outgoing where Alan (Allie) was introverted. Both of them tested high on intelligence and their parents would confirm they were above average in cunning. Cecilia made friends easily but always kept them at a distance from her relationship with Alan, as if she inhabited two different worlds. She competed in almost every sport, but seemed to prefer the individual ones, where she was playing against her own statistics.

Alan had few friends in any of the schools they had attended and this had always worried Cissy.

“I’m getting dressed and then I’ll comb us out after we finish the homework papers we owe. See you for lunch, Cissy.” Allie left, clutching the skirt, tights and top.

In his room, Allie dressed carefully. He always took greater care with Cissy's clothes than she did herself. He pulled the tights up and made sure the seams were straight. He put the blouse on and buttoned all of the distaff side pearly buttons, then he settled the skirt around his narrow hips. He looked at himself in his mirror and grinned. He twirled the skirt, loving the feeling of the tights and he thought the pink top looked particularly cute. Even more flat chested than Cissy, he thought, reaching up to tighten a roller.

He curled up in his chair and watched his laptop connect to the house network. He opened his incomplete paper on the impact of railroads on the expansion of the United States in the nineteenth century and began to write from his notes.

After an hour of steady work, he stopped and found himself shaking. He knew he was going to cry again.

Children, like all people, define their existence by the people they know. Since birth, Cecilia had been a near constant companion, and Mom and Dad were wonderful parents, despite making Alan eat broccoli and other evil things. He had never formed close friendships with other kids, content to be with Cissy and his on line gaming world. Now his world was turning upside down, with the family’s sudden acquisition of wealth, the move to Santa Barbara, a new school in the fall and now Dad moving up to the Bay area, leaving the family here.

Alan had played ‘dress up’ games with Cecilia since he was little, and always enjoyed them immensely. Cissy treated him better as Allie, and things just seemed happier. As he got older, he had started to worry about it. Cissy was growing up, and he knew 'Allie' could not follow her. He was worried he might be ‘different’, the last thing a thirteen year old boy wants to be, especially since he liked several of the girls in his class. He had been much too shy to initiate anything beyond grunting and blushing, with the exception of when they asked for help with their computers. Then, Alan became their wizard, and had even been kissed once, (right on the lips!) for recovering a lost file.

He blushed to even think of that, wiping at his tears and giggling at the same time, unconscious for the moment of how appropriate his actions appeared for how he was currently dressed.

He didn't really avoid making friends but just felt more comfortable with his sister or playing video games. He wanted to be a big hero, with a sword and magic shield, like he was when he was Bandar, in Mortal Quest. But now, shaking and tears running down his cheeks, it seemed better to be Allie, as he clutched at his denim skirt, and then wrapped his arms around his chest.

After about five minutes of deep sobbing, Allie sat up, smoothed his skirt and launched Mortal Quest in a window on the laptop. His demeanor changed to one of fierce concentration as he became Bandar, scourge of the Nine Kingdoms, rescuer of fair maidens, killer of bandits and the fourth highest ranked player on the planet. He was online with hundreds if not thousands of other players around the world, all pursuing the quest for Character Points. Since he only had an hour until lunch, he could not become entangled in any lengthy engagements. Once you made a bond with a fellow player, you kept it, or you lost all credibility.

Chapter 3: The Conspiracy Has Lunch- Carter Home- Santa Barbara, late June

Allie had just finished combing out Cissy and felt proud of his work. The twins had made a concerted effort to maintain as close to exact a match in their shoulder-length black hair as possible, and Alan (Allie) had always been the one to fuss over the styles, while Cecilia (Cissy) just desired as low maintenance a fashion as possible.

“Do you think they will divorce soon, Allie? I can’t stand this waiting.” Cecilia wiped away an uncharacteristic tear.

“Dad still is sticking by their cover story, Cissy, that he is up there until he can make the business self-sustaining. And Mom is saying the same thing. She just laughs and makes jokes about finally spending more time with her girlfriends at the store. I just know they are hiding something.” Alan said, with watery eyes.

He began removing his own rollers while Cecilia made sandwiches. Where Cecilia’s hair was nicely full and blown dry, his would have more curl. In the pink top and jean skirt, the house staff, Felipa and Jesus, addressed him as Cissy, long-time accomplices in the twin's games.

“Why else are they splitting us up this summer if not to get us used to them separating? I just know Mom has all kinds of salon and spa torture lined up for me. She wants to bond with me and get me ready for boys, I guess.” Cecilia sighed. She went on. “I feel that I'm just going to let her down.”

Allie complained in turn. “Dad already has tickets to see the Giants and wants me to try a basketball day camp. At least I can bring my computer with me. I think we both are not what they expected, Cissy.” Alan said, sobbing openly. Even with his emotional outburst, he did not miss a beat in fixing his hairstyle.

Consuming the turkey sandwiches must have triggered some thought processes. Cecilia was the first to speak.

“Allie, all of the kids I know just watched their parents split up. If we are part of it, maybe we can help them change their minds. Maybe we should be what they want us to be and then work on them to stick together.”

Alan looked pensive, then grim. “You may be right, Cissy. I can do the basketball camp and absorb all the sports stuff. Maybe I can convince Dad to move back. Then things can be like they were.”

Cecilia looked at Alan standing there, wearing one of her skirts, checking his hair in the window reflection. She just could not see him being very convincing doing a charge to the rim. Despite her upset and worry, she had to smile at the thought.

“Suppose we do what we do best, Allie? I’ll bet Mom would love going to the spa with you.” Cecilia said, a smile brightening her face from behind the clouds of gloom.

Chapter 4: It All Seemed So Simple At First- Carter Home, Santa Barbara, late June

June Carter was totally exasperated with her husband John, having just hit the off button on her cell phone. Now she had to get Alan ready to fly to Oakland by himself instead of driving up with his father. At least John had chartered a jet so she would not have to worry about commercial flights and connections.

Life had been so much simpler when they were just working stiffs, she thought, before both of their entrepreneurial ventures had taken off almost exactly at the same time. The last five years had been an exhausting whirlwind, with new found wealth prompting the move to Santa Barbara, moving the kids to private school and now John living in the house up near his newly acquired firm.

June had never acclimated to having the options money provided, and would have never thought of using the timeshare company jet just to get Alan upstate.

She felt more convinced than ever that the twins needed to start living their own lives,. They seemed to have not made any friends in the new neighborhood, apparently content to pursue their favorite activities, Alan had his on-line fantasy game and Cecilia had her variety of intramural sports. She hoped this summer would allow them to start breaking out of their conjoined shells.

"They're so much alike and where they're not alike, they're like complementary halves," she mused, unaware of echoing the sentiments of many parents of twins. Separating them for a short time would be good for them, she and John had agreed. Especially for Alan who had seldom had time to be alone with his dad, still, June worried that the twins would resent their forced separation.

June checked her appearance in the mirror again, unaware that she had done so five times already. She wasn't really vain, though her clear complexion, green eyes and raven hair would have given her an excuse to be so, perhaps. But she had made her business the appearance of others and making sure she stayed up to her own standards had become automatic. It was only when she was nervous that she over did her mirror watching.

Both of the twins resembled their mother more than their father, oval faces, wide foreheads and classically elegant noses. They had their father's dimpled chin, though. John's hair, more of a chestnut brown, didn't have the glossy black sheen the twins had inherited from their mother but they had got his piercing blue eyes and a certain quirk of mischief around the mouth. June adored her husband's sly smiles but when the twins swapped grins she knew to start looking for the mouse in the pancake batter.

"At least they haven't hatched some scheme to force us to call this off," she reflected, remembering the time the twins had used hot water bottles and ghastly retching choruses to fake the flu and avoid being sent to separate day camps three summers ago.

Cecilia looked at Alan and approved. The breast prostheses were incredible and seemed to be a part of him. Thanks to the internet and Fed Ex, Alan was ready for his summer as Cissy, having already surpassed Cecilia’s limited skill at makeup in the few days they had to practice. Fortunately, his challenge was to be a bit less feminine than he normally played when he switched roles with her.

Cecilia was Alan, her bag packed and ready for a few weeks with Dad. She was glad she hadn't developed breasts the size of Mom’s, at least not yet, since she would have had a difficult time binding them. She smiled that she had to actually use a curling iron to look more like Alan’s regular hairstyle, while Allie had to go with Cecilia’s pony-tail held back with a casual plastic hairclip. Cissy would be more than happy to revert once she got up to Pleasanton and could adjust her appearance without causing suspicion of a swap.

In that way that humans tend to put themselves at the center of things, both of the twins assumed their parent’s separation was somehow their fault. All of the changes had come too fast; more money, Mom’s brand and retail chain taking off, Dad’s biotech patents allowing him to buy his competitor, the move to the incredible house in Santa Barbara, leaving school early, Dad having to move north. Add all those to puberty's insecurities then fold in extremely bright but socially immature twins and overdone melodrama becomes the order of the day. Alan felt Dad wished he were more of a boy, despite all evidence, and Cecilia was positive she was a disappointment to Mom as a proper daughter, also without any evidence. So the plot was hatched. Alan became Cissy and Cecilia became Alan.

Chapter 5: Adventures In Babysitting - Pleasanton, California, 500 miles NNE , late June

John Carter was extremely annoyed with his Sales VP. Normally, Fred was a master with handling key accounts but every once in awhile, he just rubbed one the wrong way, and that meant John had to baby-sit an aggrieved customer.

He was not annoyed with the situation as much as he was annoyed with the timing. He had been planning to spend time with his son for at least two weeks as soon as Alan showed up, and now that was all screwed up. He had to balance bringing his new cancer diagnostic to market, which could save millions of lives, keeping his fledgling company solvent and 500 people employed and a huge chunk of personal fortune versus spending time with his son.

He hated this, because the decision always came out the wrong way for Alan. John made up his mind and looked at Fred with his eyes drilling holes in the walls.

“Goddammit Fred, I will give you one week of my time to smooth this mess out, and after that you better have bonded with this guy from Pharmalife so much he asks you to bear his child. I will not put my kid off again, and this is the shit I pay you to do! Am I clear?” John said in an uncharacteristic burn.

Fred was visibly shaken. He also knew John deserved better than he was delivering.

“Clear, John.” Fred said, knowing when to shut up.

John immediately cooled off. “Fred, I’m sorry. I know you delivered almost all the major accounts and it is my job to play this role, but I need you to do this. So we wine and dine this asshole for four days, show him around, promise him everything we already promised but in new phrases and then he is yours, ok, buddy?”

Fred welcomed the calm at the return of the John Carter he knew.

John shook hands with Fred, thanked him and went outside to meet Marissa, the head of Research.

The sun was bright enough for John to put on his Ray Bans. Marissa was gorgeous as usual, six feet tall and looking for all the world like Playboy’s version of a businesswoman, with her incredible body in a well tailored skirted suit, standing next to the Town Car limo. Next to her was Brian, a gangly thirteen year old with blond hair color he obviously inherited from his mother.

Marissa Dupre was the second employee of Junecellular, and the co owner of most of the key patents with John. But today, she was Brian’s Mom, going to Oakland airport to meet Alan, who would be staying at their house until John could disentangle himself from work. Fortunately, they lived next door to the house John had bought while he and Marissa straightened out their newly acquired company.

Marissa was also the prime reason Cecilia doubted the story Dad had told them. How could any man resist a woman who looked like that?

John greeted Brian warmly as they got into the limo and headed out onto the 580.

“I’m so glad you’re handling that moron from Pharmalife. The last time I nearly had to drop kick him off the Sausalito ferry when he came onto me.” Marissa said, her voice husky and totally out of place with her exterior looks.

“I get all the perks, Issa. So is it ok with you to handle Alan for a few days? I know you were taking some time off.”

“No problem, Johnnie. I was just going to play Suzy Homemaker for a while. I might even bake something.” Marissa said.

John could see Brian roll his eyes. Marissa has doctorates in both biology and chemistry, was one of the leading designers of nanotechnology for diagnostics which seemed to qualify her as a total disaster in the kitchen. The only reason Brian survived starvation was Brigit, their housekeeper and cook , ruled the house with an iron hand and only let Marissa near food when it was ready to eat.

Marissa’s husband Bernie had been a gifted amateur chef and his untimely death from cancer a few years ago was still a painful memory. He had never allowed her into the kitchen after her first few attempts at cooking ended with inedible results.

“Brian, I hope you and Alan enjoy the basketball clinic this week. I’ve made arrangements with Bill Casey from the Lakers coaching staff so you two are his only students for three hours a day. No embarrassment, nothing to worry about, just try it and see if you like the game. “ John said, hoping to get some response from Brian.

Brian brightened a bit. “Nobody else? Just us?”

“I understand there is a small league after the course, which you can play in if you want to, if you find you like it. All the kids are your age group, 13 and 14 year olds. I also know Alan is bringing his laptop and he knows you play Mortal Quest.”

Brian went from dim to iridescent. “Wow, I play all the time. We could team up!”

Marissa smiled at John. Brian had taken his father’s death very hard. She was hoping Alan could become a good friend.

Larry Elger rarely smiled, and usually only when he had someone in his gun sight. He maneuvered the Lincoln limo through the 580/880 interchange and headed north to the airport. Today he was the anonymous corporate driver , tomorrow the anonymous shadow for Alan Carter.

With his well trimmed black hair and lightly olive tinted skin, he could vary his appearance with a few minimum adjustments, appearing Italian, Mexican, or Anglo by re-combing, adding a thin mustache and changing his sunglasses. It was useful in his business. Alan Carter would never know he was there if he did his job right, unless Larry got the signal. Then Alan Carter would meet Larry. Most people remembered meeting Larry as long as they lived, which unfortunately, was not very long in too many cases.

Larry was still carrying a great deal of unresolved anger from his dismissal from the Israeli Consular Protection squad. He found that anger useful at times, especially when a client asked for the more difficult services.

John looked out the window. He remembered the phone call from June, the night before, when he had been trying to wrap up an FDA submittal and she was obviously frazzled from trying to get Alan ready to travel after a day of running June’s Accessories.

June had been unusually pensive on the call. “ John, I am very worried about the twins, especially Alan. They both seem very off since you went up there, very upset.”

“We have thrown a lot of change at them, June. I am definitely going to spend some time with Alan, and I have some very non-threatening things for him to try to get him out of his shell. I still think it would help for them to spend some time apart, make some new friends.”

“I know, I know. Oh well, this situation can’t go on forever, can it? They will grow up, and things can stabilize.” June sighed.

“Yes, time marches on, despite what parents want, babe. I’ll be there at the plane to pick him up. I’m sending someone down to meet with you about reviewing our security and protection for you and Cecilia. I’m worried about the kids being a target as they go off on their own this summer. You should see them tomorrow. “

“Dammit John, I wish we never got into this lifestyle. It was a lot easier being poor!” June muttered.

“Comes with the territory, Junie. I’ll call you when the plane lands and Alan is safely up here with Marissa.”

“Give her my love, John. I still miss Bernie. I hope she’s getting on with her life now.”

They broke the call off on a good note.

The limo rolled up to the hangar. John, Brian and Marissa got out onto the tarmac to watch the taxiing Gulfstream slow to a halt. Larry stood in the background, waiting for his new target to come into sight.

Chapter 6: Big Girls Don’t Cry- Santa Barbara late June

A tear ran down June Carter’s cheek as she watched her child climb the stairs up into the jet. The crew took the offered bag, and then she wept some more as she received the farewell wave from the plane’s window.

June was still taller than her children, at five foot ten inches, although she did not expect that to last much longer. She unconsciously reached up and touched the back of Cissy’s head with her open hand, very gently. She then pulled Cissy to her and held her in her arms.

Alan was feeling close to panic. Having breasts was one thing, but squishing his against his Mom’s very ample set in a hug was very strange. He hoped it felt normal to her, since he had no idea what was normal. At least his new boobs were snugly contained in his, or rather Cissy’s bra, another thing which was taking some getting used to. He was also praying that his voice would not start changing any time soon, as a key part of this plan hinged on the fact that he and Cecilia were nearly indistinguishable in speech and tone.

Now that he was alone with Mom, who was smarter than anyone except maybe Dad, he realized how stupid this deception was. How could he fool Mom? Why did Cecilia think she could fool Dad? It seemed so, so , so improbable to him now.

Riding back to the house with Mom at the wheel of the Jaguar XK8, he began to relax. She had not caught him yet, maybe he could pull it off. He settled back into the seat, smoothing out his black running suit. Mom kept glancing over at him and smiling, a glint of something in her eyes.

“Cissy, I was planning on taking you to the salon tomorrow. We’ve never done a real makeover together, and I have a surprise for you!” Mom said, a big smile crossing her lips.

Alan knew he was not up to a major argument with Mom about anything, even though he knew Cissy would have at least put up a token resistance. He decided to deflect rather than attack.

“A surprise, Mom?”

“Yes, dear. I know you don’t have any sports activities coming up for at least three weeks, so I wanted you to intern at the State Street store, for a few hours a day. I was thinking you could do the handbags section. Doesn’t that sound like fun?”

Alan did a quick evaluation. Making Mom happier with them was part of the whole reason for doing this, and working in the store was probably her dream come true. How much trouble could he get into with handbags?

“Ok Mom. Sounds like fun!” He said, trying to appear enthused but not too enthused. He knew Cissy would have fussed a bit more, but he wasn’t that good an actress yet.

Mom smiled, reaching over and tousling Cissy’s hair. Alan saw her grin again.

Neither of them saw the old Ford pickup loaded with landscaping tools following the Jaguar at a discreet distance. The woman behind the wheel was whistling Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto as she ranged the distance from behind her Oakleys. The back of her left hand was a patchwork of scars and skin grafts, which extended up her forearm. The same scars covered her left body in large patches from her neck to her pelvis. Sean Taylor was used to pain, it had been her companion for the last decade. It only subsided when she focused on a mission, and she had one in her sight right now.

Chapter 7: What Do You Mean By A Makeover, Mom?- Santa Barbara- late June

Alan’s head was spinning with confusion somewhere in the upper atmosphere. It had all started when Mom got home from the store, a few hours after she dropped him at the house.

He was able to retreat into the safety of Mortal Quest for a few hours, being Bandar in all his power and strength.

After winning several duels and rescuing another fair maiden, Alan exited the game. He heard Mom in her home office, talking on the phone. While he could not understand the conversation, he knew she was laughing with unusual enthusiasm.

Mom came out, her face tear streaked from her out of control laughing fit.

“Cissy!, I got you some things for tonight and tomorrow and I brought home some movies for us to watch. We are due at the salon tomorrow at ten and I thought we go shopping afterward for your new work clothes! How does pizza and cheesecake sound to you?” Mom bubbled.

“Fine Mom, what was so funny?” Alan asked.

“Your father told me a funny story. I just called to see if Alan arrived all right.” Mom said.

Alan unwrapped the two boxes Mom had set in his lap.

The first contained a nightgown and robe, both with more ruffles, flourishes and bows than Alan could imagine possible on a single garment.

“That’s for tonight , honey, I got one to match. We’re having a girl’s night, eating and looking at the boys in the movies.” Mom said.

The second box contained a flowered sleeveless sundress, full slip and open toed sandals.

“That’s for the salon tomorrow, Cissy. We’ll be there a while, what with your hair and nails and makeup consultation. Would you do your legs with the cream before we eat? I didn’t think you needed a waxing yet.”

Words seemed to get stuck in the back of his throat. It was dawning on Alan just how complicated this was going to get. Posing as Cissy for Felipa and Jesus when Cissy was in her jock slob mode was one thing. Mom was raising the degree of difficulty to levels he had never imagined.

He desperately wanted to talk to Cecilia, but he was not expecting her to call until tomorrow.

Chapter 8: High Noon At The Old Salon- Downtown Santa Barbara, late June

At least the chair felt very comfortable. Reflecting back on the last twelve hours, Alan began to think he had been kidnapped by aliens. He found himself sitting in the salon chair, his hair in rollers with some incredible amount of setting gel, his face covered by some slowly hardening goop, his eyebrows ‘thinned', while an incredibly attractive girl of nineteen clucked over his hands, spending what seemed like hours using little tools to push, buff, sand and polish his never-before managed nails.

Last night had not been bad at all, except when Mom kept pointing out the guys in the movies, asking what ‘Cissy' thought about that tush or those arms. Never having considered such things before, Alan didn't really want to know what he thought, so he did a lot of giggling.

Somehow it had all been fun. Chatting with Mom on the way home, they talked about things in a way he'd never done with anyone, except maybe the real Cissy. They squabbled a bit over the radio setting until they found an Oldies station that played the mellow rock classics they both enjoyed. It could have been scripted from similar disputes with Cissy, with a similar outcome.

And he hadn't even realized he'd missed cuddling with Mom until he found himself sitting beside her on the sofa at home. Warm and secure feelings dating back to infancy flooded over him while they sat close, dressed in the matching nightgowns they'd changed into at Mom's suggestion.

They lay against each other; they played with each other's hair. Mom seemed to take a particular delight in that.

She told him he'd done a good job on his legs. Alan blinked and wondered what was supposed to be so difficult about reading and then following the directions carefully.

Mom had gone over her ‘suggestions’ for Cissy’s makeover while they were stuffing cheesecake into their mouths. Alan listened carefully, trying to hear anything in Mom’s plans which would jeopardize the plot. As she spelled it out, it did not sound like he would have to disrobe or expose himself to a close panty-bulge inspection, so he breathed a sigh of relief.

Out of the corner of his vision, Alan caught Mom looking at him with a twinkle in her eye. He ascribed it to his so far “Somewhat Un-Cissy Like” behavior, since the real Cissy tried to avoid “girly” stuff as much as possible. Maybe the plot would work.

Getting up in the morning and putting on the flowered dress--with Felipa yelling at 'Cissy' that she'd forgot a slip and her legs were showing in the light--Alan shared cappuccino with Mom at the salon expresso bar, feeling dangerously near sensory overload. He hadn't been Bandar last night, finding it mentally very difficult to be the warrior after feeling so good cuddling with Mom as Cissy.

Alan watched Mom in the salon world like a swan swimming in a smooth pond. She either knew the significant players or just assumed they knew her. Alan nervously followed her swath through the soft, mostly off-white world, not wanting to be abandoned to swim in uncharted waters.

Mom adroitly introduced Cissy, avoiding condescension, indicating that her daughter excelled as an athlete but now would turn to the essential services the salon provided. Alan noticed that Mom had smoothed his path without embarrassing him and felt grateful.

She seemed to have provided specific instructions for Cissy’s transformation before she went off to her own stylist, since Alan was rarely asked to make any decisions. He found that this did not mean he was not required to talk, since he was bombarded with a continuous stream of chatter from the five women who were assigned to him, all of which required that he engage in at least semi-articulate answers.

"Now I thought you should have bangs, but your mother was very specific about that.”

"If you like this we’ll do a perm next time. I’ll give you some gel to take home with you so you can do it yourself.”

“I’m so jealous! I’d have to starve to get hips like yours!”

“We just thinned out these brows, sweetie. If you like we’ll do more next time.”

“You’re skin is so perfect! I thought you athletes spent too much time in the sun. But you should really moisturize more; I’ll have you take home our system matched to your skin type.”

“You are so lucky to have a Mom like that. And I hear you'll be working just down the street in her shop! I’ll be one of your first customers, honey.”

Alan noticed a very tall, strikingly beautiful black woman with short-cropped hair, wearing a long sleeve silk blouse and pants, Oakley sunglasses and black leather gloves. She was being escorted through the salon as a prospective customer. He thought she must be a movie star or someone like that.

One of the salon ladies showed the woman to the area where Mom was, and Alan heard conversation ending with laughter, some of which sounded like Mom’s.

He had little time to think about it as he was finally being asked to decide on which design he wanted on his nails. Mom had selected a dozen as ‘appropriate’ for a salesgirl in her shop. Alan wished they had the shield and sword he had designed for Bandar, but settled for a small flower to adorn his fingers and toes as the least objectionable of the choices.

A short and elegant woman named Fiona came in and escorted Alan to another room. Barely touching the five foot mark even with heels, she was impeccably turned out in a very well-tailored tan suit and obviously did not like to leave her jewelry home gathering dust.

“Cissy, this is my salon, and you are very welcome. June and I am have been very close friends since before you were born and I am so pleased you could come here today. “ Fiona said as she sat Alan down at a makeup station while arranging her paints and powders.

“Thank you, ma’am. Everyone has been very nice.” Alan said, assuming that a compliment never hurt in a conversation. He felt very exposed in the salon robe over his slip, and wondered what style would be inflicted on his poor hair when the rollers came out.

Fiona expertly removed the facial mask, applied more cleansing agents to his face and said “Cissy, June told me you will be working in the shop and also that you are somewhat unused to using cosmetics. Now I find that hard to believe, as pretty as you are, but my job is to make you appear as mature as I can, so people feel comfortable buying from you. We want them to assume you are at least seventeen or so, or a young-looking twenty even. How does that sound?”

Alan nodded. Fiona went to work, making sure Alan learned every step of the way. The finished result astonished them both.

"That's hard to believe," Alan said. Staring back in the mirror was Mom, or a Mom from the pictures of her youth. His own blue eyes sparkled in the reflection, though, so like his father's, not his mother's green ones.

"True, but like mother, like daughter," Fiona said. "You've got your mom's 'good bones' and I'm a genius." They both grinned; Alan decided he liked Fiona. And he really liked looking so much like his mother. It pleased him in exactly the same way that he had been pleased when he succeeded in looking like his sister. Something about that thought bothered him but he didn't have time to consider it.

Fiona quickly made Alan remove it and repeat, this time with less help from her. Soon, 'Cissy' could do it almost as quickly as Fiona had, amazing the salon owner. "June told me you weren't really into makeup, but you do know how to use some of this stuff."

Alan shrugged. "Just cause I haven't been leaving the house all dolled up, doesn't mean I haven't been practicing a bit?" he said, making a plausible excuse that happened to be partly true.

Fiona laughed. “Well, Cissy, I have a few things to complete your look. These are going to add just the right touch, but I warn you, they're a real pain.”

Alan looked out from the thicket of the false eyelashes. They were annoying to his eye movement, and obstructed his vision at times, but he had to admit, they did add to his ‘look’. Something more than this?

“Cissy, I have some things I'm sending home with your other items, but I want you to try some of them on while I check on a few things. I’ll be right back.” Fiona said, handing some lingerie boxes to Alan. She closed the door behind her.

Alan opened the boxes and found a bra with some definite padding and a panty with some foam inserts for the hips and rear.

There was a note from Fiona “You won’t need these for very long, dearie, but just for now they will add ‘a few years’ to your look. Enjoy that while you can, since we girls spend most of our lives trying to subtract years!”

Alan felt near to panic. Did Fiona know? Why would she help with the plot? He tried on the bra and panties and donned his slip and robe. Even more conscious of his chest now; it had become even bigger than Cecilia’s at about a full ‘B’, and felt funny to be sitting on the padding on his derriere. A turn in front of the mirror convinced him, though. No one could look at those curves and think 'boy'. Maybe, "Oh, boy!" Alan giggled nervously, he hadn't expected to end up such a babe.

When Fiona came back she saw his jitters and tried to set him at ease. “Your mother gave me a free hand to help you, Cissy, and I can see you are developing into a beautiful woman. I hope you aren’t upset with me trying to hurry that along a bit?” She beamed at him, clearly pleased with how things had turned out and wanting him to be happy about it, too.

Alan melted at this very nice woman. She was trying to make a young girl feel comfortable about ‘cheating’ a bit. He smiled and Fiona kissed his cheek. "It's a good thing you're going to be working in a women's wear shop," she whispered to him. "You'd have to turn down too many dates if you were in a real department store."

She chortled at his expression of dismay. "Soon enough for that in a year or two, huh?"

Alan could only nod, still trying to get his mind around that concept.

Later, when the staff presented ‘Cissy’ to her mother, Alan could see that the total look had totally stunned Mom. "Your hair?" she said, fastening on the least remarkable part of the transformation.

Alan thought his hair would have looked pretty on a girl; it fell to just above his shoulders in soft waves and curls. He put his hand up and fluffed it idly, watching his mother watching him. Then realized that he would be a girl for at least the next two weeks, looking like this. The hair added to the total effect of the makeup, his nails extended at least a half an inch, and the ‘improved’ figure--no wonder Mom seemed at a loss for words.

Alan felt as if he were having an out of body experience himself, inhabiting some alien yet enticing being. This felt totally different from just wearing Cecilia’s jean skirt. The person in the mirror wasn't Alan, and wasn't Cecilia, but maybe would be Cecilia in two or three years.

Mom walked up and held Alan’s hand in hers for a minute. "It's a good thing you don't have your father's dimples," she joked. "I'd have to lock you in your room." A real worry seemed to touch her eyes for a moment but she shook it off and linked arms with Alan.

They both thanked the salon staff, then turned to go. June said, “Get your purse, Cissy, we are going shopping!”

Boys Are Back In Town, Pleasanton, late June

The basketball made a satisfying sound as it swished through the net, causing Cecilia to grin broadly. Bill Casey was an excellent coach, and Brian and Cecilia had undergone a marked improvement in just two sessions.

Cecilia thought how much Alan would have liked this, Dad had really found a great way for her brother to try team sports without embarrassment or humiliation.

Dad had been very apologetic about being absent, and she knew he was upset about it. Staying with Marissa and Brian had been fun, even though she still suspected Marissa of trying to steal her Dad. The more she got to know her, the less likely this seemed, but Marissa’s looks totally intimidated her.

Brian was a neat kid, kind of cute and a bit of a geek. He and Alan would have gotten along fine. As it was, Cecilia kept trying to maintain her interest despite Brian’s computer geekiness, and was glad he was patient with her learning curve on Mortal Quest.

Somehow, Brian had been given the impression that Alan was a star at the game, but Cecilia quickly corrected that notion by asking for his help. She immediately realized that that was a huge mistake. No self respecting boy would ask nicely for help from another and admit not possessing a manly skill, that was a much more female device.

Cecilia corrected by making it a deal, where she would help Brian with his foul shots if he coached her on the game. This was accomplished by semi-insulting Brian’s shooting skills, allowing Brian to disparage Cecilia’s lack of experience at Mortal Quest. Masculine balance restored, she breathed a sigh of relief. She had thought this was going to be easy, and instead it seemed like a real tightrope act.

She realized that boys were very different creatures--as if they thought differently about everything. Cecilia felt like an observer from another planet.

Cecilia learned quickly not trust her reactions. One morning at breakfast, Marissa commented on how lovely Alan’s hair was, and Cecilia automatically smiled and said thank you, unconsciously touching it into place. A glance at the puzzled expression on Brian’s face once again told her she had ‘acted like a girl’ one more time. So she did the only thing she could to rescue the situation. She belched. Loudly. Brian joined in and Marissa rolled her eyes. Saved again.

The only time she relaxed was at basketball camp. The camp sessions were in the morning and Bill Casey had told them he wanted to thread the two boys into the game play in their age group in the afternoon, starting tomorrow. Cecilia looked at Brian, who looked hesitant, and then she just said yes. Brian followed suit.

That evening, Cecilia opened Alan’s laptop and logged on her Dad’s network, which had a port at Marissa’s house. She finally felt relaxed, in just a tee shirt with her binding bandage off. She hoped the door lock on the bedroom held.

She found Alan, logged on as Cissy in the instant messaging system. Of course, she was logged on as Alan,.

ALAN>HI ‘SISTER’ 

CISSY>YOU HAVE NO IDEA 

ALAN> ?

CISSY> SEE PICTURE

ALAN> WHO IS THAT?

CISSY> THAT’S ME, OR RATHER YOU IF YOU WERE HERE

ALAN> ROTFLMAO (Rolling on the floor laughing my ass off)

CISSY> NOT FUNNY

ALAN> DID MOM DO THIS?

CISSY> YES. I AM WORKING AT STORE TOMORROW. SUPPOSED TO SELL HAMDGAGS.. HANDBAGS- DAMN NAILS!!!!

ALAN> DOES MOM SUSPECT?

CISSY> DO NOT THINK SO. SHE’S HAVING TOO MUCH FUN MAKING ME A REAL GIRL. YOU OWE ME. EYEBROWS TAKE FOREVER TO GROW BACK I FOUND OUT!!!!

ALAN> SORRY  

CISSY>U DOING?

ALAN>SHOOTING HOOPS. STAYING WITH MARISSA N BRIAN. LIKE MARISSA. BRIAN CUTE. DAD BUSY. DAD VERY UPSET NOT HERE WITH YOU/ME. LEARNING YOUR GAME WITH BRIAN.

CISSY> BRIAN PLAY? CHARACTER NAME?

ALAN> FONGO

CISSY> KNOW HIM. NOT BAD. KILLED HIM A MOBTH AGO..MONTH AGO- NAILS!!!! CANNOT PLAY UNTIL GET USED TO THESE NAILS!!!!!!!

ALAN> NOW REALLY SORRY. MOM HAPPY?

CISSY> YES. TOOK ME SHOPPING. U HAVE LOTS OF NEW CLOTHES. I HAVE PIERCED EARS NOW. HATE THE EYELASHES!!!!!!

ALAN> UR BOOBS LOOK BIGGER IN PIC  

CISSY> PADDED BRA. MUCH BIGGER THAN U NOW. 

The instant message session went on for some time. Cecilia found herself both relieved and jealous of what she was missing.

Chapter 9: May I Help You? - June’s Accessories, downtown Santa Barbara, last day of June

Observation is the precursor to learning. Alan spent two days watching, listening and absorbing the sales process in his mother’s store. He noticed the clientele fell into three groups: the Chicks, local late teens and early twenties; Olders (Mom called them mature), stylish women and Tourists. He saw the Olders were few in number but bought a lot at one time. The Tourists spent a lot of time but rarely bought anything and the Chicks were most numerous and bought one or two things almost every time.

Mom proved to be the best teacher and loved to discuss her business. Cissy asked and then sat back and absorbed as each question set Mom off into a lecture on the market, the merchandise and the customers.

Alan studied the handbag section with a single-minded focus. He figured out that it was a slow moving part of the store and Mom viewed giving it to him as a low risk proposition. She may be a Mom, but she was also a businesswoman.

Alan called the marketing departments of the manufacturers, soliciting their view on the best way to sell their products, and particularly asked for names of celebrities who used the bags, or movies where the bags were visible.

He visited every store in a four block radius that sold expensive handbags, shopped and observed the way they did business.

After three days, he was ready to work.

"Cissy, you look very nice. Are you ready for your first day on the sales floor?” Mom asked, smiling at Alan over their breakfast coffee. Felipa smiled and clucked her approval at Cissy’s appearance in the kitchen.

Alan had redone the hair-style, with a little help from Felipa. He felt very exposed in his miniskirt, and the patterned white pantyhose did not make him feel any less naked. The padded panty made his butt very noticeable, and he began to realize that he would probably draw stares from boys and probably men when he walked past them. He liked the silk blouse, and Felipa had told him to use the pendant necklace Mom had given Cissy for her last birthday. At least the clunky sandals were not high heels, since he still struggled with the handicap the eyelashes and nails inflicted on his normal movements, and heels would have probably rendered him catatonic.

The mannerisms he had observed in Mom, Felipa, and even Cecilia were starting to become habits with him. Checking hair, clothes, using his hands, checking his nails, all were getting layered onto his routines.

Alan found himself in his usual geek mindset, becoming totally absorbed in his project, immersed in his role, the way he became immersed in Mortal Quest as Bandar. Mom was happy, and he found his assignment a challenge. Acting like a girl was just part of the project. The more he focused on selling handbags, the more relaxed he became, and the more Cissy emerged and Alan retreated to being the disembodied person at the keyboard, controlling the action. Alan became a ghost, and Cissy was the feeling person.

“Yes, June. Did my deliveries come?” Alan asked, still having a hard time calling Mom by her first name. Mom had insisted, since “Mom” did not sound professional to her in front of customers or other employees.

“They came yesterday. And Sylvia is miffed that I gave you another ten square feet, but she will just have to deal with it. I had to make a deal with her that she would get it back if sales did not justify it.” Mom said, shifting from mother to store owner.

Alan’s plans had three specific ways to sell to the three groups of customers who came into the store. Today, he would work on the main group, the “Chicks”. Arriving a full hour before opening, Mom left him to his devices on the sales floor,while she went to the offices upstairs. She rarely did any selling any more, concentrating her time on the running of the twenty store empire June’s Accessories had become.

Sylvia Molenburg was the Queen of the State Street Store, the flagship of the company. Efficient and intensely loyal to June, she was not very happy with the appearance of a thirteen year old child on her sales floor. She had been openly hostile on that point with June and the staff.

Sylvia delivered a cold glance as Alan unwrapped the material he had received from the various marketing departments of the purse manufacturers. He selected two posters mounted on frames and set them on his shelving, re-arranging his merchandise.

“Just what do you think you are putting in my store, young lady?” Sylvia’s words dripped with ice and shook Alan, as he fussed over the placement of his handbags.

Alan spun around and found a glaring Sylvia starting to reach for a poster. An inner strength, driven by a sense that he was right drove him to the next step. He had done his work, his theory was sound and he was not going to let some old bat push him around!

“If you touch that poster, I am marching out of here right now. The sales here will then be your problem.” Alan said.

Sylvia looked up, startled, as if a kitten had just eaten her leg.

“What did you say?”

“I was very clear. Now leave me alone or I leave.”

Sylvia looked at Alan with a cold gaze. She turned and went back to her perch in the corner office.

Alan felt totally naked in his miniskirt right then, naked and shaking. He had never done anything like that except in his game.

Meanwhile, the little exchange had not gone unnoticed by the other staff members. They all exchanged very puzzled looks.

Alan’s strategy for the ‘Chicks” was simple. His posters showed a featured purse being carried by a famous movie star or rock singer, sometimes as a clip from a movie. He also had a pitch for every item, not on the virtues of the bag, which he did know, but on which famous beautiful people used it. When you are selling handbags for four and five times the price of a non-designer equivalent, you are selling style, allure and celebrity. He planned on rotating two new posters in every day.

By the middle of the day, he had sold four, slightly below the average selling pace. He was feeling a bit down, when Mary, who handled the whole leather section, bought him a cup of coffee, and sat him down for a break.

“Cissy, you seem to be learning fast. I was watching you and I think you are going to do real well.” Mary said.

“But I only closed less than half the real prospects!.” Alan whined, letting the tension flow out to a sympathetic ear.

“You just need some time to learn to close. Your pitch is good, and you get them interested. But you are a little too needy. Get them hooked, then back off. Let them browse. Make occasional eye contact, but don’t say anything. Let them come to you. It's a bit like flirting with boys, which I bet you do real well.”

Alan blushed which Mary thought too cute to mention, but he took her advice to heart, and improved his afternoon sales to at least even with the previous rate.

At the end of the day, he turned in his summary, and got a glare from Sylvia.

“This shows no improvement, Miss Carter. I expected better.”

“Sylvia, stop being such a bitch! She did better on her first day than you did your whole first year. Shut up and give the kid a break!.” Mary chimed in. Mary had been there as long as Sylvia and the two were usually friendly combatants.

Sylvia looked at Cissy and her glare turned to a mere grimace. “She’s right, you know. Ok, Cissy, you did pretty good for a new kid. I’ll let you do your stuff within reason. Just no more floor space, ok?”

Alan knew he was way ahead, and nodded. “Yes, Ma’m, I mean Sylvia. I am sorry about this morning.” He knew he'd simply met rudeness with rudeness but he did feel badly about being disrespectful to someone who worked for his mom. He'd been in a state of concentration, of geekiness where he had to do the job he'd been given his way or not at all.

Something which might pass for a smile crossed Sylvia's face for a brief moment. “Forget it. I’m getting too set in my ways. If you’ve got ideas, I’ll listen to them. See you tomorrow, Cissy,” she said.

More than a bit relieved, Alan wandered off, a look of mental exhaustion on his face when Mary gently grabbed his hand. She said, “June asked me to give you a ride home, since she’s tied up for another hour upstairs. Would you like to stop over at the Nook for an iced latte before we go, sweetie? I just want to watch the boys when they see you there, it’ll be my entertainment.”

Alan was feeling mixed happy, tired and a little apprehensive at Mary’s last comment. He had no interest in being boy bait, but the iced latte did sound good, and he really liked Mary. Besides, the challenge of being Cissy had become almost routine, why shouldn't he go and do things Cissy would have been happy to do?

Alan visited the employee’s lounge, just for a moment, where he touched up his makeup and triple-checked his appearance. Then over to the Nook, and Mary got them a table right on the street.

Mary was a very attractive forty-something, recovering from her third marriage. It amused Alan that she viewed her marriages as two year vacations from being single, and apparently still felt on good terms with all of her ex-husbands. She did seem to enjoy observing the male of the species, and glad to share her long experience with Cissy, like the hunters on the African plains had done to initiate a new arrival to the trade, thousands of years ago.

Alan smiled inwardly, musing that maybe women were similar to men in some ways. Hunting was hunting, after all, and in the animal kingdom, the female was quite often the better stalker. The deadlier of the species--Alan examined his painted fingernails and suppressed a giggle.

A few tables over from Mary and Cissy, Sean Taylor settled into a carefully chosen spot. Her wig’s dreadlocks made a gentle clattering sound as the beads ticked against one another when she moved her head. No one could really tell what she might be looking at, she'd swapped her Oakleys for Wileys, the Persimmon tint she favored for shooting and tracking, and it matched her tracksuit. Her wrists were wrapped in athletic supports, masking her scarred left hand for the most part. Today she had thickened her normally aquiline nose, to lower her chances of triggering the ‘how many six foot black women frequent this part of State Street’ question. She wanted the answer to be, “Why they're quite common, I've seen several in the last few days”.

Sean really enjoyed the tradecraft that Larry had taught her since she had been released from the VA hospital. She still felt furious at the Army and what had been done to her, but working with Larry had given her an outlet for that rage. Their work occasionally turned nasty, and not always in locales like State Street, where she could sip an iced mocha.

Her gaze never lingered on Cissy, but was rarely far from the black-haired heartthrob who drew approving looks from every straight male over the age of twelve in a half block radius. Sean smiled at the effect the salon had had on Cissy’s image.

Chapter 10: Put me In Coach - basketball camp, Pleasanton, last day of June

The game would be decided in the next two possessions. Cecilia as always felt supremely confident of her shooting ability and could not see an easy way to pass the ball to either Brian or Mike, who were nearer the rim. Bobby’s defense covered her like a shroud since he had her beat by about four inches and forty pounds. She debated whether to break away and try to recharge the lane or fake Bobby and shoot.

Larry Elger walked around the gym with a clipboard and some blueprints partially opened up, wearing a pair of safety goggles with his white shirt and tie. He appeared to be some kind of safety inspector type. He watched Cecilia’s play with amused but casual interest.

Cecilia and Brian didn’t regret their decision to join the camp team play; Bill Casey went out of his way to match up the players in skill as much as practicable. Brian had really changed in just the last few days, relaxing with his new skills, showing increasing confidence in himself. They had both made some new friends in Mike, Bobby and a few others in the group.

Cecilia discovered that avoiding the locker room had become an issue, and found herself on the receiving end of some jokes about being shy and ‘not having much to show’. She appreciated Brian supporting her by waiting outside with her for a ride, and admired the way he could turn the comments around. It seemed like a quintessentially boy-thing and at first it mystified her.

But she learned that the way to counter having her manhood diminished was to diminish in return, and listened to Brian taunt the other boys by letting them know he was too big for them to see.

Cecilia had at first dismissed this whole back and forth insult process as incredibly stupid male behavior. Girls tended to support one another and belittle themselves, doing what the boys did would be considered 'catty' in the extreme, not to mention incredibly vulgar.

She finally realized, after thinking about it for most of one night, that it must serve as a sorting method, where boys learned to handle aggression within a group, and to maintain a presence in the pecking order. If you didn’t play the game, you couldn’t be counted on by the others because they wouldn’t know where you belonged in that order.

Back in the game, Cecilia decided to take the shot, shifting on her right foot, trying to draw Bobby’s attention. She moved left and shot, only to watch Bobby shift back and use his reach to send the ball into the bleachers.

Larry Elger dropped his clipboard and retrieved the ball. He fired it back to Cecilia. The game continued and her team lost.

At the end of each game, Bill Casey got the players together and asked them to critique the play. At first, they had all been afraid to talk, but he excelled at getting them to open up. He kept the comments honest, too, but they weren’t always tactful.

Cecilia felt on the verge of tears, and knew her lip must be almost quivering. The other players, in a variety of ways, let her know that they thought Alan was a hot dog, a ‘selfish player’. Whenever she’d played the game before, she had always been the tallest and strongest player against the girls her age. Now she was lucky to be at the top of the bottom third. It was not just her last blocked shot; it was her whole style of play.

Bill Casey saw Alan taking the criticism hard. "You did a lot of good shooting earlier, Alan," he commented, defusing the situation. "What kind of strategy should a good shooter use in such a situation?" he asked the other boys.

Bobby Florentine took his shirt off on the way to the locker room and Cecilia felt her eyes lock on and follow his muscles rippling as he pulled the sweat-soaked tee over his blonde curls. It was getting very difficult for her to ignore her attraction to the boys on her team, especially when they had no compunction about stripping right before her eyes.

Another problem with the plot, she thought to herself, knowing that if she were Cissy--especially the new improved Cissy that her brother had become--she could wrap Bobby and the others around her finger. She didn't know whether to giggle or gnash her teeth about the situation but suppressed both.

She calmed down remembering that tonight she and Brian were going to the ballgame with Dad. Dad had finally gotten free from work and she was going to be happy to see him again. She had just begun to realize how unbalanced everything in her life had seemed without him around.

Chapter 11: Some Peanuts And Crackerjack - BART and SBC Stadium, San Francisco, Last day of June

Late that afternoon, Larry Elger rode the BART car to downtown San Francisco. Alan, Brian and John Carter, with one of the Junecellular security guys, all rode in the car ahead. The Giants played at SBC Stadium, a downtown ballpark, and one of the newest in the nation. Larry relaxed, considering his position, he had little else to do.

Being the product of an Israeli Jewish father and an American Christian evangelical mother had made his childhood in Tel Aviv challenging. Sort of Jewish and sort of Christian in a country which prized ethnicity as the root of its existence, he'd become a patriot. Despite his questionable reception, he had done his military service, then moved on to the Consular Protection unit of the Israeli State Department.

He had a capability to successfully blend into a large part of the Mediterranean world which enhanced his chances of success at protecting diplomats in various embassies.

Larry also found that he had the ability to masquerade as a woman, which became a valuable asset for setting traps to draw out assassins and terrorists. His slender build and fine features worked with his five foot eight inch height so well that he became a body double for a key female consular officer in Spain.

An elegant Romanian Jew, Sophie held a critical spot in trade negotiations from the consulate offices in Madrid. A large part of the Israeli economy depended on how well she did her job. So, when she asked that Larry be assigned to her security for an extended tour, his superiors rapidly granted her request.

The first time Larry had to be her body double, she had him brought to her office and laughed out loud. She informed him that while he was pretty enough, she refused to be represented as having taste quite so awful. Sophie worked with him until Larry became adept at being her. She also seduced him, with hot passionate efficiency.

Sophie loved her new girlfriend, Linda as she called him when he was ‘on duty’, and began increasing her use of him. Larry was to be seen around Europe to throw the competitors off her track for trade deals. Sophie/Linda would be spotted in Gstaad, while Sophie herself made a new deal in Barcelona.

Larry remembered her as his first great love, the woman who taught him about sex and passion. She was also the wife of a powerful man in the Cabinet, and eventually, her lack of discretion in Madrid caused troubled echoes in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

His removal from the assignment was followed by a reprimand and reassignment to an area where the Cabinet member was assured the survival rate was so low that Larry could be considered a dead man already.

Larry survived his dead man's tour because the worst day of his life happened almost at the same time. As he was about to embark on his first mission to ‘remove’ a terrorist who had planted a bomb on a school bus, his parents became victims of a suicide bombing at a coastal restaurant. Something caught fire inside him. He lost all fear and became his missions. Where many operatives burned out or were killed, Larry became a dealer of death. His focus and lack of concern for his own well being became his shield and sword.

His last mission had ended with his finding a straw of life to hold close. He emigrated to the homeland of his mother and went into business. It wasn't exactly a new line of work but it offered rewards his days in Israeli Security had not.

John Carter smiled at Alan. Taking your son to the ballpark was a time-honored tradition, especially such a son as this one. John could see the delight in young eyes and felt content.

He had wined, dined, wheedled and promised until the customer seemed mollified and ready for Fred to begin ‘future linkage’ discussions, where the customer would be tantalized with potential riches based on the possibilities Junecellular had coming up.

Bill Casey had called and filled him in on Alan’s performance at camp, making John bemused and pleased. It is always good to hear your child is doing well, and the need to be more of a team player was probably a genetic curse. John, with quick hands and an unerring eye had been a bit of a ball hog himself. He smiled at Alan again, remembering and wondering.

He relaxed into the moment. The new park didn't suffer from the chilling winds of the old 'Stick which had been stuck out on a slender peninsula in the bay. It sometimes didn't get really warm in San Francisco until the dry season started in November but today was one of those pleasant gems, a rare summer day worthy of a legend.

Baseball is one of those games you either love or ignore. It seldom engenders hate, given its pastoral nature. But it is an absolute given that it is a game best seen live, on a pleasant and sunny afternoon, in seats close enough to see sweat droplets fall off the player’s noses. Time gets suspended and the rhythm of the game takes control of your pulse.

Cecilia and Brian were bubbling. The Phillies and the Giants were evenly matched and the score was tied 5-5 going into the ninth inning. It was one of those games where the hitters and the pitchers were evenly matched, which created tension and excitement. Anybody could hit, anybody could strike out, anybody could power a line drive that might go over the fence--or into a glove.

In the Field Club area, just behind the home team dugout, Larry Elger looked more Mexican-American today, wearing a stadium security blazer. He watched as a foul ball arced high and saw Cecilia and Brian reaching for it. A fan from an adjacent box angled to make a play and Larry inserted himself at just the last second, his back to Cecilia. She outreached Brian and came up with it. John beamed and hugged his son. Brian was patted her on the back. The fans applauded.

Larry grinned. Who knew what might be in store for Cecilia on the mission? Let her enjoy the little things. Larry had seen enough pain to allow him the perspective of savoring the moments.

The Giants won, 6-5.

Chapter 12: The Boy Next Door — Santa Barbara, July 2

Alan’s numbers were on plan. His sales skills with the Chicks improved daily, and Sylvia had asked him to coach some of the other salesgirls in his approach, since they filled in for Cissy when he was off.

With the Chicks in hand, Alan had decided to pick up the Tourist trade, people who mostly spent their money on the low dollar items. He knew he needed to peel off the top ten percent, so he borrowed a technique he had seen in another store on another item.

Alan began to understand the role of purses and how that contrasted with the need for a dependable everyday carryall bag. He had found some promotional carryalls in the store storage area, whose only distinguishing feature was the designer label that the manufacturer had applied. Their intent was to be used as a merchandising item tied to the purchase of several other very expensive items in the designer line.

He needed to invent a reason for a tourist to make a large dollar purchase. The allure of a handy item for free if the customer already owned a purse from the designer with them in the store. No purchase necessary. The free item that was not available for purchase anywhere and carried the cachet of the label.

So the hook was simple, Alan asked the customer if she owned a purse in that line and was offered a free carryall just for showing it. But if they did not have one, Alan would be happy to show them a very reasonable item in that very exclusive line. He moved the entire inventory of the low end of the designer line to women driven by the incentive of the free carryall. Spend $100 for a free $10 giveaway.

Sylvia was watching Cissy with great interest.

“So, now I understand how you think about our customers, what’s your plan for the “Olders” market as you call them?” Sylvia asked over coffee to Cissy, who today wore a flowered sundress and modest heels. Alan had decided to try his luck without the eyelashes, adding extra mascara to compensate. He liked the look and it certainly simplified the maintenance .

“We already have to watch the high end display so closely, I was thinking of asking you to set aside a part of the jewelry case for the most expensive items in each designer line. I’ve noticed that most of those customers, the Olders, spend a lot of their time in that section of the store.”

“Purses behind locked glass? That’s new. It might get some attention. But then is it a jewelry sale or a handbag sale?” Sylvia said, watching for Cissy’s reaction.

“I really don’t care. Mom, I mean, June asked me to move handbags. I think this will help,” Alan said, lightly sipping the cup to avoid smudging his lipstick. This was one of the several thousand of unconscious things he had made part of his automatic behavior.

“I’ll do it. Just don’t you go and tell anyone else I gave you more square footage. I’m considering this jewelry space. But you’ll get a commission split on every bag moved.” Sylvia smiled. She had taken to talking to Cissy at least once every day, and was finding the ideas a refreshing challenge. She had been very complimentary to June about her daughter’s business sense.

Lunch break with Mary over, on the walk back, Alan noticed a Mercedes Limo in front of the store, with two bodyguard looking guys in suits. It aroused a natural curiosity about who might be inside but he didn't want to be caught staring.

As he entered the store, he found Mom talking to a very short woman, not more than five feet tall, dressed in a very expensive suit, and from her bearing he could see she was used to being treated well.

The shop had a number of very wealthy patrons, as well as very famous ones, and they all exuded the same aura. “I am important, attend to me.”

Alan noticed someone in a track suit and long brown hair down her back sitting off to the side drinking bottled water.

“Cecilia, this is Mrs. Olanger. They've just bought the house next door to ours and she stopped by to get acquainted," Mom said, using Cissy’s formal name as a cue that she expected a royal treatment of the guest.

“Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Olanger.” Alan limply shook the offered hand, remembering to give his biggest smile. He tried his best not to tower over the woman, made even harder by the heels he wore.

“You are a very pretty young lady. Please call me Marge, we are neighbors now. And I want you to meet my son, I believe you are the same age, Cecilia,” Marge Olanger said, leading Alan to believe she was not as full of herself as many rich celebrity types tended to be.

The girl with the long brown hair stood up and turned out to be a six foot tall boy with long brown hair. He noticed Alan’s look of surprise.

“Hi. I’m Kim. And everybody tells me I look like a girl from the back, so don’t worry about that. At least nobody will confuse you with a boy! I hear you’re into sports? I play soccer and like to run. Can you show me the best places to run in the morning?” Kim's flashed a million-dollar smile and seemed very comfortable with meeting strangers.

“Sure, I mean yes. I run every morning. I can show you at six thirty if that’s not too early,” Alan said. Kim looked at him in the same way Alan looked at girls. Alan was getting used to that, but those looks had been mostly from strangers. This guy was the new neighbor!

“We’re still on eastern time, so that’s fine. My body still thinks it's nine thirty at that time.” Kim grinned again and even though it wasn't really funny, Alan found himself giggling. Curiously, this made Kim blush. Why in the world, wondered Alan.

“Cecilia, why don’t you take Kim across the street for something while I talk to Marge? Be back in an hour?” Mom said, giving him the look that he knew meant do it and shut up. Mrs. Olanger was going to get the grand tour. Rich customers brought more rich customers, and Mom was buying an hour to make her into one.

Alan looked at Sylvia, who said, “We’ll handle your section, Cissy. Go ahead.”

Across the street, the two found places at a sidewalk table, drinking sodas in front of a computer games store. Alan reflected on the very weird feeling in his head, walking around with a boy, one who he knew his sister would drool over, wearing a light sundress and passing as the girl next door.

It didn't take long for Alan to find out that Kim was at heart a very shy boy, who, as the child of diplomats, has become excellent at appearing at ease with strange people. Alan immediately felt less anxious, everybody seemed to play some sort of role. They shared life stories over Cokes, or at least Kim’s story and a very modified version of Alan’s sister’s life story.

Kim confessed to being a government service brat, meaning he had gone to four schools in six years, and had lived all over the world. He spoke five languages and had been a star soccer player in Italy in his age group. Like many kids in his situation, he had learned that friendships were transient, just like the places he lived. And he had done it alone, without a sister or brother. Having a famous father, advisor to four Presidents, and a mother who had inherited a very old money fortune did not help. The expectations placed on him were staggering for a thirteen year old.

Alan felt bad for him, since while he was very much a loner himself, he had always had Cecilia as a constant in his life. Suddenly, the loneliness of being without his twin felt particularly sharp. He blinked rapidly and forced his attention back to Kim.

Kim turned to watch the other people on the street and said, “I guess I should get this cut, it looks like the shaved head look is big here. Besides, it’s a bit long for playing.” He indicated his hair, which fell a several inches past his shoulders.

If there was one thing Alan really enjoyed, it was his hair. He had always liked fussing over it and enjoyed it long. He honestly thought that Kim's hair looked good. "It’s fine, not all the guys have it short. Do you wear it that way on the field?” Alan asked, not realizing how much his inquiry could be viewed as flirting.

Kim smiled broadly. “I am kind of embarrassed to say this, but in Italy, a lot of the players braided it before a game. I’m not sure if I want to do that here.”

"If you are real good, all the other boys will wear pigtails just to look like you. I wouldn’t worry about it.” Alan said, smiling back. He didn't realize how much his interactions and behavior had been influenced by his week as a salesgirl. Driven by a desire to make his project work, he had adopted a lot of feminine mannerisms unconsciously.

The reason the two settled in front of a computer games store was Kim’s desire to get the latest Mortal Quest add on pack, the one that allowed you to make your avatars more realistic and more detailed. Alan, without a second’s hesitation, began to talk about the game. Time, crowds and the entire rest of the world faded into the background as Kim and Alan became immersed in the intricacies of gameplay.

Kim, stunned to find himself in the presence of Bandar, was more impressed to find Bandar was not only a girl, but a really beautiful girl named Cissy. Kim revealed he was the Wizard Erindor, a reasonably well known player, but not viewed as in the top tier with Bandar.

"We're late," Alan said suddenly, glancing at his pretty watch.

Kim smiled. "Mom won't mind, she's spending money."

Alan grinned, thinking that that could be very good for the shop. "We'd better get back, though."

"Okay," said Kim. He stood lazily and held out a casual hand to Alan to help him up. Alan didn't really know what to do about the hand so he ignored it while standing and Kim ended up using it to push hair out of his own face. "I can't believe it, a real live meeting with the real life Bandar."

Alan giggled, nervously realizing he may have made a mistake in admitting to his online gaming identity. "Maybe you'd like to come over to play in tandem sometime?" he suddenly offered.

Kim's eyes widened. "I'd love it! Like playing with a legend."

"Stop that!" said Alan, a bit alarmed. "I don't know if you're teasing me."

"You don't?" Kim asked.

"Well, now I do," said Alan, making a face.

Kim laughed and blushed at the same time but they hurried back toward the store.

Marge Olanger , happily chatting with Mom and Sylvia, spotted her son holding the door open for his pretty companion. She gave Cissy a new appraisal; one June caught the meaning of immediately. Marge Olanger needed to be very concerned about the ‘suitability’ of any female companionship for her son, given the political, social and financial world she inhabited. June resisted the temptation to roll her eyes. She made a note to talk to Cissy about the situation.

Alan saw that Mom had been successful; evidenced by the security guys loading the trunk with shopping bags, so he took satisfaction that he had played the appropriate diversionary role.

He decided he also really liked Kim, and was very upset that he could not have met him as Alan. For once, he would have been able to impress a new kid with who he was. Standing at the door of the shop, he waved bye to his new friend then turned away with a sniff and a toss of his head. It just wasn't fair that Kim thought he was a girl.

Sean smiled, almost breaking into a laugh as she watched Cissy and Kim from her position down the street. Today was what she called ‘rich lady’ day, with the long black wig falling onto her silk blouse which blended with her hip-hugging designer pants. She wore light gloves today, matching her blouse, and set the look off with large aviator shades.

The pain seemed subdued this afternoon, and she had cut back to Tylenol to mitigate it. But the memory of pain would always be with her.

The daughter of a Baptist preacher and a civil rights lawyer, Sean had been oblivious to being ‘of mixed race’ growing up in Alabama. Somehow, the respect her father had in the community, and the legal help her mother provided to all who needed it smoothed the way for her in the sleepy little town near Mobile. Their death from a drunk driver when she was just finishing high school had shaken her to her core.

Instead of following the preordained path to college, and then law or divinity school (or both), she became a recluse for almost a year. The townspeople were quite surprised to find out she had joined the Army, and was on her way to being a warrant officer flying helicopters.

Sean found peace in the air. The act of flying a helo is physically complex, requiring movements of all your limbs in coordination with an almost psychic sense of position and situational awareness. She had always been a talented musician and athlete along with her academic achievements, and this combination allowed her to excel holding the control yoke of her Blackhawk.

She formed no lasting attachments, her parents' death had made her sexually and romantically numb for a long time. While not a virgin, she was nicknamed “Black Ice Queen” which became her call sign. The guys in her unit fell into the normal male response to an uninterested woman and jokingly assumed she liked girls, cementing her position as the particular fantasy of most of her fellow pilots. Sean found this amusing, and did little to disabuse them of the notion.

Then came Somalia. The situation of ‘planned and enforced’ famine made Sean violently ill in her soul as she flew missions to deliver food and aid workers, along with providing armed support to the farther reaches of what used to be a functioning nation. A month before the famous shoot out in Mogadishu, the “Blackhawk Down” incident which prompted the US pullout, Sean’s helo was returning from a delivery mission and spotted a strange explosion near a village, and a strange colored cloud. As she tried to avoid the rising colored air, she saw an RPG explode right on her tail rotor. The Blackhawk went in hard, killing her crew and trapping her in the crushed cockpit. As she was trying to extinguish flames from the fuel, the gas cloud covered her wreck, fortunately mixed with a lot of wind so it was thinned out. Sean kept her mask on and tried not to breathe. That was the last thing she remembered until waking up on an offshore hospital ship, wrapped in gauze and sedated to offset the pain of the burns. Her left side was crushed.

She ended up losing her left breast and whatever was in the cloud had made her burns much worse, leaving substantial scarring. The recovery took years, but what really hurt was the command decision that what happened to her did not happen. The White House, fed by their advisors did not want it public that an Army helicopter had been shot down by the ‘gangsters’. So it was listed as ‘pilot error’. No mention of the chemical cloud in the report.

On the receiving end of a disability discharge, Sean found it extremely difficult to pursue a career in commercial aviation. The irony was, a month after the crash, the whole world saw it happen again, but the cover up of Sean's incident persisted.

Sean had a lot of rage to work out. Her work with Larry had allowed her that release.

Chapter 13: Business, Basketball, Life, They're All Just Games - Junecellular Building, Pleasanton, July 3

The red striped wire annoyed Cecilia. It appeared on the database, but the final printed specifications called for a red wire. The internship Dad had set up meant helping in the quality department monitoring the final assembly of the diagnostic kits, preparing for shipment the very second trial approval came through. Dad had made sure Alan would have plenty of time to make the late afternoon games at the basketball camp.

Brian manned the workstation next to hers. At first, they both thought the jobs were something their parents made up to ‘keep them busy’, but by the end of the first day, she was finding it to be interesting.

Bob Margolis was very young for his position as head of Quality Process for Junecellular, but had the confidence and easy going manner of someone much older. He enjoyed having “The Heirs Apparent” (as the kids were known jokingly by the staff) working for him and found them to be refreshing in their open eyed questioning of the obvious. Bob knew that was a crucial element for performing his group’s mission.

Brian and Cecilia were ‘random checks’, told to take any part from the plant floor, and run a thorough check--what Bob called a total genealogy. That meant look at all documents, specifications, supplier records, receiving records and other testing and movement records. Most of the time, it all added up and was perfect. Brian had caught a minor error in a receiving document and Cecilia had found a serial number entered incorrectly. Bob had explained the level of perfection required in the final product, and the regulatory fines and issues at stake. Lives depended on the process delivering as perfect and consistent a product as possible.

So Cecilia had her striped wire on a small assembly. Every computer record said it was perfect, and every written record said it was perfect, except one. Then she had talked to the people in receiving, who told her the parts had a striped wire during trial, and they had heard from the engineers that it was supposed to go to red, but it never had. They showed her the same computer display she had seen in her office.

The engineer who had signed the conflicting paper was no longer with the company and the department head was very dismissive of this little boy telling him there was a problem. He showed Cecilia the same computer screen and told her to forget it.

The woman at the supplier proved to be very helpful over the phone and mentioned to Cecilia that they had been expecting a change in design, but it had never come. They were shipping the same assembly that they had for the engineering test. Cecilia was almost ready to give up and write it off as one strange spec document, especially since everyone else seemed to think it was all fine. Who was she to question it when all these adults with college degrees and years of experience thought it was nothing?

She decided to send her write up to Bob, with the issue unresolved, which she knew would cause red flags to go up.

After lunch, Bob found her.

“Alan, come into my office, please.” Bob said, a grim look on his normally sunny face. Cecilia swallowed hard and followed him.

Inside Bob’s office were Dad and Janet Vincent, who Cecilia remembered was the head of Information Technology.

“Alan, I received a call from a supplier today, reaming me out for having some kid challenge their deliveries. “ Dad began. When Cecilia was about to talk, Dad held up his hand for silence.

“Don’t worry, you did your job. You had a perfect right to ask your questions and he should have known that. So it made me suspicious. Meanwhile, Bob here was looking at your report and called me. You just saved all of us, Alan. We were being set up to fail an audit by the FDA. Janet found a spurious line of code in our control software which kept the old spec from a failed trial in the system instead of the final one. That engineer who left and a systems person who recently quit left a time bomb to ruin our approval. We would have lost at least a year and probably our whole investment. Thank you, son.”

Struck speechless when Dad shook her hand while Bob and Janet smiled in agreement, Cecilia felt like she was walking on air.

“Now we’ve got a lot of mess to clean up, and you are going to help us, but right now, you’ve got a game to go to, and I’m coming to watch. Ok, Allie?”

Cecilia smiled. Dad only used Alan’s nickname when he was especially happy.

Brian and Cecilia were on the court and Bill Casey noticed Alan’s change in playing style. Instead of going for every shot, Cecilia now made plays, passing the ball and being more concerned with getting the team to score. John Carter and Marissa were in the stands, screaming and applauding.

Larry Elger found himself really enjoying the game. He relaxed, having just finished a cell phone call with Sean, his partner covering the other twin.

He remembered meeting Sean, something she did not. Larry's last mission for his old organization was Somalia, tracking a terrorist group reputed to be expert in chemical weapons. He found them just as they were demonstrating their wares for one of the warlords in a small village.

Markets work on everything. If there is a buyer, there will be sellers. The warlords in the genocidal mess that the Horn of Africa had become were growing impatient with famine as a tool of power, so they sought faster methods. Enter a terror group looking for a sanctuary and protected place to train and refit.

Larry and his team reached the village just after the chemical cloud had been released and watched the Blackhawk spiral into the ground. They had killed the terrorists and discovered the winds had saved the village, but the Blackhawk crew was dead except for the pilot. Larry fought the flames and burning aviation fuel to get her out the wreck and made sure the medical evacuation teams were alerted. He turned her over to the Army team and disappeared.

Sean learned later from the helo pilot of the medevac that a guy had been on the scene and was the one responsible for her being still alive. At that time, Sean had not been sure that was a good thing.

Two months later, back in the USA, Larry showed up at her VA hospital. He introduced himself and despite Sean’s reluctance to let anyone see her in her disfigured state, persevered through her recovery and never left her side. Sean was the first positive thing he had done since his parents died and he began his career as a vengeance squad. He was determined to never let her go.

Sean grew to appreciate Larry, despite her blaming him for allowing her to live on in her painful state. For three years he stayed by her, all during rehab, skin grafts, and painful physical therapy, until she was released.

Sean told Larry she did not love him because she felt such a debt to him. Larry told her that was as good a place to start as any.

Larry was shaken from his trip down memory lane by his phone vibrating. A text message from Sean.

BLACK ICE QUEEN> CISSY HAS A BOY FRIEND. SHOULD BE A CHALLENGE FOR OUR LITTLE GIRL

LOVELY LINDA> ALAN MUCH BETTER AT B-BALL- FOR A WHITE KID ANYWAY

BLACK ICE QUEEN> RACIST JEW!

LOVELY LINDA> UPPITY SCHWARZES!

BLACK ICE QUEEN> MISS MY LOVELY LINDA

LOVELY LINDA> PRINCIPAL PLANNING TRIP HOME IN FIVE DAYS- SAVE SOME BROWN SUGAR FOR LINDA

BLACK ICE QUEEN> EVER READ 12TH NIGHT?

LOVELY LINDA> SHAKESPEARE?

BLACK ICE QUEEN> YES- WATCHING A VERSION BEFORE OUR EYES

LOVELY LINDA> LOVE YOU-GOT TO GO NOW

BLACK ICE QUEEN> LOVE TOO-BYE

Chapter 14: A Professional Shoulder - Santa Barbara, July 3

June Carter found herself with mixed emotions about the arrival of her new houseguest. Miriam Sinclair was one of her oldest friends and was renowned for her books on relationships and child development. She was a real MD, a psychiatrist who possessed what was viewed as an unorthodox approach to her work by the medical establishment, and was wildly received by the general public.

June wished the reunion was strictly recreational.

“Miriam, I am so glad you could come and stay with us for the holiday. John just cannot come down until next week and it seems so empty around here. “

“It’s my pleasure June. When you called it was a great excuse to ignore pressing stuff I hate to do. “ Miriam said.

Alan had met Miriam several times, but never as Cissy. She fussed over his looks and complimented him on how nicely he was developing. Alan liked Miriam; she had always been easy to talk to. She made kids feel as if they were real people.

Alan’s ears really perked up when he heard that Doctor Sinclair was going to visit his Dad up in Pleasanton. Since he knew Dad and Cecilia were coming back next week, that did not make sense, unless Miriam was acting as some kind of go between. Maybe Mom and Dad were patching things up?

Alan had settled into a new routine, a morning run with Kim then come back in and wash and primp for a day at the store. In the early evenings, he and Kim settled into Cissy’s room for a session of Mortal Quest, where Bandar and Wizard Erindor had made an alliance. They even had encountered Fungo and Maranta, (Brian and Cecilia) playing as a team. Alan knew their names, but maintained a display of ignorance as to who they were, as did Cecilia.

Alan was quite happy, and had almost completely overcome the handicap at the keyboard his new nails had effected. The only drawback to having Kim as a new friend was the fact of keeping up the masquerade almost full time.

Alan found himself increasingly more comfortable in being Cissy, and presenting her to the world. He knew her, and liked her. What he was not sure of was the question : was she Cecilia or someone new? What had started out as a plot and masquerade was becoming something more.

Miriam sought Alan out and chatted with him. She asked few questions, and mostly talked about herself and some patients she had been treating. Alan felt totally at ease with her.

She then asked Cissy a question which made Alan grasp for the ‘right’ answer.

“Cissy, do you like Kim? He seems like such a great kid, and he is really cute,” Miriam asked, smiling innocently.

Alan hesitated. Should he answer like Cecilia? How would Cecilia really answer? Especially to Miriam, who was very smart and could read through deception and even self deception. He settled on the best he could, the truth.

“It’s nice having a friend next door. And he and I have fun. And I guess he is cute.”

Miriam looked at him carefully and let it drop.

Late that night, Alan was in his nightgown, his make up off and chatted with Cecilia on the laptop.

ALAN>WHATS THIS KIM LOOK LIKE?

CISSY> SEE PICTURE

ALAN>GOT MORE PICS?

CISSY>HERE THEY COME

ALAN>MAJOR FOX!! DOES HE LIKE ME/YOU?

CISSY>WE GO RUNNING AND HE LIKES MORTAL QUEST- HE PLAYS SOCCER

ALAN>LOVE THAT HAIR! DOES HE LIKE ME???

CISSY> GUESS SO- NOT TRYING TO SEDUCE HIM YOU KNOW

ALAN> DON’T YOU DARE DISCOURAGE HIM! I AM BACK NEXT WEEK!

CISSY> WE SWITCHING BACK?

ALAN> DON’T YOU WANT TO?

CISSY> YES, MAYBE, DON’T KNOW. LIKE WORKING AT STORE

ALAN> I AM NOT GOING TO BE BOY MUCH LONGER. WANT ME BACK

CISSY> SHOULD WE TELL MOM & DAD?

ALAN>NOT IF WE CAN AVOID IT.

CISSY> MIRIAM IS HERE. SHE WILL SEE DAD BEFORE YOU COME BACK

ALAN> THAT’S GOOD-MOM MUST BE USING HER TO MAKE UP WITH DAD!! GOOD!!

CISSY> YES. WHAT DO I DO WITH KIM? HE IS MY FRIEND AND DON’T WANT TO MESS WITH HIM

ALAN> JUST LET HIM KNOW I/YOU LIKE HIM

CISSY> HOW FAR DO I GO?

ALAN> NOT FAR YOU MORON- I AM NOT SLUT!!!

CISSY> KISS HIM?

ALAN> IT WONT KILL YOU- WILL OWE YOU MUCHO

CISSY> DON’T KNOW

ALAN> JUST DON’T MAKE HIM RUN AWAY- U CAN DO IT

CISSY>OK- SEE YOU

ALAN>BYE

Alan would later remember the idea of kissing Kim as having been Cecelia's suggestion.

Chapter 15: Fireworks And Kisses - Santa Barbara, July 4

Working the tourist flood at the shop had drained the life from Alan. His feet ached and he had added the eyelashes back to his everyday look once more. Mary had told him they really ‘did it' for him.

Tripling the sales volume of his section in a very short time brought forth a real sense of achievement and respect from the group at June’s Accessories. The shop had become a comfortable place in his world now.

The town seemed full of people milling up and down the shopping district, brought in by the July Fourth holiday, and a great many of them managed to find their way into June’s Accessories. He had been working non-stop since ten in the morning and it was now five pm.

“Cissy, go home and get some rest. All the real customers are gone and we’ll just get browsers for the last two hours. Go home now and enjoy the fireworks,” Sylvia said, an uncharacteristic smile on her face.

Alan looked up and saw Kim standing in the doorway.

“Want a ride home, Cissy? My driver can drop you off," Kim offered, grinning in a way that made light dance in his eyes.

Alan immediately saw the set up and decided to stop caring. He liked Kim, who was the best friend he had had in his life. He loved his sister and she wanted him to be nice to Kim for her sake. Okay, he could be nice to his best friend for his sister, what was hard about that?

He stepped from behind the counter and laughed up at the taller boy. "I should make you buy something here, Kim. No wait, I’ll buy it, I get a discount." Still laughing, he led the now worried Kim over to the counter for hair accessories.

Alan picked out a particularly frilly set of hair scrunchies and Mary giggled with him as she rang up the purchase on Cissy’s account.

"Here, Kim. Now you can wear these while we’re running,” Alan said slyly.

Kim burst out into laughter, grabbing one and pulling his hair into a pony tail similar to the way Alan wore his for their beach jogs. Alan told him he had it all wrong and redid it to Mary’s increased amusement.

The two kids went out for ice cream, laughing and enjoying the bustling crowds on the street and the sunny afternoon. Alan forgot how tired he was. Kim talked about his day practicing with the school soccer team, and they discussed their new theories about gaining points at Mortal Quest.

Sean Taylor observed the pair and grinned. She wondered how far Cissy would let Kim take this. While to the kids, it was an innocent discussion, to the rest of the world, it looked very much like a very pretty girl and her boyfriend. Sean was having fun trying to guess whether either of the pair was conscious of what was going on.

She reflected on the way her relationship with Larry had evolved. At first, it was very one sided, Larry giving unconditionally and Sean not taking, but more absorbing his devotion, while she was healing both physically and emotionally.

He asked her to join him in his “consulting” business, which was really freelance security work, some of which meant cleaning up a mess that governments could not acknowledge a role in correcting.

So Sean had really learned to kill, swiftly and dispassionately. Her third mission had been the one that aligned her moral sense with her new line of work. Her prey had been a slave trader in Nigeria. While Larry was removing his banker, Sean had found the man taking delivery of a truck load of girls from a remote village. After looking at the scared and abused ‘product’ in the cargo bed, she had snapped the man’s neck in front of the girls. They returned to their village with tales of a tall and deeply scarred woman warrior with one breast, like the old stories. Sean sent word to the village leader that they too would be visited if they continued to deal with the likes of the man whose body was lashed to the truck engine hood.

Sean hoped that the ‘Amazon’ legend, of women so fierce they hacked off one breast to allow free movement of their sword arm would resonate somehow with local customs. It was the first time she used her scarred body in a positive way.

After that, she gained the confidence to take Larry as a lover.

Alan agreed to meet Kim that evening to watch the fireworks from the bluff overlooking the beach, halfway between their houses. In true geek fashion, they both agreed to bring their laptops, hoping to maintain wireless connection to Alan’s network.

June and Miriam were sitting at the kitchen table when Alan came in and announced his plans for the evening. June got a quick puzzled look quickly covered up by a smile and Miriam just started chattering about what a nice boy Kim was and what did Cissy plan to wear that evening? It might turn chilly after all.

Alan had not considered it, but knew that would be out of character. A real girl would have begun planning even before the plans were made.

“I guess just jeans and I’ll bring a sweater. We’re just going to play Mortal Quest until the fireworks start.”

“Okay sweetie. You sure you don’t want to wear something a little prettier to impress that nice boy?” Mom asked mischievously.

“Mom! He’s my friend!” Alan whined without thinking.

“Okay Cissy. Calm down. We’re having dinner in a half an hour.” Mom said, smiling again.

By ten o’clock the fireworks display over the marina flickered out, the final detonation still softly echoing. Kim’s laptop battery showed no life, leaving the two kids sitting on a bench surrounded by well-maintained shrubbery, looking at the ocean with no distractions. On a long summer night, it wasn't really completely dark yet with a few reddish clouds glowing over the Pacific Ocean.

As far as they knew, they were alone. Alan felt Kim’s arm move around his shoulders, his hand settling gently on Alan’s sweater. With the wind blowing, it cut some of the chill of the night. Alan’s mind started to race with the hope that that would be as far as Kim would go and the sure knowledge that that was unlikely. He was very torn inside whether to pretend to be his sister or be Kim’s real friend and tell him the truth.

Just when Alan was about to blurt out the whole plot, Kim spoke.

“Cissy?” Kim asked.

Alan reflexively turned his head towards Kim and was overwhelmed when Kim’s tongue suddenly went past his lips and locked with his. Alan went into a state of time suspension.

Dribblets of thought spun around in his mind:

Cissy would definitely do this with Kim
Alan would not ever do this with Kim
This is not a good time to tell Kim he is not a girl
He better tell him now before this gets worse
Maybe this is all he’ll do?
Aaaaaacccckkk! I’m kissing a boy!!!!!!!!

Alan had absolutely no idea how long he had been playing tongue hockey with Kim. It seemed like it had been going on for days.

When a ship’s captain and bridge crew are bickering and going crazy, the engine room will try to respond to the chaotic commands, often to disastrous result. Alan’s body had a massive nervous reaction, resulting in a quivering shudder, probably due to the confusion in Alan’s normally smooth command center.

Kim’s hand fell from Alan’s shoulder smack onto Alan’s breast and in a reflex reaction, made a grasping motion that amounted to a squeeze.

Simultaneously, Alan’s spasm stopped and he gasped for air. Kim, never intending to grab Cissy’s boob, pulled away, reading the spasm and the gasp as total disapproval.

“Oh my God, Cissy, I’m sorry! I’m Sorry! It was an accident! I’m Sorry!” Kim jumped up, and before Alan could react., he had fallen off the bench onto the sand pathway with his head landing in the scrub thistles. The eager plant immediately entangled Alan’s carefully curled and waved black hair.

“Oww! Ouch! Owww!” Alan yelped as he tried to sit up only to have his hair pull him back into the thistles.

Kim, weeping openly at having offended Cissy and causing her such distress, still had the presence of mind to pull out his pocket knife and start cutting Alan free from the bush, taking care not to cut his tresses in the process.

“I’m sorry Cissy. It was an accident! Please forgive me! It was all my fault!” Kim said as he cut the brittle twig like branches.

Five minutes later, Alan sat calmly, pulling the thistle twigs from his head while Kim cried, leaning on Alan’s shoulder. Apparently, Kim had never tried kissing a girl before this. Many girls had kissed him, but they had always initiated it. Cissy was the first who had not chased him. And he never meant to touch her ‘there', that was an accident.

Sean Taylor removed her gloved hand from her mouth, hoping she could avoid the hysterical laughing fit which almost gave away her vantage point.

Alan waited for Kim to calm down. “Kim, it’s ok. I’m not mad. I like you but maybe we should hold off for now? Just a few days? Please?”

Kim perked up immediately. “Okay, Cissy. We're still friends for now? Please?”

Alan nodded, relieved to have the opportunity to let this cool off and get the real Cissy back. He was afraid to tell Kim he had just kissed a boy. He was afraid to tell anyone this had happened.

Kim went on talking. “Cissy? I know this is a stupid time, but my ‘rents are throwing a big party next week, and I know you and your Mom are invited. I really want you to be there or I’ll go nuts with no one to talk to. Will you come?”

“Ok, Kim. I’ll have to check with Mom. Are you sure your mom is okay with it?” Alan asked. Mom had given him a real chat about Marge and her social concerns. Frankly, he would be happy to hand all that nonsense off to Cecilia when she got back.

“Marge loves you, Cissy. She talks about you a lot. I’ll see you tomorrow! Bye!” Kim ran off up the path to his house. Alan walked the fifty yards to his house.

June and Miriam had witnessed the whole thing from their vantage point, without the benefit of sound, like Sean had from her transmitter and bugs.

“I hate spying on them, Miriam.” June said.

“Too bad, Junie. You were worried about the twins and how in hell am I supposed to advise you without knowing what’s really going on? It looks like we have an inconclusive development down there.

“I’m heading to Oakland tomorrow to check on the other one, and I have an early flight. See you in a few days, Junie Honey.” Miriam said, kissing June on the cheek.

Apparent Calm Before Apparent Storm — Santa Barbara, July 6

The masquerade had changed Alan’s perception of clothing from occasional playing to everyday existence. He accepted the planning, fussing and meticulous process dressing required, but had only recently begun to appreciate shopping as a vocation rather than a chore. Mary had taken a few hours off to accompany Alan in finding ‘the right dress’ for tomorrow’s party at the Olangers, and lead him on a whirlwind expedition through the downtown ‘finer’ stores. Alan surmised that Mary knew every saleswoman and department manager by first name as well as their entire history and probable criminal record.

Alan lost count after twenty three dresses tried on for Mary’s opinion and his approval. Mom had the good sense to avoid this, counting on Mary to keep it within bounds. Alan was not sure Mary was playing that way, given some of the dresses were quite revealing, especially the ones that were more halter top and skirt.

As their time wore on, Alan concluded that Mary was having fun, and he was supposed to enjoy trying on the more outlandish outfits along with the more suitable choices. Once he realized that, he relaxed and laughed along with Mary about the effect some of the dresses would have, especially on June’s face.

The pastel green dress was perfect, just above the knee with a billowy skirt and was sleeveless but not too revealing. Alan thought he looked really good in it and Mary hugged him.

While Mary went to the ladies' room, Alan asked the saleswoman to send two of his selection in the same size to his home. Salespeople on commission learn never to ask questions when something like that happens and he was rapidly rung up before he came to his senses. Finishing up the transaction, he went in to retrieve Mary and they returned to work.

Later, that evening, Alan and Cecilia chatted on the network.

ALAN> HE DID WHAT?

CISSY> TOLD YOU ALREADY- HE KISSED ME

ALAN> IS THAT ALL?

CISSY> MOSTLY

ALAN> MOSTLY? WHAT ELSE!!!!!

CISSY> IT WAS ACCIDENT

ALAN> WHAT????????????

CISSY> ‘FELT UP’ BUT ACCIDENT

ALAN> YOU SLUT! ARE YOU OK?

CISSY> FINE-HE WAS SORRY, THEN KNOCKED ME OVER

ALAN> I’LL KILL HIM!

CISSY> NO YOU WONT. I LIKE KIM. SO YOU WILL TOO

ALAN> WE’LL SEE- DID YOU GET THE DRESS?

CISSY> SEE PICTURE

ALAN> I LIKE IT

CISSY> WILL BE IN CLOSET. DON’T FORGET TO DO YOUR NAILS!!!!!! HAVE PLAIN RED #7 NOW. WILL LEAVE OUT. TOES TOO!!!

ALAN> YES MOM

CISSY> DO HAIR LIKE IN PIC- SHOULD BE ABLE TO REAL QUICK

ALAN> ALAN- THANKS- MISS YOU. SEE YOU SOONEST

CISSY> GET BACK HERE CISSY- MISS U 2

Chapter 16: Same Night - Off Highway 101 just south of Santa Barbara

The white SUV pulled up into the slot right in front of the chain restaurant. The bright lights of the sign and parking lot held back the two am foggy darkness, and the sounds off the highway were muffled. Bo Dunsett edged his three hundred pound bulk out of the driver's seat of the Ford Excursion and slowly ambled around to open the passenger side door for Manny Hightower.

Where Bo was slow and dumb, Manny was manic and twice as smart as Bo, which meant he had the median IQ in his sights, albeit at a very long distance. Manny wiped down the dashboard and then spent at least five minutes meticulously folding the paper towel for disposal. The prison shrink had diagnosed Manny with mild obsessive compulsive disorder, which was somewhat exciting to Manny until he found out there were no drugs prescribed to go with his condition.

Bo watched Manny fold the towel, patiently holding the open door until his partner had finished. Bo thought about nothing at all, he was a natural-born Zen master who would never achieve enlightenment.

Manny and Bo could have been cast as a comedy team in movies about incompetent criminals except for Manny’s mean streak and Bo’s willingness to please Manny in implementing meanness. After doing their time for a failed convenience store robbery where they had beaten an elderly clerk unconscious, the pair was frantically trying to re-establish their street presence.

The sexual relationship between these two, while never overt, didn't really bear thinking about.

Satisfied at last with the folding of the paper towel, Manny carefully disposed of it in the plastic trashcan underneath the dashboard. He quirked what passed for a smile for him at his bovine partner and slid out of the seat, wincing a bit when he stood upright because of a disk injury he had suffered in a jail cell in Trona.

With a silent nod, Manny directed Bo to follow him into the restaurant where they were to meet their next employer. Being self-employed criminals had never paid off for them and Manny had decided they could best use their talents as Rent-a-Thugs. For this pair, that counted as inspiration.

Bo followed Manny, thinking about the smells from the restaurant. Cheeseburgers, fried steaks, incarnations of potatoes and various breakfast forms of grease. The cheeseburgers would be good with the American cheese not the cheddar, decided Bo, but stay away from the sausages. No one knew about Bo's only true genius, his ability with food smells. Bo never mentioned such things and who would think to ask?

Inside, Manny ignored the questions of the hostess and headed straight for the back booth near the bathrooms where a dark-haired man dressed in white shirt and white pants waited.

Terrorism, like any modern endeavor, had to cope with globalization. Things that need doing in far away places sometimes have to be done not by true believers, but by subcontractors and then local labor. Iilyas Kanbyiev, the man dressed all in white, was a graduate of various terror training camps and had managed to be a true believer in spirit while never risking more than a bad cold. The Chechen had a firm belief in his own skin, and was unimpressed by an organization that promised payment in full in the afterlife.

Abandoning the cause of his own countrymen, he had become a mercenary subcontractor of terror in the decadent West. His life was good now and he had come to really enjoy running the doughnut shop in Thousand Oaks. He even liked the white uniforms he wore. He decided that this victory for Allah stuff was best done by installing a new hot tub in his home and praising the Name of God while watching videos of women with large breasts.

Manny had recognized his new employer by the white pants. Bo sniffed curiously at the yeasty smells lingering around Kanbyiev. He forgot about the cheeseburgers and decided he wanted one of this man's doughnuts. Manny and Bo slid into the booth; no one said anything for a moment.

Iilyas had already been sent three true believers and needed two locals to perform what he knew to be a useless mission. Useless in that it was only good if it failed miserably but on television. Then it succeeded. If it actually worked, it would be like the small dog that chases cars and one day actually catches one.

The little one is mean and the big one is strong, he thought. He shrugged, as virtues, those were not much but he did not need much. He would hire these two idiots to be his diversion. The three true believers were out dealing with the old man and his wife then, which was good, since Iiyas did not want to be seen with them. One of them would be there to eliminate the old couple who ran the catering business when they were no longer useful.

While Iilyas began describing the job they were to do, Manny straightened the arrangement of packets in the little boat of artificial sweeteners. Bo tried to form a thought, a speculation about why one could never get good doughnuts from a place that also sold hamburgers. After a bit, he gave up and thought about nothing until the Zen of Cheeseburgers made him one with his stomach.

Chapter 17: In The Nine Kingdoms: - Cyberspace, Planet Earth, Mortal Quest domain.

Bandar looked at the small black stone that Wizard Erindor had handed him.

“You say this is a spell holder? And you traded for it two days ago?” Bandar asked, the object almost disappearing in his huge hand.

“Yes, I am told it comes from the Warrior Queen. If you hold it and say the word, all other players in the game perceive you as a princess until you reverse the spell. You also take on the powers and weaknesses of a princess,” Erindor intoned.

Princess characters were very popular with those players who preferred to play the game by forming alliances and using their negotiating skills. They were physically weak, but had their own magic. They could entice and distract more powerful players.

Bandar knew a lot of princess characters were not real women. The avatars for them were voluptuous and most of them looked like something from a harem populated by Vegas showgirls.

Bandar was famous with many princess characters given his reputation as a rescuer and protector of the weak. Bandar put the stone in his backpack, wondering if he would ever have use for such a thing.

In another reality, Alan glanced out the window toward Kim's house, glad that his new friend hadn't waited for tandem play to offer such an embarrassing treasure. Does he think I should play a Princess character? Well, obviously he did.

Alan glanced down at his feminine chest. He had become quite accustomed to them, their weight and feel as he moved. In order to keep up the masquerade he stayed disguised as Cissy even while playing the game unless he had locked a door between himself and the rest of the house. Lately, he'd been going to that amount of trouble less and less often.

The gameplay continued; Bandar and Erindor had teamed up with Fungo the dwarf and Maranta the thief to begin their approach to the Swamp Kingdom. None of them knew the place very well, and word was out that a new Dark Lord had taken the throne.

Bandar, scouting ahead at Erindor’s request, spied a troop of Dark Soldiers moving to surround his three companions in their camp. Before he could do anything, they were captured. Some force had suppressed Erindor’s wizardry and their combat skills were not up to the task. Even the thief's stealth had been neutralized by the quick actions of the Dark Soldiers.

The leader of the captors used some magic to remove Bandar's friends to the far castle in the blink of an eye but Bandar's location magic allowed him to find their prison quickly.

He needed a stratagem. Assaulting the castle alone would be useless, and normally he would have recruited more companions. But there was no time; the captives would forfeit a lot of points to restart in another location after an hour.

Alan didn't even look up. He brushed aside an errant strand of inky hair that had escaped his ponytail and had Bandar take the stone Erindor had given him out of his pack.

Bandar fingered the stone and said the words.

Alan’s screen reset and he was suddenly Brunhilde, a tall blonde princess with a long flowing gown and impossible bosom. Brunhilde started off to the castle, knowing full well she would be captured and taken before the Dark Lord.

After faking an attempt to elude a squad of Dark Soldiers, she was captured and found herself suddenly in the torch-lit throne room of the Dark Lord, who looked for all the world like that famous Austrian action hero politician. Brunhilde curtsied and the Dark Lord approached.

As soon as he reached for her, she uttered the spell reversal and Bandar wielded his sword, running the Dark Lord through. While the Dark Lord’s corpse had his points reduced, Bandar used his victor’s rights and demanded the release of the prisoners, who then suddenly appeared before him. Fungo, Maranta and Erindor all surrounded him and thanked him for saving their character points, which would have been lost within ten minutes.

Bandar spied another prisoner walking towards him, tall, beautiful and her face strangely familiar.

“Thank you Bandar. I am Miri, the Warrior Queen. You have freed me from the Dark Lord, also.”

Miri asked Bandar how he accomplished the rescue so quickly. Bandar knew of Miri, ranked number two in the entire game, but this was his first encounter with her. Like all champion players, both loved to talk gameplay, so the others bid farewell, it being a good closing point. Miri and Bandar used the private channel chat, outside of gameplay.

MIRI> YOU USED THE SPELL HOLDER? THE PRINCESS ONE?

BANDAR> YES- IT MADE ME BRUNHILDE

MIRI> HOW DID YOU LIKE BEING BRUNHILDE?

BANDAR> WAS VERY DIFFERENT- USED TO BEING STRONG AND HAVING REPUTATION

MIRI> YOU USED IT WELL

BANDAR> IT WILL COME IN HANDY

MIRI> BEWARE THE ‘PRINCESS TRAP’

BANDAR> WHAT?

MIRI> YOU USE IT TOO MUCH YOU NEVER GO BACK

BANDAR> HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

MIRI>DEPENDS ON YOU-DIFFERENT FOR EVERYONE

BANDAR> THANK YOU-GOOD TO KNOW

MIRI>YOU MADE A LOVELY PRINCESS

BANDAR> THANK YOU- I GUESS

Chapter 18: Reckoning - Pleasanton, July 7 lunchtime

The last game of the series entered its final period and Cecilia felt determined to win. The play had been pretty even and the score stood close though "The Hardcases" (coached by Bill Casey) trailed the "The Spendrights" (coached by Oscar Price) by four points.

Cissy's arms felt like lead and her black hair in its masculine-style ponytail lay limply on her shoulders. She'd been the playmaker for the whole game so far, shooting only when she'd been fouled--scoring both times--but mostly passing the ball to Mike, Bobby and Brian who made layups and did the rebounding.

Cissy passed the ball in to Mike after another Spendright goal and Mike quick-passed it downcourt to Bobby. At the midcourt line, Brian grinned at her. "These guys are tough," he said. "But we can beat'em."

Cissy gritted her teeth and smiled fiercely back. Brian slapped her on the ass as they swapped positions a few moments later. That had taken some getting used to but Cissy hardly noticed now. On the sidelines, Coach Bill Casey took off his baseball cap, fanned his face with it and rubbed his forehead.

They had worked out that signal before hand, time for Cissy to change her style of play. Bobby passed the ball out to her after rebounding a failed lay-up. Brian signaled being open and the Spendright players moved to block Cissy's pass.

She took three steps, dribbling only once. She found her mark outside the three-point half-circle. She faked a pass to Mike, her team's center then went up smoothly and shot for the basket. No one thought to block her and her shot went cleanly through the net.

She grinned as her teammates slapped hands and they all ran upcourt to guard the other goal.

"Allie!" Mike made an okay sign with his hand.

"Way to shoot, Alan," said Brian. Bobby just nodded and Lee, the fifth member of the team, shook hands with himself.

She felt good. Tired but very, very good.

Twelve seconds later, Mike sent the ball back to her after rebounding it away from the Spenders. With no one guarding her, Cissy dribbled to her spot and shot another clean three-pointer. The Hardcases had the lead now and they never gave it up.

The Spendrights just could not adjust to the Hardcases' new tactics. It had seriously messed with their heads. Bobby and Mike kept the pressure on in the key while Lee and Brian fed almost every ball they got to Cissy and she made all but one three-pointer she tried. The tallest Spendright managed to tip that one off-trajectory but Mike grabbed the rebound and the Hardcases got two, anyway.

Just to keep the game honest, Cissy still passed the ball if someone guarded her too close and one of her team looked to have a shot.

"Feed the Machine," screamed Brian, gleefully and the Hardcase's fed her.

Before the whistle, Brian relayed the ball to her from Lee bringing it in. She passed it back to Bobby just as he crossed the mid-court line. Bobby passed to Mike who began his lay-up then passed to Cissy, standing on her magic spot. Swish. Seconds later, the Hardcases had won the game by thirteen points. She'd never even had to resort to her second "magic" spot.

"When did you learn to shoot?" one of the Spendrights asked, leaning forward, hands on his thighs. He looked every bit as tired as Cissy felt.

"Always knew how," she told him. "Coach's been making me work on my passing." She grinned at him and he shook his head, smiling ruefully. He's cute, she thought, then quickly suppressed that lest any hint of the attraction she felt for the tall boy in the red shirt show.

The Hardcases celebrated with butt pats and pounded each other on the back in jubilation. After a brief handshake line-up to end the game, Dad came over.

“Great play, Allie! Great shooting! You kids are going out for some lunch on me and Marissa will pick you up. Then I’ll see you at the house so we can pack and head home for a while. Okay?” John asked in a rush.

Cecilia nodded okay and hugged her Dad. She just had to find a way to shower this time.

Fortunately, the locker room had shower stalls with doors that actually locked, and she was able, with some complicated pre-positioning of ace bandage and clothing, to actually shower the sweat off and emerge with clean clothes, while still maintaining her masquerade. She still felt tired, in fact, she ached everywhere but the hot water had felt amazingly good.

Watching Bobby running around the locker room with nothing on but a towel was more than she could take though, so she got out of there quickly. She'd been incredibly lucky so far, but at times she felt like she must be pushing things near some quantum-limit of close calls.

Dad and Coach Casey were talking near a mini-van so she wandered over that way.

"Alan is a talented shooter and has a good eye for making the right pass at the right time," she heard Coach say. "But he's either too aggressive or not aggressive enough going for rebounds. I kept him out of playing too much in the key for fear he would foul out or get hurt. We'll work on it."

"Hmm," said Dad.

Hmm, indeed, thought Cissy. How in the world did one work on getting the right level of aggression? And why had she never had that problem playing on girl's teams? Of course, the other girls had mostly been afraid of her she realized. Would that always be true when she went back to playing girls? Or would it be different at higher levels? Would she have to play the boys now to get a real challenge?

"Hey, Allie," Dad said, noticing her. "We were just talking about you." He beamed at her proudly and she grinned back, not mentioning what she had overheard.

The other players joined them before much more could be said and they all piled into the van for the trip to the restaurant. Dad followed in his sports car and Cissy could have ridden with him but the team was having none of that.

"Carter is the Machine!" crowed Brian, pushing her ahead of him into the van.

The team ate at the Fred Robin and had a good time, laughing and telling insulting stories about each other. Cecilia joined in and gave as good as she got, she'd learned this part of the male ritual. Her dad had to leave to take care of some business things but promised to catch up with her at the house and talk more about the game. Cissy watched him leave, it was so great to be making him proud but she felt suddenly wistful that it was Alan he was proud of.

The players drifted out one by one as their rides arrived and finally Coach Casey left with the van and Lee who did not have a ride. "You two, okay?" he asked before leaving.

"Yeah, sure," Brian said. "I phoned Mom and she's just running a few minutes late."

"We'll be fine, Coach," Cecilia assured him.

Casey nodded and headed out. John Carter had arranged payment for all the meals with the restaurant manager, so no one had any worries about what they ordered or getting cash to pay the check.

Brian and Cecilia settled in and relaxed since Marissa was not expected for another half hour. They talked about the game some more and then about plans for the rest of the summer. Cecilia regretted that she couldn't be more specific because she knew she would miss Brian but she was happy to hear that he and Marissa had plans to move near Santa Barbara within the year, when Junecellular finished launching the new product.

"That will be so cool," she said before it occurred to her to wonder how Brian would take to meeting the real Alan.

Suddenly, four sixteen-year-olds from the next division up in the basketball league swung into the booth, blocking their exit. "One of the waiters told us this table has a prepaid tab," said one of them.

"Heh, heh, heh," said another.

The bigger boys ordered food on the group tab and stared at Alan and Brian, daring them to say something while the waitress was there. Cecilia and Brian both decided they could stand the four teenagers to hamburgers, fries and soda. They did sort of know them, after all. Maybe they don't have much money, Cissy thought, feeling a bit of upper class guilt.

At first it was fine, with the older boys mostly ignoring the two younger ones. Then the leader sort, Chuck, began staring at Cecilia. "What are you, a fruit? You look like a fruit with that ponytail," he said around a mouthful of meat and onions.

Cecilia just glared back at him. Chuck let it go when he didn't get an immediate rise out of Cecilia. He turned to Brian, "Hey, you two girlfriends?" The other older boys thought this the height of witty repartee.

"Heh, heh, heh," said the Butthead clone again.

Brian ignored them too. The two smaller kids looked at each other and the clock, and knew they just had to wait it out until Marissa came.

When the waitress came around with drink refills, Cecilia bolted over the seatback to get out and use the restroom. Somehow, she'd thought Brian would follow but one of the big boys grabbed her friend's elbow. "Hey, don't be antisocial. If one of you isn't here, maybe they drop a bill on us? Stick around till pussy-boy gets back."

Cissy hurried, her cheeks burning, realizing that Brian might as well be held hostage for her return. She knew that the bigger boys had not really guessed her secret but it was embarrassing to think she'd given something away, besides the insult.

Staying in character in the middle of her distress, though, it didn't even faze her to go into the men's room but as she entered the stall, she felt a tug on her shoulder.

“Hey kid--you wanna give me a blow job now we’re all alone?” Chuck grinned at Cecilia who gasped, getting ready to scream. This was way over the line and all her instincts came out: alone in a bathroom with a boy who wanted sex?

Before she could scream, she felt a hand over her mouth and saw Chuck thrown against the wall. A black-haired man, thin and wiry-looking and wearing Oakley sunglasses, two inches shorter than Chuck, about Cecilia’s height, had grabbed them both.

“Don’t you scream unless you want me to arrest you, kid! Nod if you agree!”

Cecilia nodded. She felt near an incredible panic. Arrested? Exposed? From one real mess into another?

“Don’t worry, son--you can be honest with me. Nothing wrong with being gay. I’m gay myself!“ the dark-haired man said, addressing Chuck.

Chuck’s eyes grew as big as saucers and he started stammering. "I'm not...I don't...It was just...."

“Quiet, boy! Now I have this whole thing down, and it looks like little junior here," and the stranger gave Cecilia a gentle shake, "is a part of a gang of gay teen prostitutes that work here."

Cissy swallowed hard and tried to squirm free to protest, but the strange man had her in a grip she couldn't evade. His arms were hardly bigger than her own but they might as well have been iron bands.

He continued, "These nancy tarts prey on poor gay boys like you. And all you wanted was a blow job! So here’s the deal. I take the kid here with me and get him to confess. If he is a gay hooker like I'm saying, then I’ll need you to come to court. I got your name and address from your car plates. Now don’t worry, it's okay to come out of the closet. I know! Things will be better when everyone knows you’re gay. So you can go now, and I’ll call you if the kid confesses!”

Cissy watched tears run down Chuck’s cheeks. She couldn't say anything with the man's hand over her mouth but she didn't know what she could have said, anyway. The situation had turned from threatening to bizarre; it no longer seemed real.

"You listening, Chucklet? You comprehendo what I'm saying?" the man demanded.

Chuck turned and ran out the door as fast as possible.

The iron grip on Cissy relaxed a bit but not enough for her to wriggle free. Casually, the dark haired man turned her to face him. “Now you, Alan Carter--or should I say Cecilia?--you were about to ruin your poor brother’s reputation in this area forever with what you were going to do.”

Cecilia felt nauseated. How did this man know? What the hell was going on?

"Don't scream," the man said and he turned her loose. "My name is Larry Elger and I'm not going to hurt you."

Cecilia rubbed her arms where Larry's grip had been almost painful. "Howminnie? Hoodija?" she complained.

Larry grinned at her; he didn't look as if he grinned at people a lot. “You did fine passing as a boy, Cissy, but you still don’t quite have it all. Chuckie was just seeing if you would tell him to stick it or knuckle under. If he really thought you were gay he would never have gone near you. Sad but true, boys are always being tested, and the pack uses it to decide if you'll stand up, even against bigger guys, and take what comes. The worst you would have gotten from Chuckie was maybe a sore arm and a bit of respect if you told him to go to hell. Got that?”

“How did you know about me?” Cecilia asked, finally articulate, warily sizing up Larry. She decided she would never win a staring match with this man. When the first grin had faded, his face had the intensity she'd once seen on a wolf in a nature documentary. But this guy was right in front of her and not a television image.

“My partner and I were hired by your Dad to keep an eye on you. Let's say, while you kids were very convincing, you could not stand up to real surveillance,“ Larry said, grinning again.

This time his face relaxed into a normal friendly expression and Cissy wondered if she'd imagined that peculiar predator grimness. "Did you tell our parents?” she asked.

“No, we didn't think it was necessary for us to give them that information,” Larry answered truthfully.

"Huh," said still trying to puzzle it all out.

Larry continued, “So now Chuckie finds he owes his entire reputation to what you say to what he thinks are the police. And being accused of being gay when he is not is going to make him petrified for a few days. Don’t be too nasty with him. It was actually a bit of a sign of respect that he chose you to test."

“Ok, I guess I understand. But guys are weird,“ Cecilia said, some calmness returning to her demeanor.

“You’ve haven’t seen the half of it, honey. Now go out there and catch your ride. Marissa should be pulling up about now.”

Cecilia started to leave. Larry added one more pearl of wisdom. “And Cecilia? Just so you know next time, and I hope there never is one, if all four had come in at once? Then scream, run and fight like hell. Ok?"

Cecilia nodded and made her escape.

"Mom's here," Brian called from the doorway and Cissy ran toward him. "What the heck happened to that guy, Chuck?"

Cissy snorted. "I dunno, he ran out of the bathroom like he'd been snakebit," she said innocently.

Chapter 19: We’re Going To A Party, Party! - Santa Barbara, July 7 lunchtime and after.

Sean Taylor turned away from Roger Comstock, weary of the attitudes of the State Department Security team detailed to protect the Olangers. The preparations big party later that evening went on around them while they discussed things near one of the French doors. "We don't need some private pussy complicating things," one of Comstock's men said.

Sean ignored him. She wasn't just some private detective doing bodyguard work to fill in between jobs tracking down deadbeats and serving subpoenas. Bodyguard, and similar potentially hot activities were her only business; she was a skilled specialist and these guys seemed to think they were Secret Service.

Her principal target, Cissy Carter, would be at the Olanger party and Sean had been added to the guest list through June's intercession with Marge. Sean just wanted the Olanger security team, State Department fuckups or no, to be aware of her presence and what she was doing there to avoid any ugly issues if the shit hit the fan.

Comstock clearly felt his vast talents were being wasted guarding Serge Olanger and a frigging lawn party. Olanger was just a retired big cheese who only made yesterday’s headlines. Comstock's contempt carried over to his work and his team reflected a similar arrogance.

Slipshod, superficial, picky, nice-nice, soi-disant "official" surveillance would not protect her client, Sean knew.

The government types regarded Sean Taylor as a potential loose gear in their smoothly functioning machine, but she knew they couldn't really prevent her presence without making a scene with their principals. Marge Olanger knew that Sean was Cecilia's bodyguard and she approved.

So, Comstock had switched from obstruction to intimidation as a tactic. "You're gonna be checked, vetted and watched like a hawk watches a pigeon, and if you so much as sneeze in a fashion one of the Olangers dislikes we'll arrest you. And you better not be carrying." Meaning, no firearms allowed.

“Let the pros carry, sugar. You can hold the little girl’s hand if you want.” Roger added.

Sean kept her temper in check. She knew Roger would likely never be cleared for the stuff Larry and she had done for parts of the US Government. He thinks he's cock-of-the-walk but he's not even chicken a la King, she thought. So be it, she knew she was on her own.

Roger Comstock had tried to threaten here with a background check. She found that actually kind of funny. Sean and Larry had been fighting ‘The War On Terror” years before it had been declared, or even recognized by the public. Now that it was all in the open, they found that their services were less called upon, since the government could now do many of the things publicly prior administrations found inconvenient to admit they were doing. So the two operatives had turned to security and other more mundane work to make a living, while their old friends and comrades were flying helos in lots of nasty places and tracking terrorists in even nastier ones. Comstock would run into an official blockade himself, trying to check Sean's background; he didn't have the security clearance necessary to see her file.

With that happy thought, Sean simply walked away from the penny ante, obstructionist, probably incompetent, but official, security chief.

* * *

Later that afternoon, at the Carter house, June discovered Felipa babbling frantically on the telephone, an event so unusual she decided to breach Felipa's privacy. "What is it, what's got you so upset, Fe?" she asked.

The maid's rapid fire Spanish reply quickly swamped June's ability in that language. "Despacio, por favor! Y en Ingles! Slower and in English, please!" June was forced to appeal. After getting Felipa calmed down enough to stay in English, June pieced together the story.

Manuela, Felipa's cousin, ran a catering business with her husband, Jose Miguel Beltran, and partly thru Felipa's connections, they had been hired for the Olanger party tonight. They were both into their sixties but Beltran's were considered one of the best and most experienced caterers in the area. Manuela always asked Felipa to make a special chicken and rice dish for such events, and Felipa had made it and then been unable to reach either Manuela or Jose all day. When she got their office, she was told they had called in and said they were going out of town, and that their staff would be handling the Olanger affair. She had been tearing her hair out trying to reach them. Such behavior was completely out of character for her cousin.

"Y mi plata especial de mi abuelita por la fiesta, no es posible ellos no lo quieren!" Felipa finished the tale, slipping back into Spanish.

"Your cousin wouldn't do a party without your special dish?" June asked, just to be sure she'd got the idea.

Felipa nodded, her dark eyes almost tearful. "It's impossible," she repeated. Actually, the spicy, savory, arroz con pollo, based on Felipa's grandmother's recipe, was a special treat for the catering staff, almost all of whom were from the same group of small villages in Mexico.

June called Sean on her cell phone. She knew Sean would be somewhere on or near the grounds since Cecilia was at home, just as Sean had been nearby ever since John had hired the guards. Rapidly, June explained the issue, and Sean’s sense of danger went up several notches. Something like this happening near a major event at a security target’s house? Suspicious.

“Mrs. Carter, do you want our people to look into this? I'll need my partner to get down here as quickly as possible and he can turn coverage of Alan over to another associate for a few hours until they fly down here tonight,” Sean asked. "I can't leave here and no one is going to be better for this than Larry."

June didn't hesitate. “Yes, Sean, please do. And I can have a plane waiting for him at Oakland in half an hour.” She liked being able to say that, this wealthy stuff had uses after all.

* * *

After taking the call from Sean, Larry called John and explained things to his employer.

"You've got to go then," said John Carter, who'd just got off the phone with June. "My regular company security will be fine for the next few hours here, since I'll be with Alan the whole time. Take my car to the airport and Melissa can have a company car sent to take Alan and I over later."

Larry nodded, unhappy at having to leave John and Alan in hands less competent than his own. Once he took on a responsibility, he liked to see it completely through but Sean was right, the situation in Santa Barbara required his presence more than he was needed with Alan. "I'll see you there, sir," he said simply and turned away before John could nod.

A nondescript Hispanic-looking man got off a chartered aircraft at the Santa Barbara airport less than two hours after June heard Felipa's hysterics on the phone.

* * *

Scheduling major primping had become automatic for Alan. He had allowed an extensive commitment of several hours to get ready for the party, time for shaving his legs and underarms as well as a wash and set for his hair. He figured this would be his last appearance as Cissy, and he wanted to go out in style.

While he worked on his appearance, he thought about his meeting with Miri in the game. It still seemed very unusual and apparently had affected him at some level he didn't quite understand. Had she been trying to tell him something? What did it mean?

He shook off the distraction as he worked on his eyes. The little torture device that curled his lashes back and made them stand out had become as simple to use as a toothbrush with enough practice but he would use that last, after eye shadow and a bit of liner. The plum colors he chose made his eyes look bluer while at the same time making him look older. But not too old.

Meticulous by nature, he'd made detailed notes on his makeup, along with a photo image of his face for Cecilia in a password protected folder. Alan hoped her skills were up to duplicating the effect. He smiled, imagining himself offering to coach his sister in the arts he had mastered.

All done, he admired the effect. Alan intended to get Kim really drooling tonight so he could turn him over to the real Cissy all warmed up. He practiced, smiling and blinking in the mirror, Mary had been coaching him in flirtation for weeks now, and Alan had absorbed his lessons well.

"It's a good thing Kim is a gentleman," Alan said to himself. "Otherwise he might do something I might regret."

* * *

Larry didn't waste much time, after a phone conference with Sean, he took a rental vehicle and headed to the Hernandez home, which turned out to be a well-maintained ranch house in a quiet neighborhood. Parking half a block away, he strolled down the broad tree-lined street. No one is going to notice one more prosperous-looking Mexican-American, he thought.

After walking by the Hernandez place, Larry called the plates of the car in the driveway in to some of his contacts. It turned out not to be registered to either of the Hernandezes or their company. It belonged to a doughnut shop in Thousand Oaks, whose owner had a Chechen-sounding name. Larry frowned, a bit disgusted, some of the Chechens had become real loose cannons on the international scene. Bad enough the Russian underworld spreading out into crime in Europe, Israel and America; now the old Soviet Union was exporting their homegrown version of terrorists.

Larry didn't spare much energy worrying about the political situation in Chechnya, he didn't really care who was in the right there but he doubted the Hernandezes would get doughnuts for their catering business from a shop on Moorpark Road more than forty miles away.

Briefly, Larry considered turning over what he knew to the authorities but decided that he needed more information before he could count on the local yokels to do what he wanted them to do. After all, what did he really know?

I need an interior view of the house, he thought. Down the street he saw a utility van with a crew doing something to a gray metal box next to a series of cable runs. He walked down and, without anyone quite seeing him do it, appropriated a hardhat.

Armed then with his ubiquitous clipboard, pencil, sunglasses and purloined headgear, he examined the electric meters of the nearby houses. Eventually he walked by the meter on the Hernandez home, and planted a CCD camera and transmitter on a main windowsill of the home. He also left some listening devices at key points and retired to his rented SUV.

Shortly, on the screen of his laptop, he observed a man watching TV and yelling at something. Larry turned up the gain on the bugs and heard cursing in Arabic, followed by yelling at someone to shut up. On screen, the man was looking at a closed door off the TV room. Larry's Arabic was quite good enough to penetrate the man's thick regional accent and his new suspicions sent quiet jangles down his nerves.

Larry used his cellular internet and sent the picture to some people who might be interested in a man with a Libyan accent who associated with a Chechen baker. Now I've got to wait to see if he's alone, he thought. He checked his Glock one more time.

Better give Sean a heads up, he decided, the party starts in half an hour. He sent her a text message with his phone and kept his eyes on the laptop screen hooked up to the bugs.

* * *

Not very much later, Sean entered the party grounds wearing an expensive black silk pantsuit, with black gloves and a high neck, allowing no visible scars, and she had her prosthesis on giving her a normal appearing outline. Two inch heeled sandals made her height even more impressive without restricting her movement much--she could kick them off in a second if she needed to. She wore her hair natural, short and very curly.

She wanted to tell Comstock about the issue with the caterers, but wanted one more piece of solid info from Larry. Knowing Roger, if she gave him a warning he did not believe, his mind would close down on all possibilities in that direction. She was betting it would not be poison in the food, but that could still be a definite possibility, and knew that Roger would never delay the food and face the wrath of Marge Olanger without real proof. Food poisoning made for terrible television and the terrorist playbook was more about horror as an entertainment medium than actual casualties.

Alan made his entrance with June, and they both looked great. Sean smiled at how good the dress looked on Alan posing as Cissy. Kim came right over and clung to Cissy like a lifejacket in a storm, since as long as he was with her, the old folks would leave him alone and stop asking idiotic questions.

Sean noticed a white SUV pulling up the delivery entrance, with a placard thrown over the side of the door with the caterer’s name. The guards checked the IDs of the two occupants and let them through. She decided to keep an eye on the truck.

Bo and Manny, wearing the white jackets of the caterer, unloaded two cases of plastic cups from their truck. Sean looked at her champagne glass of crystal and wonders where they are using plastic at this posh affair.

John, Cecilia and Miriam arrived at the Carter house next door, having driven over from the airport. Cecilia felt tense, knowing that the switch tonight would be tricky. They entered the house and immediately proceeded to to their respective rooms to clean up and get changed. Cecilia informed her Dad she would take some time and asked him to head over without her and see Mom. Miriam was also invited, once Marge Olanger found out the well published author was a houseguest next door.

John changed quickly, wearing the expensive men’s casual clothes normally called for at parties in Southern California. He headed over to find June, whom he has not seen for at least eight weeks.

An hour later, Cissy, her hair and nails done, somewhat miffed that she had to borrow one of her brothers padded bras to fill out the dress, was waiting at the gate for Alan to show up. He was due to come and switch with her in five minutes.

Larry received a call from his acquaintances who were suddenly very excited about the man in the house. After a brief but animated conversation, he called Sean and told her to watch the caterers; the man at the house of the owners is a watch list terrorist. Larry informed Sean he would take the guy down and hope the Hernandez’s were still alive.

Alan surprised himself with how much fun the time spent casually talking and mildly flirting with Kim had been, and sadly realized he had to go. He told Kim he had to excuse himself and promised to be right back.

Meanwhile, Sean found Comstock and told him the caterers were definitely suspect, describing the situation at the Hernandez house. She told him to detain any catering employee who had been added to the clearance list in the last two days. For once, Comstock pondered the facts and did what she asked. His men began to pull waiters aside.

John and June were standing next to Marge and Serge Olanger, making small talk about being neighbors when one of the waiters pulled an H & K submachine gun from inside a plate of manicotti. John saw the movement and pushed Marge and Serge to the ground after shoving June into the pool.

The waiter/terrorist only managed to get off a few silenced rounds before he found four red stains that appeared on his chest, slowly widening in contrast to his white uniform. Comstock’s men, while arrogant, were excellent shots even with silencers. The other terrorist found himself becoming intimate with the Olanger’s lawn, convinced to look closely at each blade of grass by a gun barrel at the back of his head.

Manny and Bo, hearing the commotion, made a grab for Kim. Alan tripped Manny while Sean kicked Bo in the side and pulled Kim out of his hands. Sean yelled for Alan to go the other way but Alan tried to run to Kim and Sean, thinking Sean was another terrorist. He was grabbed by Manny, who was amazingly strong for his size. Manny threw Alan in the front seat of the white SUV while Bo clumsily produced a gun and held it on Sean and Kim. He got into the truck while Manny dug divots in the lawn with the rear wheels to get out of the estate. The gate guards were all focused outwards since the alarm went off , and were too slow to react to Manny crashing through the service entrance from the other direction.

Larry threw a flash bang grenade through the window, having deduced that the man was alone except for (he hoped) the Hernandez couple. The terrorist, now blinded and deafened, was easy for Larry to take down with a well placed kick and handcuffs.

He found Jose and Manuela, tied in their bedroom, beaten but alive. He asked them if there was only one man, just to be sure and Jose nods. He made sure they were well enough to wait for the Homeland Security team to arrive, which he expected within thirty minutes. After learning their basic story, he received a call from Sean, now in pursuit of the kidnapped Alan. Larry immediately told Jose and Manuela to wait for the authorities, he was sorry he could not stay but he had another crisis and must leave immediately. They attempted to thank him as he ran out of the door towards his truck.

John Carter was in the process of fishing June out of the pool when Marge and Serge , having shook off their security people, came over to help him.

“Mr. Carter, I want to thank you… “ Serge began.

“I saw the gun first, Serge. Anybody would have done it. Are you all right? Marge? I hope I did not hurt you. “ John was holding June who, while a very good swimmer, had managed to aspirate a large amount of chlorinated water.

Marge kissed John on the cheek and thanked him profusely. Serge held her while a security man brought a large pool towel for June.

Cecilia , found by security personnel who then made her come over to the protected area, was spotted by her father.

“Allie, it’s good to see you safe! Where is Cissy, I mean Alan?” John asked, exposing his knowledge of the masquerade. June blinked while Miriam was being herded into the area by more security. Miriam heard John and looked at Cecilia, who was standing there stunned.

Cecilia cursed Larry Elger. He must have ratted them out! And where was Alan?

Chapter 20: Ransom Of Red Cissy- Pacific Coast Highway, somewhere near Santa Barbara, July 7 late evening

Manny was the epitome of the distracted driver. Constantly cleaning every surface he could reach while running the big truck mostly within the same lane at least ninety percent of the time seemed to be his version of happy motoring. Given that most sane people have no wish to be hit by a Ford Excursion at speed, Manny was aided in this pursuit by the other drivers’ sense of self preservation.

Alan hoped he might be put out of his misery in a fiery wreck before Manny got them to wherever they were going.

Bo sat in the back, clearly terrified that Manny was at the wheel. Apparently he had seen this movie before, and it ended badly. Alan heard him sobbing and mumbling some kind of prayers.

Manny kept asking Alan questions, and Alan was getting the idea that Manny and Bo together would have to study hard to even be classified as learning disabled.

“You a rich kid?”

“Your parents gonna pay money for you, sweetie?”

“You scared, girlie?”

Alan noticed Manny’s habits about cleanliness. He knew a rest area was only a few minutes away so he formed a quick plan.

“I’m gonna be sick! I’m gonna throw up!” Alan squealed, backing up this threat with disgusting dry heaving noises.

Manny almost rolled the truck by swerving into the median.

“No! No! No!, Not in my truck! No Kid! Stop it!”

“I’m gonna wet my panties! I have to go!” Alan illustrated his intent by adding hip wiggling and squirming for visual reinforcement.

“Hold on kid! I’m pulling over! Here’s a bathroom! Hold on!” Manny pleaded. He felt almost physically sick from the mental image of vomit all over his dashboard. Bo shook and a series of louder prayers emitted from the back seat.

Manny managed to pull into the deserted rest stop. Jumping out to the parking lot, he grabbed Alan out of the bench seat and then out of the truck. Using a knife to cut the plastic cuffs, he told Bo to take the kid to the bathroom.

Alan kneeled down and actually got himself to throw up, spewing cherry punch all over the running boards. Manny went ballistic.

“No! Kid! No! Bo! Get her to the bathroom and the hell away from my truck!”

Bo picked Alan up and set him down at the door of the ladies rest room.

“Go ahead. I’ll be here.” He said, clearly embarrassed to discuss bathroom matters with a girl.

Alan gave him his sweetest smile and pranced into the rest room. He looked around and did not see anything resembling a weapon, so he decided to play for time. He clung to the belief that the police or someone had to be after these two idiots.

Bo settled down and sat, and then shifted uneasily. Sitting on the stuff in his pockets made him uncomfortable, so he emptied the bulkier items and set them on the ground. After Alan stalled in the stall for ten minutes, Bo decided he had to relieve himself and yelled to Manny , now furiously cleaning all the windows in the Ford.

“Manny, you watch the kid!. I gotta go!” Bo said while he ambled over to the men’s room on the other side of the building.

Alan choose this time to come out. He spied Manny running right for him, wheezing and panting. Manny apparently had not been a regular with daily exercise.

Alan then observed Bo’s extra junk on the ground, so he started reaching for it, picking it up while Manny began screaming for him to leave it alone. One was a can of “Bear Spray”, meant for warding off an attacking grizzly.

“Put that down kid! You’ll hurt yourself!” Manny yelled.

Alan looked at him innocently as Manny approached to within seven feet.

“Is this cologne? I like perfume!” Alan said innocently as he held the release trigger on the pepper spray canister, generating a cloud of noxious Capsaicin fumes.

The out of breath Manny ran right into the mist open mouthed, yielding an immediate heaving and choking condition in his breathing rhythm, causing him to break stride.

Alan then picked up the Air Taser, a small handheld nonlethal weapon that paralyses an opponent with thousands of volts..

“What’s this Mr. Manny? A flashlight of some kind?” Alan aimed the weapon at the gagging and choking Manny and the compressed air cartridge fired two needle probes into Manny’s chest and ribcage, followed by 50000 volts of discharge.

Manny was choking, gagging and writhing on the ground in a fit of highly mixed neural signals.

Bo came out of the men’s room, hiking up his pants. Alan looked at him and realized he was fresh out of weaponry. Summoning his courage, he turned and faced his doom when Bo was suddenly surprised by Sean landing a flying kick off the roof of the rest facility. Bo’s head ended up twisting halfway around and he fell, clearly unconscious.

Sean picked herself up and grasped Alan by his forearms. “It’s over , Alan. You did very well. I’m sure Manny there regrets the day he ever laid eyes on you.”

Alan looks up at the beautiful black woman and realized he has seen her several times before.

“I’ve seen you. Dad hired you to follow me!”

“Good guess, Alan. Yes, my partner and I have been with you two since you switched identities. You threw us a curve on that one, but it seems to have worked out. You are very good at being Cissy, by the way.” Sean said, smiling at Alan, straightening out his dress and hair in a maternal fashion.

“Does Mom know?”

Sean looked at Alan, in his green pastel dress and pantyhose, his bustline, and his slightly smeared makeup and messed up hair, and decided to tell him.

“Yes, Alan. They knew all along. Your Mom figured it out just after Cecilia boarded the airplane. “

Somehow this news made him dizzy. “How did you find me?”

“There are several tracking devices in your clothing. Why did they stop, it was really stupid for them to do?”

Alan nodded and told her the story.

Sean continued after she got her laughter under control. “Then as soon as you stopped moving, I was able to move in. I expect the authorities here within minutes.”

“Then I will be exposed! No!” Alan started to panic. All his bravery had been used up for the day.

“Not to worry, Alan. The folks who are coming want this to be quiet, and I doubt they will do much more than talk to you, and then ask you to shut up. Now I am going to chain Manny and Bo here to their truck and we are heading back. Ok?”

Alan nodded, following Sean into her pickup truck.

Chapter 21: All In The Family- Santa Barbara- July 8 , Late Morning

Miriam had forced an agreement by all the Carters that she would play mediator and referee. She had spent individual time with both of the twins and then June and John.

She also found a source of sound and unique observation in Larry and Sean, whose own story was fascinating to her, what little of it she could glean from their occasionally evasive answers.

Miriam had all four Carters together around the large dining room table. Alan and Cissy were back to their normal, or at least gender specific clothes. Alan’s hair still had a lot of curl left and he had not had a chance to remove his nail polish.

“There are a lot of things that have happened here and I am available to discuss it in some detail with each of you if you wish. But there are also some common things that I think everybody needs to know to sort this out. This may be uncomfortable, but realize this. Enough is known by everybody that it is better to have everyone agree on some things in common than for each of you to wonder what everyone else is thinking of you. Does anyone object? “ Miriam said, scanning the expressions around the table.

“First, Alan and Cecilia, while you were both were skillful at your disguises, you gave yourself away. From birth, you could say. June? Please explain.”

June smiled, like most women do when they talk about delivering their children. “You were both a difficult delivery and Doctor Johansen used forceps, which are like a big set of salad tongs to pull each of you out. Forceps can leave small little ridges on the skull of an infant, whose skull is soft and does grow. But in some cases there is a residual mark. Both of you have a small little ridge, almost imperceptible on the back of your heads, but on different sides. When Cecilia left, who I thought was Alan, I hugged Alan who I thought was Cissy, and felt the back of her, I mean his head. This is so confusing to discuss!”

Alan and Cissy nodded. John rolled his eyes.

Alan spoke up. “You mean all that salon stuff you did to me and you knew the whole time I was me? And you still made me do it?”

“Alan, I was waiting for you to tell me what was going on, and frankly I was a little mad you thought your Dad and I were that stupid. You could have stopped anything at any time by just stopping pretending to be Cecilia!”

Miriam held up her hand to avoid the discussion escalating out of control.

“So June decided to see how far Alan would go to be Cissy. And you were incredible, Alan. The only person June brought into her counter —plot was Fiona, who I also know is as tight lipped as anyone could be.”

Alan realized how important Fiona had been, coaching with makeup, the strategic padding. He would never had been as convincing without her. He also realized that, aside from the eyebrows, Mom had issued instructions that were entirely reversible, no hair coloring, no perms, no bangs. And even the eyebrows were androgynous enough that he could be Alan if he wanted to..

“So no one at work knew?” Alan asked. That was important to him.

“No one, Alan, you fooled them all. Especially Sylvia and Mary. That was impressive.” Mom said, smiling widely.

Miriam continued. “Cecilia was even more successful. Nobody read her at all, except John who knew before she got off the plane. And you went through basketball camp and even some lessons in male behavior without making a flagrant error. Larry interceded in your most difficult problem, but I’d give you a pass on that. Of course, a male shrink would not, so there.”

“There is a major issue outside this group that remains, and that is Kim. You two need to tell him what is going on. Despite the consequences. “ Miriam stared at Alan and then Cecilia, who both shook their heads in agreement.

“Now for the real stuff. Alan and Cecilia, I have known your parents for longer than you two have been alive, and I have never seen a stronger marriage. They are not breaking up. However, they did throw a massive amount of change your way and I cannot blame you for getting caught reading the wrong signals. I also know they are very proud of you and have never expressed any reservations about who you were. The reasons for your deception were false, but your desire was real. Every child wants to be accepted by their parents, and every child is their own worst critic.

“Cecilia, you felt you were a disappointment to your mother because you were not feminine enough. And you wished Alan were your sister sometimes. These are not unusual feelings.

“Alan, you felt you were not manly enough. Every boy your age feels that. You also found you and Cecilia were had a special relationship when you shifted between male and female guises, which made you happy. That is unique, but understandable, since Cecilia is your best friend. And now you have achieved in the adult world as Cissy. That alone should make it attractive to you.”

“Your parents decided to play this one out. I cannot tell if that was or was not a good move, but it is the move they made, motivated a little bit by the fact that the whole masquerade was somewhat insulting to them.”

Alan and Cecilia looked up. They had not considered that until now.

“So that is it. Cecilia, I think you may have had enough being a boy to last you a lifetime. Alan, you are the one with a choice.”

Alan looked startled. ‘What choice? If Cissy is back, how can I be her?”

Mom and Dad decided to enter the discussion at this point.

June looked at Alan. “Actually Alan, Cecilia is back. Cissy has been here all along. She is what you made of her yourself. It’s up to you and what you want to do with your life, or maybe just this summer.”

John nodded his head. “Alan, Mom and I have known about Allie for a long time. It is your life. And I love you whether you wear pants or a skirt. Just do it because you want to, not because you think everyone else wants you to.”

“Alan, I want you to talk to someone else before you think about it. There is no need to hurry, you’ve got your whole life to decide.” Miriam said.

Chapter 22: The UnSpoken — Santa Barbara, July 9

Kim entered Cissy’s room, hoping to relax and just play Mortal Quest. It had been hectic since the terrorist incident and the Olanger Security team was being totally revamped.

Cissy came in, wearing a silk blouse and miniskirt, her hair just done. She smelled wonderful.

“Kim, I want you to meet my sister. Her name is Cecilia.” Alan said, his face uncertain.

Cecilia entered the room, wearing an identical outfit. “Hi Kim, I heard a lot about you.”

Kim was stunned. “Two Cissys?”

“No Kim, my name is Alan. Please give me five minutes to tell you a story before you get mad. I never wanted to lie to you or hurt you. You’ve been the best friend I ever had!” tears were running down Alan’s cheeks.

Kim sat still. He kept looking at the twins and shaking his head.

Alan composed himself and told the whole story. Kim’s eyes went wide, especially when it dawned on him just who he had kissed. He remained silent until Alan finished.

“Is that it? No more surprises? “ Kim asked.

“The whole thing.” Alan said, still not knowing what would happen.

Kim grinned and said “Let me say this. For a boy, you are a real good kisser. But let’s make a pact. It will be a Wizard’s rule. 'The thing which will never be mentioned.' Ok?”

Alan and Cecilia nodded yes, smiles breaking out.

Kim continued. “And another thing. Cecilia, it’s good to finally meet you, for real.” Kim touched her face and began to kiss Cecilia.

After about two minutes had passed , Alan made grunting noises. Kim looked up, grinning. Cecilia had a distant but happy look on her face.

“So are we going to be two girls and a guy, or two guys and a girl, or sometimes three girls? “ Kim held up his hair and laughed.

“Lets play it by ear. We are still Bandar, Erindor and Maranta. And soon, Fungo will join us here.”

The three touched hands, like they did in the game, to signify a partnership.

Chapter 23: Hand Me Down Wisdom- Santa Barbara- July 10

Sean Taylor entered the room and Felipa ran up and hugged her.

“Where is Mr Larry? He saved my cousin. They want to send him some food. You two must come to their house!”

Sean giggled. Standing next to her was a woman with long black hair in a skirted suit, who looked somewhat Hispanic.

“I’m Larry Elger, Felipa. I’m here to talk to Alan. I usually don’t dress this nicely when I am rescuing cousins. “ Larry gently shook Felipa’s hand.

Felipa rolled her eyes and then smiled. She hugged “Linda” so tightly, Larry thought he would break a rib. Felipa just laughed and kissed him on the lips.

“Thank you so much, Mr Larry! You will come over to Manuela and Jose’s?”

Larry and Sean nodded yes.

Alan was wearing a pair of jeans and a Mortal Quest tee shirt when Sean and Larry stopped by. Sean excused herself and left Larry/Linda with Alan.

“Are you like this all the time, or I mean when you’re not working, Linda?” Alan asked.

“No, this is something I only do in private these days, when Sean asks me to, Alan. “

Larry gave Alan a highly edited version of his life, and included more about Sophie and their relationship than he had ever told anyone, even Sean. Sophie was a rare woman who loved her men dressed in feminine attire. Not for dominance or games, but just because she loved it. Larry had been a very late virgin and had fallen deeply in love with Sophie. His professional skills merged with his personal existence at a crucial time in Larry’s life. Sophie had linked dressing and love for him. It had lasted to this day.

Sean had dealt with her own body image trauma and had come to love Larry, and found his nature somehow fitting with her needs. They both had secrets they hid from the world and shared with each other.

Alan got technical, asking Larry about how he handled his genitals, and other challenges for a crossdresser. Larry gave him a rundown of tricks and methods, and the downsides. Larry was discouraging of taping and tucking, since there was a risk of cutting off the blood supply, so he recommended using control garments, and suggested resorting to the other methods only in extreme circumstance.

Larry knew Alan was groping with what direction to take. He had built a new person and he liked her. He also was worried what he would miss by abandoning Alan.

“Linda, or Larry. Do you ever want to become a woman? Would you want to be Linda full time?” Alan asked as Linda said she had to leave.

“Not on my life, kid. Linda is a nice diversion from who I am, but I am not ashamed of who I am either. I’ve made my decision. I’m Larry, and Linda sometimes, but always really Larry.. I do know a lot of the good parts of being a man don’t come until later in life. That’s as clear as I can make it. But that is my decision, and not yours.

“Good luck, Alan. You twins have been a real diversion for the Ice Queen and me.”

Linda kissed Alan on the cheek, and Larry shook his hand. He left Alan with a contented expression on his face.

Chapter 24: Curtain Down: Santa Barbara and the Nine Kingdoms, July 11.

Cecilia had agreed to give up her nickname for another three weeks. She was busy working out everyday with her new found passion for soccer, and felt it was the least she could do for her brother. Besides, she felt “Cecilia” sounded so much more mature.

Alan was finishing the month at June’s Accessories as Cissy, but had cut down to four hours a day. After which, he became Alan, and Kim was schooling him in soccer, along with Cecilia, when they were not playing Mortal Quest.

Cecilia had finally cut her hair short, but not too short, since Kim wanted it at least over her ears. Alan was now free to grow it to Bandar’s length.

Sean and Larry took a vacation. No one knew where, but John and June kept scanning the news for outbreaks of mysterious piles of dead terrorists.

Iiyas was happy to get back to his doughnut shop. He never realized he was now under extremely tight surveillance by three government agencies, and he just assumed all those new customers liked his food.

John moved back home four days a week, no exceptions. The FDA had given approval and Junecellular was on it’s way..

June and Sylvia adopted the “Cissy” market analysis for their other stores and sections, and found surprisingly good results.

Bandar, Erindor, Maranta and Fungo walked across the plains of the Nine Kingdoms, dealing justice and death to their enemies.

Miri, the Warrior Queen, the second highest ranked player in the world, looked down from her tower at the four companions.

“You passed this one, but the Princess Trap has more snares if you stay and get entangled. Good Luck Bandar.” Miri said to herself. Miriam Sinclair closed her game console and wiped the tears from her eyes.

END

Watch for the “The Princess Contest” for more of Cissy and Cecilia

Characters here also appear in “I Can See For Miles”, and also “Hide In Plain Sand” coming soon



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