TG Universes & Series:
A friend of Melinda's has some serious difficulties with women, mostly because he gets all tongue-tied and clumsy when he's around a girl he's attracted to. Jenny and Melinda think that a trip to Bikini Beach could change his perspective.
This is a new, never-before-published Bikini Beach story. I hope you enjoy.
This story is copyright by the author. It is protected by licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
"Are you ready for the test tomorrow?" Paul Jackson panted as he caught up with Melinda and Leslie. He'd been delayed getting out of class, and had to run to catch the two. Based on first impressions, one wouldn't have expected Paul to be out of breath; he looked rather athletic, at six-foot two, and well-toned as if he worked out. He was about twenty-two, with wavy brown hair and rugged, movie-star looks, with the exception of his thick, wire-framed glasses. There was a perceptible air of shyness about him, however.
Melinda grinned. "Are you?" While she didn't quite have Paul's "almost movie-star" looks, she was nonetheless cute. Her shoulder-length brown hair was loose, except for her bangs which swept across her forehead and behind her right ear. She was average height, about five-foot six, and if she looked athletic, it was in a well-toned, curvy, girl-next-door way rather than an athlete or supermodel. Today, as usual, she wore tight jeans that displayed the curves of her legs and rear, and a tight knit top that did the same for her bust.
"Are any of us ever ready for anything?" Leslie posed philosophically. "But you should be pretty well prepared, considering how much time you spend bugging Professor Morris after class." Whereas Melinda and Paul looked like they were either siblings or a well-matched couple, Leslie was slim, with long, kinky hair, thick glasses, and an appearance like she desperately wanted to bury her nose in a book.
"I'm not bugging him," Paul retorted quickly. He saw the wry smile on Melinda's face. "I'm not sucking up, either. I just want to get my questions answered so I can get a decent grade."
Leslie sighed. "I don't know about you two, but I prefer the 'hands on' approach like we had at the institute this summer."
Melinda nodded. "Yeah, I know what you mean. After that, all this theoretical, textbook-oriented stuff is boring."
"At least we've got one lab this semester for a little hands-on," Paul added. "You going to get something to eat?" he asked, changing the subject.
"Yeah, a salad," Leslie answered. "I'm not a big lunch eater."
"Hi, Melinda, Leslie, Paul," another student interrupted the trio of friends.
Melinda turned, and immediately recognized the newcomer. "Hi, Kath," she said warmly. "You must be busy; I haven't seen you around much."
Kathleen MacGuire laughed, a pleasant, sweet sound. "You try a double major in computer science and music and see how much free time you have." Kathleen MacGuire was as Irish in appearance as her name sounded. Tall, slender, with reddish-brown hair and sparkling green eyes, she exuded warmth and friendliness. The only thing missing was a charming Irish brogue. She was a very diligent student and a whiz at math, and also a dedicated and gifted flutist; hence the double-major.
"Are you going to the dance next Friday night?" Leslie asked. "The student association got a decent band for once."
"I was thinking about it," Kathleen replied with a quick, furtive glance at Paul. "But I really don't like going alone, and I've got a ton of homework to do. Are you going?"
Leslie nodded. "Troy and I are going."
Kathleen's eyes widened. "I didn't know you and he were dating."
Leslie laughed. "We're not. It's kind of a non-date date."
"Jen and I are going to the Coconut Club with the girls from her work. It's kind of a tradition to go on the first Friday every month."
"And the second Friday, and the third Friday, and ..." Leslie joked.
"Okay, so we go there a lot. So sue me!" Melinda laughed.
"You worked there once, didn't you? The water park, I mean," Kathleen changed the subject.
Melinda nodded. "Yeah, I spent a couple of weeks lifeguarding there." She smiled to herself as she remembered meeting and falling in love with Jenny. "It's a great park." She brought herself, reluctantly, out of her reverie. "Maybe sometime we should take a 'girl's day' and go there."
Kathleen smiled. "It would be nice to have a day off to relax." She glanced at her watch. "I've got to run to class. See you later."
As she left, Paul mumbled, "Bye." He stared after Kathleen, a longing and sad expression on his face.
"Hey, Paul," Leslie interjected with a laugh, "next time Kathleen comes by, why don't you give _us_ a chance to say something."
Paul blushed. "I guess I'm not feeling very talkative today."
"Oh?" Melinda asked mirthfully. "Is that why ...?"
She was interrupted by the ringing of Leslie's cell phone. "Excuse me," Leslie said after she looked at the caller ID. "I've got to get this." She took a couple of steps away from Paul and Melinda and answered her phone.
"You weren't having any problems talking until Kathleen came," Melinda observed.
"I ... didn't want to interrupt your girls' talk," Paul said, offering a totally transparent and lame excuse.
"I've got to go pick up my roommate," Leslie said as she rejoined the others. "Her car died."
"Again? Isn't that about the third time this week?" Melinda asked.
Leslie nodded. "I told her she needs to get a new car, but she keeps insisting that her old car has a lot of miles left. See you guys later."
"Okay. Bye." Melinda turned to Paul. "Let's get lunch and find a table. I'm starving."
A few minutes later, they were sitting at a table after having gotten their food. "How are things between you and Jenny?" Paul asked before he took a big bite of his cheeseburger.
Melinda smiled at the thought of her lover. "We got things patched up. It was mostly some misunderstandings."
Paul's eyes widened. "If that was a misunderstanding, I don't want to be around if you two declare war!" he joked.
Melinda nodded and chuckled. "Yeah, I guess that was an understatement."
"So she's cool with you and me ... you know, studying and stuff?" Paul asked hesitantly. "Because I don't want to cause her to feel jealous or anything," he added quickly.
Melinda smiled and put her hand on Paul's. "She's not jealous of you. She knows that she's my only love. It was hard on her, because I know all her friends, but she doesn't know any of mine." Her eyes lit up. "Speaking of which, why don't you come over for dinner tomorrow night? I know Jen would love to meet you, and I'll whip up something special to eat."
"I don't know," Paul said hesitantly. "I don't want to cause any more misunderstandings."
"You won't. In fact, it'll help for Jen to meet my friends."
"The way you talk about her, she sounds pretty amazing. In charge of all the machinery at the water park? And you said she helps you work on your car?" Paul sounded, if anything, a bit in awe of Jenny.
"She is," Melinda purred. "She's a whiz with anything mechanical or electrical." She smiled. "Promise you won't tell her something?"
Paul's eyebrows rose. "Okay, I promise."
"She was complaining about driving the company pickup, so I'm working on a deal to get her an old muscle-car to fix up," Melinda said in a hushed voice.
"You're kidding? She wants an old car?"
"Specifically," Melinda continued, "a '66 Pontiac GTO convertible."
"Wow! That'd be a heck of a project!"
Melinda laughed. "Contrary to some guys' opinions, some girls don't mind getting a little greasy from time to time. In fact, I call it Jenny's makeup!" she added with a laugh. "She's irresistible with her hair in a ponytail and a small smudge of grease on her cheek."
Paul sighed. "I wish I had someone like that."
"Why didn't you ask Kathleen to the dance?"
Paul looked down. "I ... I wasn't sure she'd want to go."
"She was practically begging you to ask her," Melinda scolded gently.
"I doubt it."
"Ask her," Melinda urged. "The next time you see her, ask her."
"I don't know," Paul was reluctant.
"Ask her," Melinda insisted.
When the doorbell rang, Melinda and Natty had their hands full, so Jenny turned to the door. "I'll get it," she said sweetly. Jenny took a quick glance through the security peephole, and then opened the door. "Hi," she said, trying to continue sounding sweet. "You must be Paul. I've heard a lot about you."
"And you must be Jenny," Paul answered warmly. "Melinda doesn't talk about anything _but_ you."
Jenny gave Paul a quick hug in greeting, and led him into their apartment. He was carrying a basket of flowers and a bottle of wine.
Melinda set down the pan she'd been carrying and greeted Paul with a hug. "You shouldn't have," she said, chiding him as she saw the flowers and wine.
Paul smiled. "I know, but, well, I figured that a nice centerpiece would brighten the table, and my grandpa taught me that you can't have dinner without wine!"
Melinda took the floral arrangement and handed it to Natty, who placed it in the center of the table. It was a colorful, summer arrangement, with two candles in the center of assorted mums, carnations, asters, and other cheery flowers. Jenny noted that there were no roses or other flowers that could be interpreted as romantic.
"And since you wouldn't tell me what you were cooking," Paul teased Melinda, "I had to guess at the wine. I hope that a red wine is okay."
Jenny took the bottle when Paul offered it to her. She whistled at the label. "Are you trying to impress us or something? This is a pretty fancy Cabernet!"
Paul laughed. "Truthfully, my cousin Sam manages a liquor store. I get it at a big discount."
Jenny took the bottle to the kitchen to open it. "Good, because I wouldn't want you to go to a lot of expense on our behalf! We're pretty easy to impress."
After dinner, and after Natalya retired to her bedroom, Paul, Melinda, and Jenny moved to the living area. Paul was very obvious in sitting in a wing chair so that Melinda and Jenny could sit together on one of the sofas. Jenny smiled to herself at the way Paul was making certain that she wouldn't get even the slightest hint of romantic attraction to Melinda on his part.
"I take it you had a lot of fun this summer, too?" Jenny started the conversation.
"It was very busy," Paul said, "but it was worth it."
Melinda smiled. "Did you ask Kathleen out today? What'd she say?"
Paul's expression fell. "I ... couldn't. She's so beautiful, and smart, and I'm ...." He looked up suddenly. "Why are you bringing this up now?"
Melinda reached out and patted his hand. "It's because we're friends," she said.
"How is it that you can talk so easily with Melinda and I," Jenny asked, "but you can't talk to the girl you are attracted to?"
"I don't know," Paul said softly. "It's ... different."
"How?" Jenny asked simply. "She's a woman, just like the two of us."
"I guess I've always been kind of shy around girls," Paul replied. "I get tongue-tied and don't know what to say."
"But you did fine at the institute this summer. I don't see you having problems talking to other women on campus," Melinda observed.
"I don't know how to act, or what to say, around a woman I'm attracted to," Paul corrected himself. "I never have." He shook his head slowly. "I wish I understood women better, so I'd know how to approach her."
Jenny turned to Melinda, a curious smile on her face, and her eyebrows rose. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
Melinda nodded. "If you _really_ want to know how a woman thinks and feels, Paul, I think we can arrange something."
Paul glanced at Jenny, and then at Melinda. "You're not making any sense."
"It's a three-day weekend, right?" Melinda asked.
"Yeah, but ...."
"If you _really_ want to understand a woman, then meet us Saturday morning next door, at the entrance gate of the water park,"
Paul tried to understand, but failed. "I don't get it."
Melinda smiled. "I'll call a couple of the girls to come, and we'll make a day of it, okay?"
Paul frowned. "I don't know. You won't ask Kathleen to come, will you?"
"If I know Melinda," Jenny grinned, "and I do, then she _will_ invite Kathleen, and you'll have a chance to get to know her without her worrying about you being attracted to her."
"Trust us," Melinda added. "You'll have a great time, you'll get to understand women, and you'll get to know Kathleen. What more do you want?"
Paul sighed, and then he nodded slowly. "Okay. I'll meet you tomorrow. Nine?"
Paul looked skeptically at the line of women and girls going into the park, and then at Melinda. "I don't see how this is going to help me understand women," he said softly so the others nearby wouldn't hear him.
Nearby, waiting to get their passes, Kathleen, Leslie, and a couple of other girls stood.
Melinda smiled pleasantly. "Let's just say that it'll give you a new outlook on things. You'll understand women a lot better after your time here."
"You're not making sense," Paul complained. "How ...?"
Melinda felt Jenny slip her arm around Melinda's waist. "Just a sec." She turned, and Jenny gave her a big kiss. "Are you going to wear your special swimsuit today?"
Jenny grinned. "Of course. I know how it gets your motor running." She gave Melinda another quick kiss, then turned to the other girls and handed out passes. "Remember, the health department rules say you have to shower before you go in the water."
As the other girls went into the park, Paul saw an older woman walking from the office building toward him. He glanced at all the women entering, and suddenly felt nervous. Was he going to get lectured about behaving at "Bikini Beach", when the clientele looked to be mostly female?
The old woman smiled pleasantly. "I'm glad to see you could talk Jenny into another day off, Melinda," the woman said in a warm greeting. She looked at Paul, and for a moment, he felt like she was reading his innermost thoughts. "So you're a little skeptical, is that it Paul?" the old woman asked knowingly.
Paul frowned; she knew what he was thinking, and she knew his name. "I just don't see how this is going to help. Melinda and Jenny said this park would help me understand women better." He shook his head. "I'm still going to be all tongue-tied around Kathleen." He wondered why he was admitting this to the old woman, whose name he didn't even know.
"Call me Grandmother," the old woman said. In fact, she looked like a happy grandmother, with a chubby figure and a warm, friendly smile beneath her slightly-gray hair. "And this _will_ help — if you have an open mind."
Paul frowned. "You make it sound almost sinister."
Grandmother smiled, ignoring the accidental slight. "I know this will work, because my water park is magical."
Paul was about to say that _every_ amusement park operator said the same thing, but his words died in his throat when he saw the old woman's expression. "What do you mean, magical?"
"Your problem," Grandmother continued, ignoring for the moment his question, "is that you only see the problem from one side."
"From one side?"
"The male perspective," Grandmother said plainly. "All your life, all you’ve experienced is a man's view of things. You've never had a chance to see things from the other side."
"You mean a woman's view?" Paul was clearly intrigued, even though he appeared a bit alarmed.
Grandmother smiled. "Exactly. For example, I bet you're all tongue-tied when you're around a young lady because you're afraid you'll say the wrong thing, and then she'll reject you, right?"
Paul considered her words. "Yeah, I guess."
"Well, then," she announced, "a little magic to help you see a female view will help you understand that the problem goes both ways."
Paul frowned as he pondered what they were all saying; the girls had hinted strongly that this place was magic, and now the old woman was strongly implying that.... He paled; was she suggesting that she could turn him into a woman so he could experience what it was like, and thus understand them better?
The old woman's smile broadened. "You catch on pretty quickly," she complimented him. "That's exactly what we're saying — you'd magically become a woman so you could experience what it was like, so you could understand women better."
Paul blanched. She apparently read minds, too, because she had voiced his exact thoughts, almost to the word. "This is ... kind of creepy," he said cautiously.
"Paul," Melinda said, placing her hand gently on his arm, "this place really _is_ magic. I think a weekend just 'hanging with the girls' really _can_ help you get over your shyness around Kathleen. And that's what you want, isn't it?"
"You're not talking about something permanent, are you?" Paul asked hesitantly. His desire to overcome his shyness and to be able to talk with Kathleen — and maybe ask her out — was stronger than his fear of being transformed — if he even believed such would be possible, which, clearly, he was skeptical about.
Grandmother smiled. "Not unless you want it to be permanent," she said, giving Melinda a wink that Paul didn't see.
Paul thought for a few moments. "I saw your prices. They're kind of steep, aren't they? Especially for a college student?"
Jenny laughed lightly. "I think Grandmother will let me use one of my 'guest' days to help with the cost."
Paul was torn. As an engineering student, schooled in logic and facts, the thought of magic seemed implausible. On the other hand, Melinda, Jenny, and the old woman really were assuring him that it was real, and he really did want to get closer to Kathleen. But as a woman, and for a weekend? He wasn't sure how he'd handle that. In fact, the thought of spending a few days as a woman was rather daunting. What if everyone noticed how clumsy and out-of-place he was? Would they laugh at him? Would he look ridiculous?
As he argued with himself, Kathleen and the other girls emerged from the locker room. Kathleen was wearing a bright red bikini that showed her curves, especially her round, luscious rear. With the angle of the sun making her auburn hair seem even redder, she was an intoxicating sight. She glanced at Paul, and then waved coyly.
"Okay," Paul said as he turned to the old woman, his decision made. "How does this work?"
Grandmother smiled, as did Melinda. "You're going to love the weekend," Melinda said. She turned to Grandmother. "I'll take it from here. As you're fond of saying, you _do_ have a business to run." As Grandmother turned away, still smiling, Melinda continued. "You buy your pass, and then swipe it in the card reader over there," she indicated the gate with a reader. "All you have to do is go into the men's locker room, change, and then shower."
"That's it? No 'abra cadabra'? No flash and bolt of lightning?"
"As Grandmother and Anya are fond of saying, that's too flashy for their style. The water in the park is enchanted. It will change you when you shower."
Paul glanced nervously at Jenny, and then at Melinda. Both simply nodded affirmation to him. "I guess I’m outnumbered," he said slowly.
Paul was still skeptical as he turned on the shower. It all seemed so surreal — a magic park that would change him into a woman, so he could get to know how to deal with women, so he could talk to Kathleen, so he wouldn't be nervous when he changed back, so he'd be able to ask her out. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then stepped into the shower, expecting cool or cold water. Instead, the water was pleasantly warm, even invigorating.
He felt silly as he let the warm spray massage his back. He was counting on something flashy, but nothing happened except a slight tingling sensation on his scalp. He closed his eyes, shook his head, and sighed heavily, but as he did so, he felt locks of hair slapping against his cheeks. His eyes snapped open, and he shook his head gently. He felt his hair brushing his cheeks again, but this time, he saw longer hair swirling into and out of sight. His jaw dropped open, and he reached up instinctively to grasp the evidence that he was changing. As he did, the tingling sensation spread to his arms and legs. His hand stopped moving in front of his face when he saw that it was finer, more delicate, and smaller. Even as he watched, with the faint pink mist in the background, his hand continued to change, becoming even more female.
The tingling and a slight tugging on his abdomen, waist, and hips caused his gaze to snap down, in time to witness the slow metamorphosis of his lower body. His waist narrowed, his abs become flatter, and his hips widened slightly. To his horror, he saw the bulge in his swim suit slowly deflate. He reached to touch his genitals, and felt them shrinking, while his swimsuit began to flow like liquid cloth, moving around his waist and hips as the plain male trunks became a daring electric blue bikini bottom. Even as the cloth stopped flowing, what little remained of Paul's manhood vanished, pulling inward until it was its female equivalent.
Slowly, Paul's nipples began to press outward, growing larger and conical as the almost-pleasant tingling spread there. His eyes were wide open, his mouth agape, as he stared at the growing breasts on his formerly manly chest. What chest hair he had vanished, and his musculature shrank, even as the cones pressed outward. When they stopped pressing outward, Paul thought that the changes were done, but the tingling persisted, and his breasts began to fill, to turn from the early-teen cones into the round, voluptuous curves of womanhood.
Just as slowly as it had begun, the strange tingling sensation vanished, leaving Paul standing in the shower, staring down between ample but not ridiculously-large breasts, at a flat stomach, and a flat crotch hidden by an electric-blue bikini bottom.
Reality sank in to Paul — as he touched his breasts, and felt them, he realized that Melinda, Jenny, and the old woman _hadn't_ been pulling his leg. The magic was real. He'd been changed into a woman.
Not knowing what else to do, Paul shut off the shower and stepped out. He walked, hesitantly, around the corner toward the exit into the park.
Paul stopped suddenly as he confronted what appeared to be a mirror. The girl appearing in the mirror looked like his sister, with an electric-blue bikini bottom and no top. Instinctively, Paul lifted his arm to cover his breasts, but when he realized what he'd done, he let his arms drop.
If he'd have been male, he would have been quite smitten by the girl in the mirror. She was a quite pretty woman. Her hair was layered in a relatively short, sassy bob, and just as brown as Paul's had been. Her lips were a bit more full than Paul's had been, but not absurdly so, and her cheekbones seemed a bit higher. Paul knew that the large, soft appearance of her eyes was not because her eyes were larger, but because her head was a bit smaller, giving her a bit of doe-eyed innocence. The woman's breasts — Paul's breasts, he reminded himself, were full and round, but seemed to be only average sized. Her stomach was flat, with no extraneous fat, and her hips rounded nicely below her thin waist. In short, Paul was impressed by what he'd become.
A knock on the door interrupted Paul's fascinated gaze at his reflection. "Paula, are you ready yet?"
Paul frowned, but then realized that if he'd been changed in body, his name would probably have been changed as well. Melinda _had_ said that no-one would know because reality would have been altered. "Uh," he stammered, surprised at the higher pitch of his voice, "I ... uh, forgot my top."
The door opened and Melinda stepped in, smiling. "Here," she said, holding out a blue top that matched her bikini bottom. "Grandmother said you'd need this."
Paul winced as he took the top from Melinda. "Uh," he stammered, "how do I ... put it on?"
Melinda laughed. "The part Grandmother didn't tell you is that your body will come with a set of natural feminine skills, as if you'd been born this way. Putting on clothing is one of them. Don't think about it, just do it."
Paul's eyes widened as he grasped the power of the magic. He drew a long breath, and as he exhaled, he put on the bikini top as if he'd been doing it forever. "Wow!" he exclaimed. "That's ...."
"Spooky," Melinda completed his sentence. "Let's try one more. Quick, what's your name?"
"Paula Louise Larson," Paul answered, and as soon as he did, his eyes widened in surprise. "Wait, that's not it! I'm Paula! No, My name is Paula." Paul wrinkled his nose in frustration. "I can't even say my own name!" he complained.
Melinda laughed gently. "As far as anyone knows, including your parents if you were to call them, you've _always_ been Paula. It helps prevent ... mix-ups. While you're changed, you're Paula. When you change back, you'll be Paul again."
"Okay, so I'm Paula. What will I remember when I change back?"
"You'll remember just about all of what you experience. Some things, though, like if you were to see any of us naked, you won't remember. It's a lot less awkward that way." Melinda took Paula by the elbow and led her out of the locker room. "The other girls are over at the wave pool. I told them we'd meet them there." She strode leisurely out of the entrance plaza, and down a pathway. At a fork in the path, she turned right, toward an area called "Tropical Paradise".
As the two strolled, Paula felt self-conscious. She _knew_ that everyone was watching her, and that everyone knew she was changed.
Melinda noticed her discomfort. "Relax, Paula. No-one else knows besides you, me, Jenny, and Grandmother. If you quit trying to walk like you think a woman walks, and just walk, it'll be natural. No one will suspect."
Just like with the bikini top, as soon as Paula quit thinking about walking with what she thought was a feminine strut, she was walking, and her eyes widened at both how natural it felt, and how her hips were swaying with every step. Her hands and arms even moved more gracefully, and in a much more feminine manner, than she remembered from Paul. It felt natural, and yet, it was distinctively different.
Melinda knew what was going through Paula's mind. "Yes, when you go to the restroom, you'll automatically put the seat down, too."
When they reached the wave pool, Paula and Melinda noticed the other girls were already body-surfing as the waves rolled periodically toward the sandy beach, except Jenny, who had picked out a comfortable lounge chair. Paula took a small foam board and waded out to join them, while Melinda laid down in a lounge chair beside Jenny.
Jenny had her long, wavy, red hair in a braid, and she was wearing a pair of fashionable sunglasses to shade her eyes. She was tan, but not excessively so, and very fit without looking like a female body-builder. Most striking was the silver and Kelly-green deep-vee-necked swimsuit she wore, which really emphasized her assets, and her assets were indeed generous. Paula realized that, next to Jenny, her own body was merely average, and, for a moment, she felt inadequate. Paula told herself that she'd have to talk to Melinda about that feeling later, when they had a chance. She shouldn't feel jealous of another woman's looks!
"Hey, Paula," Kathleen called as Paula waded into the pool, "are you going to the dance next weekend?"
Paula was amazed that Kathleen knew him as a girl, even though the old woman and Melinda had assured him that such would be the case. "I don't think so," Paula said hesitantly.
"Why don't we all go?" one of the girls, a shorter brunette named Susan, asked. "There'll probably be a lot of guys there without dates, and we'd probably get to dance."
"And maybe get lucky?" another girl, Whitney, suggested.
Paula blushed at the blatant suggestion. She hadn't expected _this_ type of discussion from the girls.
Susan noticed Paula's expression. "You must be thinking about the last dance and Chris Nolan," Susan laughed. "Are you going to try to hook up with him again?"
"I don't think so," Paula said, her cheeks turning even redder. "There's more to life than just a quick hookup."
Whitney and Susan laughed. "Someone's too serious about her studies!"
Kathleen rolled toward the group, riding her kick board on a wave as it slowly weakened. "You want to get a good job and make the big bucks, then you _have_ to be serious," she observed. "When you two are juniors, you'll understand."
Whitney rolled her eyes, like she was listening to a parental lecture, while Susan just laughed again. "My major is recreational fitness," she said, "so I'm not going to be nearly as busy as you engineers!"
"You won't make as much, either," Leslie said. "I thought it was the phys ed types that said, 'no pain, no gain'."
Whitney scowled. "At least we have time to date and party."
"Speaking of which," Kathleen interjected, "I thought Cyndi was joining us today, unless she got too hammered at the Tau party last night."
"She sounded pretty hung over when I called her this morning," Whitney reported.
"Her loss," Paula ventured. She knew she had to be careful about her comments and opinions regarding other girls.
"I didn't think she was twenty-one," Kathleen said with a frown. "Are the Taus serving underage girls again?"
"She looks just like her older sister, so she's been using her sister's ID." Susan sounded envious.
"Hey," Paula changed the subject, "why don't we go over to the hill? The slides look like fun."
"Why don't we ask Jenny and Melinda?" Susan suggested. "Jenny works here; she should know the best attractions."
"I'd say that Melinda is Jenny's favorite attraction," Leslie said with a giggle.
"Do you think we'll be able to distract them from each other?" Whitney added.
Melinda noticed that the girls were looking at her and Jenny. She frowned. "What?" she asked loudly.
Leslie grinned. "We were all wondering if you two wanted to, I don't know, go have some fun?"
Melinda glanced at Jenny, and then turned back and stuck out her tongue. "What makes you think we're not enjoying ourselves?"
"Come on," Paula urged as she walked out of the wave pool toward Melinda and Jenny. "Let's go to the rides up on the hill."
Jenny frowned as she swung her legs off the lounge chair. "For your information," she said with a mock scolding tone, "that's Pele's Mountain, not some 'hill'."
"So let's go to Pele's Mountain, then," Leslie chimed in, "and ride some of the slides."
As her body slid into the runout area, Paula felt her bikini top tug free off her chest. As she fumbled about, trying to get the tiny fabric triangles back across her breasts, she heard Leslie and Whitney laughing. She felt her cheeks burning with embarrassment.
"Not funny," she said with a scowl.
Leslie laughed. "Yes, it is." She grinned sheepishly. "The slide got me, too," she confessed.
The next two down were Susan and Kathleen, and just like the others, Kathleen's top was tugged free by the spray of water at the end. She stood up, confidently, and looked at her dangling bikini top like it was a minor annoyance.
Paula felt conflicting emotions — as a former guy, she knew that she should have found the sight of Kathleen's firm, round breasts, and the big brown nipples crowning them, very enticing. At the same time, she knew that there should have been a need to use gentlemanly discretion in not overtly staring. But all Paula felt was a little embarrassment for Kathleen, and envy that she was so confident of her body that she wasn't embarrassed by losing her top. Unlike Paula, though, she simply retied her bikini top.
Jenny and Melinda came down the slides next, and neither of them lost their tops, which, given Jenny's swimsuit, was surprising. Paula gazed, bewildered.
Jenny noticed. She smiled, and then explained to the girls how to keep their tops on. Naturally, the girls wanted to try again, and when they did, only Paula lost her top, causing her some mild embarrassment. Inwardly, Paula reasoned that it was because she wasn't as familiar with her body, and thus didn't have the reflexes. Even though the other girls laughed, she was able to soothe her pride.
The sun was slowly setting, but the heat of the early autumn day hadn't yet abated. The water of 'Old Man River' was thus refreshing to the girls floating lazily around the park in their tubes, especially since they'd spent some time sunbathing on the white beach of the Swimming Hole.
Paula was relaxing, trying to listen, but also half-dozing in her tube. It had been a long day, and the girls had played hard. She thought she heard her name. "Huh?"
"We were trying to figure out what kind of guy it'd take to interest you in going to the dance," Susan repeated with a smile.
"You're playing matchmaker now, too, is that it?" Paula tried to joke. From the topic, she felt nervous. She didn't have girl memories, or girl instincts. She knew nothing about 'girl talk'.
"Why not?" Susan grinned.
"Why don't we figure out what kind of guy _you'd_ like?" Paula countered.
"Too easy," Whitney joked. "Six-two, two hundred pounds of muscle, movie-star looks, and hung like a horse."
"I wasn't talking about a guy for a hookup," Kathleen said.
Paula's eyebrows rose when she realized that Kathleen was thinking the same way she was.
"Okay, long term?" Leslie joined the game. "Susan would go for the outdoor type. Athletic. Loves dancing and partying. Good earning potential, but doesn't have to work long hours."
"And he likes puppies," Whitney added. "
Susan smiled. "You're not even close. Except for the dancing and the puppies. I couldn't get serious with a guy who didn't like puppies."
"Does he like kids?"
"Don't know," Susan shrugged. "I haven't really thought about having kids." She turned to Kathleen. "How about you?" she asked.
Kathleen smiled wistfully. "The most important thing is that he has to be my best friend," she said. "I'll be the center of his universe, and he'll be the center of mine. He'll be the kind of guy that isn't afraid to try new things. It'll be fun to stay up all night by a fire just talking." She had a far-off look in her eyes. "He'll like cooking and baking, so we can spend time together in the kitchen, sharing my hobbies, just like I'll share his. And he's smart." Kathleen looked at Leslie. "Since you're dating Troy, I guess your ideal guy would be Leonard, from 'Big Bang Theory'?"
"Troy is _not_ a nerd," Leslie said defensively. "He doesn't like Star Trek or comic books," she added with a grin. "Apart from that, ...." She turned to Paula. "You haven't answered from the first time."
"I haven't really thought about it," Paula stammered. "I've been too focused on getting my degree. I've been thinking about grad school, and that would delay getting into a serious relationship."
"Oooh," Whitney and Susan said simultaneously, "That's a dodge, if ever I heard one."
"So if Jack Wilkins were to walk up to you and ask you to dinner and the dance next week," Leslie began with a sly smile, "are you trying to convince us that you'd tell him no, that you're not interested?"
Paula felt a peculiar tingling at Jack Wilkin's name. All the girls said he was one of the best looking guys on campus, and that he was very charming. His family wasn't filthy-rich, but they were far from poor, and Jack wasn't hesitant to treat his dates well. "Uh, I didn't say that," she said nervously. In fact, Paula _was_ nervous at how she'd felt when she thought about Jack. She _shouldn't_ have felt any kind of tingling or arousal, but she had. She knew she'd have to take the subject up with Melinda later — if she got a chance.
"So you _would_ go to the dance with Jack?" Susan asked knowingly.
"Maybe," Paula tried to be coy. "Maybe not."
"I wouldn't," Kathleen said definitively. "He's too full of himself." She shook her head. "When he takes a girl out, he expects the night to end in his bedroom."
"Nothing wrong with a romp in the sack with a good-looking guy," Susan said.
Much to Paula's relief, the loudspeaker announced that the park was closing, interrupting the conversation. "Guess we better head back to the lockers," she said, her voice a mixture of reluctance and relief.
"As long as we're having a girls' day, why don't we go out for dinner, and then dancing?" Leslie suggested.
Melinda smiled; she was holding Jenny's hand as they paddled their rafts to the shallow area. "We'll have to take a pass. We've got to get Natalya fed and then off to her friend's house for a sleepover."
"And we planned to meet Anya and Liz at the Coconut Club," Jenny added.
"That sounds like an idea!" Whitney said enthusiastically. "We can get dinner, and then go to the club for dancing!"
Dinner surprised Paula on a few counts. First, she couldn't eat as much as she was used to, and second, all the girls seemed to go light on their meal to save plenty of room for dessert. Third, the sweet dessert seemed even tastier with her female body than with Paul's. She wasn't sure if it was something biological, or if it was the company and their infectious attitudes about sweets.
When they got to the club, Paula was a little dismayed at how many guys seemed to be there. She felt self-conscious as the girls strode in, knowing that every guy was looking at her. On the other hand, she noted how confidently Kathleen, Susan, and Whitney walked. Even before they could sit, Susan was asked to dance, and Kathleen shortly after her.
Paula sat down beside Melinda and Jenny. She looked and felt uncomfortable, but Melinda just smiled at her. "Paula, this is Anya. She runs the park, with her grandmother."
"Oh." Paula's mouth dropped open slightly as she realized what Melinda was telling her.
"How did you like our park? I take it today has been ... enlightening?" Anya asked with a smile. She was a very pretty young woman, with long, wavy dark hair. Her eyes danced with energy and enthusiasm, and her clothes clung to her curvy figure like they were painted on. Paula realized that if she were Paul, she'd find Anya very attractive.
"It was a lot of fun," Paula said.
"I hope you saved enough energy for dancing," Anya suggested. When she saw Paula's eyes widen, she smiled. "You _do_ plan on dancing, don't you? It _is_ part of the package."
"I ... hadn't really thought of it," Paula confessed. "It's a little bit overwhelming so far."
"Oh?" Anya paused when she saw a young man coming toward the table. "You'll have to excuse me for a bit. My boyfriend Greg is about to ask me to dance." She smiled, then stood and took the guy's hand, turning him toward the dance floor.
Leslie, too, went to the dance floor, leaving Paula sitting alone with Melinda and Jenny. "You seem a little down," Melinda noted.
"I'm kind of confused," Paula answered.
"A number of things. Mostly was when the girls were talking about guys, and they were asking if I'd go out with one guy in particular."
Jenny smiled. "I noticed that you seemed a little flustered when you were answering. Let me guess — when they were talking about him, you found yourself getting unexpectedly intrigued or aroused, right?"
"Don't tell me that you do the mind-reading thing, too!" Paula tried to joke. "Yeah."
"You've got a female body, with female instincts. Your body — and mind — are reacting like a woman would. That includes feeling like you did," Melinda explained.
Paula frowned. "So does that mean that if ... he ... were to come in and dance with me, that I'd sleep with him?" She sounded very concerned about the scope of the changes.
Jenny laughed. "Not unless you wanted to. The change made you a woman, not a mindless bimbo slut!"
"Although, that's been known to happen," Melinda added with a grin, "when someone pisses off Grandmother or Anya!"
Paula shuddered inwardly. "I'm glad I'm not in that category!"
"If you want to dance, Greg's fraternity brothers are really nice guys. They're gentlemen, not like most frat boys. Greg would be happy to introduce you."
"Uh, no thanks," Paula answered quickly. "But I noticed something about the girls that are dancing."
"Why does it seem like the really pretty girls, the beauty-queen types, aren't asked as much as ... normal girls?"
Jenny smiled. "Did you ever get 'shot down' by a really pretty girl?" she asked.
"And you felt pretty embarrassed, I bet, right?"
Paula nodded. "That's an understatement."
"And I bet you didn't feel like taking that kind of chance again for quite a while, right?" Melinda saw Paula's nod. "Every guy is thinking about whether he can pick up the 'beauty queen' types, but after they've been embarrassed once, they generally don't want to take that chance again. If they ask an ordinary girl, their buddies aren't watching as much, because they're focused on the beauties. So the guy doing the asking is at less risk of embarrassment from his friends, and feels like the ordinary girl isn't as full of herself, and thus more likely to dance with him."
Paula considered the explanation. "That makes sense."
"It can get to the point where a really pretty girl can go into a club and not get asked to dance, or offered a drink, just because the guys are intimidated by the thoughts of failure," Jenny added.
"You two must pay a lot of attention to guys, because you seem to know a lot about them," Paula observed as she turned back toward the dance floor.
Jenny winked at Melinda, who smiled back. "You have no idea," she said, softly enough that Paula wouldn't hear over the band and crowd.
"You look like you're a little jealous of Kathleen," Melinda said after a moment.
Paula turned toward her, frowning. "I'm surprised that you're not telling me that I can't be jealous because I'm not supposed to have guy feelings, right?"
Melinda laughed. "You said it, not me!"
Jenny looked up, and her brow furrowed. "Oh, oh."
Paula frowned, quickly turning to see what had caught Jenny's attention. "Oh, oh, what?" She saw Anya coming back to the table, with her boyfriend Greg — and another young man. "Oh, crap!" she mouthed. "She wouldn't!"
Melinda chuckled. "I don't think Anya would, but if I know Greg, he's bringing one of his fraternity brothers." She saw Paula's eyes widen in shock. "Oh, don't worry! They're all nice guys. Very respectful, and not pushy, unlike some frat rats."
Anya slid into a chair. Greg stood beside her, with his friend next to him. "Hey, Paula," he began the introductions, "I'd like you meet my friend, Bert."
"Bert?" Paula asked hesitantly. She looked at the young man. He was quite impeccably dressed, unlike many of the guys at the club. It seemed that everything was deliberately neat, from the way he had his wavy brown hair combed, to his wire-framed glasses perched perfectly on his nose, down through his button-down shirt. It seemed out of place, in the club, to be wearing a tie, but on him, it seemed perfectly natural.
"Actually," he said, in a perfect British accent, "It's Bertram. Bertram Smythe. Most people, however, call me Bert or Bertie."
Paula was intrigued, and, to be honest with herself, a little enchanted. His accent made her feel weak-kneed, for some reason. "Please, join us," she found herself saying, without knowing why.
Bert smiled. "I was hoping that we could skip the sitting and conversation, and I could persuade you to join me for a dance."
Paula glanced at Anya, who was smiling at her. Anya leaned closer to Paula. "He's a perfect gentleman," she reminded Paula. "And he's quite a good dancer."
Paula turned back to Bert, and found herself extending her hand for him to lead her to the dance floor. "Have you been told that your accent is quite enchanting?" she asked.
Bert smiled. "I have noticed that some Yank girls — no offense intended — seem to be intrigued by my ... accent."
"It is ... interesting," Paula said with a smile. She danced for a bit with Bert, including a slow dance. She was impressed — and actually a bit aroused — at how gentlemanly he conducted himself, especially during the slow dance. She knew — and saw — other couples grinding against each other in blatantly sexual ways, but Bert held her respectfully — close enough that she could feel herself pressed against his chest, but not in any suggestive manner. He was comfortable to be with.
As the night wore on, Paula alternated between sitting with the group, talking, and dancing with Bert. It was quite late when the club was closing, and the group was still enjoying themselves.
As they walked to the dance floor for what might be the last dance of the night, Paula was smiling at Bert. She felt very conflicted inside; Paul's memories were screaming that this was weird, even gay, and she definitely should _not_ be enjoying dancing with a guy. Paula, on the other hand, was very relaxed by Bert's warm, friendly nature. She was having fun, because she felt no pressure. Anya and the others had assured her that Bert was a total gentleman, and he'd proven it by his actions — or, more specifically, lack thereof.
The music stopped, and the DJ announced that it was closing time. Paula walked off the dance floor, back to the table, where she picked up her purse. The other girls were watching her with what she felt was an excess of scrutiny. She turned to Bert and caught his hand. "Thanks," she said, feeling a genuine sense of gratitude and fun. "I had a good time."
Bert smiled, and Paula felt her knees weaken. "So did I. I hope to see you around some more. It's not every day that a self-confessed nerd meets a girl who shares some of his interests."
"Maybe we can go see that new movie tomorrow night, then?" Paula found herself suggesting, to her own shock.
Bert's smile broadened. "There's a nice little place that serves fish and chips. We could have dinner either before or after, if you'd like."
Paula laughed. "At least you didn't suggest steak and kidney pie!"
"Too stereotypical," Bert chuckled.
"And fish and chips aren't?" Paula countered lightly. "That sounds like fun."
Bert's eyes beamed with delight. "I'll pick you up at seven? There's a showing at eight-thirty, so that would give us time to eat."
"Not fish and chips, though," Paula cautioned with a smile.
"Pizza?" Bert saw Paula's nod, and he smiled. "Until then."
Paula saw Anya and Melinda staring at her, their eyes wide. For some reason, she got a mischievous idea. She lifted herself up on her toes and gave him a kiss on his cheek. "I'm looking forward to it."
After he'd left, and Melinda was walking to the parking lot with Anya, Jenny, and Paula, Melinda scowled at Paula. "What was _that_ all about?"
"All what?" Paula asked innocently.
Jenny shook her head in disbelief. "You know exactly what we're talking about. The date, the kiss. What's going on?"
Paula paused, and tried to think of what had happened. "It just seemed ... the right thing to do," she said after a moment. "He was so sweet, it just happened."
Anya smiled. "What you found, I think, is that when the guy wasn't pushy, but was just being friendly, you found it non-threatening and comfortable, and _that_ was attractive to you. Am I right?"
Paula mulled over Anya's thoughts. "Yeah, I think that's it. With the other guys asking me to dance, I felt like they were, I don't know, looking for something ... else. With Bert, it was pretty clear that he was just having an enjoyable evening with no expectations."
Melinda grinned. "And thus ends lesson two."
Paula cocked her head, puzzled. "Lesson two? What was lesson one?"
"Lesson one is that girls talk about the same things guys do, and enjoy hanging around having fun, just like guys."
"And lesson two is that girls find non-threatening guys comfortable and fun to be with."
Paula woke early, as had been Paul's habit, even on weekends. After spending a few moments in a futile effort to fall back asleep, staring at the feminine décor of the room, she pulled herself out of bed. After few quick chores in the bathroom, she pulled on a robe and strolled out to the kitchen. Some breakfast sounded like a good plan.
The first thing Paula did was to start a pot of coffee brewing. That done, she checked the refrigerator, and was surprised to find that diet yogurt, salad fixings, and other 'healthy' foods were plentiful. The pantry held a few cereals, and some pancake mix. Unsure of what to expect, Paula looked around the kitchen and found a waffle iron, which she took as a sign. A few minutes later, the waffle iron was heating up while Paula mixed the batter.
"Smells good. What's the occasion?" a sleepy voice interrupted, startling Paula.
She looked up, and saw Leslie, clad only in a teddy. "Uh, I couldn't sleep, so I decided to make some breakfast."
Leslie shook her head as she ran her fingers through her hair. Her hair was a mess, and her eyes were half-closed. "You're making enough for an army! Have you forgotten your diet?"
Paula started; this might seem out of character to Leslie. "You've got to splurge once in a while. Besides, I figured that you'd help eat the waffles."
Paula remembered what was on the package. "Of course. And I'll use low-fat margarine and a low-sugar strawberry jam."
Leslie smiled. She shuffled across the room and pulled a cup from the cupboard, then poured some coffee. "Some days, I really hate dieting, because I miss the flavor of real maple syrup."
Paula laughed. "So save up and splurge."
Leslie laughed sardonically. "You remember last time I tried that? I binged for almost two weeks!"
"So I'll tie you down and spoon-feed you until you get over the cravings! Or should I leave that to Troy?"
"Don't even mention that to him! He'd probably get off on a little bondage!" Leslie chuckled.
"I figured I'd get some breakfast, and then have a lazy day watching my Gilligan's Island DVDs."
Leslie frowned. "Have you forgotten that we're meeting the group at the lab at ten-thirty?"
"Oh, crap, that's right!" Paula realized that, in this new reality, some things hadn't changed. "I almost forgot."
"Sure. You go dancing with a guy with a British accent, and you forget all about homework and the rest of your lab team!"
"I wasn't completely awake," Paula protested. "Besides, it's not like I got swept off my feet or anything."
Leslie laughed aloud. "And _who_ asked _whom_ for the date tonight?"
Working on the lab was an interesting experience; Leslie, Paula, another girl named Heather, and two guys were on the team. It didn't take Paula long to really dislike one of the guys, Lewis, because he was acting like he was God's gift to women. He was constantly making comments that were innuendos, double-entendres, and suggestive comments. Knowing that she was only temporarily a girl didn't give Paula any relief; the guy was an egotistical jerk. From Heather's whispered comments and Leslie's rolled eyes and frowns, she knew that they were as offended as she was, or possibly more so. Leslie and Heather plainly stated during a short break that the only thing that kept the jerk on the team was that the assignments were made by the instructor.
By the end of the day, Paula wanted to wring his neck. She'd had a few too many suggestive comments about her bosom, her ass, and 'recreational activities'. Paula rode with Leslie back to their apartment.
When Paula got dressed to go on her 'date' with Bert, Leslie laughed, and then made Paula change. It was another of those things that Paula didn't understand about women; this was a casual date, but Leslie was insistent that Paula dress and fix her hair like it was a formal dance. She was, thus, a bit late getting ready when Bert arrived. Surprisingly, for an informal 'date', Bert was well-dressed and well groomed, like it was a formal date. She felt pleased that he'd taken the trouble to look nice for her, even though she knew that she shouldn't have such feelings. As she recalled Leslie's insistence that she wear nice clothing, Paula wondered if this was lesson three — women liked to look pretty, and they wanted men to make a similar effort to look attractive for them. Was it that the little extra effort in physical presentation sent a message that the guy thought highly enough of the girl to take the time? Did a guy's physical appearance send a message about how much he thought of the girl? Paula was beginning to suspect that it did.
Dinner was informal, and fun. The movie was good, and after the movie, Bert suggested perhaps a little dessert. Once they finished talking and eating their dessert, Bert took Paula home. What surprised Paula was when Bert simply parked, walked around the car and opened her door, and offered his hand to help her out. He made no 'move' on Paula; instead, he made it abundantly clear that everything was her choice.
At the doorway to the apartment building, Paula stopped, turned, and kissed Bert. Paul was confused, but Paula was a bit aroused at how gentlemanly Bert had been. She hadn't had to fight off his wandering paws during the movie, she hadn't had to ensure a lot of suggestive comments, and she hadn't ever felt threatened by him, even though he was physically larger. She felt comfortable and safe. So it was natural to Paula that she should thank Bert, which she did with a moderately-long kiss that was more than a peck on the cheek.
As Bert walked back to his car, Paula watched with a little tingle in her heart. Bert was sweet, and he showed how much he respected her. Was that lesson four — that girls liked being treated like they were special? She was mulling over that thought even through Leslie's good-natured ribbing about her lipstick being smeared when she got back in the apartment.
As the sun rose higher in the morning, Paula was glad that she hadn't worn the top of her sweat suit. She and Leslie were running through Dixon Park, a favored location for jogging, playing Frisbee, and other outdoor activities. It was also, Paula reminded herself as they passed a parking area, a favorite make-out spot for high-school kids.
For a brief moment, Paula felt a tiny thrill as she contemplated what it would be like to sit with Bert in the park making out. As soon as she was aware of the thought, though, she chased it from her mind, shuddering as she did so. It wasn't right to be thinking about kissing a guy. It _shouldn't_ be right.
"Take a break?" Leslie puffed as they approached a drinking fountain and bench.
"Sure," Paula replied easily. From their breathing, it was clear that Paula was in better shape than Leslie.
"How far?" Leslie panted as she bent forward and propped her arms on her thighs. She knew better than to sit down.
Paula glanced at a watch-like instrument on her wrist. "About three kilometers," she answered.
"I'm going to assume you want to run the full ten K?"
Paula shrugged. "I had a late night last night. Five K is probably enough today." She grinned. "But we're doing the full ten K on Wednesday after classes."
As Leslie bent over the fountain to get a drink, a couple of guys jogged past. Paula frowned when she saw the guys ogling Leslie's rear. She realized immediately that they had probably been gawking at how her tight-fitting top accentuated her curves.
"Ready?" Paula asked as soon as Leslie straightened. She wanted to get running again, because she knew the exercise would distract her from thinking about how the guys were watching her.
Two guys jogged up, and halted by the fountain. One guy made a show of getting a drink; Paula knew it was an excuse to stop so they could try to talk to the girls. She thought she recognized one of the guys from a history class at college.
"Nice day for running," the guy who wasn't drinking said casually.
"Yeah," Leslie answered. "It's okay."
"When we're not in class or in the labs," Paula added. "Senior projects and labs take way too much time."
The guy's eyebrows rose in surprise. "You're ... seniors?"
"Mechanical Engineering," Leslie confirmed. "I assume you're in college, too?"
One guy glanced uneasily at the other; they seemed to visibly deflate. "I'm a sophomore," he answered almost apologetically, "in business. Brett," he nodded toward his partner, "is studying foreign languages."
Paula bit her tongue to avoid making a sarcastic or condescending remark. It was universally accepted in the engineering disciplines that business, liberal arts, and education weren't really worthwhile areas of study. This opinion, of course, was not universally shared at the college. Paula decided to be civil instead. "Are you guys training for the charity 10K run next month?"
"Nah," the second one, Brett, answered. "We just like to get out and exercise."
"And try to pick up girls," Paula thought. "Well, enjoy your day. We need to get back to our training." With that, she turned, and with Leslie at her side, began to run easily on the running path.
"You were a bit abrupt with them," Leslie observed when they were out of earshot of the guys.
"I'm here to run, not to scope out guys," Paula answered quickly.
"You have to admit that Brett was kind of cute."
Paula started to react, but caught herself to consider what Leslie had said. She reminded herself that she was "in school", learning about what girls thought. "I thought you were involved with Troy."
Leslie frowned and shook her head. "He called off another date," she said glumly, "and I heard he's been screwing Traci Johnson."" She sighed. "I probably should be looking around. Haven't you ever watched other guys while you've been, you know, dating?"
Paula paused to search her memories. She found nothing helpful. "I've never been involved enough to call something a relationship," she replied, "so I wouldn’t really know." As they ran in silence for a few moments, Paula reflected on what Leslie had said. Her new, feminine instincts told her that Leslie wasn't exaggerating; Brett had been physically attractive. But she found herself unable to get past his chosen major. Maybe, to her, there was more than physical beauty. Was she like Paul; was she more strongly attracted to someone intelligent and witty, as opposed to merely beautiful? Maybe this was lesson five — girls, like guys, didn't always look for guys who were 'hunks', but for guys who were fun and intelligent and genuinely interesting. Unlike the stereotypical college girl who'd be in awe of a guy who was ripped and gorgeous, a girl could see beyond the surface.
As Paula and Leslie jogged silently, with Leslie struggling to keep up, they came upon a clearing where a few guys were relaxing. The girls immediately noticed that one of the guys had a small, brownish puppy on a leash, and was sitting down to play with his dog.
"Aw," Leslie puffed, "isn't he so cute!" She stopped and walked off the jogging trail to where the guy was sitting. "What kind of dog is he?"
The guy turned, looking up at Leslie and Paula. "She's a golden retriever," he said, smiling.
Leslie squatted down beside the guy and the puppy. "She's adorable! Can I hold her?"
The guy grinned. "Sure." He lifted the puppy to Leslie, who immediately began to cuddle the small dog. "You're so cute, aren't you?" she said to the dog, as if the dog could understand her.
Paula had to admit that the puppy seemed more loveable now than when she'd been Paul. She took her turn holding the puppy. Within minutes, three more girls were gathered around the small, golden puppy. Paula noticed that the other guys were staring jealously at the one with the dog, since he had five girls around him, and they had none.
Eventually, Leslie and Paula continued their run. Paula mulled over the guy with the dog. He'd used the dog as an ice-breaker, a way to start talking with the girls. He wasn't arrogant, or showing off his physical prowess the way the other guys imagined they were; he just talked about his dog, and let the conversation go from there. Paula had no doubt that he'd have a date that evening if he wanted.
Paula wondered, briefly, if she shouldn't get a puppy, so that once she changed back, she could use the dog as an ice-breaker to talk to Kathleen. Before that thought could take root, however, she remembered Paul's dog Sable, and the trouble the puppy had caused before he'd been fully trained. Paula discounted using a puppy as an ice-breaker. Besides, she thought, with Paul's luck, Kathleen would turn out to be allergic to dogs.
As they finished their run, Paula felt some twinges and discomfort in her lower abdomen. Leslie noticed her wincing. "Are you okay?" Leslie asked.
Paula's male memories pondered the strange feelings; it wasn't like she'd pulled a muscle or overdone the running and had a side ache. Paula's female memories, though, knew exactly what the problem was. "I think I need to use the ladies' room," she said, "and I think we'll have to stop on the way home for ... supplies."
Leslie nodded sympathetically. "We need a few groceries, anyway."
"Got any ideas for dinner?"
Leslie shook her head. "I was thinking some steamed vegetables in Alfredo sauce over fettuccine."
Paula nodded. "That sounds good. I know you won't mind if I cook a chicken breast so I can have some meat with mine."
Leslie smiled. "As long as you don't make me eat it."
"One thing I haven't figured out," Paul began.
"How come you eat fish and eggs if you're a vegetarian?"
Leslie laughed. "I'm not a total vegetarian. Fish don't ...," she paused, thinking, " seem the same as beef or chicken."
"I couldn't live like that," Paula said in a non-judgmental tone. "I'm a carnivore.
"Did you get your lab write-up finished?" Leslie asked after Paula visited the ladies' restroom.
Paula shook her head. "Almost. I figure I've got a couple of hours on that, and then I'll have to put in some time for other classes."
"I hate labs. They take way too much work for only one credit hour."
"So does everyone, but since they're required, all we can do is tough 'em out."
"And we've got that test coming up Wednesday," Leslie added.
Paula groaned. "Don't remind me! I'm behind enough as it is without having to study for another test."
Paula retreated to her bedroom to study. She felt more twinges of discomfort, and found that she had to change her tampon — again. She shuddered; if this was what women went through monthly, then it was no wonder that they were moody and irritable. As she settled into bed, tired from the day's exercise and long, mentally-arduous studying, she had a brief thought that changing back was going to be awkward with Leslie in the apartment. Fatigue, though, overtook her, and she forgot about her concerns as she drifted asleep.
Paul's eyes snapped open as he suddenly awoke. Without even looking, he knew that several things had changed. He didn't feel the low-level of discomfort and bloating in his abdomen, nor the slight pain in his back. He didn't feel breasts tugging at his chest muscles, nor feel stray strands of hair tickling at his face and neck. He rolled to his back and sat up, again noticing the lack of pendulous weights on his chest.
As his head tilted down to look, Paul's hands reached up, touching his chest, seeking confirmation that he had changed back. He lifted his T-shirt, and saw his defined pecs and abs, without the rounded protrusions of the breasts that Paula had had.
He looked around the room. It didn't seem that different, except the pastel colored linens and curtains were gone, replaced by more masculine dark green, which was Paul's favorite color. His dresser was a bit plainer, too; where Paula's bedroom furniture was pickled pine, with graceful lines, Paul's bedroom had reverted to plain pine wood, with a blocky appearance. Utilitarian and functional. Not the slightest bit feminine.
Paul crawled out of bed and stumbled to his bathroom. He was relieved to see his electric razor by the sink, and, after relieving himself, he checked and was delighted to find no feminine products under the sink. Paul walked slowly back to his room, picked his pants up off the floor, and slid them on.
Still a bit groggy, Paul walked slowly to the kitchen, where he started a pot of coffee brewing. He was back in his single apartment, just like before the visit to the water park. As the coffee maker bubbled and snarled, dripping the precious dark liquid into the waiting pot, Paul smiled to himself. It felt good to be back to normal. And yet, it felt a bit odd, like he was missing something.
Jenny sighed as she swallowed another mouthful of spaghetti. "I'll probably get in trouble for this," she commented with a smile, "but you're at least as good a cook as Melinda."
Melinda slapped Jenny's arm playfully. "Hey! Do you want to be eating sandwiches for the next week?"
Paul smiled. "I wasn't trying to start a fight."
"She's the one who doesn't like my cooking," Melinda added, giving Paul a wink. "So maybe I'll let her cook her own food for a while."
"No, please, not that!" Natalya implored. "If you make Jenny cook, you'll be punishing _me_ too, and I didn't do anything wrong!"
Jenny scowled, but her eyes were twinkling with happiness. Her protests to the contrary, she was enjoying this exchange. "What's wrong with my cooking?" she demanded of Natalya.
Natalya looked defiantly at Jenny. "Nothing, if you like tuna sandwiches, mac and cheese, and hot dogs."
"So _you_ can cook for a while, then!" Jenny scolded Natalya.
Melinda sighed. "That's a relief. Natty's been learning a lot from Mom, so I dare say she's a better cook than you are already."
Jenny pouted. "Nobody likes my cooking."
Melinda laughed. "But you're still the best mechanic and electrician I know." She winked at Jenny. "And there are a few other things you're really good at, too."
Jenny decided to change the subject. "So, how did your weekend go?" she asked Paul.
Paul glanced nervously at Natty. "Uh, okay, I guess." He was uneasy talking about his weekend with Natty present.
Melinda noticed. "Don't worry, Paul," she assured her friend. "Natty knows all about the park.
"Oh?" Paul sounded surprised. In response to his inquiring look, Natty looked down, her cheeks reddening in embarrassment.
"Besides," Jenny added quickly, "she's a growing girl, and she's discovering boys. It won't hurt for her to learn about how guys think about relationships. It might help her avoid some ... mistakes."
While still uncomfortable, Paul was mollified by Jenny's logic. "It was an interesting weekend."
"How so? What was so different?" Melinda asked.
Paul chuckled. "That's the funny thing. Except for ...," he looked down, embarrassed, "one thing, it wasn't different." He shook his head. "It wasn't what I was expecting."
"What were you expecting?" Jenny asked simply.
"I don't know," Paul said, sighing. "I thought there was some secret or something."
"But you found out that girls aren't so different, right?"
Paul nodded. "There were some things that I didn't realize, like how girls feel when guys are trying to hit on them, or how obnoxious some guys can be. But mostly, it seems like girls have the same feelings as guys."
"Let me ask it differently," Jenny posed. "What kind of guys do you like as friends?"
Paul shrugged. "Guys who are fun to be around with. Guys who enjoy some of the same things I do. Guys who aren't high on themselves." He shrugged again. "You know, normal guys."
"And what did you see that girls want as friends?"
Paul's eyes widened slightly. "Pretty much the same thing."
"How was Bert, on your date? Was that fun?"
Paul's jaw hung down for a moment; he didn't think that Melinda or Jenny knew about that date. "He was fun to be with. I guess one thing is, he listened to me, and was interested in me as a person, not as a potential ... bed-partner."
"So it was a pleasant experience," Jenny continued, "even though it wasn't sexual, and he wasn't the best-looking guy around."
Paul nodded as he connected the dots. "What you're saying, is that if I'm a nice guy to be around, a friend, then girls would find that more appealing?"
"Bert didn't come on to Paula sexually. He didn't act macho or like some kind of hotshot. He was just being himself. And I gather that you were interested in him _because_ of that."
"Yeah, I guess that's it."
Melinda smiled. "So logically ...."
"If I'm just myself around girls like Kathleen, I'd have a good chance of getting a date, right?"
"There's no reason to be intimidated. She's just a person, like you. She wants the same thing as you — to be with someone fun and friendly." Melinda smiled. "You know, the way you are around Leslie and me."
Natty piped up. "All my friends talk about are guys who are cool and fun and friendly. You just need to be yourself, and she'll like you for you, not for being a show-off."
"Pretty sage advice from a pre-teen girl," Paul laughed.
"Just talk to her tomorrow, and ask her out. It's just like when you were talking to the girls this last weekend. You don't have to try to impress her; just be yourself. I really suspect that she knows how nice a guy you are, and she's hoping that you'll ask her to the dance."
Paul sighed. "I'll try."
Jenny laughed. "Do, or do not. There is no try," she said in a gravelly, Yoda-like voice. Natty, Paul, and Melinda burst out laughing at her comment.
"And if you do not, you could always get a longer pass so you can get more lessons," Melinda chuckled. "Even make it permanent with a lifetime pass."
Paul blanched at the thought. "Uh, no thanks. I think I've learned enough."
Jenny smiled. "Too bad. You make a cute girl."
As Paul, Melinda, and Leslie stood in the hall of the student union building, talking, Melinda spied Kathleen.
"There she is," she said insistently to Paul. "Go talk to her."
Paul winced. "I ... I don't know," he stammered.
"Do, or do not. There is no try," Melinda repeated.
Paul stared at her for a moment, his eyes wide with surprise, before he smiled. Leslie simply looked at Melinda as if she were crazy.
"Well," Paul said as he mustered his courage, "here goes nothing." Visibly nervous, he walked toward Kathleen. "Hi," he said by way of greeting.
"Hi, Paul," Kathleen replied. She seemed surprised that he was talking to her.
"How are you doing with sociology?" he asked, trying to be casual and focus on something they had in common. Both shared a sociology class as a liberal arts elective.
"I don't like the humanities," Kathleen sighed. "Everything is subjective."
"Not like math or engineering, is it?" Paul said with a smile. "I don't know any science or engineering student who _does_ like humanities."
"Are you ready for the test on Friday?" Kathleen asked.
Paul shook his head. "I've been tied up with a lab and a test in my engineering classes, so I haven't had time to study." His nerves were slowly calming, but he was still terrified that he was going to make a mistake and scare Kathleen away.
"Me, either," Kathleen admitted.
"Where are you going now?" Paul asked sheepishly.
"I've got one more class today, and then I'm going to the park to relax before I start studying for the test." Her eyes narrowed ever so slightly. "Why? What are you doing?"
Paul's nervousness returned in spades. "I was just thinking that it's sometimes easier to study in a group. At least for me, anyway. And maybe, if you wanted, we could study together?"
Kathleen looked evenly at him, her expression carefully neutral. "That might be helpful," she offered non-committedly. "Do you want to meet in the library?"
Paul knew he'd passed the first hurdle; she hadn't told him to get lost at his suggestion. "The study rooms fill up pretty fast," he observed. "Maybe we could go to the all-night restaurant and study over coffee?" His last words were spoken toward the floor as he'd looked down.
"Paul Jackson," Kathleen said firmly, causing him to look up at her, "are you asking me out to dinner?"
Paul didn't know how to read her words or question. "Uh," he stammered, "I guess so. Kind of."
"Because if you are," Kathleen continued, before she smiled warmly, "I'd like that. I think it would be nice."
Paul's jaw dropped. He was visibly stunned that she'd accepted. "Okay," he said quickly.
"I've got a question, though," Kathleen said.
"What?" Paul's confidence was waning again.
"Why didn't you talk to me before? I was starting to think that you didn't like me, because you never talked to me like you do with Melinda and Leslie."
"I should have known you'd notice that, because you're a very smart girl." Paul looked down, feeling embarrassed. "It's mostly because I didn't want to ask Melinda or Leslie out on a date," he admitted softly. "I really wanted to ask you to the dance this weekend, but I didn't know how to. I've always been shy around girls I wanted to go out with."
"You could have always just asked."
"You mean like, would you like to go to the dance with me Saturday?"
Kathleen grinned. "See, that wasn't so hard. And yes, I'd like to go to the dance with you. I was kind of hoping you'd ask," she added softly.
Paul glanced over toward Melinda and Leslie, and saw Melinda give him a wink. He smiled back at her before he turned back to Kathleen. "I'll pick you up around seven for dinner?"
"Sounds good." Kathleen smiled warmly, and her eyes sparkled with joy. "I'll see you at seven. But nothing too fancy or expensive for dinner, okay?"
"Okay," Paul agreed.
Kathleen smiled once more, before she turned to leave for her class. Paul stood, staring after her.
"How'd it go?" Melinda asked as she glided silently to Paul's side.
"We're going to dinner tonight," he answered, still watching Kathleen walk away, and smiling to himself.
"And we're going to the dance Saturday night."
"See," Melinda said with a grin, "talking to her wasn't that hard, was it?"
Paul laughed. "Not after the lessons this last weekend. At least I can talk to her."
"It's a good first step."
"I don't know what'll happen between us," Paul continued, "but at least I have a chance to date her once or twice to see if there's anything there." He turned to Melinda. "Thanks for helping me get some confidence."
Melinda smiled. "You're welcome. And if you ever need a refresher course, I'm sure we can arrange that." Leslie listened with a baffled expression on her face. She had _no_ idea what Paul and Melinda were talking about.
"I don't think that'll be necessary," Paul laughed. "I think one weekend was enough."
Melinda grinned. "You know where to find the park if you _do_ need another lesson."
Paul turned to Leslie. "I heard you and Troy aren't ..., well, that he was being a jerk."
Leslie frowned. "If you mean he was screwing around while we were supposed to be dating, then yes, he was a jerk!"
"I know a guy who's very nice, unpretentious, and a great dancer," Paul said as he recalled his evening at the Coconut Club when he was Paula.
Leslie looked suspiciously at him. "Since when are _you_ the matchmaker?"
Melinda put her hand on Leslie's arm in a calming manner. "I think I know where he's going with this."
"I know one guy who's an honest-to-goodness gentleman. He's smart, he's witty, and he's a great dancer." Paul shot a quick glance at Melinda, who was smiling. "I know you'd have a great time if you went to the dance with him."
Leslie wasn't convinced. "Who is he?"
"He's one of the NRDs," Paul answered hesitantly. "His name is Bertram Smyth. He's British."
Melinda nodded. "I know the NRDs well. When they were helping tutor Natalya, Jenny and I got to know them. Bert is a real sweet guy."
Leslie's resistance to having Paul and Melinda set her up with a date was crumbling. "I don't know ...."
Paul knew that Leslie was almost convinced. "Tell you what," he offered, "why don't we all go to the Coconut Club tomorrow night, and you can meet him?"
"Okay," Leslie gave in. "We'll see if he's as nice as you say he is."
***** Epilogue *****
Jenny looked a little worried as she scurried to keep up with Anya. "What's the emergency?" she asked.
"I don't know," Anya said. "Melinda just called and told me that it's an emergency, and she'll meet you in the parking lot outside the office."
"Natty isn't hurt, is she?"
"I don't think so," Anya replied. "But Melinda was in a hurry, and she didn't say much.
The two dodged a couple of park patrons, and strode quickly and purposefully toward the office, then into the low gray building. Seconds later, the door to the parking lot opened, and Anya led Jenny out into the parking lot.
Jenny's worried frown disappeared almost instantly, replaced with a look of bewilderment. Her hands rose in front of her mouth, and her eyes started to mist, as she realized what was going on.
"Happy Birthday, Jenny," Melinda, Natty, Grandmother, Anya, Liz, and many other friends from the park shouted happily.
Jenny stared at the object, a stunned expression on her face. "Oh, my god!" she exclaimed softly, not knowing what else to say.
Melinda wrapped her arm around Jenny's shoulder, and then placed something into Jenny's hand. "Happy Birthday," Melinda said before she kissed Jenny on her cheek.
Jenny looked at the key in her hand, and then at the blue car wrapped with a big bow and a "Happy Birthday" sign. Tears streamed from her eyes. "It's ... it's beautiful!" she cried, before wrapping herself around Melinda. Any muscle-car enthusiast would have immediately recognized the lines of the classic Pontiac GTO. This one was even rarer; the convertible top was folded down. It was exactly like the car that Jenny had once owned.
Melinda smiled. "It's got the standard engine, but I found a 428. I figured that we could work on it together, if you'd like."
Jenny looked at Melinda for a moment, and then started crying again. "Yes," she said over and over. "We'll work on it together."
Natty ran forward and wrapped her arms around both Melinda and Jenny. "Happy birthday," she said enthusiastically to her guardian.
"Now, if you're done gawking at the car and crying, we've got cake in the office," Grandmother said. "Let's go have a party." She led the group back to the office building, with Jenny and Melinda arm-in-arm, and Jenny still crying tears of happiness.
Melinda smiled. The surprise had been total, and Jenny was clearly delighted with her gift. It was a good day.
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