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

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 Nine:
The Way of Things

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

That embrace in front of my old home was the last time I was that close to the life I had been born to and I felt a profound sadness leaving it behind. It was more than being forced to go forward in life wearing someone else's body. It was a separation from the place where I had started my independent life. It was the point in time where my journey into male adulthood had begun and, it seemed, had ended.

We walked away from the abandoned dorm room. I could imagine the scene inside. My mind's eye could see my clothing, books, papers and schoolwork tossed about in the name of the search for evidence. I wanted my pictures and keepsakes, the small trinkets that I took with me from home when I moved out, things my sister gave me. It was all gone for me now.

Gary did suggest that I spend just a little of the money I had. His first suggestion was some inexpensive but presentable clothes for me to wear. The next expense was on a hotel room in his name, since he had ID. He assured me that he would pay me back for all of it in three days. He had been promised an advance on his pay from his Dad in return for coming to work at the restaurant.

I was happy to spend some of the money and I didn't tell Gary that I had no intention of letting him pay me back. It would be worth any amount money I had to spend to have a bath and a soft bed to lay down on for just five minutes. Nothing in this world can give you such an appreciation for a mattress than sleeping on the cold hard ground under a city overpass.

Around the corner was a store called Second Hand Rose. We slipped in and right away Gary stepped forward to talk to the young girl at the counter. I hung back, I wasn't used to interacting with others in this disguise yet and wanted to minimize contact where I could for now. When Gary put himself in charge I just let him take the reins. After all, I was happy to let him take care of my troubles.

Gary came back to and said, "Her name is Amy. She said she could help you get into some jeans and a few shirts and some new, clean underwear. She won't ask any questions, and if she does just smile and say nothing. Give me the chip case and I'll hold it while you dress. In the mean time, I'll go get you a decent room and some food. Would you like anything special to eat?"

"Ooooh food," I whispered in awe of the word and the idea. "I don't care, just lots of it."

"You'll want to watch that girlish figure of yours won't you?" he said with a sheepish grin.

"You know, you're right. Get me some raw veggies and about eight hundred pounds of pancakes and syrup," I said with a smile. It felt good to crack a joke for a change. I handed him my cash chip and allowed my hand to remain in his for just a moment.

"Thank you," I mouthed to him as Amy came over with some things she thought might fit. Gary smiled in return.

"Hi, I'm Amy," she said sticking out her hand from under a folded pile of pants, jeans, skirts and blouses in a gesture meant to get me to shake it. I did and responded, "Hi. I'm Michelle."

"Cool. Wow, you're really pretty. I hope you're not here when Bobby comes to pick me up," she said and smiled.

"Bobby?" I asked.

She had started sorting out the clothes she was holding. In response to my question, she looked up and said with a smile, "My boyfriend."

"Oh." I could feel myself blushing. "I must look like something that just crawled out of a grave. I don't think you have anything to worry about. Besides you're very pretty too." And she was, it was no overstatement. She was about my build, maybe a bit thinner than me, ample breasts, lovely long blond hair that appeared to be natural and large brown eyes that reminded me of Japanese Anime art.

"Yeah, right," she said dismissing my compliment. "Come on. Your boyfriend wants me to fashion you up. I want to do it and get you out of here before my boyfriend gets here."

I glanced over at Gary with raised eyebrows, and he just shrugged at me as if to say, "I never once said boyfriend".

We turned and made toward the back of the store. She glanced over her shoulder and eyed Gary one last time before he ducked out. "But I think I could stand to let mine go if you wanted to trade."

I laughed at the idea that she really thought Gary was my boyfriend, and she said, "Yeah, I thought that's what you'd say."

She led me to the back of the store where the changing rooms were, handed me the stack of clothes and opened the door for me. I stepped in and closed the door behind me.

"So how long have two been together?" she asked me.

"No questions? Yeah right!" I groused internally.

"Um. We're not really together, we only just meet the other day."

"Oh that's bad," I thought. "What the hell is he doing buying you clothes then? Just keep your fucking mouth closed."

"Oh yeah?" she sounded hopeful.

"We're just roommates."

"Oh." Now she sounded just as deflated as she had hopeful a moment before.

In the dressing room, on the other side of the privacy curtain, I undid the shorts and stripped them off. They had not loosened up a bit since I had first started to wear them three days ago. They had to be some of the tightest clothes I had ever worn, but not so tight that they dug into my skin, just snug and I longed for something more causal to wear. I unfolded a pair of well-worn straight leg jeans from the stack and unzipped them and slipped first one slender leg in and then the next. I remembered thinking to myself, "Those are yours now," and shivered at the idea.

"Why is it..?" Amy started with the questions again, so I cut her off.

"So how long have you and Bobby -- you did say Bobby right? How long have you two been going out?" She seemed to perk up at the idea of a real conversation with more than just one person doing all the talking, or asking as it were.

"Almost four months now, but I haven't slept with him yet," she offered.

"That was more information than I needed!" I thought. "Thanks for sharing that with me."

"I guess that guy must be a real good friend, huh? What's his name?" I figured there was no point in not answering. It would be easy enough to for someone to figure out who had been here. Best to avoid suspicion by not acting suspicious.

"Gary. His name is Gary and yes, he's a very dear friend. He's been very sweet and kind to me," I told her as I zipped up the jeans and started to remove my shirt to try on one of the ones in the stack.

Suddenly the curtain opened and there was Amy saying, "So let me see how this stuff fi... oh shit! What the hell happened to you?"

I was so surprised by the sudden intrusion that I didn't even have the good sense to cover up. When I realized that I was half-naked, and that my boobs were the half that were naked, I tried desperately to cover up. Even if it was another girl, I wasn't used to exposing myself, as a female, to anyone -- other than Gary. I got myself covered too late and Amy saw the now healing scratches on my chest that disappeared underneath my bra.

"Did he do that to you?" she asked. She seemed to be getting angry.


"THAT!" she shouted and pointed one slender and perfectly manicured nail at my chest.

"You mean Gary? God no! He's the most gentle man I know of," I said. Why the hell hadn't I seen that one coming? "Because you were never a candidate for abuse before, butt head."

"You don't have to protect him. I've been hit before too. I know you think you love him but if he does shit like that to you then..."

"No, you don't understand," I said and held my nails up to the scratch marks and showed her that the distance between them matched those of my fingers and the size of the scratches were the same size as my nails. I couldn't tell her that these self inflected wounds had been the result of a panic attack whose purpose was to strip the flesh of this body off of me the night I realized that I had became Michelle once and for all.

"You did that? Why?" she whispered, absolutely confused beyond recovery.

"Look, I don't want to go into it if that's all right? I just haven't been feeling well," I could feel my voice breaking up as I spoke. "If it hadn't have been for Gary, well these might be a whole lot worse. That's all I want to say about that now."

"I'm sorry, I was just trying to be helpful. I won't ask any more questions. Please forgive me." I could see she felt bad, but I was grateful that this little scene had happened the way it did. She seemed satisfied that I was having some emotional problems of some sort and that Gary was helping me through them.

"I just knew he was something special though," she continued. "Most guys wouldn't have a thing to do with a girl with a problem, not if they thought they might have to do something to fix it or to lift a finger to help. Girls with baggage are like, broken, you know? At least most guys seem to think so. You're very lucky to have a friend as nice and good-looking as he is."

I considered that first part and I supposed she was right. Here he was again, baling me out of another crisis, albeit with my money, but that was the only resource right now. Gary's intention was to pay me back and I knew he would try with all his powers of persuasion to get me to accept his money.

"Yeah, but he got you into this mess, don't forget that." This time the left half won out when it replied, "No, I got myself into this mess by not saying 'NO'. Not once did I stand up and just say no. Perhaps I got what I deserved." Then another voice, one that sounded somewhat familiar, but from deep inside my head, said, "Or what you were destined for."

"What?" I asked thinking at first that voice had been Amy's.

"I said, when you're done with him, let me know OK?"

I slipped on the shirt that was in my hand and responded absentmindedly, "Ah... yeah, OK."

"There. Let me see. Girlfriend, you'd look great in late grunge."

I turned to the mirror. The look was neither sloppy nor neat. It was comfortable, more along the lines of what I was used to as a guy. The jeans were not loose but comfortable with some slack in the fabric, although I was surprised to see that enough of the lines and curves of my body still showed through to leave little to the imagination. "I guess I'm going to have to start wearing sweats everywhere I go to do that," I thought. The red shirt was a bit snug but was stretchy and comfortable. My only problem with it was that it made my boobs really stick out. I just wasn't used to showing them off and I really didn't like the effect it had on me.

"All that stuff is the same size. You can try it all on if you want. Some of it's bound not to fit, but if you want, you can just pick out what you want and if something doesn't fit, just bring it back to me. I'll give you your money back with no problem," Amy assured me.

"Just put it all in a bag for me. I'll go ahead and take it all," I said.

"Hand me those shorts on the floor and that sweater. I'll pack that in a separate bag."

"You can throw that stuff out. I don't want it."

"Oh, but it's so cute," she squealed.

"You want it? You can have it." I was glad to be rid of it.

"No, I couldn't," she said holding it up to her to see if it might fit. She thought better of and said, "I'll bag it up too. If you don't want it, you throw it out. It wouldn't fit me anyway, not enough butt to fill this out, you know?" She grabbed up the rest of the stuff and spirited it away to pack it up for me.

I went back up to the front of the store to wait for Amy to return with my packages and for Gary to come back from getting a room someplace. As I did, it came to me that Amy had said that she knew that Gary was someone special, since when I wondered. Where did she know Gary from and why the hell, if she knew him, didn't she know his name.

Amy was back in just a few minutes and I decided that there was enough doubt in my mind to warrant asking her the same questions I was formulating in my head.

"So you know Gary?" I asked.

"Me? No. I've seen him. He hangs around this side of town and I've seen him in the clubs around the strip up by the college a couple blocks up. He hangs out with that singer from that band, Tidewater. You know, that guy that's missing?"

"Cough. Cough. GAGK!" I was so badly shaken by the suddenness of being confronted with the issue of my own disappearance that I started to cough and strangle as my throat closed up and my mouth went dry.

"Are you Ok? Holy shit, you're turning white. Did you know him? Oh God that's it isn't, you know that missing guy, don't you? I'm sorry. Christ, of course you do. You're hanging out with his friend."

"No," I croaked. "It's OK. Cough. I'm OK," I said trying to recover. "I didn't know him. I've heard Gary talk about him though."

"Oh, that's good." She stopped. "I mean... it's not good. It awful. I mean... Oh God, why can't I just keep my mouth shut?" The bell over the door rang and she looked out into the store. "Oh good, here comes Gary!" She seemed relieved.

I was just stepping out of the dressing room and was greeted with Gary's enthusiastic voice. "Wow! Very nice."

"Please. It's just jeans Gary," I said doubtful tone in my voice, but inside I was really pleased. I told myself that I had to curb that feeling.

"Whatever. You look great," he said and just stared at me.

"You want to pay the girl?" I asked him and turned to look at Amy who was staring at Gary the way Gary was staring at me. "Oh boy."

"Huh? Oh yeah, how much?" he turned and asked Amy.

"What?" Amy asked.

Like I said, "Oh boy."

"What do we owe you?" he said.

"Oh, uh... let's see." She started to quickly tap out some items on the digital inventory system, there was a beep and she said. "Call it sixty-two fifty-eight." She looked up with a shy smile and it fell from her face when she realized Gary was not looking at her.

He handed her the cash chip without looking up and turned back to talk to me. "Thanks," she said sounding very disappointed, but Gary didn't notice.

I raised my eyebrows at him and he did the same as if to say "What?" I jerked my head in Amy's direction and he shook his head as if he still didn't understand, so I did it again. This time he looked over to see what I was jerking my head at. She had debited what was due from the chip and returned it to the counter and she was looking at him again with that dreamy look in her eyes and holding out the chip.

"Thanks," he said as he took it and did a double take as she held on to his hand as he pulled it away. I couldn't help myself I had to giggle at that. I could see Amy had heard me. She blushed and quickly let go of Gary's hand.

I took my bag of clothes and made for the door. Gary held the door for me and didn't look back to see if Amy was looking, but I did. She was day dreaming at the counter, watching Gary leave. The sigh I heard before the door closed was deep and long. I felt sorry for the girl, but I felt equally as good for myself. I wasn't alone for now. I had time to figure this thing out and I had the help of a good friend to help me. Things were finally looking up and after what had seemed like a thousand years of emptiness, I was feeling better and somewhat hopeful. Although it had only been three days, it had sure felt a lot longer than that!

We stepped out into the sunshine together and a recollection popped up, so sudden that I was almost knocked to the floor with it. The last time I remembered doing that with him was the day that I had decided that I was going to slide on what ever came my way, just five short days ago, and stop bitching about what I couldn't change in the immediate future.

Sigh. It was out before I realized Gary could hear it.

"I'm sorry about all this. I guess I've done it again, but this time I really hurt someone didn't I?"

"I still don't know what to say about any of this." I waited and thought and then added, "Except that you're not all to blame. Remember? We've had this conversation before."

"Yeah, and you were pissed off at me then too."

"Well, I'm not pissed now. I'm... I'm sad Gary. I'm scared. I don't know how to be a girl and now I've got to try the very best I can to do just that and I don't know where to begin. But I'm not pissed, not at you anyway. If I'm angry at anyone it's me, but if I spend too much time worrying about that I might as well open a vein right now."

He stopped at took me by the shoulders and looked me sternly in the eye. "You wouldn't do that would you?"

"I don't know," I looked right back and answered. He tried to get the truth out of my eyes and I guess he couldn't tell if I was bluffing or serious because he got irritated with me. To tell you the truth, right then I didn't know if it was a bluff or not.

"You shouldn't say shit like that. If you did something like that to yourself then it meant that I killed you. I couldn't live with that. Not murder. Not you." His head was hanging down and then it snapped up and he had tears in his eyes. "Do you understand that?" he asked.

I searched his eyes and said, "Gary, I don't think I could if I wanted to. It wouldn't surprise me to find that whoever designed me has programmed self-destructiveness out of this girl's mind." I reached out and put my hand on his chest. He laid his over it and I could feel the beating of his heart quicken just the slightest bit.

"Besides, I'm grateful you didn't run out on me like the others seem to have."

"They didn't. Well, not all of them. Kit and Frank were both out looking for you until I called off the search when I booked your room. Hell, Kit felt personally responsible for letting you get out without anyone seeing you. He hasn't slept in the last two nights and he looks like shit. We were all afraid that if the cops called him in for questioning about your -- er, Mike's disappearance, they would see his condition as suspicious and hold him. The guy is laid back and has a quick wit. He can usually talk is way out of nearly anything, but when you're tired who knows what the hell a person's gonna say."

I was touched that those three would do what they had for me. "Tell them thanks for me when you see them again."

"Tell them yourself, they're helping me move my stuff from the house to the apartment."

"Good. That's good."

"Yeah, well I shouldn't say this, but Kit made me promise so he'll ask you if I did. He said for you to trim your claws before he came in the apartment."

I whipped around with my nails splayed and said, "Oh he did, did he? Well I've got something for him."

Gary laughed and that felt good. If I could get him to lighten up then I could relax a bit too.

Then I remembered the girl in the clothing store. I was used to the way women threw themselves at Gary and he would simply carry on as if they were wanted nothing more than for him to offer them the time from his watch. As I've already said, most of us were more than happy to try to pick up his rejects. I used to try to get him more involved with the really pretty ones so we could double, you know, every once in a while just share some good times with friends. It was just more fun that way, but Gary was always looking for some higher love or something that he could never really define. I sure as hell didn't understand it, but when I remembered the way Amy had looked at him I easily slipped into my old part as matchmaker.

"Hey, you know that Amy chick back there wants you, pal!"


"Yeah, didn't you see the way she looked at you? The way she took your hand buddy?" I nudged him and tried to smile but for some reason this just didn't feel right anymore.

"Bullshit! She handed me back your chip Michelle, that's all. Oh yeah, by the way, here's your money. The room's deducted from it too, but I'll pay you back real quick."

I ignored his attempt to change the subject as I took the chip but plodded on. "Hell Gary, she almost kept your hand as a souvenir," I said, but my heart wasn't in it. I didn't really want to match him with someone else anymore and he never responded to my last statement.

We walked along in silence for a while. I thought about why I couldn't seem to get into the sprit of getting Gary "hooked up" but I knew the answer to that. No matter how betrayed and alone I was feeling, he was still mine. My heart had not relinquished its claim on him. I thought about all the other girls that had tried to pin him down in the past and I got a little scared. Was I suddenly getting my just deserts? Was I now one of them, one of Gary's "castoffs"? The idea terrified me. What about all the girls I had told I loved only to bed them? I shuddered as a chill coursed through me.

Thinking about Amy and her attempt to get Gary to notice her I remembered something Amy had said. "Oh, hell that reminds me. She said she knows you?"

"Huh? I don't know her."

"OK, that may not be quite right. She said she always thought you were something special. When I asked her what she meant she said she had seen you hanging around near the college with me."

"How the hell can that be? She just met you."

"No, me." I waited for the recognition, but it didn't come. "Me. Mike, remember me? She said that singer from that band Tidewater."

"Oh." Then his eyes popped open and he whispered, "Oh shit!"

"Yeah. Not exactly what I said but that was close," I said grim faced.

"What did you say? We have to be careful there, you know?"

"Don't worry, I choked when my throat closed up on me. It surprised me that's all, but she thought since I was hanging out with you I must have known me -- er... him -- ah... Mike. Oh shit. Gary, it hasn't been a week and I'm already fading away, aren't I?"

"No, you're not," he objected and stepped up to me.

"Yes I am... he is. Mike's dead now. He's dead because he can't come back. Oh Gary, we aren't going to get away with this. There's too much to overcome. You'd better cut your losses while you can and put as much distance between me and you while you can."

He looked at me with a silly smile and as he continued to look at me he saw that I was not joking. As the smile slipped off his face, he looked at me and said, "I can't do that. We started this you and I and I'm not going to make you finish it alone. I would never be able to live with myself, so I'm not going away. If you leave, then I guess I can't do anything about that, but I'll try to follow you. I'll stay in the background and I won't bother you, but if you need my help I just show up. I'll keep doing that until I'm sure you don't need me anymore. Then I'll go away."

"Then you're doomed, just like me, but at least I'll have some very good company on the way. Amy was right, you are something special all right. I don't know why I didn't see it before." I put my arms around him and gave him a grateful hug.

"You never needed saving before. I would have been there if you did, but you just never needed it before," he said as he hugged me back.

"Even if I was still... you know, a guy."

"Yeah. I just wouldn't have hugged you that's all."

The room was at what I considered an expensive hotel, The Concord. The Concord was a three-star hotel; not a place where the rich and famous stayed but nice enough for the parents of the students who attended the college, parents wealthy enough to put their children in college and to stay comfortably close to their kids when they were in town.

The lobby was large and comfortable with lots of dark wood and leather furniture. There was a bar and a cozy restaurant in the corner across from the desk. The elevators were across from the entryway. Gary lead me through the lobby and to the elevators, he punched the up button and a set of polished brass doors slid open as if it had been waiting for us.

Inside, Gary pressed the button for the fifth floor. The doors slid shut and the elevator whirred into life. Within seconds the doors opened again to a hallway that was quite and comfortable. There were no sounds from the rooms as we walked down the hall; the place was well insulated.

We stopped in front of room 5022. Gary produced a small card and pressed it into the card-sized slot against the wall. He indicated that I should press my thumb to the print reader and I did. It scanned my print and there was a click as the lock on the door disengaged. I had seen these security locks before. It will scan and unlock only for the print of the first person that allows their print to be scanned by the device. You have to have the card for that to happen. Now only my thumbprint would open the door. I wouldn't need the card key anymore.

Gary opened the door and allowed me to go in first. "Well, this is home for you for the next three days or so, until the apartment is ready, anyway."

I went past him and into the room, which was about average size for a hotel but was very comfortable. The bed was soft and I almost became lost in it as my fatigue began to overwhelm me when I laid down on it.

"Not yet, come on." Gary's arms were around my waist lifting me back up. "You have to get some food into you before you sleep. Then you can take a shower or a bath and sleep as long as you like. But food first!"

"No. Please Gary, I'm not hungry. I just want to sleep," I whined. My arms hung limp at my side and I did little, as I remember, to help him get me to the table.

There was a table in the corner of the room against the window, the drapes of which were still drawn closed. On the table was a large blue combination food warmer/cooler. How the hell had I missed that? As Gary led me to the table I could smell a wonderful aroma coming from within. He sat me down and lifted the lid on the cooler, which was set to warming mode. Gary reached inside and lifted out a plate covered with a plastic wrap. Underneath was what appeared to be grilled shrimp and fish over rice and black beans. Then, like a magician doing the greatest trick of his career, he reached back in to the cooler and produced a small loaf of bread, butter and fresh vegetables, the same as he had made for me that fateful night at his house. Last he produced a small wedge of some kind of greenish pie. Next to the table was a small bucket with a chilled bottle of wine and a glass to pour it in. "The wine will relax you -- help you sleep."

"My God Gary, where the hell did you get all this?" But I knew the answer to that. He had someone at the restaurant make it and deliver it while I was trying on clothes.

"Eat, don't worry about that for now. I'm taking care of that." He put his hand on my shoulder and gently massaged it.

"Well, you don't have to tell me twice," I said, unwrapping the plate with the shrimp.

"Look, I'm gonna go. You eat. If you want more just call the Red Fish and ask for Jerry. He's been instructed to bring you whatever it is you want. Don't be shy. Jerry's cool and he won't let me or you down, OK."

"You didn't have to go to these measures Gary, but thanks, I really appreciate it. You have no idea how much. I wouldn't have made it without you." I put my hand on his as it worked my shoulder.

"Eat," he said again and turned to go.

I leapt up and rushed to him. "Gary."

He turned and I put my arms around him once more and held him tight. Hesitantly, he put his arms around me and finally drew me in. I stayed there with my head against his chest for a minute enjoying the feel of someone close. It was the last time we touched like that for almost six months.

We broke our embrace, and as I returned to a well deserved meal Gary left. I ate and drank the entire bottle of wine. The pie was a lime-flavored pie and Gary was later surprised to find out that I had never heard of Key Lime Pie.

After dinner I took a shower. It was some time before I could bring myself to take a bath. I allowed the warm water to course over me and if I had continued to bask in its warmth, I might have fallen asleep right there in the shower.

Clean and full of good food, I was now slipping in to a deep food coma so I quickly dried myself and put on fresh underwear and a T-shirt. Then I pulled back the covers on the bed and slipped between the sheets. I pulled the blankets up to my chin, relishing the feel of the clean cotton sheets against my skin, and closed my eyes. As my lids met, I remember thinking that it was only mid afternoon, too early to go to sleep, but when I next opened my eyes, the sun had set. In fact it had been down for hours.

I woke briefly at times during the next thirty or so hours. On one of those occasions, I was vaguely aware that the cool/heater that was on the when I went to sleep was now gone and the table had been cleaned up. I felt that I should be alarmed. After all, wasn't I the only one that could get into the room? Yet, it seemed someone had come in while I had slept and cleaned up. I was still too tired to care. No one had disturbed me. If the cleaning bandit had wanted to hurt me, they had had a prime opportunity when they had been playing house with me sleeping just a few feet away. I just rolled over and feel asleep again.

I could have slept longer. It seemed easier and easier to simply roll over and go back to sleep the longer I stayed in bed, but I somehow forced myself to get up and test the waters of consciousness. I woke to find that I was I had briefly forgotten that I was now a girl, but I guess I hadn't really slept for the two days prior this long nap so I guess that the last time I had actually woken up like this was nearly three days in the past. Once I remembered where I was, I felt easier about what and who I was looking at.

Sitting up, I rubbed my eyes and, for a time, just sat there waiting for the cobwebs to clear. As they did I noticed that the cooler/heater was back along with a clean plate and a smaller box that I assumed was simply a regular cooler.

"What the hell?" I whispered looking around. I believe it was right then that my negative suspicions began to get the best of me. It was there I started to convince myself that I needed to put some distance between Gary and I.

I got up and made my way over to cooler. In the small one was milk and some orange juice, another rare treat, especially since Florida broke off and collapsed in to the Gulf of Mexico -- oh that must be about ten years past now. In the large cooler/heater were scrambled eggs, warm fruit muffins and some link sausage also somewhat rare, at least for the truly eatable kind.

This was the way time passed for the next three days. Gary came by on several occasions to check on me and make sure I didn't need anything. We passed the time he had to spend when not at work by playing cards and board games or just chatting. As I look back at that time I can see now that I was cold and distant. I acted disinterested in hopes that Gary and I could be more as we had been before all this, but I was so changed, not only in body and in mind but in sprit, that I suppose I just shut everything off.

I honestly believe that if Gary had simply said "screw you, there's no way you and I are moving in together" I would not have been surprised, sad, worried or you name it -- insert your own negative adjective here. I might have even been relieved.

However, Gary, much to his credit, was a man of his word from that time forward. I finally saw that apartment four days after he had rescued me from the streets. It was in what was called the renascence area of the city, a downtown district that, a hundred and fifty years ago had been old and known as the historic district. Now the city was rebuilding -- no, rather restoring -- it to its original glory of the late 1700's to mid 1800's. The building that our apartment was in had been an old three-story fabric works in 1870. The building took up one entire city block and our apartment took up half of that on one floor. It was huge. It was the biggest home I'd ever dreamed of living in.

Inside, a dozen large, ornate, Roman-style columns made of wood supported the ceiling. They had been stripped of years of paint and were now stained a rich dark color and lacquered to a shiny luster. The living room, an in-home office area and the kitchen were all part of one large open area. Large windows that had to be eight feet high and four feet wide lined two of the four main walls. Each of these looked out on a separate street below. All opened wide to let in fresh air when desired. The ceilings and floors were bordered in highly detailed Victorian crown molding and the ceiling was done in carved plaster figure pieces around the hanging wrought-iron gas lamps that had been converted to electricity. The place was as big as a gymnasium.

The bedrooms had been built on the east side of the building. A well build and highly insulated wall with a door-less hall near the entryway of our apartment led to three separate bedrooms. The master bedroom was the first that you came upon. Inside, it had two of the large windows that lined the two exterior walls of the main living chamber. It had already been furnished with a large bed with lovely wooden foot and headboards, a dressing table, chair and a wood-burning fireplace had been installed in one corner of the room. The room also had a mini-VID and music center in the center of a bookshelf that stood against one wall all at the foot of the bed. There was also a large private bath with tub large enough for four people and yet another window. I didn't need to see the other bedrooms to understand what was going on here.

"Gary, don't you think this room is a bit feminine?" I complained.

"For who?" he asked.

"For you."

"I suppose."

I stood there waiting to hear more but no more information was forth coming.

"This is not my room Gary."

"Fine... you'd better get to moving that furniture then." He turned and walked out of the door, leaving me there with more guilt than I had expected to have over this. I chased after him he was already out in the living room, about a mile away, when I turned the corner of the hall into the main living area.

"Hey," I shouted. The echo was incredible.

Kit and Frank were moving furniture through the front door; a couch it looked like to me but only Kit was in the door. Frank was on the other side, struggling to get whatever it was turned in such a fashion as to get it in the door.

"Turn it this way... No... OK now wait... WAIT! What part of wait don't you understand Mr. Malibu?"

"Hey," Kit shouted. I turned and could see him looking over his shoulder at me. "Damn it's good to see you." He set his end of the whatever-it-was down and started towards me and I turned to greet him.

"Where ya goin'? KIT! This fucking thing is heavy here... Ohhhhhhh! KIT!"

He came over to me despite the protests of the unseen Frank.

His arms were open expecting a hug. I lightly put mine around him but withdrew quickly after only a second. I think my curtness caught him by surprise, but he said nothing.

"How are you?" he inquired.

"Better now, thanks. And thanks for looking for me, but you should have known I'd be all right. You didn't have to stay up for two nights trying to find me."

"What are you talking about?" he seemed confused. "Wouldn't you have done that for me?"

"Sure. I guess I would have." I hesitated. "I'm just saying... well, thanks."

Suddenly, I wasn't sure what to do. I didn't want to seem ungrateful and I honestly thought I was just trying to act normal, as I had before all this started, but I was being met with cold and confused stares. Even with my friends rallying around me, I felt alone. All of them had gone back and I felt as if they were just going to through the motions of being kind. I felt crippled. I felt like I had been hobbled and everyone was holding a pity party for me.

"Look," he was saying. "If I could do something to make this better I would. I've always been your friend. You've always treated me with more respect than most. I'm sorry we got you in to this mess. Can you forgive me?"

"It really wasn't you that did this to me. I'm grateful for all you've done to help." I stuck out my hand to shake his but all he did was look down at the extended limb with a screwed up look on his face.

At length he said, "Well, yeah, right... whatever," and walked away without shaking my hand and left me standing there feeling foolish. I could feel my face turning red with shame and I started to turn back to stop him, thinking about how much I had always liked Kit. Besides Gary, he was one of maybe two or three others that I really called friends outside of the band. I looked after him as he walked back to the whatever-it-was and started to work with Frank to get it in the house.

"About time!" Frank shouted as Kit returned to the front door. "I need to fucking piss and this thing is in my way."

"Why don't you just shut up for while?" Kit snapped back.

"That's your fault BITCH," that small quite voice in my head told me.

"Well, OK," I heard Frank mutter.

I didn't go over to him. I was too embarrassed.

"Get that furniture moved yet?" It was Gary behind me.

"Eek!" I squeaked. "Don't sneak up on me like that! I nearly peed."

"OK, OK," he said laughing. "I'm sorry, but what about it -- the furniture?"

"You're kidding right? I can't take that room Gary. That's got to be the master bedroom. I'm not contributing here. That should be your room. I mean look at this place." I waived my arms around, "It must be costing a fortune!"

"Dad owns the building." It was said so matter-of-factly that I could only gawk in amazement. Gary nodded and bit into an apple he'd been holding. "True. He's selling these flats off as condos and he gave us this one. He's so happy that I decided to join the company, he would have given me the building if had I asked."

"Gave?" I asked.

"Gave us."


"You need to learn to shut up and accept when people do something nice for you. You take the bad pretty well -- you're strong that way -- but you need to let others feel good when they do something to help." He grinned at me. "That's advice," he said and walked off to see if he could help Kit and Frank.

On the stairs I could hear Frank Sr., Gary's Dad and Lou -- I would start calling him Louis before much longer for some unknown reason -- wrestling with yet more furniture.

I quickly chased after Gary again and this time caught him before he got too far away. "Gary, where did all this stuff come from? That bedroom suite, all this furniture, how can you afford all this stuff?"

"I've got a good job and I've got parents that want to help keep me on the straight and narrow. They're thankful that you seem to have straightened me out. It's the only way they know how to show their appreciation. Believe me... I didn't want them to go this far either, but like I said, sometimes you just have to let people do what people do."

"But Gary, that stuff. I can't accept it."

"No one's going to ask you to do anything for it Michelle, if that's what you're afraid of."

I scowled at him, "You know that's not what I meant. It's just not right. I can't pay them back."

"You really don't get it do you?" he seemed genuinely surprised.

"Get what?" I asked.

"They're paying you back. They feel they have a debt to pay to you. When all I could do was think of finding you and providing a place for you, they were worried. At first they thought I was jumping into a relationship too fast; that I was having some kind of break down connected to Mike's disappearance, but when I asked for a job, they stopped asking questions, both of them. It was amazing. Mom suddenly warmed to the idea of us moving in together. The next day she suggested this place. You see, I didn't ask for any thing except a job."

I stood there floored by what he was telling me.

"Be light of heart for now. No one's going to start shouting 'Margin Call,' OK?" He rubbed my shoulder with one hand; his was warm and rough on my smooth skin. It felt good to have him touch me. I dared not tell him that, but it did. I missed it already.

He walked away, confident in his stride, God he was so good looking, so kind. How is it I had seen him so differently before? I shook my head. "Oh no you don't! There will be no falling in love with him, do you hear?" and a small voice that was not my own said, "Too late!"

I was suddenly slammed with a memory. It was as if it had really happened. I could smell the memory; remember the tactile experience of it, the feeling of vertigo as I had looked down at a floor that was not there and furniture that floated over nothing. My head swam with the reality of the feeling and I fell over where I stood. I was aware that Gary and Kit were both running over to where I now lay on the floor. They were shouting something, but it seemed garbled.

I could see Erin on her bed in my mind's eye. Suddenly I couldn't breathe. "Dream a little dream with me," she sang.

"Gary!" I croaked. "The dream."

I woke on the couch. My forehead was damp and cold. Karen was there somewhere close by as I could hear her and Gary were arguing. "She has to go to the hospital Gary, I thought you cared about her?"

"I do Mom, but she can't go there not right now. Please don't ask me to explain. I can't."

"This is not right Gary. She... Oh honey you're awake. Are you OK? Gary, go get another cold compress for her head."

"I was just telling Gary you need medical attention, so I'm going to get you down to my HOV and get..."

"I can't."

"What? Dear really, you can't..."

"Please. Gary's right. I'm fine," I pleaded.

"Honey, if money's a problem. I'll be happy to pay." I suddenly got the irrational idea that she was probing for something, a hint or an idea that she was on to more than she was letting on.

"Karen, can I be honest with you?"

"Sure dear." I though I caught just a glimpse of a smile there, but I couldn't be sure. "You can tell me anything."

"I don't have any identification." I hung my head as if ashamed and in reality I was ashamed. Ashamed of what I had become, of the fact that I had allowed my life to get so screwed up, that I was now a cripple.

"But... But..." she seemed at a loss for words. "Everyone knows you just don't exist in this world with being registered, except for those on the 'fringe' and they are not pretty young women that look like they stepped out of a fashion VID some place."

"It's a long story..."

"I'd love to hear it." She started to sit down next to me as if I would just start weaving a tale to enthrall when Gary interceded.

"Mom? You want her to tell you her life story now? After she's had a fainting spell?"

Karen blushed for just a moment. She was used to charging in where others feared to tread so-to speak. Every once in a while it got the best of her. Thankfully this was one of those times and Gary had been quick to capitalize on it.

"Look it's been a long day," he suddenly announced. "She needs some rest."

"Gary," his Mom whispered. "We have to talk about this."

"Later Mom," he said sternly and she backed down. "I know what I'm doing."

"Thanks for your help getting us moved in. Really. Thanks. Lou, take some of those beers with you. No that's fine, go ahead."

Kit came by the couch that he had helped wrestled in the building and where I was now laying. He bent over smiling, "You OK?" he asked softly.

"Yeah. Look, I'm sorry," he held a finger up to my lips silencing me.

"I think I understand. Don't give it another thought."

"I think you know how I feel don't you?" I asked. He looked up at Gary showing everyone out, thanking them as they left, shaking hands.

"He's a lucky guy. Yeah, I think I know."

"Speaking strictly from a new perspective here," I said. "You're pretty wonderful too." This time he did take my hand and kiss it ever so tenderly.

"Second place isn't so bad," he acknowledged. "Once you get used to it."

I smiled at him. "So I'm forgiven?"

"Only if you promise me a dance and a kiss on New Year's."

"Done!" I exclaimed and with that he patted my hand and strode to the door. I remember thinking to myself, "I'm going to have to get him to teach me how to do that."

Gary gave everyone but Kit the bum's rush, then joined me franticly at the couch. "Please tell me you're OK. Please..." He was kneeling next to the couch and he had taken my hand. He looked about to cry.

"I'm OK. I just fainted."

"Really. If you need to get medical attention I can find it for you, but if you have to go to the hospital, they'll bust you for sure."

"I'm OK." I smiled to show that it was true, but my concerns for deeper questions keep the smile from feeling sincere.

"Whew. You have to stop doing shit like that. I can't take much more of it." He relaxed and sat back against the front of the couch.

"Your Mom knows something Gary. This was the worst possible thing that could have happened, my moving in with you."

"What are you talking about?"

"One day Gary and already the questions are coming. That's what I'm talking about."

Kit came in from the kitchen. "You guys want to rent me a room?"

"Yes," I said

"No," Gary said.

"Tie goes to the lady," he declared. I wrinkled my face at the sound of that. Now that everyone was back to being the way I was used to seeing them it was even harder to picture myself the way I had been left.

"You have a place," Gary retorted. "And what do you mean only one day?"

"I fainted and your Mom wanted to take me to the hospital. What if I hadn't woken in time? I'd be there right now, waiting to be arrested."

Gary ran his hand over his forehead. "Man. I have to think about this."

"What are you two talking about?" Kit questioned.

"Getting caught," I answered. "You saw what happed today. That can't happen again."

"Well, if you ask me, all you needed to do, if you're in fact not truly ill, is have an excuse. Low blood sugar, fainting spells, migraines, something -- not 'I don't know what's wrong.' That kind of answer just screams 'We'll then lets find out what's wrong.' Put me in a dress and call me Nancy... er, sorry. What I meant was... Duh!"

I looked at Gary. "No shit, Duh!" And he said, "It's doubtful that you're ill or ever will be. Engineering, you know?"

"You could even, you know, take some placebos or something just to make it look convincing." Kit sipped a beer looking proud.

"No Vodka?" I asked and he shook his head and held up his hand as if he never touched the stuff.

"I had to tell her that I didn't have ID. Brilliant!"

"That may be for the best. Mom and Dad have connections. You have to these days in order to make money at any business. Mom's the brain behind the business end of things anyway. Dad's more of the artist. He likes to talk big, but it's Mom that applies the grease to the wheels."

"How's that for the best Gary?"

"We still need ID for you, papers -- a pedigree if you will." I quickly leaped to all fours and started panting like a dog. Kit roared with laughter but I think Gary was made a bit uncomfortable by the act so I quit. "Anyway, I think she can get the ball rolling for us there, quietly of course, but it may be best that she knows. Otherwise she can't help. She maybe nosey but she's also helpful and will keep things she finds out to herself. Trust me."

And I did trust him. I trusted him with my life, which was now in the hands of his family and him. I trusted him so much in fact that I decided to tell him what had made me faint.

"There's something else Gary," I started sheepishly.

"Huh?" He turned to look at me directly.

"I've seen Erin," I said and looked down at my hands in my lap, more I think because I didn't want to see the reaction on his face than for any other reason.


"Did you hear..?" I looked up to see his face. Oh yeah, he'd heard -- and Kit had heard as well.

"What?" I asked.

I got nothing from either of them.

"I'm not crazy."

Still nothing.

"Stop looking at me like that. It's true."

"Maybe your Mom is right," Kit said. "She may have hit her head in the fall. She should see a doctor."

"You're scaring me Michelle."

"I'M NOT CRAZY!" I insisted. "She said that I was going to have to stay like this to prevent you from... from... Oh God! I am crazy," I wailed and buried my face in my hands. "I've gone stark raving mad. I can't handle being a girl!"

There were hands on mine trying to pry them away from my face. "Tell me Michelle. Tell me what you think she said to you."

"No! Go away, I'm crazy. I've lost my fucking mind."

"Please," he said tenderly. It was that tenderness that always soothed me. "I want to know."

I pulled my hands away from my face slowly and began with my fainting spell. "Back when you were talking about all this stuff from your parents. You said that it was for saving your life. That they were paying me back for saving you from God knows what. Remember saying that?"

Gary nodded.

"Since the change, I've had dreams. On the night all this started, when we snuck back in to my dorm room, I woke up and freaked out, remember? Well I had one that night. It was weird. I was in her room back in our old house but it wasn't her room, see. It was... oh never mind. What she said was that I needed to save you from something but she never said what it was. She never told me. Then she cast me in to a dress I couldn't take off. It was scary as hell. I have to assume that she meant that if I remained like this you would be saved."

I shook my head slowly. "I had forgotten about that dream until you started talking about how you believed I had somehow turned your life around." I reached out and took his face in my hands. "It was so real Gary. I could touch her, feel her in my arms."

Gary had turned white as a ghost.

Kit was uncomfortable too. "Wow, look at the time." He didn't wear a chronometer and there were no timepieces in the house yet. "Got run you guys -- er, and ah... gal. Don't get up, really. I can find my own way out." He did too. Kit nearly sprinted out of the apartment slamming the door as he left.

I was left holding Gary's face in total bewilderment. "Neither of you believe me."

"No, quite the opposite. Personally, I can't see any reason for you to lie about this. I also think that if you check that chair you'll find a spot where Kit peed in it." The thought made me giggle just a little.

"That means I've never been in control of this thing since it started. Erin or whatever wanted to change me into a girl from the word 'go.' I was set up!"

Then another thought occurred to me. "What if our friendship is a hoax, set up just so that you wouldn't meet an untimely end?"

"Now wait a minute," he started, but I cut him off. The wheels were turning now.

"But how can that be? Because if Erin hadn't died there would have been no one on the, quote, other side to have manipulate me. Unless --"

"Michelle, I can see where you're going with this. Your sister's death was an accident. There just can't be any forces at work here conspiring against and entire family to save one miserable soul, and you know that. Don't you?"

"I'm not sure I know anything any more Gary. I want to go to bed."

"Wait. Please, Michelle. Don't leave me like that. Let's talk about it. Do you know how irrational that sounds?" I was already off the couch and on my way to the bedroom.

He called after me to stay one more time. I simply said, "Goodnight, Gary," and shut my door. I don't know what he did after that for nearly twenty-four hours.

The sad thing is that when we did see each other again. I was distant and mistrustful. I spent a great deal of time in my room reading or watching the VID. I couldn't go out often during the day. It was too much of a risk. Get known in an area and people want to know about you. It's safer being a stranger believe it or not. Folks just don't want to have much to do with strangers. Consequently, strangers don't get asked a lot of questions unless they're acting suspicious.

Thus, the tension grew. Gary was wonderful, for the most part. He tried to involve me, to get me to take part in some of life's grand festival, but I refused. I even withdrew from taking my meals with him when he got home from the restaurant. Even after he would spend all day overseeing the operation of the kitchen and work late in to the diner schedule, he would still come home and prepare a wonderful meal for "us" -- a meal that I would more often refuse to eat until he had gone to bed in frustration; only then would I pick at it. My pride was growing by the minute and it's teeth were as big and sharp as that of a saber tooth cat.

The situation with my attitude wasn't helped by the fact that all I was doing was taking. I was no longer a member of the team. I was the sole beneficiary of the team. I was a leech, a sponge, and I felt like a freaking charity case. No matter how I tried to help I was told, "That's OK," or "Don't try to do too much," or "No, no. Don't worry about that. We'll get it dear." It made me want to barf and scream and run away all at the same time. I was beginning to understand just what it felt like to be a prisoner. I grew more resentful as time went on and Karen became more and more nosy.

She would come over in the afternoon and bring drapes or furnishings or something she had picked out that would be, "Just wonderful here in the corner, don't you think?" But there wasn't a question of whether or not I would like it or want it or feel like burning it in the fireplace. It was going to stay there. She might have well just said, "Get used to it."

It was more of an excuse, I think, to come over and pry. I had used quite a bit of my remaining tuition money to buy clothes, some personal things and was using the rest to contribute to the joint food supply. Gary hid the other bills and refused money from me when offered so I quit trying. Karen always wanted know how much Gary had spent on my wardrobe or at least pieces of it at a time to try to conceal the fact that what she really wanted was to know where I was getting money from.

I have to admit. She tried to be pleasant. I had to remind myself that we had once been friends. But Gary and I had once been friends too and that was quickly deteriorating in to the biggest pile of shit I'd ever seen.

I couldn't get the idea that my family had been destroyed -- no, singled out and obliterated, used as tools from the time of Gary's birth to make sure that forces of evil didn't befall him and cause him distress and pain. It was the idea that we, my family, as dysfunctional as we had been as a family, had existed only for this purpose. The thought made me madder than hell. Didn't my father and mother have feelings? Would my childhood have been different if they hadn't have been manipulated? Is that why we were kept in relative poverty? And what about my sister? She had been so talented. Was she breaking the mold? Did the forces that kept us down for the sake of "The Plan," as I was beginning to refer to it, see that she was becoming a threat and took her out or had she been planed to draw the short straw from the very beginning?

"No, No, NO!" I would tell myself. What kind of God would do that? Was there even a God? There was no force in the sky or earth that would do that to an entire family. My Dad had been at the controls of the HOV when Erin had been killed for Christ's sake. Was it part of "The Plan," that my Dad suffer the way he had as the one responsible for taking her life? Wouldn't it have been more humane for her to die at someone else's hands, more humane for her for him, hell for all of us -- or was that part of the plan too? With my parent's in everlasting repentance, it was much easier for the neglected son to vanish wasn't it? For him to become a tool of the "The Plan," damn his life anyway, this is what he'd been born to do. So why not let me be born as girl in the first place, if that was the lot I had drawn in life. Why make me do this now?

I wanted to find the architects of this so-called "Plan" and wring their celestial necks. I wanted to scream in their faces and let them know that they were fucking with the lives of human beings down there. I wanted to know who in the hell they thought they were. I brooded over this for quite, months in fact. Then I decided that I had completed my task under "The Plan." Gary was safe and I was going home -- I would find a way home.

I spent hours researching the possibility of overriding the error codes in that transmitter. I still had it, although I had had to go retrieve it from my hiding place under the Franklin overpass. Amazingly it hadn't rained when Gary put me up at the Concord nor had anyone found it and disposed of it.

I remember thinking, "Very sloppy. A couple of loose ends in 'The Plan'. Not a very professional job if you ask me."

With some time and effort I found a guy, an electronic engineer who was rumored to do work on "things like that -- for a price." It was dangerous looking for such a guy, going to see him was even worse. If I could find out about him, it was a certainty that others higher up would have access to that information, but this was my chance. I had about three thousand in cash left; not a lot, but maybe enough -- just maybe.

I can only imagine what Gary was going through at this time. He never complained. Instead, he buried himself in his work. We spoke but it was only off handedly. There were times when we would sit and play a board game or watch something on the VID. As I found out more and more information about the possibly of actually being able to get back to my life I warmed to him a bit. I began thinking that maybe he was as much of a pawn as I was in all this. Then I thought, "What if he were really meant for some sort of greatness in the future. Wouldn't your family be personally responsible for getting him to that point? Is that not a distinguished point of honor in a person's life, the person behind the person, so to speak?"

My friendship with him began to blossom again, to a lesser degree than before, but we were at least speaking. That was better than being cold stony co-habitants of the same apartment.

On the fourth month, I went to see Derrick Hitchman. I took public transportation everywhere I went. Frank and Karen had given us a HOV along with everything else -- they were much more wealthy than I had ever suspected before -- but it stayed parked in the building's underground parking garage. Gary walked to work and I, with no "pedigree," didn't want to risk getting stopped driving the thing.

Derrick's "Shop" was not far from the warehouse where I had been "born." I got off the public HOV and made my way along the line of dirty, rundown shops and storefronts of this once prosperous side of town. The weather had been warmer when I had awaken that morning, so I had decided to wear a skirt thinking things would warm up further, but it was already October and winter comes quick to this part of the country. The wind blew from across the harbor, blowing in from the North Atlantic and made me wish I had worn pants.

The wind swirled and blew under my skirt. It was all I could do to keep it down around my knees, never mind keeping warm.

I could hear another public HOV approaching from behind. I was so cold now that I had convinced myself to take the dead transmitter in my purse and go home; maybe try again another day. As I turned around to hale the driver down, my eye caught a glimpse of the shop, Hitchman Circuits.

I walked in to find a dirty, litter-filled place strewn with electronics; monitors, circuit boards, broken old style CRTs and Bubble transmitters. They lay in piles against the walls and in corners, stacked on chairs and on the counter where customers might transact business. There was what seemed like an inch of dust on everything with few exceptions. Some of the piles seemed as if they had been disturbed, perhaps raided for parts or simply randomly explored as if they hid some long forgotten treasure. Behind the counter was a single door. It was closed, but beneath it shown a light. Someone was home, presumably Derrick. The place gave me the creeps.

"Maybe this is a bad idea." I was just about to go and see if it was too late to catch that HOV when something -- it appeared to be human -- came out of that back room. This alleged life form was white and thin -- ghastly thin. It's hair hung in long oily tendrils from all around the sides but it was bald at the top. It appeared to be a thousand years old and walked with a stoop, but the thing moved surprisingly fast to be as old as it looked.

"Ah," it said in a gravelly voice. "A customer. And a pretty one at that." It leered at me.

"No, I made a mistake. Thanks just the same," I tried and made for the door.

"I think not. Why don't you tell me what you came here for?"

"Because I've reconsidered," I told him.

"You wouldn't be here, not a girl of your talents, were it not important. I can fix it for you." I went instantly cold. "He knows too. What is it? Do I have a fucking sign tattooed on my forehead?"

I cautiously asked, "Fix what?"

"Whatever that is sticking out of your purse," he replied pointing.

"Damn it! That could have fallen out."

"That's OK, really. It's not really broken. I'll just come..."

"Patch code transmitter, right?" I know I went dead white.

"Please... let me go home. I've changed my mind."

"No need to worry. You want to play with a skin. Find out how the other half lives? That's a dangerous road too, girly."

"You know, you're right. I'll just go home." All I wanted to do was get out of there.

"Don't you move a muscle sweetie. The cops watch this place you know. You come in and out too quickly and they'll think you're up to something. Maybe I should just hold on to that for you?" He plucked the transmitter out of my purse with the deft skill of a pickpocket.

I felt sick to my stomach. My head was spinning. My confusion of the last few months was now compounded by the fear of cops and this freaky little man that had my last link out of the game.

"This one's been used. It's no good girly. What do you want this for? Come on... tell me quick! You're dealing in a forbidden taboo."

I started to cry. I wasn't ashamed of it this time. I was badly scared. "I want to go hooooooommme," I wailed miserably. Suddenly, my life didn't look so bad after all. "Please don't turn me in. I just made a mistake and I want to go home." I swore, he could keep the thing. I'd never tell anyone I'd been there. I wanted to flee to leave to get the fuck out of there.

It put a long, bony arm around my shoulders making me shudder with revulsion. "It's OK girly. I'll fix it up for you. It'll cost you though. This way. This way," he said and made his way to the back.

I thought about making a break for it but the words, "I'll fix this for you" gave me hope. I followed him.

The back of the store was more of a war zone that the waiting area, if that was possible. He sat in a chair behind a desk that was the only clean spot in the whole place. He pulled a few wires from a meter of some sort to the transmitter and declared. "Short life battery is used." He proceeded to plug in a long red wire in to an interface at the bottom of the unit and the display screen leaped in to life. He turned to me and said rather than asked, "That's not your body girly."

"Unit 4 in the flesh," I said meekly.

"Can't help you," he said curtly and tossed the machine on a pile of garbage to one side of his desk.

"That's mine," I said.

"It's broken. You can't use it. Leave it here and I won't charge you."

"Charge me? For what?"

"Service fee," he whined.

"Please, I know you don't owe me anything but I have money." His face picked up at that.

"How much?" he sneered.

"Can you get me out of this?"

"I'll have to replace the battery. Won't work on regular power. Short life battery is used." He considered more to himself. "Then I can see the error."

"Unit 4 out of phase," I said.


"I said, 'Unit 4 out of phase'."

"You're damaged goods girly."

I didn't like the inference, but I couldn't dispute it. "I know."

"Thirty thousand to by-pass the error. Then, no guarantees you won't wind up with a eye where your ear is."

"You're kidding right?"

He studied me. "You were a man," he said as if he had just realized that the water he was drinking from was contained in the Holy Grail itself. I said nothing.

"Then maybe you'll wind up with a dick where your nose is. Does that sound like I'm kidding. You're damaged goods sweetheart, no telling where things will wind up," he turned back to his desk and dug out the transmitter, "but most of it will be in the right place. Besides a dick for a nose, then you could watch at the same time." He laughed an evil laugh that made me cringe.

"OK then, three thousand to..."

"No!" he shouted and turned on me. I said thirty thousand," he said very slowly with a lecherous smile, " and maybe some nookie on top of that."

I was floored. He wanted... SEX! Eeeeewwwwuuuuuuuu. I tried to focus on the lack of money. "I don't have that kind of money. I have three thousand. It will have to do." I handed him the chip with three thousand dollars plus remaining as a balance in good faith.

"Then more nookie."

"No. I'm not sleeping with you."

"Then don't sleep, only fuck." He was serious and he was starting to look very dangerous. My thoughts went back to a scrawny little Chinese boy that very nearly kicked my ass and I thought it was best that I not underestimate this man as well.

"Oh God. Please get me out of this and I'll be good. I'll never ever try to go against the grain again. Just get me out of here whole please." I thought as I tried to stall. "What do you have to do to that to get me out of this?"

What luck. He actually held the machine up to me to show me. I felt it was a sign. I remembered how fast I could move, but I was wearing pumps and it was cold and I didn't have a vehicle. Yet with all that against me, I snatched the machine out of his hands and ran as fast as I could.

"Heeyyyyy!" he shouted. I heard him clanking around trying to get out from behind his desk, the huge magnifying glass that had been mounted there smashed in to his head and I could hear the bell like quality of the sound as it hit him. Bong! The sound made me smile in spite of my situation as I dashed outside and on to the sidewalk and stopped, trying not to attract attention, and hoping that Derrick wouldn't want to either.

I turned and saw Derrick scowling at me from behind the counter in the waiting area through the widow of the storefront. He looked to me to be considering chasing me as an HOV pulled up and I climbed on and pulled away. I had the transmitter still, but I had lost the last of my money. It was gone and with it any hope of getting someone to get me out of this mess.

As I rode home that day, I clutched the device that was the source of all my pain. I hugged it like a teddy bear. I loved and hated the thing. Derrick had suggested that it could be done, albeit with a certain amount of risk but it could be done. The idea burned inside me, useless and out of reach.

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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