Here On Earth

By E. Red

 

Chapter 3

 

Dad was less than impressed with the military’s ‘intervention on our behalf’. Apparently, we fell into some kind of red-flagged category of law enforcement, some tag had shown up on our profiles, and the medics were “Just following standard procedure.”

 

I, personally, thought that was a load of bull…

 

It was nearly an hour after we woke up until we were finally discharged, and my nerves were basically fried by the time we left. Dad’s old Jeep roared as we passed through the gates of the naval base, and the steady thrumming of the engine must have lulled me to sleep, because the next thing I was aware of was being carried into my bedroom and tucked in.

 

The door clicked closed before I entirely woke up, but when all the fuzz had lifted from my mind, I immediately wished it hadn’t. The events of the day came crashing back down into my mind, finally without anything left to distract me from the glaring facts.

 

The tears sprang to my eyes instantly, and I heard something crash in the room across the hall. Julia came into the room seconds later, but I didn’t notice until she wrapped my trembling body in a warm, comforting embrace.

 

Laying there, wearing an overlarge cotton robe, being rocked gently back and forth by my sister, I thought my way back through all of the bad memories that make up my life. There were good ones here and there, to be sure, but they were few and far between. And all of them involved my twin sister, in some way.

 

I don’t remember much of that night. But I fell asleep, shaking in Julia’s arms. And that’s exactly how I awoke the next morning: Shaking, in Julia’s arms.

 

Even the best fall down some times, as the song says. My ironclad will was bound to fail me at some point. Even as hard as I struggled to stop myself from doing it. Even as hard as the last fragment of maleness, hanging desperately to the edge of my mind, struggled against the inevitable. Even though I wanted to fight my feelings. Despite all that, a stupid genetic syndrome decided that it was time for me to move on, and accept my new self.

 

And so I did.

 

I wish it came as easily as that last statement had, but no. I turned in my sleeping sister’s embrace, burying my face into her shoulder, and I cried. I cried for things in the past that I’d never allowed myself to acknowledge before. I cried for a life that had once been so clear, and full of a purpose, a purpose that was no longer required of me. I cried for all of the anger I’d pushed through my person over the years, for all the hate and loathing and malice I’d allowed myself to brew up. And I cried for a reason that I’d never EVER expected to, not even on my darkest days:

 

I cried for my stepfather. I cried for treating him the way I did. I cried for the relationship we should have had.

 

A few days prior, I’d have scoffed at the notion. The man had ruined my life. But now, in the midst of a complete breakdown and restructuring of my very being, the revelations kept on coming. I still don’t agree with his methods to this day. But I guess, in some small way, I was able to forgive him, just a little, there in my bed, on ‘the morning after’.

 

I guess they’re right when they tell you to “Try shifting your paradigm”.

 

I cried until my eyes were red and raw. I sobbed at the images of the past few days as they played through in crystal-clear color picture. I felt the shame of doubting my friends again, and the embarrassment at the CEC meeting. And I felt the terror of my encounter in the park, and my hand twitched slightly at the memory of the searing, mind-numbing pain of having it crushed beyond normal repair.

 

And I cried for Julia. For my twin sister. For the only person who had mattered to me. All those years, I thought I was the one helping her, protecting her and keeping her safe. But really, she was the one helping me. She was my lifeline. I was only happy when she was happy, and I was sad when she was sad. I guess I just coasted through my own life, hanging onto the tail end of hers. She was the stronger of the two of us. I realize that now. Without her, I would have had no motivation to live in those early years.

 

But finally, when I had no more tears to cry, I just laid there. Silent.

 

It must have been an hour later that Jules started to wake up. My own violet eyes slowly opened on her face as she blinked herself awake. “Hey.” She said quietly, smiling. “You okay?”

 

“I… Don’t know…” Was all the answer I could squeeze out.

 

She held me a little tighter, rubbing my back in a soothing gesture. “Tell me about it?” She asked gently, concern rolling off her in waves.

 

“I… I just want to… Forget it all…” I managed to say in response. She nodded sadly, not pressing for details, which I was thankful for.

 

I guess all of my emotional stress had worn me out again, because I woke up at around noon, alone in my bed. I was a little scared when I couldn’t feel Julia holding me, but she was there when I looked up. Sitting in my desk chair in her own robe, with a towel wrapped around her head, a textbook in her hand and a feeling of frustration echoing through our link.

 

I smiled despite my earlier situation. “Chemistry?” I asked aloud.

 

She laughed without looking up. “You know me too well, sis.”

 

“One does ones best.” I said playfully, plastering an innocent look on my face, which made her laugh again. I sat up in bed idly noticing that my robe had come undone during the night. There was also a weird, sickeningly sweet scent in the room, and I realized after a minute that it was Julia’s hair. “What is that smell?”

 

She grinned, tossing a bottle at me. “Mango Peach Passion Fruit Swirl.” I read, popping the cap and taking a deep sniff. Bad idea. The smell was utterly intoxicating. “Damn. What the hell do they put into this stuff?” I said aloud, feeling just a bit woozy.

 

“Well if you’re going to be like that, then I’ll just take it back.” She said pompously, holding out her hand.

 

I laughed as I stood up. “Now, I never said I didn’t like it.”

 

She blinked at me, looking me up and down for a second, raising an eyebrow at the now open front of my robe. “I might just make a respectable girl out of you yet.”

 

I laughed again as I made for my bathroom. “You can try, dear sister. You can try.”

 

It’s amazing, the things the human mind can do to cope. I’d switched from complete system failure to relative normality in just a few hours. I sometimes wonder how close I really came to becoming bipolar in those early days…

 

The hot shower helped me to collect my thoughts. As I revelled once again in the feeling of the water running down my body, I was hit by another thought. I screwed up my face in concentration, and suddenly couldn’t feel the water on my body anymore. It was flowing downwards an inch before it could hit my body. “Wicked…”

 

I spent the better part of an hour playing in the shower, forming all kinds of things with my mind, until I finally got bored and finished cleaning myself. But stepping out and reaching for a towel, I immediately had another idea. Frowning in concentration, I focused on the water that remained on my body and in my hair, and almost laughed out loud as it flowed into a nice little ball in front of me, which I let fall in the shower stall. “Now that’s just damn convenient.” I said out loud.

 

“Not to mention completely unfair.” Julia said from the doorway. She held out a bundle of clothes for me, smirking. “You know, just about every other girl on the planet would kill to have that ability.”

 

I laughed as I took the outfit from her. “And wouldn’t you know it, it’s a guy who gets it.”

 

She raised an eyebrow, leaning slightly to the side and lowering her gaze to my nether regions. “A guy, huh? You’re not hiding anything from me, are you sis?”

 

I threw a bar of soap at her.

 

A huge breakfast of bacon, sausage, ham, eggs and French toast awaited us on the table downstairs. Dad was reading the morning paper, still wearing his ‘Kiss the Cook’ apron, when we entered the room. He was on his feet and hugging me before I could get a word in edgewise.

 

“Dad…” Julia said after a few minutes. “Daaad…. DAD! Let her breath!” (“Mrmmph!”)

 

Took me ten more minutes to convince him that I was alright. He tried to argue about my “Ego getting the better of me”, but I laughed him off. “Trust me, pop. The last thing I’m worrying about right now is my ego.”

 

He looked me straight in the eye, with that incredibly pathetic look of parental concern that all fathers get at some point or another. I’d never been on the receiving end of it though. I felt the tiniest little flutter of guilt in my chest as he looked down at me. “Are you sure?” He asked quietly. “I don’t want you pushing yourself if you’re not ready.”

 

I almost started crying right there in his arms. Looking back on it, the hyper hormonal moodswings were about the only thing that stayed constant over the years. But I guess stress will do that to a person. I knew I wasn’t ‘over’ anything. But I felt that the best option was to put it behind me, at least for a while. “I’m sure. I’ll be okay.”

 

He nodded, and kissed me on the forehead. “I’m here for you anytime, you know that right?”

 

“Yeah, dad… I know…”

 

Breakfast was understandably subdued after that. It’s amusing when people say fiction mimics life. I guess sometimes it’s the other way around…

 

 

Julia had a thoughtful look on her face as she watched her sister reading. Mia hadn’t said anything since their father had left after breakfast, an hour previously, and she was getting a little worried. Then there was the fact that what she was reading was Sun-Tzu’s ‘The Art of War’. But a little bit of concentration brought a feeling of thoughtful contemplation through their link, and Julia finally gave up. As Erik, she’d always read when (s)he’d needed time to think, and while it seemed a little odd, the choice of reading material seemed strangely appropriate.

 

Julia had barely turned away from the living room door when the doorbell went off. She sighed in frustration. “I swear, if this is another solicitor…”

 

It wasn’t. The front door opened to reveal the hulking body of Johnny Black, flanked by a very anxious-looking Seraphim. “What’re you guys doing here?” Julia asked, a little stunned.

 

“We came to make sure you two were okay.” Johnny said awkwardly. “Just to… Well… Check…”

 

“Can we come in?” Leanne asked in a quiet, nervous tone. “We’d like to talk with her… If she’s up for it…”

 

Julia was about to answer when a small clunk from the hallway made her turn around. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m up for it.” Mia stood at the foot of the stairs, leaning on the banister and holding Johnny’s jacket in her arms. “Hey guys…” She said weakly, smiling. A slightly awkward pause followed, where the pair just stared at her, dumbfounded. “Well don’t just stand there gaping at me. Come in.”

 

Julia noticed that Johnny looked a little uncomfortable as he stepped into the house, but Seraphim looked downright depressed. “I, uh…” Johnny began, but was cut off by a small pair of arms throwing themselves around his neck.

 

“Thank you.” Mia whispered into his neck. The scene was punctuated by a resonating feeling of thankfulness, and Julia couldn’t help but smile. Johnny brought one huge hand up and gave her a gentle rub on the back. “Any time.” He answered.

 

She held on to him for another minute or so before she finally let go, and turned to Leanne. “I’m sorry about… what I said yesterday…” She said quietly.

 

The tiny redheaded angel shook her head and wordlessly embraced her. “Water under the bridge.” She said softly after a moment. “How are you, really?”

 

Mia gave a weak, forced smile. “Well enough to entertain guests, it would seem.”

 

Johnny hid a grin. “A couple of the others are waiting for me to send the go-ahead to come by. Can I send it?” Mia nodded, and Johnny pressed a button on his eCom. Less than thirty seconds later, there was a roar of an engine, and Julia could see Mic’s SUV pull up the driveway, and eight people getting out of it.

 

“A couple, Johnny?” She asked, laughing. He at least had the decency to look a little ashamed.

 

As the rest of the wild dozen came in the door, Julia glanced at the calendar. 23/10/59. “Hmm…” An idea was forming in her head, and a slightly mischievous grin was forming on her lips.

 

 

I got the expected reaction from the whole group. Hugs all around (even from the guys, with no hints of awkwardness. Which was a little odd in and of itself…) and lots of worried tears. It was around fifteen minutes before everyone finally calmed down, and a little longer to convince them that I was alright.

 

“So, what’re we going to do now?” I asked innocently, trying not to laugh at the blank looks I was getting.

 

“We… Uh… Didn’t think that far ahead…” Andy admitted, scratching his crew-cut blonde head.

 

“We were more worried about you.” Kim stated in a rather matter-of-fact tone.

 

“I see…” I felt a little uncomfortable for a second, and absently adjusted the bra strap that was slipping off my shoulder. Inspiration struck, and I had to groan at my thought.

 

“What?” Everyone asked. I laughed.

 

“I can’t believe I’m doing this… Alright, everybody upstairs.” I led the way, listening to the tramping of feet behind me. Leanne, of course, simply flapped her wings a few times and settled gently on the railing at the top of the stairs ahead of me.

 

I opened the door of my room and stood by my desk, waiting for everybody to cram themselves into my room. “Look around.” I said finally. “What do you see?”

 

“Uh… Your bedroom?”

 

“Dirty clothes?”

 

“Your TV?”

 

“Posters?”

 

A few more random guesses came out of the group before they gave up. “We see the bedroom of a typical male teenager, who has way too much stuff…” Leanne said.

 

I think the stunned silence that followed was more out of shame than anything else.

 

“Exactly.” I said, grinning. “I can’t believe I’m willingly asking this, but I want you guys to help me… Renovate.” Looks of comprehension slowly drifted onto my friends’ faces, and again I couldn’t hold in the smile. “The furniture, the paint, the wardrobe. All of it.”

 

Things degenerated rapidly from there. The girls went all starry-eyed when they thought about my walk-in closet, and they ran off with my sister, giggling excitedly. The guys, on the other hand, looked a little lost.

 

“Guys, I don’t want a girly room.” I said, attempting to alleviate some of the awkwardness of the moment. “If anything, gender-neutral is the theme. But I do want a whole new room. Desk, bed, shelves.” I pointedly looked at Allan and Andy, who were both very much into shop classes. “Hardware and software.” Jordan smirked. I knew he wouldn’t pass up the chance to tinker with some home electronics. “I want to do this stuff with you guys.” I tried to keep the hurt from showing in my voice as I continued. Not sure if I did or not. “I don’t want you to think that anything’s changed between us…”

 

A single tear managed to squeeze its way out of my eyes, and I wiped it hastily away. “Sorry… Damn hormones…”

 

I took one last look at my old room, my little place in the world. Leanne was right about one thing: I have way too much crap from just over three years worth of living. My room is quite large on its own, like 15 by 18 feet, but to see the massive amount of crap I’ve crammed into it, you’d think otherwise. A full wall on the far side was covered in posters from movies and concerts, and my corkboard, which was coated in little notes like ‘Trash day- Tuesday’. Another wall housed a pair of bookshelves, next to the door to my little balcony, and those were crammed with novels. Fantasy, sci-fi, romance. You name it, I’ve got it.  On the third wall, my bed sat in between the doors to my bathroom and my closet, and several large shelves were attached to the walls above it, on which sat my compound bow from that month where I wanted to start an archery club at our school, and my old PaintWar armour, the helmet, pads, and chest plate all coated in a liberal splash of various colours, and my ‘pride and joy’, the Longarm G6-80 Paint Rifle. Good times… My desk took up the rest of the room, and it was pretty much dripping with electronic equipment. My TV sat on a shelf above my tablet (which was hooked up to two other high-end standard PC towers), various game systems, hubs and routers networking all of my stuff together, and the rest of my desk was scattered with various unfinished projects, from a remote-controlled mini hovercraft, to a half-painted army of Elvish warriors, from a tabletop strategy game.

 

“Just box everything up and I’ll go through it later.” I told them, pulling a measuring laser out of a drawer and handing it to Allan. “Other than that, you’ve pretty much got free reign.”

 

I quietly excused myself from the room as they all got to work, feeling just a little bad for press-ganging them into service. Stepping out onto the balcony with my eCom, I autodialed my Dad’s work number. He picked up on the third ring. “Er… Sorry. Mia?”

 

I sighed internally. “It’s okay, dad. How’s work?”

 

“Same crap, different pile.” He said, making me laugh. “You sound better. What’s afoot?”

 

“The whole gang’s here, and…” I groped for the right words. “I want to start the overhaul.” That’s the term we’d used in our previous discussion about my situation. Dad said he’d be willing to go the extra mile when I felt that I was ready to update my possessions to suit my new gender.

 

“Ah. Well, that’s fine. Use your emergency credit card.” He said without the slightest hint of surprise. “Just don’t go too crazy. And keep Andrew and Allan out of the fridge.”

 

I laughed again. “You rock, Dad.”

 

“I know. Isn’t it great?” Another voice sounded in the background. “Crap. I've gotta go, sweetheart. I love you.”

 

I admit I was a little taken aback by his choice of words. My stomach gave a tiny little wobble as I responded. “I love you too, daddy. Bye.” Click.

 

“Daddy?” Julia’s voice asked from the doorway.

 

“You try being me right now, and see if you can avoid all the potholes.” I replied without turning. “Think outside the box, sister dear.”

 

A handful of giggling voices made me jump a little, and the blood rushed into my cheeks. “Yep. She’s a real daddy’s girl.” Mic said through her laughter.

 

“Meh.” I replied, turning back to look at the girls. “I blame the hormones.”

 

They all laughed, and I felt a little better. Then I noticed the predatory gleam in their eyes, and I started to get a little nervous. I was grabbed none too gently by the arm and pulled back into the house by five very excited girls, and down the stairs. The guys had just enough time to look up from the sketchpad they were using for design ideas and ask me one question: “Colour?”

 

I yelled the first thing that popped into my head as I was dragged out the door. “NOT PINK!”

 

When I was pushed into the van and buckled in, all five of my ‘captors’ went very quiet as we pulled out of the driveway, which grated on my nerves far more than the rushed exit from the house. My MORF heightened emotions threatened to turn the nervousness into full-on anxiety in seconds until Julia finally spoke up.

 

“All right, Mia. Here’s how this is going to work. Each of the five of us is going to take a section of your wardrobe and we’ll take turns taking you into shops and trying things out. I’ll be in charge of underwear and sleepwear, Kim will take casual wear, Mic will do outdoor and athletic wear, Jen will take care of party wear and Seraphim will help you with formal wear.” She gave me a sidelong look of concern. “But ultimately it’ll be up to you what you like and don’t like. You don’t have to take anything you don’t want to.”

 

“I trust you guys… Err… Girls…” I told them, once again holding my nervousness in. “Just… Take it easy on me, alright? I’m still not all that comfortable with this…”

 

“We promise.” They all said in unison, which brought on a fit of giggles. Which didn’t help. Not at all.

 

They took me to the mall downtown, which I immediately complained about. That particular mall was a notorious hangout for the pures of the area, and I was really not looking forward to having to deal with them. When Leanne pointed out that she was the only obvious MORF survivor out of all of us, I was startled for a second before remembering that, for all intents and purposes, I was a ‘normal’ teenage girl. When I said I was worried for her, she just smiled at me.

 

“I’m as close to heaven as those people will ever get. I don’t need to worry about retribution from –ahem- ‘good, honest, god-fearing pure-blooded people’.” She said in a false pompous voice that made us all laugh.

 

The conversations levelled out to what I guess could be considered a ‘normal’ tone as we entered the glass doors. Almost immediately, Jules steered me towards the nearest shop, and I groaned loudly when I saw why.

 

“Could we not go to Victoria’s Secret first?” I pleaded. “Please?”

 

She gave me a very scrutinizing look, before shrugging. “Fine, but we’re coming back on the way out.”

 

“Yes, sir, ma’am!” I said, giving her a mock salute.

 

So instead, we hit up a nearby department store for the, and I’m quoting this, “Everyday grundies you’ll need for when you’re just lounging around the house, and will under no circumstances wear outside in public.”

 

Julia disappeared as soon as that was done, but I didn’t have the time to worry about asking where she’d gone because the rest of the girls were already ushering me towards the ladies’ casual section of the store. Mic, Kim and Jen all started pulling things off of racks with a determination and speed that scared me. Soon enough, I was pushed into a dressing booth with a single outfit and told to try it on. By the time I’d done that, the pile of clothes on the bench was almost as tall as I was, and I was told, in no uncertain terms, that I was to try on every single piece of cloth that was there.

 

Skirts and shirts came first, and they really weren’t too bad after the initial shock wore off. But when I came out in the last skirt, I was horrified to find what looked like a length of string hanging in front of my face. “There is no way I’m wearing-”

 

Turns out I “Had to” wear the g-string if I wanted to try on the jeans. And I wasn’t about to let them buy me only skirts. I still have some small amount of male pride left in me. It literally felt like I was wearing an elastic when I put the miniscule scrap of fabric on, but at least I could cover it up with the jeans. Which, of course, were low-cut hip-huggers, and fit me like a rubber glove: tight, and just a little stretchy around my new hips.

 

I’d never even conceived the things they were thrusting at me. I tried on several dozen pairs of jeans in at least a dozen different colours. Not shades. Colours. I didn’t even know they made red denim, or purple denim. There was even a pair of orange jeans that fit me perfectly and, surprisingly, looked good, even to my formerly y-chromosome filled brain.

 

It still shocks me to this day to realize how many different things women around the world will try to look good.

 

Finally, after what must have been three and a half hours, we packaged up everything ‘we’ wanted to buy, and left a rather large pile of unwanted merchandise with a very disgruntled customer service rep. The total on the register shocked me a little, but I swiped the credit card and did my thing, and we were gone back out to the SUV, to load up the boxes of clothes. A quick meeting later, and Mic was gone, dropping off the stuff at home while the rest of us trooped back inside, still with no sign of Julia.

 

I was dragged in no short order through a number of specialty shops, trying on everything from women’s suits (because men’s were, of course, completely out of the question…), to shoes (which I ended up getting, like, eight pairs of), to handbags and purses (again, ending up buying several), to bathing suits (I ended up caving and getting three, a one piece for my peace of mind, and a pair of bikinis, to shut everyone up. I did look hot in them, though…). I got a little scared when we entered a specialty shop that sold makeup and cosmetic, but my friends, on seeing this, settled for what was generally referred to as a ‘basic starter’s kit’, and a few shades of lipstick. A deep cherry red, a much brighter scarlet, a violet shade that matched my eyes, a few peach shades, one very dazzling silver, a black (which scared me a little), and, much to my dismay, a half dozen different pinks. Like I said, only a few shades of lipstick. This was followed by a visit to the local tattoo parlour. Two lout “PFFNT!” sounds later, and I had a pair of simple gold studs in my ears.

 

After the last party outfit had been bought, and Mic had made one final drop off run, I was told that there was only one stop left, but that we had to wait for Jules, and that we’d be eating first. We went up to a fast-food restaurant and placed our orders, and I giggled a little at the shocked looks I got when I ordered a bacon double cheeseburger with extra pickles. I might as well have grown a second head for the looks I got. Julia came up on us as we were sitting down, carrying a large package in a nondescript plastic bag, and refused to tell me what it was when I asked.

 

By some miracle, we’d managed to avoid the attentions of most of the pures in the mall, even the few that we recognised from school. This was probably due to the fact that Seraphim kept pretty much to the middle of the pack, staying basically out of sight. I know for a fact that she isn’t at all ashamed or embarrassed by her MORF, so I figure she did it to keep the attention away from the group and, by extension, me.

 

And then, at last, we were on out way to the last shop. I was a little excited to be almost finished, but extremely nervous when I saw where they were taking me. It was another specialty store, one that catered to the only piece of clothing I had yet to try on:

 

Dresses.

 

I guess I must’ve stopped in shock, because suddenly I was alone, standing on the threshold of the last step in the shifting of my… Well, I can’t really say my gender change, because there were many more steps to be taken on that particular journey. The shifting of my wardrobe will have to do, I guess…

 

I was literally jerked out of my thoughts and into the store by my slightly amused looking sister. “It’s not the end of the world, sis.” She whispered to me. “So take a few deep breaths and relax. This is only as scary as you let it be.”

 

Damn empathy…

 

I allowed myself to be lead through the store, marvelling at the crazy amount of fabric that seemed to flow through the racks. There were racks of sundresses, and racks of casual dresses, and even racks of formal dresses. But one in particular caught my eye.

 

It’s awkward to realize that that was my first true (positive) female reaction to anything. I certainly wasn’t prepared for it. But when I saw that dress, I absolutely had to have it.

 

It was a beautiful creation, bright crimson silk that glittered with a slightly metallic shine. It was cut low, like many of the tops I’d been pressed into trying on at the other places, but that didn’t turn me away. It was a slim-fitted thing, one that showed every slight curve of the mannequin that was wearing it, with a strap that went behind the dummy’s neck instead of over the shoulders, and a scarf that draped over it’s shoulders instead. A few intentional folds of the fabric gave the image of both modesty and an extremely provocative allure. The skirt went down to about mid-calf, with a long part on one side, which showed off the left leg of the dummy. I stared at it as we passed by, though I was lucky nobody noticed.

 

There were, all in all, twenty-two dresses they wanted me to try on. And right now, I’ll admit that I was having fun doing it. I ended up buying four sundresses, in pale, pastel colours that matched the seasons (green, yellow, red and blue), along with a few slightly fancier dresses that fell into the category of “Dressy-casual”. I bought three nice evening gowns, in black, red and a deep, regal purple, and I was just taking off the last one when I finally worked up the nerve to ask the attendant about the red dress that was on display.

 

She blinked slightly at me, making me blush terribly before she suddenly smiled. “You’ve got good taste, young lady.” The older woman said quietly. “Though I wonder why you let your friends pick out all the others, hmm?”

 

She caught the unmistakeable shocked expression that flickered onto my face for an instant, but only nodded kindly. “Well, you’re in luck. That dress just happens to be your exact size. I’ll be back with it in a moment.”

 

“Could you… Err… Not let my friends know? I’d like to… Surprise them…” I flinched internally at how small my voice sounded at that moment, but again she merely smiled and nodded.

 

It took her about five minutes to get the dress to me, and I could hear my friends complaining loudly from outside. (“What’s taking you so long, sis? That was the last one!”) The attendant helped me quickly into the dress, making the many miniscule adjustments that I missed. I let her fuss over me for a second before she finally stood, smiling. “There. What do you think?”

 

I actually burst into tears when I turned around and looked into the mirror. I like to think that I’ve never particularly been a vain person, but wearing that dress for the first time, and seeing it on my new body was completely and utterly liberating. “It’s beautiful…” I managed to gasp through my emotions.

 

The lady pulled out a handkerchief, gently dabbing my eyes. “I’ll add it to the bill, dear. I’ll even throw in some matching heels, at no charge.” That made me look up in shock. She let out a small laugh. “That dress was made for you, dear. It’s only fitting that you have the shoes to match…” She left the changing booth with no more than a little wink and a smile.

 

Jules called out again after a few seconds. “What are you doing in there, girl? Knitting your sweater back on?” I could hear the rest of the girls laughing, and found myself at a bit of an impasse. Should I just swagger out and be a jerk, and watch them flip over the dress, or maybe warn them first…

 

Some tiny voice in my head told me that I should be feeling humiliated for willingly wearing any dress, let alone picking my own. I guess I must’ve listened to it a little, because I went with option B. “H-hey, Jules?”

 

The laughter abruptly died down. And I could hear my sister lean up against the door. “What’s wrong? You feel a little embarrassed…” Hmm… Empathy kinda helped there…

 

“I… I picked out another dress…”

 

“You what?”

 

“A-and I’m gonna buy it…”

 

“Really?” I could both feel and hear her happiness. Guess she was glad for me. “Can I see it?”

 

“You guys promise not to laugh at me?”

 

There was a slight pause, and I heard some whispers. “Of course we won’t laugh!” I heard Kim exclaim loudly. I had to smile at that. She was always a very vocal person… “Now come on! I wanna see!”

 

“O-Okay… I’m coming out…” The hinges creaked slightly as the door opened, and I stepped outside, and stepped into the mirrored viewing room where the girls were waiting.

 

In hindsight, I wish I’d had a camera.

 

I heard them all gasp as I walked through the curtain that separated the changing rooms from the viewing room, and I immediately looked at the floor, trying to hide my face, which was rapidly inventing new shades of red with each passing second. I only looked up when I didn’t hear anything more from them. They were all staring, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. “Well… Do you like it?”

 

Various loud, emotional affirmatives were followed with many hugs and more than a few happy tears. “Welcome to the fairer sex.” Jen whispered into my ear when she got her turn to hug me.

 

I hadn’t felt so happy since… Well, since ever, really…

 

 

“No, they did not have to register… With all due respect, Admiral, that’s exactly the reason they’re so dangerous. They fall into a tiny niche that puts them mere words from needing to register. That, and the combination of their powers is extremely powerful if they ever fully grasp their potential… Yes… Yes… I see… Very well then. I’ll be sending a representative to meet with him as soon as possible… Affirmative. Over and out.” Click.

 

In the central US database building, somewhere in the Rockies, one older man in an Army general’s uniform sat in a dark office, rubbing his temples to alleviate the pain of his impending migraine. “Damn kids… Only been changed for two days, and Charlie’s already on them.” He thought aloud in his thick southern accent. “And the third… Poor little girl’s probably already dead or captured… Damn thugs torched their house… Can’t say I’m disappointed, damn pures her parents were…”

 

There was a knock on his office door, and he instantly sat up straight, yellow eyes flashing in the dimly lit office. “Enter.”

 

A young man in a technician’s coat stepped into the room, snapping smartly to attention. “Sir! We’ve encountered another anomaly in the database. Permission to speak freely, sir?”

 

“Spit it out, boy, I ain’t got all day.”

 

“I think someone’s been leaking information, sir.” The man said in a hushed voice. “I think we have a mole.”

 

The slightly glowing yellow eyes narrowed significantly. “You are ordered to tell nobody of this information, am I clear private?”

 

“Sir! Yes, sir!”

 

“Good. Nobody ever hired me for my test scores, son. Not like they did for you.” He pulled out a long cigar, lighting it casually. “They hired me for what I am. You know what I am, son?”

 

“N-no, sir…”

 

The man leaned forward, the lower half of his face coming into the light, revealing a very scarred, squared-off jaw, and a slight sneer, which showed off slightly elongated canine teeth. “Good at my job, boy. I’ll plug this leak. You just return to your duties, and forget you ever talked to me. Understood?”

 

“Sir! Y-yes, sir!” The now terrified private rapidly scampered out of the room, nearly slamming the door in his haste to retreat.

 

The general sat back in his chair, absently scratching his head. Hmm… Seems Rodent’s not as good as he thought he was…

 

 

I wanted to stay in that dress for the rest of my life, but my friends had other plans. Hiro had called me as we left the mall (a good seven hours after we’d got there, so you know), weighed down by several large bags, to say that I wasn’t allowed to use my room until tomorrow night, and that the rest of the guys had taken over the garage as well, and that I wasn’t allowed in there, either.

 

So I somewhat expected the crime scene tape that was stretched across the front of the garage door when we pulled into the driveway. Allan’s dad’s truck was just starting up as Julia and I were let out, all the girls promising me a party tomorrow as a “Welcome to Womanhood” gesture. My face was still burning as we talked to Allan and his dad, who, it turns out, volunteered the lumber and metal for the ‘mystery projects’ from the stock at his hardware store. We said our goodbyes, and, after a subdued dinner, Julia forced me into her bed, before she left, headed for the living room couch.

 

I was apparently more tired than I’d thought, because it was barely a minute later that I was out like a light…

 

 

Julia felt a lot better as she stretched out on the couch. Mia was feeling better about both herself and her situation, and she was starting to accept who she had become, which was a great leap from how she had been the past two days. Then again, after what she’d been through, it was a miracle she was at all anything close to normal.

 

Julia frowned as images of the scene in the forest flickered into her head. She’d berated herself all morning for not being there for her sister, for not being able to help her when… Wait a minute… I never saw this part before…She frowned further as she watched the scene play out.

 

And then she understood. Cursing, she leapt up off the couch and practically flew up the stairs. Tiny whimpering noises became audible as she approached her bedroom, and she forced herself to open the door slowly, and make as little noise as possible.

 

Mia was trembling violently under the sheets, whimpering loudly in fright every few seconds. Julia felt her heart break. So much progress, and she’s made it all while ignoring herself. She cried softly as she crawled into the bed, and wrapped her arms around her trembling sister. The contact seemed to quell the fear, and her trembling lessened in intensity, her whimpers becoming mere peeps in comparison to earlier.

 

“I’m so sorry…” Julia whispered, holding her close. “I wasn’t there when you needed me… But I am now. Now, and always…”

 

 

Thu-Thump. Thu-Thump.

 

Why does my pillow have a heartbeat…? And whose arms are those?

 

For the second day in a row, I woke up in my sister’s embrace. Except this time, I woke up with my face stuck to the skin of her chest. My male conscience was screaming at me to move, but my still-forming female conscience merely said “Hmm… This is nice… I wonder how she keeps her skin so soft… I’ll have to ask her…” Then I remembered that MORFS had given her that skin, and I’d gotten it too.

 

I removed myself as gently as possible from Julia’s arms, glancing at the clock. 6 AM… Huh…Knowing I’d never get back to sleep, I grabbed one of my new outfits from the boxes in the living room and hopped into the shower in the guest bedroom, not wanting to wake anybody.

 

After a good half hour of playing with the water in my shower, I flash-dried myself (once again marvelling at how easily the skill was coming to me). I put the coffee on in the kitchen and sat back down in my chair, absently noting a spot of dirt under the table.

 

Inspiration reared its ugly head yet again, and I quickly poured a glass of water onto the floor. What followed was the most amusing hour and a half of house cleaning that I’d ever done. Stains vanished from nearly everything. I guessed that molecules of water were forcing themselves under the stains and removing them, but the more I tried to understand what I was doing, the harder it became to concentrate, so I eventually gave it up and just finished the job.

 

When my dad came into the kitchen, he was greeted by a floating cup of coffee and a floor he could have eaten off of. “See, now why couldn’t you do this without being told before MORFS?” He asked jovially.

 

The floating blob of water that had been holding his coffee cup flipped him off, and he laughed as it retreated into the sink.

 

He paused in the doorway and seemed to be trying to look me over without giving himself away. I sighed and stood up, giving him a small twirl that made my knee length skirt swirl around my legs. “Well? Aren’t you going to say something?”

 

“You look lovely, sweetheart.” He said with a smile, kissing me on the cheek. I felt my face heat up, but passed off his mannerism shift as previous experience with Julia. Knowing how to deal with a daughter must’ve made it easier for him to think of me as female…

 

We chatted idly about not very much, and I told him all about the previous days shopping trip. When I showed him the suds in my ears, he nodded appreciatively, and when I told him about the dress, he’d gotten this odd proud look on his face and hugged me. I, of course, turned beet red immediately.

 

“You may get to wear that dress sooner than you expected to.” He complimented in a backhanded manner. “The firm’s Halloween party is Friday night, and you’re more than welcome to come, if you’d like…”

 

“How come I never got invited to a Firm party as a guy?” I asked him, sarcastic anger ringing in my voice.

 

“Because you never had a new dress to wear, sweetie.” He answered innocently.

 

I smacked him playfully on the shoulder, and went back to my book. “I guess is I came straight home and got to it, I could have my hair and makeup done in time…” I paused as Dad burst out laughing. “I can’t believe I just said that…”

 

I was saved from being tormented by the opening of the front door, and a very familiar male voice calling out “Honey! I’m home!”

 

“Good! Now take out the garbage and get back to work!” I deadpanned, smiling when I heard several more voices laughing. The male half of the posse tromped into the kitchen, one of them dropping three large, flat boxes that, on further inspection, contained two dozen doughnuts each. They also chatted for a while, as they munched on the doughnuts and drank my coffee.

 

They got back to work just as Jules was coming down the stairs, a towel wrapped around her head and a very odd look on her face. She was feeling apprehensive, and a little afraid, but when she saw me sitting at the table, I felt a spike of relief, and a small, barely noticeable surge of pity. That almost set me off. I neither wanted nor needed her pity.

 

Where did she get off-

 

Because she’s your sister, you idiot… Damn female conscience…

 

“Hey, Jules. Want me to do your hair?” I asked flippantly.

 

She raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you get into Kimmy’s cheerleader pills?”

 

I smacked her in the arm in response. “Not like that, you schmuck. Like this.” I focused a little on her hair, and a stream of water rapidly wound its way out from under the towel, forming into the shape of a tap-dancing woman on the table. She laughed, and the feeling of pity went away, which I was very glad for.

 

After a brief game of phone tag, it was decided that I ‘needed’ to test out one of my new bathing suits, and that we’d be doing it in Kim’s pool. Dad gave us the go ahead, saying he’d be helping the guys finish my room while we were out, and to call if we needed anything.

 

Now, I think all you guys out there should know what it feels like to wear a bikini in relative public for the first time. So here’s what you do: Step one, find a facecloth and an elastic band. Step two, wrap the facecloth around your Johnson, and use the elastic to hold it in place. Step three, invite all your friends over and stand in front of them wearing nothing but that facecloth. Then you’ll be halfway to how I felt.

 

Luckily, the girls were very supportive of me. They giggled a bit at how red I was when I first came outside, wearing the silvery-blue two-piece, but that died down after a minute. Well, and after I hosed them all down with a waterspout from the pool. They got the hint, apparently.

 

Swimming in my new body for the first time was an odd experience. I was a lot more buoyant than I remembered, but I guess that’s to be expected. I discovered that I never had to actively swim again, if I didn’t want to. I could make a current and flow along with it at a pretty decent speed. I could change the density of the water, too, which surprised everyone. I could literally walk on water.

 

I also found out that I could breathe underwater, somehow. I tried to figure it out while I sat on the bottom of the pool, but all I got was a headache and a mouthful of chlorine for my troubles.

 

But the day wore on, and gradually the newness started to wear off. I found myself nearly asleep on one of the deckchairs when I heard the other girls talking in hushed tones.

 

“You think she’s asleep?” I heard one of them whisper.

 

“Looks like it? You wanna do it now?” I didn’t like where this was going, and was about to say so, when the next statement made me stop.

 

“Yeah. You think she’ll like it?”

 

What?

 

“Of course she will! Now go get it before she wakes up!”

 

“Right. I’ll be back in ten minutes.”

 

I think I actually managed to doze off, laying there in the sun and trying to figure out what they were doing. Julia was giving off a smug feeling, but that’s about it. But the next thing I knew, I was being lightly shaken awake.

 

“Hey, lazy.” I recognised Jen’s voice. “Time to get up. You really don’t want to get a sunburn, trust me.”

 

I let her lead me into the house, absently pulling on my skirt and top over my now-dry bathing suit. As I was throwing the last of my stuff into my bag, my eCom went off. It was Allan, telling me it was okay to come home now. He hung up before I could say anything, and I surprised myself with a disgusted sigh.

 

Again, I was ushered into Julia’s car without so much as a word. Several giggles, maybe, but no words. I tried desperately to remain calm all the way home, but luckily (and oddly, I thought) Julia never noticed.

 

As we pulled into the driveway, I saw the garage door was open, and the floor was covered in sawdust and sealed buckets of paint. Various power tools were liberally strewn about the mess, and I felt another twang of guilt at how hard they’d worked for me. I’d asked for it, but I honestly hadn’t expected it.

 

I waited at the front door while the rest of the girls pulled in behind us. They were all still giggling excitedly, and they all avoided my gaze. Great. That’s real assuring…

 

Finally, the door was opened, and I was allowed back into my house. We were greeted by a huge banner that said “Welcome Home Mia”, and the guys, who said the same. Smiles and laughs filled the room as we all sat down to munch on the snacks that were laid out in the living room. We chatted idly for a while, and it seemed like a normal day.

 

Well, except for the fact that I was wearing a bikini under a skirt and top that fit me perfectly and accentuated curves that I was never meant to have…

 

Sometimes my male conscience feels the need to rear his increasingly ugly head. He just refuses to die… Can’t really blame him though. That’s my stubbornness and pride he’s using, after all. Sigh…

 

After a good half hour of conversation, Kim finally decided it was “Time to get things started.” Julia nodded, and reached under the couch, pulling out a large box from behind the couch. “As I’m sure you all remember, the school’s Halloween dance is Friday afternoon, right after lunch. Despite recent events, I’m sure you all remember what we’re supposed to be doing for the dance…”

 

I nearly smacked myself on the forehead. How could I have forgotten the dance! We were supposed to be performing for the damn thing! We’d petitioned the school board to push back the monthly admin inservice till the end of the month so we could use the gym for our Halloween party in the afternoon, to encourage more attendance. The CEC music section was providing live entertainment in the form of a concert, and our little posse had signed up for half an hour of stage time.

 

Julia must’ve noticed my anxiety, because she gave my shoulder a slight squeeze and smiled reassuringly. “And so, in the spirit of the season, Kim and I decided we should coordinate everybody’s costumes for this year.” She pulled open the large box, and started passing out the smaller parcels that were inside. “We put a lot of time and thought into these, and we hope everybody likes them.”

 

She paused after putting her parcel down, and pulled the very last one out of the box, mine. She hesitated a moment, feeling a little nervous, and reached under the couch again and pulled out what looked like the parcel from yesterday, the one she wouldn’t show me. Written on top of the one she pulled out of the box was Erik, and on the other was Mia. She held them both out to me. “I… I wasn’t sure if the original one would… I mean…”

 

My sister is very seldom at a loss for words, so I was a little surprised at how she was fidgeting and fumbling for the right thing to say. She quickly gave up and thrust both boxes at me. By now, everyone else ad opened their boxes and seen what was inside. And they were all watching me.

 

And I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I had to choose between clutching to a past I felt safe with, or reaching for a future I wasn’t quite ready for. If I opened the box intended for my male self, I’d be throwing away all the progress I’d made the day before. But if I chose the box for my new, female self, I’d be embracing my new life openly, and completely. And I wasn’t sure if I was ready for that…

 

So I sat there for a minute, trying to remember who I was. Trying to figure out my life in the span of a few seconds, looking back and forth, once again, between what felt right, and what was right. But finally, I knew what had to be done.

 

Bolstered by the memory of how I felt in the viewing room at that dress shop, and how I’d felt in that dress, and by how hard the guys had worked for me, I reached over and dropped the Erik package gently into the box it had come from. Rest in peace, Erik Walker…

 

Pirates. That was their miracle idea. I pulled the red doublet out of the box, and I started laughing. There was a battered-looking leather tri-corn hat, and an eyepatch, several belts and sashes, a replica pirate pistol and a slim cutlass with a scabbard, made from sturdy plastic. Accompanied by a worn grey leather coat and several faux-gold rings. Everyone else had similar garments, though the costumes were all quite unique. I started to laugh harder when I realized I was the only female who hadn’t gotten a wench costume.

 

And then it was time for the guys to reveal their project. I was blindfolded (of course) and led up the stairs and into my room. When the bandanna was removed, I could scarcely believe my eyes. The first thing I noticed was the mural. They’d painted the far wall beside the balcony as a mural, portraying the twelve of us in an alleyway, all wearing trench coats and sunglasses. The other three walls were painted a deep reddish-purple. The next thing I noticed was the smell of fresh wood. A queen-sized bed sat in one corner on a custom wooden frame that raised the mattress up on several rollers. A new desk sat on a raised platform in the other corner, loaded down with all my stuff, all organized in little drawers that seemed to cover the whole wall. My closet was already filled up with the clothes from the previous day’s shopping, and a custom entertainment center filled the gap in between the closet and bathroom doors, sporting my TV and all my stereo equipment.

 

Is short, the room was freaking awesome. And I made sure I said it to each and every one of them. With hugs.

 

When I finally collapsed into my new bed, after a few more hours of hanging out, I was glad to be alive, and glad to be me. But of course, such moments aren’t meant to last…

 

 

Not too far away from the Walker home, a very dirty, very ruffled-looking little girl was just waking up for the night. She’d tried moving during the day, but was seen by too many people, people who tried to help her. She didn’t want their help. She knew whose help she needed.

 

After raiding a vending machine for some nourishment, she again cocked her head to one side, a distant look coming over her face for the briefest of moments. She shook her head after a moment, and smiled a small, sad smile. She was close. Very close…

 

 

Julia settled into the bed next to her trembling sister, gently wrapping her in a comforting embrace. She settled down almost immediately after they touched, but Julia remained where she was until long after she’d completely calmed down. How long the night terrors would continue to plague Mia, she couldn’t rightly say. But as she had promised, she would be there for as long as it took, and as many times as it took…

 

To Be Continued…

   

 

 

The entire MORFS  Universe can be found at http://morfs.nowhere2go.org/

 


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