The Changing Man

The Changing Man

by Melanie Brown
Copyright  © 2015 Melanie Brown

Josh thought he was just hoping for a cancer cure.


 

“Thank you for volunteering to be part of our clinical trials, Mr. Randall.” The pretty assistant smiled at me and handed me a short stack of papers. “Please read these and initial them. The last page is the waiver you must sign in order to participate in the trial.”

I smiled back at her. I’m glad my wife wasn’t here as I’m sure she wouldn’t approve of the way I was staring at the assistant’s…um…eyes. I said, “What’s the waiver for?”

She smiled patiently at me and said, “The usual legalese stuff. It indemnifies the Corporation from lawsuits in the event there are complications from the trial. Don’t worry. We’ve already had several groups in this trial and there’ve been no adverse results for any of the participants in Phase II and not one clinical death so far. It works for most, but for some, there’s no effect at all.”

The trial sounded pretty risky, but my doctor recommended it as I had a particular congenital defect that caused a high risk for cancer. The treatment I was going to participate in the trial for would remove the genes responsible for the defect in my chromosomes. In all of the cells in my body. According to the literature I was given, the risk of death had been reduced greatly from the Phase I part of the trial. This was a Phase II trial. I wouldn’t have considered it though if I wasn’t hurting for cash. The pay for this trial was hard to pass up.

My wife and I were planning to start a family as soon as I can find a better job. And the thought that I wouldn’t be passing this high risk factor on to my children was also a major consideration.

I read quickly through the papers I’d been handed. Most of it was a bunch of legal and medical gobbledy-gook that I really didn’t understand. I initialed in the fields indicated by a “X” and then I signed the waiver. I handed the stack back to the pretty assistant.

“Thank you, Mr. Randall,” she said as she pulled one of the papers from the stack and placed it with a sheet that looked like a doctor’s order. She said, “The top sheet is yours. And just return to the clinic next Tuesday to begin your trial. You will need to come in every day for monitoring. It’ll only take about ten minutes. Your active participation should be over in about six months. Then just come in once a month for additional monitoring.”

“Do I get paid now or at the end of the trial?” I asked.

The assistant smiled pleasantly and said, “We’ll mail you a check at the end of each week that you are an active participant. Remember, it’s very important you come in every day after starting the trial and leave us a blood sample.”

I nodded and smiled at her. I said, “Thanks. I’ll see you next Tuesday.” I turned and walked from the clinic out to my car. After starting the engine, I just sat there a moment listening to radio. I picked up the papers I’d been given and looked them over, shaking my head. Was this the dumbest thing I’ve ever done? I’m sure Ashley, my wife would think so.

 

*          *          *

 

“This has to be the dumbest thing you’ve ever done, honey,” said my loving wife Ashley, shaking her head as she read through the trial information. “This sounds insanely risky. Modifying every gene in your body? Are they serious?”

Ashley frowned as I pulled a soda from the fridge as she was almost finished making dinner. I said, “Very serious. This could revolutionize medicine. It removes my risk of that cancer from me and from our future children and grandchildren. And I couldn’t pass up the pay.”

Ashley rolled her eyes and said, “You’re risking your life for a bit extra cash? We’re getting by for now.”

Letting a bit of anger flare, I said, “That convenience store doesn’t pay shit. And that’s all there is for now. This trial pays better. I’m hoping I can get a job at that new data center when they’re through building it. It should be completed about the same time this trial ends.”

Putting the paper down and returning to tending to cooking dinner, Ashley said, “I don’t know why you won’t take Dad up on his offer…”

Interrupting, I said, “I’m not working for your dad! We’ve discussed this. Once we’re over this hump, we’ll be fine.”

Stirring a pot, Ashley said, “If you say so, dear. But it is good money and a stable job…”

Frowning I said, “I don’t want to sell insurance, okay?”

 

*          *          *

 

“Just sit right here, Mr. Randall and get comfortable,” said a grouchy looking nurse. “The doctor will be here in a few minutes to supervise the injections. You will be getting a series of ten injections, both arms and legs.” Per the nurse’s request, I had stripped down to my skivvies. The chair was cold and room was more than somewhat chilly. She quickly placed a few wires on my forehead that ran to a machine I couldn’t identify. She also placed a blood pressure cuff on my arm and added an oxygen sensor to my finger tip.

Feeling suddenly worried, I said, “Um, why are you strapping my arms to the chair?”

Without missing a beat, the nurse said, “Just a precaution. I’ll let the doctor know you’re ready. Now just stay there.” She turned and walked out of the windowless room.

I tugged on the straps. I was now seriously worried. They said nothing about straps. I looked around the room, trying to see if there were any perverted sexual implements or leather outfits hanging from the walls. But all I saw was a stark, mostly empty room with all the furniture painted an eye dazzling white. For the next few minutes, I just sat there, staring at the door, waiting for it to open.

After a few minutes, the door finally opened and the crusty old nurse entered followed by a large man wearing a white lab coat and a gray turtleneck shirt. His comically thick glasses drooped to the tip of his nose.

As the man approached me, he extended his hand, paused and then withdrew it. He said, “Sorry. The restraints are just a precaution. We don’t want you hurting yourself while we administer the treatment.

“Ah. Pardon my rudeness, Mr. Randall. I am Doctor Picardo. We’ll hurry so you can get dressed. I apologize for the temperature. We’ve found the treatment works best if the room is kept at a low temperature.”

The nurse set down a tray on the table next to me. On it were ten overly large syringes with long needles. I squirmed in the chair as all kinds of nightmare visions flashed through my head. What if this was one of those places where you pay money to get to play like you’re a doctor? I tried not to think about that.

Dr. Picardo snapped on a pair of latex gloves and picked up one of the syringes, held it up to the light and tapped the side of it a few times.

“I’m not going to lie to you, Mr. Randall,” said the doctor. “These injections are going to hurt like hell. The chemical we’re injecting is very thick and is kept ice cold.” He picked up a plastic rectangle from the table and pushed it into my mouth. “You’ll want to bite down on that.”

The nurse rubbed a spot on my arm with an alcohol soaked pad, took the first syringe from the doctor. She said, “Big stick,” and shoved the needle into my arm. I bit hard on the piece of plastic. My God that hurt. It hurt even more as she slowly pushed the plunger and the clear, thick liquid flowed into my arm. I actually saw stars.

Dr. Picardo smiled at me and said, “Now that wasn’t so bad, was it, Mr. Randall?” I just flashed him a “are you shitting me?” expression and fought back tears.

The nurse proceeded to inject the remaining syringes into my other arm and into my legs. By the time she was holding the last syringe, I was screaming as best I could with the plastic in my mouth and struggling against the restraints. I’ve never been in more agony in my life. I was beginning to think there was no trial. That this was how the doc and the nurse got their rocks off.

As the nurse picked up the tray with the used syringes and started to walk away with it, I just sat there breathing heavy and whimpering a bit.

Dr. Picardo said, “Sorry if the injections were uncomfortable. I wish it was more easily administered.” I just sat there and stared at him. He reached over and removed the arm and leg restraints. He then handed me a cup with two pills and another cup filled with water.

I took the cups and looked at the doc suspiciously. I said, “Cyanide?”

Dr. Picardo chuckled and said, “Tylenol.”

Hoping it was cyanide; I popped the two pills and chased them down with the water. I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and said, “Doc, that was without question the worst thing I’ve ever been through in my entire life. And quite probably the next life as well.”

Dr. Picardo grinned slyly and said, “That’s the worst of it. Periodically you might experience a low grade fever. It’s to be expected. Just take some Tylenol and the fever will go away. I’ll leave you to get dressed. When you’re done, please exit out that far door.” He then turned and left without another word.

I got dressed and walked out to the lobby where my wife was waiting. They said I shouldn’t drive just after getting the treatment. I still felt like I had a fever and my skin itched like a son of a bitch. The brochure said it was all normal though.

Ashley stood up and looked at me when I entered the lobby. She said, “Well, how did it go?”

I shrugged and said, “It was just like an afternoon at the spa. You should try it.”

Ashley smiled wryly and said, “No thanks. And I don’t believe you. Are you sure you’re okay? You’re all red.”

Shrugging again I said, “They said to expect a low-grade fever and some skin irritation for the next few days. I hope it goes away soon. I’m very uncomfortable.”

Ashley grinned at me and said, “You know…selling insurance doesn’t cause skin rashes.”

I said, “True as that may be, it’s too late now. It’s not like they can just uninject that stuff.”

That night I had a fitful sleep. Tossing and turning and having the most God-awful dreams. I don’t think I slept a wink the whole night.

“Are you going to sleep all day?” asked my lovely wife as she slapped my bare shoulder. “Oh wow. You’re hot.”

“Thank you, baby,” I muttered into my pillow.

“No. I mean you’re hot hot. Hot to the touch.” She then felt around me. “You’re hot all over. Let me take your temperature.”

I rolled over on my back and stretched. Looking up at the ceiling, I said, “I finally fall asleep and you wake me up.”

As she returned from the bathroom with the thermometer she said, “It’s after three. You’re supposed to go there every day. And I think you need to.” The thermometer was one of those that just touches your temple.

Ashley frowned as she read the display. “One hundred three. That’s not good babe. That is not a low-grade fever. That’s a one more degree and I’m taking you to the ER fever.”

Nodding I said, “I feel like shit. I’ll get dressed and head over there.”

Forty-five minutes later, I was sitting in the same chair where I got the injections. Dr. Picardo was personally attending to me.

Dr. Picardo said, “That’s more than a low-grade fever.”

Scowling, I said, “Yes. I know. What can you do about it?”

The doctor placed a bottle on the table next to me. He said, “Take two of these with a cup of water.”

As I sprinkled out two pills into my hand, I said, “What am I taking?”

Dr. Picardo smiled and said, “Tylenol.”

I held the pills in my hand and said, “That’s all?”

Nodding he said, “It should reduce the fever. Look, Mr. Randall, I’ll admit that it’s unusual for your fellow test subjects to experience such a high fever. But it’s not unheard of. Your blood pressure is just slightly above normal, your heart rate is just a bit higher than before you started the treatment. Your oxygen level is on the high side.”

“Am I going to die?” I asked Dr. Picardo.

Dr. Picardo just smiled and said, “Not today, Mr. Randall. Come back to the back room. We have a bed where you can lie down for an hour or so while we monitor you.”

“Okay. That sounds like a good idea,” I said.

 

*          *          *

 

“Did you have a nice nap,” asked Dr. Picardo as I sat up on the bed. I looked down at my watch and was surprised to see I’d been asleep for almost two hours.

As I rubbed my eye, I said, “I guess so. I feel a little better.”

Dr. Picardo smiled at me and said, “All your vitals are looking fine and in line with others in this study. Your temperature is going to fluctuate a lot, just like we told you in the brochure. But it is back down to expected levels.”

“I just didn’t realize how much this would make me sick,” I said as I slid off the bed.

“Mr. Randall, the agent we injected into you is making changes to your basic cell structure. It’s recoding your chromosomes to remove those defective genes. The body isn’t designed for that, so yes, you will feel uncomfortable for a while. In the end though, you will have reduced your personal risk of cancer and you won’t be passing the trait on to your children.”

“Well, that’s why I’m doing this,” I said wondering if it really all be worth it.

“We’ll see you tomorrow, Mr. Randall,” said Dr. Picardo. “But please, don’t hesitate to call or come to the clinic or even go to the ER if you’re feeling distressed.”

 

*          *          *

 

“Hrmph,” I said as I was buttoning up my shirt.

“What are you harrumphing about,” asked Ashley as she was getting ready for work.

“This new shirt you got me is too big,” I said pulling on the one of the sleeves to show how loose fitting it was.

Ashley walked over to me and looked. She said, “That same shirt fit you just fine last week, honey.”

I looked at her and said, “I’ve worn this before?”

Ashley rolled her eyes and in a patronizing voice said, “Yes, silly.”

“Do shirts expand in the wash?” I asked. “I know I’ve had things shrink, but never get bigger.”

Slipping on her shoes, Ashley said, “Well, maybe that stupid study you’re in is causing you to lose some weight.” She patted my stomach and said, “And that could be a good thing.”

“You’re so funny,” I said and kissed her cheek. “See you this afternoon.”

She smiled and gave me a wave as she turned to head to the door. After the door closed, I looked back at the shirt I was holding. Would just losing a few pounds cause the shirt to be loose all over? What do I know about things like that, right?

 

*          *          *

 

“Honey?” said Ashley. “I think you need to go see a real doctor. Something is very wrong.”

“Tell me about it!” I said. I was looking Ashley almost in the eye. When we were married, I was good head taller than her. “None of my clothes fit. I’ve lost a lot of weight. I seem to be shrinking!”

Ashley shook her head and said, “I’m very worried. They didn’t say anything about this happening when you started the trial?”

“No,” I said sounding worried myself. “The literature they gave me and what they told me at the clinic never mentioned this much weight loss and shrinkage. This has to be bone loss to lose this much height. And I can’t imagine that being good.”

“You need to go see a real doctor,” Ashley said flatly. “I don’t trust that clinic.”

“Well, I have a check up this afternoon. I’m going to ask Dr. Picardo about this,” I said.

Ashley’s eyes flashed with anger. She said, “Go to a real doctor! I didn’t want to say anything, but something is definitely wrong. We haven’t had sex in weeks. I saw your dick last night, honey. It looks like a three year olds. Your balls are gone.”

“I didn’t say anything. I didn’t want you to worry,” I said sheepishly.

“Well, I’m definitely worried now!” Ashley almost shouted. “You need to take yourself out of this trial!”

“I can’t!” I exclaimed. “There’s no way to extract the agent they injected. I’ll just have to ride it out.”

Ashley jabbed a finger towards my face and yelled, “Go see a real doctor!”

 

*          *          *

 

“Here for your daily check, Mr. Randall?” asked the pretty receptionist from behind her sliding glass window.

“Yeah, but I really need to talk with Dr. Picardo,” I said. “It’s very important.”

The receptionist smiled at me and said, “Oh. There’s a note on your appointment that says the doctor wants to have a consultation with you today. Have a seat. They’ll call you back in just a few minutes.”

“I really need to see Picardo now!” I almost shouted. I started towards the door.

Frowning, the receptionist said, “You can’t just barge in there, Mr. Randall. He’s with other patients.”

Dr. Picardo stepped behind the receptionist and said, “It’s okay miss. Send him back.”

Looking confused, the receptionist said, “Yes, Doctor.” To me, she said, “You can go back now, Mr. Randall.”

Without another word, I jerked open the door to the clinical part of the office and angrily strode into the hall.

“Is there something we can help you with, Mr. Randall?” asked Dr. Picardo.

I stormed up to the doctor and snarled, “I should say so! What the hell is going on with me! Just look at me! I’m…I’m shrinking for God’s sake!”

Dr. Picardo took a step or two back from me and nervously said, “A little weight loss is a normal side-effect, Mr. Randall. I wouldn’t worry about it unless it gets severe.”

“Severe! Severe!” I shouted. “How much more severe does this have to get? I mean, look at me!” I grabbed my now over-sized shirt and said, “This isn’t just weight loss! This is bone loss! I’m actually smaller than I was a week ago!”

Dr. Picardo gave me a patronizing smile and said, “We’ll get the nurse in here to measure you. I’m sure you’re just over-reacting.”

I made my shirt billow out and said, “You call this over-reacting?”

Smiling confidently, Dr. Picardo said, “Please have a seat, Mr. Randall. We’ll get you measured.”

A few moments later, one of the clinic’s nurses was running a tape measure around my arms and legs, down the length of my arms and legs, and total height. She dutifully wrote each measurement down. When she was done, she handed it to Dr. Picardo.

A look of concern marred Dr. Picardo’s face as he read the results. He looked at the examination notes from the day I started the trials to today. He shook his head and said, “You seem to be correct, Mr. Randall. Inexplicably, you seem to be shrinking. This is most unprecedented.”

I wanted to punch someone. Trying to control my voice, I said, “How fast am I shrinking? And can you stop it?”

Dr. Picardo shrugged and spreading his arms wide, said, “I have no idea. Like I said, this is unprecedented. I can’t explain why you’re shrinking at all.”

“You gotta do something, Doc,” I pleaded. “I don’t want to wind up using a safety pin to fight off a spider!”

Dr. Picardo said, “Now you’re being melodramatic. I doubt you’ll shrink that far.”

“How can you say that?” I shouted. “You don’t have a clue why I’m shrinking to begin with.”

Frowning, Dr. Picardo said, “Not at this moment, but I will! Let’s get a sample of your blood.”

 

*          *          *

 

“Nurse. This is the wrong blood sample,” said Dr. Picardo looking up from blood analysis report. “I want to see the sample you just took from Mr. Randall.”

The nurse looked confused for a moment. She said, “But that is the sample from Mr. Randall. I just took it fifteen minutes ago.”

Dr. Picardo frowned and said, “This can’t be right. Is Mr. Randall still here?”

The nurse shook her head and said, “No doctor. He left right after I took the sample. Is there something wrong with the sample?”

Dr. Picardo held up the report and said, “You’re absolutely sure this is his blood sample?”

“I’m positive, doctor,” said the nurse.

Looking back at the report, Dr. Picardo said, “This is his sixth week in the trial. His temperature should have returned to normal by now. He’s lost almost fifty pounds. That is way outside the norm. The gene we were trying to eradicate is completely gone from his cells. That shouldn’t occur until well past the twelfth week. But this report…” Dr. Picardo shook his head.

“What’s wrong with the report, doctor?” asked the nurse.

“I want that analysis device pulled from service and checked,” said Dr. Picardo. “We’ll get a new sample when Mr. Randall returns for his check tomorrow. This report can’t be correct.” He handed the report to the nurse.

The nurse glanced at the report and said, “Oh my God. This is totally screwed up. Mr. Randall is definitely not a female.”

 

*          *          *

 

My wife was in the kitchen looking through a recipe book when I returned to the house.

“So, what did the *real* doctor say?” asked Ashley as I walked up behind her to kiss the back of her neck like I usually do. Only I was no longer tall enough to kiss the back of her neck.

“I went back to the clinic,” I said as I plopped down in one of the easy chairs in the living room.

Ashley slammed the recipe book closed and said scowling, “Are you serious? They’re killing you! You need to find out if they can remove whatever it is from your blood!”

“It can’t be removed,” I said feeling tired. “We’ve been over this before.”

Ashley walked over to my chair and stood in front of me. Hands on her hips, she said, “Okay. We’re going to the ER right now. Maybe they can treat …oh my God. Look at you!”

“What?” I said, trying to look at myself.

“You don’t look like you anymore,” said Ashley. “In fact, you’re looking a lot like a teenage girl! Oh my God!”

I waved her off and said, “I thought you were being serious. I’ll give the clinic another couple of days to find a way to make me stop shrinking.”

Ashley started crying. She said, “Go! Go look for yourself, honey!” She pointed towards the bathroom.

“What you’re saying is impossible,” I said as I slowly stood up. I suddenly wasn’t feeling too well. I walked down the hall to the bathroom, turned on the light and stood in front of the mirror.

I just stood there, slack-jawed and felt my face. I said, “Oh my God you’re right. I don’t even have facial hair anymore. What are they doing to me?”

“Can we go to the ER now?” asked Ashley. She reached up to feel the side of my face and exclaimed, “Oh honey! You are red hot! I think I should call an ambul…”

And that’s all I heard…

 

*          *          *

 

“You got her here just in time, Mrs. Randall. Any longer and that fever would have turned lethal.”

“Him. He’s a him.”

The doctor looked down his nose as he said, “This is a female, Mrs. Randall. I thought you rode in the ambulance with this girl?”

Before Ashley could answer, a nurse who had exited the ICU and walked up to her said, “Your daughter’s condition has stabilized and the fever is completely gone. We hope we can move her out of the ICU and into a regular room.” The nurse walked away.

Frustration in her voice, Ashley said, “That’s not my daughter! That’s my husband!”

Looking grave, the doctor said, “Perhaps we need to get the police involved. A child, that you’re claiming is your ‘husband’ was brought here near death. Were you playing some weird sexual game with this girl?”

Ashley’s eyes flared as she said, “How dare you! My husband has been involved in a clinical trial and he’s been reacting badly to it. The clinic…a…um…Dr. Picardo I think…has done nothing for him. Today his fever went over one hundred and five and he collapsed. He’s been getting shorter and he looked incredibly young before he collapsed, but why are you insisting he’s a girl?”

The doctor turned to a nurse passing by in the ICU waiting room and said, “Janet, call security.” He then turned to Ashley and said, “Because Mrs. Randall, that’s a girl, approximately fifteen in there. There is nothing male about her. But maybe this explains her poor grooming. She’s the first girl of that age I’ve encountered with hairy legs and armpits. That’s not a crime of course, unless you’ve been forcing her to pretend to be your husband.”

Two men wearing the blue blazers of the in house security team ran up next to the doctor, looking confused.

Looking appalled, Ashley shouted, “Are you out of your mind? You must have my husband confused with someone else then! I demand to see him!” People in the waiting room were all staring at Ashley and the doctor.

The doctor said, “If that’s not your daughter, we can’t let you into the ICU. Only family members.”

Ashley screamed, “Are you out of your fucking mind? I demand to see him! Look. I’ve got pictures of him as he’s been changing.” Ashley opened her purse and started to reach inside.

A woman in the waiting room shouted, “She’s got a gun!” Several people screamed and ducked to the floor. The security team grabbed Ashley’s arm.

Ashley growled as she struggled with security, “It’s an iPhone you morons!” The purse was jerked from her grasp.

The doctor said, “Take her to security and call the police. And CPS.”

The security team pulled Ashley away towards the elevators. People in the ICU waiting area looked at her with horror and disgust. One woman swung her purse at Ashley and shouted, “You sick pervert!”

Eyes wild, Ashley screamed, “You stupid fuck heads!”

 

*          *          *

 

From somewhere, seeming distant, I heard a female voice say, “Tell Dr. Howard his patient in four thirty-seven is awake.”

I tried to open my eyes, but my eyelids seemed to weigh a ton. I managed to open them a crack, but everything was blurry. I slowly started to become aware of things; odd sounds around me, a strange clinical smell and I felt something on my face that was hooked into my nose. I saw a shape that seemed to be person-like approached me.

The figure leaned over me and shined a bright light into my eyes. The light hurt. I heard a male voice that said, “Reaction normal. Heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, oxygen…hmmm…all at normal levels, nurse.”

As my vision started to clear, I squinted at the figure near me. I could make out a man, that seemed to be dressed in a white lab coat. A doctor? Where the hell was I?

“Welcome back,” said the smiling doctor as he stopped pressing his stethoscope against my chest.

“Welcome back?” I croaked. Was that me?

“You’ve been out for almost three weeks, Mr. Randall,” said the doctor. “After you seemed to have stabilized, we moved you here to a regular room.

“Three weeks!” I managed to say. My God, what’s wrong with me? That’s not my voice. Not even close. And I’ve been out for almost three weeks? I tried to put my hand on my head, but found that both arms had restraints. I then noticed I had an IV going to a hep-lock on the back of my hand.

Suddenly looking serious, the doctor nodded and said, “I’ll be blunt, Mr. Randall. You had a very serious negative reaction to the chemical that was injected into you for the clinical trial. We thought that you had almost died from it, but with later examination, it appears that your collapse and coma afterwards was your body doing…well…basically doing a reset.”

I frowned and said, “I don’t understand. A…a reset?” My voice was clearer now, but the pitch was all wrong.

Looking uneasy, the doctor looked at the floor and then back to me. He said, “Your body has…well, um…transformed.”

I tried to raise up, but I couldn’t. Looking at the doctor sideways, I said, “Transformed? What do you mean? My voice didn’t sound right. And I just feel wrong. Not bad, just…well, wrong.”

Looking uncomfortable, the doctor said, “There’s no gentle, easy way to say this, so I’m just going to lay out to you straight. Mr. Randall, the agent that was injected into you had somehow altered before it was injected. It mutated once inside your body. Dr. Picardo has verified this.

“Mr. Randall, you are now a girl around thirteen or fourteen years of age.”

I pulled against my restraints and tried to shout, “I’m a what? That’s insane!”

The doctor said, “Please calm down, Mr. Randall. We ran several MRI’s to be sure. You have a complete and fully functional female reproductive system. You have a vagina. Your chromosomes are double-X. A few days ago, you even had your first period. It was a trickle, but there it was. I’m sorry, Mr. Randall, but you are no longer the twenty-seven year old male you used to be.”

I passed out.

 

*          *          *

 

I awoke to the somewhat blurry image of Ashley standing beside my bed with a worried look on her face. I couldn’t move my arms as it seemed I was still restrained.

When she saw my eyes open, Ashley forced a smile and said, “Hey, honey. How are you feeling?”

In my strange new girlish voice, I said, “Hey babe. I don’t know how I feel. Everything feels wrong somehow. I don’t feel bad. I just feel wrong.” Ashley very subtly winced when I said “babe.”

Ashley said, “I think the doctors are almost done with poking and prodding you. They might let you leave the hospital in a few days.”

I smiled and said, “I sure hope so. I can’t wait to get home. Did this change I apparently went through cause a stir in the news?”

A pained look flashed across Ashley’s face. She said, “Only a minimum of the staff here know anything. The government got involved and they put the quietus on everything. Something about national security and possibly militarization of what happened to you.”

I tried to sit up, but couldn’t and I fell back to the bed. Furrowing my brow, I said, “Militar…what? That doesn’t make sense. Well, I don’t care as long as I get to go home soon.”

With a very pained expression, Ashley said, “That’s another thing, honey. You won’t be going home with me.” She paused a moment and then started to cry. She continued, “Every time I see you like this I…I…I just…Dammit! You’re not Josh anymore. I don’t know what to do! If I took you home, you can’t function as a husband! Would you be my teen daughter? I can’t handle that! But that decision has been taken away from me as well.”

I tried to reach out to her. To touch her. To comfort her. But I couldn’t because of the restraints. Why am I restrained anyway? I jerked uselessly at the restraint as I said, “Babe, please! I’m who I’ve always been. Despite what you say I look like, I’m still the same guy you married!”

Ashley plucked a tissue from a box sitting on the tray attached to my bed and wiped under her eyes and then blew her nose. Still crying, she looked at me with a disgusted expression. She said, “No. No you’re not. You haven’t seen yourself, have you?” She rummaged around her purse for a moment and finally pulled out her compact. She opened it and held it so I could see myself in the mirror.

I gasped. I looked at my reflection with a mix of shock and horror. Not that I saw a monster staring back at me. But I didn’t see me. I saw a very cute, young teenage girl with long sandy-brown hair with bright blue eyes staring back at me. I tried to reach for the mirror. Damn these restraints!

“Oh my God, Ashley!” I started to cry myself. “What’s happened to me? That just isn’t possible!”

Looking suddenly pissed, Ashley said, “The doctors have told you what’s happened to you. You’re a girl. One hundred percent female. They should have let you look in a mirror before now, so you’d believe. There have been government people here with that quack Picardo.” She paused a moment. Her eyes flashed very angrily when she continued, “And Child Protective Services has been here. In fact, one of them is just outside the door.”

Looking curiously at Ashley, I said, “Child…why? What’s their concern here? I’m no child, despite appearances. But I’m not interested in CPS or the government, whatever they want. I’m concerned about us. And will I continue to change?”

Ashley forced a smile and said, “No. You’re done changing. The docs say the agent you were given has completely left your system.” Looking suddenly extremely sad, Ashley reached out and ran her fingers through my now long hair. She said, “There’s not going to be an ‘us’ anymore. I had no idea what we were going to do. But like I said, it’s been taken out of my hands.”

Feeling a wave of anguish wash over me, I said, “What do you mean? Taken out of your hands?”

Ashley held up her hand in an obvious gesture to wait. She turned and walked the few steps to the door of my room. She opened and leaned out. I couldn’t hear what she said. A woman followed her back into my room.

Ashley mostly glared at this other woman. The woman smiled that same insincere smile all bureaucrats use as if they were all trained for it. The woman said, “Hello, Miss Randall. I am Ms. Mistvieh with Child Protective Services. I’ve been assigned to your case to ensure that you are taken care of and placed with a loving family.”

Scowling, I said, “What the fuck are you talking about? I already have a loving family!” I nodded my head in Ashley’s direction.

Ms. Mistvieh continued to smile as she said, “I’m afraid that’s not possible. This is the last time you’ll be seeing Ms. Lowell. As of this moment, she’s no longer a part of your life.”

Feeling shocked again, I said, “Lowell? That’s your maiden name, honey. What the hell is she talking about?”

Looking at the floor and not at me, Ashley said, “They have annulled our marriage and who you used to be is essentially dead.” Ashley looked at Ms. Mistvieh with knives in her eyes.

I shouted, “Look you stupid bitch! That’s my wife. I’m going home with her!”

Still smiling, never flinching, Ms Mistvieh said, “I’m sorry, Miss Randall. But that just isn’t possible. You’re underage. You two can’t be married.”

Scowling at the bitch from CPS, I said, “She can adopt me.”

Nodding, Ms. Mistvieh said, “Yes. Ms. Lowell and I have already discussed that. And while she’s admitted it might be fun for a while to teach you some aspects of being a girl, she really isn’t ready for a teenage daughter. And she’d most likely continue to see you as her husband still and not a daughter and that wouldn’t be fair to her, would it? She has needs and desires like any young woman her age that you can longer satisfy.”

Crying, I said, “But who will take care of you, babe?”

Crying loudly, Ashley said, “You can’t! I’m sorry, Josh. But I just couldn’t handle seeing you every day as a thirteen year old girl. I…I…I just can’t! I’ll be fine. Really. Dr. Picardo has paid all your medical bills. He’s set up a trust fund for you and he’s…well, I’ll just call it what it is. He’s basically paid me off so I won’t sue. And please, don’t call me ‘babe’ anymore. It just hurts too much.” Her voice trailed away.

Ms. Mistvieh said, “It’s really for the best, Miss Ran…”

“Oh shut the fuck up!” I screamed.

Still smiling, Ms. Mistvieh said, “Come, Ms. Lowell. Let’s let her rest. She’ll be fine. I’m really envious of her. She’s getting back fourteen years or so of her life.”

Ashley started to follow the CPS monster to the door. Just before she walked through the door, she turned towards me.

Looking very sad and weary, I heard Ashley’s voice for the very last time as she said, “Good-bye, Josh. I really hope you have a wonderful life. I love you.” She turned and walked forever out of my life.

A nurse immediately entered the room with a syringe and injected something into the hep-lock on my hand. And then, nothing.

 

*          *          *

 

“I’m not putting on those clothes!” I said firmly, pointing at a floral print dress and girl’s underwear laid out on top of my hospital bed. I’d been going stir-crazy in this hospital room. Almost two weeks have gone by since I woke up as a girl. I won’t say I’m used to being a girl, but I’m pretty much over it. I’ve played with myself and touched everything and even brought myself to orgasm. I decided I really like female orgasms.

“Yes you will, Katherine,” said a very non-smiling Ms. Mistvieh. “You’re meeting your new foster parents in my office in an hour.”

“You can’t make me!” I shouted. “I am a free man!”

Picking up the dress, Ms. Mistvieh sternly said, “Put on this dress. You are not a man and you are a ward of the state. Unless you want to be institutionalized, put this on.” She shook the dress in front of me.

I glared at her and said, “I have to put the underwear on first and I’m sure as hell not changing with you in the room! Is that how you get your jollies? Looking at naked teen girls?”

Scowling, Ms. Mistvieh said, “Look, Miss Randall. I’ve put up with way too much crap from you. I’ve worked hard to find you a foster that would be best for you. They are very nice people and they have an older teen daughter that can help you. I only want the best for you.”

“Horse-shit!” I said. “But right now, I’ll do anything to get out of this hospital room. Why won’t you tell me how Ashley’s doing? I’m worried sick about her.”

Ms. Mistvieh said, “We’ve been over this a dozen times, Katherine. She’s not part of your life any longer. She might as well not even exist as far as you’re concerned. It’s for your protection as well as hers that we not discuss her.”

I threw the dress on the floor and said defiantly, “Tell me how she is or I’m not getting dressed.”

Ms. Mistvieh smiled and said, “Okay. Okay. I’ll only say this. Ashley Lowell is very happy in a relationship with a new man. She asked me not to contact her again as she wants the door to this part of her life permanently closed. Happy now?”

I scowled and said, “No. Will you leave so I can change into these clothes?”

 

*          *          *

 

“Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins, this is Katherine Randall. Katherine, this is Steven and Yvonne Jenkins. And that is their daughter, Anna,” said Ms. Mistvieh wearing her biggest smile. She looked at me and nodded her head towards my new foster parents. “Go ahead, honey. Don’t be shy. Say hello.”

I swear, if I get called “honey”, “hun”, “sweetie”, “sweet girl”, or any of the other dozen or more cutesy endearments I’m going to snap someone’s neck. I gave a half-hearted wave and simply said, “Hi.”

Mrs. Jenkins held out her hand and I took it and let her shake it a couple of times. She said, “Welcome to our family, sweetie. We’ve been looking forward to meeting you ever since Ms. Mistvieh told us about you.”

Mr. Jenkins shook my hand next and said, “Glad to have you with us, Katherine. I know there’ll be a time of adjustment, but I think it’s going to be great. We already have your room ready. Ms. Mistvieh told us your favorite color was pink.”

I flashed Ms. Mistvieh a sickly sweet smile and said, “Oh she did? How thoughtful of her.” Ms. Mistvieh returned the same smile to me.

Anna said, “Despite what you might think, Mom and Dad are actually pretty cool. They’re strict on some things, but usually fair. It looks like you’ll be going to the same middle school I went to.”

Looking at Ms. Mistvieh I said, “Ah. I bet I can just CLEP all the way out of high school, right?”

Frowning, Ms. Mistvieh said, “No. You can’t. And you won’t. Oh! Before I forget to mention it. They will be bringing you up here on the last Friday of every month to monitor your condition.”

“Condition?” asked Mr. and Mrs. Jenkins simultaneously.

Ms. Mistvieh smiled and said, “Noting to worry about. She’s not contagious or anything like that. But the accident is what brought her to us in the first place. I can’t really say more than that.”

Mrs. Jenkins smiled broadly at me and said, “Well hon, you sweet girl. Let’s take you home.”

 

*          *          *

 

“Does he know he’s under surveillance?”

“No, general. That would defeat the purpose of the surveillance,” said Ms. Kelley turning away from looking at several monitors. She pushed her glasses back up her nose and said, “And General Brackett, she’s a girl. She can even get pregnant.”

General Brackett waved his hand dismissively and said, “I never know what to call these trannies, you know? Maybe I’ll just say ‘it’ to keep it simple.”

Ms. Kelley made a ‘hrmph’ sound and said, “General, don’t be such a Neanderthal. This girl we’re watching is not transsexual. She was a perfectly happy straight male who enjoyed fast cars, beautiful women and sports. Well, not to say some transsexuals don’t like those things too, but you get my point. It’ll be interesting to see how she adjusts to her new circumstance. And please, General. She’s a girl, not an it.”

General Brackett frowned and said, “You’re lucky you’re a civilian, sweet cheeks.”

Shaking her head, Ms. Kelley said, “Just what century are you from, General?”

Grinning, General Brackett said, “Look Miss Kelley. The military is only interested in this because she’s a national security risk. If word of this chemical agent and what this particular mutated batch was able to do, there could be serious consequences. I’m turning this op over to you so you can get your data. You have your fun watching her psychology, but report anything unusual, like if she continues to change or if her behavior becomes erratic.”

“Thank you, General Brackett,” said Ms. Kelley. “This is a low-key surveillance. It’s not like she’s not going to have any privacy. Our gender research just wants to see the subject’s reaction to her new stimuli. The last MRI we took before she was discharged from the hospital indicates that her brain has been completely re-wired as female. My guess is that within a month, possibly two, she’ll be completely acclimated to being female. We only have funding for six months anyway.”

General Brackett reached out to shake Ms. Kelley’s hand. He said, “Just remember your security clearances. The manner in how it…um…she was altered is classified.”

 

*          *          *

 

“You mean you’ve never had a boyfriend?”

I didn’t answer right away. I was looking around the room and complete disbelief. Holy shit that’s a lot of pink. Just sitting in this room would cure diarrhea.

“What? Oh. Um, no. I’ve never had a boyfriend,” I said to Anna. We were both sitting on the bed in my new room.

Anna looked at me curiously and said, “You don’t like boys? That’s okay if you don’t. I’m just curious.”

I started to give a flat “no I don’t like boys” answer. But I paused for a moment. I’ve noticed a lot of odd, small changes in how I think and perceive things. My color perception seemed keener. I’m less spatially aware of where I am. My moods change quicker. But do I like boys?

So I dodged the direct question and said, “I’m not a lesbian, okay? I just don’t want a boyfriend right now.”

“That’s cool,” said Anna. “I was totally boy crazy at your age. I probably still am, a little.” She grinned. “But I am shocked that your mother never talked to you about boys, or taught you how to wear make-up or do your hair.”

Anna grinned again and said, “But then, you really don’t want your mother teaching you about make-up. But really. You don’t know anything about what being a girl is all about. Mom has always stressed about how there’s nothing we can’t do that a boy can do. But to have fun being a girl too.”

“It’s fun being a girl?” I said. I thought how most girls I ever knew never liked getting covered head to toe in grease and grime to work on a car. Or go out for a Saturday morning scrimmage with your buddies. Or stay up all night playing poker with said buddies. Girls always seemed superficial; fussing with their nails and hair.

Anna laughed and said, “Oh…my…God! You have no idea, girl! You’ve missed out on so much! Look. I know it’s your family. Your parents. But Kat, you are so lucky to finally be away from them. You’re free now, Kat. No more abuse and neglect.”

I just stared at her. What in hell has Ms. Mistvieh told these people about my past. I know she had to make a bunch of shit up. No one would believe the truth. But my parents were actually nice, normal people.

My parents had been told I’m dead. That I’d died in a fire, burned beyond recognition. In actuality, they had buried some homeless guy who’d fried himself by climbing inside a power transformer in an attempt to get warm. I suddenly missed my Mom. I wanted desperately to call her and hear her voice once more. For me, it was more like they had died as I was never to contact them in any way. I couldn’t stop the sudden flow of tears.

Anna reached out to touch my shoulder. She said, “Oh, I’m so sorry, Katherine. I didn’t mean to bring up bad memories.” She hugged me and said, “I’m here for you, girl. I’m happy to be you big sister. God! Those people should be in jail or something.”

Somebody should be in jail, I thought as I wiped the tears from my eyes. And that somebody’s name rhymes with Dr. Picardo. It burns me up thinking that my life has been completely uprooted and altered forever because of him. I don’t know how much, but the government paid him a shit-load of money for the chemical agent he used on me. Just the batch that he administered to me.

I forced a smile and said, “Thanks Anna. I can tell you’re going to be good big sister. But right now I just want to be left alone for a bit.”

Anna smiled at me and said, “I understand. I should get started on my homework. See ya.”

“See ya,” I said with a half-hearted wave. I just sat there on the bed and stared at the door after she’d closed it. I looked around my room. Again I thought how I’d never seen so much pink in my life. I’ll have to fix that by putting up a few boy-band posters. I rolled my eyes at that thought in my head. I’m in my room. My room. I’ve lost my wife, my job, such as it was, my home, my car…oh my God…what happened to my beautiful black, Shelby Cobra Mustang? I laughed. I actually had had a real job when I bought that. Sheesh, how times really suck these days.

I got off the bed and walked over to the closet. Inside I found a huge variety of jeans, skirts, dresses, and various tops. There were twelve pairs of shoes. I don’t think I’ve owned twelve pairs of shoes in my entire life combined. I suspect much of what was in the closet were hand-me-downs from Anna.

In the dresser was pretty much what I expected. Several pairs of bras and a dozen or so pairs of panties. There were two sets of pajamas and a bunch of t-shirts. On top of the dresser was mounted a large mirror.

Earlier, Anna had shown me which cosmetics in the bathroom were hers and which ones were mine. I had a brand new hair brush and toothbrush. Mute symbols of my new life.

There was a thirty-two inch flat screen TV with a cable box. There was a desk with a notebook computer laying on it. And a phone.

I just stood there a moment, looking at the phone. I wondered if Ashley still had the same cell phone number? I picked up the receiver and listened to the dial tone for a few moments. I put the handset back on the cradle, but left my hand on the handset. On sudden impulse, I picked up the handset again and dialed Ashley’s number.

My pulse raced and I felt a chill as the phone rang. It was stupid to call her.

“Hello?”

My heart ached worse than it ever had upon hearing that beautiful voice of Ashley. I froze. I couldn’t speak. What was I going to say? What could I say? She had a new boyfriend. I was a thirteen year old girl. She wasn’t my wife any more. I was just a memory.

“Hello!”

I clinched my eyes closed and gritted my teeth. I hung up the phone and in a fit of teen girl angst; I tossed myself on my bed and cried.

 

*          *          *

 

“Thank you, Miss Randall,” said the math teacher after giving him a note admitting me to his class. “For now, just pick any empty desk and sit down.”

I looked around and the small sea of faces all staring at me. Girls and boys both were looking at me – evaluating me. Anna had dressed me in a short denim skirt and a t-shirt. She used some silly pink plastic do-dads to hold my hair in place. She’d helped me with my make-up. I unequivocally hate make-up.

It felt weird seeing girls look at as if they were sizing up the new competition. It felt even more weird seeing boys stare at me. Especially since I knew what was going on inside their dirty little minds.

As I started to place my notebook down on the first empty desk near me, the girl sitting at the desk behind it gave me a dirty look and said in a nasty whisper, “You can’t sit there.” The girl’s hair was a bit shaggy and unkempt. She had a few piercings and wore black nail polish.

I let my books drop on the desk with a loud plop. Trying to look bored, I just stared at her and said, “Are you fucking shitting me?”

The teacher looked up, making no move to stand, said, “Rachel, leave the new student alone, please?”

Pointing a finger at me and snarling in a low tone, Rachel said, “You don’t want to fuck with me, little princess.”

I grabbed her finger and bent it quickly to almost the breaking point and said in a whisper as I slid into my chair, “Listen, bitch. After what I’ve just gone through, nothing scares me. Especially worthless twats like you.” I have no idea where all this bravado came from all of a sudden. Well, even as a guy, though I wasn’t a tough guy, I usually stood my ground. It was bad enough that I was going to have to spend the rest of my life as a girl. I sure as hell wasn’t going to make it worse by putting up with a stupid bully.

Still tightly holding her finger, I said, “Are we clear?”

When Rachel just scowled and didn’t say anything, I forced her finger a bit further back. She flinched and said, “We’re clear. Stop.” Several girls looked over at us and smiled. One girl gave me a thumbs up. I released her finger and turned around to face the front of the classroom.

When the class was over and we were exiting the room, the girl that had given me the thumbs up walked up to me and said, “You’re my hero!” I just smiled at her.

A boy who had been looking at me all class walked up to me after I had left the room and was trying to find my next class and said, “Hey. You’re my hero too. You’re cool. Nobody…and I mean nobody has ever stood up to Rat-chel. What’s your name again?”

I glanced over at him and said, “Katherine. With a ‘K’.”

The boy smiled and said, “Nice name. I’m Lucas. What do your friends call you?”

I was trying to position the map I had of the school so I could figure out where my next class was. I said, “You can call me Katherine.”

“Hah. You’re funny too,” said Lucas.

I pointed to my schedule and said, “Do you know where that room is?”

Lucas grinned from ear to ear and said, “Sure! I have time. I’ll show you.”

“Thanks,” I said to Lucas. He turned down a hall and I followed him.

While following Lucas, I glanced down at my schedule and at the list of classes. I really detested having to take school again. I really didn’t care for it the first time around. The second time around was even worse because I was now a girl. The old saying “If I only knew then what I know now…” really applies to me now.

“Well, here’s your next class,” said Lucas with a grin. “Hey, maybe I’ll see you at lunch?”

I smiled and said, “Not if I see you first. Thanks for showing me where my class is.”

The class and the next one went by uneventfully. No more bullies thus far.

I’d gotten over the shock of being a girl; no longer having a penis, having boobs and having to wear different clothes. Although I still feel funny wearing a skirt or a dress. But I still feel extremely awkward going into a women’s restroom. I have this irrational fear of suddenly turning back into a guy the moment I enter a crowded restroom full of females.

The morning seemed overly long, but the bell for lunch finally rang. I just followed the mob to the cafeteria. I got some mystery meat and what I assumed was mashed potatoes and started to look for some place to sit down. I was just going to sit by myself and try to gather my thoughts.

“Katherine!” called a girl’s voice. “Over here! Sit with us!” It was the girl from my Math class, the one with the bully who had said I was her hero.

I smiled and set my tray down next to her. I hope this doesn’t become a habit. I’ve never been one for idle chit-chat, much less girl talk.

The girl smiled brightly and said as I sat down, “Everyone, this is Katherine. She’s new here today. You won’t believe what she did in Mr. Cavanaugh’s math class.”

After waiting for several moments to pass, one of the girls at the table said, “Well, Julie? Are you going to tell us?”

Julie’s face lit up and said, “It was sooo cool! She not only stood up to that bully bitch Rachel, I think she put the fear of God into her as well.”

I said, “It really wasn’t that big of a deal…”

Julie said, “That’s because you’re new here and don’t know what a horrible ass she’s been.”

I said, “To be honest, I’m worried about her coming back at me.”

We then engaged in what my other self would have called mindless chatter. The ebb and flow of the conversation would have been hard for me to follow before, but I managed to keep up somehow. The topics ran from discussing other girls, and which guy was considered really hot this week. I had no idea just how catty girls could be. There was the girl whose hair was always a rats nest, another girl who always dressed frumpy, the girl who always looked so ghetto, and the girl who looked as if she put her make-up on with a broom.

When lunch was finally over and we all started to get up to return to class, I saw Lucas walking nervously towards us. I groaned to myself. Why do I keep getting pestered?

As he walked up to me, I noticed several people watching him. To me he said, “Can I ask you a question, Katherine?”

I shrugged and said, “Well, sure. You can ask.”

He looked nervously down at his feet and then back to me. A really gorgeous boy (did I just think that?) stepped behind Lucas and smirked at him. He was of course the big man on campus and the big football star. I kept looking at him, and not Lucas. Not knowing anyone was behind him to make fun of him, Lucas said, “W…would you like to go to a movie Friday?”

The football jock pushed Lucas to one side and said, “Of course she would! Just not with you, squirt! Hey babe. My name’s Parker. You’ve probably heard of me. I couldn’t help noticing you noticing, if you know what I mean. Tell you what, babe. Since you’re the new hottie at school, I’m going to give you an exclusive offer. Dinner at an exclusive little restaurant, a movie and the best part, a ride on the strip with yours truly. Play your cards right, and I might just add you to my date rotation. What do you say?”

Some boy with heavy sarcasm said, “Yeah…a ride on the strip…if his mom bought gas for her minivan.” There was a trickle of laughter.

I frowned. Sheesh. The last thing I wanted was to date someone. I’m still trying to get this whole girl thing worked out. Go on a date? No way in hell. And certainly not with this arrogant piece of shit. I said, “Sounds tempting, but no thanks.”

Behind me, Julie gasped and said, “You just turned down Parker? He’s the most popular boy in school and really hot. Don’t you like boys?”

“Of course I like boys!” Did that just come out of my mouth? I said, “It’s just that I’m trying to work stuff out.”

Parker said, “Hey, I know it can be a little overwhelming at first. So I’ll ask again. What do you say?”

I smiled sweetly at Parker and said, “Sure. I’ll go on a date. Lucas! What time are you picking me up?”

Lucas had been slowly skulking away. He turned around and said, “What? Look. I’m tired of being made fun of. I thought you were different.”

I moved past Parker and said to Lucas, “I’m not making fun of you. I’m accepting your invitation.” Yeah, I was accepting Lucas’ invitation more to spite Parker, but to be honest, Lucas was cute. He just needed a confidence transplant. He was me when I was in middle school.

“Serious?” he said.

I laughed and said, “Yes, I’m serious. Here.” I pulled his notebook from his grasp, turned to a blank sheet of notebook paper and wrote my phone number on it. I said, “Here’s my phone number. Call me later, okay?” I flashed a smile at him and he smiled nervously back.

Lucas said, “Thanks! I will!”

Parker said, “You’re blowing your chance to hang out with the cool crowd, bitch. I mean, I *am* the cool crowd around here.”

I felt tired. I said, “None of that interested me the last time I was in middle school.” Everyone just gave me a strange look. I said, “That came out wrong. I meant to say at the other middle school I went to.”

 

*          *          *

 

“Anything to report this week, Miss Kelly?” asked General Brackett.

Ms. Kelly turned away from her monitor to face the general. She grinned as she said, “It’s so cute, general. She has a date this Friday night. With a boy. She’s resisting, but social pressures and her own biology is working against her.”

The general shrugged. He said, “Is that good or bad?”

“Well, if she keeps trying to think and act like a twenty-seven year old man, she’s setting herself up for a miserable life,” said Ms. Kelly, glancing back at the monitor. “She’s given in to so many things and she’s not even aware of it! It’s fascinating to watch.”

“Anything useful from a military viewpoint?” asked General Brackett.

Smirking, Ms. Kelly said, “Only if you want to turn your opponents into angst filled teen girls.”

Nodding, General Brackett said, “In some applications, that might be useful. Carry on…”

 

*          *          *

 

“You’ve never been on a date before? Seriously?” asked an incredulous Anna. I have been on dates before, to be sure. But not on this side.

“Is that a crime?” I asked.

Anna laughed and said, “No. And I knew some other girls your age who didn’t date. But you’re so pretty, I’m just surprised no boy has asked you out before.”

I shrugged and said, “Honestly. No boy has ever asked me out for a date before.” That was the first one hundred percent honest thing I’ve been able to say since joining this foster family.

Anna smiled and said, “Well, it’s a good thing you have me here to help you get ready. Look. I know make-up isn’t your favorite thing, but you want to look nice for your date, even if he is a bit of a nerd. Just relax. He’s taking you to a movie; not marrying you.”

“I know. I know. Just the thought of being with a boy is a bit scary to me,” I said as Anna started smoothing foundation on my face. And ain’t that the truth! This time it’s just a movie. Next time maybe a meal with the movie and his anticipation of a kiss. And before you know it, some guy is poking his penis at you. Oh my God…could I handle that situation? I realistically could no longer deny my attraction to boys. But right now, I just can’t deal with the fact they have a penis.

As she started to apply the eyeliner, Anna said, “Hold still. I don’t know if I should tell you this or not. But, Mom and Dad really like you. They’re trying to see if they can just adopt you outright instead of just being fosters. They’ll talk to you first, of course. But they want this to be your forever home.”

Shocked, I said, “Really? They want to keep me, knowing that I’m in a witness protection program after a few murders during bank robberies and being wanted in ten states?”

Anna stepped back, rolled her eyes and gave me that “cut the bullshit” expression.

I shrugged and said, “Okay. Nine states.” I have no idea what that CPS bitch Ms. Mistvieh told them about my personal history, but from what I’ve managed to pick up, it’d probably make a great Liam Neeson movie.

Anna just grinned as she finished applying the eyeliner and said, “Well, your desperado days are far behind you now, girl. I hope Mom and Dad get approved and I hope you agree. I love having a little sister.”

I smiled at Anna and said, “I love having a big sister.” That was the second completely honest thing I’ve said.

Anna hugged me and then said, “We need to finish your make-up. Your boyfriend will be here soon to pick you up.”

I frowned and said, “He’s not my boyfriend.”

Anna just grinned and said, “He is tonight.”

 

*          *          *

 

“How did you like the movie?” asked Lucas as we sat on a metal bench outside the mall as we waited for his mother to come pick us up.

“I liked it,” I said. It was another one in a long line of Battle Bots movies where after the first one, the producers had decided that an actual story should take a back seat to eye candy. But the main actor was simply gorgeous, and I’m very comfortable saying that now, so it wasn’t a total wash. And yes, there’s still just enough boyish geek in me to enjoy the bot battle scenes.

On the bench, I sat up against the arm rest, and while Lucas had plenty of room on his side, he chose to sit right next to me where our legs were touching. All during the movie, he kept trying to put his arm behind me, and I’d have to move it. Or he’d put his hand on my leg and I’d have to move it. Other than that, Lucas is a sweet boy, but I was still deathly afraid that in the darkened theater he was going to pull out his penis. I’m sure Parker would have.

Staring at the concrete at our feet, Lucas said, “I…I um, enjoyed your company, Katherine. Um, maybe, ah, maybe we…we can do this um again? You know…sometime?”

I knew it. Here it comes. The dinners, the kissing, the penises…

I said, “I like you, Lucas. I enjoyed your company too. But, I have so many things I’m trying to work out. There are issues I’m trying to resolve. You know?” How can I forget I was a man not too long ago. A man with a gorgeous wife who meant the world to me. And how I was forced, beyond my control, to become a girl. And everything that means. And how I can I possibly fit in to the world anymore? The weight on my shoulders was staggering.

Hunching his shoulders, Lucas said, “What kind of issues?”

I stared at my feet for several long moments with my hands clasped in front of me. I glanced over at Lucas who was looking earnestly at me. I said, “Well, there’s the…um…and then there’s that other thing and um, well, that thing that I just can’t um…”

And like a bolt, it hit me. I hesitated for a second and said, “Fuck it.” I leaned over and kissed Lucas.

Lucas looked more surprised than anything, but he smiled. In a whisper, I said, “None of those things matter anymore.”

I kissed Lucas again. Longer this time.

 

*          *          *

 

The End



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