Skin Deep II: The Dance
Chapter 14: Second Wind
by Mark McDonald
©2002 Mark McDonald -- all rights reserved
The next morning Michelle sat at her dressing table preparing to attend the memorial service arranged by the William's peers. She was wearing a simple black dress. It was taking her what seemed an incredible amount of time to finish preparing for what had to be done today and again tomorrow. She slowly picked up the string of pearls that Gary had given her just last year as an anniversary gift. There was something about them she felt she should remember but couldn't seem to pull recollection of it out of her emotionally swamped brain.
They were modest pearls, not large or expensive. A simple single strand that looked nice. She had loved them. She was a simple person at heart without need or desire for a lot of flash. She rarely thought of herself as beautiful and all the jewellery in the world wouldn't have changed that. She had however felt beautiful whenever Gary had looked at her in that way he had. It had been like that since that first weekend. All she had to do was soften her eyes and his would glaze over. A deep look of contentment would wash over his face and she would feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.
How many times had she caught him stealing glances at her as she dressed here? She stared in the mirror in the vein hope that by some miracle he would be standing behind her...
Mrs. Shipley, you shouldn't be sitting here nude at your dressing table.
Why is that pray tell dear man? Is this not my home? She would turn slightly to a profile and cross her legs. He would notice the black high heels she was wearing and with a slight blush and smile she would notice he wasn't standing quite as erect as he had just been standing but she would make no mention of it.
Because you know I can't resist you... he would slip an arm round her waist from behind and bend to kiss her neck oh so gently. No, I cannot resist the need to touch you.
You're not supposed to resist Sir.
One exploring hand would glide up her soft skin and trace the underside of one breast. It that always caused waives of excitement to course through her reducing her to a puddle of weakness and overwhelmed nerve endings. It was different at different times. Sometimes at parties he would sneak up from behind her and just lightly teeth her earlobes sending her in to wild and unfulfilled sexual desperation. If he got to her before she knew what was happening she was his to play with for the night, and oh how he would tease her, driving her crazy until she was practically begging him to leave and take her home. On nights like this he would just gently suck on her earlobes until she began to shudder uncontrollably.
That's good then. I won't try to. She fancied herself being lifted up into his arms and carried to the bed. He would lay her gently on a pillow and lie down next to her.
She would be breathing hard already by this point but it's just what he did to her. She could not imagine herself with anyone else or he without her.
She opened her eyes and the fantasy was gone. It left her feeling empty and hollow.
I miss you Gary. The tears were close to the surface. I'm dead inside without you.
She shook herself mentally. She couldn't do this... couldn't think this way. All she could allow herself to think about now was just getting through the fake ceremony for William. Down stairs and outside, Kit was dealing with William's friend's school buddies and girl friends. Upstairs close friends, Jimmy, Frank and Amanda and a few others were arriving to attend with the family. This would be the first of two ceremonies. How could she turn them away? They were her and William's friends. For them her son's death was a very real thing. It would have to remain real now too. There would be no coming back for him. He was as lost as Mike Vello had been. At least she wouldn't have to continue to hide what had really happened from Frank, Amanda and Kit. But there were hundreds of others. She and Gary had lots of friends, they would all want to express their concerns and condolences at her lost of not only her son but also her beloved husband.
Michelle fingered pearls on the dressing table nostalgically as she tried to remain focused and unaffected by the by the whirlwind of activity in the adjacent room and down stairs. She absentmindedly put the pearls on her neck and fastened the clasp behind her. She looked at the strand on her throat and gently touched them. Michelle suddenly looked behind her expecting to see him there leaning against the door jamb, that crooked smile pasted on his face. She loved the way he always seemed too happy to see her. No matter what they were doing, no matter how long they had were together on a given day, whenever they were apart it always looked to her that he felt he had been away from her for a million years and was just so happy to see her again.
Game over everyone, I want out now. If I can't play the way I want to then I'm going home.
She was ashamed of the thought. But this is not what she had signed up for. OK she had fallen in love with Gary all on her own. No, she hadn't bargained for that. When they first walked back to her dorm room after first being sealed in a girl's body, she hadn't counted on actually falling in love with him too. She hadn't counted on not being able to get back out either. But she adapted. She took the bad with the good. Had she been able to see the last few pages of the chapter she might not have gone along so willingly after all.
"I still love you Gary. God help me I don't think I'll ever escape that either." She hung her head and fought back the tears. There would be plenty of those later. Not now. She didn't want to face the next two days in that state. But she was already numb from the idea that he was gone. The next level of hell was not that far away so why not give in to the tears now? Michelle won the fight with her tear glands and beat back the flood.
What is it about these pearls? OH NO! NO! NOT TODAY!
This time she was helpless to hold back the memory. It came crashing into her as an out of control HOV might smack into the side of their home. She was jolted by the abruptness of it and her body convulsed with the shock of it. In her mind she saw him on the rowboat on the lake. He was there right in front of her rowing out across the lake, she in the bow of the boat.
"I'm surprised." He had said. His eyes roved over her body that was partially concealed by a gauzy and sheer sundress covered with purple and red flowers on a white field.
"At what are you surprised?" she responded craning her neck back to allow the sun to warm her.
"That you didn't bring your parasol. You look every bit the nineteenth century lady stretched out over that bow seat the way you are." He said as he rowed. "I want to take you to that German place down the road tonight. To celebrate."
"Oh Gary, This is the first anniversary we've had alone in a long time. Let's just stay in the house and ravage each other." She lifted her head and smiled sweetly at him. "Doesn't that sound better than Sauerbraten and onion pie?" Gary smiled and suddenly tossed the ores over board. "Gary what are you doing?" She sat bolt upright grabbing at first one then the other paddle as they floated out of reach. Michelle almost went in trying to desperately grab the second paddle. Gary grabbed her by the white sash about her waist and hauled her back into the boat. She peered out around the wide expanse of Bear Lake fearful of what she might have to do to get to shore. The deeper parts of the lake scared her badly.
"Now you've done it," she scolded him fretfully.
"Now I've done it!" Gary mocked.
"Well, we're stuck out here now!" She said angrily.
"Mmmmm We're stuck out here." He said.
She softened. "No phone."
"Nope." He confirmed.
"They don't know we're out here." Gary responded
"No rescue." She said now mocking distress.
"No hope of that, no Ma'am."
She inched her way forward to him and pulled the dress she was wearing over her head. She pulled herself to him on her knees bare and beautiful and enfolded him in her arms. She lifted his T-shirt over his head and off his body and rested her head there for a moment listening to his heartbeat. It was then he slipped the stand of pearls about her neck and fastened them.
That was just one short year ago. The phrase echoed in her head.
One short year. One short year. One short year. One short year.
The reality slammed into her that time is only measured because of loss. If there were no such thing as death or seasons or aging we would not find it necessary to mark the passage of time. As it is, it marks the distance between ourselves and what we have lost. It also marks the perceived distance between what we have and what we stand to loose, our family, our lovers and our own lives. Were these things not an issue the passage of time would not matter, nay may not even exist. For it is only what we perceive that truly exists.
She leaped up and dashed to the VID and pulled up her personal calendar, and there it was, May 23rd, their anniversary. She held her head in her hands and rubbed it all around as if massaging away some massive migraine. She suddenly knew she wasn't going to make it to the end of the day. She was going to collapse or her head would explode but she wasn't going to make to the end.
"Michelle?" It was Kit. She tried to wave him off without looking at him. She cradled her lowered forehead in one had and waved at him with the other indicating that she wanted him to leave. She did not want him to see her about to fall apart yet again.
Kit took a step in the room, "No Michelle, I'm not leaving. Talk to me. Tell me something I can believe. If I think you're going to be OK I'll leave."
She turned and ran too him, startled him by throwing her arms around him and cried, "Oh Kit. It's our anniversary." The statement caught him as much by surprise has the realization had caught Michelle. Kit looked at the display and there in its little square marking the day of the 23rd was a graphic with balloons and smiley faces, streamers and confetti. He wrapped her in his arms and held her tight. Kit's heart broke for her. This woman had become such a different person than the harsh and bitter man she had been born as. It was almost hard to like Mike Vello at times. But he had always gotten along well with Mike. This girl, the person she evolved into was so sweet and tender and kind, it was impossible not to like her. She never had a harsh thing to say of anyone, her spirits were always light and happy. She behaved like she was a person without a problem. The attitude was often infectious to those around her. It was Kit's contention that she had been through enough growing up. That nature was making up for her misery the best way it could figure out. And that was by giving her an opportunity to make an entirely new life for herself with someone she was suited to be with.
But something had gone wrong with nature's course correction. Kit didn't think that anything like this could have been intended. Kit was not a firm believer in God or Karma or anything else that hinted of something of a supernatural origin. The pain she was being asked to face was unreasonable in Kit's estimation. Most people would never be forced to face this level of complex pain and loss, most would not ever have to sacrifice so much. Yet, deep in his heart he knew that people had and do face pain like this in their personal life. He understood that in the face of this overwhelming and point less loss her life had been and still could be a very good one. She must make of it what she could now, without Gary as she had done with him. It was the on going story of life. Some never saw this kind of tragedy while others saw three and four times their fair share. It made Kit angry however. This anniversary could have slipped by without anyone knowing. It probably would have in most cases in a situation like this, but her love for Gary was so intense that there is no way it would have gone unnoticed for too long. But to spare her the day, maybe two or three days, would that have been too much to ask?
Kit held her close to him. It was easy for her to blend into the illusion that it was Gary holding her. Kit used the same after-shave as Gary; he was roughly the same height and build. It felt good to be held. She shuddered as sobs racked her body. Kit didn't talk, he had allowed her to snake her arms around his waist. It was a dream he had had for many years but would never speak of to anyone else. She belonged to his best friend. He would never have done anything to destroy that trust. Besides, she loved Gary. He knew there was no hope for any other man to ever have her while he lived and she would be different, so much different now that he was gone. But still, it was nice to think about, if only for a second, what she would be like if she were his.
Kit thought, God rest your soul Gary, but I don't think you'd ever blame me for thinking about what it would be like if she were mine. I promise my friend. I'll make sure she's taken care of, and I'll never touch her. She's yours forever pal.
She snuggled in a little closer and calmed down some, her head resting on his shoulder, her face buried in his neck. "I'm not going to be able to do this Kit. Please figure out a way for me to not have to go this service today."
"Everyone will be expecting you Michelle." She obviously didn't like his answer, she slapped at his shoulder with one open hand. "I'm sorry, but I believe you're stronger than you think. Besides, I'll be there with you the whole time. I'll be there for whatever you need."
"You won't leave me will you? I think I'm going to need someone to cling on to today I think." She paused, seemingly embarrassed by her requested. Then she turned her angelic face to up to his and peered at him with those deep green pools. To Kit it felt if he were to continue to look in to them that he would just fall in and drowned. "You really don't mind?" she asked looking into his face.
"Mind?" Kit said starting to sweat a bit." I'd be honored to serve you in that capacity my lady."
She didn't reply at first. Then after looking into his eyes for a period she asked. "How is it that you never got married Kit? Good looking guy like you."
"You know, I'm just not the marrying type." He admitted falsely, shrugging his shoulders. "I like that lone wolf life style. You know I'm more of a rogue predator."
"Who said anything about marriage? I just think a man as sweet and as kind as you, needs to have some pretty girl taking care of him. Besides, I know you have the bank account to treat a girl right too mister." She touched on sculptured nail to the tip of his nose. He looked at her face, red eyes, mussed up hair and thought, God could this woman ever look bad? He didn't think so.
"If I find her then I'll be sure to let her know what you said." He smiled and he suddenly felt the need to get away from her. This was his best friends wife. He had always respected that, no matter how he had felt ever since that day the three of them hand run from the Police Services back to the warehouse that one grueling and horrible weekend. But he could never deny that he had loved her ever since then either. He had been in love with the sight of her the minute she came around from the bank of warehouse offices holding up Mike's pants around her now, too small waist. He had lightly flirted with her that night, playfully teasing her, but his advances had gone unnoticed for the most part. He might even have balked at the idea they had been advances if he had been caught or confronted. He acted disgusted later at what had happened to Mike when Rod had jeered Mike and defamed Mike after their brief altercation. He felt guilty about that the whole weekend. And it had indeed lasted all weekend. He had been forced to deny his feelings for how could he tell his friends that he was falling in love with a girl that only last Friday evening had been Mike Vello? What was worse was that Gary had separated her from the crowd and had her alone. Kit wanted to go and be with her but he had no real idea where Gary had taken her. Gary was alone with her someplace and when Kit got the Call from Gary to meet them in front of Mikes old Dorm and pick them up when they all met at the warehouse, he could see her sleeping on Mike's bed, her bed in the back ground. They had at least, slept in the same room together. When they did hook back up, they, Michelle and Gary were in love with each other. Kit had tried to act surprised and mildly repulsed at the idea of their cooing for each other, the whole while his heart was being dissolved. He had been morally wounded when he let his heart rejoice at the idea that Gary may have actually drowned in the harbor during that chase leaving him alone to care for Michelle. Then the incredible guilt at the disappointment he felt when Gary and Michelle came around the corner holding hands after she had tried to run from the building. His heart had never been so broken hearted. She was with the man she was truly in love with and he realized in a flash that it was the whole thing he wanted, her, her love, her body all of it! He would never be happy, not truly happy without every thing he knew Gary could have right then, if he only asked. Even with the knowledge that this was in reality ole' self-centered Mike Vello, that somehow didn't seem to matter just then. In protecting her and comforting her, he had fallen in love with her and hoped that she might choose to stay with him seeing him to be a fine and honorable man. He was even more broken hearted later went the fates had revealed themselves to all and Michelle was to be part of the world they were to live, forever.
What she did next surprised him, She cocked her head sideways and kissed full on the mouth. It was not a passionate kiss. It was a kiss of gratitude. It was for his friendship in the past and for the strength he was going to provide for her today. In her way she came to understand that Kit was waiting for the impossible. She would never speak of it and only hope it would not ruin their friendship, but she still wanted to reward her champion. A kiss, a simple warm and heart felt show of emotion would have to do. In such a time of sadness she would at least be able to bring a smile to the face of someone she loved very much, if only that smile lasted for five minutes.
Kit didn't resist. He held her tightly by her arms, which were held tight to her sides and kiss her back lightly. It was a short kiss, and even so Kit felt that it was more than he could have ever hoped for. He felt he could he happy with that and with the love of the friendship they shared. Because it would be easy to be angry that he was denied such a love. One might lose all contact by killing the friendship. Kit decided that being in her life in whatever any capacity would be better than losing her all together.
"We're going to have to go now." He said to her brushing back her hair with one hand.
"You really don't mind my being on your arm all day?"
"You're going to have to brush your hair first. Besides, who else could do it? Everyone else you know is married. I don't think their wives would like it that much."
"No, other women don't like me much for some reason." She admitted. It seemed to be yet another pain in her heart. Friends of her own gender were not easily found for her. Jealousy seemed to rule the day in the hearts of the ladies she might make friends with.
"I think you know the reason but I'll respect your modesty." Kit looked down at his watch. "Well, I came back here to see if you were ready. Let me take a look at you."
Michelle stepped back and Kit winked. "You look as beautiful as ever. As much as I hate to say this, it's time to go. You have people waiting on you. Not the least of whom, Shelly wants her Mom. How about if I start earning my keep and give you that arm to lean on that I promised you?"
Michelle, brushed out her hair, smoothed out her black dress and straightened. "I suppose I'm as ready as I'll ever be. Let's go." She whispered.
Kit placed a supporting arm around her waist and they left her bedroom together.
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It was the sound of rushing wind in the shapeless white void that woke him.
For Gary the passage of time had stopped. He felt that only seconds had passed, or had it been centuries? He found he didn't know or care. He was trapped in a place where he would be alone for all of eternity. It was, however, not just any company he wanted. If someone were to walk up right now, it would matter little to him. He would remain curled, as he was, silent and brooding. It was his wife he wanted above all things, his wife and his family. Without them there was nothing now that would turn his head.
Then something did catch his attention. The sound of the air rushing over him seemed so alien in this environment. He knew he had no real body now. That was someplace else being cut open to determine why it had stopped functioning, as if it wasn't completely obvious. It had a hole it. My God doctor! Here's the problem. Someone tried to shove a basketball through this man's chest! Even with that knowledge, there was still the sensation of air rippling over his hospital jonnie. The sound of it was growing more intense behind him.
He rolled to see what the source of this sound and sensation might be. As he turned his body slid in the direction of the noise slightly. When he got completely around there was a great gaping black hole before him. The distance from his body to the hole was still appreciable, maybe 300 feet or more but the enormous size of the hole made it seem much closer.
It was from this hole that the sound was coming. The hole was sucking the air from around him deep into it someplace.
Gary's body slid again. This time it traveled some two feet before stopping. Gary clutched at the surface he was lying on but could gain no purchase.
"Help!" He cried, but the sound of it was dragged into the hole. "God Help Me!" In response to his plea for help, his body lost another six feet of ground. "Arrrrrrrgggggggghhhhhh" Gary declared as he scratched and clawed for some leverage. "Please God! I know you must be angry with me for complaining, but I love her. You gave that to me. Now I can't help it." He slipped some more, maybe four feet. "Shit!" He declared then said, "Oooo Sorry God! Please don't suck me into that black hole. Please Lord! Please!" With that, the suction caught Gary's body full force and swung Gary's feet around toward the hole.
"Oh my God!" He shouted. "Not even with a please? What about 'Ask and ye shall receive?' was that just propaganda?" Gary lost nearly thirty feet with that one.
"OK! OK! I'm sorry, is that what you wanted to hear? Huh?" He paused and then thought. "No, wait! I'm not sorry. I'm not sorry at all for feeling the way I do about her. I need her! I'll never deny that, or my love for her for that matter. I love her and I'll never be sorry that she was brought into my life. I don't even care if I was to blame for it. In fact, I'm proud I caused it. Proud I tell you! I asked! I asked to have my wife back and what am I going to get? I'm about to be sucked into the black hole of hell? Thanks!
Gary slipped again and the defiant look on his face vanished. His chin hovered above the surface of where his body lay prone. "Please God, don't do this to me." He pleaded in a whisper
Gary's body finally took off across the barren white vista. It shot toward the hole as if it had been fired from a cannon. Gary tried to say two words as he was hurled toward the hole but was only able to get one out before the hole swallowed him.
Gary vanished within the dark recesses of black spot with a hollow, tube like sounding THWUMP. The hole collapsed immediately behind him.
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The sound echoed in the stark white room that was tiled from the floor half way up the walls. The walls continued with stainless steel from that point to the ceiling were bank after bank of sterile while florescent lights blinked into life. The room was as yet so quite that the hum from the computerized light ballasts could be heard through out the room.
Dr. Louis Berdini walked to his desk at what was nearly the center of the room. There case folders were stacked neatly on his desk which was an impressive feat to begin with since each file folder had been brought down here by a differently orderly. In most cases, other medical examiners would have preferred a Case Peg, but Berdini was stuck on the idea of a paper trail being the most efficient and reliable means of tracking and researching a case or problem. He could often be heard telling any one he could corner, "Hell son... if it was good enough for my Grandparents, it's good enough for me."
Richard Straton, Berdini's assistant for what felt like a thousand years now, entered the room and began busying himself making right all the things that he knew were out of place and would eventually drive Berdini crazy once they were noticed. Straton whistled and hummed as he worked moving multicolored containers of fluids from shelf to shelf and metal instruments and tools from one sterile box to various work trays.
Dr. Berdini reviewed the two newest cases on his 'to do' stack. The first was another HOV jet-wash accident, a young man that had been pulled into the turbines and spit out the bottom on takeoff. The second was Gary Shipley.
"What's that doctor?"
"That man Shipley died I guess, he's one of our guests this morning." Berdini said with resignation in his voice. "I hope this doesn't change quality of the food at the Red Fish."
Richard raised his eyebrows at the Doctor's seemingly callous statement then let it go. Yeah, I heard he had passed on my HOVs SR." Straton went back to his busy work while Berdini pulled Gary's cold corpse from the freezer where it had lay for the last 32 hours and wheeled it out to the staging area. He pulled back the sheet that covered the body and made a cursory visual examination of the body. A thirty-year veteran of postmortem surgery it didn't take long for Dr. Berdini to see that this man's color was all wrong for that of a corpse.
Out of instinct he lifted the cold and stiff arm to check for a pulse. In the past people had been mistakenly pronounced dead but usually didn't survive this long in the cooler. He patiently wait to get feel anything that might suggest that this man was still alive but after a few minutes he was convinced that he would not find it. He put the arm back down and geared up with protective clothing to prevent being infected by whatever had kill this man.
Berdini began speaking so the room dictation device would start printing paper copies of his narrative. "The subject, a thirty-nine year old Caucasian male approximately 6 feet in height, name Gary Allen Shipley, died from an apparent infection brought on by a wound received while in the custody of the Rouston Police. The wound was inflicted from a projectile fired from a .44 calibre handgun."
Berdini shook his head and muttered, "A handgun of all things. It like we're back in the middle ages." As he lifted Gary's right shoulder to examine the exit wound. What was there made him want to investigate a bit deeper. "Richard! Come here and hold this guy's shoulder up. Something's not quite right here."
Richard obeyed and shuffled over in his whisper quiet shoe covers. He took Gary's shoulder and arm from the other side of the table and pulled back rolling Gary's corpse on its side. From Gary's nose and mouth came a breathy moan that might have startled someone that had never been in a working morgue before. But Richard knew that sound to be the trapped air in Gary's useless lungs being forced out by the weight pressing down on them as he was rolled over on his side. "What do you see Doc?"
"I'm not sure -- "
"Maybe if you describe it -- "
Berdini looked over Gary's shoulder with a 'Let's remember who the Doctor here is shall we?', look, and then returned his attention back to the exit wound. Touching the wound with his gloved index finger he said, "It almost looks like there's been some advanced healing here." Dr. Berdini checked the charts and records sent down with the body. "He was shot -- No -- that's couldn't be right -- three days ago? OK Richard -- I want to check the entry wound."
Richard let the body roll over and Dr. Berdini ran a finger around the entry wound. He checked the records again. "I thought I'd read it had been a .44 and that's what is says right here. But this looks more like a smaller bore weapon, more like a .22. This is damned strange Richard."
"If you say so Doc." Richard agreed.
"I did. I do and once more. I'm going to have to have a better look at this. Are those sterile?" Berdini asked pointing at a tray of scalpels and clamps.
"Yes Doctor, They're still warm. Just came out of sterilization."
"Good," he picked out a blade and gently applied it to the skin. The edge of the metal sunk into Gary's lifeless body as a hot blade might part cold butter. But what welled up out of the incision surprised both the assistant and the Doctor.
The cut filled to the top with a pool of blood. In a second it formed a dome of blood and the incision was invisible beneath it except for its rough shape outlined by the bubble of blood. Then the pool of crimson gore spilled over the side of the cut and down the side of Gary's cold lifeless body.
"That's not supposed to happen is it Doctor?" the baffled lab assistant asked. He could not take his eyes off the amazing phenomenon. "Not unless -- "
" -- The heart is beating, No." Finished the Doctor. Neither man moved for the longest second in both their lives. Then both men were making for the closed VID that stood on a small portable cart that went everywhere the Doctor did when he was working. Neither man got to the VID unit.
Gary's hand shot from side on the table and grabbed Doctor Berdini's wrist as his hand was almost at the VID. Berdini's eyes widened as he saw that both of Richard's hands were free. There could only be one other person holding his wrist. Berdini allowed his eyes to follow his own arm to the extent of his wrist. There, clamped about it were the pale cold fingers of a corpse. Berdini jerked his wrist about trying to free it but the dead man's grip was surprisingly fast. Gary started making a "Muah Muah" sound but neither man could understand it. Richard thought hysterically but silently, He's going to sit up and say mummy! I know he is and that's when my sanity will head south. Yes Sir, south for a nice long vacation. Berdini was looking at Richard with that 'Ok! We have a situation here!' as he continued to attempt to jerk free of the grasp of the zombie. Berdini knocked over the entire cart of surgeon's tools. The crash could be heard two floor's up.
Richard was now badly shaken. "Jesus!" He whispered. Then he realized that the corpse had Doctor Berdini and he then screamed "JESUS! JESUS CHRIST!" He started to run for the door when Berdini shouted.
"Crash cart Richard!"
Richard was able to rope his bucking bronco brain, rein it in and subdue it. He understood that 'crash cart' meant a code blue situation. Someone was in a trauma situation. He turned to react as he had been trained to and realized that the man everyone thought was dead was really still very much alive. Not only that but had survived a day and a half in a freezer in the morgue.
"Crash carts are all upstairs!" Cried Richard.
"Well?" Berdini was saying as he freed himself from Gary's grip. Gary struggled to get up grasping at Dr. Berdini's wrists and lab coat again. Berdini fought to free himself, trying not to hurt the 'patient' but at the same time trying to restrain him all while calling out instructions, "Call up there and get us one, stat!" He spoke now the tortured man on the autopsy table, "It's OK Mr. Shipley. You're fine." He assured the former corpse. But the man continued to show a desire get up and leave, apparently unhappy with the treatment provided a paying customer at this facility.
"Mr. Shipley, you have to lie down." Berdini fought with the man to get him to lie down but the former dead man was surprisingly strong. Adrenaline no doubt, but it was odd that this man possessed this kind of strength after being sealed in a refrigerator for so long. Berdini could hear Richard negotiating for a crash cart.
Richard was in the inter-office VID shouting at Ronda the Chief NEOMed on duty. "Ronda -- I'm telling you we neeeeeed that Goddamned cart. This is not a joke!"
"Is one of your customers trying to leave without paying the bill?" Berdini could hear Ronda, a typically silly blonde giggling at her own poor joke.
Richard turned the VID screen toward the good Doctor and the still struggling Gary Shipley.
Berdini looked up from his struggles just long enough to say, "As matter of fact -- "
Richard, now out of the picture could her scream, "JESUS CHRIST!"
"I don't think so -- " Said Berdini, "But I have to admit, he's doing one hell of a good impression of Lazarus."
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In the living room a few mourners had gathered. Beth and Randy were together along the far wall against one of the long bank of tall windows. Beth had been crying and Michelle could only guess. It was about Gary or this service for William or any other of the litany of curses brought upon this family recently. Michelle understood she had not been attentive to her children's needs or pain, only her own. It was a horribly shameful and empty feeling. It would have been easy to make excuses but that's not what Gary would have done. He would have stepped in and quietly taken control of the situation. Without complaint, without making a big deal of it, he simply would have seen it as his job, his place within his family to be the protector.
She turned to Kit and said. "I thank you for everything Kit, but I'm leaning too much. I need to be more like Gary would want." She lowered her head. "I used to be like that, and I can't for the life of me figure out when I lost that."
She withdrew her arm from his and he let it go with a look of understanding on his face that made her want to kiss out of gratitude again. "Maybe I'm just feeling sorry for myself and I just have to get over it." Michelle took Kit's hand and gave it a light squeeze. "Thanks!"
Kit reverted back to his silent self and simply nodded with a sad and broken hearted smile.
She turned away from him and walked first to Beth. As Michelle crossed the room she saw that Beth noticed she was walking her way and quickly wiped tears from her cheeks. Randy stood and straightened out his jacket and smoothed out his trousers.
Randy took Michelle's hand and she was silent. She looked down to two strong male hands had swallowed hers. Randy could tell she was struggling to say something. The curtain was closing a new act about to begin. Randy understood that as long as she didn't say it out loud the future might be delay. At least it wouldn't seem as real if she didn't speak of it. Randy also got the feeling she was struggling for words. The fight to say what she wanted Randy to hear and keep her self from saying was becoming too much and she were breaking down. Randy quieted her with a few simple words. "You don't ever need to thank me. You are all my family, and I love you all so much. How could I not?"
Michelle brought her free hand up and laid it on Randy's cheek. "I have to say it anyway because it's all I can do. So thank you so very much for making sure that we are as together as we hope to be. You've come a long way with us recently. I -- ", She paused and then said -- "Thanks."
Randy tried to step to the side sensing that Michelle now wanted to talk to Beth but as he moved out of the way, Beth ran one hand down the length of Randy's coat sleeve where it settled in his hand. She then pulled him close to her and refused to let him back away. She turned to face him, "Please stay." she whispered. Randy nodded and Beth's hand stayed tucked securely in Randy right hand.
Michelle looked at Beth, "This may seem like a very stupid question, but is everything OK? You were crying."
"Just sad mother. Sadder than I think I've ever been before." A new tear leaked from the corner of her eye and Beth attacked it with anger and wiped it out of existence.
She took the girl in her arms and Beth, for a minute, released her grip on Randy's hand. "It will get better!" Michelle said. "It may not seem like it right now but it will."
"Will it mother?" Beth said. "OK then, it'll get better. But right now, you're right, it sure doesn't feel like it."
"I think I know what you're thinking. This is not your fault. Not one ounce of it."
"Oh yes it is." She said weakly. "Yes, all of this is my fault."
"No!" Michelle insisted, "You are an unwitting player in something I can't even begin to understand. You're a victim. If anything we should have told you everything a long time ago."
"How would that have stopped what happened? No Mother, this is my fault, and Dad is dead because of me."
"Beth -- " Michelle was aghast and Randy was vehemently shaking his head no. Michelle tried to assure her daughter that what she was feeling was not so. "Your father would not want you thinking things like that. Please try to understand and see -- "
But Beth held up her hand, the tears long since dried. "I just want you to know that I never meant to hurt Dad or you. I can't tell you how bad I feel with him gone. How much I'll always miss him. But it's going to be even harder to live with knowing that I was the one that took him away from you. I hope that you can forgive me somehow."
The pain in Michelle's heart was the largest thing she had ever known. How could she tell Beth what she'd done, the pain that she, Michelle had caused by putting that SKIN on Gary to selfishly keep him here with her, now this. She had broken her daughter's heart and led her to believe that she was responsible for her father's death.
Michelle wanted to tell Beth that none of what she was feeling was true. That in no way was any of what had happened over the last week her fault. There were ears and eyes about that shouldn't know what she wanted to confess. There were people here, all friends yes, but they were not part of the inner circle. They had not been there, they did not know. Still her need to relieve her daughter of this burden had driven her to the point of confession. Michelle was about to confess in fact when there was a pleasant distraction.
Michelle heard someone walk up behind her on the hard wood floors. She could hear the tap, tap, tap of shoes, women's from the sound of getting closer behind her. Instead of turning to see who was approaching, she continued to watch Beth and anguish over when and what to tell her so that Beth could release some of her pain and guilt. As she watched Beth's face, she saw it brightened just a bit as the sound of the foot steps got closer and came to a stop behind her.
In her mind she saw him. Oh God was this going to happen every day for the rest of my life? He was coming toward her in his black tux. Everything on him looked so tight and buttoned down. His graying hair combed back. He had this intense look in his soft eyes, like granite beneath clear water with autumn leaves floating on the surface. He was coming for her across the room. He loved her, his hand was reaching out...
Michelle gasped, as a hand slipped onto her shoulder, "Mom?" It was Erin. Michelle shook her head a bit in surprise, just a split second then turned with a smile on her lips.
Michelle reached one hand up and took hold of Erin's. "Hi honey." Michelle offered a sympathetic smile to Beth who signalled for her to turn and talk to Erin with a stirring motion of one hand. Michelle nodded and turned.
"Are you OK Mom?" Erin asked. The rough abrasive teenage selfishness was completely wiped away. What was left was a strikingly beautiful woman, a grown woman. The realization that her oldest daughter had grown up and now could pass as her sister was a humbling thought.
"You look all grown up!" Michelle said in total amazement. "When did this happen? I don't remember telling you that you could grow up."
Erin smiled, pleased that the recognition had finally come. She said nothing; instead she took her mother in her arms and hugged her. When the embrace was done Erin said. "I'm sorry if I've been a selfish brat Mom. This isn't an excuse but, sometimes it's very hard to realize how others see you, when all you want is what others have."
Michelle smiled at the cryptic statement. The puzzle of it was clear to her. She had felt the same way growing up and watching people that had so much take it all for granted. She had become guilty of the same condition and perhaps it was a human condition. Perhaps she had condemned that which she had no right to condemn. She had judged where she should have been judged.
Michelle smiled and Erin knew she understood. Michelle was about to reply when the front door chime on the VID lit and sounded.
"I'll get it Mom." Beth said.
She moved over to the VID and turned it on. There, on the screen, was Captain Martin.
Over Beth's shoulder, Michelle could see the image of Rouston's top cop. She mumbled "What now?" and lowered her head. She could here Beth was saying, "Yes Sir. No, please come up, she's here." Beth buzzed the door open and on the open landing below she could hear the steps of two people. He has an officer with him.
Martin came up accompanied by an older woman who hung behind. In his hand was an old style manila folder. "Captain?" Martin extended his hand and Beth gently shook it. "Is something wrong?"
"No, at least I hope not -- I'd like to talk to your mother however. "
Michelle turned to face the Captain as he made his way to where she stood near the far West wall of the living room. Behind him was a small person. The identity of this person was not clear to most in the room but Michelle was very familiar with her identity, even obscured as she was by the Captain's large and robust frame.
Michelle started to walk to the Captain, trying to keep the concern in her head from showing up on her face. The possibilities of why Captain Martin had brought Mike Vello's mother here circled her, menaced her and threatened her sanity. She had been found out. William had been discovered. Maybe both. She tried to smile as he approached Captain Martin but no matter what she did it felt strained and unnatural.
Oh God, It's never going to end. But she decided that it was going to end, today, right now it was going to come to an irreversible close. Her children could take no more of this. She would plead for the day, maybe the next to bury her husband and then face whatever waited for her. How was she going to handle this though? It was clear that he knew and had brought her mother as evidence so she would give her self up. Or perhaps this was a confrontation. Maybe her own mother had gone to the police.
Gary, I need you!
"Mrs. Shipley, " started Captain Martin, "I want to start by saying how sorry I am that my department had anything with the untimely demise of your husband. I really didn't want this to be a public admission as much for your sake as much as for the department. However, I'm not trying to hide from my responsibility in this matter. I failed you and your family. As a police officer, my first job is to protect the citizens of Rouston by upholding the law, no matter how painful or close to home it may hit. "
Michelle nervously shifted from on foot from another. There was a bomb that was going to be dropped here. She knew it as much as she knew she was really Mike Vello. But what else was there to do but wait. There was always hope that she was wrong, however thin that hope was, it was still there.
The Captain continued. "After your husband was -- " he stammered not wanting to say and finally found a way around the problem. "...well, we wanted to see if there was some clear way to define for you what had happened." Captain Martin now waited for Michelle to talk. It was a tactic that was used in interrogation. Offer a little and then wait. Usually people crack under the pressure of silence. There was nothing to crack here it was just force of habit.
Suddenly Michelle launched into a brief statement, "I know what happened. That man has had it out for Gary since his best friend disappeared. He's always felt that Gary had something to do with it."
"Well, Mrs. Shipley, there's more to it than that, and I know that you know that too." Captain Martin chided.
Michelle wanted to flee, the bomb was coming and it was going to land on her. How could she have hoped Captain Martin didn't know? Michelle was silent; Captain Martin could see the fear in her eyes so he proceeded.
"Something quite unexpected has happened. The focus of our investigation shifted when we found fingerprints in the rubble of a smouldering building about eight blocks from here. In a way it was very strange that we found them at all, they should have been destroyed by the fire that took the building they were in, somehow they survived. It wasn't until we started putting the two investigations together that we found a link between you and our long presumed dead local hero Mike Vello." The blood was gone from Michelle's head. It was true she thought; she had been discovered. "Are you all right Mrs. Shipley?" Martin was asking from the end of a very long tunnel very far away.
"Yes." She said and swallowed. Her mouth and throat were very dry. She wanted to cry, but she had no more tears left. She wanted to confess and end the whole thing right now. Yes! It's me I'm Mike fucking Vello. Now go and leave my family alone please. Haven't we all suffered enough? But her throat was too dry. Within seconds she was sweating.
"We found some photos Callahan had stashed during the original investigation. Since the case never went to a Grand Jury, there was no discovery process and the photos remained pretty much unknown." He held out the folder he had been holding out to Michelle but she refused at first to touch it.
Michelle glanced back at Beth and Randy. Both were silent but staring with wide-eyed disbelief. Beth shrank back from the visage of her grandmother and that of the Captain. Michelle knew she had to keep the focus off Beth and now Randy. They deserved to have a life. Everything had changed with Michales death. Beth could not go back, no one could go back. If she had to fall on her sword she would. She would not like it, but it's what a mother does. She protects her children.
She returned her gaze to Martin's extended hand and the folder it held. Still she would not take it. Finally his persistence won the day and she took the cursed folder. Her hand visibly shook as she held it. "I'm supposed to look at this?" she asked weakly, her voice was barley audible.
Erin came to stand next to her, as did Beth and Randy. Each put a loving hand on either an arm or a shoulder and Erin asked, "Mom? You don't look well. Do you want to sit down?"
She almost laughed out loud and thought, No need dear. Soon I'll be flat on my back on the floor resting, just be patient. She shook her head no and proceeded to open the folder. The hard copies of the photos there were of a young girl that had changed not a bit in twenty years of time. In front of her was the men's dorm at Rouston State University, a ghost now a building demolished long ago. She was making the right hand turn down the alley that ran behind the building. She wore a light colored sweater and a plaid skirt and beach sandals. The next showed her in the window of the dorm room of one Mike Vello. There was an old red marker line pointing to that very widow and the words Vello's room scrawled above it to prove that yes indeed it was Vello's room. The next was a reverse of the first, the girl was leaving the alley, she was moving directly across the street this time however not the way she had come. The next was of a man whose face she had not seen since that weekend. It was Gary Tonto. The man she had first made love to as a woman. The man she had in some ways blamed for trapping her current body.
Martin spoke as she looked through the photos. "I had not seen these before. It wasn't until we searched Callahan's office for clues that we discovered them." He paused and waited. "It was clear that you knew Vello. Callahan may not have been as crazy as we all thought all those years ago. With the emergence of the fingerprints I thought it would be best to take these photos to Mike's mother and find out what she really knew. See if she had ever seen you before that night. It was information that had never come up before because there was never a serious investigation." Martin had taken on the tone of an investigator now. He would not be deterred. He was waiting for a confession before he was forced to speculate any further.
"Your mother explained quite a lot when we went to her yesterday about these. Everything in fact and the picture makes more sense now. At least we know what happened to Mike now, don't we?" He looked down at the smallish Michelle. She was cornered. They had her, and more over, Captain Martin knew it. The fact that Captain Martin had referred to Rose as 'your mother' only now began to sink in. The impact hit her and her oldest daughter hard.
"Mom?" Erin whispered. "This is your Mother?" Even with the knowledge of who her mother had once been, Erin had not been able to put the pieces of the puzzle together that this was actually her grandmother standing here, perhaps it was also the malevolent banner she seemed to come sailing in under that had also been a distraction to this fact.
The full force of what was happening came down on her like the brick wall of a burned out building falling free of it's weakened supports. Even her noble idea of confessing to save her children had not brought the impact of what being discovered my really mean, of what confessing would mean to all of them. Michelle began to confess spontaneously. "Captain -- I -- I can -- Oh God -- " Michelle began to shudder. If she was going to jail then who would take care of her children. What would happen to Beth? Did they know about her too? She didn't want to cry but there seemed to be nothing else to do.
"Please don't get upset. I understand why you kept it a secret."
Michelle allowed a brief burst of hysterical laughter to slip out. "I bet you do!" she cried.
Undeterred, Captain Martin continued. "Being the bastard daughter of an already poor family in this world has to be hard. Especially when you've come back for some sort of a welcome or acknowledgement and are turned away for a second time."
Michelle looked up surprised. What was this? That was not the explanation she would have ever expected. She was so comically stunned that she almost corrected the Captain in his assessment of her situation but she could not find the words to do it. She stood there, her mouth open and her eyes wide with surprise.
Rose picked up the thread before her daughter was given a chance to ruin the story. "I told him everything after he came to me with the pictures. I had to. It's time to stop hiding Michelle. I told him how you found me and wanted to know why I had abandoned you." Rose closed her eyes and took a deep breath. When she reopened them she said, "I also told him that after I begged you to go away, after I told you that we had only just a few years before lost a daughter, that you tracked your brother down and told him that you were his half sister."
Michelle stood listening in absolute shock. There was nothing for her to say. She stood in silent shock, a state that others confused for the calm in the face of an overdue justice. The words were scary because to her. Loosely knit, her mother was justifying the hard copy photo-images taken by some device that had been across the street when all this had started.
Rose hung her head and said with gloom, "I also told him that Mike is still alive." There was a pause from those still listening. It was a dead but physical silence that everyone in the room could have reached out and touched. To feel it, however, would have been to touch a cold deceased and rotting shame. Rose played the part of a neglectful parent so well in fact that Michelle fully expected for either the Academy come and present her with her 'Best Actress' award or Captain Martin arrest her before it was all over. "I told how upset Mike was with me, with you, angry at the world when you told him that I had another child." She turned to the Captain. "He was already close to the edge after Erin was killed. Mike loved her very much. The idea that I had betrayed a family he had once believed in... he must have felt his entire life was a lie." Rose wept and to Michelle they seemed like very real tears. She was voicing the pain of an old wound for her, a wound that was there before she had been. Now the pain of it was resurfacing and Michelle could feel the hate she had once felt. She wanted to kill it. She wanted to smother it in the love she had found in her new family. She wanted Gary back!
When Rose had calmed herself she continued. "After Erin died, he got his own place and proceeded to get an education that we could not afford for him." She pointed to the pictures in Michelle's hand. "I have to admit, I was surprised when he ran off. He had put his world together. He was so talented. I always had a feeling he and his sister were destine for greater things. But when he trashed everything and just went away, well I knew what had happened when Gary started dated Michelle. I thought he'd cool down and come back. I couldn't have known how disturbed he really was."
"Yes," said the Captain, "Indeed."
"I had wanted to tell Erin and Mike how lonely I was with his father interred only a few miles away in a Canadian prison camp. I wanted to tell him that what happened had started out as a favor to make sure his father was well taken care of while he was there." She hid her face in her hands. Michelle wrung her hands at the story waiting for it to collapse.
Michelle knew that her neighborhood had once been occupied by the Canadians and had been converted to a concentration camp used not for soldiers but for able-bodied men that might have enlisted against them. Many were taken back to Canada and held. In fact, many were still there it was rumored. Mike's father had been held shortly after Mike had been born. It was a matter of public record. Everything else was conjecture. Nothing else was recorded or saved. Robert Vello didn't talk much about it to his kids. There were stories and both kids got the feeling later in life that they were watered down renditions of the truth. They never pushed thought. Each could see it was a hard thing for their father to talk about. Now, here was Rose was confessing sexual favors for her husband's safe treatment. Rose was confessing that it had turned to something else and resulted in a child, Michelle.
"My husband would not have understood. I loved him though and would have done anything for him. So I did what I felt I had to. God help me, then I realized that I was so very lonely." She uncovered her face and looked pleadingly to Michelle. Even Michelle was beginning to believe that her father was truly a Canadian prison camp guard. "It didn't seem harmful. This man, this Canadian guard from the prison camp brought food for my children, and medicine and clothes sometimes. They needed so much. It didn't seem wrong. I told myself it wasn't just loneliness. I told myself that I was doing this for my children, but I know the truth of it."
"Then I got pregnant. I went to them and asked for help several times but the Canadians at the prison camp thought it was funny. All they talked about was breeding the American's out of existence. After the boy who did it found out I was pregnant, he never came back. I never saw him again." Rose trembled with the shame of it and Michelle understood that at least part of this story was true. She felt it as certainly as she knew that the sun would rise tomorrow.
"Now I was pregnant with a baby by a Canadian soldier. My children were hungry and my husband was in a prison camp. If anyone found out I would have been stoned to death. Hatred of the Canadians was so harsh at the time that the people of Rouston would have killed me and maybe my children. I did the only thing I could. I remained out of sight until I had the baby and then I sold her." The last came out as a strangled whimper. Rose was silent. She could not speak. She was confessing to not just one crime but at least two capital crimes to protect Michelle.
"When Michelle came back and wanted to know why? I got scared. I never expected to see her again. So much pain I had caused. So much... So much... I never meant to. You must believe me." She was pleading to everyone now. It suddenly didn't matter how much of her story was true. The heart of everyone in the room was breaking for this frail little woman who had been through so much. "I had lost all my children. All of them! I had even sent one away by my own hand. When she came back to see if there was love there for her and to find out why I turned her away again. Such a beautiful heart she has and I sent her away both times."
Michelle went to her and held her tightly. "Shush... It's going to be OK now mom. Everything is going to be OK now." Michelle wanted to believe that. Here she was calling her mother 'mom' for the first time since she had moved out of the house as Mike. But Michelle wasn't sure. Her mother had exposed herself to prosecution by admitting this. To Michelle it felt a false admission, despite how horrifyingly truthful it seemed, no matter how much truth there was to the story, Michelle still knew where she had come from. And yet, a deep part of her could almost imagine that this was the truth. She felt so removed from her former embodiment as Mike Vello that she felt she could easily slide into that fabricated reality. Maybe that was a good thing, maybe that was what she was going to have to do.
"Mike knew I could never tell the truth and rather than run the risk of exposing me and his father to that pain he left." Rose explained.
"A pretty girl too." Martin said with a sad tone to his voice suggesting that a fate such as this would somehow be less traumatic for a girl of diminished beauty.
Michelle knew she had to play along now. Her mother had risked so much to set her and her family on a pedestal that would be beyond reproach that if she were to damage that credibility now it would mean the ruination of her entire family. "I don't remember much really. Most of what I do remember I really don't want to recall. I remember finding an opportunity to at a very young age to be on my own so I took it."
Martin nodded and waited, he wanted more, or expected more Michelle wasn't sure.
"Once I had been told by the person that cared for me that I was not hers. She told me that I would go to a home one day where good people would take care of me, but she couldn't let me go. She hid me until I was older and undesirable to be 'adopted'. As Mike became popular, she told me that she had gotten me from that family. I remembered that. I didn't want to be with R`anaa anymore after that. She loved me but not enough to hold me to her. I left her one night. I just left her."
"There was so much sorrow in the faces of the people around her. Sorrow she didn't deserve but she took it anyway and blushed. She felt like the biggest fraud on the planet listening to this, participating in this.
Michelle stood there with her mother in her arms and understood; she was being given her mother back. It was as much as Captain Martin could do to say he was sorry about what happened to Gary. "Nothing will ever be said by anyone, Mrs. Shipley. A girl shouldn't have to spend her life pretending that her mother doesn't exist." He looked at Rose. "A mother should have to deny her child either. The times were desperate during the war. You have a child left Rose. Be with her now when she needs you most.""
Rose reached out and touched Michelle's cheek. "Forgive?" Captain Martin quietly excused himself. He was an intruder here. He had no business being here any longer. Only Beth noticed him as he silently walked to the staircase and descended without another word.
Michelle felt the grip of her mother's arms tighten on her body. After the longest adventure of her life, after searching for the thing she desired most in either life, Michelle had finally made it home.
Behind them Kit, Frank and the members of the band had gathered around waiting for trouble and to bail Michelle out if there had been any. Tommy Wilson, the drummer for Tidewater whispered to Frank, "She's Mikey's sister?"
Frank nodded with tears in his eyes. "Looks like it."
"Man!" Tommy said in awe.
The mourners watched as a wrong that had been corrected settled into its natural place in the order of what should be, a moment of good out of such a terrible wrong. Everyone agreed, as they followed the white LimoHOV to the church, that Gary would have been pleased that even his passing had brought Michelle a rich and rare gift. Since it was that one thing that Gary had seemed to have lived for, it was fitting that the most precious of gifts be given back to her on such a day. Tomorrow, Michelle would lay to rest the bodies of her son and husband. Today however, she would have her mother back and that was could be a considered a true silver lining.
Conversation eventually shifted to the subject of what would happen to Mike when he was caught. There was no question in the minds of everyone that he would now be indeed caught. No one had really been looking for him for years, most assumed he was dead and there for looking for him would be futile. It had always been believed that eventually perhaps a body or some remains would surface during a construction project, or the digging of some road way or something. But there was no real need to go looking. But now that it was known that he was truly alive then there was no doubt that he would be found. For now it was only a matter of time.
Even at the church service the buzz was about what would happen when Mike was caught. Michelle understood that with the witnesses with the fire and the confession, no one would ever suspect that she had ever been anyone but Michelle Donavon then Michelle Shipley. She was finally free of the fear of being discovered. She was finally and truly Michelle Shipley, for once and for all. Never before as a more burdensome thing been lifted from a persons heart. She wished Gary could have been there to share it with her.
Pastor Jameison drew a deep breath as he stood at pulpit and surveyed this sad congregation of Christ Episcopal Church. Some of the faces he knew some he did not. In the front pew were the Shipley's. It had been he that had married that happy couple baptized all three of their children and had even become Godfather to Shelly. Michelle had been a very active participant in the church's activities until recently. She was a very sweet and giving woman, full of faith and belief in God and in Jesus. He had hoped, as he does with all his children, that he would not survive to see the demise of any of his. It never failed to crush his heart and cause him to question God's wisdom when one of his own died before he did. Please Father; forgive me my pride. Your will Father! Your will!
Now he was presiding over one he had baptized, a child, one that was of a good friend of his and a woman who was as he saw it, mighty in God. It broke his heart to think of it. Her husband too, even though he was not a "member of this flock", Gary had come for Christmas, Easter and Thanksgiving Mass. He supported the church financially with very generous contributions and had made it very clear that the church was included in his will. And there she sat, calm, meek and tender. She seemed so lost in all of this. The woman sitting next to Michelle he knew to be Mrs. Vello, a family friend most likely now considering whom Michelle had been married to. Next to her was Erin and then a young woman he did not know but had been introduced to as Beth Wright, Gary's niece and from the way Michelle talked. There was Randall Benton, William's good friend and classmate at Beth's side and then the youngest Shipley, Shelly.
He did not know how to proceed. He had been awake all night trying to come up with something to say and the words had eluded him. Now every eye was on him waiting to be comforted. His great fear was there was no comfort to be had in this time of loss. That those who had gathered here had done so to be given something he did not have to give to them, relief!
He began blindly with faith and hoped that God would show him what to say. His voice was strong and full of conviction but his heart was laden and weak. "My heart! My heart is heavy today." He paused. It felt he might cry. "The passing of those we are close to is always a painful and awful surprise. There are times when it feels as if we will cry forever and ever without relief from our pain and grief. It is such an overwhelming sadness that we feel we will surely die from the weight of it on our hearts."
"And yet, we do not die! We endure. Why, because God never gives us more than we can endure. He knows what we can stand. Even from the time of introduction to those we will marry or those we give birth to or will raise as our own. He never sends us those that, when they are gone, will cause us such grief that we can not endure."
"Right now you are saying, 'Oh no, this time he has done exactly that! God as sent us something that we shall surly perish from.' I contend that God has, by taking away, given us something that was needed in return."
"When I was eighteen, my mother passed away. I was on track to become an Air Force fighter pilot. I had my life planned out and I was taking the fast track to a life of danger and adventure. When my mother passed, all that changed. I felt that one incident had taken from me all that I had planned and worked for and loved, most importantly my mother. I was very angry. I would have to wait to enlist and go to work to support my younger sister and baby brother. 'How unfair!' I would think to myself at night. Why would God do this to me? Why would God make me raise my sister and my baby brother? I knew nothing of babies, or raising children. I want to fly! I want to see the entire world. I want the world to bow down before me and tell me how great I was."
Jameison paused and looked out on the crowd. All were quiet and listening. "One day I came here to ask Him that very question. What happened next still makes me pause and reflect. There was a child there, she was all by herself praying. She was maybe eight years old. She wore ragged clothes and was so very thin that I was amazed that she could still be alive. Instead of asking God my question, I asked why would he let a small child suffer so much? Why God would you do that? Then I heard that the girl was praying, not for herself but for her sister who I took to be younger than she. I went to her and spoke to her and found that her sister was sick. They had no mother and lived alone in a small cardboard city on the fringe. I also discovered that this young girl. Trisha was her name, gave all the food she found to her sister so her sister could grow up healthy and get out of where they were. But she had gotten sick and she didn't know where else to turn." The tears were welling up in Kevin Jameison's eyes now as he spoke.
"I talked her into taking me to her sister, Amy, who I found was running a temperature of 105° . She needed clean fluids to drink and some good food. I picked the girl up and took her home. Even then people on the fringe were shunned and dangerous to harbor. I didn't care. This girl needed help. I took her and got her temperature down. Feed and clothed both her and her sister. I offered as much basic medical care as I could but when Amy continued to get sick repeatedly, I went back to the church and asked if there was some place I could go to see a NEOMed. The minister helped me, he being a former EMT came, determined she had an infection and was able to provide antibiotics for her to take. He helped me feed the girls by giving me money from the church offering each week, money that was badly needed at the time and begged me not to turn the girls out or take them to an institution. God had answered my question of why by giving me two more mouths to feed."
"Then one night as I was huffing and puffing about the house for all my lost dreams I heard weeping. It was my sister Becky and our houseguest Trisha praying and crying to God thanking him to giving them me to take care of them. I slumped against the wall ashamed of myself for being so selfish. God had finally answered why. He had given me what I had wished for. That very last thing I wanted I was adored but for reasons that I never would have suspected myself capable of. And he had done it through the death of my mother. He made me an instrument of Life and not a weapon that would cause death as I would have been as a soldier and still I had what I wanted. Love."
Michelle sat and listened. Her gloved hand curled around that of her mother. It was going to be a little easier with Rose here. She could lean on her mother and not feel weak. That's what mothers were for. To everyone this service seemed full of power and thought. It had a message that everyone could take away with them. Michelle thought that even if this is not what I wanted, perhaps I can find some good in it.
"I enrolled in seminary school about a month later. My focus changed because of the prayers of thanks of two little girls that I helped raise. Becky and Trisha are now in charge of separate shelters for children and mothers alone on the fringe. Why, because God directed me, through the death of my mother, to teach them that service is greater than self. I don't see myself as the answer to anyone's prayer. But that is exactly what God saw in me. If my mother had survived, I wouldn't have been here to answer that call. I wouldn't have been in that church and Amy would have died. Amy now operates a nationwide organization that sells office supplies and turns the profits over to shelters run by my sisters. How many more children are fed and clothed each day because Trisha and Amy survived? I don't know. It's enough to know that God felt that I was up to the task. That he knew that what he was about to task me with was not more than I could handle."
From the back of the church Michelle heard the double doors of the chapel open and close, someone late for the service. The Minister didn't seem put off by the intruder so Michelle did not turn around to see who it was.
"I don't know what the road holds for us. We will have to find out along the way. I believe this however, that God never takes without replacing. His act of taking is to accomplish a much greater thing. We may never see it. It may always be hidden to us, but..."
Pastor Jameison was talking but Michelle could only hear him distantly. His sermon was lost in the click, clock, clack of the shoes of the intruder coming ever closer. Their shoes tapped on the floor and reminded Michelle about the day she married Gary in this church. She drifted off to that pleasant place in her mind where Gary still lived so vividly --
"Pssst!" Gary whispered after sticking his head in the door of the dressing room where Michelle was getting ready.
Michelle whirled around fully dressed in her wedding gown, "Gary? You are not supposed to be here!"
"You look so beautiful." He said it as if it hurt his heart to look on her and not touch her.
"Mmmm, OK, in that case I guess you can stay. But only for a minute if your Mom comes back and sees you here she'll kill us both." She turned for him, so he could see the whole kit and caboodle so to speak. "What do you think?"
"I think I want to take you right now." He said and Michelle laughed.
"That would be a little hard in this thing I think." Gesturing to her dress.
"You don't know the meaning of a little hard." He mocked back. "I on the other hand am more than just a little hard, and I'd like to know how I'm going to stand up there next to you with you dressed like that and hide that embarrassing fact."
She laughed hard at that idea. "Ooooo this is going to be such fun!" she said laughing.
Gary came over to her and kissed her long and hard on her lips. "Last few moments as a single girl."
"Yeah, It didn't last long; did it?"
"Regrets?" Gary asked.
"No, none. I'm over that Gary. I know where I'm supposed to be. I wish my folks could be here with me though." Michelle paused with a sad longing on her features. "But mom would never understand. Not to mention, I never thought I'd be wearing one of these either." She said as her hands ran over the surface of the wedding gown. "It's a bit strange."
"I still think she should be told what happened. I will be there with you. Hell Michelle, I'll tell her for you." But she had shaken her head no.
"No Gary, she couldn't handle it and then who knows what would happen. She might even report us. No, she can't be told! Not ever."
He sighed and changed the subject, "How the hell did you get that thing on anyway?" Gary mused confounded by the dress.
"I don't know? Your mother did most of it -- I sure hope I can get it off at the hotel. I think it's locked."
"Oh, I'll get it off. Have no doubt about that girl."
"I don't know Gary -- " She said sounding concerned. She took one of his hands. "This dress is awfully tight." She ran his hand down her side so he could feel how tight the dress with all its undergarments truly was.
"Now you've done it -- How in the hell am I going to be able to stand up there next to you thinking about that?"
She kissed him on the cheek, "Call it an early wedding gift." She said and smiled.
"I wonder what Pastor Jameison is going to say when he sees it trying to break out of my tux."
The memory was broken by the sound of those shoes. They were close. More trouble! What else would it be?
Then the shoes were behind her, and that's as far as they got. She could feel someone bend next to her. He could feel the man breath on her shoulder as he bent in close. Suddenly the man was saying something, whispering to her. He was saying unbelievable things, things that made her angry. How dare he come and tease her this way. Why would he do this at a memorial service for her son of all places? She was about to turn and slap him when she saw Erin at the alter smelling the flowers brought in for the service. She moved with fluid grace from one basket to the next smelling the flowers, smiling and being pretty. Then she looked slowly up at Michelle and asked. "What are you waiting for baby sister? Go get your husband. He's wondering where you are."
The Jameison continued talking, but was curious to what the news could be.
Michelle looked up toward the man with a wild look in her eyes. The man nodded slowly. Then he did something that convinced her. The man smiled. It was a warm and welcoming smile. Michelle understood that the man was telling the truth then.
Michelle seemed lost for a moment, then without warning leaped up and bent to whisper to her mother. Roses hands flew to her mouth. Michelle grabbed the hands of her children and whispered that they needed to go.
"Hurry!" Michelle leapt up and grabbed Shelly's hand.
"Hurry children, come on -- Hurry!" There was a frantic tone to her voice, urgent, as if she would lose some critical thing if they did not all hurry. Rose had not heard what was wrong and was looking very gravely concerned. She halted her daughter and held her face in her hands. She spoke quietly so no one else would hear and asked what was wrong. Michelle grabbed her hands and smiled tearfully and whispered it to her, mindful of what news might do to the crowd and there by delay her departure. She gripped her mother's hands and shook them for emphasis as she repeated what she had said. Rose appeared to be in shock as Michelle freed her face from her mother's hands and continued gathering children about her. Rose stood motionless as the activity went on around her until her brain over came the shock and a smile broke out on her face.
"What's up?" Beth asked Rose on the way out. Rose whispered in her ear as the crashed out the double doors the messenger had just come through. The mourners could hear Beth sequel with delight as the Shipley's left the building.
The Director of the hospital where Gary had not twenty minutes before come back from the dead, offered the information he had just shared with the Shipley's to Pastor Jameison. He was confused but clearly happy and shared the news with the others, "The Shipley's have had to leave us and I will continue this service for those that want to stay. But there is great news and reason for celebration even in the depths of sadness for our loss in William. As you may know by now, William's father was also injured by gunfire several days ago. It was believed that he had succumbed to his injuries day before yesterday. I was to preside at his and William's funeral tomorrow. I have glorious news. Gary Shipley it seems was pronounced dead prematurely. Mr. Shipley has regain consciousness and Michelle and her family have been called to his side. I would like us all to bow our heads in a prayer that Mr. Shipley recover fully from is injuries and rejoin us here so we can all tell him how grateful we are he is still with us."
Outside an old couple was reading the sandwich board next to the steps to the entrance to the church. Only minutes before Michelle, her mother and the four children had rushed off in their LimoHOV in the direction of the Hospital. "How sad." Said the old woman. "This must be the service for that Shipley boy. You know the son of those two that own that restaurant you like so much?" Her husband nodded sadly. Suddenly, the deafening roar of cheers and applause inside rushed out the still open door of the church. The old couple listened in confusion and tried to understand why so much happiness could emanate from such a solemn event.
Finally the old man said. "If you think for a second my friends will act like that at my funeral, don't tell them that I died."
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
"Ouch! That hurts Doc." Gary complained. He was sitting up in bed as Doctor Cole and Berdini drew blood and studied his diminished wound.
"Good! It should, it's sharp. I guess that means there's no nerve damage. Maybe you can go home soon."
"All rig -- OUCH! Damn it! From both sides?"
The two Doctors smiled at each other and then at Gary. Gary smiled back with the light-hearted teasing. He was just glad to still be around.
"I'd like to see my wife as soon as possible!" he told Doctor Cole.
There was a small, strangled whimper that came from the door. All three turned to see who had made it. There stood Michelle. Dressed in a black knee length dress, white pearls, black gloves and black high heel shoes. To Gary there could have been no greater sight on earth.
He turned to Doctor Cole with a surprised smile plastered on his face, "Wow! That was impressive. You're going to have to tell me one day how you did that. I ask for my wife and 'POOF' there she is! That's what I call service." Doctor Cole shrugged and went back to work.
From the door, Michelle bit her lower lip and was silent. Gary looked at her sadly for what he must have done to her. He was sad for the golden heart he must have broken. It was a heart he swore he would never hurt so very long ago. Even, he had promised, if she had never learned to love him again, he would never hurt that heart. "Are you going to come in?" he asked.
She shook her head no, quickly. Then said in a scolding tone. "I thought you had left." She had a stern look on her face but Gary could see that she was close to breaking down.
"I stepped out for a minute. I'm sorry." He said. "I came back!"
"Why?" she insisted on knowing. She was trembling. It seemed to Gary that he must validate the moment. He must set his wife's mind at ease that he had indeed only stepped away briefly. That he had had no real intention of staying away.
"Because I forgot something." He said.
"Oh, and what was that?" Hysteria was close to the surface.
"To tell you something." Gary almost didn't get the words out. His throat was clogged with the tears and sobs of a desire stronger than he could have ever imagined. "Happy anniversary."
Michelle started to hyperventilate, "Is this real? Because if it isn't then I have to know now, I think I can go on if I know now that this is all just someone's idea of a bad joke. If I walk in that room and this isn't real however, I'll go insane. Don't let me go insane Gary, please. Don't let that happen to me." She whispered as a tear slipped down her cheek.
"It's OK." Gary held out his arms. "I'm really here. Please come in and kiss me. I really missed you." Gary pleaded.
She stepped forward cautiously and Gary took time to soak in the fluid way she moved. He loved watching her move. It was like watching the ocean breakers roll in to the surf or clouds float overhead. There were a million complex movements to her body that all met in a concert of fluid activity that was heaven for him to experience. She would never understand how she could be so appealing to him; he knew this, he was just grateful to be able to see her one more time.
She reached out with one hand as she got closer. Doctor Berdini moved aside and Michelle looked at Berdini with questioning eyes. "You can touch him. I think he'll survive." Then she moved in on him and fell on him in the bed.
"Uooffff" he said.
"Oh -- I hurt you -- Did I hurt you?" She lamented.
Gary laughed. "No hon.. You didn't hurt me. Now, about that kiss."
When the kids showed up at the door of Gary's room, their parent's faces were attached to each other. It was something that you got used to in the Shipley household from a very young age. William had always wrinkled his nose at the though when he was very young. Erin had found it romantic and Shelly though it was funny.
Now Beth felt that life might offer some promise as she watched these two people that were so helpless alone but together could move mountains fall into one another's arms again. Alone they were only one half of a single person. They were no good without the other half of that person.
Erin watched and wondered if she would ever find a love such as the one her parents knew. It was not a selfish thought. It was a perfect wish. She had her father back and for now it was as much as she needed. She would continue to believe that this one love was the only perfect one out there. She was glad it had not ended the way it seemed to have.
Gary looked up in the midst of all that kissing and saw, over his wife's shoulder, his three children, all girls and the vision that he had prayed for since he had been arrested just six days ago. The world had seemed so black and empty then. Only one thing could have lifted that veil of blackness from his eyes. They were here now, all of them, his family. "Kids -- Oh God, how wonderful you all look. Come on. Come on in. Let me see you."
The three girls came into the room and stood around the bed. They reached out and caressed his arms and touched his forehead as if to confirm that he was in fact there. Michelle watched with a teary yet happy smile as the kids also came to the realization that Gary had somehow miraculously come back to them from a place where no one returns.
Doctor Cole saw that the room was getting crowded and motioned with her head that she and Berdini should leave. As they retreated, Beth took her father's hand. "I'm glad you decided to come home to us."
Gary looked with sympathy at his daughter. He understood by her body language that William was consigned to the life his Mother had been consigned to. "I guess that idea of mine wasn't so hot after all."
"It's OK daddy. A lot of good came from it. I guess that's the best anyone can ask for in any life. " She smiled a genuine smile to him and his heart lightened. "Besides, It's been a good day. Hasn't it Grandma?"
Gary looked up surprised. Grandma?
"Yes it has." Said Rose as she came closer. Gary hadn't seen her behind all the kids.
"Rose?" he asked and then looked at Michelle, Michelle nodded in her quick short head snapping way.
"Nice to see you again." He extended a hand.
"What? You aren't even going to call me Mom? We've known each other much too long for this kind of formality, and since you seem to have married my daughter, I would at least expect that courtesy."
Gary's surprise was deepening by the moment, but he smiled in that 'OK if you say so' way that he had and accepted what was being told to him. "Yes Ma'am -- er, a -- mom. Glad you could join us."
"Me too Gary. Me too." Rose paused and then said. "Michelle will explain later. It's going to all be OK now Gary."
"That's good to know Rose, ah... mom I have to tell you I'm a little confused." Gary said, now with a confounded look as he rubbed his forehead.
"I know you are. So was I. It won't last long." Rose said and gently stroked her son-in-law's head, comforting him.
Michelle lay there with her beloved. If someone had told her that to keep the illusion alive they must all stay in that little room together forever, that would have been all right with her. At that point in time she could not think of another time when she had ever been happier.
"Oh my God! It's true!" Randy's voice came from the door. They had all left him at the church.
"Randy! Oh no -- we left you -- " Beth trotted over to the door, took Randy's hand and led him into the room and next to the bed where she had been standing.
Randy seemed to barley notice. He couldn't take his eyes off Gary. He was transfixed on this site of this ghost. Gary watched as Beth led him in by the hand, then stood there her hand tucked neatly inside of his. He raised one eyebrow and looked at Michelle. Michelle nodded almost imperceptibly and Gary shrugged.
Randy was still staring when Gary looked back up. He said nothing to Gary. He only locked eyes with the man on the bed.
"Boo!" Gary suddenly said and Randy flinched. Everyone got a big laugh from that. Randy blinked, looked around and realized that he had been staring and laughed in spite of his embarrassment.
"I'm sorry. It's just -- " Randy started.
"It's a miracle!" Declared Beth. She looked with smiling loving eyes at Randall.
"Yes, I think that's just about right. It's a miracle." Randy agreed
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Gary recovered from his wound. The staff at the hospital was surprised at just how well the wound healed. It was as if he had never been shot. Gary Shipley was a medical anomaly. He had a bacterial infection that, unknown to the family, was so massive he should have died 24 hours earlier than he did. Coupled with the fact that in reality he apparently never did die, instead, his body had killed the bacteria in near freezing conditions for forty-eight hours and in that time managed to heal a good portion of the massive exit wound on his back. Recovering from the combination of an untreatable bacterial infection, hypothermia and an open gunshot wound would have impressed God. It's understandable that the staff thought it was a pretty good trick.
Weeks later the wound was gone. Stranger even still, so was his gray hair. Doctor Cole could not keep him at the hospital with such an impressive recovery. Still, she wanted to study why he had recovered so completely. If this was a valid medical discovery, then Mr. Shipley could be a link to some sort improved healing capabilities of the human body. The family was approached and the request was denied.
Gary cited the most compelling reason. We've been through a lot this summer Doctor, I'm happy you were able to do so much to make sure I'm still here. But I want to get back to my family. I have some lost time I need to make up for."
She didn't press. She was grateful that the Shipley's hadn't filed malpractice procedures against her for pronouncing Gary dead when he had been clearly alive. A paper called Hibernative Tissue Regeneration and Healing would later be written in the next century citing the theory was that the body had the ability to shut itself down to concentrate its energies on total and complete healing where massive trauma present. That sharing resources with other more demanding components of the body acts as a serious drain and hampers healing. If mortality is at issue the body has the ability to simply shut down those organs and resource hogs until such a time, as the resources of the body are more readily available once the critical job of healing is complete. The birth of this theory would stem from the ever-increasing number of people in the general population that seemed to have developed extraordinary and unexplained healing capabilities. Gary's case would be cited as a possible undocumented example of just such a situation. When the healing process was insufficient to ensure that life would continue, his body eliminated the drain of resources by other body components and rerouted all resources to the affected area except those needed for the most basic of life support functions.
The day that Gary was scheduled for release from the hospital Beth came down from her room and caught Michelle and Erin in the kitchen making a coming home surprise for Gary.
"Hi! Randy wants me to tell everyone he's thinking of us," she said cheerily.
"That's sweet." Erin said tenderly.
"Well, next time you talk to him," Michelle answered, "which should be in an hour or so..."
"Mom!" Beth said with mock anger.
"OK. OK." she said giggling lightly. "When you talk to him, tell him we missed him during the celebration today. I feel like he should be here. He's as much responsible for all the good in our lives right now as anyone." Michelle smiled at Beth. "You tell him that for us, will you?"
"He'll be happy to know you wanted him here." Beth said snatching a carrot stick from the tray on the counter.
Beth glanced around "Any word from them yet?" She asked meaning Frank, Kit and her father who were supposed to be on the way from the hospital."
Michelle answered. "Nope, not yet. VIS shows the HOV has left the hospital but I think Kit wanted to swing past his store. They had some sort of brief surprise planned for him there. Then he'll be home."
Erin asked a bit surprised. "I didn't know that. Is that good for him? I mean being just out of the hospital and all?"
Michelle shrugged. "Doctor Cole thinks he's ready to go back to work." She shook her head. It was not a lack of faith in the veracity of the Doctors opinion more over a reminder and a fear of what she had done to him. His rapid recovery was a glaring reminder that his fate was now sealed with hers and that of their daughter. It made her feel dirty and dishonest. She was resolved to tell him as soon as she could muster up the nerve to do so. She could not live with the idea that she had deceived him the way she had, not without confessing it. With that came the knowledge that confession would change nothing. The betrayal could not be undone. The confession could not fix what she had done to him and her fear of what he might do tortured her.
Michelle struggled with this distress shortly after Gary was pronounced alive. She worried about how to tell him. There was no question of hiding the issue. It would become obvious eventually. Worse it had become obvious even sooner than she had feared. If it had only been a matter of waiting for him to simply not grow old then she could have had some time to think out what she wanted to say to him. But his hair returning to his natural blonde huge put urgency on her confession that she hadn't expected. Gary appeared to be getting younger. Gary would notice that, had in fact along with everyone else that knew him and had come to see him in the hospital. Gary had however for reasons unknown lied about it to everyone that mentioned it, telling people that he had decided to color it back to his original color. The decision borne of his new lease on life and his second chance. Michelle didn't ask him why, she was too afraid to uncork that particular magic lamp, Michelle felt that it would not take him long at all to see how fast it was happening in other parts of his body, why rush the inevitable?
The idea struck her in her fretting and worrying that she had not worried about it before because she assumed he would not care about being trapped in a Gary SKIN since he had departed this earthly bond. Now however, it was most unlikely that he would ever depart that bond and she was going to have to explain that sooner or later as she was the keeper of the knowledge so-to-speak.
Michelle peeled carrot after carrot as Beth watched, concerned as the pile of carrots turn into a hill and then a small mountain of orange roots.
"Yes?" Michelle answered, her face drawn and severe in thought.
"How many people are coming over?" Beth asked.
Michelle did a bit of silent counting and said, "There will be seven, maybe eight if Amanda comes over."
"Do you think we'll eat sixteen pounds of carrots?"
"Mum?" Michelle looked down at the mountainous pile of carrots on the counter before her. "Goodness." She exclaimed. She recovered nicely though. "I guess we'll be having stuffed roast pork with carrot and leak sauce for the next few days." She did however stop peeling carrots. Erin and Beth looked at each other as Michelle wiped her hands with a handy towel and began to clean up the kitchen area.
On the stairs Michelle could hear Frank, Kit who had gone to pick up Gary from the hospital. "I'd better call Amanda, tell her to come on over, the party's started without her.
"Hey! That's my hurt shoulder." Gary shouted.
"I'm sorry buddy!" Said Frank.
"Oooooooowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww" Came a moan from the stairs. "Frank -- Damn it!"
She could hear Frank say, "It's sure good to have you back man."
"Amen to that!" Echoed Kit, the boys voices getting louder and closer to the top of the stairs. "Pity though." The men crested the stairs. "I was going to marry Michelle right after your funeral." Kit said smiling.
Gary narrowed his eyes at Michelle who was crossing the living room to meet him.
"Mmmmmm Mr. Shipley." She pressed close to him. "Welcome home."
"Kit here says you were going to plant me and marry him. What say you woman?"
"I need lots of attention, I have no defense." She said in a weak damsel in distress voice.
"Scuse me gentle men -- " he said to his friends with a sly smile. "I seem to have left something turned on the bedroom."
Michelle playfully slapped at him. "Tell everyone why don't you."
Gary eyed her one eyebrow raised in a 'you should know better than to challenge me girl' stance. He looked about and decided that the window would be the best place to announce his intentions. Gary went to the window and threw it open. Michelle charged him. "Gary! No -- I was kidding."
"You should know better than to do that Michelle." Kit chastised her. She turned and glared at Kit as she ran for Gary standing at the large open warehouse style window. Kit roared with laughter at the look she had given him and Michelle dismissed him with a waive of her hand and turned her attention to stopping Gary before he embarrassed her publicly.
Gary shouted out the window as Michelle raced up behind him. "GOOD PEOPLE OF ROUSTON! YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE!"
Below, people stopped and looked skyward to see where the strange and bellowing voice was coming from. Michelle reached his side and began to jump and attempt grab the window from Gary's hand and close it, but her height proved to be too much of a challenge for her to overcome get it and close it again. Also, she tried to cover his mouth as he made his announcement. All he had to do to defeat this was to turn his head and dislodge her hand.
"Gary, Shush. No -- " She pleaded. She was practically begging him now.
"GOOD PEOPLE, I HAVE RETURNED HOME! THERE ARE MANY THINGS FOR ME TO CONQURE IN MY REMAINING TIME AND I WANT THE GOOD PEOPLE OF MY FAIR HOME TOWN TO KNOW THAT MY FIRST CONQUEST WILL BE THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMAN IN THE WORLD, MY WIFE!"
Michelle tuned to Kit and Frank with a desperate and annoyed look, eyes wide and said, "A little help here!"
The two looked at each other with eyebrows raised, said Kit said, "I think he's doing a hell of a job all by himself."
"Yes -- He doesn't look to me to be a man that is in need of any assistance whatsoever." Frank agreed
"Right. Absolutely." Kit responded.
"Indeed!" Chimed Frank.
'Pip Pip!" Kit said
"Wink! Wink! Nudge! Nudge!" Frank said and the two broke out laughing.
Michelle could hear the people that had stopped in the park and on the sidewalk to listen below begin to applaud. Gary bowed and waved like a South American dictator after having just given a shotgun speech from his palace balcony. He grinned a huge face-swallowing grin. He closed the window and turned to see Michelle, arms folded, hunkered down in a closed posture tapping her foot on the floor impatiently. He took her in his arms and she could not stay mad at him if she had even truly been mad at him at all to begin with. She giggled and swooned at his touch. "Have you always been this difficult?" He said nothing but looked around the room, everyone was nodding their heads in agreement.
"Guess so." He said and smiled. "You know better than anyone."
"Most beautiful woman in the world?" she asked him tenderly.
He looked at his two older daughters, "Sorry girls. No offense."
Both waived him off and returned to the kitchen. Gary swept Michelle up off the floor and into his arms wincing a bit at the pain in his shoulder and then kissed her.
"You shouldn't do this." She said after he was finished. "You just got out of the hospital."
"Be quite." He said and kissed her again.
"Whew! Yes Sir." She said clearly out of breath.
He looked up at his buddies, "Michelle and I have a couple of matters to discuss." He told Frank and Kit. "We'll be back in a little while, have a few drinks." Both men nodded and said nothing. Instead they headed to the bar.
Michelle looked into her husband's eyes. "It appears I'm your prisoner Sir."
Gary kissed her again and walked down the hall to the master bedroom.
Inside, Gary laid her on the bed, returned to the door, closed and locked it. When he turned back to the bed Michelle was disappearing into the bathroom with something in her hand. "Where are you going?" he shouted after her.
"Just going to slip into some a little tighter." Don't start without me.
He heard her fumbling around in there and when she came out she was dressed in a pair of hose, a super short pair of tight white shorts and a nearly sleeveless low cut red top. She slunk around the edge of the door and was pleased to see the reaction in his trousers. She smiled and cast her eyes to his. "Do you remember this outfit?"
Michelle could see that he did, however it seemed he had forgotten how to breathe. He could only nod and conserve oxygen.
Michelle walked to him and took his hands and placed one on her derriere and the other on one breast. "I assume you remember what to do?"
"You're trying to kill me aren't you?" he wheezed weakly. "You had the insurance spent and now you're scrambling trying to figure out a way to make good on the policy."
Michelle shook her head. "I'm going to nurse you back to health. But I need some of what you've got first." Gary took the hand that was behind her and slowly slid it down her leg and around the cleft of her perfectly shaped rear.
Michelle was shocked by the power of the excitement as it filled her body. She had to breathe between her clinched teeth to keep from screaming out.
Gary gently worked the nipple beneath his hand and could feel it harden to his touch. Michelle's head went back and Gary attacked her neck with his teeth working across her neck from one ear lobe to the other. He traced a finger along the zipper of the shorts that ran up the back and slid one hand up her back just enough to slide it back down the inside of her shorts. It was a tight fit.
He whispered to her, "Light on or light off?"
"I really don't give a crap. All you have to do is get these damned shorts off me, now!"
"Gary?" She asked in a serious voice, breathing heavily
"Yes my love." He looked intensely into her eyes.
"Promise me. You'll never leave me again."
"I promise. You're stuck with me." Gary promised.
She exhaled with deep relief. She buried her face in his chest. She had her spot back for the moment. For that she was grateful. She would figure the rest out later. In muffled words she gratefully offered Gary, "Thank you."
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Time offers a unique perspective to all things that no other condition or situation can provide. So it was with Beth's justification for arguing to remain as she was in the early days of her confinement to her new body and her subsequent feelings for her would be rescuer and best friend that the stage was set for a dramatic turn of philosophy.
The seeds of doubt that her mother had planted in her head prior to her father's resurrection had been given fertile soil in which to grow. All they had needed was some sunlight. Once the clouds of grief had parted and things began to return to normal, the seeds took root and began to grow.
Beth did her best to stay with Randy at all times. That did much to fight off the glowering blackness in her heart that had started as only a flicker of self-doubt. She was happy when he was with her. She tried to make sure she was there with him as much as possible, asking to come and study or help her with chores or errands or to only come over and watch the VID or swim and sun bathe on the roof with her. When he was not there the doubt crept in. It advanced, as a poisonous mould might, slowly, with a bitter taste; cutting off the surfaces that needed the light of day from the sun. She would think of calling him deep in the night to reassure her. Entertaining those ideas would, however only create more doubt that she was demanding too much of his time and that he might eventually shun her for clinging on too hard.
At these times she would try to imagine what, if this had happened to Randy, would she have done as William? Would she have befriended a man that had been forced to live in the body of a woman? Could she have done that knowing what she had been like as William? She knew the answer. It was no. A resounding No! William had been shallow and spoiled. His good looks had offered him his choice of women. Why would he have ever have chosen a man turned female as a friend even if it had not been by choice even with the knowledge that the change of her body was totally and completely genetic? She was never able to get far enough to address the issue of weather or not William and a She-Randy would ever have fallen in love. If William could not have -- then how could Randy?
Because he's different from the way you were. He's honest and has integrity. She would tell herself at these moments. She would always be close to tears. Unlike you, he's a real man! Not afraid to let people think what they might, confident to stand up for what he believes in.
The exercise would work for a moment. Then her mother's words would come to her. The words shown in hues of angry red and purple against the black backdrop of her mind, "Think about what's fair to Randy." She could her the tones of her mother's voice -- " fair to Randy", " fair to Randy", " fair to Randy". There was never a more heart breaking string of words. If becoming female had done anything positive to her at all it had sharpened her sense of fair play between the sexes. It was a sense that, fortunately or unfortunately men were increasingly either born without or had little regard for. Some theories states that it is perhaps for this reason men make such fierce competitors.
Either way, Beth's newly ingrained feminine sense of fairness to the man she was in love with would not allow her to entertain for a single moment the idea of not telling Randy the truth about what might be, about the idea that her mother had planted there. With that she knew that he would never leave her side, no matter what the consequences. It was the type of honorable man he was and as a result Beth resolved to not tell him to save him not from himself but rather save him from his honor. It was this act of dishonesty coupled with her growing sense of insecurity that would be the planned downfall of their romance. All that was needed was opportunity.
That opportunity presented itself one week after Gary was released from the hospital.
In the midst's of the closely guarded company with Randy, the hectic and unexplainable rate at which Gary recovered from his catastrophic injuries, and Beth's doubt; Randy had resumed plans that not even William had been aware of. Randy was scheduled to travel to what was left of North Florida and seek admission to Florida State University.
Florida was a shadow of the state it had once been. Severe over development of the interior and over usage of the aquifer system caused the lime-stone walls of the largest underground system of fresh water in the Federal States to collapse in 2051 in a massive sink hole. When the saltwater rushed in it took with it the central part of the state in just sixteen hours. The erosion that ensued took everything north on the east coast from St. Augustine, west to just south of Gainesville to the Gulf and Fort Walton Beach south to Lauderdale in the East and to Naples on the west coast. It turned Miami and the Everglades into an island called Miami Key and left a sliver of state connected to Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi that had once been called the pan handle sparing cities in the north such as Jacksonville, Gainesville and Tallahassee.
When Beth heard the news her first reaction was to ask to go with him. Randy was a bit surprised. "You're not finished with school."
"I don't really need to finish. Please, I want to go with you." Her tone of voice was urgent and disconcerting.
"Relax, One week, five days really I'll be back right after that."
"You don't want me to go?" Beth asked sounding not really surprised.
"What brought that question on? Of course I would like you to go. But I want the board to think I'm serious about attending their school."
"Oh and bringing your girl friend will sway their mind to that idea?"
Confusion clouded Randy's face. He turned to her, the pain in her face was clear. He reached out for her and she took both his hands in hers. "I'm sorry. I guess I'm just burned out." She leaned her forehead against his chest.
"Tell me what's wrong." Randy insisted.
"Nothing." Beth said but she was suddenly gasping for breath. She giggled and exclaimed. "Women huh?"
"You're coming with me." Randy said.
"No. I'm being silly. I'll stay and be good." She looked up at his lovely face. God, I'm never going to be free of loving him. It's only going to get worse with time. It was then she understood that the longer she stayed chained to his love the more desperate she would become as time went at the prospect of losing him and going on without him. She knew she had to let go now.
"Please, I'm new at this. I just didn't think to invite you. We'll turn it into a vacation. We'll take a boat to Miami when we're done."
She reached up and adjusted his shirt. "I'll be fine. You go and come back. I'll be fine."
The discussion continued from that point through the evening but she did now waiver. Had he accepted her plea to join him the first time she might never have seen what she needed to do. Five days was not much time, perhaps she could arrange to be gone when got back and distance herself from him that way. But she knew in heart that she was going to try to have to face him eventually. If she didn't he would seek her out and demand an answer. So a week it would have to be to come up with the answers to the question he would ask. He would ask them too. She knew he would. He loved her and what she needed to do was get him to understand they could not be together, for his sake as much as for hers.
When they parted she lied to him for the first but not the last time, She claimed she felt as if she were coming down with something and begged off from kissing him. He was not pleased but, ever the gentlemen she had discovered him to be, he was understanding and did not press the issue. He confessed his love for her and turned and toddled of. When she closed the door, she cried for lying to him. She cried for the knife she had stabbed at the heart of his love for her, a knife he could not yet feel because he trusted her so. She cried because as it turned out William was still very much alive inside her and she hated it. She hated it worse than anything.
Over the next two days she did become physically ill. It felt as if she were dying and Michelle tended her as best she could but the vomiting and malaise Beth suffered from scared Michelle and Gary both. She refused to eat. She would not leave her bedroom, and she refused company or medical attention at first, even Randy's calls were not taken. Her mother would come and tell her when he was on the VID, going to her own VID and positioning it so she could talk to him. She would beg her mother not to let Randy see her like this and eventually Michelle always gave in. Each time Randy would hang up with a message that he loved Beth, "Please tell her for me."
"Yes Randy, I will." But Michelle would not offer a return message where none had been offered.
The vomiting would get bad after these calls and Gary suspected that something else was up but could get neither Michelle to speculate or Beth to tell him what it might be. Gary bided his time and observed. He could not, after all, tell people how to feel. He would offer advice when he understood what was going on but not until. It would be a risk to offer advice that might be false if he didn't understand the situation thoroughly. In the mean time he could only sit and watch as Beth continued to move from one suffering to another with no sight of peace in sight.
Randy left two days after Beth got sick and it was not lost on him that she had not wanted to talk to him before he left. His pain was immense. He could not concentrate on the entrance exam and consequently failed to gain entrance to Florida State. His grades were so bad on the examination that despite an appeal and a review of his scholastic career, he was denied entry.
He found he didn't care. If he didn't have Beth all the education and money in the world wasn't going to save him or make him comfortable. He returned before a verdict was made on his appeal though he knew he was not showing the board what they wanted to see. He did not have the commitment he needed without Beth at his side to keep him strong.
On his return however, he found she had cooled to him. She had recovered from whatever illness had gripped her but something had decidedly changed in that time. He had gone to embrace her she had gracefully shifted out of his reach. He had seen something in her eyes at that moment. Was it pain or anger? He had done something, perhaps he had not pushed hard enough to convince her that he wanted her with him. Perhaps it was the way he had left when she was still sick. Whatever it was she would not revel it. She would tell him only that perhaps since he would be going away and she would have to stay for one more year that a brief time apart would be best.
That's what it had come down to at the end of that first evening back. Randy was so crushed he did not think he would live through the pain of it. Still, he did not want to see him hurting. He did everything he could to make sure she felt no more guilt than she imposed upon herself. He would not add to any feelings worry or despair on how to end a relationship she was not happy being involved in. All he could think as he left that night was "If you love her let, her go. If you love her, let her go."
There were four weeks left in the school year. Randy had intended to ask Beth to the prom the next week. He did not. Instead, he reverted back to his more bookish character of before but could not completely retreat back into his old persona. Too many had seen who he really was. And with Beth not clinging to him as she had before, a few of the girls saw him as fair game.
These girls, one of whom was Geri Carson, took great pleasure in playing up to Randy when she could in front of Beth when she saw that Beth was near by or passing in the hall. At first Randy failed to even recognize the advances that were usually most prevalent between classes or in Mr. Lynden's Class. After a while however, he would see Beth lower her head and rush off trying hard not to be noticed. He would turn to Geri, becoming angry and shout. "What are you trying to do?" He would distance himself and Geri would try to close the distance.
"I'm just trying to comfort you Randy. Please. I just want to be your friend." She would pout.
"God Damn it, don't you lie to me Geri. You do that when Beth walks by. You know how I feel about her."
"I -- I -- " she stammered the last time it ever happened.
"Go! Get away from me. You make me feel filthy." That last admonition was enough to ring through the school and turned Randy into a leper in the eyes of the female population. He didn't care. He didn't want them, any of them. He never had.
The night of the prom rolled around, marking that the end of the school year was in sight. Randy was graduating with honors. Beth would repeat a senior year that had been wiped out for her when her ID came back an entire year younger than William had been.
That night, Michelle sat at her dressing table brushing her long auburn hair when Beth silently approached and stood quietly within the opening of the bedroom door. She was not sure what she wanted to; only sure that something needed to be said. She searched her soul for the idea that needed to be expressed and tried to separate them from her feelings, feelings that had become quite complex in recent weeks.
She was a swirl of feelings now. She seemed only to exist in her feelings. It was a wonderful and scary thing for her. It was a place she had not traveled to often as William. That place in her soul had been opened and could now not be closed. With Randy not there to fill the void, she was afraid that she would not ever feel the one thing she desired above all else. Being loved.
Beth wore blue jeans, a pink tee and vinyl sneakers and tennis socks. Her hair was pulled back away from her face in a ponytail with a black velvet tie.
She was about to forget the whole thing and turn to leave when her mother saw her standing in the doorway. "Hi honey." Her mother's tone was cheerful and why not. She had her husband back; her home and family were safe now.
Beth exhaled without thinking how it would sound and wished only afterward that she had not done that.
"Something wrong?" Michelle asked knowing perfectly well the conflict that raged within her daughter. There was nothing she could say to make it better. Beth had to find her comfort zone on her own. Michelle would never cease to be there for her, but Beth's confidence in her femininity had to come from within Beth.
"No, not really." She lied. She was keenly aware that she had the power to broadcast negative feeling to others. That was something she wanted desperately not to do.
"You can tell me. We have no secrets you and I. I want to keep it that way." Michelle encouraged.
"I..." Beth started and then in exasperation exhaled again and threw her arms down by her side. "I don't know!" she whined.
"Let me see if I can help, OK?" Beth nodded miserably. "OK, stop me if I start getting cold." Beth nodded again.
"I think you've accepted what's happened to some degree." Beth said nothing, she only closed her eyes, tilted her head toward the ceiling, exhaled nosily again and opened her eyes.
"You're feeling lost." Beth looked at her mother and opened her mouth as if to say something but her mother stopped her by holding up her hand, "Wait! In fact, you're feeling a lot of new things and you're overwhelmed."
Beth bit her lip and nodded. "You're upset too." Michelle said.
"How do you know these things Mom?" Beth asked. Michelle could tell she was on the verge of an emotional break down. She left her place at her dressing table and went to the child. The smell of perfume, powder and satin filled the air as she came closer. To Michelle Beth sounded edgy.
"Mom. How can he love me? How? Please tell me because I'm going crazy. If there is a way I can have him and not drive him completely insane then I need to try, before it's too late."
"You think it's too late then do you?" Michelle asked amused.
"This isn't funny Mother. God -- Why did I think I could come to anyone with this problem?" Beth exploded.
"OK, I don't think it's funny." Michelle said. "I only smile because you don't have much faith in the man you claim to love. Or his feelings for you."
"Mom, I know he cares about me."
Michelle stood back surprised. "You really don't see how he looks at you do you?"
"What do you mean, how he looks at me?" Beth asked.
"I mean that lost look he has when you come into the room. Like he's lost out around the third moon of Jupiter. Honey, he loves you. And yes, against my better wishes, I think you need him. Relax and give him a call."
Beth broke away from her mother and in animated gestures said, "How can I relax Mother? I mean... I mean... All my friends are at the prom; hell Mom, he's probably at the prom! What the hell am I supposed to do? Go alone?"
Michelle face showed deep concern. "No dear."
"I'm what if later I'm not good enough for him Mom?"
"Beth -- "
"No Mom, if he cared about me he wouldn't have just let me slip way. He didn't even try to keep seeing me." She wailed.
"But I thought..."
"So how could I call him? He was just as happy to turn me loose. And don't think I didn't see the other girls at school sniffing around him like they were all in heat. What can I offer him that they can't? He was my best friend; you don't think he's feeling just a little weird about that? The one person that knows who I was, who can see right into my soul." She was stomping around the room, her arms crossed. "Can you see that Mother?"
Michelle shook her head sympathetically, "I guess not."
"No! I guess not either." Beth plopped herself down on her mother's bed. "I mean..." a tear rolled down her cheek. "He can see in to my soul Mother, like there's a window there or something. That's not fair. That's like some sort of dirty trick."
"Yes, I see." Michelle said. She was having trouble suppressing the smile that was waiting to bubble out just under the surface.
"Does he think that I believe for one minute he's thinking of me when he does things that make me smile? Well, does he?"
"I don't really kno..."
"I do, Oh ho... I can tell you that!"
Michelle waited for Beth to do just that. "Well?"
"Well what?" Beth countered.
"Do you believe that he's thinking of you when."
"Of course he is Mother! What difference does that make?" Michelle was shocked by the sharp abrupt answer and jumped a little in pleasant surprise.
"Can I ask you a question baby?"
"Oh... I guess so." Beth consented begrudgingly.
"Did Randy actually ask you to go to the prom?" Michelle asked carefully.
"What if he did?" Beth answered, on the defensive now. Not wanting to admit that her childish behavior in avoiding Randy had, in reality caused him to believe that she no longer wanted him in her life. The pressure of everything she had brought down upon herself was only now being fully realized.
"Did you tell him no?"
"Mother! How could I go with him?" Beth demanded. "How could I lead him on when there's no chance that this can work. You said it yourself; I've already lost him. The cards have been dealt."
"No one else asked?" Beth said nothing. "So this is not an issue of going to the prom. You could have gone. This is an issue of responding to my big mouth and my idea that all is lost."
"NO! It's an issue of; what the hell am I supposed to do now? Even if I am in love with him, what damned difference does that make?"
"Beth, please calm down. I know it's confusing. I know it's strange."
"He's my best friend! Why did he just walk away?"
"Ask yourself one question. OK?" Michelle asked.
"Do you want him there for you for the time you've been allowed to be together?"
"Well -- " Beth hedged.
Michelle held up her hand. "And, if you had the choice whom you wanted for all time, who would that lover be?"
Beth's face became very serene. The storms of confusion passed slowly as storms on the ocean may give way to a brightening sky and calmer seas. A smile crossed her face and peace filled her soul.
Then it was all replaced by fear and regret. "Oh no!" she said desperately. She turned to her mother. "What have I done?"
"No Mom, he's going, he must be and if that's the case then he must have a date. He's moving on without me." she looked at the chronometer on her mother's table; "It's in one hour! I blew it!"
"Honey..." Michelle started, but the chant when on.
"I blew it! I blew it! I blew it! I blew it! I blew it!"
Out in the living room, not far from the master bedroom Erin was complaining. "Who's calling tonight?" Behind that was the distinct sound of the VID incoming call packet alarm going off.
"Yeah, she's here. Come on up and get off the VID... My favorite program is on." Erin said. In the days since her father's return, she had made attempts to return to her former cranky and self-absorbed post adolescent self as a matter of pride but it was failing. Erin just didn't feel comfortable being what she described as "Miss Teen-aged Bitch Pants" any longer.
Michelle smiled a knowing smile. Beth creased her brow in a look of doubt but said nothing. She walked out of the bedroom and stood in the hall. There, at the landing visible from the hallway stood Randy and her sister Erin. Erin was smiling at Beth. Erin turned to Randy and kissed him gently on the cheek and said, "Go get her tiger."
Randy was formally dressed. He had on a new, black tuxedo, flat creased dress shirt and hand tied bow tie. His shoes were buffed to a fine finish. The pressed creases in his pants were sharp and crisp. He looked like a like a Hollywood VID star.
Not for the last time that night, Beth's breath caught in her throat.
Then the question her mother had asked her came to mind. And, if you had the choice whom you wanted for all time, who would that lover be?
In response to the question, she said out loud in a soft, tender voice as he came down the hall to where she stood, "You."
"Yes, me. Who did you expect?"
She blinked her eyes, Oh my God! He's really here. "I don't understand. I thought you were going to the prom. Why are you here?"
"I need a date." He said simply. "You available or are you going to continue to play hard to get?"
Beth blushed, "What about Geri? What about Vicki and Sarah? I saw then sniffin' around you when they thought you weren't with me any more."
"Did you see me sniffin' around them?" he asked.
"No." she said embarrassed and look at her feet afraid to look in him eye. Randy came closer and Beth began to tremble. Why am I so afraid? What exactly am I afraid of?
That he'll realize you're a fraud and leave. Came the answer from her that small meek voice within her.
He reached up and touched her cheek. He was so close now she could smell him. His odor was as rich and wild as a windswept ocean plain or a dark forest of hemlock pines. She closed her eyes and drew in a shuddering breath and exhaled delicately, savoring his flavor.
"I thought I'd lost you. I thought you didn't want to be around me. I couldn't bring myself to hurt you, to try force you to do something you didn't seem to want to do. I knew it must have been hard enough for you just dealing with the idea that you were going to be Beth from now on. I knew you didn't need me tagging along making things harder by making you feel bad. But I had to find out for myself. I had to ask you directly, before it went too far. Do you want me to leave?"
Beth quickly responded "No!", making a grab for his hand, she then blushed and paused and nuzzled her cheek into his palm before adding, "Don't... don't do that please. Don't leave. It was a mistake. I never wanted to drive you off." She waited for an answer and when none came she had to have confirmation that it was not too late. That he would stay with her and still love her. Beth asked shyly, "So after all that, you're still here."
"Yep, and you're still not ready to go. We have a prom to attend girl!" Randy grinned.
Beth stood with a resolved look on her face. She had nothing to wear, his chivalry, his charge in here on his white steed was a wasted effort where the prom was concerned. She would he happier now if they just stayed here together but she could tell that he had his heart set on the idea of going to his Senior Prom, so he tried to beg off the event. "I don't have a dress Randy. Not one I could wear to a prom. I'm sure you wouldn't want a girl on your arm in her street clothes."
He looked past Beth to Michelle who had come up directly behind Beth. "You haven't given it to her yet?"
"Given it to me? Given me what?" Beth asked. She looked confusedly between the two of them.
"I didn't have a chance Randy, I'm sorry. Besides you're a bit early." Michelle said with a beautiful smile.
"Given me what?" Beth insisted.
"You wait your turn, we're getting to you." Randy looked at Beth and directed. That served only to infuriate Beth, but she held on to the last bit of her sanity with as much grace as she could manage.
"So you have it?" Randy asked. Michelle nodded and pointed behind her to her bedroom. "Oh good." Randy said with obvious relief in his voice.
"What? What? WHAT?" Beth said as the last of her composure broke.
"Wait here if you will Randy. I'm sure she'll be right back." Randy nodded with serious face.
The two women went back in the bedroom as Gary came down the hall. "Big night?"
Randy shrugged. "Your guess is as good as mine Sir."
Gary coughed, "Sir? You want to take my daughter out; you're going to have to stop with this Sir crap. You understand me?"
"Good... Hey!" Gary protested and Randy laughed hard at his own joke. "There are a few things I want to discuss with you though. You want to come out to the living room with me?"
Randy held up his index finger, "In just a sec, I think I'm supposed to wait here for something."
"Oh?" Gary said.
"No!" came an unbelieving voice in a low husky tone, followed some whispering that sounded like Michelle, a squeal of delight and then the unmistakable voice of Beth squealing "Shoes too?"
Beth came tearing out of the bedroom, a light pink ballroom gown, covered in loose poly-wrap hugged to her body, shoes clutched in one hand. She slammed into Randy at a full run and pressed him flat against the translucent eight-inch glass bricks that separated the living room from the hall and kissed him hard.
Gary was surprised at first, even a little taken a back. Then he softened and understanding filled his face. Michelle came out and leaned on the jamb of the door and grinned at her husband. Beth took a break from kissing Randy only to say, "Hold me." Randy was only too happy to oblige. After a bit of this however, Randy became painfully aware of eyes boring into his skin. He tried to clear his throat to get her attention.
She stopped, opened her eyes and looked at Randy as if to say, Yes? What is it? Can't you see I'm working here? Randy gestured with a jerk of his head in the direction of Gary.
Gary surprised that he'd been ratted out muttered, "Uh oh." with wide eyes and tried to act as if he found something terribly interesting growing on the wall he had only a second ago had his back to. Gary scratched at the spot with one fingernail while Michelle, who had been leaning on the jamb next to him retreated back into the bedroom abandoning him.
"Um... sorry." He jerked his head in the direction of the living room, then his thumb, blushed and said, "I'll just ah... I'll... oh boy." and fled for the living room.
Beth smiled at him. "Fathers..."
"Yeah," Randy said in return.
"Now where was I?" She paused as if thinking, then said, "Oh Yeah!" and planted her lips back on Randy's.
When she seemed satisfied she slowed and eventually stopped. She lay limp in Randy's arms and it occurred to her that her cloud of confusion had cleared. Just like that the sun was back out and the skies were blue.
"How did you do that?" she asked.
Randy explained, "The dress? Well, I just thought it would look really sexy on you. Is that OK to say because that's what I was really thinking..."
"No, no silly. My heart. How did you get in there? I thought I had it pretty tightly locked up."
"You did; all the doors were locked. I had to craw in a window." Randy said grinning.
"The dress is perfect. I guess I have to escort you to the prom now. I mean you've gone to all this trouble."
"That was the idea. Now if you will hurry along my love..."
Beth was gathering the dress and was making her way back to the bedroom when he said those words. She froze in her tracks and paused for a moment then turned and looked back at Randy and finally made her way back to him with a very serious look on her face.
"Uh oh," Randy said cautiously, "You haven't changed your mind again have you?" Randy asked worried.
"No." She said and shook her head. Randy exhaled with relief. "Randy, I want you to understand that I didn't walk away because I didn't want you to take me to the prom or because I didn't want to be with you. I do. If you never understand anything else in your whole life about me, remember and understand that. I do so much want to be with you. I was afraid. I'm still afraid."
"Of me?" Randy asked.
"No, don't be silly." She reached out and touched his cheek and then stood on her toes to kiss his lips tenderly one more time.
"Please Randy. There will be time for that, but not now. Not tonight. I want to just be your girl tonight, unafraid of what will happen tomorrow, unafraid that one day you won't be there. Tonight I want to be confident being by your side. I promise, I try to tell you later. Just not tonight, OK?"
Randy said nothing. Beth looked up into Randy's eyes. They had not faltered from her face. They were locked onto her eyes. How funny, I can actually see what he's thinking. He's going to let me slide on this one. He's not going to ask me why I've been acting so weird. God, could I love him any more than now? "We still have things to talk about, lots of things and it may be -- it may be you will decide that you don't want to be with me. You don't have to understand right now, you will. I promise you that. You will. Just try to be patient with me. I'm scared."
Randy nodded. His gaze never left her eyes. Randy took her by the shoulders, kissed lips lightly and said very slowly. "I -- Love -- You!"
She laid her head on his chest and clutched the dress he had purchased for her for this evening. "Then you'll give me a little time?"
"I'll give you anything you need or want." The sound of his voice, deep and strong resonated through his chest. It had a warm quality to it than made her dizzy. You're going to deny you've already passed the point of no return? She thought to herself. Maybe, I'm still scared was the reply.
"Are you going to let me take you out?" Randy asked. "You have a full dance card here -- got my name all over it."
"So I can't dance with anyone else?" She asked innocently
"I'll let you if you wish..." Randy started uncertain.
"You'd better not!" she said with a smile and poked in the stomach with one finger. Randy dodged it with an "Oooffff!" and mock agony then laughed.
"That window you crawled through?" Beth asked timidly.
"Yeah?" he said, straightening up from their goofing off.
"Lets go steam it up a bit." Beth said and dashed off to get dressed. "Mom!" she cried as she turned the corner to her parents' room, "I think I need a little help here please."
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Randy rounded the corner to the living room; there were Erin, Shelly and Gary all standing with various looks on their faces.
Erin spoke first. "How'd it go?" she asked, it was almost a whisper. She seemed eager and excited.
"She said she needs time."
"Aw," Erin coughed, "five minutes maybe"
"No not to get dressed. I think she has something she wants to tell me."
"Careful, little ears." Warned Gary who had walked up to join the conversation.
Shelly said, "I got little ears, wanna see Daddy?"
"You doooo? I do want to see those little ears." Shelly ran to her father and squealed with delight as he swooped her up and pretended to nibble on of those 'small ears' as he moved her out of earshot. Shelly giggled uncontrollably as he nibbled
"So?" Erin said.
"You want me to kiss and tell." Randy asked amazed.
"Noooo. Yes. No." Erin finished by nodding then shaking her head and nodding again. "Yes!"
"Look, if she puts ever lets me put the ring I bought on her finger then you'll know. OK?"
Erin seemed surprised, "A ring?"
Randy pulled from tux coat pocket a black velvet box. "I don't even know why I did this. Optimistic I guess."
"Lemmeseelemmeseelemmesee!" Erin exclaimed.
"OK, but don't tell anyone."
Erin shook her head and tenderly took the box. She gently opened the box and there it was, the ring was beautiful. She dared not open it all the way. She didn't want anyone else to see. Even partially opened she could see that the stone was at least 2 karats in weight, maybe more.
"Where did you get the money?" she asked in amazement.
"Working for Dad -- I was able to save a bunch for college. Mom and Dad wanted to pay for my school, but I kind of wanted to do it myself. That's about a years worth of tuition."
"Try seventy. Four karats with two one karat begets on each side. I saw it and knew that had to be on her hand." He stopped and shook his head. "I don't know what's happening to me. I'm moving at light speed, but Erin, it just feels right."
"That's all the convincing I need. I really wish someone; anyone would do something half as romantic for me." She said wishfully.
Randy accepted the box from a dreamy eyed Erin and hoped that he would know the time and place to put this ring on her finger. Until then it would follow him everywhere he went, just in case.
_ _ _ _ (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) _7 (_) + (_) + (_) + (_) +
Michelle took the dress and hung it from the edge of the door. She turned her head to Beth standing behind her, "Hon, go take a quick shower. I'll get the Stylebox ready for your hair -- "
"No Mother, just let it lay straight. I just want it dried that's all, dried and brushed." Beth said.
"OK honey, now go, hurry!"
Beth rushed off, shedding clothing as she went.
Beth stood in the shower letting the warm water cascade in sheets down a body that would always appear perfectly and lightly tanned. The fear of the past several weeks was waning. It was replaced with uncertainty, but as she reflected on that she realized that she had only traded the details of one uncertainty for those of another. Uncertainty itself was the same in both houses. It was scary and unwelcome at times. At other times, it was adventurous and exciting. In retrospect, it was less disconcerting with a protector there. Randy had somehow made it less than it should be, by simply assuring her that he would be there to make sure he pulled her from the fire. Not like before when there had only been him, William, self, to rely on. She mused that men don't have the luxury of allowing themselves those moments of weakness when they can turn the troubles of the world over to someone else.
The warm water soothed her. Her breathing became more regular and her thoughts became as fluid as the water running over her body. With the soap in her hand she began to wash. In her mind she saw Randy standing there at the top of the landing. He was dressed in his tuxedo, a wave of blonde hair swept just over the brow of his left eye. A sly smile on his face, the clothes fit so tight and sharp on his body. She was surprised when her nipples tightened as she soaped them clean. She drew in air hard in through her nostrils as a wave of pleasure hit her.
I'm not really in love am I? She tried to deny it, but the idea coupled with the tingling of her body made it hard for her to think of anything but how Randy had sauntered down that hall way to her. Was this boy the same one who had such a hard time getting a date? Was it really? Hard time, did he really have a hard time or was it these other girls just didn't interest him? You've seem to have given him something to be aggressive about.
In her mind, Randy reached out for her and took her by the waist. One arm curled around her middle and one hand cradled her neck and drew her in. She could feel herself bloom. She pressed her legs together and gyrated her hips around just a little. There was a feeling of, what? Becoming slick, lubricated -- then she understood. I'm getting wet thinking about him. She pressed two fingers to the lips of her vagina and jumped and convulsed a little at her own touch. Her head arched back as she made her labia dance from left to right and back and forth in smooth fluid movements. She skated the fingers of her left hand gently over her left breast and was shocked at the flood her touch produced between her legs.
She pressed her legs together with her hand trapped between them. One finger slipped between the folds of flesh there and she sucked in steam-laden air as it grazed her clitoris, which was now fully engorged, and sensitive beyond belief.
"Ohhhhhhh" She whisper-moaned and clutched at the bare tile wall for something to steady herself with. Her knees were no longer a reliable means of support for her body. She bent her head forward now and placed it on the slick wet navy blue tiles of her mother's shower. She slipped in one more finger and pinched that swollen little tit that was her clitoris. She curled one leg up and issued a shuddering moan as she pressed her forehead hard against the tiles. "Oh God!" she panted.
"It's getting late!" Michelle called through the door. Beth was so surprised at the voice that she cried out in surprise and snapped back from the wall, her feet skated out from underneath her and she danced about the shower trying to get her feet back under her again, arms flailing about making a terrible racket as the back of her hands slammed against the shower door as she flailed for balance. She at last grab the towel rack at the back of the shower and steadied herself.
"Beth? Are you OK?" Michelle asked through the door, alarmed at the sound of thrashing about in the shower.
Out of breath, partly because of pent up passion and partly out of fear at the prospect of eating six pound of shower tile, she clutched her chest between her cleavage trying to steady her heart and called back, "You startled me that's all Mother. I'm OK. Be right out."
This entire thing was just confusing, that's all. Beth wondered as she towed off how much longer the emotions she was feeling were going to continue to be as overwhelming they were now. Each new feeling felt as if it were either going to send her to heaven or tear her heart to shreds. Was she over rationalizing her feelings, were they in fact normal for a woman to feel, or was it a combination of things, hormones, new wiring in the brain, and the left of some other extreme? That is to say, If being male had been one extreme, was she having to get used to a chemical dump of estrogen on top of an entirely different way of thinking as well?
Beth placed her head in a hair drying bubble and flipped it on. Her hair was swirled around in the heat and rapid air and with in seconds it was completely dry and soft.
She opened the door to announce she needed for underwear only to find her mother there with panties and a bra; the bra was a strapless long-line type. As pre-pubescent, he and Randy had giggled together at the Digistill images of women in their underwear when his mother's Holiday Garment catalog was delivered. The whole time each had secretly been fascinated at the alluring photos of the pretty models trying to imagine what they might find under the outer garments of the young girls they knew. These picture were the only images of a strapless bra he had ever seen.
Michelle must have seen the look on her face. "It's because your dress is off the shoulder. A bra strap would show. This clings to your waist."
"It looks too small Mother." She said in a worried voice.
"It might feel that way at first too. But you'll get used to it. I'll help. Here put these on and I'll fasten this when you're done." She assured her as she handed Beth the panties.
The two women went about separate chores focused on the same goals. After the panties and a pair of hose that had been tucked in the pile, Michelle helped with the bra, Beth wanted to play with the bottom of bra, to tug on it and shift it around. It covered most of her mid-drift up to and over her breasts. It was too small, she was sure of it and the thing brought her already hourglass figure into a more pronounced and defined shape.
"I can't breath with this thing on -- " she complained.
"Yes you can. You'll get used to it."
"No, there's no way I'll make it though the evening like this. What will I do if I need to take it off?" she whined.
"I guess you'll have to carry it around under your arm all night." Michelle said over her shoulder attaching the last of the hooks. "There! Now the dress." Michelle opened the bottom of the dress and Beth stuck her arms in like a girl diving upward into a pink pool of fabric. The dress came down and Beth's arms and head popped out the top. Michelle shifted the dress around, pulled it into place, zipped up the back and turned Beth to look in the mirror.
"Wow!" Beth said in wonder. She swivelled her first to the left and the right. The gown danced over her legs giving off a whisping sound as it moved over her.
"He did a good job with this dress. I guess he knows what you'll look good in." Michelle said in amazement. "You are so beautiful!"
Beth looked around on the floor, found what she was looking for and slipped the shoes on her feet. It was just a bit harder to stand in these heels than it was in the short-heeled pumps she had worn each day at school but soon she got the hang of it. It was just going to require that she walk slower than usual.
Michelle began speaking as Beth admired the image in the mirror. "No matter what happens, no matter what you feel tonight, please remember this -- take it slow, very slow. He'll still be there in the morning. He'll be there next week, Beth. He loves you. I can see that. I know you see it too. So you don't have to make any choices tonight. Do you understand what I'm trying to say?"
What Beth was about to say was so alien to her, the entire idea that she felt queasy at the mention of it. She understood just what her mother was getting at and Beth wanted to assure her that no such thing was going to happen.
"You don't want me to sleep with him tonight." Beth said without taking her eyes off her image in the mirror.
Michelle nodded. She was about to speak when Beth interrupted.
"Mom," Beth paused searching for the right words. "All of this -- " she latched on to the skirt of the dress she was zipped into and tugged on it. "I feel like I'm out of control here. It's like someone else is in charge up here." She let go of the skirt with one hand and rapped a knuckle on the side of her head. "I don't know how to do or be any of these things. Yet, when I saw Randy all dressed up at the top of the stairs like that, I knew he'd come to save me." Michelle nodded. "That was important to me. I can't say why. Even if we hadn't have gone to the prom, he came to get me. Even through all my protesting, even when I thought he'd forgotten me, he was still planning for me to be with him. "
Michelle came and rubbed Beth's back lightly. She looked on as Beth continued, gently moving her hand over the young girls back. "I let what happened to you happen to me. I won't spend a year being pissed off about this. It's damn near cost me you and Daddy, all of us. The price is too high Mom. I'll take what this life gives me. I don't know what I'll do with it yet, but Randy feels right to me. He wait for me, I think he will wait a little longer. I think we both can."
Michelle was struck with one single thought. It was more of an observation really. It was such and alarming revelation, in fact, that she was surprised she hadn't seen it sooner. Beth looked exactly like her, like Michelle. Even with the knowledge that the SKINs they wore had been meant for mother and daughter, that knowledge had not been enough for her to see the truth of it of what they had. William was not in a stranger's body; he was still her child, her flesh and blood. Looking at the child's face framed by the blonde hair she finally understood. Her mind shot back to the night all this had started. She remembered the startled look on Gary's face as the two had stood side by side that very first night. He had pointed at the mirror hadn't he? Yes, of course he had and this was the reason why. This was her child, her child.
"Mom? Oh God Mom -- What's wrong?" Beth must have seen it in her face; She waived Beth off but could not speak. Beth was not giving up or giving in. "No Mom, tell me." The child came to her and stood next to her mother. Michelle looked as if she might out of breath, she righted herself, Stood tall next to the girl and pointed to the mirror, much as Gary had done a month ago.
At first Beth didn't see it, then her face went slack. "Oh my." She said in a low, subdued voice. Her hand went to her face, and traced the outline of it. There, underneath a wellspring of blonde hair was her mother, or at least her mother's face. "There are two of us? Mom, I look just like you."
"What did you expect, you are after all my daughter. I deny any scientist to tell me differently." Michelle said with wonder.
The two women embraced. "I love you Mom."
"I love you too Beth. Just remember to -- "
Beth looked back at the image in the mirror. "Take it slow." She whispered and smiled.
"Yes, very slow." Michelle echoed back. "Please take it slowly."