A Change Of Perspective Part 10 of 11

A Change of Perspective

by Optimizer

Part 10

~~~~~

She leapt out of the car, yelling, "Bye! Text you later!" She sprinted to her front door.

Trahn understood. Erica's phone had blown up at practice, texts from all kinds of people. Messages telling her that Cora had ditched Brandon, or that he'd gotten her pregnant, or that he was abusing her. And other messages asking her to confirm or deny the rumors. By the end of practice, girls were asking her about it in person. And Cora wouldn't answer texts or pick up her phone. Both Jacinta and Gabriela had called her on the ride home; she wasn't talking to them either.

A call to her Mom had at least established that Cora was home in her room.

She got in and raced up the stairs two at a time. At Cora's door, she paused to catch her breath, then knocked. "Hey. C'mon in," she heard.

She opened the door and surveyed the situation. Cora lay on her side on her bed, laptop open beside her.

"What happened?" she wailed.

Cora just looked at her and said, "I broke up with him."

"But why?" she wailed again. "One bad dream doesn't..."

Cora looked obstinate. "I'm not good for him. He deserves a girlfriend who's really a girl."

Erica, angered, bit out, "So you think I'm conning David?"

Cora, alarmed, backpedaled. "That's... different. David asked you out. You weren't using him. And you're... further along than me."

Erica shook her head. "Right after Danielle got caught, I remember this whole big spiel about how you didn't want to hurt him. 'He should be able to trust somebody someday,' you said."

Cora shrank in on herself. "I made a mistake. I shouldn't have even started all this. I should have stopped it then." She looked Erica in the face, begging almost. "I just don't want it to get any worse. Let him get too attached."

"You trying to tell me it didn't hurt him? Just dumping him out of nowhere?"

"It's better this way. He can get over it, go off to college and find a real girl." She was up on her knees, wringing her hands. "It's hurt him now or hurt him more later."

Erica was shaking her head now. "You know what I think? That it's all bullshit. I think you're scared about how you feel about him."

Clearly that stung. After a beat, Cora replied, "Fuck yeah, I'm scared!" She swallowed. "That's why I had to push him away. I want him too much. These stupid hormones. Sometimes I feel like I want to be with him forever. And I can't!"

She was looking at the wall. "Remember Valentines Day? Watching 'Mannequin'?" She didn't wait to see if Erica nodded or anything. "There was that scene where they take that motorcycle ride. And there's just this cheesy music, no words, and she's holding onto him, and you see her smile. And you can tell she's all in love."

Her hands were curled up again. "Back then, it was funny. Now, like, a week ago, I caught myself doing the same fucking thing on a ride with Brandon." She swallowed, clearly fighting tears. "I want him to love me. But if he loves me it'll break his heart someday!"

Erica's own emotions were a lot more tangled now. After all, she wanted David that way, too.

Her next words hurt them both. But they were true and necessary. "Um, look, we're in high school. No matter how we feel... let's face it. High school kids don't get married. Except if somebody gets pregnant. And if they do, it ain't 'happily ever after'."

She could see in Cora's eyes what she wanted to say - Sometimes it is! Her own heart wanted to raise that objection. But they were both practical enough to recognize the odds. Even when Magical complications were left out.

Erica finished. "I think you're worried about you getting hurt, not him."

Cora was perceptibly on the defensive. "Okay, look, I wanna be over him before I turn back. I need to be over him before." Erica, unwilling, had to nod. She could understand that. "That's not why I did it, though."

Erica threw up her hands. "Well, either way, I think it was a mistake." She sighed. "But I guess it's done now."

"I guess." Cora sounded oddly tentative about that.

Erica peered at her friend. "What's going on?" Even as she said it, Cora's phone pinged. "Hey, that's his ringtone!"

Cora shrugged, sadly. "He keeps texting me. And sending Skype invites. Even emails."

"Oh."

~~~~~

Saturday was quiet. Cora had told her friends to give her space, despite their pleas - and, eventually, demands. She even called in sick to work.

Erica went in to hostess and had to fend off questions from everyone, including Gretchen. She was able to deny the most lurid rumors - pregnancy, drugs, violence, etc. However, since she couldn't exactly reveal Cora's true motives, and didn't agree with them anyway, she feared her objections fell a little flat.

David swung by on her break, and offered to help. "He's really down about it. He can't figure out why she dumped him." He shrugged. "Gotta say, neither can I."

She could only repeat what she'd been saying to everyone else. "Brandon didn't do anything wrong. It's all about her, not him. Honest. She's... dealing with some stuff." Honesty forced her to add, "Not very well."

David obviously wasn't any happier with that than she was. He gave her a hug and a kiss and they parted on an unsatisfying note.

When she got home, Cora was still up, on the couch in the family room. She was playing with her phone, acting bemused.

"How's it going?" Erica asked diffidently.

Cora looked up from the screen. "He posted a YouTube playlist on my feed. A bunch of songs." No need to guess who 'he' was. She handed the phone over.

One was already queued up; Erica started it. A One Direction song, "She's Not Afraid". She'd heard it before; Haylie was a fan. The message was pretty clear, especially since it was a lyrics video:

She's not afraid of all the attention
She's not afraid of running wild
How come she's so afraid
Of falling in love

She skipped ahead, and recognized the next one in line, too: "Cold Inside" by B Story. She didn't have to let it play through, she knew the chorus of that one:

Up inside the sky I see a shooting star,
And I wish, I wish you'd let me love you.

She stopped playback and passed it back to Cora. "Huh," she said neutrally. "Looks like he, um, isn't just going away."

"He'll get over it," Cora said. "Better now than later."

"You sure that..."

"Yeah," Cora declared, "I'm sure." Erica felt it wasn't delivered with quite as much conviction as might be expected. But she gave Cora a little squeeze on her arm and left her looking at her phone.

If there was a Cora Conference that night, she wasn't invited.

~~~~~

Sunday was very, very quiet. Cora wasn't in the mood to go anywhere, and despite her exasperation Erica didn't want to leave her hurting alone. Jacinta and Gabriela had stopped begging to come over. Even David was busy; he'd been called in to work. She texted with Linda and Kristina for a while, which helped with sharing feelings at least. Again, the problem was she couldn't fully explain Cora's motives to them, so they remained confused. Only partly sympathetic, and confused. They reported that Cora and Brandon were major subjects of gossip, again.

That night, the girls made love, wordlessly. After, Cora sheltered in Erica's arms and wept softly. Then she went off to sleep in her room.

~~~~~

Erica gave Cora a side-hug before they got on the bus. It was just as well that David had texted he couldn't give her a ride to school. Cora wouldn't be riding with Brandon, so she wanted to go along on the bus and give her friend what moral support she could.

Cora was as somber as she'd anticipated. The girls didn't say much, but she did hold Erica's hand. Erica couldn't help noticing that people were looking at them and whispering. She wasn't sure if Cora picked up on it; she was in her own world.

As they were turning in to the school driveway, a little commotion started up front - people talking, pointing at something ahead. Erica craned her neck to see, but couldn't tell what was going on; they were sitting in the back half of the bus.

But then people started looking back again. Back at her.

No - they were staring at Cora. She definitely hadn't noticed them yet, lost in her thoughts.

Oh, Goddess, what now? Erica prayed in despair. Please, just a little mercy! Don't let Cora be hurt anymore, I'm begging you...

But then they stopped in front of the school, and it was crystal clear why everyone on the bus was looking at Cora, waiting for her reaction. Erica turned to watch, too.

That reaction was pure, dumbfounded surprise.

Brandon had on high-top sneakers, black pants, a white t-shirt, and a tan trench coat. He was holding a big antique boom box over his head. and it was cranked, loudly playing "In Your Eyes", by Peter Gabriel. That moment from the movie "Say Anything" had become a pop-culture riff; everyone knew what he was imitating.

People were giving him some space, but he was the center of attention, with at least five cell phones taking pictures and video. Everyone was looking. Everyone who wasn't on the bus with Cora, at least.

Cora just sat there, mouth slightly open, blinking stupidly. She stood up when Erica rose, pulling on her arm. The walk down the aisle to the door seemed to take forever.

The moment Cora stepped off the bus, Brandon put the boom box down. He immediately unbuttoned the coat and shrugged it off. Then he bent down and began to pull off his shoes.

Erica wasn't quite as focused on Brandon, so she noticed David appearing from around the 'Hillman High School' sign carrying a duffel bag. He gave her a quick smile, and then looked behind her. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw Jacinta and Gabriela carrying their own bundles.

By the time she turned back, David was yanking things out of the bag. First, a white shirt, formal and starched. Brandon smoothly slipped it on and worked on buttoning it as David extracted the next surprise, polished black men's shoes. Erica suddenly realized the black pants weren't just casual slacks, they had dark piping along the seam.

Cora was finally looking around, noticing people besides Brandon. "'Cinta? What..."

But Jacinta just held up a hand, forestalling conversation. She and Gabriela took up a place behind the boys, smiling like crazy.

David produced a tie and cummerbund from the package. Brandon worked the tie as David clipped on the cummerbund, so slick and coordinated they had to have practiced.

And, lastly, the jacket. Now Brandon was in a tux, and it had taken less than a minute. Jacinta pulled out a bouquet of roses, and flipped it underhand to Brandon. He nearly flubbed the catch, but got hold of the stems after one bounce between his hands.

He turned and dropped to one knee, facing Cora, holding out the flowers. Behind him, Gabriela and Jacinta unrolled a large, colorful banner. It had one word on it.

Which was, of course, "Prom?"

Erica had figured it out at least thirty seconds ago, but Cora's eyes were so wide she practically looked like an anime character. They were pinned on Brandon.

She opened her mouth, closed it and swallowed hard, opened it again, but didn't make a sound. Finally she just nodded, drops starting to appear at the corners of those too-wide eyes.

Brandon hopped to his feet with a big grin and swept her up in a hug. A few cheers arose from the onlookers. Jacinta and Gabriela exchanged a high-five, giggling.

David ambled over to Erica, admiring the two lovebirds as Cora whispered something to Brandon that she couldn't quite hear.

Erica couldn't make her glower as ferocious as she wanted; she was too happy. But she managed an accusing tone when she said to David, "You were in on this? And you didn't tell me?"

David summoned his cocky smile. "Security, babe. You weren't on the need-to-know list, and we couldn't risk you spilling something by accident." He gave her a little squeeze, and said, "You're not all that good at hiding your feelings, y'know."

Erica didn't argue. Being free to express her emotions was one of the perks of girlhood she'd come to treasure. She just shook her head for a moment as she looked at Cora. The girl appeared dazed... but happy. Goddess, thank you! Thank you! Erica prayed.

But she didn't think David should be allowed to get away clean. She gave him a sidelong smirk, and said, "I can't wait to see how you're gonna ask me to prom!"

That knocked the grin right off his face. His eyes got almost as big as Cora's. She had to laugh.

~~~~~

Cora backed in through the front door, waving goodbye to Brandon, just barely in time for dinner.

"So I hear something happened this morning?" Miranda drawled as the door closed. She and Erica were smiling.

Cora nodded, only slightly abashed. "Yeah. He asked me to Prom."

"I want to hear all about it. Over dinner." The ladies made it into the dining room.

Cora told the story, more animated than they'd seen in a long time. "He rented the tux for a whole day!" she marveled. "And he's probably gonna have to give up the deposit, 'cause he wore it all day. Even at lunch!"

"I don't think Brandon would care all that much," Erica said, compelled by honesty.

Miranda said, diffidently, "I assume this means the breakup is off, right?"

Cora blushed a little, but nodded.

"It's a woman's prerogative to change her mind," Miranda noted dryly.

Yet Cora wasn't amused; she suddenly was acting both troubled and resigned: "Whatever. Erica was right. I'm gonna have to be a girl for at least a couple years, right? I figure it'll take care of itself. If he won't quit me cold turkey, I'll just taper him off." She shrugged. "He'll get tired of me eventually. If we even make it past graduation, he'll go to a real school, and I'll just go to community college. We'll 'try' the long-distance thing and 'grow apart'." She shook her head sadly. "I'm too crazy. And I can't go all the way with him." She shuddered. "Can you imagine? I get pregnant, have a baby... and disappear, leaving him on the hook?" She spread her hands, despairing. "And Cory wouldn't have any legal way to have anything to do with the kid, either."

Erica was just as disturbed by the vision. But she had an unnerving hunch that Miranda's disturbed expression had some other cause.

Miranda's next words, changing the subject, somehow reinforced Erica's feeling. "Well, this is a lovely bonus for me, anyway." Cora looked her way, puzzled. Miranda clarified quickly. "I expected to be helping one girl get ready for prom. Now I get two! I assume you haven't yet picked out a dress?"

Cora obviously wasn't thinking about babies anymore. Her mouth hung open in entirely new horror.

Into the silence, Erica said, quietly, "David hasn't technically asked me yet..."

~~~~~

Shopping for Prom could have been much more painful than it turned out to be. Erica had thought back on that first shopping trip with Cora, months ago, however, and she'd had a brilliant idea...

"How about these?" Linda asked, holding up a pair of pumps.

"Maybe," Erica said, leaning in to examine the prospects.

Cora's eyes were already glazing over while they'd started looking in the first shoe store. When Miranda explained that today was only a scouting expedition, that they couldn't possibly buy shoes until a dress had been selected, she groaned out loud. With Linda present, however, she had to moderate her behavior and complaints to a large degree.

So when they moved on to dress shops, she plowed gamely on. "If I realized it was gonna take all this, I woulda told him 'no'!" Cora grumbled at one point. Yet she didn't stop looking at fabrics.

Erica had gone through the process once before, prepping herself and guiding Linda for Homecoming, so she knew what to expect and tried to steer Cora through some of the pitfalls.

On the ride back, the girls chattered away. "Paul was so cute when he asked me," Linda said. "He didn't do a big production like Brandon or anything, But he did dress up and take me out to dinner."

"That's what David did, too," Erica said. "Said he didn't want to make it a competition." She grinned. "I bet he just couldn't think of anything."

"Maybe try breaking up with a guy first," Cora suggested, deadpan. "Gets them all turnt."

Everybody laughed. When that settled down, Linda asked Erica, "When did Haylie get her hair cut?"

"'Bout a week and a half back," she said. "She's still getting used to it."

Linda nodded. "Looks good on her."

"Yes, it does," Miranda sighed.

Erica agreed. She still wondered why it seemed to bother her Mom some. And wondered if Eric would have been sensitive enough to notice.

"I just wish I knew what I could wear," Linda was now lamenting. "You guys are gonna look awesome no matter what, but I'm gonna look like a whale."

"Oh, please, you looked totes adorbs at Homecoming!" Erica said, amused. "And you're even thinner now!"

"Oh, please, yourself," Linda sulked. "What do I got to match either of you two?"

"Boobs," Cora said, without hesitation.

Erica laughed. "Got us both beat there."

Linda couldn't dispute that.

~~~~~

Cora broke off the kiss, gently, and leaned her head on Brandon's shoulder. They were on a bench in the park, middle of the day. Just some basic PDA.

He still wasn't totally clear on why she'd tried to dump him. Maybe she'd just been testing him, wanting him to prove he really did want her. At this point, though, he was quite sure it was behind them. The last few days she just seemed... more relaxed. Less guarded.

Case in point; she snuggled up against his flank and sighed, sounding remarkably content. "I've been thinking."

"Yeah?" He settled his arm around her, holding her close.

"That thing Mrs. Ellsworth said. About my name."

He tried to remember. "Yeah?" he repeated, feeling behind the curve again.

"I think I'm gonna go by 'Jewel' now." She turned her head to look up in his face. "You okay dating a 'Jewel'?"

He hesitated only a second. "Hey, you're precious to me."

She groaned, but smiled a little anyway. She even gave him another kiss. Apparently that was an acceptable response.

Don't think I'll ever get her figured out, Brandon thought. But at least most of her surprises are good ones.

"Did you call about the limo yet?"

"Uh... not yet." Yeah - most of her surprises. She hadn't said anything about it before he'd asked, but since then she'd been very invested in Prom - almost obsessively so. He'd never got the idea that she cared about that stuff.

~~~~~

'Jewel' notified the Jardins of her decision at dinner that night. Of course they'd all gone along with it, despite their natural surprise.

And of course they'd arranged a Cora Conference that night.

Erica had never seen the Sisters at such a loss. There was complete silence for many seconds after she and her Mom finished their report.

She couldn't stand it. "So is it good news or bad news or what?"

Jacqui had been nibbling her lower lip. "'Or what', I think. Probably?"

Bronwyn was nodding slowly. "It sounds like she's embracing a more feminine self-image. But..."

Laurie, with a worried frown, completed the thought. "But it's more of a break from herself as she used to be, as Cory."

"Is that... bad?" Erica asked softly, turning a glance at her Mother.

Miranda looked concerned, too. "Sisters pick names for their boys with feminine equivalents." A trace of humor curled her mouth a touch. "Or usually, the other way around. I always liked the name Erica, so..."

The worry was contagious. Erica put her hand over her Mom's, as much for her own comfort as for Miranda. "I like Erica, too."

The Sisters all laughed softly, briefly. It helped.

Laurie spoke. "It's a pretty name. But..." She paused, marshaling thoughts. Her smile faded. "But the idea is to... make a link to the past. A female version of the name they grew up with. The same in a lot of ways, just a new gender."

Erica pondered for a moment what it would have been like if she had suddenly had to answer to Susan or Britney or something. It would have made the Transition that much harder. Especially those rough early days. Like nothing was left of who she'd been.

"I guess." She looked up at the screen, the witches looking back. "But, like, it's her choice here, right? To be 'Jewel'?"

The senior Sisters paused again. "Some Sisters do change their names like that," Jacqui admitted. "Only after they decide to stay as girls, though. Kind of a, a declaration of a whole new identity, y'know?"

Bronwyn's jaw looked tight. "Cora... or Jewel... there's already a serious dissociation between her now and Cory, her old self." She sighed heavily. "It could make going back that much harder. Normally that's no problem. Just the reverse. In her case, though..."

Erica tried to picture her friend ultimately staying as a girl. Even with all the changes Cora/Jewel had undergone, she couldn't quite do it. And when she imagined her changing back...

It was going to be hard. So hard. Because of all the changes she'd gone through, even if being male was what she really wanted. And what Mr. and Mrs. Ellsworth - and the Sisterhood - needed.

Then something else struck Erica, and the distress must have shown on her face, because Laurie and her Mother asked, almost simultaneously, what was wrong.

"We're gonna have to disappear after Cory comes back. You said so. But that means Cory's gonna have to face that reverse Transition alone. With no one she... he can even talk about it with. Oh, Goddess!"

From the expressions she saw, it wasn't a totally unanticipated problem. Jacqui didn't look too hopeful when she said, "Maybe we can do some kinda encrypted chat. Sometimes."

Bronwyn waved her hand. "Right now I'm more worried about dealing with the problems we already have."

"And is this name change a problem?" Miranda asked, being practical.

Bronwyn looked unusually uncertain. Laurie spoke up. "We can't know yet. And I don't think we could forbid it without causing worse problems." She shrugged and said, "I'm going to pray that it's a hopeful sign."

"It's one less security headache, at least. One less reminder of Cory," Jacqui noted philosophically.

~~~~~

The lunch conversation was in full swing. Both conversations, actually.

The girls had gotten onto Prom, and the boys had very quickly found other things to talk about among themselves. Erica suspected Cora... Jewel might have joined them if she'd been sitting a little closer, but she was on the other side of Erica.

Still, she held her own. "I found a clutch that'll go with my dress, so I don't have to use Brandon's pockets to carry everything."

"I'll probably hafta carry a bag," Gabriela sighed.

"Just leave it in the limo," Jacinta said. Like Homecoming, the group had gone in together on transportation for the evening.

"Well, duh."

Kristina hadn't said much. Now she spoke up. "I was always gonna wear a long, cream double-faced gown to Prom." Her face was guarded. "Been thinking 'bout it since the fifth grade. Saw my neighbor heading out to prom in one."

"You still could go stag, hang with us," Erica said. "It'd sure piss Prina off." Jimmy had asked the usurper to Prom.

Kristina waved the idea away. "Can't dance all swelled up like this. Especially my feet. Without a boy, why bother?"

None of the girls quite knew what to say to that. Finally Jacinta reached out and took Kristina's hand. "I'm sorry Jimmy turned out to be such an asshole."

Kristina said "Hmpf," with a trace of smile. She looked over to another corner of the cafeteria, at another girl, though. "Fuck him. I do miss Skylar, though."

Jewel said, "Fuck her, too. She was your friend."

Kristina shook her head sadly. "I don't hate her. I understand why. We were both poor. She's all set on going to college and making it. Making it out." She shrugged. "She doesn't even wanna think about getting preggers. Not 'til she's, like, got an executive suite or something."

"You can do that, too," Erica said, encouraging.

Kristina's sardonic, jaded expression spoke volumes. "Gonna take me a leetle longer, though."

That was hard to deny. Erica just said, "You'll make it. We'll all help."

~~~~~

Erica turned the knob, pushed in the door to Cora's... Jewel's room, and was momentarily stunned. Music was playing, cranked up, but the spell had concealed that until the door was opened. Erica rushed in and slammed it behind her, hoping the noise hadn't disturbed her Mom or Haylie. It was nighttime, and they were getting ready for bed.

The view was only a little less stunning. Jewel was dancing, in heels and a longish skirt. And no top. She was watching some kind of dance-instruction YouTube video, following along with the moves.

"I like the red dress better!" she called out over the music. Jewel whirled and shrieked, then smiled sheepishly as she paused the video.

She didn't seem too abashed. "I just don't wanna be, like, embarrassing when we dance. I can walk in heels, but dancing's a whole 'nother level, y'know?"

"Yeah, girls can be kinda bitchy about stuff like that."

But Jewel shrugged. "I could give a fuck." She said it with a flat finality that convinced Erica she meant it. Then her eyes took on a soft and distant look. "It's Brandon I care about. He went to all this trouble. For me." She focused on Erica. "I'm gonna make sure he has a good time. The best."

Erica leaned in for a quick hug. "Well, you looked good." When she pulled back, she grinned and said, "But I still think the red dress'll work better."

Jewel looked down at her bare chest ruefully. "Hey, he likes looking at my boobs. What there is of 'em, anyway." She returned Erica's grin. "But that's for after. He'll just hafta wait."

"You still sure about after?"

The girls had a plan. While staying out overnight was still out of the question, they'd extracted a very late curfew from Miranda by exceptional begging. Then they'd reserved two hotel rooms. The plan was to surprise their beaus with some private time before they had to go home.

"Yeah. Can't wait. Be nice to have a bed instead of a frickin' car seat." Then she walked over to her nightstand and rummaged in a lower drawer. The one Erica knew was special. "And I got an idea about 'after'."

"Oh yeah? What's that?"

Jewel pulled out the strap-on she'd ordered off the net two months ago, the one she'd nicknamed the Jolly Roger. Both of them had been 'Rogered' with some regularity since.

Jewel had a very somber expression as she turned to Erica. "I need your help," she said, softly. "I wanna try anal."

Erica was serious now, too. They hadn't done much butt play. Fingers a couple times, beads once. It wasn't a huge turn-on for either of them. "Are you sure?" she asked softly.

"No," Jewel said, then immediately shook her head. "I mean yeah, about trying. Gabriela's done it." She shrugged. "I dunno if I can do it for real, though. With him. That's why I wanna try now."

Erica bit her lip. "You mean... right now?"

"Yeah," Jewel said. She took a little breath. "I wanna do something special for him. Something we haven't done before. And I need to know if I can do this. 'Cause if not, I gotta start thinking about maybe bondage or something."

Erica squared her shoulders and said, "Okay." She pulled her t-shirt over her head.

Jewel snorted and said, "You don't gotta sound like you're getting executed." But she'd already ditched her shoes and was sliding off her skirt.

There was always an element of foreplay in donning a strapon. It had a specific purpose, after all. If someone helped you, it was even more erotic.

Nervousness tended to dampen the amorous feelings of most girls. Sisters weren't entirely typical girls, though, especially when it came to amorous pursuits. Plenty of birth-girls shared their tastes, of course, but the Transformed did tend to cluster at one end of the spectrum.

So while Erica was a little apprehensive, she was also pretty wet by the time they'd gotten on top of the bed. Not as wet as the unit itself - Jewel was quite liberal with the lube - but aroused.

Jewel settled onto hands and knees, and looked over her shoulder at Erica. "I'm, uh... clear back there, if you know what I mean," she muttered.

Erica scooted forward on her knees, positioning herself. It was hardly an unfamiliar view of her friend, but the situation made it somehow new.

Using hands and hips, she lined up, tip touching the target. Jewel looked forward. Erica rocked her pelvis forward, gingerly, and entered an inch.

"It's okay," Jewel said, though her voice was tense. "Keep going."

She did, a few more inches. Then back, then forth, still careful. Jewel was breathing deeply, but didn't object. In fact, she said, "You can go a little harder."

Over the course of the next few minutes, they experimented. Jewel determined acceptable angles and depths and rhythms - and a handful of unacceptable ones. Although it wasn't dispassionate experimentation, neither of them came.

Eric would have worried about that, but Erica had learned that females could genuinely enjoy a sexual escapade without necessarily requiring an orgasm. Climaxes were welcome - of course - but tended to require more time and effort for females than males. Besides, female parts didn't get aches from unfinished excitement the same way.

Eventually, Jewel was satisfied with the data they'd generated, and they disengaged with caution. Erica paused as Jewel gingerly turned and experimentally sat on the bed. After a moment, she said, "Well, it wasn't bad. Just kinda... weird."

"I don't think you need to do anything extra special for Brandon, y'know," Erica said as she worked on undoing the straps.

"Yeah, I know." Jewel shrugged. "I want to."

Erica divested herself of the instrument. She licked her lips. Jewel's mouth quirked, and she laid back invitingly. Erica moved in for a kiss.

Eventually, they both managed to come.

~~~~~

Erica ran a dark pencil along the edge of her eyelid, moving toward her nose. Then, easing back the other way, she smeared it out. Laying it back on the dresser, she picked up a grey pencil and carefully worked it on the rest of the lids. Finally, she applied mascara, not even noticing how confidently she went about it.

She inserted the brush back into the bottle, and evaluated her eyes. Just what she was aiming for - smoky, mysterious. David wouldn't stand a chance. The other girls would be impressed, too. She watched in the mirror as Jewel put on some lipstick. They had gotten home from the salon with barely enough time to get dressed and put on their faces. Manis, pedis, and hair took time to do right. "Your girls are looking good," she remarked.

Jewel gave her cleavage a glance. "Push-up bra is almost as good as a Glamour," she said, not without some satisfaction. She regarded them both in the mirror, then put an arm around Erica's shoulder - or at least a hand, she had to reach up - and said, "Better than mortal man deserves."

Erica snorted. Not many girls would make - or catch - a Terminator reference like that. Then she checked her phone laying on the counter. "Omigod, it's almost time!" The pair set to completing their makeup with wordless efficiency. Erica finished right when Linda came in, and she moved aside so her friend could take her place in front of the mirror.

Again the Jardin women had had to pressure Linda's father for a proper clothing-and-makeup budget. They hadn't quite had to resort to Suggestion, but Miranda was glad there were no more major upcoming Events beyond graduation. Linda had come early in the morning to start getting ready.

The doorbell rang. "Ooh, they're here!" Jewel called, and dashed to the door, barely slowed anymore by heels. Erica heard the cries of Jacinta and Gabriela.

Erica followed more sedately. Jewel's friends had arrived in the limo with their dates. She took a moment to examine the sartorial choices displayed.

Both Jewel and Erica had curves, but it was undeniable that Erica's were more pronounced. So the dresses they had settled on were different.

Jewel's upper bodice was decorated with ruffles, to enhance her bust, and the hips sported a peplum that helped them appear broader. Erica's dress was simpler and smoother, outlining her figure without elaborating on it.

Both dresses had pronounced décolletage, though Erica's was asymmetric, her right shoulder covered and left exposed. Jewel would likely have gone strapless if not for her decision to employ breast-enhancing undergarments. She'd settled for a sleeveless outer garment, though she wore evening gloves.

Linda's fuller figure called for a different approach still. A halter dress, with an empire waist and a narrow pleated ruching along the center line, helped to lengthen her frame.

And yet, to any girl's eye it was obvious they had coordinated somewhat. All three dresses were in the red color family, though of course different shades to complement their different natural coloring. The base satin fabrics were nearly identical. And each girl sported very similar strappy heels.

They looked good individually, and standing together formed a definite theme. Nor was that the only coordination that had gone on. Jewel's hairdo involved gentle curls and a few ribbons - and bore a marked resemblance to that of Jacinta and Gabriela. As did the shared choice of evening gloves, though the two Hispanic girls had gone for peach coloring for their ensembles.

And the boys won't even notice, Erica thought ruefully. All they know is their cummerbund matches the girl's dress.

David arrived within a few minutes, looking quite yummy. It was strangely moving when he offered her the corsage. As a boy, she'd - he'd - found the idea funny. Giving a girl a plant's sex organs, how symbolic could you get? Now, though, even though she understood the semantics, she appreciated the gesture.

Brandon was the last to show, though not by much. Jewel seemed just as touched as she helped him pin an orchid on her dress.

Pictures galore were taken, of course. The girls together, the boys together, selfies, couples, the whole group. Entire albums posted before they got into the limo.

Which cast a faint shadow on Erica's mood as she peeked at her phone. Kristina had 'liked' a bunch of the images. Erica wished she would have come. Like Homecoming night, she was having a sleepover with Renée. And little Lucy.

Dinner reservations were at a nice place, of course. Although it wasn't their first preference; other Promgoers had been faster and filled up the best choice. (Both she and Jewel had debated asking Jacqui to Magically shuffle some reservations, but neither had quite dared.)

Jewel and Brandon sat at a table with Jacinta, Gabriela, and their dates. Erica and David had a table with Linda and Paul.

Again Erica was struck by how easily David put people at ease, drew them out. Despite the fact that Paul usually wasn't very talkative (one of the few things Linda acknowledged annoyed her about him) he managed to draw Paul into an extended telling of tales about marching band. Stories of his biggest mistakes brought up Erica's own public, Carrie-engineered fail. She could laugh with them at it now, and David - who'd talked with Harry plenty of times - admitted he was surprised that Carrie had done such a thing. Of course, the girl had changed a lot since then, for the better. Erica was pleased when she reflected on that.

Her weird little feeling came back, though. The one she'd started calling - to herself - 'female intuition'. Something was coming into focus. People trusted David - like Paul. Even if they'd just met him. Even if they had no real reason to. Erica felt she did have reason to trust him - over the past months he'd proven to be an attentive and reliable boyfriend. And yet... and yet. That feeling of danger had never quite vanished...

It colored her mood for a while. David seemed to sense it, and - though apparently puzzled - worked to cheer her up. He succeeded, though not until the end of the meal did she recover all her former good spirits. The intuition was still too diffuse to make any decisions on, anyway.

Before leaving for the Prom proper, the girls repaired to the ladies room to make whatever repairs to their appearance were necessary. Linda pursed her lips and checked her lipstick. "The steak was really good."

Jewel grinned as she smoothed a little blush on one cheek. "I like the spaghetti carbonara here better. But no way was I taking that chance." Erica nodded in understanding. Steak could be cut into small, controllable pieces. Noodles and sauce were a far greater threat to clothes and makeup. None of the girls had suffered any clothing damage, thankfully. So they went out to meet their waiting beaus and head to the banquet hall.

They arrived at the hall entrance in at least as much style as the other students. Well, except for Carrie, Harry, and her crew, who had sprung for the Humvee limo. Erica suppressed various snarky thoughts about Carrie and hummers and let it go. She swept into the banquet hall with her friends and began the rounds. As a girl, Prom wasn't just a place to go and dance. Seeing, and being seen, was a duty, not an option. Erica made sure to head over to check in with Trahn and the rest. After the most essential interactions, they let their boys go off to fetch drinks and called on other necessary stops.

Before long, the music started, and dancing commenced in earnest. The DJ was pretty good, mixing in just a few old standards with the contemporary stuff. It was a blast. During a slow dance, with the attention she could spare from David's smiling face and firm lead, she checked on Jewel.

The tiny little brunette and Brandon danced together. Brandon's smile reminded her of David's; one might almost call it 'loving'. And Jewel, head tilted up to look in his eyes...

If Linda had looked at Paul like that, Erica would have been purely happy for her. On Jewel's face, that radiant smile provoked decidedly mixed emotions. Because if Jewel fell in love with Brandon - really in love - the potential complications didn't bear thinking about.

For that matter, she suspected her own smile was a little radiant, too. She hadn't entirely decided to stay a girl; right after Cory's Transformation, she'd almost decided not. But she'd been steadily warming up to the idea again. What was she going to do about David?

Well, for now, I'm just gonna dance with him, she decided. So she did.

Trahn and Shianti and Melanie found her a bit later and gathered her up. The cheerleaders took over a big chunk of the dance floor for a group picture. And held onto it for a while after, using it for its intended purpose.

The whole night was a delight. Even the end, as they were leaving, had its charms.

The girls and Brandon stood at the door, waiting for David to summon a ride. Jimmy and his crew, along with their girls, came by. Prina glanced and them and scoffed. Friends of Kristina were her enemies. Jimmy noticed and caught Brandon's attention. Then he nodded at Jewel. "Hey, man, have fun tonight! She's got a nice bod!" There were general snickers. One guy took up Jewel's pose in the picture Danielle took.

Brandon stood straighter - but Jewel just looked right in the eyes of Jimmy's date, and said, sweetly, "I'm so sorry, Prina."

"For what?" she spat.

Jewel was sympathy incarnate. "Even on a special night like this, Jimmy's thinking about me instead of you."

Erica could not help feeling schadenfreude at Prina's expression. For a moment, the girl looked like she'd been knifed in the belly. And Jimmy was suddenly, thoroughly discomfited. He started to say something - but Prina, evidently deciding to cut their losses, just shook her head and led their group away.

~~~~~

David had let himself enjoy Prom. The less acting required, the better, right? Except when he got near Jewel. Then he had to stay deliberately casual. In the Uber on the way to the hotel, at least he had Erica between them.

It was creepy to contemplate. Cory had been a very definite male, and certainly the alpha of at least his social circle. Subtle investigation - by the Brotherhood, not just David himself - had turned up zero hints of prior homosexuality, or cross-dressing, or anything of that nature. Yet 'Jewel'...

Even when he'd first arrived on the scene, David had found it hard to think of Jewel - well, 'Cora', then - as a Transformed boy. He would have bought her as lesbian, definitely as a tomboy... but not a male playing a part. Now, as 'Jewel'... she was quite enthusiastic about getting physical with Brandon. He was nearly certain he could have seen through an act anyway, but he had Magical empathic resources, too. Not that he had to be particularly sensitive to pick up that signal. Especially right now, the way she was looking at Brandon...

David wondered - if he'd been Transformed, would he have succumbed the same way? Of course, he'd already determined the Sisterhood's Magic was powerful and thorough. In many senses, it was as if the subjects were re-born as girls. Philosophy, again. If he'd been born a girl - difficult as that was to imagine - 'Davina' or whatever most likely wouldn't have been a lesbian. Could he blame, say, Linda, for kissing Paul the way she had when they left the Prom?

In fact, in what sense could he say that Jewel - or Erica - weren't actually girls? Surely there had to be one. His whole mission hinged on it, right? But it was getting very difficult indeed to find it.

~~~~~

Brandon watched the girls hug in the hallway. "See ya later!" Erica said. David didn't hug him, of course, but gave him a sort of nod and grin. Then Brandon went with Jewel to their room and opened the door for her.

As he closed the door, he consciously worked to manage his own expectations. They'd never been alone with a bed and a couple hours to themselves. He warned himself, yet again, not to anticipate - and especially not to push for - anything more than they'd already done.

He didn't even really have a problem with that. It wasn't like Jewel owed him anything, and she was pretty fucking good at what she was willing to do. It was just hormones talking. Jewel had no idea how sexy she could be.

Like right now, setting her strapless purse thing down and looking back at him with those half-lidded eyes. She unzipped the bag and rummaged around in it for a second.

"I got a little something for you. For us." She pulled out a tube of... toothpaste? She held it up, and he saw it was lube. And then some condoms.

His confusion must have been obvious. She smiled, and said, gently, "Let's try a little back-door action."

He felt like his brain had locked up. He'd never have bet on her saying that in a million years. And so fast. Just walk in, and bam, she was proposing anal. He just stared, feeling the stupid look on his own face but not able to do anything about it. His internal sarcasm module commented, Oh, yeah, she's a total rug-muncher.

She looked puzzled, and maybe just starting to get worried. He forced himself to talk. Or, at least, gabble. "I... uh, whoa, that's... I mean, it's, like, whoa! But you don't have to... I mean, if you haven't... Have you? Oh, jeez, not that I care! But if, you're, like..."

She started to talk fast, too. "If you don't want to, it's okay, I just..."

He put both hands up; she stopped. "I'm, um, I'm down with it. But only if you really, like... I mean, if you're, I dunno, like... saving yourself or something..."

Jewel had been looking more and more bemused, but at that she burst into peals of laughter. He shut up again.

She got control of herself, enough to talk. But she was still fighting off giggles. "I don't care about being a virgin." She paused there, mouth open, then seemed to reconsider whatever she'd been about to say. She shook her head, then said, looking him right in the eye, "I want this. I want to be with you." She only half-stifled another laugh. "Seriously, even I can't believe how much."

She stepped closer, still holding his eyes with hers, now just a little more somber. "It's just, I can't get pregnant. I can't take any chances. Birth control doesn't work so great with my family." She was right in front of him, now, and put a hand on his chest. He was looking down into those adorable eyes. "So if this is the only way I can have you inside me, I'll take it."

He licked his lips. "Okay." He took a deep breath, and put all the confidence he could muster into a smile. He'd never done anal either. "But first..."

He took her in his arms, and kissed her. His dick was about four steps ahead already, but he was not going to rush this. So it took several minutes for them to gradually get their clothes off and get onto the bed. She kept her heels and stockings on; he'd admitted once that he liked the way her legs looked in tights.

She reached for his prick, but he blocked her hand. Then he guided her onto her back and began to play with her nipples. He'd discovered they were quite sensitive; his fingers and tongue could induce the most entertaining wriggles and squeaks. He couldn't be certain, but he thought he'd maybe actually got her to come like that, once.

After a while, he got his face between her legs.

It had been mortifying, excruciatingly uncomfortable at the time, but now he was grudgingly glad his bachelor uncle had drunkenly taken him aside once at a party and given him... tips. Not specific ones, just general guidelines. "You're not gonna have any trouble finishing. She might. So make it a rule. Her first, whatever it takes."

So he'd payed attention to Jewel, these past weeks, and he was pretty sure he got her to finish twice before he relented. She still wasn't a screamer, but he'd come to cherish the small moans and gasps she did make. The whole time he was hard, anticipation lurking in the back of his mind.

He got up on his knees, and Jewel slithered around and took a few moments to apply her own oral skills. He had slightly mixed emotions when she stopped and looked up at him. It wasn't like a blowjob was unpleasant, especially not the way she did it - and here they had space to spread out so he could look at her body. And he was a little worried he would hurt her. He was inexperienced in this mode. Not that he'd racked up a huge score in the standard one, of course...

Jewel, though, seemed unafraid as she applied a condom and plentiful lubrication to his cock. And he couldn't pick up any hesitation as she positioned herself on the bed, legs spread, rear facing him, tilted up just a bit. Looking back over her shoulder at him. With those stockings and shoes, it was almost like a porn shot.

She trusted him. He wasn't sure he deserved it, but he'd fucking well do his best not to let her down.

He advanced on his knees, got himself lined up. Still not quite believing this was really happening. Slowly, he pushed in. Her eyes closed as her head turned away.

He was so hard, and it was so tight. He was grateful for the condom; if it hadn't been there he'd probably have already gone off.

"Uhhhhhh..." she moaned. He froze. "No! Don't stop!" She took a breath and said, almost wonderingly, "It's good..."

He started moving back and forth. Gently, gently. Jewel moved her hips a little, but she wasn't pulling away. After a few seconds, Jewel lowered herself onto one elbow, and reached back for her crotch with the other hand.

It didn't take too long for him to come. He wasn't trying to last, scared he might do damage if he kept going. He even pulled out carefully.

She was breathing hard, too. Maybe she'd come, maybe she hadn't. Either way she didn't act unhappy. She made him lay on his back and she personally got the condom off and thrown out. She told him not to get up. Then she walked over to the bathroom - quite a sight in the stockings and heels - came back with a wet washcloth, and cleaned his unit and her hands.

After, they curled up together. Another new thing, being basically naked together. "Mmmmm. Nice," she said, after some cuddling.

He sighed. "Like a dream. But I never dreamed us doing that."

Jewel squinted at him. "I'm in your dreams, huh?"

He snorted a little. Could she doubt it? "Sure I dream about you."

It seemed that actually bothered her. She looked suspicious. In fact, she actually looked almost mad.

He spoke up, nervous. "I didn't mean, like... Nothing sicko, honest!" He shrugged. "Actually, they're more like... romantic."

Somehow, she seemed even angrier. "Romantic, huh?" She had a full-on scowl now. But she wasn't looking at him. She was pissed at something, but he didn't think it was him anymore.

Totally confused, he floundered. "I can't control what I dream!"

At that, her eyes focused on him. "No, you can't," she said. He couldn't be sure, but he thought maybe she'd emphasized that 'you'. Was she a lucid dreamer or something? In any case, she smiled now, and moved closer.

She gave him a long, slow kiss. And to his surprise, he felt her hand on his dick, stroking gently.

She pulled back, a quite feline expression curving up her lips and lowering her eyelids. "So I'll just have to do better than your dreams." She pushed him onto his back and wriggled down the bed.

He wasn't sure how much she knew about male equipment. Especially the whole recovery period deal. When she started nuzzling his balls, though, she didn't seem to be in a hurry.

In fact, she took quite a while getting him into her mouth. Plenty of time to get stiff. Even then, she teased him some, slow and gentle.

Yet to his surprise, she didn't finish him off. Instead she got up and looked in his eyes. Never breaking her gaze, she threw a leg over his waist and straddled him.

For just a second he thought she was going to do it. Put his dick inside her pussy. Then a second later there was pressure, and wetness, but...

He finally understood what she was doing - rubbing her slit, her clit, on his prick. She must have been dripping; everything was slippery down there.

Only his shaft was getting friction. Her hips weren't going far enough forward to cover the head. Yet somehow it was enough. He loved her hips and waist, their shape, and seeing them in motion like that, legs spread wide - in stockings no less - was dead sexy.

Besides, something more than just her appearance was going on. Her eyes drilled into his, concentrated, nearly urgent. The little hitches and gasps she made - she never moaned wildly, like in pornos - announced how turned on she was. He could tell - she wanted him inside her. She really did, she meant what she'd just said. This was as close as she could get, for now.

And if she wanted that... wanted it that much... it wasn't just a physical thing. She had issues about being with boys. For whatever reason. She wouldn't get so... invested in a guy just for his looks. It might be love.

Real love. Not just high-school love.

That was scary. Some sober and realistic part of him knew he wasn't a man yet. Getting there, but not yet. What if he fucked this up? Did he even want in on something this heavy?

Watching her move, panting, staring at his face, he thought maybe he did. And then her eyes closed, her back arched, and she let out a moan. Soft, but a veritable moan.

She was coming. And suddenly, so was he.

~~~~~

It was David's duty to make Erica happy, for now. But it was disturbing how easy his duty was becoming. His emotions were mixed, as he and Erica moved into a 69.

There was embarrassment. No, call it what it was - shame. And there was lust. And the shame was there because there was so much lust. It shouldn't be this easy for her to turn him on.

There was nothing the least bit wrong about the pussy he was licking. Tasted great. And the little squeaks she made when he pressed his tongue like... so... were very cute. Plus, she'd gotten even better at blowjobs, and she'd started from 'damn good'. On every instinctive level - not just physical, but sensual and behavioral - Erica was a sexual delight.

But shouldn't his intellect have more power over his instincts? By the Dark One, Erica was a boy! Yet he really wanted to get his dick inside her... him.

It was getting harder and harder to distinguish duty from desire anymore.

~~~~~

Miranda smiled happily as she peeked out the front window. It was just a minute shy of 2 a.m. The girls were kissing their beaus goodbye with the appropriate and heartening mixture of enthusiasm and regret.

Finally they came to the door, and waved one last time as Miranda let them in.

"Well, you two look happy," she said.

"Oh, Mom, it was epic!" Erica gushed.

"We need to talk about something," Jewel said, somberly, erstwhile smug grin fading.

Miranda had seen the whole spectrum of Jewel's displeasure, from mild annoyance to berserk fury. This was irritation and some anger, but not rage. Yet.

Steeling herself, she said, as neutrally as possible, "What's the problem?"

Jewel looked determined. "Have you Sisters been mucking with Brandon's mind?"

Oh. Oh dear. "We've kept him under surveillance, certainly. You can't deny there are security concerns."

Jewel waved that off, grudgingly. "Spying is one thing. Have you planted stuff?"

Erica had been glancing nervously between her Mother and her Sister. Jewel gave her a sidelong glance and sniffed. Erica flushed; Jewel obviously had deduced her knowledge of the spying on Brandon.

Miranda spoke carefully. "I haven't..."

Jewel was not to be evaded. She didn't let Miranda finish. "What about the others? Jacqui, anybody?" She squinted. "Some dreams, say?"

No sense lying. Jewel's trust was strained as it was. Miranda wouldn't have chosen to have this conversation in the middle of the night, especially this night, but... "I believe the senior Sisters have sent an occasional dream, yes." She braced herself for an outburst.

It didn't come. In an angry but surprisingly controlled tone, Jewel asked, "How about Suggestions?"

Miranda was firm. "That, no. I would have been told."

Jewel's head tilted to the side, gauging. She apparently decided to accept Miranda's word. Still, she seemed tense, annoyed. "And they said they wouldn't help me get him."

Miranda shook her head. "I am reliably informed they didn't send anything until after you and Brandon were together. That was all you." She shrugged gently. "At that point they wanted to, um... encourage him to be... patient with you."

Jewel frowned, and Miranda braced herself for the explosion. It was already overdue.

But when Jewel spoke, she merely sounded irritated. And while her voice was intense, she didn't shout. "Well, tell them to leave his brain alone from now on. He hasn't done anything to deserve that." Her frown acquired some sorrow. "And I lined him up for it..." For once, Jewel's anger seemed partly directed at herself.

Miranda said, gently, "I will. But I do recall Bronwyn saying she didn't have to do much."

Jewel actually managed a grin, if a very wry one. "Well, there's that, I guess." Her smile grew much more sunny as her eyes went vague. "He's a really good guy. Always was, even before this whole... mess."

After a pause, Miranda decided to be diplomatic. "Well, I'm sure everyone's tired, so perhaps we should all get some sleep. I look forward to hearing all about your big night... in the morning."

The girls readily agreed, and they all went up to their beds in reasonably good humor. Miranda shook her head as she laid down, wondering if she'd ever be able to predict Jewel's reactions.

~~~~~

Of course Miranda didn't get - or want - to hear all about their night, but the girls were extensively debriefed on the family-friendly parts, with Haylie's rapt participation.

Fashion, social interactions, decorations, food and drink - all were covered in detail. Jewel was perhaps not as voluble as Erica, but neither did she stint in her reporting.

Finally even Haylie was satisfied. She wandered off, clearly entertaining visions of her own future.

Erica stood up, gathering dishes and silverware from the breakfast she'd finished over an hour ago. "I gotta call Kristina, now I can think about something besides Prom," she said. "I kinda feel bad about her missing both Homecoming and Prom. So I'm gonna make sure she gets the best baby shower ever."

"Have fun with that," Jewel said, almost visibly washing her hands of the subject as she picked up her own place setting.

"Oh, you'll be helping," Miranda said, firmly and pointedly.

Jewel looked shocked. "What?! She's not even my friend, really..."

"I think it's best for your Transition." She gave Jewel a piercing glance. "Do you imagine the topic of babies isn't a central facet of womanhood?"

"Hey, I ain't gonna be getting knocked up! I'm being super careful!"

Erica started to speak up, probably to come to Kristina's defense, but Miranda waved her down.
"No one's insisting you get pregnant," she replied, mentally crossing her fingers. It was technically true. Pregnancy was just the only way she'd ever become male again. "But you need to at least get comfortable with the subject of babies." Jewel started to say something, but Miranda spoke over her. "Every girl gets a monthly reminder of the topic, at the very minimum. Boys can ignore it a little more easily."

Jewel couldn't meet her eyes. "Ain't gonna change my mind," she muttered. It was a capitulation, and everyone knew it.

"Then at least your rejection will be much better informed," Miranda said tartly.

~~~~~

Erica and Jewel didn't get a chance to debrief on the sexy stuff until that night. They had changed into short pajamas and they were sitting on Erica's bed, talking. Erica had already described her tryst with David in deservedly glowing terms, and Jewel was going over her exploits.

"I was scared I wouldn't be able to sit down today. I was only a little sore this morning, though." She waved a hand. "Felt worse after period constipation, actually."

Erica nodded. A woman's cycle could upset her whole system. Especially Jewel's. "But how did it feel?"

"It was like... I dunno." She thought for a second, laying down on her elbow. "Usually, getting with him is like... Well, not like being a boy again, but like... having access to a boy's, a boy's power again."

Erica squinted, and said, "Okay, I'm not following."

Jewel blew some hair out of her face and frowned, searching for words. "When you're a girl, right up against a guy, sometimes you really get a feeling of how much bigger and stronger he is. I mean, Brandon's gotta weigh twice what I do. And he ain't fat." She looked in Erica's eyes. "Know what I mean? It's the same with you and David."

"Yeaahh..." Erica said slowly, cautiously. She wasn't as small as Jewel, but Brandon was a distance runner, much more wiry than David.

"Sometimes, when we're really going at it... it's like, there's all this power, and I'm kinda in control of it. He does what I want. Even when he's the one doing something, usually he's trying to make me feel good, he's focused on me, y'know?" At Erica's nod, she went on, smiling impishly. "Maybe that's why girls like horses so much. Something big and strong, but takes orders."

Erica snorted and half-smiled. Conceding understanding if not necessarily agreement.

"And I like that feeling of being in charge. Making him cum." She shrugged. "Cory always dug pushing a girl over the edge." She smiled. "Though now I wonder if maybe a couple of 'em faked it just to get him to stop."

Erica had to smile at that, too. Eric had been so ignorant.

"So that's not so different." She shifted her weight and got an abstracted expression. "But last night... with him in my ass... it was like I wasn't in control at all. Like, he was on the edge and... all that muscle... He coulda just... took what he wanted, and I couldn'ta stopped it."

Erica, slightly alarmed, started to say, "You don't think he..." But Jewel was shaking her head.

"No, I don't think he'd do that for real! He's not a dick. He wasn't even pushing that hard." Jewel's face had developed a little blush. "But I... almost wished he would. Just go crazy on me." Softly: "Not rape. Just... wild. Out of control."

Erica had noticed Jewel's nipples perking up while she'd spoken. She had seen her get wet plenty of times before and knew the signs. In truth, she understood the feeling. Sometimes when David got really excited...

Jewel was still speaking very softly. "I wanted him to make me cum. I wanted him to... take me."

After a beat, Erica said, "Okay, that I understand."

Jewel remained silent for a few moments, then said, "Cory's all..." - she sprouted a wicked smile - "...butthurt about it. Says I'm just being a 'weak little female'." She looked in Erica's eyes. "But I've been thinking. Lots of guys like, y'know, dominatrixes - dominatrices? - however you say it."

"Tru dat."

"So it's not like guys can't, y'know, 'surrender'." Jewel shrugged. "And I still like 'forcing myself' on Brandon. It's just, I think I found something new I like, too. Why can't I enjoy both? Would that be too much of a good thing or what?"

Erica's eyebrows lifted. "Sounds like you been thinking about it a lot."

Jewel scoffed. "Cory wouldn't fucking shut up about it for a while there." She tossed her head in contempt. "He was hiding most of last night."

Erica, cautiously, just said, "Not really his scene, I guess."

"For sure."

The girls lay companionably for a spell. But Erica's Transformed body had gotten aroused, and needed release. So finally Erica said, "You wanna give or take tonight?"

Jewel grinned in appreciation. "I'm thinking... some of both."

~~~~~

Erica looked around the table in the Weiss's dining room. Kristina and Mrs. Weiss were there, of course. Linda and Jewel rounded out the group. It'll be enough, Erica prayed.

Kristina had opted for a small baby shower. A few relatives and family friends. That helped.

"Okay, so, Mrs. Weiss, you get the room at the restaurant. Linda and me will do invitations. Kristina's gonna pick out the favors."

She turned. "Jewel, you're in charge of entertainment. Come up with, like, two or three games we can play."

Jewel's lips pursed, but she didn't dare glare or protest. Erica could tell she thought she was being forced to engage, to think about how the other girls and women would approach a baby shower.

Nor was she wrong. Erica was doing this to help Kristina, but there was no reason she couldn't use it to help Jewel grow a little in womanhood.

Maybe Kristina sensed some of that, or at least the girl's annoyance. "Thanks for coming," she said, squeezing Jewel's hand.

At that, Jewel shrugged, slightly embarrassed. But she said, with apparent sincerity, "No prob. Glad to help."

"So anyway, is this the final list?" Erica asked brightly.

"Yeah," Kristina said.

"All right, good. We'll get the invites out by Monday. "

~~~~~

Jewel was pensive for a while on the drive back home. "Never even thought about how... unfair the whole thing is for girls. Like, being pregnant and all."

"Can be pretty rough sometimes."

Jewel was frowning her 'concept assimilation' frown. "Fuck 'rough'. I mean... you can die in labor and shit."

Erica chewed her lip, picturing Kristina bleeding out. "Not so much nowadays. Like, in a hospital and all." She almost convinced herself.

Jewel was still grimacing. "And all Jimmy has to do is write a check once a month. Fuck, not even him, his parents."

Erica remembered her thoughts on vampires months ago. "Tru dat."

Jewel was being very introspective. "For guys... their fun bits are just that. Fun. They either pee out of 'em, or use 'em to feel good. And that's it. Totally, like, recreational."

Jewel looked almost too abstracted to be driving. "But girls... I think I kinda understand what your Mom was driving at. Our parts have this whole other purpose. Not just fun, but literally life-and-death shit."

After that, there was just silence for a while. There didn't seem to be much else to say - though she filed away how Jewel had said "our parts". So she tried for some support. "Sorry you couldn't just rest tonight. I know your periods really suck."

Jewel shrugged. "Ah, fuck, I'll live. I'm just glad it waited until after Prom. And your Mom has better stuff than Midol." She said, thoughtfully, "It's almost not fair. Lotsa girls gotta have 'em as bad as me, and they don't get real-life Magic potions."

Erica shrugged. "Well, like, the Sisterhood can't exactly market the stuff."

"Yeah, I know. The 'Brotherhood'. Plus, like, every government on Earth, I guess." She shook her head. "Sucks. I mean, speaking of not fair, there are guys out there who'd give anything to be turned into a girl. But if the Sisterhood started doing that..."

Jewel trailed off. She didn't have to finish the thought, Erica's own brain did it for her: ...they'd be targets for the Brotherhood. Without any Magic to protect themselves.

After a beat, Jewel asked, voice conspicuously neutral, "Did you ever check out all those websites? The 'TG' ones?"

"Once," Erica admitted, after another pause. "Early on." She shook her head. "It was just too weird."

"Yeah," Jewel breathed with firm agreement. "I couldn't fucking believe it. All those stories. Thousands. Hundreds of thousands." She was shaking her head too. After a few seconds, she said, more quietly, "I read some. Tried to. It was so fucked up. It was all fantasies anyway. Nothing real." She glowered. "Even the ones that talked about babies didn't say shit about stretch marks or dying in labor."

Erica almost blushed. She'd looked up some of those stories, too. One or two had been rather like that first night. Before reality set in, anyway. Apparently there were some that were more realistic, but she'd been afraid to look too deeply.

Jewel didn't seem to notice her hesitation, thank the Goddess. She was still talking. "But they wanted it." Very softly: "I just wanted to go back. More than anything."

"At least you can get back. Eventually," she said in reassurance. And she believed it now, too. At first, she'd despaired that Cora could ever make the journey. But that the girl now went by 'Jewel' said volumes.

Jewel smiled, with a touch of irony. "Yeah. I think now can tough it out, even another couple years. It's not so bad, being a girl. Even with shitty periods." She shook her head ruefully. "You know what bugs me the most about 'em anymore? How you never quite know when they're gonna start or end. I mean, you can feel it coming, but..." She rolled her eyes. "I wore a pad all day yesterday, just in case, for nothing. When I woke up this morning and found some blood, I actually felt kinda relieved. At least I was done waiting."

The irony dominated the smile, now. "And yeah, there are a few advantages to being a girl."

But the smile faded quickly. "Getting preggers, though... no fucking way."

For some reason Erica couldn't pin down, that troubled her. It's not like she wanted to get pregnant either, but... something about Jewel saying that made her nervous. And somehow she wasn't sure she wanted to think too hard about it.

~~~~~

They spent an evening making favors for the shower. Linda had found tiny spice jars at the dollar store and the girls whiled a few hours filling them with blue candies and tying on little banners with ribbon.

And talking, of course.

Jewel hadn't heard the story of Linda's hiking trip with Paul's family. It had mostly been fun, and she hadn't shamed herself being too unfit to handle the exertion. Indeed, she'd surprised herself with her own conditioning.

No, Linda had embarrassed herself in an entirely different way. She'd had to relieve herself on the trail, which was a little uncomfortable but had been managed with reasonable aplomb. A couple hours later she discovered that her choice of venue had been unfortunate. She developed a rash on her behind - whether from poison ivy or just a plant allergy was never determined.

It hadn't required intervention beyond a fraught, stiff drive to a pharmacy for some appropriate cream to treat it. In a strange way it had even broken the ice with Paul's family somewhat, so she could laugh at the whole thing now, along with her friends.

The conversation moved to Kristina and became rather obstetrical for a while. Erica covertly gauged Jewel's attention level throughout. Her interest seemed more academic than impassioned, but she did ask polite questions. It was about as good as could be hoped for.

College was a pressing subject for any high school seniors with graduation looming.

"I'm still psyched you got into Berkeley!" Kristina gushed enviously at Erica.

"Me too," Erica said, blushing. "We could never have swung Caltech. But Mom says we can afford Berkeley, with some loans. And there might be a scholarship." Jacqui had let her know the Sisterhood would occasionally subsidize promising Sisters, especially in fields where Witches were underrepresented, like computers.

"I'll either go to Valley or Crafton," Jewel said, shrugging. "My family moved too much for me to do much extracurriculars. I get a year or two of good grades, I'll transfer to a better school."

"Your mom and dad won't move you again, will they?" Linda asked.

"Nah. They didn't care so much about high school, but now they see me only getting into a community college, all of a sudden they wanna give me some 'stability'." Jewel delivered the lie perfectly, even including 'air quotes'. If Erica hadn't know she was making it up on the spot, she'd have believed it.

Linda glanced at Kristina. "You gonna do a gap year?"

She touched her swollen belly and said, "The plan is to go in the fall. Alec'll be a few months old then. I can pump at school and my grandma can watch him while I'm gone." She shrugged, the only sign of uncertainty. "Might do, like, a 'gap semester'. Maybe. Depends on how fussy Alec turns out to be."

Erica wanted to offer to help... but she'd be away, living in a dorm. "Maybe I can come back a couple weekends and give you a break."

Kristina smiled. "Don't worry. We'll be okay."

The conversation lightened up after that. Soon they were all smiling and laughing again, until the knickknacks were finished.

~~~~~

On the way home from making the favors, Jewel looked thoughtful. "Y'know what? Thanks. Thanks for being a good friend."

Erica, taken by surprise, blinked and said, "Hey, no big deal..."

"No, like, seriously." Jewel was quite somber. "You're a really good person. You go out of your way to help people. Like Linda and Kristina. You saw they needed a friend and you stepped up. Look at Kristina. She hasn't been able to do much for you, and you didn't care."

She felt embarrassed. "Hey, like, it's not some awesome thing. I kinda needed friends too..."

"No, listen, I'm serious. You've been good for practically everybody. Even Carrie." She shook her head. "And especially me. You give and give, and I just take."

"Whoa, hey, it's not like that. You've had, like, a shitload to deal with..."

"So did you. And you handled it a lot better."

"But for me... I mean, I chose it. Mostly. You got attacked, almost brainwashed..."

"Yeah, fine. I've had my shit to deal with. Cory agrees with you, but... I finally realized I'm not the only one. Y'know, affected by all this." She shrugged. "I can get my shit fixed. Eventually. Okay, not as fast as I want. But Kristina's gonna be dealing with Alec the rest of her life."

"Okay, point. I guess. But I think you're being too hard on yourself. You managed pretty well after a while. I mean, for fucks sake, it's a lot to deal with. A lotta people woulda gone crazy."

"Yeah, come down with a split personality or something," Jewel deadpanned.

"Hey, c'mon, it's not like that..." Erica said.

Jewel just smiled grimly. "Anyway, thanks for being awesome."

"Whatever," she said, self-conscious.

~~~~~

Jewel gave Erica a quick hug. "Chill. It's all gonna be fine."

Erica smiled wanly. "I know. I just really want Kristina to have a good time, is all."

They surveyed the venue, the back room of a local restaurant. Linda was adjusting favors on the tables. It wasn't a large space but they'd decorated it as best they could.

Kristina and her mom walked in just then. Erica rushed over and took her in a big hug.

The very pregnant girl looked around, smiling, as she sat down. "Ohmigod, Erica, this looks so amazing!"

Erica's tension relaxed a bit. "Thanks."

Guests began arriving shortly after. Almost all family, except for Renée. Kristina didn't have any close friends anymore, besides the ones actually running the shower. Renée had brought Lucy, naturally, and the baby girl was passed around the ladies for cooing and pampering and admiration.

Presents began piling up on a table in the corner as the volume level rose, women chattering. Everything was going smoothly until a middle-aged woman and a teenage girl came in.

"Cecily, Tina. So glad you could come," said Mrs. Weiss. Erica kept herself from frowning, but she sensed an undertone...

"Oh, I wouldn't miss this," Cecily purred. She turned to Kristina. "My goodness, you're about to pop, aren't you! You're so young, though. Always looks bigger."

"Thanks, Aunt Cecily," Kristina said with a notable lack of emotion. "Hey, Heather," she said to the girl, obviously Cecily's daughter, with more warmth.

"Hey, how you doing?" she said back, seeming friendly enough. She glanced at Erica and Jewel. "Can you guys give me a hand? The present's pretty heavy..."

"Sure," Erica said, stepping forward. "I'm Erica, this is Jewel."

"Nice to meetcha." She motioned toward the door. "We can team up."

The present in the van outside was not just heavy but bulky as well. They called Linda out too, and together the four of them got the box into the venue.

Mrs. Weiss saw it, and said, "Oh my, I hope you didn't spend too much!" Erica couldn't be sure, but she thought maybe there was a veiled dig in that. Cecily and Heather's clothes weren't particularly expensive.

Cecily smiled, only a slight crinkling around her eyes indicating any discomfort. "I put some thought into what to get. Planning ahead, not acting on impulse, you know."

Erica kept her face blank, a match for Kristina's wooden expression. Her mom had a sour look. "Why, thank you so much."

Another guest arrived, helping to change the subject. Two guests, technically; Sonia was an older cousin of Kristina's, and she'd brought her four-month-old son, Jayden. He joined the appreciation circuit, getting cuddled and passed around.

In the course of that, however, Jayden filled his diaper. Kristina was recruited to get some practical experience changing one. A relatively safe location was arranged, with a waterproof surface. The whole crowd was watching with some amusement as Kristina opened up the diaper and began to wipe.

"Eww," Kristina exclaimed. "He got poop all over his... thing."

Cecily laughed and offered some barbed encouragement, waving at Kristina's belly. "We know you got your hands on a guy's 'thing' before! Probably cleaned it off, too!" There was a brief, appalled lull.

Renée stepped in, with a glance at Kristina's aunt. "It's no biggie. Lots easier than girls. Here, can I..."

The atmosphere recovered some festivity after Jayden was changed. Erica noticed that many of the guests gave Cecily plenty of space. Including her daughter Heather. Kristina's grandmother came in and gave someone for Cecily and Mrs. Weiss to talk to.

Erica was going over the shower's schedule with a guest when the next uncomfortable incident happened. "We're gonna play some games, then have lunch, then open presents."

"Can't wait for lunch," Kristina said. "I love the lasagna here!" She smiled. "I only ever came once in a while, 'cause I'd always finish a giant piece."

Cecily, passing by, struck again. "Self control control just takes practice. If you don't have it before you have a baby, you sure learn it after!"

Erica managed to control her flinch, but saw Jewel's dismay out of the corner of her eye. And Mrs. Weiss'. And their mother's. There was such an edge to Cecily's tone. Kristina's faint smile came nowhere near her eyes.

It wasn't long before the girls found an excuse to meet on the other side of the room from Cecily. Erica could see the elder Weiss remonstrating with her youngest daughter.

Heather sighed. "Kristina, I'm sorry about my mom. She's being such a bitch."

"It's cool," Kristina declared, perhaps a shade too casually.

"What's up her ass?" Jewel said bluntly.

Eyebrows raised at the directness, Heather replied a bit reluctantly. "Mom's always kinda, y'know... sibling rivalry and stuff. With her mom," she said, indicating Kristina.

The focus of the shower nodded stiffly.

Jewel's head tilted. "But... why pick on Kristina?"

Both Heather and Kristina looked uncomfortable. After a second, Heather said, coldly, "I wasn't gonna be on the honor roll at my school this year. Never was." A finger flicked at Kristina. "Not like her."

Erica and Linda exchanged looks of understanding. But Jewel was still clearly lost.

It was certainly clear to Heather. "So my mom's always figured Aunt Karen won the kid competition." She flashed a really bitter smile. "She's just loving that the 'perfect' daughter got knocked up, but hers didn't."

Jewel looked very nervous now, matching Linda. Erica was feeling hella awkward too, but a tiny part of her appreciated that Jewel at least recognized how badly she'd screwed up, socially. Forcing all this bluntly into the open.

Maybe the Goddess took some mercy on them all, because Sonia and Jayden came to the rescue again. The new mother appeared to take Kristina aside with Renée for some tips and encouragement. She allowed herself to be led away with evident relief.

There was silence for a moment at the table, Jewel fidgeting. Then she stood and said, "I should get the games going. I think everyone's here." She rushed off to gather supplies from under a table in the corner.

Jewel had done a reasonable job of organizing games for the guests. She'd printed up some word games for placemats - a word search and a scramble - 'seenio' for 'onesie', etc. There was a 'guess the flavor of baby food contest', and - the biggest hit - a relay race where the ladies had to carry a cantaloupe between their legs, mimicking the waddle of late pregnancy.

Then came lunch, and thankfully Cecily wasn't seated anywhere near Kristina. Finally came the time for opening the presents. Kristina's thanks for Aunt Cecily's expensive crib were entirely civil, though perhaps a bit muted. Perhaps Grandmother Weiss's presence kept Cecily from anything more than an edged "You're welcome."

As things wound down, the girls were organizing the gifts for transport while the guests chattered. Jewel was looking a little dazed. "I didn't think babies needed all this stuff," she muttered.

Erica whispered back, "How much did you think it took?"

She was a little surprised that didn't shut Jewel up. She was even more surprised by what Jewel said: "Never thought about it at all, I guess." The girl even managed a half-grin.

A quick dessert of cake was distributed, eaten, and plates were collected. But the ladies unsurprisingly kept socializing. Jewel looked like a trapped animal, eyeing the exits.

Sonia came by the girls, holding little Jayden. "I have to run to the bathroom. Can one of you watch him?"

Inspiration and action were simultaneous. "Jewel can. She's just sitting there," Erica said quickly.

Jewel's eyes got big and her mouth opened. Not in time to save her, though. Jayden was dropped into her lap and his mother made a beeline for the restrooms.

Jewel looked so flummoxed Erica whispered some quick tips. "Support the head. Keep him close to your body. Maybe rock back and forth a little."

The little one, pacifier pulsing, stared up at Jewel's face. Despite Jewel's obvious consternation, he didn't do much else, seemingly happy just to be held.

"I think he likes you," Linda said with a smile.

Jewel seemed paralyzed, as if Jayden was a predator staring at her. Still, she endured until Sonia returned to reclaim her offspring. She passed the infant on with semi-concealed relief, to the amusement of Sonia and some of the other ladies.

Finally things started winding down, as guests began to take their leave. Jewel took charge, compelling Linda and Heather to help her carry gifts out to the cars. She was glad for Heather's help with the wrap-up, but the downside was Cecily remained. Erica stayed with Kristina, trying to run interference - she recruited Kristina's aunt to help with cleaning up wrapping paper and other discards. Cecily made pointed remarks about messy habits, but few were in earshot of Kristina or her mom. The pregnant girl and Mrs. Weiss handled the goodbyes and accepted some congratulations for "such a nice shower".

Cecily drove off with Heather, naturally the very last guest to do so. Linda rode with Kristina and her mom, while Erica and Jewel rode in Miranda's car, transporting loot to the Weiss house.

Erica hadn't even gotten her seat belt on before Jewel snapped at her. "Nice trick, making me hold Jayden. I was scared to get up!"

Erica's sympathy was extremely limited. "You both lived."

Completely unmollified, Jewel glared. "What, did you think it would 'awaken my maternal instincts' or some... thing?"

"No. I just... admit it. You were scared, weren't you?"

Jewel looked out the window for a few seconds. "Okay, fine, yeah. I didn't want to drop him or anything." Then she spat, "But even if I wasn't scared, it doesn't mean I want one! Lots of birth-girls don't, y'know!"

Erica sighed. "I don't want you to go out and get knocked up, okay? But most girls are at least, y'know, interested." Before Jewel could interrupt, she pressed on. "Even if they don't want to have a baby, they're not scared of holding one." She paused a second, just enough for Jewel to open her mouth again, and she wrapped up. "Like boys."

Jewel's mouth shut. She frowned for a few seconds, then shifted ground.

"Goddess, I wanted to punch her aunt. Women can be so mean."

"Guys can be pretty nasty too."

"Yeah, but they're not so... I dunno... passive-aggressive about it. Pretending to be nice and all." She paused. "Not usually, anyway. A guy insults you, he just does it."

"Ok, yeah," Erica said. Then, thoughtfully: "I think some of it is that guys don't pay attention as much. And girls are more, like, verbal. So they can say something that really cuts."

Jewel made a little half-shrug. "Why'd she even come, if she was just gonna be a bitch about it?" she mused.

"Probably war with her sister. Girls - women - do whole campaigns. You know about that."

Jewel sighed. "Yeah." She snorted. "I sure won't miss that when I'm a boy again."

Erica, eyes on the road, reflected a bit. She'd almost decided - again - to stay a girl. There were definitely unpleasant aspects to being female... but most of the time anymore, she felt the good outweighed the bad.

Today, though... having her nose rubbed in the sheer viciousness women could descend to... she was closer than she'd been in months to agreeing with Jewel.

They pulled into Kristina's driveway. There was a lot to unload. She'd scored a crib, a stroller, a rocking glider, all kinds of bottles, a breast pump, a diaper bag, dressers-full of clothes, and much, much more.

~~~~~

Jewel walked into Erica's room - the door had been cracked - and searched around the items on the dresser. She was wearing a loose, flowing white shirt with slit sleeves, and soft black cotton pants, but no makeup yet. "You know what I miss?" she said.

"What?" Erica asked, laying on her bed, busy squirming into some paisley jeans. They didn't have to leave for school for another fifteen minutes, but she didn't have her makeup on either.

"Just slamming on some clothes and heading out the door." Jewel lifted a lipstick tube with satisfaction and showed it to Erica. "Here it is. Can I borrow your Strawberry Lemonade?"

"Sure thing." She slipped one arm into a yellow blouse. "You probably don't have to do yourself up quite so much anymore. Like, I think it's safe to say you got a lock on Brandon now."

Jewel snorted, not unhappily. "Yeah, but I don't need the shit from the other girls." She held up a hand to forestall comment from her friend. "I'm not bitching. Well, mostly. I know it's the cost of doing business as a high school girl." She was already heading back out to her room. "I just miss being able to roll out of bed and head out."

Erica started her own makeup search. She was struck by Jewel's tone. Not even resentful, just resigned.

~~~~~

Erica took one more glance in the mirror. David would be impressed, she was sure.

Especially with the clothes: knee-high stiletto-heeled boots, tights, a light sweater-dress, and a thin belt.

They were going dancing, and maybe out for a bite after. Finals were coming up soon and there wouldn't be time for such things.

Jewel popped her head in the door. "Looking good! David's here."

"You sure you don't wanna come along?"

"Nah, dancing's not really my thing. Or Brandon's. We're just gonna go for a run."

"How romantic!" Erica teased. "But hey, you do you."

"Maybe I'll just do him," Jewel said, with a wicked glint in her eye. "Depends on how crowded the trail is." The girls laughed and Erica headed downstairs.

~~~~~

David sat at a table at a coney island, flicking through Instagram on his phone. Erica had gone to the bathroom.

Dancing had been fun enough, and it made Erica happy, which was always good. For the mission, of course - but he had to admit he took pleasure in making her happy. And that was a painful admission.

Since, of course, his mission was unlikely to make her happy, long-term.

He still hated the Sisterhood - in the abstract. He was finding it hard to hold onto his anger when it came to Erica, however. She wasn't a heartless, calculating bitch. She was kind, generous... good. He couldn't imagine her attacking and mindwiping a Brother. Not without good reason, anyway.

And Haylie... he knew that she had to be a former Brother. He thought that maybe, once or twice, he'd seen signs of it. But only hints. She didn't seem a brainwashed Brother, though. Simply... a girl. Well-cared-for and loved, for that matter.

They were only novices, though, he reminded himself. Haylie, not even that. How could they know, or be responsible for, what the higher levels of the Sisterhood did or planned? The thought comforted him for a moment.

But then the logical correspondence inevitably arose - how much could he claim to know about the High Leader's intentions, or methods? After all, Hitler had been a 'Brother'...

His unpleasant musings were cut short by Erica reappearing. He smiled. "Food should be here soon."

"You okay?" she asked. "You looked kinda... I dunno." She frowned in concern.

"Eh, just hungry," he said. Damn it, she's getting to be able to read me too well.

"Oh," she said... but she didn't sound entirely convinced. "Anyway, we need to figure out grad parties. My Mom wants to do ours on a Sunday."

Erica's phone jingled, then. She pulled it out of her purse. "Sorry, just a sec."

David took a sip of water. Suddenly she squealed and bolted to her feet, an alarmed expression on her face. "Oh, Goddess, we have to move. You have to drive me! Kristina's having her baby!"

Concluded in Part 11



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