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Skin Deep -- Chapter Seven: The Road Home -- by Mark McDonald

Portrait of Neve Campbell -- A Work in Progress # 21 of 21 by Earle Wood

Chapter Seven:
The Road Home

by Mark McDonald
©2001 Mark McDonald -- all rights reserved

Journal Date> 12/23/2081: 11:22 pm.
Voice dictation journal editor> Open... Proceed!

We stayed together that afternoon resting in each other's arms. I was so full of myself that I really didn't know what to say or do. I was just happy lying with him. I considered what I had told him at one point, about the woman that would be lucky enough to win his heart.

How would we be able to share anything else after this weekend? Would our friendship end? Would it strength or weaken our bond?

I was afraid of the answers to these questions. Right then, at that moment, I was content to stay right where I was. If Gary had asked to run off and forget ever going back I might seriously have done it without thinking or looking back. I remember squeezing him tight in my arms at that moment, afraid of loosing what I had struggled so hard to find over the last day and a half, hope, peace, contentment.

It was some time before we spoke. When we did, it was Gary that broke the silence.

"I'm gonna miss you!" The finality of the statement said it all and I shed a silent tear at the idea. "I'm sorry for throwing that on you, but it's true. I really don't know what I'm feeling right now. I want to say that I'm glad we had this. I can't say what it will mean tomorrow or even later today, but this was beautiful."

"Yeah, I was just thinking about that. What the hell are we gonna do tomorrow?"

"I guess you'll go back to singin' with your band," he said.

"If they'll have me. I really screwed up that demo session. I've probably been fired."

"You are the band. Without you there no is Tidewater and you know it!"

"I guess I do," I answered

I had been the one that organized them from a cheap third-rate garage band into one being asked to record demos by a label. Deep down inside I knew they wouldn't fire me and that Gary had been right. If we had been asked once, it would happen again. We were getting quite a name and a large following around town now. I guess I was going to get out of here after all as a musician.

"So soon you'll be out of here just like you wanted," he said echoing my own thoughts. "I guess I'll try it with my Dad. He's willing to pay to send me to Penn State Culinary School. You seem to have given me something to reach for. I didn't really think I'd ever find that, thanks."

"My fine pleasure sir," I said stroking his chest. I waited a bit before I said what I knew was coming next. "So I guess what were saying is that we are going to lose each other after all."

I almost didn't get the words out, instead, breaking up and weeping in his arms. After some time I could tell he too was crying; silent and strong, but he couldn't keep the tears back. So now I knew just how badly we had messed up our friendship. Even if we hadn't slept with each other, I guess this would have been the way it ended. I grieved for my friendship with Gary. I grieved for the loss of this "thing" we had shared. You can't call it love, but Gary had been on the money with it being beautiful. I would remember it forever.

How it would make me feel when I was a male again? That would be something I would have to wait and deal with later. All I could hope for was that the memory of this wouldn't drive me insane.

The hours passed. I felt we both wanted to make love one more time, but were both afraid that we would go to the point of no return. Deep in our hearts neither of us really wanted that. Despite our sorrow at what we were loosing, there were the things we had gained. Gary's life was going in a direction where he had some hope of being successful. I had a chance at something I had dreamt about since I belted out my first note. We were ready for our lives to resume. They would be different from this point forward, but that happened all the time. People drift in and out of your life with out the control of the participants. Most of us get over it eventually and I knew that I would. After all, I had gotten over the death of my sister. Yes, it had been hard. There had been days when I thought the pain would strangle me, weigh my heart down until it stopped beating, but it didn't. I had persevered. I would preserver.

At six o'clock we pried ourselves from each other arms without that last ride. It was probably for the best, although neither of us liked it much; I ached for him. I had never experienced that before and I wondered if men could feel this particular pain. It was more than just a heartache, I could feel it in my loins, my breasts, my legs. I wanted him to touch me. God it was maddening.

I showered, a cold shower, and dressed in the shorts and top Gary had lent me when we had arrived here yesterday. Then, I took stock of myself and decided that I looked damn good in this. I ran my hands down the flat of my stomach one more time and thrilled at the feminine feel it gave me. Why the hell hadn't this feeling happened sooner? I could have enjoyed the whole thing so much more.

Gary was dressed and waiting out in the hall.

"I guess it's time to go," he said flatly, but then cheered some and added, "You sure do look great in those shorts. Did you know that?"

"Thank you," I responded and stood on my toes to kiss him lightly on the mouth.

He seemed to be considering what to say next and then, with a wry grin, said, "You sure do look great in those shorts. Did you know that?".

"Cut it out!" I slapped him playfully.

"Well, you do! You don't think I could get another one of kisses do ya?"

I looked at him slyly and then kissed him again.

By the time we left the Shipley house sun was low in the sky. I went out the front door and as before, acted as decoy while Gary slipped out the back and over to a couple of blocks. I had asked him why not just let me meet him on the next street over and he said he didn't think that was a good idea, but he couldn't tell me why.

"It's just a feeling I've got. It's like someone told me that we should split up until we're well of range of the house. I'll double back and we'll catch a ride with Kit near your room. If he gets there before I arrive, just drive around until I get there. If I don't show up, then go. Don't wait for me. You get that thing off, and remember how sorry I am that I got you tangled up in this."

"Wait! You know something don't you. Otherwise you wouldn't be saying your goodbyes now. I won't leave you like this, Gary. If you don't get out, I don't get out."

I had no intention of remaining like this, but I was hoping that he would change the conditions of the rendezvous. I didn't want to be responsible for him getting stuck trying to save me. That was just stupid -- and I didn't think he was just being cautious. Gary didn't react unless there was something to react to, a perceived danger of something wrong.

"That's very nice of you and you won't. I've already made sure that Kit takes you at a certain time. If I'm not there I'm on my way to the warehouse. I have no intention of sacrificing myself so don't you worry."

So there I was, waiting just a block from my home, waiting for Kit and he arrived right on schedule. "Mi lady" he said as he opened the door. Then he caught a full view of me in my shorts. "Whoa, You know, I'd like to kiss your hand now, if that alright of course."

"I told, you that you had your chance Friday night. You blew it pal," laughed as I got in and hugged him. He tensed, I guess a bit surprised, but then he relaxed and hugged back.

"So how was it?" he asked.

"Maybe one day Kit, I don't think you're ready just yet." He raised his eyebrows at me but respect my confidence. I knew that he suspected something, but would never have spoken about it with anyone.

"So I guess Gary's not here yet, eh?"

"No," I agreed. "I don't think he would have come out in the open even if he were here. He was acting funny before we left, like he didn't want to be seen with me or something."

"Guy's a moron. You should dump him and go out with me!" he said and grinned.

"What charm! You book us a table at Tavern On The Green and we'll talk about it, ok?" I teased back.

"Jeez... I was thinkin' more along the lines of Jack In The Box. You're high maintenance aren't you?"

"Look at this body. What do you think?" and that set him off in gales of laughter.

"Drive around a couple of times. If he's here, he'll wait until the people that saw me get in with you are either gone or no longer paying attention to me."

Kit did as instructed. We drove once then twice around the block. Both times we went around the long way. After the fourth time around I began to believe that there had indeed been something to what he had said.

Kit broke into the middle of my concern, "You know, he made me promise to get you to the church on time, Mikey."

I almost didn't recognize that he had been speaking to me. I was so used to hearing Michelle by that point I wasn't responding to my own name. He had to get my attention by tapping my shoulder as I was concentrating intently as I looked out the window waiting to see Gary's face as we came around the next corner.

"Huh? Go? No we can't go. Gary's not here yet."

"But Mike, I promised," he pleaded.


"Look. He said that if he wasn't here, then he'd be on the way to the warehouse. That's probably what's happened. I'm sure he thinks he missed us, so he's on his way there."

"No Kit. We are not going to leave him. If you're wrong then he'll never make to the warehouse in time. One more pass," I pleaded and continued to look out the window. I wanted him to understand that I wasn't interested in his mission.

We made one more revolution and still no Gary, so I said, "Ok, let me out!"

"What? No, I think it's time to end this. I promised to get you out of this and that's what I'm gonna do damn it. Now buckle up." He made to pull out on the expressway on ramp which was right were he had picked me up.

"Kit, I like you, but if you don't let me out," I reached down and grabbed his balls, tight, "I'll scream rape!" I looked in straight in the eye and didn't blink.

"You won't do that! I know because I know you don't want to be a girl forever and that's what will happen," he said defiantly and glared back at me. "You know that, don't you?

I dug in with my nails a bit harder just in case he needed extra incentive and his eyes got very large with concern.

"Crazy bitch! I swear to God Mikey, Gary's gonna kick my ass and it's gonna be your fault."

"I appreciate your concern, but were not leaving Gary, and that's final."

"Ok. Ok, just let go of my balls please!" he begged.

"Oh sure. There," I said and released him.

Sweat had popped up on his forehead. He wiped it off as he turned away from the on ramp. We made two more cycles around the neighborhood. Kit was getting anxious and scared, something I had never seen from this laid back Californian.

"We've got to go man! We've got to go now!" he pleaded.

I flashed an evil stare at him.

"You'd stay that way wouldn't you?" he asked. I didn't answer. I sure as hell didn't want to stay like this, but if it meant that we got Gary out of a jam, then I remember thinking that I guessed I would. The magic of the afternoon was over and gone, but Gary had held me together over the long weekend. I knew he said he wasn't going to sacrifice himself for me, but I didn't believe him. I owed him as much time as I could possibly spare -- down to the last second if necessary.

"Kit," I said using the most persuasive voice I could muster. "You know that Rod and the others won't activate that transmitter with three missing people. That would be stupid. Leaving us stuck out here would be like painting a sign on his head that he was guilty of grand theft from the Federal Government. They'll wait. They'll have to."

"Bull shit, Mikey! I know you don't know that Rod guy all that well, but let me tell you, the guy's an asshole. Take it from someone who just spent the entire weekend with him. He has the backing of his family too and they're not the types of people that take kindly to people that screw around with the family.

"All he could talk about was getting even with you for makin' him look bad in front of other guys. He may have seemed okay when we all left, but that little scrap got into his head and drove him crazy. He sees you as a woman and guys like him don't take shit off women. If an opportunity to fuck you up came a long and just dumped itself in his lap I believe he just might take it."

I had no idea that our incident in the warehouse two nights ago had left such a big scar on his ego. The idea that Rod might sabotage my return to manhood had unnerved me. I was getting ready to tell him to floor it to the docks and get me the hell out of this when I saw a large skulking figure popping his head in and out of the ally about a block from where Kit had picked me up.

"THERE HE IS!" I shouted. "No, over there. No there, but the fire hydrant. Yeah! Go get him, hurry! We've got to go."

We pulled up just beyond the hydrant and stopped. I rolled down the window and stuck my head out. "Psssst! Gary!" I called out and started waiving at him.

He saw me right away and smiled with relief, "Yeeesss!" I could hear him whisper under his breath. "Thank you God! Thank you!" he was muttering as he ran for the car.

I opened the passenger side back door and he dove in. Kit goosed the generator and we were off.

"God damn it Michelle, I told you not to wait!" Gary said sternly as he was getting up from his dive into the HOV. He sounded mad and it made me a little angry to think that he was that ungrateful at what Kit and I had both risked to rescue him, but then his face appeared from behind the seat and it was sweet and full of thanks. "Don't ever listen to me again. I don't know what I'm saying sometimes. Thanks baby!" he said and we grabbed each other and kissed deeply and wildly. I took in his smell and ran my fingers through his hair.

"Thanks baby?" Kit asked as he looked on in total disbelief.

I took a break from my passion and looked at him. "I told you, you weren't ready! Now drive!" Then I looked back a Gary and asked, "What took you so long? I was worried I'd lost you."

"This." He pulled out the page of a news rag he had stashed in his pocket and handed it to me.

The headline read, "Wanted In Disappearance Of College Student And Local Artist." Below it was a photo of the outside of my dorm building. On the stairs was a large, good-looking Native American man as he was headed out of the building and out into the crowd. Next to it was a picture of me, or rather Mike Vello.

"Oh God, Gary!" was all I could say. I was about as frightened by the sight of this as I had been all weekend. We showed the headline Kit and all he could say was, "Shit!"

"Read it," Gary demanded.

College Student Still Missing

Rouston, PA. Police are seeking clues in the disappearance of a local college student and singer with a popular local nightclub band. Michael William Vello, age 19, apparently vanished from the college dorm where he lived sometime Saturday evening, police reported.
    The last person to see Mr. Vello alive was one Sandy Cochran, Vello's fiancée. Cochran was quoted as saying, "Mike and I were supposed to meet for lunch Saturday but when I arrived, there was a large Indian-looking guy there. He said he was a friend of Mike's and he was there because Mike was sick. He said he was there to help Mike get well. Then he ran me off.
    I got suspicious and tried to get the police to check it out but they told me to go home and check on him later myself. That being sick with the flu was not a crime. I told them he would have called me if he were sick, not some guy I have never heard of! But they didn't listen until it was too late." Miss Cochran went on to tell this report that she hoped the Vello family sues the police department.
  Police spokesman, Karl Huff, said in response, "The investigating officers followed procedure to the letter and have done nothing wrong. It's still unclear at this time if a crime has been committed. Mr. Vello missed a recording appointment Saturday, but that could be because he was actually ill. All we know at this point is that a man matching the description of the one seen by Miss Cochran was photographed leaving the building at around 3:00 P.M. Saturday afternoon by an ATM camera across the street from the building were Mr. Vello resides.
    Miss Cochran returned to see if Mr. Vello was feeling better and discovered that the apartment was empty. It appeared to Miss Cochran that the place had been ransacked and she called police again. The police did discover through information from Mr. Vello's parents that there should have been a currency chip with a large sum of money credited to it the apartment, or a deposit made to his account within the last day, but when Police checked they found no record of a deposit and no cash or chip in the apartment."
  For now the parents and friends of Mr. Vello remain concerned but hopeful that he will turn up unharmed. A spokesman for Mr. Vello's band, Nathan Crock, said yesterday, "We're hopeful that Mike will turn up unharmed. It's not like him to miss an opportunity like we were presented with yesterday, so I am concerned for his safety. However, Mike is resourceful and capable of defending himself, if necessary. If anyone will come out of this safely it's Mike."
  Anyone with any information on the whereabouts of Mr. Vello or the gentleman in the photograph is urged to call police. Please remember that the man in the photo is not a suspect in any crime. Police want only to question the man as it is possible that he may have information as to the whereabouts of Mr. Vello.

"You're pale, Michelle!"

"Well, you read this. You're practically wanted for my murder and that bitch said she was my fiancée. Well she is going to have some shit to answer for when Mike makes a miraculous reappearance. And I'll tell you this, it's gonna happen in a public forum."

"What the hell is all this Michelle shit!" Kit interrupted my diatribe.

"How did you find out about this?" I asked ignoring Kit. "Did you stop to buy a newspaper?"

"No. The cops tried to pick me up at the bus stop. I was about to get on the bus when I heard someone shout, 'Hey you! Stop!' I looked around to see who they were yelling at and some big guy with a gun in his hand was barreling down on me. I thought I was gonna piss in my pants!"

"So what the hell did you do?" Kit asked.

"You drive, I'll ask the questions," I demanded.

"You got it! Just keep those claws off my balls and we're good."

"What claws on who's balls?" Gary asked.

"Later! I'll tell you later," I assured him. "How did you get away?"

"I ran. I know the neighborhood real well. As a kid I used to cut through backyards behind bushes and under buildings in that area all the time. But still, I was lucky. The place is crawling with official HOV's and beat cops. I stole that paper from the box of a neighbor while I was running because I saw your picture on it . The God damned Klingon turned me in Michelle! Can you fucking believe it? I told you, didn't I? I just fucking knew it."

"I'm glad we left when we did. We'd both be in jail right now if we hadn't" I said and pecked him on the lips again. He smiled in return and pecked me back.

"God, I wish you guys would please stop all that kissing. It's just too funky."

I turned and flashed my nails at him and grinned.

"Oh shit! Ok, I'll shut up," he said and smiled.

I turned back to Gary. He had a confused and worried look on his face.

"What's wrong?" I asked.

"Did you... ah, never mind."

I searched his face for the rest and then, to my surprise, realized what he was getting at. "Gary. Nothing happened," I reassured him as I reached out and touched his cheek. "Kit was following your orders to get me to the warehouse before we were able to find you. I had to threaten to cut his balls off with these, " I flashed my nails at Gary this time, "as incentive to disobey those orders, that's all. I told you I wasn't leaving you."

"Yeah, and she threatened to accuse me of raping her on top of that."

"Oh Michelle. You wouldn't have done that would you?" he asked. I just smiled and shrugged.

"Gary, I have five fingernail bruises on my scrotum to prove it if you're interested in seeing them. She's the only reason you're here pal."

A tear slipped from the corner of his eye and mouthed the words, "thank you."

"Well, we're safe now," I noted looking away. I didn't want to end this by crying too. When I felt the storm had passed I looked back at Gary.

"I swear to God girl, I wish you wouldn't say shit like that," Kit declared.

"What the hell is your problem now?" I harassed him good-naturedly. What he said next caused my stomach to bunch up in a tight little ball.

"The Cops are following us," He said looking in the rear vid screen.

"Gary, don't turn around," I said quickly but it was too late. His head snapped around and peered out back window. As soon as the cops saw his face the lights on the police HOV came to life.

"Oh shit! Floor it Kit," Gary whispered in a very soft and frightened voice as he tried to crawl into the seat.

"Already floored my friend," Kit responded and our HOV started to pull away from the pursuit vehicle.

Gary turned around and looked at me. I must have looked very scared. I know he did, but even with what we were facing Gary still found the heart and strength to find my hand and comfort me.

"Don't worry. It's gonna be OK. I swear I won't let anything happen to you. You believe me don't you?"

I couldn't speak. I was deeply frightened, but Gary's sure and confident words eased my fear and I nodded that I did believe him.

"Good. Now we have to make some things happen. Kit, I'm taking over the HOV. Start sliding over."

"What are you up to?" Kit asked.

"You guys are getting out," he said as he climbed over the seat from the back and took control of the HOV.

"WHAT!" I shouted in stunned surprise.

"You heard me. The two of you are getting out and I'm going to lead them away. I told you that I was not going to let anything happen to you and I meant it." He whipped the HOV sharply around the corner of eighth street forcing Kit to slide into me, pressing me against the door of the vehicle.

"Hi there," Kit said with a goofy smile. We were face-to-face and unable to move because of the centrifugal force of the turn.

"Get off of me," I shouted and tried to push him off of me. "Gary, slow down I'm getting crushed here."

"Can't do that right now. Get down below the windows so no one can see you," he replied. With the cops temporarily out of sight, Kit climbed over and ducked down in the back seat. I followed Kit's lead and dropped down on the floorboard of the front seat.

"What the hell did you mean that we were getting out?"

"They're going to catch us. There's nothing I can do about that. But I can lead them away from you," he explained.


"This is my fault. I have to start taking responsibility for my actions and you have to go back to being Mikey.  That won't happen if those bastards catch you."

"And you'll go to jail, all because of me. Woo Hoo! Yeah I guess I can carry on with that burden on my shoulders," I responded sarcastically.

"If we do this I won't be in jail for murder, but if you don't get back to the warehouse I will be -- and possibly put to death at that. So you now have a reason to get back to being Mike that is somewhat more important than just an emotional one. It's the only way you can save me now.

"God damn you Shipley, that's not fair."

"Maybe not but you're my only hope. Please don't let me down." He looked down at me as I crouched on my knees on the floor of the HOV. The tears were coming again and they stung. They hurt more than any others I had ever shed, including those I had let go for Erin. He reached down and touched his palm to my cheek and I pressed my face into it.

"Can't we just keep going Gary? I'll stay this way if you'll stay with me. Just say you'll stay with me and we can both go away. I won't mind. I just don't want to loose you."

"I'm going to get you both as close to the warehouse as I can," he started to say, ignoring my pleas.

"SHIT! Don't you ignore me Gary."

"I'm going to drive the HOV through a thick patch of woods near the water front, about a block from the warehouse. You two are going to hop out there and I'm going to keep going," he continued, not responding to me. "It will have to be fast. I won't even be able to completely stop. Hopefully, they'll think you both are still ducked down and won't realize until it's too late that you're gone.

I reached up from where I was crouched and laid my hand on his knee. "Gary?" I said softly. "I want to stay this way if we can be together. I can play this part. Really I can. What would I be going back to anyway? My parents are so fucked up I doubt they really care if Mike is missing. The one person that really cared is long gone. Shit, I'm alone! I don't want to be alone anymore. I love you."

From the back seat we both heard a startled cough -- or perhaps it was a stifled choke.

I had been looking down at my knees trying to summon the courage to toss my life away as I spoke. I knew that if Gary accepted my proposal that in just a few minutes time all this would be permanent. When I looked up at him to gage his reaction I saw that he was tearing around the eyes and fighting hard to regain control of his emotions. When he finally spoke, not once did he look me in the eyes.

"That's very sweet, but you are going back. Mikey Vello has an adventure of his own to complete. I interrupted that adventure because I was selfish and I couldn't see your life for what it was. I thought you were leading a dull existence when the whole time I was the one whose life was all messed up."

He wiped tears away with the back of his hand and cleared his throat before continuing. "You have to go back to being who you are supposed to be. You have to be the person fate meant for you to be before I screwed it all up. You have to do this for a very simple and selfish reason. If you don't then my soul will burn in hell forever. I know this as certainly as I know that I love you."

"I can't do it Gary," I pleaded one more time, hoping he would take my proposal to just keep running.

"Then I'm going to die in prison and burn in Hell," he said flatly.

I couldn't speak. He had me again, only this time the reasons for following along were really good ones. This time I couldn't argue, just glare at him. "God Damn it! Ok, I'll do it, but I want you to know that I will never get over this, and that it's your fault."

"Good! I would feel very bad indeed if I thought I was just some guy you decided to toy with," He said and smiled down at me.

"You love her?"

I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand, sniffled and glowered at Kit as he peered over the top of the back seat. "I told you that you weren't ready." Then I offered him a weak smile.

"Jesus Christ! There is no way this can be good, guys," he said as his head disappeared again behind the back of the seat. From somewhere in the back he continued. "You two are best friends, for God's sake. You used to double date. Hell Mikey, you used to date the women Gary here didn't want." He paused, I guess sensing the argument sounded a bit weak, but then exclaimed, "You're both guys!"

"No. No, I'm not. Not anymore anyway," I corrected him. "Ever since last Friday I've been on a one way street to complete feminism. This skin has affected more than just my outward appearance. That's where these things are really dangerous, Kit. Slowly, over the last two days I've become the girl you picked up back there near my old Dorm. I was Mikey, but emotionally, in my head and in the things I that feel about others, I'm a woman and until I can get this thing off that's the way it is. If I have to lose Gary then I'm not so sure I want it off," I said and looked back up still hoping Gary would change his mind.

Then from the back I heard. "I'm sorry, Mikey or Michelle or whatever you call yourself these days. I would never have gone along with this if I had known what kind of trouble it would have led to. I would never have caused you harm deliberately, either of you."

"Thanks Kit. That means a lot to me, but we have to figure out a way out of this."

"We have a way out. My plan, remember?" Gary reminded us both.

"No," I insisted. "All of us or none of us."

"What!" Kit squeaked in surprise. "Screw you -- and I mean that figuratively. I'm sorry, if you two have fallen in love -- yeesshhh -- then great. I'll send flowers to the wedding. As far as I'm concerned you two deserve each other, but I want my life back, so count me out of the 'None Of Us' shit. Ok?"

Gary surprised me by next saying, "We're out of time." He reached over the passenger side seat where I had been sitting and unlatched the door.

"What the hell are you doing Shipley? I'll fall out if you -- Yikes!" Gary suddenly turned the HOV sharply to the left, slowing as he did and I tumbled out backwards. Luckily, I landed on a soft patch of old packing material and leaves. I was shaken and surprised but seemingly unhurt. I looked up in time to see the Police HOV streaking past me and after Gary's vehicle.

"Gaaaarrrrrryyyyyy!" I was furious with him. I was scared for him. I hurt for him. I hurt not to have him. I felt all that and more than I can describe and all at once. I was nearly overwhelmed with the emotions.

"God Damn it, Gary! "You bastard! You tricked me!" I screamed as I pulled myself out of the pile of leaves I had landed in.

His HOV streaked toward the docks. There was no way I could catch him. What was I supposed to do now? "Make your way to the warehouse and get the hell out of this woman's body moron!" a small voice from inside instructed.

I followed the chase, expecting to see the vehicles veer off to the right where the dock led back towards the city, but Gary was leading them to the very edge of the water -- and he showed no sign of slowing down.

"Oh no! Please Gary, turn... turn," I whispered a plea that I hoped somehow would reach his ears.

"Turn?" Someone said from behind me and I jumped.

"Oh God! Kit. You asshole, don't ever sneak up on me like that," I squealed and slapped at him.

"Sorry, but why were you whispering 'turn'?"

"Shit... Gary." I said remembering and pointed to where the HOV Gary was driving was nearly at the edge of the waterfront. The cops were backing off slightly not wanting to follow him over the edge. "Look."

"What's he doing?" Kit asked.

Just then the HOV tumbled off the edge and into the water. The splash was incredible. Because the sonic jets continued to operate after the vehicle went under the boiling of the water above where the HOV sank continued for several seconds until the circuitry finally shorted out and the jets quit. HOVs sink faster than older road based vehicles because of the weight of the jets that keep them off the ground. The minute they are over water they just go straight down. It's as if they dig their own grave.

It was the same way Erin had died and now Gary had joined her. I had failed... at what? I could almost remember. Something Erin had told me. But that couldn't be right.

"Gaaarrryyy!" I began to bolt out of the woods and over the water's edge, but Kit grabbed my arm and held me back.

"Wait, Mikey the cops!"

"Le'mego! Le'mego! I have to help him." I turned on Kit and jerked my arm, but he held fast. "Please Kit. We have to help him. He can't swim." I beat on his hand in an attempt free myself.

"If that's true then the only ones that can help him are the cops. They're already in the water, see?" he pointed to dock and I could see that one of the officers had indeed jumped in as was wading about looking for any victims. The water didn't seem deep. About chest high but the HOV was completely covered. Anyone inside would be drowning.

"They're not doing anything to get him out! Kit he's gonna drrrooowwwwnnn! You have to let me go!" I shouted and took a swing at him with my fist. He dodged it and I tried to make my escape, but he grabbed my other arm with one hand and slipped his free arm around my waist and pulled me in. I couldn't get away. Kit was simply stronger than I currently was.

"Oh no you don't. Gary didn't do this so you could go get yourself arrested. You at least owe him that. Now we're out of time. We've got to go and you're coming whether you like it or not."

I crumpled to the ground with grief while Kit urged me to get up. Time was running out or the cops were going to find us, but I no longer cared. I felt hollow. My hand went to my stomach and I found myself wishing distantly that I had gotten pregnant. I was desperate to have any piece of him back. It had happened too quickly. Things had gone from good to bad to good and now the pendulum had swung back to bad again, only now it was stuck on bad.

When you're dead you don't come back. It's a lesson I had learned the hard way. Another one was that the ones you left behind kept on loving and needing you. Your absence only made acute the loss and pain they felt. It's very selfish but it's inescapable.

Kit got me to my feet somehow. The whole time I let my captor lead me back to the place of my birth, he kept saying that if Gary was OK, and he was sure that he was, he was probably close enough for the skin he was wearing to deactivate. He told me everything was going to be fine.

I limped along in stunned silence. Gary was gone. I had just let myself be led away. I had done nothing at the same time he had done everything to save me and restore my life to normal. I felt small and insignificant. The whole time I had known and loved him as a brother I had badly misjudged him. It wasn't until we were able to become intimate that I learned that he was a very decent human being and one hell of a wonderful man, something I would never have known about him had I not become Michelle.

I anguished over the loss of the man I now knew I had fallen helplessly in love with. I could feel the skin on my face go numb. I no longer cared who or what I was. My breath came in great sobbing heaves and shudders. Kit tried to comfort me but I was in no mood. My hands flew to my face as we walked and I stumbled along blind, guided by Kit and I tried to sink to the ground a few times. I didn't want to go on; I just wanted to wallow in self-pity.

I was in as bad a shape as I could get. What was I going to do now? Even if I went back to being Mike, how would I explain where I'd been? What kind of excuse could I offer now that Gary was gone? Someone was sure to connect the two. Suddenly, I felt guilty; I was thinking of myself again, about the consequences of my choices, when Gary had only thought of me. He had sacrificed himself for my safety to make sure I got back to my life and all I could do was worry about what I would tell people. It was then that I realized that I didn't want to go back. Gary had loved me enough to give up his life that I might have a second chance. Why shouldn't I stay as he had loved me? A fitting memorial to him and suitable punishment for me.

"Kit!" I turned to him suddenly horrified. "Gary's parents! What am I going to tell them? Oh my God, how did things get so screwed up?" I buried my face in my hands again. Kit put his arm around my shoulder and tried to comfort me. He whispered, "Shush. It's OK," over and over again but it wasn't OK and Kit knew it too. I guess he had to say something.

My brain couldn't accept that Gary was gone and I felt myself spiraling out of control. I wanted to run away, bolting and hiding from the truth. I would remain as Michelle for the rest of my life as a penance. It would be the price I paid for costing Gary is life. My sweet Gary, oh God, how could you let me fall in love with him and take him away like that?

Yet, I would have lost him when I became Mike again, remember? Yes, I did remember. I was confused, scared and grieving. I wanted to die; to lay down right here until the police found me. I wanted to be whipped, beaten and punished for my part in taking Gary's life. As I sank deeper into depression, my eyes kept drifting to the waterfront where the police activity was increasing. No body yet. An ambulance had arrived but the gurney was empty and flat. Surely he was dead by now. "Oh Godddddd!" I screamed in my head. I wanted to run there, dive in and help find him.

In a kind and gentle voice Kit informed me we had arrived at the rear entrance to the warehouse. We slipped between the gates and went to the door of the building. There was a piece of paper taped to I and on it, scrawled in nearly illegible handwriting, were the words:

Come On In!

Kit tore the paper off the window and we let ourselves into the warehouse.

Skin Deep chapter 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
Skin Deep II foreward chapter 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 epilogue
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