A Change Of Perspective Part 3 of 11

A Change of Perspective

by Optimizer

Part 3

~~~~~

Erica let out an exhausted sigh as she walked out of the restaurant where she worked. Her schedule had been rearranged to make room for cheerleading; late nights on Fridays were the usual now. And she had a morning practice tomorrow.

Hostessing wasn't as physically demanding as bussing or waitressing, but was draining anyway. She had to be friendly and courteous to everyone, no matter how they treated her, and it had forced her to become a lot better at makeup. And one of the waitresses that Eric had been friendly with now treated her very coldly. Eventually she'd gathered that the girl had hoped to be made a hostess but Erica's arrival had blocked that. Well, I am prettier than her, Erica thought, a little ashamed of how bitchy that sounded. But it was true.

She considered that for a moment, the feelings that knowledge evoked. There was satisfaction in it, a little like when Eric had been bigger or tougher or more skilled than another boy. But Eric hadn't been a bully, and she didn't want to be the female equivalent. Like Carrie. She resolved to try being nicer to Gretchen, and see if she could make a friend out of this enemy, at least.

Thus occupied, she failed to notice the guy lounging on the car parked next to her Mom's until she was almost on top of him. She'd made sure to park under a light (boys didn't think about things like that) and he was clearly watching her approach. A young man, college age... but he didn't look like college material. A sleeveless "wife-beater" tee exposed several tattoos and his close-cropped hair didn't hide the piercing in his eyebrow. He'd been one of her last customers of the night, part of a posse of similar guys. Her eyes darted about, but there was no sign of any of his crew nearby.

He hopped off the hood of his car. "Hey, baby! You lookin' fine!"

I should have some mace in my purse, she thought. "Thanks." She moved to the side, heading for her car.

"Why you in a big hurry? It's Friday night, babe, you should be out dancin'!"

"I'm just really tired." She put a hand in her purse, feeling for her keys. "I've gotta get home."

He didn't get in her way, and he stayed at the front of the car as she began to open it, but he was clearly disappointed. "Come on, chica, lemme give ya my digits. Call me when you get changed, I pick you up." He flashed what he clearly intended to be a winning smile. "You look like you need some fun."

"Not tonight, thanks." She got into the car swiftly and closed the door. The locks plunged down as she started the engine, and she relaxed a little. Her disappointed would-be swain went back to his car as she pulled away.

He probably hadn't even realized that he might scare her. Boys didn't usually understand how threatening they could come across. The ones who wouldn't dream of hurting a girl were often among the worst, simply because it didn't occur to them that they could be perceived as dangerous. But even Erica wasn't a mind-reader yet. A girl had to be cautious.

Now that she was on her way home - and could see he wasn't following her - she could settle down a little. It was kinda neat that a guy would let his buddies go on ahead, and wait for her shift to be over, just to ask her out. With the perspective from 'Eric', she knew she was pretty. But it was unexpectedly nice to get some confirmation from guys besides him...

~~~~~

The first few times she'd gone outside in a cheerleader uniform, she'd been intensely self-conscious. It had felt like all eyes were on her. She'd grown accustomed to wearing it by now - comfortable, even. Strolling through a crowded waterpark in a bikini brought the sensation back in full measure. Indeed, amplified.

Trahn and the rest showed no such concern, so she worked to ignore the feeling. Really, she wasn't drawing any more attention than could be expected. Of course, a gaggle of pretty girls in tight swimsuits could expect to attract a fair amount of attention.

For example, from the four boys who were following them in line for the big raft ride. The ones who were eager to strike up a conversation.

They succeeded. The boys were from far enough south that their school didn't even play against the girls'. They claimed not to be surprised the girls were cheerleaders, and avowed that no one at their school was remotely as hot. Erica's friends seemed to eat it up.

They moved as a group from the multiperson rafts to the singles, and raced down. Then to the lazy river, where they all spent time flipping each other's tubes over. She was glad she'd brought the strap to hold her glasses on. It looked kinda dorky, but she didn't want to lose a contact.

Idly, Erica wondered what Aaron and Kyle and the rest of that crew would think of the girls' flirting. Of course, these days 'boyfriends' and 'girlfriends' were the exception rather than the norm. Very often it was hard for anyone to determine if they were in a relationship. Not that there was much chance of anything serious happening; Trahn and the rest weren't sluts or anything. On the other hand, spending some time with cute boys was just the sort of thing Trahn and Melanie and Shianti would enjoy. And the boys could always hope.

Eric would have.

Erica couldn't come off as totally uninterested. She had to play along. As the afternoon progressed, things shook themselves out. The groups sorted into informal couples. Unsurprisingly, the least ardent pursuer wound up with the least ardent pursuee. Erica was left with Silas. A blond, skinny young man.

He bought her an Icee at the concession stand, following the lead of the other guys. She thanked him and sipped her drink, making polite noises as he strove to make conversation.

They didn't have a lot in common. His sport was tennis. He wasn't a big gamer - though neither was she, anymore. They didn't go for the same kind of music. But then they hit on movies. Erica surprised him with her knowledge of obscure horror and sci-fi flicks.

Surprised - and, she suddenly grasped, intrigued. He was smiling more, going for more eye contact. Oh, Goddess, how to handle this? He seemed a decent enough boy, and not ugly. Almost gentlemanly.

She finished her drink in one long gulp. Ignoring the incipient brain-freeze, she declared to the lounging teens, "Hey, we didn't come here to talk, we came here to get wet, right?" An instant later, she realized how those words could be twisted.

It was not lost on the crowd; they all laughed. "Bite me. I meant I want to hit the rides!" Sometimes it was irritating how girls couldn't act too angry.

The group got up and moved toward the towering slides readily enough. They hit the singles this time, organizing a set of boys-vs-girls races. After the long line on the stairs, she and Silas went to separate tubes. She grabbed the bar and waited.

"One, two, three, go!" he shouted; she shoved herself down the tube, racing in mirror-image. She took a bad tumble off the end of the slide, though, bumping her hand painfully.

She popped up to the surface and swam to the edge. Silas was already climbing up from the water. As she pulled herself out, she looked at her throbbing fingers.

"Oh, fuck!" Erica cried. "I broke a nail!" Silas didn't manage to fully suppress a snort of amusement. She glared at him.

Boys laughed at how girls pampered their hands. However, they seldom forked out upwards of $30 on a manicure. How could she not bemoan the waste of time and money involved?

She wasn't really hurt, though, so they waited for Shianti and her counterpart to emerge, shouting and/or squealing, from the tubes.

After a while they'd wound up in the wave pool, which was turned off for the moment. Trahn and Melanie were wrestling with each other, atop the shoulders of a pair of boys. Presently Trahn fell into the water.

Melanie let out a triumphant cry. "Come on, Erica, bet I can take you, too!"

She looked at Silas, who shrugged and smiled. "They're going down," he said.

So Erica found herself astride Silas, approaching Mel and her steed. Some part of her was surprised at how even a not-particularly-muscular boy could carry her; a corner of her subconscious still thought she weighed as much as Eric.

It was unexpectedly unsettling, being in such close physical contact with a boy. Aside from brushing encounters in hallways, she hadn't touched a male since her Transformation. She was distractingly aware that her crotch was pressed up against the back of his neck.

It didn't mean anything that her nipples were hard. She was excited by the wresting, and her bikini was wet, that was all. It wasn't like she was actually turned on or anything.

The battle was joined. She grabbed Mel's arms, and they jerked and yanked at each other, trying to knock their opponent off-balance.

She tried a fake-out, pulling Mel one way, and then, when the girl leaned against the force, pushing hard. Mel overcorrected and fell burbling into the water.

"Whooo!" she yelled, along with Silas. He turned his head up against her belly and grinned.

She smiled back, sharing their triumph. Then, suddenly, she looked away. Guys always read more into a smile than girls meant. And she hadn't meant... anything... by that smile. It had just sort of happened.

He was nice, and might be chill to hang with. There wasn't - would never be - a spark of romance, though. So she reminded herself, firmly, as she dismounted.

Silas' smile was still there, but it had gone a bit crooked. She could see that he knew. Knew he wasn't going to get very far with her. To her mild surprise, he was taking it well enough. He sure wasn't gay - not the way his eyes moved - but she revised her estimates. Truly gentlemanly, nothing 'almost' about it.

They did another round of rides, got some food, and then it was time to head for home. Trahn's suitor followed them all the way to the door of the women's changing area, pressing for a phone number or an email.

Sheltered from the boys, they changed.

"Mike's actually pretty hot. Maybe I should let him friend me. Give Aaron something to worry about." Trahn mused.

"Did you see the way Silas was following Erica around?" Shianti glanced her way. "Yo, you should totally give him your number. He'd be your own little lapdog."

"With his tongue hanging out!" Mel giggled.

"Jeez, guys, quit it!" Erica said, pulling on her top. "Not gonna happen."

"For fuck's sake, Erica, I didn't say you were gonna blow him. But c'mon, he seemed actually nice, y'know?"

"OK, fine, he was kinda nice." At Mel's eye-roll, she added, "And cute. Happy now?"

"That's, like, only the second boy she ever called cute! Better quit, Mel, or she'll, like, have a stroke or something." Shianti was laughing.

Erica turned up her nose and looked away. It would've worked better if she hadn't been blushing a little. She turned her face away to stow her glasses and put in her contacts.

On the way out of the lockers, she suddenly realized she hadn't snuck even one peek at her friends while they'd been changing. Weird, she thought.

The boys had already changed, of course. Simpler clothes, quicker bathroom stops. Erica kind of missed that, a little. They came over and accompanied the girls out to the parking lot.

They said their goodbyes. Trahn actually did end up letting Mike friend her. As the pair bent over the Facebook apps on their phones, Silas approached Erica. "Hey, wanna check out a movie sometime?"

Erica struggled to come up with a way to let him down easy. "I... That, uh, sounds tight, but..."

He didn't leave her floundering. "Oh, well." He smiled, a shade wanly, and shrugged. "Had to try."

Before she could think herself out of the impulse, she leaned in and gave him a quick peck on the cheek. "I had fun today, Silas. Thank you." Amazed at herself, she turned and walked quickly to their car and hopped in, mostly to make sure no other impulses happened.

She didn't talk much on the drive back. She was too preoccupied. For some reason, she kept thinking about that unplanned kiss.

~~~~~

She hissed through her teeth as she pulled the pants up her legs.

Eric never had occasion to learn how unwise it was to try to squeeze freshly-shaved legs into tight jeans. It felt like sandpaper on raw skin.

It was kind of funny - boys had tight bodies and wore loose clothes. Girls had soft bodies and wore tight clothes. Everything was cut to be more form-fitting, and nothing more so than jeans. There was a sweet spot; right after shaving, jeans were a torture. Once stubble started coming in, they were torture again. The window was only a few days before she'd have to shave her legs again.

But she knew Trahn and the others would be wearing jeans today, and she didn't want to stand out with a skirt or leggings. Clothing had major social implications for girls. Even Eric had noticed, sort of, how girls tended to dress like their friends. He'd never suspected just how much it was like gang colors.

Another thing Eric had somehow never learned about putting on tight jeans - the 'stretch dance'. She squatted, stood, and squatted again. She grabbed an ankle and pulled her foot up to flex her right knee, then her left. Now the denim was stretched out a little and she'd actually be able to walk down the stairs.

She checked herself out in the mirror, frowned, swapped out her blouse, evaluated, and switched back. A few minutes of makeup work and she raced down to grab her backpack and dash for the bus. Mornings were a lot more stressful as a girl sometimes. Or at least more involved.

~~~~~

One night Miranda took Haylie out to see a movie, just the two of them. When Erica went up to her room, she found a small, gift-wrapped package on the bed. Opening it apprehensively - the last time this had happened, her entire life had been turned inside out - she found a present from her Mother even more surreal than lingerie.

The vibrator was modestly-sized and bright pink. For the longest time she sat there, having no clue what to do with it. Or rather, she had plenty of ideas about what she could do with it - she was just unsure about whether she should.

Her own fingers felt amazing inside herself. Her Mother's, possibly even better. (And wasn't it strange that she took that thought almost in stride.) But this was so... phallic. Vaginas were built to accommodate that sort of shape... and that had implications she wasn't sure she wanted to consider. A flash of Silas' face came to mind; she dismissed it firmly.

She switched it on. It buzzed quietly, tingling in her hand. It felt a little like the electric razor Eric had used. Sort of. She flicked it off and sat there, conflicted, for what felt like a long time. Finally, she gathered her determination. So many other things about girlhood had proven to be more enjoyable, or at least less fearsome, than she'd anticipated. Why stop now?

Erica slipped off her skirt and panties in one motion, then unbuttoned her blouse. Eric would have tossed the clothes on the floor, she reflected, but she laid them over her chair; no sense getting them wrinkled. She unhooked her bra and set it on top of the pile. Then she laid back on the bed, picked up the toy, and with a deep breath, flicked it back on.

Familiarity hadn't bred contempt for her new body by any means, but it had taken the edge off its ability to arouse her. She still liked looking at women's bodies, but by now she wasn't usually excited simply by the thought of being one or the sight of her own form. Holding the 'personal massager', though, reawakened that sensation of the exotic. Eric simply hadn't been equipped to really enjoy this... but she was Erica now.

Curious, she brought her buzzing hand to a nipple. Her breath hissed in between her teeth, her body stiffening; it felt good, but intense. She eased off, but she could feel herself getting wet - this thing had possibilities. As she brushed her fingertips along her vulva, the hand with the toy came to rest on her belly; she almost giggled, it tickled so. After a time, she lifted it to her breast again. By now everything was more prepared and the tickling of her nipple was quite erotic.

She ran a finger between her lips: not quite ready. Patience was a virtue when dealing with female parts. She played gently with her clit and used the vibrator on her other breast. Restraint didn't need to be maintained for long; soon she brought her humming hand to replace the other at her crotch.

Cautious nonetheless, she laid the shaft lengthwise along the vulva; the shivering even there was pleasant, and fostered anticipation. Experimentally, she tried the tip against her clit, knowing what would happen. Sure enough, it made her twitch and yipe and she pulled back immediately, but as a quick tease it was delightful. Her mind flashed a picture of doing that to Miranda, but she tried to dispel the image by focusing on the moment.

One thing left to do. The tip moved down, gently parted her lips, the now-plentiful lubrication letting it slip easily in. In... deeper... she cried out, feeling as though the vibration was shaking her whole body. It was fun on the way out too, but then she could push it in again...

Goddess, it was good! She moved it out and in, faster and faster, with constantly growing enthusiasm, bucking her hips on each stroke. No need for restraint now!

Or so she thought. In that spirit, she got carried away and ended up thrusting a bit too deeply. Erica yelped in pain as the tip of the shaft impacted her cervix. She had to stop briefly to recover her composure and enthusiasm. Still, a little speedbump could hardly dissuade her for long.

As she resumed pumping the vibrator one-handed - with due diligence - she brought the fingers of her other hand to bear on her clit, rubbing furiously. At the time she was quite beyond appreciating her Mother's foresight, but looking back later she was grateful to have had the house to herself. Even with the anti-eavesdropping spell, the walls must have rattled with her screams. Repeatedly; the time just flew by.

Much panting and resting followed. Her ears were ringing... no, wait, that was the phone. She fumbled for a few seconds, coordination shot, before she got it. "Hello?" she breathed.

"Hey, honey, we're on our way home," Miranda said brightly. "How did you hold up without us?" A snigger. "Sounds like you had fun, too."

"Bite me," Erica growled, struggling to regulate her gasps.

"Don't tempt me, young lady!"

Erica didn't bring it out with her Mother the next night. She just didn't think she could deal with that yet, if ever.

Miranda wasn't worried. The Transition moved at its own pace, and she was just planting seeds.

~~~~~

Trahn, already held in the air, leaped higher. Erica and Melanie made a swift basket with their arms and caught Trahn as she descended. They flipped her forward, turned away from each other, arms out an angle, and held the pose. The bleachers erupted with applause.

The cheerleaders collected their pom-poms and marched in a line to one side of the gymnasium. The men's coach took the microphone and, after a quick thank-you to the squad, commenced his speech about the upcoming weekend's game. Erica still thought pep rallies were a little silly, but she had a lot more respect for the effort and planning they took to organize.

Once they'd taken up their position by the wall, she snuck a quick wave to Kristina and Linda, sitting together in the bleachers. They smiled and waved back. When Erica turned away, though, her nearby squadmates were frowning.

"Why do you even hang with those losers anyway?" Melanie asked bluntly, if under her breath.

Erica was shocked. After a moment, she managed, "They're not losers. They're sweet, and smart..."

Shianti snickered. "Getting preggers ain't so smart."

Trahn, as was her wont, took charge. "Mel, Shianti, chill," she hissed. "You know Erica's a brain. She's gotta have a few nerds to hang with." As diplomacy went, it was a little wanting, but Erica decided to accept it. Besides, she'd become acquainted with just how casually vicious girls could be, especially when boys weren't listening.

"You're coming to the Halloween party, right?" Trahn said, making it almost a demand.

"You bet!" Erica said back, feigning confidence she didn't feel.

~~~~~

"What the fuck am I gonna wear?" she asked herself quietly.

Not quietly enough. "Language, dear," Miranda chided, peeking past the door.

"Moooom! Don't sneak up on me!"

Miranda stepped in. "If you want privacy, close your door all the way."

But they both were smiling. Erica's smile faded first. Her Mother noticed, and asked, "Where are you going? Do you want some suggestions?"

Erica shook her head. "Not that kind of outfit. I need a costume for the team Halloween party."

"Ah. I see."

"I can't not go. It'd be a social disaster." She pouted, very naturally. "It's so much more complicated for girls. Or maybe it's just for me."

Miranda suppressed her smile at her daughter's very feminine social consciousness. Instead, she advised. "As a personal favor to me - and your Transition - please, no dressing up as a boy."

Erica flipped her hair dismissively. "I already figured that." She shrugged. "I don't wanna suggest anything, y'know, masculine."

"I... strongly doubt anyone could ever think you were a boy. Not anymore."

"Thanks, I guess. But that's not what I'm worried about." She was frowning now. "I'm more worried about people guessing I'm a lesbian. Dressing like a guy doesn't seem, y'know, super-smart."

"Hmmm." Miranda carefully didn't commit to anything in regards to Erica's sexuality. "In any case... what are you thinking of?"

"I dunno!" she wailed. "A lot of girls dress kinda... you know."

Miranda cocked her head, mock-puzzled. "'Kinda' how?"

"You know. All... uh... 'reputationally problematic'."

"Oh! You mean slutty!" Miranda smiled wickedly. "You could do that very well if you chose," she teased.

"Not gonna happen." Erica didn't elaborate, because she didn't want to elaborate. She'd fantasized about going forth in a few of the ensembles she'd played with in her bedroom, sure. Doing so in reality was a whole different concept. Indeed, the fact that it was tempting became a strong argument against it. Getting too turned on might overly challenge her self-control.

Miranda didn't press. "I suppose you could go in the other direction. Something sweet, like a princess or a fairy or whatnot."

"Mooooom! I'm a senior in high school!" Miranda felt mixed exasperation and admiration at how perfectly Erica had captured teenage girl drama.

"Well, do you have any ideas?"

"I'm thinking maybe, like, hippie chick, zombie, something funny like that. I was looking at video game characters, but, uh... most of them are kinda in the 'slutty' category." She shrugged. "I'd dress up like Chell, or maybe a FemShep, but I don't have time to make a decent portal gun or anything." She frowned thoughtfully. "Maybe Alice... nah, too much sewing."

"I... suppose I'll have to take your word for that," Miranda said, lips quirked.

~~~~~

In the end, she went for safety in numbers. She and Trahn and Melanie and Shianti joined in a theme, all portraying characters from 'Vocal Adrenaline' (the arch-rival choir on 'Glee'). She'd had her doubts, but quite a few people caught the reference.

The parents whose house was hosting the party weren't impressively watchful, and a couple bottles of liquor were smuggled in.

She passed on the alcohol. A little of her resolve was guilt. But she knew that, alone, probably wouldn't have let her resist the peer pressure. No, her reluctance stemmed almost entirely from the fear that, drunk, she'd say or do something that would reveal her sexual proclivities if not her true former nature.

Parties - at least, these sorts of parties - were different now. Eric had been to a handful; that night with Ashley had been one. Guys talked and hung out, but were ever on the alert for an opening, some way to seize the attention of some girl. Erica's main goal was to avoid getting seized upon. She worked hard to never be alone, to always have a girlfriend handy. Safety in numbers again.

Of course, her girlfriends didn't always cooperate. They worked to either hold or attract the attention of particular boys. Trahn always had one eye out for Aaron, Shianti and Isaiah slipped off to a quiet corner before long, and Melanie - being recently detached - had her eyes fixed firmly on Fredrico. Erica was perforce dragged along into his orbit. And thus, his friends'.

She wound up getting moved on by a guy named Javier. He was known as a bit of a player - charming, and handsome. Maybe he viewed her as a challenge. She wished she could let him know he was wasting his time. At least she managed to direct the conversation in non-romantic directions. Before long, they were having a friendly debate about the merits of console and PC gaming.

"Sure, a Playstation or an Xbox is easier," she said. "But a PC can be upgraded. I'm on my second video card, I'm good for two more years, easy."

Javier smiled. Erica could see why he usually managed to have a girlfriend, even with the overdone afro wig he had on. His costume was a basketball player - his shorts actually showed off his legs well. It was kind of a joke, his buddy Leon was black, and they'd traded stereotypes. Leon was wearing a Mariachi player costume.

"But it costs so much. My boy Freddy here dropped almost a grand on his." He gave him a friendly knock on the shoulder. "That's why I always gotta drive his broke ass around."

Fredrico smiled. As well he should, he was clearly having fun with Melanie. "But my games look sweet!"

Javier was unimpressed. "But I can afford gas. I got more money for games, too."

Dammit, how did he get me this worked up? she wondered. "That's not true. Have you seen a Steam sale? And there's all the old games. On PC you can play 'em, but backward compatibility's gone with the new gen."

"Gimme a controller anyway." He mimed typing and waving his hand around. "None of this mouse-and-keyboard crap." It was a dis, but somehow he made it funny instead of irritating.

She grinned. "That's skill, sucker. There's a reason shooters don't do cross-play with PC. Console jockeys would get creamed." She waved her hand dismissively. "Aim assist, ha!"

Melanie spoke up, then. "C'mon, Erica, I want another drink." She took her arm and led her away. "Back soon, boys!"

As soon as they were out of earshot, she said, "Can you maybe tone it down a little? Or go hang with Shianti for a bit? Freddy's listening more to you two than to me."

Erica blinked. "Sure. Looked like you were doing all right."

"Think so? Maybe. But I wanna see if I can get him alone for a bit." She poured Erica some soda, then filled her own cup. "Just do me a solid for a little while?"

Erica smiled and said, "Sure, no prob. I'll circulate a little." It bothered her a little to abandon an argument. Still, Eric would probably rather have died than back down. She didn't care quite so much about dominating an opponent like that. For some reason, though, she wanted to head back to banter more with Javier anyway.

Melanie started back, and Erica went to see who was hanging in the dining room. Just as she turned the cornet, she looked back one last time at Javier. Why was he so interesting?

~~~~~

"How did I get talked into this?" Erica fretted as she finished packing her bag.

Haylie was exasperated as only an eleven-year-old girl could be. "It's just a sleepover!" she barked. "What's the big deal?"

"Now, honey, remember, Erica hasn't done this as a girl before," Miranda said, amused.

"I don't know what girls do at something like this," she muttered. She almost turned to her Mother, who'd been such a font of advice... but then she remembered Miranda hadn't been a girl until college. She looked at Haylie. "What do you do?"

Haylie squinted up at her big sister for a second. Then she seemed to soften a little, taking pity on the obviously-worried teenager. "Well, we talk, and watch movies, and play games. Sometimes we dress up or do our hair or something." She thought for a second. "Mrs. Lehnert let us try some of her makeup."

"What do you talk about?" Erica asked, curiosity sharpened by the circumstances.

"Mostly boys," Haylie said in a 'no-duh' tone. "Or we talk about the other girls, or tell secrets."

Erica wasn't exactly reassured by all this, but she gave her little sister a hug. "Thanks for being honest, sis," she said. She hefted her bag and they went downstairs to the car.

They talked on the way over, but not about anything important. Sometimes women talked simply to demonstrate that the lines of communication were open; it was different from guys, who usually had a point they wanted to make. It had taken a little getting used to, but she drew comfort from it now.

At least one kind of tension didn't plague her - much, anyway. She and Miranda had made quite a bit of love the night before, once Haylie went to bed. Erica had tried to wear out her sex drive as much as she could.

Once they turned onto Linda's street, though, Erica fell silent. "Just relax and be yourself, punkin," Miranda said reassuringly. "Just have fun. They're your friends, not a test!"

At that, Erica smiled a little. "I guess I am being kinda the drama queen," she admitted.

"Ya think?!" Haylie teased.

Miranda dropped her off in front of Linda's house. She and Haylie drove to catch a movie; they were going to have a Mother-Daughter night.

Linda pulled the door open before Erica made it up onto the porch, calling out "Hey girlfriend!"

She got introduced to Mr. Fletcher, then Linda hustled her upstairs to her room, past a messy bedroom with her fifteen-year-old brother typing away at his computer. He shot a glance at the girls as they passed by.

Kristina lounged on Linda's bed, reading a magazine. "So, what do you wanna do?" Erica asked, trying to hide her nervousness as she set her pack on the floor. "I kinda haven't slept over anywhere since I was, like, Haylie's age," she added in a sudden burst of inspiration.

"I dunno, what do you want to do?" Linda asked, unconcerned.

Erica was only stumped for a moment. She got her laptop hooked up to their router and showed them a couple of funny videos. Laughter helped relax her a little. It was nice that girls didn't have to fear being silly.

She looked up, suddenly having a feeling of being watched. The door had been pushed open a little bit, and about a quarter of a face peeked through. Linda followed her glance, and shrieked ferociously, "Mike! Get out of here, you asshole!" The boy disappeared.

"Sorry about my brother," Linda apologized. "He's such a creep. I found a sock next to his bed once," she confided. "It was crusty."

"Eeeeeeeew!" Erica cried in sync with Kristina, truly repulsed. She didn't miss having to deal with that mess every time she beat off. At least Eric had been more fastidious about it, even when he'd been Mike's age.

She did wind up having fun, and she didn't have to work at it. The girls split a pizza for dinner, and then had a little ice cream and watched a teen vampire movie. It wouldn't have been Erica's choice, but Linda went for them and Erica liked seeing her happy. Besides, it wasn't all that bad. The male lead was a much better actor than she'd expected. At least, later on, that's what she told herself was the reason for her close attention to his screen time.

Kristina's presence helped bring out the subtext. Vampires were symbolic to girls, Erica finally realized. Attractive; but let them do what they wanted to you and there was no turning back - you'd be forever changed. And they wouldn't be, not anything like the same way. The stakes were so much higher for girls, no wonder they valued commitment so much more than guys.

It felt like a major insight, one Eric could never have had. She spent the rest of the movie puzzling over how much more had changed than just her habits and outward behavior... when she wasn't inwardly chuckling about how the girl mooned over her undead swain. She'd never flip like that over a boy.

Once the flick was over, they went upstairs and looked over Linda's wardrobe; Kristina had some good suggestions for some inexpensive additions that would widen the options dramatically. The did a little playing around with hairstyles. Erica kind of liked how she looked with a few braids. They painted each other's toenails - those were hard to reach yourself. And they talked.

They talked about school. They talked about jobs - Linda was trying to convince her dad to let her get one, so she'd have a little spending money. They talked about friends and told stories of when they were little kids. (Erica had to do some translation there.) They talked about movies and music and books. And, eventually, they talked about guys.

It was very strange, and not for the reasons she would have thought. She understood teenage boys well enough, having been one. But trying to frame that understanding for girlish conversation forced her to realize that she had gone a long way toward viewing guys from the outside. As an observer, not a member of the tribe.

And yet, she couldn't honestly call herself a citizen of 'Girl Nation'. She was still betwixt and between, an alien working toward residency. It was disheartening to recognize how much 'acclimating' there was still to do. Not one hour ago she'd been thinking how far she'd come.

Linda put her hand on Erica's arm. She realized she'd trailed off in the middle of a sentence. "You okay?" Linda asked.

Erica put on a smile. "Yeah, sorry. I was just... thinking."

"You know, maybe you shouldn't be so picky about guys," Linda said. "You could at least give some of 'em a chance."

"Not too much of a chance," Kristina muttered.

Linda waved it off. "You know what I meant."

"Maybe someday. It's just... not time yet."

Linda shrugged, then smiled. "Okay, but I get the feeling when you do find a guy you like, you're gonna fall hard."

Erica didn't know what to say to that.

In the end, she had a good time. They were just hanging out, after all.

She had to break off texting with Trahn when it was time to go to sleep. Not that she hadn't been talking with Linda and Kristina at the same time, either. It seemed like these days she could keep up two conversations at once. She wasn't sure if becoming a girl had given her the skill, or if Eric could have done that if he'd practiced it more. Either way, it was sorta tight.

Erica made sure she was alone in the bathroom before they laid down. She masturbated quickly and quietly, then scrupulously washed up. Kristina got Linda's bed; the other two slept on a big inflatable mattress on the floor. Laying next to Linda was strange; Eric had never just slept next to a girl before. But, strange as it was, the intimacy she'd shared earlier with her Mom helped. Before she knew it, she was asleep.

~~~~~

The sleepover preyed on her mind for a few days. She waited until Haylie had left to meet a friend and she could be alone with her Mom.

"Mom, what does it mean to 'adjust' to being a girl? To 'acclimate'?" Erica was quite somber.

Miranda looked up. She had no doubt what her daughter was referring to. "I wondered when you'd ask that. Many Sisters do, sooner or later." She sighed and thought. "The short answer is that it's different for every Sister. Like I said before, it's about exploring who you are, who you could have been." She shrugged. "And who you want to be."

Erica's lips twisted. "That sure narrows it down."

Miranda shrugged broadly. "The idea is to become comfortable in your own skin. To... to incorporate the... the perceptions and instincts of being female into yourself."

"I've done that!" Erica declared.

"Really?" Miranda asked dryly. Erica couldn't meet her gaze. "When you are happy with who you are, when being a girl is a reward instead of a challenge, then you will be 'acclimated'."

Erica's head jerked up. "What, so I can only be Eric again if I don't want to be? You don't ever want him back!"

"No!" Miranda cried. "That's not it at all!" She took a deep breath.

But Erica spoke first. "Wasn't I good enough as Eric?" The tone was sharp, bordering on an accusation. There was clearly heavy emotion behind the question. Goddess, Miranda thought, I should have spotted this.

"Oh sweetie, of course you were!" She grabbed her daughter's hands and squeezed them almost painfully. "I loved Eric so much I gave him the gift of discovering you!" Erica was silent. "Honey, I loved you so much, I gave you a choice few people ever get. A choice about who you want to be that most people can't imagine!"

Erica still didn't speak. Miranda dipped into her emotions - the girl wasn't angry so much as scared and confused. She really didn't grasp why Miranda had done this to her. Miranda's heart ached.

She tried to explain. "Look, punkin, what if Eric had decided he wanted to be a soldier? Do you think I would have stopped him, despite my devotion to the Goddess?"

Erica hadn't expected this tangent. She gave it a moment's thought. "No, I guess not."

"I would have asked him to be sure. But if that was who he was, or who he wanted to be, I would have prayed for his safety, and his happiness, and I'd have harassed him with letters and care packages and phone calls."

Erica chortled a little at that. Boys hated to appear like they needed their Mothers. She didn't have to, and didn't, feel that way. And then she did a mental double-take at how naturally she'd rejected that male point of view.

Miranda spoke on. "Honey, you - only you - can decide who you want to one day be. I admit I have my hopes," she smiled apologetically, "but I want you to be as happy as you can be. I will help you find happiness as a girl... but if you decide that, in the end, you will be happiest as Eric, if he suits you better... I will love you just as fiercely as ever."

Tears leaked from the sides of Erica's eyes, which prompted Miranda to come around the table, drag Erica to her feet, and give her a hug. "I guess I know all that, deep down, Mom," Erica said into Miranda's shoulder, hugging back. "And I have learned a lot, and some of it's been really fun." She sagged a little. "But sometimes it's so hard!"

Miranda stroked Erica's hair. "Real freedom is always hard, dear." She muttered something under her breath and suddenly they were standing in Erica's room.

Erica jerked in surprise, but Miranda's insistent kiss calmed her down. In some ways, at least. What they did after that stirred her up much more, but ultimately, when they were done, she was very relaxed.

She still thought about the issues, of course. "It's like I'm on a trip, but I don't know exactly where I'm going. How will I know when I get there?"

Her Mother smiled. "Trust me, you'll know."

Erica pouted so naturally that Miranda had to stifle a laugh. "It's just, I don't understand. I just want to know what's coming."

"Besides you?" her Mother quipped. Erica's mouth twisted in irritation... but it was a mask that was swiftly pushed aside by her grin.

Miranda relented. "Punkin, part of the Transition involves experiences I can't tell you about. If I warn you ahead of time, you won't learn what you need to from them."

Erica cocked her head and frowned at Miranda. Her Mother shrugged. "Can you trust me on this?"

At that, the girl smiled. "Okay, Mom. I've trusted you this far."

"And has it worked out badly?"

Erica gave that honest reflection. In a slightly wondering tone, she said, "No. No, it hasn't." Despite the annoyances and general weirdness... it still felt like an adventure. Even being... that way with her Mom didn't bother her like part of her felt it should. As Miranda had said before, she was in a unique situation; why shouldn't her response be unique, too?

~~~~~

While it didn't have the frantic pace of the first weeks after the Transformation, Erica found that changes kept happening nonetheless. And they weren't necessarily minor ones, either.

She'd acquired at least a modicum of feminine enthusiasm for shopping. It was enjoyable sometimes to just 'forage' around the mall with her friends, see what was available. Particularly the clothes. She even had fun taking Haylie to stores like Justice and helping her pick things out.

Fashion and cosmetics were much more opportunity than difficulty anymore. Indeed, she often had fun trying on outfits and experimenting with different looks. Lately she'd even been intrigued by jewelry and its possibilities. As an experiment, she'd gotten her belly-button pierced. It was cute.

There was an unexpected advantage to being able to draw from a male perspective: she wasn't nearly as anxious and self-critical about her body as many girls. She knew boys would like the way she looked, because she liked the way she looked. There were prettier girls at school, of course - she wasn't flawless or anything - but not many.

Most unsettling, however, was the change that had crept up on her. A week ago, she'd been channel-surfing and hit on 'Raiders of the Lost Ark'. It had always been one of her favorites, and she'd watched it for close to half an hour before realizing that she wasn't just feeling the old familiar thrill of the story and the stunts. Watching a young Harrison Ford in action was giving her an all-new kind of thrill. Off balance, she'd turned off the movie and gone for a jog.

The incident came back to mind that night in bed during her usual pre-sleep self-pleasuring, however. She had to go and pull up some lesbian porn to help focus her thoughts elsewhere. She very pointedly did not use the vibrator.

Then today, two of her squadmates had commented on how hot one of the basketball players was... and she'd caught herself mentally agreeing with them. Not in the abstract way Eric might have acknowledged strong competition, either. No, her thoughts could have been summed up as, 'yum!'

Looking back, she could see she hadn't recognized warning signs before. Silas, Javier. It had just grown to the point where she couldn't ignore it now.

She certainly hadn't lost any attraction to girls, but it was as though her sexual horizons were expanding. Broad shoulders and tight rears had aspects Eric had never recognized, or even imagined. She couldn't decide if it represented a homosexual or heterosexual tendency. That was debatable whichever gender she went for.

Of course, given what happened in her bedroom a couple times a week, homosexuality was kind of a run-of-the-mill perversion, wasn't it?

Still, what to do about boys had a certain urgency. Spencer, Trahn's boyfriend, was having a party at his house Saturday night. His parents would be out of town... and Lucas, the yummy basketball player, would be there.

~~~~~

Erica nervously pushed the doorbell. Spencer's house was set back from the road a bit, unobtrusive. Perfect for a clandestine party. She was wearing a light blouse and a denim skirt that showed off her legs, and high pumps made sure her legs got maximum benefit from the exposure. Bracelets, simple earrings. A necklace placed just so to highlight her cleavage. Her hair was in a bit of an up-do - nothing too elaborate.

She'd even tweezed her eyebrows last night, something she normally put off as long as possible.

The door opened and Spencer waved her in. "Yo, Erica. Good to see you. Trahn's in the kitchen."

"Thanks," she said, and set off the way he'd pointed. Trahn and most of her posse were milling by the counter. Estrella, Shanti, and the rest.

"Hey, Erica! Lookin' good!" Trahn said, giving her a welcoming hug. A big change Erica had needed to get used to was how frequently women touched each other. Boys shook hands and punched shoulders, but rarely embraced; girls were much more physically demonstrative with each other. Boys tended to misinterpret hugs from girls, and Erica had needed to retrain herself somewhat on that front.

"Thanks. Love that skirt!" she said honestly. While part of her mind still had the usual lusty thoughts about girls - and doubtless always would - she was also able to appreciate clothes on the level of pure fashion now. It did go with Trahn's outfit and flatter her figure.

"I know," Trahn said smugly, but with humor. "Wanna cooler? Melanie scored some."

"Nah, thanks." She still was wary of what alcohol might unleash within her. Tonight more than ever.

A little gossiping, then she went off to explore the party. She peeked into the dining room and saw that a poker game was in progress. Cory had a good pile of chips gathered; his fabled good fortune was apparently still with him.

But Harry was putting up a determined fight. And Carrie stood behind him, lending moral support.

There was a development Erica hadn't expected at all. The potion's effects only lasted for a week; two at the most. But a month and a half later, Harry and Carrie were still an item. In the politics of high-school society, they had sort of averaged their status. Carrie wasn't one of the top social players anymore - but she was also far less of a bitch. Harry's social position, conversely, had risen noticeably; he wouldn't have been at the poker table otherwise.

They seemed, miracle of miracles, happy together. And if Carrie was telling the truth (girls locker-room talk covered a wider range of topics than boys, but did include the things boys discussed) he disproved the stereotype about the size of Asians' equipment.

Erica turned away. Carrie abided by the undeclared truce, but they weren't friends. She smiled as she pondered what Carrie would think if she knew who had set up her and Harry's romance. Oh, well. She recalled another quote - "There's no limit to the good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit."

She made her way to the basement and ended up playing a few rounds of Wii Sports. She was in no mood to go easy on the boys and did well. Even so, there were boys better than her and she was finally eliminated. It felt different as a girl. Boys had to - or at least, felt compelled to - show off. Winning those competitions wasn't so vital to most girls, and it was easy for her to shrug and let it go.

Up again, and she assembled a small plate of chips and salsa. Though the queso dip beckoned, she abstained. By now she'd learned the need for counting calories. She would not risk looking too plump in her uniform. She chattered with a few other girls who were on her squad about a funny tweet they'd seen. Then she wandered out of the kitchen to the family room and ended up by the sliding door to the backyard.

She looked through the glass. Lucas sat out there, alone for the moment. She focused on her own reflection in the glass, checking her hair, looking for stains or out-of-place clothing. And then she realized she was preening before she went out to see a boy.

Sliding the glass door, she stepped out. Lucas looked up and smiled. "Hey, Erica. How's it going?"

She sat in the chair next to his, not sure exactly what she was doing, or wanted to do. But she gave him a smile and said, "That was a sweet shot you pulled off against Harris."

His answering smile showed a little animation. "Yeah, I was really in the zone." He looked askance at her. "We always seem to be luckier when you guys are cheering us on."

"I didn't think you even noticed us," she giggled. Crap, she was giggling.

"I always notice you," he said.

She looked down, smiling in nervous confusion. Why did it feel so good to hear that he'd been checking her out? "Yeah, right," she said.

They talked a bit more about sports and school. Lucas was different from boys like Josh and Scott. Oh, he bragged about himself, semi-subtly... but he did give her some chances to talk. And his self-puffery was peppered with compliments on her looks. It was strangely endearing to realize he was, in his own way, preening for her.

"I can't figure out why we never got together," he finally said. "I should have noticed you a while ago."

Because I wasn't your type before, she thought, suppressing another giggle. "Must be the cheerleader uniform."

"Yeah, those things are dead sexy," he grinned. "But you don't need it to be a little hottie."

Damn it, this shouldn't be affecting me so much, she thought. He's playing me, I know it. Don't I? "Gimme a break," she muttered.

"Seriously. Who wouldn't want some of that?"

Before she even realized what she was saying, it slipped out. "Maybe you should get a taste."

"Maybe I should." His grin widened and he stood. There was a second when she could have stopped him... but she didn't. He loomed over her, leaned forward.

He kissed her.

Yes, she concluded, males did have possibilities. However her attraction to him might be classified, it was undeniably present. It was scary, and faintly disturbing to that part of herself that still thought like Eric. But it was exciting and intriguing, too. Without quite knowing how, she found she was standing, and they were off to the side, away from the window.

His arms encircled her torso, and she hugged his back. It felt big, and firm. Girls were so much softer... His tongue entered her mouth, and it wasn't gross or off-putting in the slightest. It was... good...

He was strong, she could tell. Much stronger than her. He wasn't using that strength, wasn't being remotely threatening, of course. Erica was simply aware that he could have been a lot more forceful, if he chose. The thought was somehow... intriguing?

His hand slipped up under her skirt, and brushed her panties. A faint alarm-bell rang in the back of her mind, but it wasn't loud enough to be more than a vague distraction. She pushed closer to him, and ran a hand along his rear. Tight and muscled, that rear was. Compact. She'd studied his tush more and more often recently with her eyes. Doing so with a hand was much better.

Suddenly she noticed that he was working his fingers under the side of her panties. He'd be pulling them off in another second. With instant clarity, she realized that she might well not be able to stop herself if he pressed on.

She wanted it. As much if not more than he did. No doubt about it, not right now, whatever that said about her sexuality. But the consequences for her were potentially so much greater. Certainly if her Mother were to be believed...

She grabbed his hand through her skirt. "Wait. Hold on."

"It's okay, babe." He flashed her his totally cute smile. "Just relax..." He didn't move to let her go.

"No," she said with more force than she truly felt. "I just... Not like this."

"You've gotta chill, babe. You never let yourself have any fun." He'd let go of her panties but his fingers slid over her rear, almost making her toes curl. Desperate, she pictured herself pregnant. It helped some, but her rebellious thoughts kept trying to wander over to the getting pregnant part. Besides, she didn't have to go all the way, right?

"Let's just... take it slow, okay?" Erica said, looking up at him. She licked her lips. Oh, Goddess, his shoulders...

He tightened his grip a fraction, and leaned in for another kiss. One hand stroked the outside of her thigh, under the skirt. It wasn't quite as direct as before, but he wasn't taking it slow. Mustering her will, she pulled back a bit. "Wait..."

He eased up. Marginally. "Come on, Erica. You get me all worked up, and then..." He had a pained expression. "You don't know what it's like for a guy."

That tipped the balance. She most certainly did know what it was like for a guy. 'Blue balls' were real... but they took longer than a five-minute petting session to develop. Stuffing down the parts of her mind that were considering giving him a handjob (or even a blowjob!) she extracted herself from his grasp and took a step back. She'd jumped into this too soon. If she went any farther she'd be at his mercy. And he didn't seem to have much mercy.

"No, Lucas. Not tonight. I'm not that easy." Just almost that easy, she thought, glad the dim light helped conceal the flush warming her face. Apparently there were circumstances that could interrupt her libido.

She pulled back further, holding his hands with her own, gazing up at his frown. "Look, just... not like this. Just take it easy, okay?" His lips quirked, but he nodded. She stepped back, much of her still wanting to step forward. "See you inside."

She went back into the house and made a beeline for the nearest bathroom. Thank the Goddess, it was unoccupied. Once safe behind a locked door, she checked out her face in the mirror. Her hair was mussed, some makeup smeared. But she couldn't focus on fixing her appearance. Her libido had only been interrupted, postponed. It had not been switched off.

She snaked a hand under her panties and found her clit, slick with moisture. Quickly, quietly, she tickled it through to some relief. A few strained grunts escaped her, but she didn't think they'd carry. Her fantasies weren't lesbian in the slightest degree. She wished fervently she'd brought her vibrator.

A few minutes later, washed and re-coiffed, she came out of the bathroom and went to the kitchen for a drink.

There was Lucas, lips locked with Kaitlin.

She just stood there for a moment, stunned. They weren't being as lascivious as he and Erica had been out on the patio. It wasn't that kind of high-school party. However, there was no mistaking that the identical feelings were involved. And would doubtless be consummated later.

She spun and retreated to the living room, seething, in turmoil. Trahn, lounging next to Spencer, looked up from the couch. "Hey, what's up?" she asked, concerned.

Erica struggled for words. "I... It's nothing. I'll be okay." She found a chair and was quiet for the rest of the night. She left the party early.

~~~~~

In bed that night she lay restless, upset.

Erica rolled over and threw off the covers. She just couldn't sleep yet, she was too keyed up. She unlocked the screen of her computer and went to the special collection, and opened the folder she'd avoided since the Transformation. Eric had generally been partial to (relatively) artistic shots of women alone, or in small groups. (For an instant, she wondered if that was a result of the respect for women her Mother had always worked to instill in her. Him.)

But he'd also had one folder of more spicy fare. Pictures and video clips with a mix of genders.

Blowjobs and penetration. Titty-fucking. Even a gangbang or two.

She started with pictures. The very first one was an extreme close-up of a reverse cowgirl. Legs and lips spread, the prick enveloped halfway. She studied the image intently, visualizing her own pussy so occupied. She'd had fingers and buzzing plastic inside herself. What would something supple and blood-warm feel like?

Some lingering reluctance or uncertainty had kept her from setting the stage completely. All by itself, that one image dispelled both. She stood and moved purposefully back to the drawer by her bed, got out the vibrator, and returned to her desk. On the edge of her seat - figuratively and literally - she reactivated both the vibrator and the slideshow.

She quickly discovered an aspect of the porn portfolio that Eric had never noticed. The women were uniformly attractive; the men varied wildly from overweight to muscular, from monstrously-endowed to more normal tooling. Eric hadn't paid much attention to the guys.

She stroked the vibrator in and out of herself, playing with her nipples with the other hand. The slideshow continued.

In her mind, there was a man between her legs, thrusting. She didn't picture a face, just the body. The biceps, the shoulders, the chest, the six-pack. Her hand moved the vibrator with determination as she moaned. He was strong, the man in her mind, powerful and focused. He wanted in deep, and her flexing hips were helping him get there.

Her orgasm blossomed, and she could not help picturing the prick ejaculating inside her. It seemed right, natural, wholly desirable. He lusted for her, after all.

~~~~~

Erica finally admitted that it wasn't her imagination. Cory was avoiding her. He didn't speak to her much in class and they did almost all their communicating anymore by email or text. The group had used to meet after school, maybe once a month, at some fast-food joint to hash over whatever the current project was. The couple times she'd tried to arrange such a get-together this year, though, Cory always had an excuse to beg off.

That wasn't all bad. Josh and Scott were almost too eager to spend time with her. Yet it was tiresome how frequently she had to repeat herself - when they accepted her input at all - because they were apparently listening to some urgent message from her breasts instead of her voice. Working with them by email was just fine with her.

Cory wasn't like that. He didn't act like he was undressing her with his eyes. He simply avoided her; impeccably civil, but keeping personal interaction to a bare minimum. She had the clear impression that he would have preferred switching to a different group if it could have been arranged.

In the end, she decided Haylie's theory must be right - that he harbored some prejudice against women, that he just didn't think they could handle programming. It was unexpected, and made her sad because she'd liked Cory, even admired his confidence and charisma. She rather thought she'd proven herself all over again this year, anyway.

Too bad. He was kinda cute.

~~~~~

An unexpected and ironic outcome of refusing Lucas at the party was how it cemented her reputation. Even though she'd made the first advances, pushing him away had marked her as a little frigid, or at least exceptionally picky.

If they only knew the thoughts that went through her mind just walking down the halls of her school. About quite a few of the boys now, too, as well as girls. However immature they might be, boys definitely had their charms.

Heck, there were even teachers she had little daydreams about. Mr. Stratton might be twice her age, but girls were supposed to be attracted to maturity, right? And then there was Ms. Escuela; when she talked in Spanish, it sometimes gave Erica chills. One night she'd even had a naughty little fantasy about herself between both teachers.

She made sure it didn't interfere with her schoolwork. But she shuddered to think of what she would have done, if she hadn't been able to bleed off pressure with her Mom.

For a while, she pondered calling up Silas. Having a boyfriend would soften her reputation somewhat, and a long-distance one - or, at least, a non-local one - would be easier for a Transformed Sister to manage. In the end, however, she decided it wouldn't be fair to him.

~~~~~

Erica and Linda were hanging at Kristina's after school. It wasn't uncomfortable, exactly, but it was a little weird. Kristina had taken Miranda's advice, and struck up a friendship with a teen mother from school, a senior named Renée.

She had brought her two-month-old daughter Lucy, and that was weird, too. Especially for Erica; she'd never actually held a baby before. It was... different than she'd thought. Not like picking up a cat or something. And she had to admit, the little baby girl was totally cute.

What what really weird was when Renée breastfed Lucy, giving Kristina some pointers. She'd almost gotten used to undressed girls in the locker room and stuff, but not in a living room. Watching little Lucy suck, she was unsettlingly reminded that breasts were functional as well as decorative.

"Homecoming's in a couple weeks." Erica shrugged. As a cheerleader, attendance was practically mandatory.

"Got a boyfriend?" Renée asked.

"Nah," Erica said. "We might go together, as friends." She waved toward Linda.

Kristina and Renée exchanged a glance. "I think I'll skip it this time around," Kristina said dryly.

"Me, too," Renée concurred.

Erica felt very embarrassed.

~~~~~

Homecoming was more fun than she'd expected.

It hadn't turned out that she was going with Linda. And for a wonderful reason - a boy had asked Linda out! Erica had literally squealed when she'd read the text announcing the news, and genuinely enjoyed - even insisted on - hearing every tiny detail when they'd gotten together after school.

She felt no small amount of pride about the whole thing, though she kept it to herself. And it was hardly all her handiwork. The "herbal" acne remedy - made under her Mother's watchful supervision - had doubtless been a factor. Erica's fashion advice and encouragement had surely helped her friend, too. But Linda had stuck with the diet and exercise on her own. Erica was nowhere near being able to plant such a Suggestion, anyway. Although Linda was still decidedly on the zaftig side, she filled out her dress now, instead of overfilling it.

Linda lacking a maternal figure, Erica and Miranda had helped her select that dress. And then pressured her father to provide a reasonable budget for it, and the needed accessories. Reasonable from a female standpoint, anyway; Linda's father obviously had his own opinion on that.

Not that Erica didn't find herself overwhelmed at the prospect of assembling her own ensemble. She was comfortable handling most day-to-day fashion choices by now, but formal couture was a whole different field. The programmer in her compared it to moving from writing scripts and small apps to writing device drivers and operating systems.

She kept that analogy to herself, of course.

Miranda had helped a great deal, offering guidance and the occasional warning. The girls had been allowed to express themselves in fashion; she had simply, so to speak, made sure they didn't send any unintended messages.

At the mandatory pre-dressing salon trip, Linda had chosen to add blonde highlights to her hair, with large loose curls. The blue of her dress went well with both. It was a not-quite-floor-length ball gown in an A-line style, on a gauzy fabric just stiff enough to hold the shape.

No, Erica had helped, but Linda had earned the joy plastered on her face as she shook her booty with her date. He seemed to be having a good time, too. Erica had made some discreet inquiries, and Paul appeared to be a nice-enough boy. Not a bad kisser, too, from Linda's perhaps-biased reports. He wasn't an awesome dancer, but being in marching band seemed to at least have given him a basic sense of rhythm.

Of course, it had made Erica's own escort situation more acute, but a replacement was found soon enough. Jacob, a gangly boy from the basketball team, who genially accepted that the pairing was political rather than romantic in nature. Not that he didn't look rather dashing in a tux, for all that. Handsome, even, as he hopped and gyrated next to Erica. Dancing in heels was a challenge, but she was having too much fun to worry overmuch as she added her booty to the general shaking. Somehow dancing was more enjoyable when you had a good booty to shake, anyway.

After the days of searching, she herself had on a peach-colored, flowing gown, with shoes dyed to match. She was looking forward to seeing all the pictures her Mom had took of her and Jacob when he'd come to pick her up, corsage in hand. Holding her clutch, wearing her finery, with Jacob's arm settled gently around her, she had felt... beautiful and elegant. It was a charming sensation.

Socially, it was complicated. She'd had to strike a balance even negotiating transportation. Kristina wasn't going, obviously, and Erica didn't want to leave Linda in the lurch. Trahn and her crew wanted to do things up right, with a limo and an after-party -but even Miranda couldn't persuade Linda's dad to spring for a share of that. Erica's compromise was to ride to the dance with Linda, but go with Trahn et al to their post-dance shindig. At the actual dance, though, she could circulate.

So she danced with her friends. She even did a couple of slow dances with Jacob, and if her pulse ran a little faster than could be justified by the physical exertion, she was careful to give no sign. It was fun.

Actually, it rocked.

Jacob was off talking with some of his buddies for a minute. She stepped up to the punch bowl and recognized Cory pouring a scoopful into a cup. He glanced her way and stiffened slightly for a moment. It was almost imperceptible, he recovered so quickly. "Hey, Erica," he said. "You look nice."

"Thanks. Can you get me a cup?" she asked. Yet again she wished he could just loosen up and be friendly with her.

"Sure thing," he replied, and poured another.

"Congrats on your win," she offered. Cory was on the track team and they'd been victorious on their last outing.

"Nothing to do with me. Good thing my bro here was on his game," Cory said as another boy walked up.

"Hey, Brandon," Erica said.

"Hey," Brandon replied amiably. "But we didn't need me to win. Cory's a lucky charm. That's why we made him captain," he smiled.

"Cory's Luck again? What happened this time?" Erica asked.

"I'm fucking embarrassed, to be honest. I almost lost my leg of the relay, but the other guy tripped."

This was more social interaction than she'd had with Cory all term. "You always get lucky," she replied, shaking her head and smiling.

"Maybe even tonight," came the voice from behind them. It was Danielle, his current girlfriend. She moved close to Cory, smiling warmly as he handed her a cup of punch. The smile she gave Erica was just a shade frosty.

Erica was amused. She was perfectly certain she was in no danger of stealing Cory's affections. She tried to convey her reassurance to Danielle with her own smile as she turned away. "TMI, TMI," she laughed. Even funnier was that Cory and Brandon probably hadn't even noticed the subtle territorial messages the girls had exchanged under their noses. Boys were so out-of-touch.

She caught a glimpse of Lucas and Kaitlin out of the corner of her eye, and moved resolutely on.

~~~~~

"See you tomorrow!" Erica said as she hugged Linda.

"Love you!" Linda said, hugging back.

She left Linda with Paul, grabbed a couple handfuls of skirt to lift it over her feet, and scurried over to the waiting limo. At least she managed to sidle in onto her seat in a ladylike manner. She found a place between Jacob and Mel.

Trahn tapped on the glass behind her, and the driver set off, slowly angling around the other cars and limousines.

Melanie and Shianti had rented a suite for the afterparty. Well, technically, all the girls had chipped in, but it was in their names. Erica and Trahn's parents wouldn't let them spend the whole night there. Trahn's curfew was more generous, but secretly Erica was glad she'd have to be home by midnight; it would help her avoid all kinds of temptation.

The ride was lively, everyone excited, pumped from the dancing. Erica felt just a little intimidated at first; she'd never been in a limo before. But it wasn't that amazing, really, and conversation certainly wasn't refined. There was quite a bit of ribald banter, in fact.

The ride didn't last all that long, anyway. They arrived at the hotel and went in the side door, taking the elevator up to the room.

"Hey, a toast!" Aaron shouted seconds after the door closed, waving around a bottle of vodka that had appeared as if by Magic. Shot glasses materialized, too, and Mel started playing bartender.

"Want some?" Mel said, holding out a half-full shot glass.

I'll only be here another hour, Erica thought. I can't get in too much trouble. And it's not that big a shot...

"Well, okay," she said. Mel's eyebrows lifted but she didn't say anything as she handed it over.

Aaron lifted his glass. "To the Hillman High Seniors - especially these fine ladies! L'Chaim!"

They all downed it in unison. "Whoooo!" the girls squealed. Guess I didn't avoid all kinds of temptation after all... Erica thought, throat and belly burning.

~~~~~

The hour passed pleasantly enough, and though it was clear that the beds were going to get some use later, it wasn't too out-of-control. At the appointed time, Jacob was nice enough to give her a ride home, even though it took him from the party. They talked a little on the way. "Thanks again for being my date. I had a really good time."

"That's the idea," he said. "Too bad you couldn't stay the whole night."

"My Mom would freak," she said. Erica thought she could probably have negotiated a later curfew... but she was glad she hadn't. That one little shot was giving her a buzz; Jacob was looking better and better.

Oh, Goddess, she thought. It's a good thing we're almost home, she noticed with relief.

"That's my house, up there," she said. She glanced at Jacob again, and suddenly her relief was a trifle muted.

"Got it," he said, and pulled in, coming to a smooth stop. She started to open her door, but Jacob waved a finger - "Ah ah ah!" - and leapt out of his side, scooting around to open it for her.

She stood up - it was so much easier to stand gracefully in a skirt if you had a guy's help - and let him escort her to the porch.

"Thanks again," Erica said as they made it to the door. "It was really fun." He stood there for a second, looking down at her. She had stood up on tiptoes and gave him a quick kiss before she was even aware of what she was doing.

She didn't pull her face back much. Hardly at all. So it was easy to kiss him again. And for a bit longer. She settled back onto her heels, but he'd leaned down to match. And then his arms were around her, so it would have been rude to just pull away, and then she was tasting his tongue, and...

The porch light flicked on. They had exactly enough time to separate and turn to face the door before it opened. She was startled and embarrassed and still distracted, but she instantly decided that hadn't been an accident.

"Right on time!" Miranda said cheerfully. "Thank you so much, Jacob." She stepped aside to invite Erica in. "She didn't give you any trouble, did she?"

"No, ma'am!" he said, straightening his jacket, maybe just a hint of red on his cheeks.

"Well, say goodnight to the young man, punkin!" Miranda said to Erica.

"Goodnight, Jacob. Thanks again, for... for everything."

Miranda smiled, and put a hand on the doorknob. To Jacob, she said, "It was very nice meeting you!"

"It was nice to meet you, too, Mrs. Jardin," Jacob replied. "I really had a good time," he called to Erica as the door closed.

"How was it, honey?" Miranda instantly asked, almost bursting with curiosity.

"It was so much fun!" Erica squealed, grabbing her Mom for a hug.

"Especially just now?"

"Um..."

"I'm not opposed to you spending time with boys, dear. Or kissing them." She smirked. "I just felt that maybe when emotions are running a little high wasn't the best situation to get started."

Erica blushed, remembering one reason why she was feeling a little high. Her Mother suddenly squinted at her.

"What?" Erica asked.

Her Mother's voice and face had suddenly lost their humor. "You are too young to be drinking."

Erica's blood froze. "I... but..." Then, glaring, she snapped, "Hey, are you reading my mind?"

Miranda smiled sardonically. "Just a little, just surface thoughts. I wanted to make sure Jacob wasn't forcing himself on you." Then she frowned. "At least I'm glad you feel so guilty about that shot. I wouldn't have seen it, otherwise."

"I... I'm sorry, but..."

Miranda shook her head, torn between exasperation and amusement. "Don't bother putting a shield up now, silly girl!" A smile finally emerged - tempered with Motherly concern, but Erica felt a little relief that humor had carried the moment.

Miranda chuckled. "I hadn't gotten around to telling you - because it shouldn't have mattered yet - but alcohol makes it harder to maintain a mental shield."

Erica bit her lip.

"Well, it looks like you learned a few things tonight." The smile was entirely Motherly now. "I'm so glad you had a such a wonderful time. I hope you'll tell me all about it tomorrow?"

"You bet, Mom. I love you!" One more hug, and Erica went upstairs, slightly chastened. But her good mood couldn't be suppressed very far, or for very long. She was bubbling again before she even shut the door to her room.

She looked at herself in the mirror. Goddess, she looked good! Even after a night of dancing and sweating. Her lipstick was worn off, her hair was a little disheveled... but she looked pretty. There was a glow of simple satisfaction as she turned, taking it in from all angles. She felt a little sorry for Jacob, if this was what he'd been looking at all night, knowing he wouldn't be with her. Not that way.

She was still high from the whole experience. She'd been a little nervous at first, of course, but it had wound up being... fun. Just plain fun!

She hardly ever dwelled on the differences between her current life and Eric's anymore. This had been kind of a special night, however. What would it have been like if she were still him?

First off, he might well not have gone at all. He'd never been forward enough to get much in the way of dates. Secondly, even if he'd made it... it probably wouldn't have been as enjoyable. Eric hadn't known how to dance, and guys felt really awkward being inexpert in front of girls. While she'd never be on "So You Think You Can Dance", becoming a cheerleader had given Erica skills to draw on.

Goddess, did she really feel pity for her former self?

Well, when it came to clothes for sure. Boys wore suits to dances, and nothing else. The only self-expression they had was the choice of tie or corsage - and most of the time it was the girl who chose for them to make sure he'd match her dress. Boys' options were so limited! At least, when it came to outfits. Even day-to-day, they wore pants and shirts and... that was it. Plain, simple pants and shirts.

With a laugh, she left off considering poor Eric. She was in too good a mood to waste time cogitating and deliberating about might-have-beens. She admired herself in the mirror once more. She was pretty, and that was a wonderful thing.

She understood, much better than before, why Haylie and other young girls dreamed of being princesses.

~~~~~

Haylie wanted to hear all about it the next morning. Erica was able to put her off for a while.

She took her sister to soccer and watched from the sidelines. It was interesting; not just cheering for Haylie, but the fact that she could see more. The way the girls behaved on the sidelines told her much about the loyalties and rivalries in the group. She could see - fairly well, at least - which girls were friends, acquaintances, or enemies. It wasn't magical, it was just that she was paying more attention to such things now. Eric wouldn't have bothered to notice, but she had a newfound appreciation for social dynamics.

Afterward, over ice cream, she allowed Haylie to pump her for details about Homecoming. She sensibly left out the drinking part, but to her mild surprise was able to give a fairly complete account of what everyone had been wearing.

Haylie seemed to run out questions of fashion and music and dancing after half an hour or so. Then she paused for a last scraped spoonful of long-melted ice cream, and gave Erica a narrow look. "What was it like going with a guy?"

Erica paused to chase an imaginary trickle of sweetness and pondered that. But she didn't want to just brush Haylie off.

"I'm not sure," she finally admitted. "It wasn't like he was my boyfriend or anything. But it was kind of chill to be next to him. It kinda, I dunno..." She suddenly smiled. "...set off the outfit. Like the right shoes or a cute purse."

Haylie squinted. "Was it weird for you?" Haylie asked. "I mean you... well, used to be, y'know."

"Kinda, I guess." Erica shrugged a little helplessly. "It didn't feel wrong, y'know. Just... kinda new, kinda different."

Haylie was quiet for a bit. Then: "You gonna do more 'different'?"

"Why do you care?"

"I dunno. I just... you're my... Well, you're family, whatever happens. I love you, is all."

Erica was suddenly misty-eyed. "I love you, too!" She sniffed, getting control before she started bawling right there in the ice cream shop. She thought about Haylie's questions, including the implied ones. "I probably will do more 'different'. I'm thinking about it, anyway." More than thinking, she thought to herself, remembering Lucas and Jacob. "I dunno about forever. But no matter what, you'll be my sister!"

They got up, hugged, and went out to the car. Not talking so they wouldn't cry.

~~~~~

She opened up the 'special' folder, the one containing more 'hardcore' images. For quite some time, she browsed. Somehow, even though it was arousing, it wasn't right. Nothing suited her mood.

Unbidden, a flash of Lucas kissing Kaitlin arose in her mind. And that told her what was wrong.

She fired up her 'isolated surfing' virtual machine, designed to protect her computer from viruses while slumming in the disreputable parts of the net. Eric's porn collection just wasn't going to do it tonight. She wanted - needed - something new. Something specific. She had to use some search terms she'd never entered - indeed, actively avoided - before. It was rather unnerving how quickly they bore fruit.

A man pleasuring some other woman wasn't what she was after right now. No distractions, no... competition.

No women at all in these pictures. Just naked men. For a while, she explored, seeing what there was available. Before long, she found herself gravitating to two kinds of images.

Ones with a single man alone were fascinating. How had she lived in a body like that for so long and not appreciated its erotic potential? Shoulders and abs and biceps... and erect cocks. She remembered using one, marveling at how foreign the idea seemed now. Better than any other girl who'd never been intimate with a man, she knew what it would feel like in her hand. Much more provocative ideas flittered through her consciousness now. What would one smell like, taste like? What would it feel like inside her?

Gangbangs and orgies weren't particularly appealing. Two men together, though... that was interesting in a different way. Eric had heard vaguely of 'yaoi' fangirls, and 'slash' fiction, with dim incomprehension. How could such a thing be arousing? Erica understood it better now. She still loved girls; there was so much she wanted to try with them. But with guys, sexual arousal was so... externalized. It was right there, unmistakable. A guy couldn't fake it. Porn like this - you knew they were enjoying it.

She was looking at such a coupling when she finally came, explosively.

~~~~~

Erica sat down at the lunch table with what even she herself recognized as a flounce. "Grrr! That was so... so..."

"Infuriating?" Linda suggested, faintly amused.

"Yes!" Erica exclaimed.

"What up?" Kristina asked as she unpacked her lunch.

"Frickin' Georgio and Tyrone. We had to team up with them for an experiment. And they fucked it up, of course. We had to start over. I told 'em not to add the reagent first but..."

"Oh. Yeah." Kristina was not at all surprised.

Erica was still fuming. "I never had someone just... dismiss what I said like that! Like I was a little kid! They weren't even listening!"

Kristina rolled her eyes. "Come on, never? Be serious." She sniffed. "Wouldn't even be the first time this week for me."

Erica suddenly realized she had stumbled onto another difference between the lives of boys and girls. "Well... not never... but it's been a while."

Linda said, sardonically, "Maybe guys listen to cheerleaders more."

Erica changed the subject. But she realized she had some thinking to do, later.

~~~~~

"I'm glad I drew a summer birthday," Colleen said. "You don't have to arrange the parties around school."

The legal birthdates of the 'Brotherhood babies' had been spread throughout the year. Jacqui had insisted on it. "Bad enough there's going to be a wave of adoptions. Whatever's left of the Brotherhood couldn't miss it if they were all born on the same day," she had declared.

"Fall birthdays aren't so bad," Miranda said dismissively. Young girls ran and played and chattered in the backyard, hopped up on cake and ice cream and sugary drinks. Erica mixed among them, helping keep a rough approximation of order, shooing kids away from the garden, and the woods behind their lot. Miranda and five other ladies watched from the patio.

"She's so lovely," Laurie said, smiling. Murmurs of agreement came from the others. A minority of the women at the party were Sisters, and they'd gathered off to one side for a moment.

"She's adjusting so well. Better than I did, I think." Miranda bragged. "Practically a textbook Transition."

"Goddess grant me the same!" Bella prayed fervently.

"Fat chance!" Bronwyn laughed. The other Sisters giggled, too. Isabella's twin sons, Carlos and Juan, would be of age next summer. A double Transformation was a special challenge, of course. But identical twins had unique Magical advantages if the Transitions could be navigated... and besides, given the Sisterhood's traditions, not all the advantages would be Magical.

A short pause followed the laughter. "I didn't see Charlotte..." Laurie queried hesitantly.

"Charlotte... couldn't make it." Miranda replied softly.

The Sisters became somber.

Charlotte lived up in Oregon. She had performed the Transformation on her son Thomas months ago, in the spring... but he had panicked and demanded to become male again before the end of the first hour. Of course Charlotte had been crushed, but she'd complied. If his masculine self-image was that ingrained, he would never have managed a successful Transition, never have mastered the Power. And that would have left him trapped in a state he could neither escape nor adjust to.

No one could blame Charlotte for avoiding Erica, for not wanting her nose rubbed in Erica's far more successful Transition. What was yet more tragic was that the Gift of the Goddess, the Magic that came with the Transformation, was only given once. Even if Thomas were Transformed again, 'Tammi' would simply be an ordinary girl, without the Power.

Thankfully it was uncommon. The whole Sisterhood grieved when a Transformation was refused.

"At least she still has Samantha," Bronwyn murmured. Charlotte had adopted one of the Transformed infants, too. The gathered Sisters were subdued again, however; none quite voicing the worry that all of them felt. Being unique in Sisterhood history, nobody knew exactly how the adopted girls would respond to the truth about their origins - nor what they might choose to do with the Power when it began to manifest after their first period. They'd received the Birth Rites, and would never possess the Dark Power again... but would some choose to become men again anyway?

And if so, what might they then become?

Troubled, each Sister looked to her own special charge. Bella's Jessica was deep in discussion with Bronwyn's Lani. It was impossible to credit the notion they'd once been Dark sorcerers. Lani in particular was a picture of young femininity in the impractically frilly dress she'd insisted on wearing, pink butterfly clips in her hair. Who could imagine she'd once been the Brotherhood's 'High Leader'?

Colleen's Dara cheered with Miranda's Haylie, the birthday girl. Along with some of Haylie's normal friends, they watched Alice performing part of her gymnastics routine.

Alice was unique in a different way. Jacqui's natural-born daughter - yet another first in Sisterhood lore. When Jacqui had Transformed the attacking Brothers, she'd changed everything male in the immediate environs... including her own gestating son.

Jacqui wasn't troubled for the same reasons as the other Sisters... but she worried for her daughter just the same. Transforming a child at too early an age risked depriving them of the Power. It seemed that the special Magic empowering the Sisterhood depended in some way on the Transition. On successfully developing not just into a woman, but developing from male to female. The fear that she might have robbed her child of the Gift of the Goddess had kept her awake many a night.

She reflected on her own Transition, one so rough her Mother, Laurie, had actually contemplated dying to free Jacqui from the need to complete it. "Thank the Goddess Erica didn't go through what I did."

"Thank the Goddess," Laurie and Bronwyn echoed fervently. Then Laurie chuckled. "Those first few days..."

Jacqui shook her head, remembering. "I took it exactly the wrong way. It wasn't entirely my choice, so I was furious at you. But it had sort of been my fault, too, so I felt guilty and ashamed."

Miranda laid her hand on the young woman's shoulder. "But it worked out in the end. You had a hard road... but I hope Erica becomes like you one day."

Jacqui blushed at the compliment. "I think she will," she replied. "From what Bronwyn used to say, I always saw something of old Jack in Eric." Then she laughed. "But by the Goddess' mercy, not so much stupid stubbornness!"

All the Sisters laughed at that.

"Time for presents!" Erica announced from the patio. Squealing youngsters converged on the picnic table, their Mothers bringing up the rear.

~~~~~

Erica's progress with Magic had been steady, but slow. She could mix and enchant simple potions now. She and her Mother could exchange thoughts; well, so long as Miranda was cooperating. Reading other minds was hard; she could sometimes sense other people's general emotional tenor, but not a whole lot more effectively than just paying attention to their face and tone of voice.

This latest lesson was unusual, though. As before, they sat out on the back patio. A cool, comfortable breeze flowed; late November in southern California wasn't terribly brisk. "Erica, punkin, let's try something different today. I want you to focus, summon your power. Let me know when you're ready." Miranda sat back to wait.

Erica breathed, slowly and evenly. Working Magic required a detached, yet concentrated, frame of mind. Tension, anger, and fear could interfere terribly. After a minute or two, she nodded to indicate her readiness.

Her Mother pointed to the sky. "You see that cloud there? Looks a bit like a turtle?"

She searched the scudding forms for a moment. Again, Erica nodded.

"I want you to make it go away. Break it up, dissipate it. Banish it."

Erica was dubious. "How?"

"Focus on it, picture it fading away."

Doubtfully, she directed her attention at the unassuming cloud, gliding gently, and did as her Mother instructed.

Six minutes later, it had broken up. A few tattered remnants drifted out of sight behind the neighbor's house. Erica's shoulders slumped.

"Very good, dear. I thought you might have such a talent."

"It might've busted up on its own," Erica objected. "It took long enough. I'm not even sure I did anything."

"I am," Miranda replied serenely. "I felt the Power working, and I kept an eye on the other clouds. They didn't dissolve that way." She patted her daughter's hand. "The Goddess has given you a Gift for weather Magic. You'll get much better in time."

Erica thought that was an awful lot to conclude from one cloud. "So... I'm gonna be like Storm of the X-Men? Tossing lightning bolts from my hands?"

Her Mother smiled indulgently. "No, dear, not like that. But you'll be able to bring rain or sun, warm winds or cold. It's not as fast or flashy - or as localized - as the movies, but it's quite a powerful Gift, really."

Erica, a city-dweller since birth, was unimpressed. "At least your garden'll do great," she wryly declaimed.

Miranda frowned. "Don't knock weather spells, young lady; D-Day almost didn't happen. Three Sisters worked eighteen straight hours to break the storms." She watched her daughter's eyes widen. "And look up Washington's retreat to Manhattan sometime."

The novice's expression grew thoughtful. "Is that what Sisters use Magic for? Helping the right side win wars?"

Miranda looked startled, caught out. "Sometimes. That's a lesson for another day." She deflected her daughter's questions and drilled her on herbs.

~~~~~

The semester's final exams were on the horizon, just over a week away, but Erica wasn't too worried. She looked forward to winter vacation - her Mother had promised that all the Jardin women could go on a trip to a spa resort over the holidays.

By now, Erica had a completely different view of her school's social scene. Again, the people hadn't changed, the details weren't different. It was just that... they were in focus now. For example, Eric would probably have noticed - eventually - that Mindy and Soleil were avoiding each other. He would never have figured out that it was because Mindy and Michaela were both into Kyle, and they'd gotten in a big fight when Aaron had innocently remarked on Kyle's preference for blondes. Now they were forcing their mutual friends to pick sides. Soleil had tried to stay out of the whole thing, but Mindy had interpreted Soleil going to Michaela's birthday party as a declaration of war. And the whole thing was silly because everyone knew Kyle was hot for Sarah, who had dark brown hair anyway.

It felt as if the network of relationships she lived in were like a rug, and Eric had only ever looked at the surface pattern. Erica saw the weave underneath, the complex interconnections that held it all together. Not just the what, but the how and why.

And she noticed that the strongest weave, the tightest knots, were almost always between women. It wasn't that guys didn't ever form close relationships, but they tended to be in things like teams or organizations; comrades-in-arms. If the group stopped holding men together, they'd often - usually - drift apart.

Women maintained the long-term commitments. They planned the family get-togethers, tended the social ties. Men certainly added a lot of flash and color to the affair, but their roots were rarely very deep. The colored thread on top of the rug, not the thick strong cords that underlaid and bound it all.

Would becoming Eric again obscure that? Even if it didn't, there was much she'd miss about being a girl. What did life as Eric offer that was better than life as Erica, anyway?

The answers to that question no longer seemed quite so clear...

Continued in Part 4



If you liked this post, you can leave a comment and/or a kudos!
Click the Thumbs Up! button below to leave the author a kudos:
up
86 users have voted.

And please, remember to comment, too! Thanks. 
This story is 15768 words long.