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Skin Deep -- Chapter Eight: And in the End, by Mark McDonald

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

Chapter Eight:
And in the End

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

I can't remember the atmosphere in the warehouse. I was wrung out like an old dishtowel. My breath came in shuddering gasps and I was weeping uncontrollably. I have a dim memory winding my way in among the boxes and racks of clothes as we had done just two nights ago when I was a different person. That night I had wanted only to return to the life that had been stolen from me. This night, I was already grieving for what had been stolen and looking for a way to pay the incalculable cost for my participation in that loss.

As I shuffled along, lead by the hand by Kit, I was dimly aware that we had come into an opening, roughly in the center of the build judging by the distance from the walls. There were faces I vaguely remembered from some point in the recent past but I didn't acknowledge them. Kit held my hand and kept me in place and I didn't resist. Gary and I had become one of the urban legends you hear so much about in cases like this. He was dead and my life was now forever destroyed. It mattered little if I returned to being Mike Vello or remained as Michelle, "Angel of Death." If anything, the proper thing would be to be prevented from returning to my former life to pay for Gary's.

I made up my mind to run out of the building and away from there before the transmitter was activated. That way I would serve my life sentence by losing my life as well and pay for it more dearly than other prisoners. I would be trapped with the love of him whom I had killed. I calculated when I might best make my break. Kit would try to stop me; I felt certain of that. He felt I owed it to Gary to carry on and do what he would have wanted, but how could I? I had done this to him.

Kit turned to me and his eyes were red as he too had been grieving at the loss of a friend. As we entered the space where his friends and my acquaintances stood staring with odd, falsely-concerned looks, Kit cleared his throat for attention. "Ah... We ran into a little trouble on the way here."

"You're a person light in your party, Kit." It was Rodney, spoken with all the compassion of a true asshole. I suddenly wondered why it had been Gary and not him that had died.

The voice of Mike spoke up inside my head and surprised me with his accusation, "Because, Rod wasn't with you. If he was, you might have been able to kill him too, you bitch!" That started the water works again and I hung my face in my hands and sobbed huge shuddering sobs that racked my body from head to toe.

"He's dead," Kit responded. It has a flat statement but it hung large in this empty room. I could hear it bounce off the walls for what seemed like hours and to me it sounded like "He's Dead and she killed him. He's Dead and it's her fault. He's Dead and if it weren't for her he'd still be alive!"

There was a deep collective gasp and this time I did drop to my knees, the strength running out of my legs as I no longer had the will to stand. Kit finally let go of my hand. He knelt next to me and tried to comfort me, but I shrugged him off. Giving up, he stood, respecting my desire to be left alone.

Through my grief, I heard Rodney speaking. "It's not like we need him anyway. This will still work without him."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Looking up in utter disbelief as tears streaked my face, I felt as if my jaw had become unhinged. I couldn't even continue to grieve I was so shocked. This guy was supposed to be his friend.

"He... he was your friend," I accused him.

"The goddess speaks. I liked the guy, but he got stupid. It happens all the time. When you're raised in my family and my line of work you see it everywhere. You've got to learn to get over it and be a man, but then again, you're not are you?"

I've never felt so angry in my entire life; not before that and only once since have I come close to feeling the way I did at that moment. I made up my mind that Rodney would pay for getting all of us into this mess; one way or the other he would pay me for his comments about Gary

I glared at him no longer afraid of what he felt he might be able to do to me.

"What's wrong with you?" he asked, a slight smile on his face. I was still on my knees and I looked around at the faces of others too see if anyone of Gary's friends were going to help me kill this Italian son of a bitch. Everyone was just smiling gently, everyone but Kit. He looked as confused and angry as I felt. Any semblance of the laid back Californian was gone.

Kit piped in before I could say a word. "What the fuck is wrong with you people? You're acting like the guy was a fucking stranger to us. If nothing else you can see Michelle is upset."

"It's happening to him too. He sees me as this girl and after only an hour," I thought.

"Michelle is it? Got feelings for her do we Kit?"

"Back off Rod. This is not the time for your petty judgments. You know what these things we're wearing can do to a person. She a girl, she's gonna behave like a girl. You say one more word and I'm going to kill you myself."

"Whoa there partner," Rod said in a patronizing western accent. "Cowboy's gettin' all riled in defense of the women folk. Don't worry Tex; ah don't mean no harm to the missus. No disrespect Mama." Rodney bowed and mimed removing a hat, mocking us.

Kit step quickly over to him and grabbed up his shirt in his hand and yanked him near. "I told you to shut up. A man's dead and me and my friend are grieving over the loss even if the rest of you don't give a shit."

My mind whispered, "Kill him Kit! Go ahead."

It was then I decided to make my break for the door. All I had to do is get so far and then the signal wouldn't reach me. Then it would be over.

I got up and bolted for the door and from behind me I heard Kit say, "Wha..?"

I looked back to see how much of a jump I had gotten on him, surprised at how fast I could move in this body. Just as I was beginning to think I was going to get away, I hit something hard with my face and body. Bouncing off with a surprised "Uh!", I landed on my butt on the floor.

"Where the hell were you going in such a hurry?" a voice asked. It was deep and soothing and I didn't want to be soothed; I was in pain and I wanted to remain in pain forever. Instead, I was angry at that soothing voice for trying to take my pain away and for stopping me.

To add to my confusion, my face and front were now wet. What ever it was that I had hit was soaking wet.

"Come, get up and let me hold you baby," the soft voice compelled me to rise. I wanted to follow it so badly. It sounded so sweet and caring. I stood, head hung low in deep pain.

"Baby?" My eyes flew open and I look forward. A large familiar tan t-shirt was in front of my eyes. It was soaking wet. I wanted to look up but didn't dare. I was only a foot or two away from the person in front of me and if I looked up and was disappointed I didn't think I would live through it.

"Gary?" I asked in a meek questioning voice.

A hand reached up and took my chin and lifted my head skyward -- and there was his smiling countenance shining down on me.

"Did I miss anything?" he asked cheerfully.

I tackled him.

I remember all sorts of things going through my mind. I remember laughing uncontrollably. I remember that when we hit the ground I registered pain in my arms as they were crushed under our weight. I remember thinking what a trifling thing the pain was to worry about. What I did was kiss him everywhere, smothering him with my lips, trying to drink him in to my body. Between kisses I started rambling and babbling incoherencies at him. He would try to answer in between gasps for breath.

"You're OK? Well of course you are, aren't you? You're here!"


"How did you get away? That's not important right now."


"Gary I was so scared that I'd lost you"


"Don't you ever scare me like that again."


"You talk to much Mr. Shipley do you know that?"

"Gee, I..."

"Oh for Christ's sake shut up and kiss me!"


After a long hard kiss I looked at him, smiled and said, "Blabber mouth."

"Just can't shut me up," he replied with a smile.

Then something dawned on me. "Gary, the cops! When they don't find your body they start searching the warehouses along the bay. We've got to get out of here, now!"

"What's going on back there?" someone shouted. It sounded like Rod.

Then I heard Kit ask angrily, "You mean you knew and you just let her sit there and cry."

"They knew you were OK?" I asked. I was hurt. They had all let me believe he was dead.

"They didn't tell you?" He seemed confused.

"No. I was running away thinking that you were dead. I just couldn't have gone back and been happy Gary, so I was going to take this body as my own and be the girl that loved you."

Gary looked disappointed. "I told you what you were supposed to try to do. Why don't you ever listen to me?"

"What do you mean you told me what to do?"

"Uh oh..."

 "'Uh oh' is right!"

Gary stammered, "Can we talk about this later?"

"Just because I wear my pants a little tighter than you, that doesn't mean you can order me around."

"A little tighter?" he asked.

"Never mind. I just want you to understand some..."

"Michelle? We really have to get moving here. We're safe for the moment, but they'll get that HOV out of muck before long and we have to be out of here before then."

"Right, we'll pick this up later, lets leave," I said and started to get up to make my way to the door.



"Not leave, not like this."

"Gary, please we don't have time to argue about this."

"It won't take any longer than it would for them. Let's go. It's time Mike came home to stay."



"I said no. I won't lose you again."

"I'm going back. This guy you see here is wanted in connection with a missing persons case. If I stay like this then one day they'll capture me and you'll lose me anyway. Forever."


He came close to me and held me. "You see it has to be this way. Don't you?"

"God Damn it!" I shouted and stomped my foot on the floor. "I love you Gary. That's gotta count for something."

He said nothing, just looked at me sadly and I knew I had to go back too. I knew that I would feel better about it in a few days once I was male again. It would be as if I had never felt these things. Yet I was happy with him and I wanted that to go on forever.

"Let's go before I change my mind," I acceded as I moved away from his embrace for the last time as Michelle. We never really had a name for him. He was just my Gary and afterward, after the change back, I'm not sure he ever lost his feeling for Michelle. He wouldn't have though. He was going from male to male. I guess I was the unknown card in the deck.

I made my way back into the clear space in the center of the warehouse. Gary had tried to catch up with me and take my hand but when I was unresponsive he gave up. I didn't need any more encouragement for a relationship that wasn't going to live more than a few more minutes at most. Yet I was badly torn. I could feel myself screaming to get out of this girl's body, but my emotions were clouding my judgment.

I tried to think of the things I'd be going back to and that helped. Singing with the band in front of a crowd of people was the biggest thrill I've had until all this. Putting the Klingon in her place for all the crap she said in the papers would be an adventure too. However, once I started thinking about it, I felt sorry for her. Perhaps I had been too hard on her. Maybe she was just a girl in love. I could get next to that and sympathize with her.

Gary, much to my dismay had been right again; I had to go back. As I accepted that, I began to loose some of that helpless feeling. It would take time to get over it, but I knew that in a couple of days, with a healthy dose of testosterone, I would begin to feel more like my old self. It seemed I was taking some valuable lessons with me though, things I couldn't tell if I would want to remember or not later on.

I stopped in the middle of the room and Gary pulled up next to me. I noticed that we were standing very close to where we had first come in contact with our new personas just two days ago, when, shaken and scared, I had looked up to see the face of my friend. "Whassss Uuuupp?" he had asked then and now, standing next to him, I took his hand, looked up to him and mouthed the words, "Thank you."

It was the last thing Michelle and Gary/Tonto would share. It would have to do.

"Is everybody Ready?" Rod hollered like some sideshow barker at the Fall Carnival. "Step right up ladies and gentlemen. It's the most amazing transformation you've ever seen. Watch as, before your very eyes, we change this lovely young lass right here from a woman in love to a much-loved male rock singer. Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!" I almost couldn't suppress the giggles at the thought.

Then Rod announced, "Everyone... strip."

I looked around in confusion. "You're joking, right?"

"Um, no. You have to strip, get naked so to speak. You don't want anything between you and the code transmission do you?"

"Well... I... I can't do that," I protested.

"Why?" Rod asked.

Then Gary stepped in. "Look Rod, isn't there another way?"

"I don't make the rules my friend. The book says no clothing between you and the signal. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch. Zippo..."

"OK... OK... I got it. Let me think." I looked at him hopefully while he thought. He had proved good at it and I was hoping for one more such repeat performance.

"What's the big deal?" Rod asked. "Anyone here who's never seen a naked girl before?"

No one answered.

"Gary?" I whispered, but it seemed he'd drawn a blank. "Shit! I don't want to undress in front of them." I also noticed that none of them seemed too eager to undress before me. All but Rod that is who was already taking off his shoes.

Then Gary had an idea, "Rod, what about if we all turn our backs? Will that make a difference?" I could feel my face brighten. It would offer me some modesty.

"Gary, you are such a party pooper. Do you know that? Aren't you the least bit interested in what this girl looks like under all that tight clothing before she's gone? You spent all weekend with her, you can't tell me you didn't think about it."

He ignored Rod and turned to the others. "You guys mind?"

Everyone murmured their agreement. No one minded. If it were possible, I felt even deeper love for Gary; a thing I didn't need to do at that moment, but I seemed helpless to control it.

"Thanks again."

"Sorry I couldn't do better," was all he said.

The guys turned around, one by one, and Gary stood and faced them to make sure they didn't turn around while I undressed. I heard him tell Rod to turn around once and Rodney mumbling about what a pussy Gary had suddenly become and then asking if maybe whipped was more like it.

Again he ignored Rod but when I looked to the side I could see Gary's fists opening and closing. I touched his arm to assure him that everything was OK and continued to undress. Last to undress was Gary. He turned with his back to the circle and said, "Ready."

For just a brief moment I clutched against the fear that this might hurt as much as entering into this bargain had on Friday night.

"10, 9, 8, 7, 6..."

I reached out and took Gary's hand for just a second and let it go, mouthing the words, "Good bye," and shedding one single tear. Then I turned and faced forward waiting for the pain, not knowing if it would come or not.

"5, 4, 3, 2, 1."

And it was over.

As I looked around there were the guys I remembered I had come to this place with two days ago. At their feet were small piles of ash. They were all brushing the stuff off themselves.

Then I noticed that the proportions of the room were wrong. Gary still seemed tall to me. Hell they all did. It was a curious feeling. I started to bush the ash off as the others were doing and I turned smiling to Gary. I saw his face precisely at the same time my hand brushed some fleshy protrusion on my chest.

I felt the blood run from my face as I watched the same thing happen to Gary. It was a most surreal experience, I can assure you. Looking down, I saw breasts. There was no small pile of ash on the floor. My hair tumbled from behind my head and over my shoulders.

I could only think of one thing to say. "Gary?"


"Don't call me that," I demanded weakly.

I could feel the terror growing inside me. Everyone had gone back; everyone but me, that was. My brain was trying to overload me with information, crap like "transmitters are a single use device," "out of range of signal" and "damage results in permanent confinement." My brain had suddenly become an agent for the enemy and it was trying to make me panic.

"Rodney? What the hell did you do?" It was Gary and he was charging Rod's position at the head of the circle.

I was in shock. I had fully expected to be out of Michelle and back as Mike, but as I explored, not a bit of Michelle was gone.

"Nothing. I didn't do anything wrong. Everyone else is out Gary. Wait!"

Then everyone was talking at once.

"Rod, What the hell went wrong?" Gary asked.

"I don't know? I'm checking," Rod snarled back.

"Someone want to get her something to cover up with?" Kit suggested.

"Don't call me that," I said weakly.

"I think I swallowed my gum," Norm said adding little to the conversation.

"Here's something," Frank offered. "Ah, a box of curtains. Shit this place has everything."

"Unit four out of phase!" Rod muttered squinting at the device.

"What?" Gary and I asked in unison.

"Unit four out of phase!" Rod repeated loud enough to be heard clearly.

"Here Michelle, take this!" Frank said as he handed me some heavy thermal curtains.

"Don't call me that!" I snapped.

"Keep it down everyone," Gary pleaded. "I can't hear what Rod's saying."

"Shit, you look like you're going to pass out," Kit noted and passed me something. "Here. Drink some of this."

"What the fuck does that mean?" Gary demanded.

"I don't know," was Rod's response.

"Does anyone know if gum is harmful?" Norm asked only to be told to shut up by everyone.

"What's that?" I asked, turning back to Rod.

"Well you'd better find out Rod and get him the hell out of that," Gary said through clenched teeth, fists balling and unballing in frustration.

"More Vodka?" Kit offered.

"I'm trying. I'm trying," Rod whined.

"Don't try Rod. Do it!" Gary demanded, torn between beating the crap out of Rod and encircling me with a protective arm.

"Come over here and sit down," Frank suggested.

"Someone want to get her a chair?" Kit called out to which I screamed, "I said don't call me that!"

"Ah, a menu, cool," Rod sighed with relief. "OK, error messages for transactions!"

"What's it say?" Gary asked.

"Hold on," Rod muttered in irritation as he poked at the device.

"Here, your uh... your thing is showing." It was Frank, telling me something. "No, ah... your breast. There that's better!"

"Thanks," I said, covering up.

"OK here it is!"

"What?" Gary asked.

"I said I found it," Rod responded with relief.

"Look, will everybody please shut the hell up?" Gary roared.

Everyone shut up. We all looked in stunned silence at where Gary, my old friend Gary, and Rod now stood staring at the display on the transmitter.

"So what's that mean?"

"'Physical structure in unit four not of original configuration. Unable to process genetic decoding algorithm. Unit four out of phase.' I think it means that the unit is damaged in someway."

"Damaged? You mean the chip?"

"No I mean her," he said and pointed to me.

"Look, don't call me that any God damn more, please," I begged. I just wanted what everyone else had gotten -- their lives back, my manhood back.

"Tell me about that Rod. Would you please?" Gary asked, "Because I'm not sure I understand just what the hell you're telling me."

"Look, the way I understand it is like this. If you're in one of these skins and do something to it -- you know, modify it -- then it can't undo the configuration. It works on an algorithm. If the genetic structure is changed, the stored mathematical equation used to piece it back to the original genetic code doesn't match. It doesn't know how to rebuild the original structure because it isn't sure what's different.

Most of us just looked at each other as if we didn't understand. Then Gary asked, "You're saying if one of the other of us had, Oh I don't know, cut ourselves. You're saying that those damn things wouldn't have come off?" He looked pissed. I was trying not to look worried.

"No, no, no. Cuts heal. As soon as the cut had healed the skin would have burned itself out. If you were within range of the transmitter when it was activated, that is. I'm talking about an operation or something like that where you take an organ or part of an organ. Those things don't ever regenerate. That kind of stuff."

"I don't understand. Why isn't Mikey changing back then?" Gary asked.

"I'm not cut anywhere," I said. "Why?"

"She did something to herself. That's what the display says," Rod insisted and held the transmitter for us to see again, as if for evidence.

"It's a bug! It's gotta be. Can you bypass the error?" Frank asked. "There's always a manual override on things like this."

Rod looked at him sternly. "Man Frank, you really should stay away from the Scifi VIDs from now on. That crap is for Hollywood. This is computer science. The error messages just let you know what you have to fix and it make it right."

"So, how the hell do we fix this?" I asked. I searched their faces looking for hope. There was none to be found there.

Then Gary said, "Mikey, the wall!"

I knew what he was getting at, "I didn't even bruise when that happened." I hoped I was right.

"What wall, Rod asked.

"When we were sneaking back into my dorm room the first night, Gary was helping me in through the back window, I slipped and slammed against the wall. It knocked the breath out of me."

"I don't think that would have caused this problem. No, even if you'd broken a bone, it would heal and you'd be out after that. It might take a month or so but you'd be out right after it healed. The system would know that the unit wasn't out of phase -- unless it didn't heal right or something, I guess. Besides, you'd have known if you'd broken a bone. It would still hurt like hell, even if it was a hairline fracture. Do you think..?" Rod asked looking to me.

"No, I was a little sore the next morning, but not too bad." I was mostly relieved. That was the most traumatic thing that had happened to me since I put this damned thing on. So perhaps it could be fixed and I could get the hell out of this. It was Gary that dashed all my hopes.

"Oh my God!" It was Gary. He looked as if he was about to cry. That scared me.

"I'm sorry!" he said and was coming over to me, kneeling down and taking my head in his hands. "It's my fault! Oh Mikey," he covered his face and gasped. "Oh God, I'm so sorry! Please forgive me. I didn't know."

"Gary? Please. You're scaring me!" We were forehead to forehead and now he was crying so I took his hands as they clasped my face. "What's your fault? I don't understand." My heart was pounding so hard I just knew it was going to burst.

"Think about it."

I tried, but I had suffered no injury. I didn't hurt anything at all, let alone something that would cause percent damage.

Then I thought of it -- or what I thought was it. "But I'm not pregnant Gary. That can't be it!" I insisted, but I was no longer so sure of myself. I supposed that those tests could fail.

He was shaking his head no.

Gary leaned in close. He pushed the hair away from my ear and brought his lips in toward the side of my head.

I looked up at the other guys standing around. Most of them had dressed as this episode was unfolding. I could see they were just as confused at the spectacle as I was. It was almost obscene the way Gary leaned in to me, I could see that in their eyes.

Then it did click and the hopelessness of my situation dawned on me. I started crying with him as he whispered, "Your virginity."

He drew me in tight and held me, rocking me very gently while the others looked on, confused and self-conscious. Every so often he would offer another apology to me and I would chant from time to time, "This can't be happening. Please God. Don't let this happen to me," but it changed nothing. In my heart I knew he was right. A girl is only a virgin once, because hymens don't heal.

After some time we released our embrace. Gary swept my hair out of my face with his hand. I let him run his hand down the side of my face. I guess I sort of nuzzled his hand in return with my cheek. I needed contact at that moment as I had never felt so alone in my life and Gary's touch brushed away some of that emptiness away.

"Gary? Please tell me we can fix this," I pleaded. "This can't be the end of the road. Come on!" There was a desperate edge to my voice. Time was ticking by and I was still a girl. Slowly the conviction grew in my head that I was still going to be a girl five minutes from now, and five hours from now, and five days and five months, and five years from now and...

Blind, black panic filled me. I stared at all of them, and all I saw was sad eyes in return, except from Rod. He seemed to be enjoying this a little too much.

"Please. This can't be happening. JESUS, I'M NOT SPENDING THE REST OF MY LIFE LIKE THIS!" I pleaded for help from those around me. Nothing. Every one of them had gone back to their lives and left me here alone.

I reached over to Gary and clung to his shirt, "GAAARRRRYYY, PLEEEAAASSSEEEE! HELP ME!" No words, only despair in his eyes that I could not erase from my vision.

"Oh God, NO!" I was up now on my feet and hysterical. "NO!" I shouted with righteous indignation at the top of my lungs. "Please God. Please."

I was told later that I had been clutching my belly. I remember feeling sick, very sick to my stomach, like I was going to pass out. That would have been a blessing, but I didn't.

"What did I do to deserve this?"

I looked at Gary, "Gary? Please help me. I can't live like this. You all went back. What the fuck am I supposed to do now? I have a life! God Damn it! I have a LIFE! Somebody help me, please?" I stood pleading to the helpless faces of people who could not help me.

I started tearing at my flesh. "Out! I want OUT OF THIS BODY, PLEEAAASSSEEE!" I was really intent on doing some serious harm. I wanted out, but Gary and Kit were on me before I could do any damage at all and I collapsed into Kit's arms. My sobs were now coming in those screaming, face numbing hysterics you sometime see in very small children who have become convinced that everything that makes up their universe is about to collapse and they will have to stand and watch it happen, powerless to stop it.

Kit eased me to the back to the floor, talking softly to me. I don't remember what was said, but whatever he did was enough to calm me and keep me from hurting myself. He admitted later that, after all that had happened since he picked me up near my now former home, he was having trouble identifying me with Mike Vello; that he saw a girl in distress and he acted. I do remember he covered me back up and made sure I was warm.

"Well, I hate to have to be the one to say it but I think the bitch got exactly what she deserved." It was Rod. Gary was up with lighting speed. I would never have thought he was capable of such force and speed, but he was up and away from me and all over Rod in an instant.

"Oooofffff," Rod exhaled as Gary's right fist sunk deeply into his stomach.

"Once again Rodney, you fucked us up by withholding important information!" Gary was about as mad as I've ever seen him. For a moment I had forgotten my problems. I was too caught up in the surprise and fierceness of Gary's attack.

"Wait, WAIT..." Rod was pleading as Gary hoisted him up by the shirt, "What the fuck are you talking about. I didn't do anything! Jesus Christ Gary, put me down!"

"I'm gonna break all the teeth in your fucking head Rodney and stuff each one up your snotty little nose. That's just for starters. Then I'm gonna rip you're cock off and shove it down your fucking throat!"

He threw Rod. I don't mean just tossed him; little ol' Gary launched Rod into the air.

"OOOOOOhhhhh," Rod yelled as he flew. I knew I was gawking, but I couldn't help it. I had never seen Gary act like this before. Tears rolled onto my upper lip. I could feel them hang there, but I couldn't take my eyes of what was happening.

"Didn't you think that something like this was important? Any one of us could be trapped in one of those damn things right now. Look at Mike. How the fuck would you like it if I went and found another female skin, and put it on you? Would you like that? Maybe bust up the transmitter! Yeah! Frank, get me one of those nice looking female skins. Rod needs a make over!"

"Fuck you," Rod screamed and was up and running.

"Grab em'," Gary yelled, but no one complied.

"What's your problem?" Rod screamed at Gary, after he was a safe distance away.

"That's my best friend! You've fucked up his entire life," Gary screamed back.

"Just how the hell did I do that? I didn't even see you guys this weekend."

"Rod. If we had known... if we had known... if we had just known..." he said but it no longer had force to it. He sounded weak and defeated.

Rod's eyes popped open and he whispered. "You fucked her! That's what she meant about not being pregnant. She wasn't kidding was she?" he sounded disgusted and it made me feel sick to my stomach. Vindicated, Rod set the transmitter on a box near me and stood up to take the offensive in this fight.

"Made, love," Gary insisted, but I could see no one believed he meant it. For the first time I could see he was ashamed of what he had done. The tears from that knowledge burned worse than any, before or since. I understood why he felt that way, but that didn't mean I had to like it.

Rod ignored me. He sneered at Gary. "I don't think that's my fault, Gary," he said pointing at me on the floor. "It sounds like it's your fault. You even said so, remember? You shouldn't fuck your friends. Fucking pervert!"

With that, Gary was off again, but Frank and Kit stopped him. Both were shouting at him, "That's not gonna help Mikey, Gary." They grabbed him by the arms and looked him straight in the eye and just shook their heads "no" as Rod recoiled from the lunge. Gary cradled his head in his hands.

I was alone, forgotten on the floor with a curtain around me for warmth and modesty. It looked like I was going to have to wear my prison after all. Slowly, I gathered up the clothes that lay around me on the floor, the ones I had worn in, the panties, bra, shorts and sweater. I pulled them under the curtain and began putting them back on. I hated every moment of it, because they were my clothes now. On the box next to me I noticed the transmitter. I snuck a hand out and pulled it beneath the drape I was covered in.

Frank and Kit walked Gary over to a chair and set him down. They had all moved away from me. Guys and their circle of friends, I could see that everything I had ever been told about this exclusive clique had been true. I just hadn't seen the truism from the inside.

Rod was trying to talk Gary down and keep him from killing him, but he still kept his distance. I could no longer hear what they were saying, but I discovered that I didn't really care either.

Getting up, I managed to find my deck shoes. Slipping them on, I made my way toward the door. No one saw me leave, which was just as well as I didn't want to talk to anyone anyway. I was no longer a part of their group. They were comforting themselves; licking their wounds like a pack of dogs I guess you'd say. I just wanted to get out of there.

As I moved out into the night, I noticed that I was getting quite used to the way this body felt. I guess that was a good thing as it seemed I was going to be living in it for quite a while. I only heard Gary call my name out once before I was away from the warehouse.


I started to run at the sound of it. I heard footfalls behind me for a brief distance, but I was faster and before long there was no one following. I didn't see Gary again for another 48 hours.

Homeless, I spent that first night under an overpass about a mile west of my old room. The air was warm and I able to get some sleep about an hour before sunrise.

In the morning sadness turned to rage. I could imagine them all back in their homes, sleeping in their beds back in their own bodies, enjoying their own lives. As the first day wore on, fury gave way to wave after wave of despair.

My mind was still struggling with the idea that this was now permanent, that now I would never be a husband but instead a bride. The idea of man versus maiden spiraled around in my head and dazed me with it finality.

Women and men are comfortable and happy, for the most part, with their lot in life because they know no other condition. We have no other frame of reference to draw upon. Guys love being guys because they grow up finding the experience suited to their physical make up and mental attitude about themselves and those around them. Men enjoy the dominant attitude of their physical being, standing to piss, invader versus invadee during sex. The point is that men completely associate their existence as masculine, anything else is more than unacceptable, it's a down right disability. That's exactly how I felt, as if I had been hobbled -- as though I was now inferior to my previous incarnation.

I spent a second night out under the overpass. All I had were the shorts and sweater I had worn the night I ran away. I was cold and filled with hate. I was hungry and wanted to kill. Most of all, I was scared and pitiful. I didn't sleep. I hid behind a clump of bushes afraid that one of the many homeless men might find me there. I hated my new self, but I wasn't ready to die just yet -- or worse -- and that was what my world had been reduced to.

Rod had said it best that Friday night in the warehouse. "The world has just become a very different place for you and you'd do well to remember that." I knew that rape was now a very real possibility, not because I was now female, but because I was a homeless female. I had been blessed/cursed with a body that was to die for and if I wasn't careful that was exactly what I would wind up doing. I knew this because I had been male. I knew what my kind was capable of. I knew guys that hit girls. Hell I knew two guys that hit women because it gave them a hard-on. I remembered very clearly how Rod, as a very small Chinese youth, had leaped on me and over-powered me in the time it took me to blink.

All this was made worse by the fact that I couldn't stop thinking how close I had come to getting out of this mess, out of this body. Twenty hours for God sake, and now I'd never be rid of it. I was locked inside this body forever. Hell, I couldn't even use another skin to get my masculinity back -- even if it was as another person. This was the end of the road.

The one time I stepped outside the lines and this is what happens. I had been a by-the-book kind of guy. I never challenged authority. I never cheated. I never took shortcuts. If somebody gave me too much change when I bought something; I always gave it back -- always. Guys like Rod and Gary and Kit; they never did shit like that. They kept the money. They always stepped outside what I saw as the limits of right and wrong and nothing ever happened to them. I do it once and I get stuck with being a girl for the rest of my fucking life? No Fucking Way!

This was not what I had wanted for myself. All my college credit was gone. I couldn't go home. The cold seemed colder in this body, less body fat I supposed. My identity had been stolen from me.

Gary had the last of my tuition money. I was grateful that he had made the mistake of taking that cash chip out. I was going to need it. I had to leave this place. I could no longer stay here in this town with all the things Mike had known always around to remind me of that which I could no longer have, my life. At least I had some cash -- and this broken transmitter.

I cradled the transmitter in my hands. Maybe, given time, I could find someone that could reverse what had happed to me. Who had it been -- a historical figure as I recall -- that was famous for saying, "Keep Hope Alive." That's what I had to do now -- keep hope alive.

When the sun came up I made my way over to a corner-fueling depot and inside I found the restrooms. I started to go into the men's room and stopped cold. First, I examined the features of the symbol on that door. Then I looked at the symbol on the women's room door and my future as I slowly removed my hand from the handle of the men's room and opened the door to the ladies' room.

It was just a public rest room, but I felt out of place here, as thought I might be exposed as a fake at any time. There were no urinals, just stalls, but it smelled cleaner than most public restrooms I had been in. That was a small plus, but hey, I was takin' what I could get these days.

Moving to the mirror, I saw that my reflection was a hideous thing. My hair was wet and pasted to my scalp. I seemed too pale to be healthy. My clothes were dirty. Hell, I was dirty -- and I was starting to stink. Yuck!

I took another look around the room and saw a handicapped stall, "Thank God," I . mutteredEntering the stall, I locked the door behind me and turned around to examine it and it was more than I could have hoped for: a sink, a toilet and, on the wall, an air powered hand dryer.

I quickly began to strip off my clothes, no longer self-conscious about being in the girls' restroom. I only wanted to be clean. Quickly, I filled the sink with warm water, dumped a little soap from the dispenser into it and stuffed my clothes and underwear deep into the water. Then I gave them a quick squeeze here and there and then let them soak.

I relieved myself, which I had done precious little of out in the open where I just couldn't get used to squatting and peeing. It seemed much easier just to hold it until I simply couldn't any longer. As a result of the experience, I had developed a deep sympathy for girls that went out on long drives with guys that took for granted that they could just whip it anywhere and pee while leaving their dates to suffer in the car -- a lot of times with a bunch of other people if they were in their teens out watching the submarine races. Thinking back, I guess I had been guilty of that a few times myself. Things like that just don't hit you until the high-heeled shoe is suddenly glued to the other foot.

Using large quantities of paper towels, I washed my face and arms and then went to work on any other place that needed washing. After I had finished working on myself, I rinsed my clothes, rung them out as best I could. It didn't work very well. When I had been male, I used to do this in a pinch and it seemed I was able to get my clothes so much dryer. I then activated the dryer and dried out my underwear and put those back on. Next my shorts and top were dried.

Lastly I washed my hair. I used the soap from the dispenser again as I had no other choice. Even with the harsh soap from the dispenser, my hair still felt unnaturally soft afterwards. I shivered a bit as a thought raced though my mind, "genetic perfection." I was scientifically engineered. Why shouldn't my hair be perfect?

I was an abomination. "Visions of the Master Race." The thought flashed through my mind as I looked at myself in the mirror and a shiver went through me. Shaking those thoughts off, I dried my hair in the blow dryer. I had been here maybe half an hour.

Over the sound of the dryer and through the bathroom door I could hear music that sounded distantly familiar being pumped in though the stations ceiling speakers. When the dryer quit and I walked out into the station I heard my voice, Mike's deep masculine voice, floating down from the speakers.

Never meant to hurt you
But now I know have
Gonna stay right up here, girl
Till I find what I once had

Taken on the snow now
That falls without your love
Everything is cold here
Dead without out your love

I was absolutely floored and I started jumping up and down, pointing at the speakers and squealing, "THAT'S ME! THAT'S ME! OHMYGODTHAT'SME!"

Livin' on a mountain top
Up here all alone
Waitin' on a miracle
But all my miracles are gone

Come and save me from myself girl
Now I see what I've undone
Come and me whole girl
Come and take me home

There were two people at the counter and one behind it. All three stopped to look at me as I continued to dance around and scream. "AAAAHHHHH. I can't God Damn believe it. EEEEEEEEEE!"

I ran over the lady standing second in line and grabbed her sleeve and shook her, "Do you hear that? That's ME!"

"Who's you?" the lady said politely but looking very distressed that like she was being mugged as she extracted her sleeve from my hand.

"That song. It's me. Me and my band," I said. I must have been looking at her as if she had lost her mind.

She asked, "Are you playing one of the instruments?"

"Noooo. I sing."

"Dear, that's the poor boy who's missing. That can't be you, can it?"

Again, that sick feeling of being disconnected from reality swept over me. My voice was being broadcast over the radio. I was a success and I would never be able to enjoy it.

"Do you mean you sing harmony, Dear?" she asked.

I responded in dreary voice with my head hung down, "Yeah, whatever!" and turned and left.

The man behind the counter spoke up, "Do you need help Miss? Hey, don't leave."

I didn't respond. I walked out and let the glass door of the station shut behind me. With no other choices, I walked off toward Gary's house to get what was left of my money and get the hell out of this town. Maybe I'd stop by and see my Mom and Dad one last time, not talk to them mind you, just see them one last time?

I called Gary's house early in the morning and reversed the charges on the call. It was only a couple of dollars, not much, and if they didn't take the call, well I was no worse off then before. I didn't want Gary's Mom or Dad seeing me the way I looked, either, so I found one of those old phone-style communications devices in a booth.

After several rings, Karen answered. I had hoped beyond hope that it would have been Gary, but he wasn't at home. Karen told me he was having an interview with the police about my disappearance and I could feel my gore rise in my throat. I just knew I was going to get sick right there, but I managed to keep it in check and force myself to calm down. Then I tried to extract as much information as possible from Gary's Mom without raising suspicion.

"I'm sure this is a very hard time for all of you," I told her. "Especially poor Gary."

I tried to sound as sympathetic as I could considering I was expressing condolences for myself. At least once I had the urge to break out in hysterical laughter at the idea that I was offering sympathy for a dead guy that wasn't dead at all.

"Yes, it's very sad, but we're all confident that he'll turn up soon," she told me.

"Don't hold your breath!" I thought.

"I do hope he does," I responded aloud. "Listen, I don't want to seem insensitive about this. I know it must be taking a toll on Gary, but the reason I called..."

"Yes?" she asked and waited.

"I... I left my purse somewhere and I was hoping that it was when Gary and I were out the other night. I was hoping that perhaps he had found it and still had it."

"I'll ask him when he gets back, but I'm sure he would have mentioned it. He did want me to get a number or an address where you could be reached if you called though. So perhaps he does have it after all. Is there someplace he can reach you?"

I had no answer for her. I couldn't very well go to their house dressed in her old clothing, dirty and after sleeping out in open for the last two days -- if you can call what I had been doing at night sleeping. I didn't want to tell her to have Gary meet me anywhere either since I didn't know what Gary's state of mind was right now and I didn't want to temp the fates and make another mistake that might cost me my freedom in addition to what I had already lost. What I wanted was to take time to talk to him over the VID first, before we met someplace if I could. Then I wanted to impress upon him the need to take care in the things he said to others and to make sure our stories were on the same page. Most of all I wanted to make sure he wasn't followed.

I was sure that all my friends were under some cloud of suspicion by the police. I didn't know if my new face had shown up on any of those ATM photos but I didn't want to find out the hard way. The way I saw it, I was already being punished enough. I didn't want to wind up in women's prison on top of it all.

"I tell you what. I'll try to call him later. I won't be able to be easily reached for most of the week," I said finally.

"Well, if you're sure. I mean it is your purse and all. I know how panicked I'd be if I lost mine," she said sounding perplexed.

"I'll call tonight, I do want my purse back, but I'm sure I left it with Gary. I'm doing stuff like that all the time so I'm used to it." That seemed to reassure her somewhat.

I said my goodbyes, responded to her expressed hope that we would meet soon and disconnected the phone Looki. g around at the early afternoon I seemed so far from where I used to live at the dorm building, yet, as risky as it was, I just couldn't help the feeling that I needed to go there to see what was happening. I didn't think any one would really notice one young, disheveled looking girl watching a police investigation. If there was one even still going on that is.

I crossed the street in the same place Gary and I had first crossed when we reappeared in the world as I as was now. No one seemed to take much notice of me this time unlike before when I had playfully flirted with other girl's husbands and boy friends. Although I had done a pretty good job of cleaning up, I imagined that in the bright sun light people could see things I had missed in the light of a dimly lit convenience store restroom.

I walked along, somewhat self-conscious about my appearance, and curious about what I might find going on around my building. As a result, I was distracted and not paying attention to where I was going when I slammed into someone walking in the opposite direction.

"Oh!" I exclaimed and staggered backwards trying to maintain my balance.

"Shit!" he said surprised by the sudden contact.

"Uh Oh!" I lost my balance and toppled over backward, landing hard on my fanny.

Click. I could hear the sound of my teeth slam together and the faint echo it made against the wall of the building as the sound bounced back. I was very lucky my tongue hadn't been between them when they came together.

"Ooooohhhhh! That hurt," I moaned.

I could hear the guy I had bumped into starting to say, "Ouch! Hey, I'm sorry." He looked down to see who it was he had just clobbered.

"Oh shit! MIKE... MICHELLE!"

My head snapped up to see who had spoken, but I already recognized the voice. It was Gary. My heart leapt at the sight of him, in spite of my anger at him and pity for myself and before I could stop myself, I smiled.

"Oh my God, I've been looking everywhere for you," he said. He sounded excited, rushed and half-crazy with distress. "Jesus, where the hell have you been? Why the hell haven't you called me? I have to tell you, I'm more than just a little bit pissed off at you."

"You are?" I asked. "And just what entitles you to be pissed with me?"

"I... ah, err..." he stuttered as a look of confusion spread across his face. "Why, because I ca... care about what happens to you, that's what," he responded defensively. "Here. Give me your hand. Let me help you up." He reached out to me, but I refused to take his hand. It hurt a bit to start out this way. My heart wanted me to throw my arms around him and hug him hard, but what was left of my male pride was standing between my now female heart and Gary. The pride was winning. I managed to slowly get up without Gary's help and then I stood there brushing myself off while Gary continued.

"Are you OK? God, you look like shit." I just looked at him with a surprised look on my face, eyebrows raised. "Not that I... I mean... Well, that's not what I meant. You look great. Aw hell, you know what I mean, God damn it."

I just stood and regarded him.

"Come on. Say something, for Christ's sake!"

"Life sucks! How's that? What the hell do you want me to say? I've adjusted well? The God damned ride isn't over for me Gary. How the hell am I supposed to feel about that?"

I tried to pace off some of the anxiety that was building. "Am I OK? No," I said, pacing a bit more and then I got in his face and added, "Fuck No, OK? I'm not OK. OK?"

"OK! I got it," he said with an ashamed look on his face.

"Do you? How the hell could you possibly get it? Shit Gary, I don't even get it. I've woken up in this body for the last four days and the only thing I can think of is that the same damn thing is going to happen tomorrow." I was pretty angry now and I was having a hard time keeping the pitch of my voice under control. "I had a life Gary. What the hell am I supposed to with this one?"

"I..." he stated and I cut him off.

"You know what's funny?" I continued. "I was ready to run away with you two days ago. If you had asked me to marry you, I would have done it." I hung my head and shook it. "What the hell was I thinking?"

"Look, from where I'm standing, nothing has changed," he said taking my hands in his.

I jerked my hands out of his and noticed, with a twang of regret, the hurt look on his face when I did.

"How can you say that? You've changed!"

"I don't know what to tell you. I would have done anything to keep what we had." He sounded defeated and it was depressing to listen to him. I felt like I was ripping the rug out from underneath him. "If I had known what was about to happen that night though, would you have preferred that I stay as the man you fell in love with?"

"Gary, please..."

"No, I want to know," he insisted.

"I don't think that's..."

"Answer the question Michelle!" he was angry, and why not. He felt he was losing as much as I felt I had already lost. I guess I could understand a little how he must have felt.

"No, I don't. That man was wanted by the police. I know that everything you said was true. Even if we had run away without the knowledge that my fate was already sealed, you would have been caught. We both would have been caught and arrested for something neither one of us was guilty of doing. We don't know enough about being fugitives to have gotten away."

"That's not what I asked you."

"Please don't make me say this Gary, please."

He did offer me a reprieve. I cleared my throat and spoke softly. "The man I fell in love with is standing right in front of me." A single tear slipped from the corner of my eye and rolled down my face.

I looked up at him and smiled a weak, sad smile. "But I fell in love with you in a different time Gary. That was when I could still go back -- or thought I could. That was when we were going through it together. Now it's just me, Gary. Don't you see that?"

"No, frankly I don't and after what we shared and felt for each other I'm hurt that you would think that I would just go on as if nothing had ever happened. What kind of person do you think I am?"

"You got your life back Gary. You'll go to school and you'll carry on, but I'm left here on this 'adventure', one that was your idea, by the way, and there's no way back for me. This is just so surreal. I can't believe I'm having to deal with this."

"Got my life back? I had a life two days ago and I lost it when you ran out of that warehouse the other night. It vanished into the night with you. The only thing I got back was the face of that person that seemed to always fuck up his life. My life started when you gave me a reason to live it."

"It can't be like that now," I said flatly.

"I don't believe you!" he cried. The anguish in his voice was unmistakable. "I'm not a whole person without you. Male or female, we are only one half of one person separately. Don't you see that? Why can't you see that? All I've ever wanted is to find someone like you and I would never have realized it if not for last weekend.

There was a long pause in our dialog. Both of us were now openly weeping, each of us trying to hide our tears from the passing throngs by continually wiping the tears from our cheeks and lowering our heads to hide our eyes.

I finally decided to tell Gary about my plan. "I'm leaving Gary."

I thought his eyes were going to pop out and roll around on the pavement of the sidewalk. "What the hell did you say?"

"I'm moving away. I need my money back."

"You can't have it," he said with a confidence that made me mad. "And you can't leave either."

"I'm leaving Gary and that's that. Now please can we arrange for me to get my money back?"

He paced about for a while. I knew he was thinking about how to delay the inevitable. "Gary don't stress out on this, it's hard enough for me as it is, but I have to leave. You can see that can't you?"

"No," he flashed at me pushing his face into mine until we were nose to nose. He was angry now and defensive. I could see that I had just threatened to take something away from him that was nearly as valuable as his life, perhaps more valuable. I have never admitted this until now, but I was a little scared of him at that moment. It was the only time I have ever had that feeling with Gary, but, at the time, it surprised me.

"No. I don't see that at all. God Damn it Michelle, what the hell happened last weekend? Did I imagine that? Was it fake? It was very real for me."

"I felt those things too, Gary. I was ready to run away with you and stay like this voluntarily. Maybe that would have been better. Then I would never have known that I had no choice in staying this way."

"So you're blaming me? If I hadn't have made it back to where you and Kit picked me up you would have been just as stuck. Would that have made a difference?"

"I'm not blaming you. You... you were very... helpful." Ouch! There are still times in my life that I realize only after it's too late that I should have kept my mouth shut.

"HELPFUL?" he exclaimed. He just stood there staring at me and I felt small and completely insignificant.

"Oh hell!" I said.

"Yeah, something like that," he responded. "Here." He shoved his hand deep into his pockets and pulled out a clear polycase with my cash chip in it and shoved it in my hand. "I won't wish you good luck because I want you to stay, but I can see that it makes no difference to you how I feel, so take it."

"Gary. Of course it matters, but I can't stay here. What do you think it's going to be like for me living in the town where I disappeared? My folks don't even know I'm not coming back yet Gary. Right now they have hope that Mike will be found alive."

"But we know the real truth don't we?" I reached up and took his face in my hands. He was still taller but only by a few inches now. "Mike is gone and can't come back. As much as they adored my sister and ignored me, I know that they still loved me and when I... he... Mike, isn't found," I stammered shaking my head, "how the hell can I sit in this town and watch the memorials and news reports knowing what I know? How the hell can I stay here knowing how much pain I caused them? It would be too much of a temptation to go to them, to try to ease their pain, but I can't do that, now can I?"

All Gary could do was to look back at me with large watery eyes. He hadn't thought that deep into the problem. Tears were leaking in a steady torrent from the corners his eyes even as he tried to maintain his composure; I saw this and struggled to keep my emotions in check.

"Please, can I say something?" he pleaded.

"Wait, I'm not finished." I stepped closer to him. I didn't want to be overheard. I was aware that some of the passers by were slowing to eavesdrop a little on our conversation, strangers trying to listen to two squabbling lovers I supposed.

I spoke in a soft low tone. "Do you have any idea the complexity of this issue for me? I'm female now. ermanently and irreversibly a girl everywhere, even up here." I touched my hand to my head to indicate that my emotional personality and desires were now becoming completely female as well. "But I don't want to be. I want to be a guy again. What kind of future does that leave open for me as a heterosexual female? Do you see the bigger problem now?" This time I took his hand as I spoke to him. I couldn't help myself. I wanted to touch him as I had just a few days ago.

"It wasn't a problem yesterday?" he said and I sighed. No, he was right it wasn't a problem yesterday. I was willing to keep what I had been forced into if only I could have been allowed keep what I had found, love. Was I just making excuses now? I was more confused than ever. I tried a new angle, reason, rationalization or excuse -- pick one.

"Gary, this isn't an issue of just male versus female anymore either. My identity is gone. Who the hell am I now? I have no ID, no proof of my education, my family line, hell, medical history. Gary, I have no home, no place to go. What the hell am I supposed to do for an identity?"

The tears were attracting the attention of the passersby. Some stopped, I'm sure, to make sure that the young weeping young lady wasn't being hurt, but when they saw that the young man with her was also weeping, they thought better of it and moved along or hung back to eavesdrop.

"Where the hell are you going to go? Have you thought out a plan? As you said, you don't even have any ID. If you're going to try to travel, just how far do you think you're going to get without ID?" Now it was my turn to feel stupid. What the hell had I been thinking? I was even more trapped than I had first suspected. It was beginning to look as though I was going to wind up in prison no matter what I did.

"My money. I can probably buy false ID with that." I glanced down at the polycase he had shoved in my hand. "But that will probably use it all up."

There was a great pause while neither of us spoke. I was running out of ideas fast. I could spend what I had on identification, but I would be with out any other resources, or I could take my chances away from here but run out of resources on the road. With no ID there would be no job, no income -- not of legitimate means anyway.

"I have an answer," he offered emotionlessly.

To listen would be to get pulled in. I was now more desperate than I had thought I was. The Post-War Citizenry Tracking Agency would eventually nail me down as an unregistered female. This only turned out to be a bonus with the advent of skins. I had to get into the database somehow -- that or disappear, which would mean finding a way to live without having an income or needing medical attention or paying taxes. This was a daunting challenge, tried by many and only succeeded at by a small minority. I said nothing, but waited for him to drop the other shoe.

"I rented an apartment this morning. I thought you would want to move in after what had happened. I guess that was a stupid idea, huh?"

I wish I could have seen the look on my face -- I really do -- but it felt as if my jaw would come unhinged and my eyes would roll right out of their sockets. It seemed Gary was on his own in the world.

While I was touched, I was also careful not to let it show. After all, how in the hell could anything possible work out between the two of us?

My mind told me that nothing had changed since Saturday night, noting that I was still the same girl that had needed his warm, comforting touch and wisdom. "You were in love with him in a not so way back when. What the hell is different from Saturday to now?" argued the left half of my brain.

The right half shot back with, "He got you into this mess and then left you here, as a girl, with no way back. Yeah, he's one hell of a good friend. I'll tell you what he really wants. He wants what you've got tucked away inside your shorts missy -- and when he gets you pregnant, how long do you think he'll stick around? You think you got troubles now, crawl into his bed with him again and see what real trouble is." It was the start of a long and black affair with my thoughts that would take the reasoning of a wiser person than I to dispel.

I tried to shove those thoughts away but they wouldn't leave me completely. Part of me believed the logic centers of my brain. Never mind that when we had made love it had always been me that had initiated it.

"It was a sweet idea, Gary, but it can't work out between us. I think you know that, don't you?"

"I guess I do, but that's not my answer. You can still move in, it's a two-bedroom apartment. You can have your own room and I can still have my best friend. Then you'll have some time to figure out what to do and to get some identification. It's almost the best of both worlds.

"There he goes again, charging in on the white steed of his and saving your ass! What the hell's not to love here?" said my left-brain.

I had to admit to myself that it sounded like a workable answer. There was the issue of being a team player again though. wasn't going to be working any time soon without a job; I'd soon be broke. How would I be able to cover my half of the expenses?

"If I do this Gary, there has to be an understanding." He nodded his agreement before hearing the conditions. "We're friends and nothing more. I don't want you believing that there is more to this relationship than that, OK?"

He nodded again, but I could see his heart wasn't in it. Frankly, neither was mine. I hated the idea that our friendship had been reduced to stipulating that it was nothing more than just that, a friendship, not to mention that I was putting conditions on his kindness and generosity. I felt like a truly spoiled and rotten little shit, so I decided to do something that would at least make me feel a little better about laying down the rules the way I was.

"Second, you have to take this money back to help pay for my expenses. I don't know when I'll have the opportunity to get a job and contribute. This should hold me over until I can figure out what the hell I'm going to do."

"And what are you going to do when you have to buy a registered ID or a ticket some place. No, I got you into this mess and I'm going to pay to make this as right as I can until you figure out what you're going to do. Your second rule is overruled!" he insisted.

I looked down into my hand where the polycase sat, glanced once more for confirmation in Gary's eyes, saw what I needed to see and folded the chip back up into my hand so it could not be seen.

"Thanks Gary. You're very sweet," I told him. "OK then, I guess you've got a roommate."

"All right!" he yelled gleefully and I was happy too. "No more nights under the Franklin overpass," I thought as I moved in closer and hugged him. I remember thinking just how good it was to have him back in my arms, but that damned right side of my brain wanted me to understand just how much responsibility Gary had in all this, forcing me to keep my emotional distance.

The people scattered around us, the ones that had gathered to watch what they assumed were two quarrelling lovers trying to resolve their differences, started to applaud.

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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