Out on the Town
by Mark McDonald
©2001 Mark McDonald -- all rights reserved
As I may have mentioned earlier, my folks weren't very well off. Any money they had saved was spent on my sister's funeral. Funerals can be very expensive.
When I decided I wanted to go to college I didn't go to my parents. I probably wouldn't have gone to them even if my sister hadn't been killed. There just wasn't any money. I looked into school loan programs and scholarships. I found that loan payments were backbreaking, even working full-time. But my grades were good enough that grants were a possibility.
In my search for tuition money, I found, literally thousands of dollars of grant money just lying around waiting to be claimed. Most of these grants I didn't qualify for, but I did find three grants that, when combined, were enough to pay for tuition, help supplement my dorm rent and leave me some left over for living expenses. For starving, unemployed college students, the best part of grant money is you never have to pay it back.
Before Gary left the building, I instructed him to get my wallet and an envelope that I had taped to the bottom of my dresser drawer. It had the remains of the most recent grant payout; nearly $7000 in pre-programmed chip funds that I had to use to make a tuition payment Monday, after this farce was over and I was "good ole Mikey" again. After that, I would still have about $400. I couldn't see a reason for needing to have all that money with me, but I didn't want it sitting in my empty dorm room unguarded either. Then again, if it turned out that we did need some of it, it wouldn't serve us very well taped to the bottom of a drawer in a room to which we might no longer have access.
After being lowered from the same window through which I had entered my room, I walked out of the ally and into the sunshine of the remaining day. The light hit my face and I could feel the warmth spread in one velvety liquid wave from my head down to my legs. For the first time since this whole thing started I felt good -- really good -- and happy to be alive. Gary's little lecture had helped to start to put things back into perspective for me. Things could most certainly have been much worse. I supposed that I could have indeed been killed in the warehouse by this thing. Hell, any of us could have been killed in the process. The skins were, after all, only man made machines and I suspect that a percentage of any technology has the potential for defect and fallibility. But that hadn't happened and I would still be here to get on with my life as soon as this was over.
True, I was very unhappy with my current situation. I would rather it not have happened. But, for now at least, I was dealing with it. Up to now, there had been nothing I could call a real hardship, which I had had to endure with the exception of a pair of crushed boobs. I would still rather this be over, but it wasn't. So on with the dance.
I walked out, crossed the street and sat on a bench there at a Community Transit HOV stop to wait for Gary. I thought for the first time, but not the last, just how much I still felt like the same person I had been yesterday. Yes, there were the physical and emotional differences. I don't mean getting emotional over things, and crying all the damned time, I thought at the time that I could pretty much explain that. Besides, the episodes of emotional instability were already beginning to abate.
No, as I have already pointed out to some degree, I was no longer interested in women as I had been as a male. I didn't want to watch them as they walked past me on the sidewalk. Where in the past I was very happy to watch the legs, asses and crotches of most young women that walked anywhere close to me. I no longer felt that stir of excitement when a young lady strutted past me in a tight short skirt or pair of short shorts.
Things such as conversing with Gary seemed to be more interesting than in the past. Recently, our conversations had become not much more than a series of grunts and an abbreviated string of words. Since I had developed a life and since Gary had decided to play "Danger Ranger," that was enough for both of us. I don't attribute my sudden interest in our conversations to my change in feeling for him, but more over as an increased desire to interact with people.
I watched the people and wondered for the first time what they were talking about. I could almost tell the content of their conversations from the language of their bodies. I had spent many months here in this neighborhood and never in all my time here had I ever wondered about the conversations or thoughts of people unknown to me.
But now I was fascinating to see the complex level of communication as two or more people tried to get messages back and forth to one another. Even when there was only a single person, you could see communication going on with those that passed close by through body language. I can remember thinking to myself that I must have been blind not to have seen this before. I had always considered myself a fairly astute and observant person. It was curious to me that only now was I seeing the world in a state that had obviously existed all my life. Had I truly been that slow-witted as a man? What else had I missed in this world enveloped in the comforting blanket that was my maleness?
Beyond that, I didn't really feel much different. And that helped me some with the unease I felt living as a woman. Mike wasn't completely gone after all. He was just hiding. He was still with me. I had to remember that. I was still here. I still existed. But I wanted the observant nature, the maturity I was experiencing now to go on. The thought gave me some comfort.
I sat and watched as the people passed. Some ate delicacies that they purchased at the open-air markets along Front Street. Other's milled around and floated in and out of the shops that lined the antiquated street. You could see them through the large plate glass windows that looked in on the shops, picking up curiosities and showing them to their mates. Girls in love with fellows that bought them ice cream would walk by arm in arm. It pulled at my hear- strings. The girl I had become wanted to feel loved today as well. Suddenly it seemed that everyone on this street had a lover, someone to share the day with, her thoughts with. It was a disturbing feeling. My body's wants were so much more powerful than Mike's wants that it could just override them and make me want what IT wanted. I could almost feel myself pouting there as I waited for Gary.
As I sat, I noticed that the men in the crowd would glance my way, some longer than others. One young fellow was so distracted he slammed right into the street lamppost just to the left of the bench I was sitting on. He tried to recover gracefully but, when I started giggling at him, he made an embarrassed and hasty exit. But no one stopped to talk to me and I would have thought that a pretty girl would have attracted a bit more attention than that. I tried to shake the feeling, but the more girls I saw with boyfriends in tow, the more hurt and lonely I felt. I even allowed myself to think, "It's not fair" and wonder, "What was wrong with ME?" Was I feeling self-doubt about my female self? More vapors, I thought. Surely, other women don't experience doubt like this. It had to be the skin working its voodoo on me.
Guys walking with their girlfriends or wives would glance, too. Once or twice I would look back at these men with their women in tow, smile slightly and tip my head every so seductively, just to have a bit of fun. Occasionally, some of the less discreet men wound up with a jab in the stomach or a quick slap to the face. One young girl even stopped and challenged me to a fight, claiming I was trying to steal her boyfriend. After that, I stopped playing with fire. I sure as hell didn't want to get into a fight here on the street with a hair pulling female and wind up in jail and trapped.
Just then, Gary came striding out of the dorm building. The sun spilled across his face and he paused a moment to enjoy its warmth on his skin; I saw him close his eyes and tilt his head up toward the sun. He paused there for just a moment and I realized that I was feeling something for him again. This time I didn't shove it away. I was no longer afraid of it; it would all go back to normal in about twenty-four hours. Whatever else was happening, I was now on an adventure that I would never get to repeat. If I didn't start to flow with it, I was going to miss it completely.
I examined my new found feelings for my best friend a bit closer and realized, it wasn't his physical appearance that attracted me, but the way he had handled all my crises. Every time I felt on the edge, he had wasted no time pulling me back from the precipice. All this time, as Mike, I had seen Gary as something less than a rational and complete person, a reckless soul. It had never occurred to me to think that he possessed any useful skills apart from cooking. But clearly he possessed the skills and considerate compassion to quickly talk me past my problems.
I felt very small with that realization. And I also knew I had greatly underestimated my dear friend. That made me very curious about what else I didn't know or hadn't noticed about this person. It was the gem buried beneath the grit to which I found I was attracted; the person that cared enough to make sure I was at peace in my mind.
I watched as Gary stepped off the landing that led up to the dorm and started across the street toward me. I smiled as he turned his gaze in my direction and I could see him smile back. I waved to him.
Gary walked up to me and asked, "Feeling better are we?"
"You noticed?" I said looking up. "It must be the sun." I didn't want to tell him what I had been thinking about. Not yet anyway.
"Yeah, feels good doesn't it." He stretched his face up towards the sun as well.
"Yep," I said and we moved off down the sidewalk in the direction of his house. He was surprised when I slipped my arm around his but didn't object. Now I didn't feel so out of place. Things seemed to be looking up and I was suddenly not only feeling better but I was learning how to experience happiness and joy. You want to know something? It kind of felt good!
We walked west about three blocks and then crossed over the express tunnel. Then, we went south about two more blocks.
Gary's parent's home was a beautiful but narrow two-story modern style home, but it was bigger that it appeared. Because of the limitations on building specifications for private dwellings were so strict, you could only own so much property in a single lot and build so wide. Gary's folks had overcome this by building up and down. There were at least two more stories below the house. One of those was a wine cellar.
At the corner, Gary turned to me and said, "Wait here, I don't want anyone seeing you at the house."
"Are you ashamed of me?" I said looking cross with him. "Then why did you ask me out on a date?"
"What? Ashamed, no I... Hey, cut it out, that's not funny," he snapped back.
"Sorry, I was just trying to lighten things up a little." I was also just a little hurt by his attitude.
"Ok, I'm sorry. I'm just a little nervous that's all. I can't be seen sneaking in. If someone sees you, well, you're expected remember? But me, that would get me landed in jail. If we're seen together..."
"Ok! Ok, I get the message. I'll walk back down the block like I'm looking for your house. I might even be able to act as a distraction."
"That's great! You're so smart. I love you," he said and started to move away. And then doubled back, "Uh... that last thing. I didn't say it!"
I nodded with a serious look and he started to move down the street again. I on the other hand crossed the street at the corner and started to walk down the other side of the street. I looked around at the numbers on the street as though I was looking for a certain house. Twice I bent at the waist as if to get a closer look at the number painted on the curb allowing the back of my skirt to rise up and show what I hoped was just the smallest glimpse of white panty. I knew that both men and women, if anyone were watching at all, would stop to look at the indiscreet young lady showing off in the street, for different reasons of course, but they would be watching me and not Gary.
I even caught Gary sparing a glance the second time I did this as he ducked into his yard and shoved his thumb in the security port for scanning. When I straightened up he was gone, presumably inside his house. I finished with the opposite side of the street and crossed to the other, pretended to find the house and made my way to the door. I rang the bell, the door opened and I stepped inside.