Best Friend, Boyfriend

Best Friend, Boyfriend

By Paul Calhoun

Dear readers: This one just felt right. I'd been kicking around the idea of a man so determined and so in love with his girlfriend that he'd pretend to be a girl to get close to her and find out what she likes and wants. This is Maurice. He knows its ethically questionable, but he loves Shannon so much that he wants to get everything right so perfectly that Shannon is never disappointed or wishing for anything more.
This takes place in the same continuity as the UA, but as you will see later on, but be at least twenty years later. My guess is the 2060s. This also takes place at the very end of the story. It seemed the best place to start.

Everyone in the gang knew that Joel always got silly when he’d had too many beers and naturally they did everything they could to make sure it happened as often as possible. Of course, they were all still in high school, so it was sometimes difficult to manage, but they always knew Robbie’s dad was good for a round. He had some idea that beer was all-American and that teenagers - especially football players - should indulge, though not too often. The point was that Joel was well past his limit and was beginning to talk. The others weren’t quite as inebriated, but quite willing to join in when he looked Maurice straight in the eye and said, “What does she see in you?”

Maurice Arlynna started. He’d been thinking about something else while Joel babbled on. “Hmm?”

“Shannon. You know. Your girlfriend.” He said slowly and loudly, as if it were Maurice who was too far into his cups. “Shannon O’Bryan. Tall, blonde, best legs in the entire school. The most popular, prettiest,” he paused, trying to think of more superlatives and finally gave up, “best damn ass ever made. Her.”

Maurice smiled. He didn’t go in for drinks much and was mostly sober. “I don’t refer to her ass, for one thing.” He shrugged. “I try to be her friend as well as her boyfriend.”

“See?” Jimmy said, “That’s the sort of sensitive crap that keeps this scrawny little geek neck high in babes. The world just ain’t for us manly men any more. No sir.”

Maurice laughed. “You all can talk. Shannon may prefer me, but it seems like you guys trade around every other good looking girl from freshman class to senior.” He looked around at the assembled football team.

“’Trade around’ is right, shorty.” Kirk said. “Not one of them is willing to go steady. You’ve had Shannon since sophomore year. It’s awful.”

“Love and commitment, man. It’s amazing what it can get you.” Their tiny running back told them.

“I think,” Joel said carefully. “That I have enough to worry about without love and commitment getting involved. Who wants another beer?”

Maurice usually left the team parties early. This time the conversation about Shannon ran on so long that he found himself an hour later in than he’d planned and had to beat a hasty exit. It was Saturday afternoon and he had to meet Shannon at the mall for some shopping in a couple of hours. Not that Shannon knew, of course. That was why Maurice needed the time. When he’d met Shannon, she’d already gotten a sizable group of girlfriends who did all the usual things groups of teenage girls did. It was soon after that they had - at first reluctantly - accepted into their circle an unusual addition. The area was not known for its diversity and when they first met the conservatively dressed Middle Eastern Shar Wazad, they’d been skeptical. When she began to show interest in assimilating - that is, wearing normal clothes and makeup - the group had seen the opportunity for a project. Now Shar was nothing unusual. Just another member of the clique, though with a tan that they all envied come summer, and the one with the closest relationship to Shannon. That was as far as they knew.

Maurice stood in his bedroom totally naked and thought about what he was going to wear today. He’d released the hidden catches on the side of his closet and pushed it on its rails so that instead of the normal wardrobe of T-shirts, sneakers and sports equipment, the closet reflected a much more feminine occupant. From a high shelf, he’d pulled down the boxes containing what he’d need at first to make the transition from boyfriend to best friend.

When he’d started, all he could afford was a cheap voice changer from the internet, a few foundation garments and some makeup. Not even a decent wig. That was why he’d chosen to be a traditional Muslim girl at first. He could wear clothes that covered his entire body except his face and hands and be considered merely unusual rather than bizarre, as any other female would appear who wore that much in the warm climate of the American southwest. Doing enough with his face had been a challenge, and he’d spent hours practicing the right movements before he felt safe going out and approaching Shannon O’Bryan.

The thing was, Maurice was shy. Especially back when he’d first seen Shannon as a freshman and wondered if someone so pretty would ever even talk to the little geek who sat in the front of the class. From what he could see from afar, she seemed a nice person and only lovelier as the year passed. That was why in the summer he’d gone to so much trouble to dress up and approach her not as a student and a male but as a female and a possible friend. He’d intended only to talk to her a couple of times as Shar, but when Shannon had made a big deal out of making her friends accept the disguised Maurice, he’d had to continue. That was when he knew he’d have to begin ‘giving in’ to their peer pressure and slowly transform from a demure and modest immigrant to a proper American teenage girl. He’d started slow, but also looked for ways to take the illusion further and further. Maurice saved his money and did a bit of research. In hindsight, that period had been very odd. First his popup blocker had gone on the blink and seemed intent on trying to sell him this ridiculous toy gun and also informing him he’d ‘won’ the ‘transformation of a lifetime.’ He had to hand it to whoever did those targeted ads. They were getting really accurate. The next day, he’d been walking home and thinking the problem over when some weird black box with foreign writing on it fell on him. There wasn’t anyone nearby and after no one had claimed it at the police station, he’d auctioned the thing off on e-bay. Someone had said it looked like the Pandorica and then written the best seller review he’d ever gotten, saying the thing was ‘better than a TARDIS’ whatever that meant. Then he’d been at the mall and some hippy in a bathrobe with stars on it and a pointy hat had come out of one of those New Age stores full of spiritual junk and tried to tell him that for whatever he had in his pocket, he could get his heart’s desire. He’d told the old geezer he didn’t want any and never saw the man - or oddly enough the store - again. After doing some proper shopping, he’d found several possibilities. There was the Takagi brand, but the reviews all included warnings that users needed a high tolerance for pain and there were several warnings of possible psychopathic side effects. It was too expensive anyway. Rumor had it that Borden Enterprises had made something good, but only for the military. A bit cheaper was the Mark V out of Femskin. That was the second choice behind what he eventually decided on, which was a T.I.M Body Alteration Suit.

He’d been a bit leery but after using it, he had to agree. Somehow, that Michael Falkner had managed to produce an item as real in function and appearance as a Takagi but cheaper than a Femskin. Of course, there was a catch. M. Falkner himself took an interest in how his products were used and had control measures in them so they couldn’t be misused. “As long as you use it for pleasure, fun or the increase of joy in the world, you may use my machines,” he’d said. “But I expect regular reports and that you answer any question I may ask and take into consideration what advice I may give.” In fact, there was an e-mail in his inbox from Falkner right now. Maurice knew better than to ignore it, and opened it before going further. “Maurice,” the e-mail read, “you are getting dangerously close to blowing it. Honesty may occur accidentally in the near future if it is not given freely and she won’t like finding out the hard way. MF.” In other words, he foresaw that Shannon would figure out who Shar really was soon. Maurice would have ignored it if Falkner’s other predictions hadn’t proven correct in all cases. T.I.M. Technology Indistinguishable from Magic. That definitely described the methods and effects of Michael Falkner’s machinery. He’d once sent a glowing report of how the BAS had performed at a pool party and Falkner had replied, “I didn’t make it. I just learned to use it.”

Maurice unfolded the object that had taken weeks of questions, measurements, photos and several online interviews with Falkner to obtain, not to mention the money. Laid out on his bed, it looked like the skin of a person had been removed and only partially stuffed. The breasts were full, and the rest had irregular lumps where the cybernetics interacted with Maurice’s physiology. To present the best possible appearance, there were no zippers, but a rather embarrassing method of entry. Maurice still felt a blush start as he put his fingers into Shar’s vagina and released the catches in her crotch. The skin and genitals detached and fell forwards as Maurice lifted the skin above his head to position himself better. He pulled Shar’s torso apart and drew it down over his head. There was a squeeze at the neck and then he was inside, fumbling with hands outside of the costume to move the tubes in the lips, nostrils and ears so that they entered the correct orifices on his own face. He stretched Shar’s eyelids over his own and checked in the mirror to make sure they moved with his own. Already he was a male with a female head, a body hanging from his neck in front and Shar’s long black hair falling in waves down his back. He stretched the crotch again and pushed his right arm and hand through, pulling the skin down once it reached the entry for Shar’s right arm. When he was satisfied that all five fingers on her right hand were properly situated, Shar used her newly feminized right arm to guide her left into its housing. She tugged at the skin until it was smooth across her middle and her breasts sat where they were supposed to, pulling in her gut so that the skin could cover it. Gently, she rubbed them, not for pleasure or out of need to watch a girl fondle herself in the mirror, but to line up Maurice’s nipples with the indentation that led by sensory feedback circuitry to her own. With that finished, she pushed her belly button into Maurice’s. With those in their right places, she could be satisfied that her skin was sitting correctly. She pushed on her buttocks as well to make sure that the tube inside had penetrated Maurice properly.

Shar sat her now shapely posterior on the end of Maurice’s bed and drew her male legs as far back as possible while pulling her empty female legs forward the same way. This part had worried Maurice at first, but the thin, elastic skin never broke and Shar drew first her left and then her right leg into the tight confines of the skin. She wiggled her toes and bent down to pull on them so that they were all filled with their male mate. The skin was very tight down there indeed and she could feel the pulse in her male legs as the arteries were compressed. Almost done, Shar now had to rest and clear her mind. The last part was tricky as it was impossible to wear the skin with an erection but difficult to put on without some stiffness. When she judged that her last male part was ready, she sat up and threaded it into the mesh of electronics that would provide not only sensory feedback but a measure of protection. It would look suspicious if she were suddenly debilitated by a blow to the crotch that any other female would have no difficulty with. Her member secure, she pulled her external crotch back with her right hand and used her now slender left fingers to activate the latches within. One thing about thinner fingers, Shar thought, they work a lot better for this sort of thing. With her body now complete, Shar had only to activate the suit properly. Unlike Takagi suits which had the button behind the ear where it might get pressed, Falkner had put the controls in as a verbal command. Shar lay down and braced herself, saying, “Zero seven four, Code Solvezia activate.” He had no idea what most of that meant, but Maurice was also absolutely certain he’d never say the words to turn the BAS on or off accidentally.

Maurice had bought the BAS because Falkner had assured him it didn’t hurt much. Falkner, after Maurice’s first report, had clarified that. “I meant relative to the competition, dear boy.” He’d written. “After all, having your bits compressed like that and rearranged and so on can hardly be accomplished without some discomfort.” He’d been right, there, but Maurice had to admit that the transition from masculine female to feminine female wasn’t that bad. When the suit was doing its startup diagnostic of erogenous zones, for instance.

When the transformation was finished, Shar looked up at the ceiling and kicked her legs. She always enjoyed looking at them once they were properly slimmed down. The vision of those mocha extremities was calming for some reason. Presently she rose and checked herself in the mirror. “All systems check out.” She said to herself, also making sure that her voice was properly pitched. Of course it was. That still-developing alto never failed. “Now, what to wear,” she continued, surveying her closet. When she’d started, she’d had a couple of full-length skirts and scarves and that was about it. Now she had every kind of shirt, blouse, skirt, skort, short, shirt, pants and miscellaneous tops, bottoms and middles she could imagine. And yet she still shopped! She’d have one pair of shoes and now they overflowed their crate. She was beginning to think that at the present rate she’d never manage every good combination. “I’m not thinking like a proper American,” she scolded herself. “The whole point is never having less than five outfits for any occasion.” She felt like something light colored and short. That meant light colored underwear with a corresponding cut and before Shar knew it she had assembled her entire outfit including shoes. Now that she had a body, she loved to show it off and the skirt and top combination she’d picked did that. She stood in front of her mirror and turned, enjoying both the feel and the look of her skirt as it flared out from halfway up her thighs to barely decent. A couple of quick bounces both satisfied her male need to watch breasts move, that Maurice’s nipples were indeed secure and made sure that the top would hold them. She also couldn’t resist walking a couple of times around the room and watching herself do it from all angles. What was the point in buying technology to turn you into a teenage girl if you weren’t a hot one?

“Shar! Hey, Shar!” Shannon called from the second floor. When Shar had taken the escalator up, Shannon said, “You’re late.”

Shar grinned back. “Sorry, Shan. My parents kept giving me trouble about seeing you.”

“Corrupting their innocent flower of the desert, that sort of thing?”

“That sort of thing, yes,” Shar replied, taking Shannon’s usual teasing without comment. “Speaking of corruptive elements, where’d everyone go?”

Shannon pointed to the Hollister down the hall. “They went on. I figured you wouldn’t be too long.” They walked, stopping every third store to look in the windows. Shannon paused for a much longer time in front of the Charlotte Russe. “Those boots are just to die for.” She said.

Shar looked at what had captivated Shannon’s attention. “Wait. You mean the thigh high black suede ones with the platform heel? Those?”

“Yeah. I tried to get the money for them out of my parents but they said I’d spent enough already for the season. I think it’s really because they thought they were ‘inappropriate.’” She made a face.

“They are a bit suggestive, Shan.” Shar said.

Shannon smiled at Shar. “One of these days, oh fairest petal of the harem rose, we’ll get rid of that bit of conservatism left over.”

“Perhaps one day you will also be so enlightened as to understand that the modern woman should flaunt her body less and her acumen more.”

“You sound like my boyfriend. He’s always saying I’m better than my grades.” Shannon replied, moving on with Shar towards the rest of their group.

“Maurice sounds like a wise man.”

“I’ll give him sweet, but he isn’t very wise until he stops trying to prove his manliness by hanging around with those brain dead jocks.”

“So you’re saying he’s better than his surroundings?”

“Stop winning every argument!” Shannon laughed. “I get that enough from him.”

Shar made a motion as to zip her mouth shut, but smiled as she walked alongside Shannon. They skipped the other windows and made straight for the knot of their friends, now outside the crafts store. “Whatcha looking at?” Shannon called to them.

“Never you mind, young lady!” Brit called back. “We’re shopping for your birthday party. Now take your faithful companion and scoot! Tracy’ll come and get you when we’ve gotten everything into her car.”

“Why cannot I shop for the birthday party?” Shar said in an exaggerated foreign enunciation.

“You’re too tight with Shannon. She’ll make you tell her everything.” Francine said.

“Come on.” Shannon said, taking Shar’s hand. “Let’s go pick out something for the party. I’m sure my parents won’t mind if it’s for my birthday.” As Shar tightened her grip, Shannon gave her an odd look, but didn’t say anything.

Maurice was glad he had Shar and that was for certain. He’d almost forgotten to make plans for Shannon the week before. As they picked out an outfit, he made mental notes on what to complement her on. Not that he’d need them since most of what he was remembering was so evident to him now that he’d have been able to wing it anyway. Shannon also made Shar show her what she intended to wear to the party, instructing her on the occasion and what balance of ‘dressy’, ‘showy’ and other things ending in the letter ‘y’ was appropriate. Even after two years, Shannon didn’t trust Shar’s instinct and Shar didn’t blame her. As she said to Shannon, she never could get the knack of what Western girls ought to look like.

Shar was tired from the day’s shopping and the party before that but still walked briskly with her bags. She always refused to let Shannon walk her home, telling her that her parents had enough trouble with Shar’s current ‘phase’ without meeting Shannon and her friends and getting a bad impression. She slowed down a block away from her house, peering intently at the windows. Maurice’s parents shouldn’t be home, she thought, but there had been close calls in the past. Satisfied that they were still both out doing parent things, she quietly let herself in and went upstairs. Putting her party clothes away carefully, she stepped out of her room and prepared to reward herself for another day of being a good friend to her girlfriend.

One thing about Maurice was that he liked baths. Shar loved them. They gave her a chance to relax and get to know every inch of her body. She never got tired of laying back with one leg out, half covered in suds and watching the bubbles slide down that perfect appendage. A less hedonistic part of her brain snidely reminded her that Maurice had always been a leg man. What the hell, though? It kept Shar in the right Western mindset of serene narcissism. On the other hand, Shar thought as she blow dried her hair and then danced in front of the mirror, she ought to hurry up and not make too much noise, either. Maurice’s romantic birthday dinner with Shannon was next Saturday night and he still had to get those boots for her. He also had to pick up something for Shar to give her on the girls-only party next Sunday night. She gathered up her clothes but didn’t bother to put them on before going back to her room.
Shar was about to turn off the BAS, undo the catches in her crotch and shed her girl form when she saw another e-mail had come from Falkner. Sitting on a girl’s butt was more comfortable and Maurice took a voyeuristic thrill in surfing the web in a naked girl’s body, so she checked that first. “Maurice,” the e-mail read, “Unless matters have changed drastically, you’re still bent on not telling her. This is a mistake. Take it from me, she’d rather learn about it from you than from Shar, as it were. As it is, she’ll lose some trust, but if she finds out on her own, Shannon will almost certainly cease trusting you entirely. Tell her when you take her out for her birthday and don’t try to wiggle out by asking which time. Tell her on the date. She’s not an idiot and from what you’ve been telling me, she’s dangerously close and will find out before the parties are over either way. Damage control, young man, is essential. Michael Falkner.”

He makes it sound so easy, Maurice thought. Just tell Shannon O’Bryan, the love of his life and the best damn girl in the world that he was Shar Wazad. That her boyfriend had spent years pretending to be a girl and becoming her most trusted female friend. Tell Shannon that he’d been stalking her, because that’s what it was. Maurice sighed in Shar’s voice. Damn Falkner, anyway. And damn Shannon for being so smart as well as pretty and funny and kind and”¦ Shar found herself crying and hated herself for her weakness. Falkner was right, Shannon was close. It didn’t take a genius to tell she was suspicious about something. Too many of Maurice’s habits were part of Shar and Shar had begun to rub off on Maurice. He laughed. He’d tell Shannon all right, the only way he could. If those boots didn’t make it crystal clear that at the very least he and Shar had some kind of connection, then Shannon was nowhere near the truth anyway.
Maurice always felt a lot looser just after shedding Shar. It was natural, after all, since the removal of the skin meant getting rid of a heavy and constricting garment that covered his entire body. There was just enough time to clean Shar’s insides with the special tools that had come with her, put her away and put his closet back to ‘manly mode’ before running back to the mall to pick up the boots and a locket with the Gemini symbol on it and a picture of Shannon inside. Since neither Shar nor Shannon were born under that sign, it would send an even clearer message than the boots. Two people in one. Maurice yawned. Two people in one was a tiring reality and an expensive one. He hoped Shannon would appreciate how much he’d gone to in order to be the best boyfriend possible. He hoped he wasn’t deluding himself, either. He’d felt that self-doubt often enough. The possibility that what he was doing was more selfishly meant to keep him closer to Shannon and push everyone else further away. He always tried to balance his approach, never letting Shar push Shannon into anything that would benefit Maurice, but he had to admit he’d done so often enough. He just hoped the actions were as in line with being a good friend as he’d thought at the time. Two people in one was an ethically tricky one as well.

***

Maurice, wearing his usual pressed suit, pulled out Shannon’s chair. “Are those new shoes?” He asked as he took his own seat across the candle lit table.

“You know they are.” Shannon smiled. “You’re probably the only seventeen year old boy in the county who always notices when his girlfriend’s bought new shoes.”

“What can I say?” Maurice replied. “You’re so beautiful that every minute change is worth taking note of. I like what you’ve done with your hair.”

“Do you?” She asked, putting one hand to her head. “I wasn’t quite sure when I told the others about it, but Shar was adamant that it would go over well.”

“She was right. You look amazing. You always look amazing.”

Shannon smiled and sipped from her water glass. “All right, enough of that. I look good, you look good.” She paused. “Though you are still wearing exactly what you always wear to these dinner dates. In fact - yes, I’m positive you were wearing that last year!”

“Good dress sense never goes out of style?” Maurice argued weakly.

“True, but variety is also to be desired. If you’re going to go around noticing what I do with myself, you ought to do the same for your own appearance. You’re coming shopping with me soon, and you’re going to like it.”

“You know what, Shannon?” Maurice said. “If I go shopping with you, I might just like it.”

“You know what, Maurice,” Shannon echoed, “Coming from you, I believe that.”

Maurice ordered steak and Shannon ordered salmon. The rest of the dinner went as most of their dates, laughing and talking until dessert was finished and they were waiting for the check. Maurice pushed the box he’d hidden under the table out and handed it to Shannon. “I hope you like it.”

“I always do.” Shannon said, unwrapping the parcel. “Oh my god”¦” She whispered. “Black suede thigh-high boots, and in my size, how the hell did you know?!” Her voice rose in both volume and speed until she almost launched herself out of her chair and put her arms around Maurice’s neck.

“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, kissing her.

“Like it?” Shannon laughed and choked. “It’s exactly “¦ what I “¦ wanted.” She trailed off. “OK, seriously, how?”

“It just looked like your style. And it would look good on you.”

“Maurice, I’m pretty sure almost every man in the history of the world who’s tried that before you has gotten a slap in the face and no girlfriend the next day.” Shannon returned to her seat. “You had inside information. In fact-” she grinned. “I think I know who told you, and I only have one thing to say.”

“What?” Maurice asked, trying to keep the hesitant dread out of his voice.

“I really hope Shar shows up to my birthday tomorrow and I really,” she extended the word for two seconds while grinning, “hope she gives me something nice. Something that shows her real feelings for me. Do you get what I’m saying?”

“Well, Shar’s your best friend,” Maurice replied with a similarly sly smile. “I’m sure she knows exactly what you want and feels quite close to you in many ways.”

“I’m glad we understand one another.” Shannon said. “And I’m glad the others are paying for the party tomorrow and she’s just a guest. A free dinner tomorrow will pay her back quite fairly for “¦ other things she’s done for me.”

“Quite equitable.”

Maurice put the money in the check envelope and stood. When he’d helped Shannon out of her seat, she put her arms around him and kissed him deeply. “Just fixing what it feels like in my mind,” she said by way of explanation. “I think you’ll understand soon enough.”

***

Shar checked herself out in the mirror one more time before leaving for the party. Shannon’s sense was right on in every detail. She loved giving Shar new looks and had spent hours making sure that her best friend would only be upstaged by Shannon herself. Shar’s hair was up and curled slightly so that if fell in loose rings out of the combs holding it up and down her back. Shannon had made triple sure Shar knew what makeup to use where and how much. She’d been adamant that Shar’s cheekbones and eyes were her best features and ought to be brought out as much as possible. Then there was the dress. Playing off of her ‘nationality,’ Shar wore an aubergine strapless sheath dress whose silk shone best in the dim light that Shannon’s party would be in. They were, in fact, holding it at the same restaurant Maurice had taken Shannon the night before. When Shannon had mentioned it to Maurice, he’d asked if that was all right and she’d told him that she loved the atmosphere enough to go there twice in a weekend and that she’d kill him if he changed plans. The outfit was completed by a new purse and pumps that matched in a slightly lighter plum. Satisfied that she wasn’t going to let Shannon down on her big night - and Shar’s if things went as expected, Shar checked the hall for Maurice’s parents and made a hasty exit.

Shar was last to arrive as usual, but Shannon forgave her. “You were obviously following my instructions to the letter. You look adorable.”

“And you look stunning,” Shar said, returning the complement. “I’ll never get as good as you.”

“All right, that’s enough.” Brit said. “You look good, I look good. Let’s just sit down and get on with it. We’ve waited enough for you two as it is.”

Shar and Shannon sat down with the others and Shar was caught up with the week’s activities. “It must be a real drag going to that girls’ school,” Tracy said. “I don’t know how I’d manage.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Francine said sulkily. “At least she doesn’t have to worry about boys dumping her every other week.”

“Robby again?” Brit said. “You really need to get over him.” She laughed. “I can talk. I’m dating that idiot Kirk.”

“That’s nothing,” Lily replied. “Jimmy tried to pass off McDonalds as a third date. I know he’s broke right now, but if he’s too proud to let me pick up some of the check, then he ought not to try to take me out at all.”

“You think you have problems?” Lara asked. “Joel forgot my birthday. He said it was because I never told him, but I’m sure it’s because he got drunk and forgot.”

“Steak, please.” Shar said to the waiter.

“Steak?” Brit said. “How can you eat that?”

“I guess I’m just lucky,” Shar replied.

“In more ways than one. You can eat what you want and rely on Shannon here for advice because you don’t have to worry about boys until college. Lucky girl.” She looked at Shannon. “Well, aren’t you going to complain about Maurice?”

“The worst I can say is that he’s a little shifty,” Shannon said, looking hard at Shar. “But then again it’s only so he can be even sweeter. He’s a slippery little weasel sometimes but damned if he doesn’t manage to sweep me off my feet.”

Shar was going to say something, but thought better of it. Tracy filled the silence. “Here’s to the only jock with half a brain, then,” she said, holding up her glass. “Too bad we didn’t get to him first.”

“To dating geeks!” Shannon replied, holding up her own glass.

“I can drink to that.” Lily said.

“Amen,” Brit added.

The restrictive BAS kept Shar from being able to finish her meal and she was not disappointed when the others only ordered coffee for dinner. When the subject had left gossip and guys, things ran mostly as they did with his male friends. Current events, difficulties with homework and complaints about parents being the majority. Shar rarely brought up her own parents, and the others tended to fill in the gaps so all she had to do was smile and nod when they made one assumption or another about the restrictions of her home. She had long since given up on trying to get them to understand the difference between a Pakistani and Indian household, or that not every Arabic person was from the thousand and one nights. She had to be honest, she wasn’t very good at keeping all those things straight herself and it was a relief to let racial stereotypes pass with outward good humor.

The time again came for Shannon to receive gifts and Shar was careful to wait until the end for hers. When Brit noticed that Shar’s was the only one left, she pulled it out of Shar’s hands and gave it to Shannon. “I assume you meant this to save the best for last.” Brit said.

“I hope so,” Shar replied, looking at Shannon with hope edged with fear.

Shannon opened the box and drew out the locket by its chain. “It’s beautiful,” she said. “Gemini.” She made no further comment about that.

“Well, put it on.” Tracy said.

“Shar? Could you help me with this.” Shannon said, getting up. “We’ll be right back.”

Shar followed Shannon into the bathroom and Shannon swept her hair away from the back of her neck as she turned. “If you could, please.” After Shar spent a minute trying to work the clasp, Shannon took it away from her gently and put the pendant on with no apparent difficulty. “Something you learn growing up. Something even you should have learned.” Shannon grinned at Shar. “You know, if I’m wrong, this is going to be murder to explain.”

“Wha-” Shar’s question was obliterated by the kiss. Surprise was swiftly overshadowed by desire and Shar put her arms around Shannon as she returned the kiss.

When Shannon pulled back, she was grinning more widely. “You cheeky pig, coming into the girls’ bathroom. And don’t try the innocent flower of the desert routine. I know how my own boyfriend kisses me. Oh, and you know that I’ve known since yesterday and suspected for awhile before. Hence this -“ she fingered the locket, “lovely and rather ham fisted message.” She put her finger on Shar’s lips and began to laugh. “You weird, obsessive, stalker. You total jerk. If this weren’t so funny, I’d probably walk out on you right now. I’d tell everyone about this except they wouldn’t believe me. The bizarre, totally and completely twisted thing is that I think it’s actually sweet. I’ve enjoyed having the same person as my sensitive, caring, athletic if a bit thin boyfriend and my irreverent, slightly old fashioned and exotic best friend. The odds are like one in a billion.”

“There are over twelve billion people, about six billion of them male. It had to happen eventually,” Shar said.

“Typical for both of you!” Shannon replied. “Quoting math at a time like this.” She pulled Shar in again for a kiss. “It’s amazing. I’m actually hot for a girl. I mean, you’re a guy, but apart from how you kiss, I’d never know it.” She paused. “I’ve seen you in a bikini for chrissakes! How do you hide it? No, wait, I don’t think I want to know. Not yet. Are your parents home?” Shar shook her head mutely and Shannon continued. “Good. I want to see this first hand. You are going to do something totally immodest for me, oh pearl of the Sahara. You are going to strip to the skin and then,” she put her hand on Shar’s side and began to move it up and down, “you are going to strip some more.”



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