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

Skin Deep II: The Dance
Chapter 6: School Dance
by Mark McDonald
©2002 Mark McDonald -- all rights reserved

In the shower Michelle allowed the water to wash the despair away just a little. The warmth and pulse of the water had always been her friend. She had always considered herself to be a lucky woman with more than her fair share of good to compensate for a life lost. Now this thing had come back and she remembered the anguish and torture of what it had been like to become trapped, to be held so firmly in place as to be completely helpless and at the mercy of that which held you.

This morning she had seen that desperation manifest itself in her child to a degree that she had never thought possible. That child it seemed would rather take her own life rather than live in the trap Michelle herself had decided was better than the alternative the child had sought. Michelle had always assumed that her inability to kill herself had been programmed into the SKIN and was now a part of the psyche of the woman she had grown to become. But now she wondered, why would someone program such a physiological failsafe into her body if the wearer was assumed to be a volunteer? Such a mental dead man switch was not necessary in that case. The designers had no idea that the person that would finally wind up inside that particular SKIN would have been a young man with every reason to live his own life. Nor would they have anticipated that same young man getting trapped within it, being forced to live out his years as the woman they had designed. No, she realized that if she had wanted to she could have ended it so many years ago, quite easily and quickly. It was that she had lacked the courage to do it herself. More than that, she lacked to courage to allow someone else to do it. She recalled the slimy man from the Easton side of the harbor that afternoon. The electronics specialist that had tried to negotiate sex to have her patch code transmitter repaired. To have the algorithmic anomaly bypassed so she could be Mike Vello again. It had been her last hope. She had felt she would be willing to do anything to free herself from the prison of her female body, the life of torture she was living next to the man she wanted and needed so badly. But she had convinced herself that she must deny because it was not natural, not right and not fair that Gary had gone back and she was stuck, consigned to a life sentence in a body that she didn't want. How she had become very afraid that this man would in fact end her suffering but not the way she had planned. In the end, she had fled. Leaving behind her money, and taking with her the damaged and useless patch code transmitter that would forever remain useless. She had fled, unwilling to die, not wanting to be murdered. She was stuck.

William, probably sensing the same desperation, was unafraid to take matters into his or her hands and finish this thing. The events of the afternoon were a sure sign they would not see any such transmitter, if one even existed and based on what had been told to William, there had only been a straw to grasp to in the first place that was such a device for his SKIN. But one had to have hope, so Gary and Michelle had planted that seed in the child's mind. They had fertilized it with a ton and a half of bullshit and the idea of freedom had grown right where they had planted it. They had given their child, daughter... admit it to yourself; she's just like you. Like mother like son! Michelle lamented. Yes, she had to admit now that William was most likely their daughter now. She did it hatefully and with an understanding with herself that she would never accept the child as her real daughter.

A shudder coursed through her. She was doing exactly what she knew her own mother would have done if she had tried to go home after her own accident. But it was impossible to think of the child otherwise. She hated herself for her prejudice. She of all people should know that this child was the same child she had given life to. She had coaxed Gary into that understanding and now she was being the greatest hypocrite of all.

"Stop it... Just stop it!" she cried, leaning her head against the tiled wall of the shower. Sobs racked her body as she let the tension of not only the morning flow out of her like the shower water flowed over her, but also as she came to grips with the realization that her selfishness with the perceived loss of her son was inescapable. She shuddered and trembled and held herself as if to protect her body from an assault. How could she feel that way about her own child? She could admit that she loved the child; that she wanted to help the child, even that she would protect that child with her life if necessary. But when it came to dancing her mind around the idea that it was William in there, she ran smack into a cold, hard, ninety foot high brick wall. That child was not William.

Is that how you feel about yourself? Do you really think that you're no longer Mike Vello? You are you know. You are as much Mike as you are Michelle. The voice was not hers.

"Shut up! I'm not listening to this any more! I'm confused." The last came out as a whimper.

Much was left behind. You must reclaim it. The puzzle is incomplete, the voice in her head said softly, almost lovingly.

"Why? Why do we have to go through this again?"

The King will die, long live the Queen... Michelle shuddered at the thought. Long live the Queen sounded more like a curse than a prayer. The thought of her youthful appearance struck her. Long live the Queen... Long live the Queen... Long live the Queen... the voice trailed out of existence and all at once out of her memory. Michelle became aware that she had been weeping. Why? She tried to recall but could not clearly remember. She had been upset. Of course she had been. It had been a day of stupid stunts, narrow escapes, great disappointments, and very nearly an attempted suicide. What was not to be upset about? Still, the idea that there was something else there wouldn't leave her. The thought that there was some half remembered something gnawed at her but it would not come full into the light. By the time she had cleaned and dried, the memory and the feeling that something unremembered was still withstanding was gone and she was strangely almost at peace. Somehow the depression that had gripped her all afternoon as she pondered a solution to a problem that had no obvious solution was gone; hardly remembered. She dried, grabbed her robe and tossed it around her shoulders and went to brush her hair out.

The light from the VID shone down the hall and under the door of the master bedroom, it wasn't noticeable until Michelle tuned down the lights as she did each night after exiting the to keep the peepers from peeping in. She loved the view of the city from her bedroom and thought that dimming the glass was such a pity that she simply refused to do it. Now, with the lights lowered she saw the light from the living room and she naturally wanted to see whom it was that Gary was talking to.

She pulled on her satin robe, opened the door and moved soundlessly down the hall. The hall ran along one wall of the large open area that had served as their original living quarters. The rest of the room was undivided but clearly delineated by living room, dining area and kitchen. Gary was in the living room portion with both hands leaning on the control panel of the VID, arms stiff, head down. He didn't see his wife enter the room.


His head flew up with a surprise. "Michelle? What are you doing here? I thought you were taking a shower."

"Yes, I'm clean now so I stopped. Who are you talking to?"

"Is that your lovely wife I've heard so much about?" a voice from the VID asked.

"Err... Yes, but she's... not presentable." Michelle's eyebrows went up at the comment and Gary shot her a Not right now look that caused her to back off for just a sec.

"I understand completely. The question is however, do you?" asked the voice. It sounded menacing but trying the whole time to be soothing but firm. "I want to be sure Mr. Shipley, so allow me to summarize for you." Michelle detected a slight Eastern European accent to the voice, faint as if the owner of the voice had been nationalized for quite sometime.

"Please do." Gary said somberly

The voice began: "The party you enquired about was being observed by his supervising team for suspicious behaviour within our organization. Due to an unfortunate error, the party in charge of following him to his home lost him. He appears to have found out about our observation and fled with his daughter. It is my strong recommendation that you forget pressing any charges of molestation on your niece's behalf and leave this case to the professionals. I can assure you the crimes he is suspected of within our organization will warrant a very severe punishment in our justice system."

Out of sight Michelle was trembling her hand covering her mouth. They knew! It was all she could think about. How much do they know? Did they see William enter or leave or worse both?

"Is that clear Mr. Shipley?"

"Yes, crystal clear. Thank you for calling Mr. Michaels. Will you please keep me updated?"

"I'm afraid that would not be wise. I'll say this just once Mr. Shipley, you don't want to be associated with this situation. Act like you don't know him." The VID went dead and the snow from the display was reflected on Gary's skin.

"How much do they know?" Michelle whispered. Gary only moaned. "Don't do this to me please, you know how I panic. Please tell me."

Gary cradled his forehead in one hand and massaged the skin as one might kneed dough. "Nothing about William as far as I can tell."

"And what can you tell?"

He raised his head and looked his wife dead in the eyes, his hands still mounted firmly on the VIDs control panel as for support. "Well, I can pretty much assure that if they knew about William there wouldn't have been a VID transmission. It most likely would have been a face to face and heart to heart. They want us out of it Michelle. They just erected an one thousand foot brick wall in front of us. That's it, there will be no Jason."

Michelle said sarcastically, "And now you're going to say that we have to cover William's tracks." Gary hung his head again. "Oh no. I'm right aren't I?" Michelle burst into tears. "Not again. Not my son." Gary went to his wife and took her in his arms.

She buried her face in his chest, her favorite hiding place, wrapped her arms around him and tried to draw her body into his, to become one creature and hide behind his strength. She was calmer this way; she could think, and Gary didn't seem to mind her weakness. She hadn't always been this way. Gary had quietly allowed her to find her own answers when this had first happened to them; to her, all the while running the show behind the scenes, never expecting but always hoping Michelle would find him again. He had been in charge that whole time, and it had felt good to her to let him be that way. She had wanted it; it had been a comforting thing to have his strength to rely on. So she leaned on him now. But the guilt of having been spoiled, of whining and demanding that he fix this or she'd pitch another tantrum was weighing on her hard.

"Michelle," he whispered. "I know you're upset my darling. I am too; but for William's sake we need to get the turbines spinning. We need to push a plan forward on getting her into the database... a few days ago."

She nodded, her face still buried in his chest.

Gary was surprised by her quick agreement, but not entirely so. They had been through this before. "OK, we agree. I'll get Charlie Wiser up and get him to push in an entry tonight. A card should be to us within the hour from the Federal Conciliate downtown. Michelle," he lifted her face to his, "are we ready for this?"

She shook her head and then stopped and nodded.

"Before that can happen, we need some genetic material."

Michelle knew exactly what kind of genetic material he spoke of: blood or hair. Gentech computers stored it like older crime systems used to store fingerprints almost one hundred and fifty years ago. They could develop genetic profiles, reconstruct 'hololikenesses' that could not be tampered with, and encode ID cards with a DNA sequencing that was used to make transactions of all sorts from groceries and dry cleaning to starting your encoded HOV and handling your finances. More importantly, it gave the government access to where you were at moments notice whenever you used your ID. It made you a real person, no longer living on the fringe of society and scrambling for the handouts and discards from mainstream shareholders.

"I'll get..." started Gary but Michelle was up and in front of him before he could get past her.

"N-" she choked. Michelle swallowed hard and tried again to speak "No..."

"Honey..." he was afraid she was putting things off, stalling.

She shook her head and pressed the fingers of her right hand to her husband's lips. "No. Once again in a pinch I've not been acting like a team player. I want back on the team coach."

"I can do this Michelle."

"There's never been any question in my mind about that Gary. Please, I don't want to simply watch as you do everything. I need to help, just like before. Please?"

"You're right," he said nodding. "You need to be an equal partner in this and the truth be known, I could use the help. Thank you." He bent to kiss his wife's forehead but she tilted her head back a bit and met him full force with her lips.

They parted this brief engagement, "We have to be upbeat, as upbeat as we can be anyway. This is the way and the only way for now. But I want her to understand we're not giving up; we're just diverting for now. Until the coast is clear, right?"

"That sounds like a perfect plan to me."

Michelle was able to get hair from a hairbrush she had used to brush out William's long blond hair this morning. Identifying this hair was easy as it was the exact opposite hue of Michelle's own hair.

"I don't have to tell him right now do I?" she asked in a timid voice that was almost a whine.

"No, I don't think we should. It would only make this more painful. This has to happen. When people start digging it would be best if he has an identification that can be backed up. So even if he argues, we still have to do this. Do you think you can go through with it when he's crying and pleading with you not to do this to him?"

Michelle nodded her head. Her eyes however, had gone to horror filled blue orbs that seemed to fill her whole face. There were puddles of water pooling up at the bases of the lids, her resolve to do what she hated but knew had to be done threatened to collapse. Gary gently squeezed her for reassurance, his as much as hers.

"Then we're in agreement." Gary put the hair into the "Cruncher" and activated the request from the text-based facility of the VID. There would be someone there to deliver the encrypted message to the Senator in his name. Senator Wiser would know what to do and would do it without asking questions. The Card with the encoded information would be authorized, encoded by their VID, and produced by their 'Card Burner' in just about an hour.

Gary read over the information once, twice, and then after a deep sigh touched the send key on the screen and the message vanished out into cyberspace. Michelle moaned a weak and painful moan.

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In the early hours of the morning, in this case nearly 3:00am, in the offices of Police Services across town, a uniformed administrative employee was delivering a report disk to the office of Detective Marion Callahan when the Services VID sprang to life. There was a small flag in the corner. It was an alert that a man named Shipley had made a request of some sort. Curious, the girl bent and launched the report with a touch of her finger.

Subject Shipley, Gary Alan
Alert Modification Request to Citizen Registry
Source St Louis Bureau of Citizen Registry
Request Addition of personnel - Wright, Bethany Sara
Relationship Niece
DNA Sample Hair
End Transmission

Below that was a choice of buttons; Save local, Inherit, Disregard.

Save would put the information into electronic memory for review later; Inherit would add this information to the Shipley Family file. It would also have flagged this change each time the file was open until the information was reviewed by Detective Callahan. Disregard would dismiss and delete the information from review all together.

The administrative aide meant to press the button that said Inherit but her finger accidentally grazed the edge of the 'Disregard' button and the entire flag was dropped. Quickly Mary Ann Somerset finished her work and dashed out of the dark office hoping that she had not deleted information that was crucial to an investigation.

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The girl sat silently on the bed in what was once her room. The world seemed such an alien place to her now and not because the familiar material possessions were out of place from her previous perceived reality. In fact in respect to that, the world was still a very familiar place. The depression that gripped her stemmed from the fact that her parents had been, thus far, unable to change what had happened to her. She was still trapped in this girl's body with no end in sight. The weekend had come and gone and she was still a she.

She had been in a staring contest with that girl all evening and still stared at the large mirror and the image of the person in it. That girl glared back as if to say, I'm not going anywhere. I'm out now and you're not getting me back into the bottle.

"Screw you!" the girl on the bed told the reflection and with precision timing, the reflection told William to do exactly the same damn thing.

Her mind was still reeling on how horribly wrong things had suddenly gone. I'm gone! There is no trace of William Shipley here at all.

There was a knock at the door. "Yeah," she called out.

The door opened slightly and Michelle cautiously stuck her head in. Beth watched her smile, but refused to smile back, not even when her aunt's smile faltered. Finally the head stated, "Hi hon."

The girl on the bed just stared back and said nothing.

"Talk to me."

"Nice weather we're having," Beth said putting a broad false smile on her face.

Michelle let herself into the room and closed the door behind her and the girl just watched her as she did. Then suddenly Beth spoke, "I assume you're here to give me no good news." It was a flat and hateful statement.

"No, I don't have any good news." Michelle admitted.

"Good, I was worried that something had happened to change this incredible streak of good fortune I've been experiencing lately."


"Don't Mom," William said quietly in that same innocent voice with her head hung and hands folded in her lap. "I'm not even him any more. Hell Mom, I'm not even a him any more. Look at me for Christ's sake! You can't begin to imagine how awful this is for me."

Michelle started to speak and then bent her head to and stared at her shoes. "Honey, we, I... your Father and I have come to the conclusion that..." Concern crossed Beth's beautiful young face and Michelle felt cold. William had been betrayed -- Beth could feel it. Beth did not understand the depths of the betrayal but the thought that it had been her parents that were at the heart of it caused her to feel sick to her stomach. She searched her Mother's body language for clues and saw the small pink poly-card sticking out of her Mother's small hand.

"Wha... what's that?" she asked, the fear in her voice was obvious. "Mom!" she demanded and her Mother could not look at her, could not or would not, it meant the same thing. "Mom!" Beth leapt up and snatched the card from her Mother's hand. There was a small digital image of the person she was trapped inside. She scanned through the digital information her heart racing. "Does Dad know you did this?"


"Undo this Mother!"


"Mother! Please! Don't do this to me. Do you know what you've done?" The girl looked from the Identichip card back to her mother in an expression of utter disbelief. "You've made me a real person. Oh God Mom!" The girl's terrified face stared pleadingly into that of her Mothers searching for some sign that this was not really happening. Say April fools you bitch! she mentally begged. "This is a joke right? Please tell me this all just a really bad joke." She stomped around the room in panicked and exaggerated steps as if venting her anger and fear would cancel out the card she held in her hand, that it would somehow undo this most irreversible deed.

"It's..." Michelle started with an explanation but was quickly shut down.

"Mom!" screamed the girl. "You did not put me in the census; for God sake! I'm stuck like this now? You'll never get me out of there. God damn it!" Beth raced from the room as she did she threw the card at her Mother in a painful acknowledgment of deceit and betrayal and began screaming for her Father.

Michelle bent and picked up the digital ID. Downstairs she could hear the girl starting with her father. Remembering what it was like to realize that you weren't going back; Michelle raced down the stairs to help restrain Beth if necessary. When she got to where her daughter and husband stood; Beth was upset but calmer than Michelle had anticipated her being.


Gary was standing with his arms around the girl who was sobbing into his chest. Michelle was once again struck by the differences. This could be a good thing. Beth had her family that she could turn to for comfort where Michelle, at the time, had only her best friend. Michelle could clearly remember during the bad days of her own confinement wanting to be held, wanting to be comforted, but in an attempt to hold on to her masculine side until she could free herself of the body she was in she remained withdrawn and distant. It hadn't lasted long. Her resistance eroded her resolve. It made the person she had become stronger and when the floodgates opened there was no holding back. She had fallen hopelessly in love with Gary. No matter how she had tried to deny it or push it away she failed at every turn. She had become hopelessly female and now she could see those same traits spilling out of her former son.

Michelle went to where the two stood. "I'm sorry." Beth looked up from where she was crying on her Father shirt. Two wet spots where her eyes had been clearly visible. She sniffled and turned with a renewed flood and threw her arms around her Mother.

"I'm sorry too, for a lot of things. But I guess I'm most sorry for myself right now. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

"You're entitled, and I'll make this promise to you. If there is a way to reverse this, we'll spend every last penny we have to do just that." Beth laughed a gooey, tear choked laugh into her Mothers sleeve. "What's so funny?"

"Somehow Mom, it just doesn't feel like this girl is going anywhere soon." Michelle shivered. She understood the feeling all too well. It had felt as if fate had been decided and weighed in someone else's favor.

Michelle stroked the child's back. There she could feel the strap of the bra the child wore and would be forced to continue to wear for what Michelle believed to be the rest of her life. Michelle wanted to scream, to cry out in anguish, to hit some one or something; but none of that would help her son now. Now they all had to get used to the idea that in his place there would be, as William had put it, this girl. Michelle knew it was still her son and they would love her just as much as they had William. Her grief was for the boy that had wanted to become a professional baseball player, a husband, a father and perhaps one day President. In his place was this girl.

It was Gary that broke the silence as he said with a heavy sigh, "I guess we should start to talk about the details of what we're going to have to start doing."

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There were many details to go over and sleep was at a premium before the evening was over. Shelly wanted to know why William wasn't home and then she wanted to talk to him after it was explained he was in Germany. She was finally lulled to sleep with the assurance that William would write and the letter would be read to her.

Kit had made several calls after receiving a citation from Police Services that Gary assured he would pay, and he also assured Kit that he would buy him a new HOV as well; stating, "It's the very least I can do buddy. Thanks for everything."

"No problem. You owe me nothing. You can pay for the ticket, the HOV is OK, I just wanted to check in and make sure every thing was OK."

"As much as possible."

"I guess I shouldn't ask, is that right?"

"Nothing gets past you does it?" Gary asked in a quiet voice.

"Frank and I are ready, when you need us we are ready."

"You've spoken with Frank about this?"

"No, Only about my unfortunate accident today if you get my drift."

"Thanks pal. I hope you will not be needed again. It's too much risk."

"Anything for the Princess."

"If it were only that easy," Gary said and disconnected.

As for Beth, there was not much to say. She was to be reintroduced into school; the procedures for getting a child in were easy. Made so for the very reason of getting people on the "fringe" to enter the census and become a part of society, or trackable. Schools however had only so much space. William would be withdrawn on the premise that he had taken a chance to travel to Europe sooner rather than later. Given that, Gary had brought his niece out from the FST for a safer life and one that offered an education.

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"Mom... Mom! Would you please wait?" the young girl pleaded as she tried to keep up in pumps and a skirt. "Why won't you wait for me?"

"Because you'll only manage to talk me out of this," Michelle said without losing a step in her stride. She was terribly upset, as was Beth. The sound of the shoes of both women clicked on the old asphalt tiled floor and echoed off the blue tiled walls of the old section of the school building's main hall. Michelle tried to concentrate on this sound and not think about the fact that she felt they were rushing William into this. They had agreed to no more slips of the tongue. She had to be called Beth from now on. Not only in public but also in the home. Whenever she was addressed, she would be called Beth.

Erin had been called in to the family meeting after Shelly was asleep and Erin was only too happy to cooperate. "You just love what's happened to me don't you," Beth had snapped at a grinning Erin.

"No... no I don't, but the phrase 'poetic justice' does come to mind," Erin had replied in a chipper, light voice that only served to infuriate Beth.

The night had ended in a depressing crying session. Panic-stricken that she was going to have to continue attending school, Beth had broken down. She had begged not to be forced to do this. Why couldn't she just hide here, in the house? Beth understood however that in the current atmosphere of today's society she could not hide forever. She would be driven insane by cabin fever or be seen by a guest to the house or walking past an activated VID. The most convincing argument was that she was now a citizen. If that were the case, why was she not then in school?

Michelle had been able to get a couple of Erin's old plaid school uniform skirts to fit nicely after she took in the waist. She also provided the girl with a couple plain white blouses and a pair of shoes; the pieces fell together almost as if they had put there for them years before. Michelle stood and looked at the girl dressed in her school uniform. "You look nice."

"I hate this," Beth said, pulling on the hem of the skirt trying to give it length.

"Leave it alone Beth."

"I feel naked," Beth complained. Michelle could understand the feeling. She remembered the well the first night she had worn a skirt. Curiously, it had been a skirt much like this one.

"You'll get used to it in no time."

Michelle shook her head clearing the memory and concentrated on the clicking from their shoes echoing off the walls. You can't think about all this. You're just feeling sorry for yourself. Michelle knew it was true. She was reliving her pain and fear through her son's experience and that was unfair to both of them as Beth's experience was involuntary and completely different.

"Please Mom. These shoes hurt my toes. Slow down."

In the HOV, Beth's anxiety had once again climbed to unknown heights. She began to hyperventilate, her skin began to pale, and Michelle thought she might faint. She beseeched her mother to turn the vehicle around, to postpone this until tomorrow. Michelle knew however, that if she did that she would give in the next day and the next, and Beth's fear would grow exponentially with each day. It would grow until she and they were caught. Michelle assured Beth that once she got this over with the rest would come naturally for her.

The registration had to be done in person. Explanations would have to be made why William was out. Since little or no valid information came out FST badlands then she could effectively claim a family member not wanting their daughter growing up in such an environment be sent East to be raised in America. At least until such a time as Oregon, Montana, the Dakotas and Washington could be reclaimed from Canada. The claim was that this girl had been effectively smuggled out of Canada. Since diplomatic connections with that country had been severed years ago, there would be no questions.

This request would allow William, who was sixty 'work credit hours' away from graduating, to leave early for his summer trip to Germany, and allow Beth his slot and a guaranteed slot for next year. William could complete his sixty 'work credit hours' by completing a forty-page paper on his travels in Europe. If it were submitted prior to the start of his first college semester, he could continue his educational career without interruption, or he could choose to take a year off by the rules of the Federal College Accreditation Board.

So William had left over the weekend. Gary, who was left handed just like William, had signed the withdrawal request papers and the promise to submit his thesis on European Safe Zones in one year and then return for college.

Michelle would take this paper, Beth and her new ID, and fill the empty slot. Gary had wanted to go. The story was a thin one and Gary worried that if it fell through then his wife and child were at great risk to be arrested on the spot. Gary had, however, relented to his wife's request for greater responsibility in this problem. "There has to be a good guy in all of this Gary. I'm already playing the part of the bad guy here. Let's not change roles now. Let her be mad at me. I know what I'm dealing with where her feelings are concerned." Gary had also agreed with that. The damage to the relationship of the two women could be repaired later.

Now Michelle struggled to keep up an emotion-free front. She didn't want the girl to see the grief in her eyes, the emotion in her face. Beth could not know what turmoil was going on behind Michelle's eyes. It was hard enough to look at that face since they, Michelle and Gary, had made the executive decision to incorporate Beth into mainstream life to avoid undue suspicion and thereby buying them enough time to extricate William from his female shell. To do so now, to show weakness to the child when she was clearly in such a desperate state, would have been to admit that neither Michelle nor Gary had much faith in a quick return for William. That kind of validation Beth didn't need right now. So Michelle walked on.

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At last the girl did catch up but it was hard for her. Her feet hurt; she was not used to the elevated heels. Her toes felt as if they were pinched in to the toes of the shoes. The hose she wore felt funny; they were hot and tight against her skin. She couldn't understand why she had to wear all this stuff. Now she was being thrust back into school, her school... no his school and she didn't want to. She wanted to hide.

Thankfully there were few people in the hall, faces she recognized but couldn't put a name to, no one she knew... yet! The sound of her and her mother's shoes clicked and clacked and echoed off the tiled walls and lockers in the hall. She never remembered having this much trouble keeping up with her Mother before. She considered that perhaps it was more than just shoes but also the length of her legs. She had come to realize that she was now on an almost even keel with her Mom. She couldn't remember the last time she hadn't looked down at her when the spoke; but now they were equal height and she could no longer just out step her.

"Mom, I'm scared. Can't we do this tomorrow?" The apprehension she had felt as they had driven up to the school was now turning into a sick, strangling fear. Beth had started to gag involuntarily and was afraid she might retch. She brought her hand up to her mouth suddenly sure she was going to vomit and began looking around for a restroom. Michelle had pulled up next to Beth and was trying to relax the child by massaging her shoulders when Beth bolted away.

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"Beth?" Michelle called, but the girl was gone, racing for a pair of doors one door marked "Men" and the other marked "Women".

"Uh oh!" Michelle said distractedly as she took off after her daughter. The distance between the two widened and Michelle was impressed at just how fast the girl could run. She supposed Beth's nerves had gotten the best of her. She watched as Beth brought up her other hand and to her horror used it to force open the door to the men's room. The door crashed open and Beth disappeared inside.

"OK Miss smarty pants, what now?" Michelle thought. She stood in front of the door uncertain of what to do next. From inside she could hear whoops and hollers from the boys that were inside. Michelle knew the kind of boys that could be found in the men's room after class had started and from the teasing and cajoling she decided that it was going to be worth any explanation necessary if she invaded that inner sanctum. She pushed the door open and stepped inside.

She was immediately assaulted by the smell of smoke mixed with the smell of urine and disinfectant. The air was hazy like that over the city on hot summer days. Along one wall to her right and out of sight of the door stood a line of urinals. Michelle couldn't remember the last time she had seen one. The condition of these made her grateful she hadn't. They were overflowing with cigarette butts, toilet paper, cups and other artefacts that couldn't be clearly and quickly identified with out closer inspection. A task she had no intention of performing. Several had leaking plumbing and slowly dribbled a steady stream of fluid down the wall on to the floor and to a drain in the middle of the room. She wrinkled her nose at the sights and smells and pressed on.

Around one stall was a group of rough looking young men clad in their Catholic school uniforms: pressed blue slacks and starched white shirts. But even the uniforms could not cover up that these boys were punks! Their hair was mussed up and shirttails hung out of their pants. Under the wall of the stall Michelle could see the legs of her daughter kneeling in front of the bowl of the commode inside.

"Boozing it up too early girl!" one boy shouted and the other laughed at the truly lame attempt at humor.

"Power Puke!" cried another.

"Don't take this one to any of your parties Bob..." and the boy punched the alleged Bob in the shoulder and Bob flashed a huge grin back at his friend.

"Excuse me," Michelle said as she pushed her way past the boys.

"Wow!" one of the boys exclaimed. Another one breathed out "Whew!" Ignoring them as she now did everyone that had exclamations when they first saw her, she pushed past them and into the stall. It smelled badly. Along with the native smells there was now the smell of acid and partially digested food. It made Michelle want to flee, but instead she knelt next to her daughter and rubbed her back and soothed her. "It's OK, baby... let it out."

"You shouldn't let her drink so much lady," Michelle looked up to see all of the young men laughing and nodding in approval at the young man's verbal attack on her child.

"Do the world a favor when you're old enough little boy... don't breed. Although I'm sure there won't be many women that would allow you to anyway so what I am worried about?" She turned her attention back to her daughter amidst a hail of "Screw you lady!" and hysterical laughter from boy's peers.

"Mom..." croaked Beth, "Make them go away." And then she returned to another volley of vomiting.

"I can't dear, we're in the boys' bathroom."

"So, I..." Beth started to say and then realized this room was now off limits to her. "Oh God..." she groaned. "Get me out of here, please." Michelle helped her to her feet and the boys that were still standing around moved out of the way and allowed the two women to pass. Only one stood half in half out of the way of the pair but did nothing to prevent their leaving. Instead he stared balefully at Michelle who walked past him without flinching. It was a nervous moment for her. The boy was much larger than she was and obviously stronger. Although she could probably have held her own long enough for help to arrive, if the boy had wanted he could have hurt her, or worse, hurt Beth.

As they left she could hear the boys start talking about them.

"Man, the blonde was smokin'."

"You like puking women? Man you are some kind of sick sewer rat." That was worthy of a renewed gale of laughter from the group.

"I'd poke the other one any fucking day. She was unbelievable. Did you see her?" Michelle shivered at the vulgarity. She could remember a time as someone else when she had hung out in places like this and talked like that about girls she hadn't even known.

"What a bitch!" cried someone and the door swung shut to the sounds of more laughter.

Michelle led Beth to the adjacent door, pushed it open and walked in to the more familiar surroundings of the woman's restroom. Here the room smelled much cleaner and although the smell of smoke hung in the air just as it did in the men's room, the smell of urine was decidedly absent. In its place were the sickly sweet smells of too many different types perfume that mingled with the smoke, but anything was better than what waited for people next door.

Beth was stable now, she went to the sink and drew some water and splashed it on her face. She stood there with her head hung over the sink and stared down in to the basin. Michelle looked on worried but allowed Beth the room to think. "I can't do this Mom." Beth said breaking the silence.

"Honey," Michelle started in a sympathetic tone, but Beth cut her off.

"No! I can't do this. I can't come to this place and pretend like nothing's happening when people are going to treat me like they did!" she said angrily, pointing in the direction of the boys' room next door. Michelle looked beneath the stalls to see if feet could be seen before the conversation went much further, and to her relief the room appeared to be empty.

"Life's going to be just a little different for a while, that's all." Michelle walked over to the girl and tried to comfort her but the Beth stepped away from her.

"A little different?" exclaimed the girl, surprised at the how light her mother seemed to be making her problem. Beth grabbed the hem of the skirt she was zipped into and tugged on it and shouted. "Does this look like it's just a little different to you? Why couldn't I have at least worn pants Mom?"

"I know what the dress code at this school is Beth. Your Father and I pay for you to go here so it becomes our job to know these things. Girls must wear skirts or dresses not shorter than two inches above the knee. Girls are not to wear slacks. Next question."

"Oohhhhhhhhh..." she cried in frustration. "Mother... I'm not a girl!"

"For now dear, yes you are." As much as it pained her to say, she had to get the ball rolling. They couldn't just stay here in the bathroom until the next class rotation. "It's time to check in Beth."

"But... but... I'm sick... you saw that! You have to take me home Mom. I can't stay at school when I'm sick."

"You're not sick. That was nerves. Nice try though baby," she said moving to Beth's side, "If we don't do this today then we have to do this tomorrow. You also have to remember that I'm Aunt Michelle or just Michelle if you want but you have to remember." Michelle tried to act casual about it all as she smoothed out the child's uniform, straightened her skirt, all as the younger girl looked on in horror. She was going to have to go through with this.

Beth cut her off, "Don't baby me. It's written all over you face. I'm not stupid you know. If registration in the damned database wasn't bad enough..." She paused to soak in the reality her mother had just conveyed to her, "You're trying to avoid saying what's so painfully obvious."

Before Michelle could formulate a way to try to explain to Beth why this had to happen this way Beth spoke. "Fine!" she spat, "Fine, let's get this over with before I change my mind. If I have to live my life out like this then I'd better start getting used to being a freak!"

Michelle grabbed her daughter by the arm and pulled her back gently to face her. "You are not a freak!"

The Aunt Michelle pseudonym didn't hold water with Beth, and Michelle didn't feel that arguing over such a small issue was worth her time right now. "Yes I am Mother. I'm a regular sideshow attraction; and so are you!" Michelle was aghast. She was so surprised by the accusation she didn't know what to say. Her daughter continued with the venom of hatred for herself. "Why else would those boys have treated me like that? If that's what the world is like for women, then I'd rather be dead Mom."


"Don't what Mom? Don't say things like that? What kind of life do I have to look forward to like this?"

"It's not forever," Michelle croaked weakly not believing the words.

"Then why put me in the database as Beth? Why enroll me in school? Why make me wear this foolish shit?"

"Watch your..."

"No Mother, I won't watch my language. Who's listening? You're not! You're not hearing one damned thing I'm saying. I'm a freaking guy Mom, and I'll tell you something else; I'm forgetting what it feels like to be a guy. This fucking body I'm in has some sort of control over how I feel! You can't possibly understand how strange I'm starting to feel. Reality is slipping away Mom."

Please GOD, show me a way to let her know that I understand, Michelle wished, but no sign from the heavens broke upon her.

"You think that a guy can just ease on into life as a girl Mom? Being a guy is all I know. It's all I want; and now that I see how you girls have to live, I want my life back even more."

"I know how you must feel but..."

"How could you possibly know how I feel?" Beth spat at her mother.

"...but, feeling sorry for yourself isn't going to change anything. Your Father and I are working on the problem. The best thing you can do to help is not draw attention to yourself as in acting strangely or behaving as if you were out of your element. Think about how much harder it's going to be for you to get free of this problem with your Father or I or both in jail for contraband use."

The girl's eyes got very large at the idea of her parents in jail, her fate sealed so speak. Realizing her tantrum had been cut short she sulked. Her self-righteous indignation deflated, she pouted, "I'm doing this under protest! I just want to make that clear."

"Duly noted."

"OK, OK... let's go before I loose my nerve again."

"That's my girl."


"Oh... sorry hon. All I meant was..." Michelle stammered.

"Never mind Mom. Let's go." Beth moved off with set determination like a prisoner being led to the gallows. She trudged along practically dragging her feet. Michelle caught up with her just outside the bathroom and put her arm around the girl's waist and then looked over at Beth and smiled. That waive of familiarity rushed over her again. The idea that, I have my daughter back seemed so right to her. She had seen this girl playing as young child in... in... Russia! It seemed so real, this girl and her and some time before, on a visit home.

Michelle shook her head to clear away the intruding thoughts. Russia indeed! She had never even been to Russia before. She almost laughed out loud at the thought, but she could almost feel the cool breezes off the Baltic Sea in spring. She could smell the wild flowers as they came in to bloom over all the hillsides. Why after twenty years of happiness does all this have to happen to us? First this thing with William and now I'm going perfectly insane.

Beth seemed to either be very upset, which was likely or daydreaming about something. "Beth? Pssst! Helloooo?" Beth's eyes fluttered for a second and then cleared.

"What?" she said, clearly in a grouchy mood.

"Nothing, you looked kind of glassed over that's all. You OK?" Michelle asked and touched Beth on the shoulder


"OK, OK, forget I asked," Michelle waived off the subject. Michelle forgot the daydream very quickly.

Outside the doors of the administrative office Beth made one more plea not to be "fed to the lions."

Michelle's heart bled for her. She wanted to wrap her up and shield her from what Michelle knew she had to face, if not today then tomorrow. Postponing would only make things harder. Harder to jump into the fray later if they could not release their son; harder to adjust to being female because she had been sheltered and promised that wouldn't happen. And although Michelle would never say it audibly, she believed it would make it harder to answer to what was in all likelihood her permanent identity. Because of her past experience she would believe it when she saw it!

More than anything else she wanted to tell her son, now daughter, that yes, she did understand. She understood every feeling, every sensation. She knew what it was like to feel like things were missing off of you, or that alien things were now sprouting off you in great numbers. That the thoughts in your head were so different that you couldn't possibly understand how as a male you had ever had the ideas you had once entertained. Everything was specific in their differences, and yet so vague and abstract that you couldn't define it. Because you could no longer remember exactly what you had felt or thought or said when you were that other person. All you knew was that everything was different. Michelle wanted to tell Beth that she had been there and that it does get much better, given the time. But then she had had someone deeply in love with her too. Michelle had been close to telling her two or three times just in an attempt to help ease the pain. But there would have been an element missing from Beth's experience that Michelle had in hers, and it wouldn't be fair of her to compare the two.

It wouldn't be fair for Beth because Michelle had absolute no intention of opening that Pandora's box in front of her daughter. She still had hopes of retrieving her son; however thin those hopes may be. They were her only grip on sanity right now; the only thing that kept her moving in a positive light and attitude. If Beth was led to believe that there was solace in the arms of some boy, if out of desperation and loneliness she decided to allow herself to be swayed, if in the confusion of her transformation she didn't stop and think but rather yielded to the moment and the unimaginable happened... Michelle shuddered at the thought, then she would be she forever. No going back after that, that's for sure. Don't tell me, I'll tell you. Roger that good buddy, ten four. Yep, the weather is AOK and you're cleared for landing.

No, she couldn't tell her. She had to be strong.

"Don't you think that 'fed to the lions' is a bit harsh?" Michelle asked.

"You saw those guys back there, they sure looked like lions to me."

"They didn't really do anything. Besides if they had all you needed to do was throw up on them. That would done the trick."


"Come on hon, let's get this over with."

Beth sighed and now it was Michelle's turn to grimace. She dug around in her purse and found a few breath mints. "No offense, but you'll want these."

Beth looked at the mints in her Mother's hand, took them and popped one in her mouth. "Thanks", she said around the breath mint. "You don't have any tranquilizers in there do you?"

"Let's go young lady." And with that Beth rolled her eyes and went in the office to begin her journey as Beth Wright, niece to Gary.

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"Where's Billy boy Randy?" came a shout from the back of the class.

"Dunno! He wasn't on the corner this morning when I came by to pick him up."

"He's ditching!" shouted someone else.

"Jocks don't ditch! They actually like this place." That spawned whoops and laughter through the class.

"All right... settle down. I'm sure Mr. Shipley can handle himself. As for the rest of you, you all belong to me for the next..." Mr. Lynden looked at his watch, "one hour and ten. You know the drill, get out your paper and start taking notes." This was followed by groans and coughing, and the rattle of paper which was at a premium, but Mr. Lynden insisted that it be done his way. So instead of receiving notes on a chip as was done in most classes or in others allowing them to be dictated in to HANDVID's, Mr. Lynden wrote out miles of notes on the chalkboards he had installed at his own expense and then made the students copy the notes by hand. Ninety percent of a student's grade at the end of the year was decided on the completeness and quality of the notes. You could actually pass the class with a high B even if you refused to take any of the tests if you only copied the notes and kept track of them from quarter to quarter. It was the easiest class to pass, and the hardest to execute. William, the history freak, had been the only one in all the classes that seemed to enjoy the exercise.

The class was sullenly quite and usually stayed that way until the bell rung; but today there was an exception. A disturbance outside the open passage way to his classroom got Mister Lynden's attention, and that in turn got everyone else's. Then a knock on the partition and when everyone looked up from their writing they all saw the principal of the school. Behind him was a girl and when Randall James Benton saw her he thought he was going to have a stroke.

His pulse rate went sky high, so high in fact he felt light headed. When he came down off the natural high of adrenaline several hours later he would suffer from a headache until he fell asleep later on that night. His view of her was still blocked by Lynden and Joles the principal; but he could see enough to know that she was beautiful.

At last the conference at the passageway ended and Mr. Lynden walked in with a girl that had the most beautiful face he had ever seen. She was angelic. She seemed to be enveloped in that soft warm glow you often see in older VIDs. 'Soft focus', Randy thought it was called but couldn't remember for sure. In fact until this moment he had always considered his best friend's mother to be gorgeous beyond words. He even had a bit of a crush on her. This girl reminded him of that type of outwardly beauty. In fact, when he concentrated he could see a faint resemblance to Mrs. Shipley in the high cheek bones and the shape of the eyes, eyes that he could see even from his seat on the other side of the room were deep blue.

Randy became aware that he was gawking. He had the sense that his mouth was hanging open and he absently snapped it shut. There was no noise in the room. Everything was complete silence as the class watched as Mr. Lynden walked the girl to the front of the room to face the class.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Mr. Lynden began, "It seems we have a couple of changes to your rotation. First, it seems that Master Shipley has decided, given his advanced academic status, to leave us all and travel Europe for a year." Everyone turned and looked at Randy. With a confused look on his face all Randy could return was a shrug and a look that suggested, 'Hey he's only my best friend. What the hell should I know?' Mr. Lynden continued. "Given this event, the Shipleys have brought William's cousin out from Oregon to fill his vacant slot. So I want you all welcome her to America. This is Beth Wright! Say hello class."

While the boys in the class all spoke up with whoops and catcalls, the girls were mostly silent. There was an undercurrent on both sides of the gender spectrum. For the guys it was hope, and for the girls there was disgust, that sense that the competition had just heated up.

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Lynden tuned to Beth, "Now you... no leading the boys on in my class young lady." Beth blushed and wished she could hide under a rock. Lead the boys on? Yuck! He could have gone all fucking year without saying that. "Now, you..." he surveyed the class and found William's old desk vacant. "...can sit next to Squire Benton.

Beth lifted her eyes for just a second to plot a course to her seat; her... his old seat, and then cast them to the floor again. "Go on young lady." Mr. Lynden prompted and Beth started to move toward the study unit. She glanced left, right and just slightly a head of her. The faces she saw were all friends of hers.

No, not my friends, his friends! I want out! I have to get this freak costume off somehow!

Now the faces, although recognized for who they were, seemed to look different to her. The girls that had all looked at William with sparks of desire for the sports hero he had been now seemed hateful and full of baleful distrust. In each she could almost see the basics of a sinister plan in the works. Behind the eyes she could almost read the words, Go away! You're not wanted here, from Stephanie Mathers; Stay away from what's mine! from Carla Rose; You so much look at my boyfriend and I'll kill you! from Geri Carson.

The boys were somehow worse. Each one she had hung out with after a game or on a date someplace. With each of these guys she had traded stories of which one of these girls was the best lay, or who wanted who as though they had been cheap toys without need for respect or regard for their feelings. Now, suddenly she was among their ilk. She was not just fair game but true game. She was no longer the hunter, but had become the hunted. It was the reason she now had to sit to pee. It was that attitude that had gotten her in so much trouble. Now she was going to be chased as William had chased all the others. That thought scared her beyond reason.

The eyes on the faces of these boys told her much. She had never seen such depraved looks before. Each male face had her walking down the aisle nude or in her underwear. She could imagine worse but her mind stopped them at her underwear. She wanted to wrap a thick flannel blanket around her body and protect it from view.

The length of the aisle between the study units seemed miserably long and with each glaring eye or frozen, gawking male face she was made more and more aware of just how alien her body felt to her. How off balance she felt. She was painfully aware of a jiggling vibration on her chest and pulled her books tight to her bosom to prevent it from creeping in on her concentration.

She sat in the seat and tried desperately to pull her skirt beyond her knees. Fidgeting and squirming, she finally got as comfortable as she could get with all the eyes of the class on her. It would have helped some if her first class had been with a teacher that actually taught! Here there were only notes. Maybe that would be a blessing. She could concentrate on history and not look up from her note taking. In the past she was usually done quickly but today she would take her time and not look back at the hateful or hungry faces. Beth supposed it could be worse.

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With few exceptions the class was back at work. "Squire Benton, will you please explain the procedures of this class for Ms. Wright?" Lynden concluded as he walked back to his desk to continue reading his News VID.

"Hi," Randy eagerly stuck out his hand, "I'm Randy," but the girl ignored him. Randy saw some slight blushing around the cheeks and fell hopelessly in love with the picture his mind formed. He cleared his throat and tried again. He opened his mouth and what fell out surprised them both. "You are just so beautiful!" At his the girl suddenly went rigid, the class stopped writing and three or four in the class snorted laughter through their noses.

"Rannnnnddddddaaaaaaaa maaaaaannnnnnn!" Eric Gross shouted out.

Randy blushed this time and stumbled for something else to say, embarrassed he had been so forward. "Ah, ah..." he started with an air of confusion, "crap!" he muttered and, flustered tried to recover.

"You're going to have to teach me that one Randy," his peers started to jeer at him.

"She wants you man..." called Sammy Coulter from the back corner.

Randy was clumsy around women. He was not unattractive but he also not athletic or strikingly good-looking either. He was just average looking, like most guys in school. He had, however, an incredible mind. His IQ was somewhere near 155 or higher. This gave him the appearance of being somewhat bookish at times and contributed to his social incompetence.

Now, he had allowed the blunt truth out.

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Randy was flustered and trying to recover but his embarrassment was taking him down. She had to save him, but she understood she had to be distant. Send the wrong signals here and he'll attach himself to you like a shadow.

She stuck out one slender hand and said, "Hi."

Randy exhaled a breath of relief and his bright red coloring faded somewhat as did Beth's, "My name is Randy."

"Yes, I know, Mr. Lynden told me, remember." She had wanted her tone to be cool, but it came out cold and she lamented herself for it.

Randy shook it off with a slightly hurt look and then got down to business, "OK, here's how this class works. All you have to do is just..."

"Take notes. Yes. I can see them on the board. Look, I really want to thank you for all your help. But I just don't feel like socializing right now or getting to know anyone new." She felt bad about the way she was treating him, horrible in fact. The truth was she didn't want to get close to anyone. She didn't want to make friends as Beth. She didn't want to be a real girl. In her mind if she remained an island, she could pretend that no one would notice when she was gone, and that would get her back to William sooner.

Randy turned his head in confusion. "Look, I'm sorry if offended you. I was just trying to pay you and complement."

"That's not it," insisted Beth in a whispered tone trying to keep what was brewing to be an argument out of the earshot of Mr. Lynden.

"It's not? Well, I guess ordinary guys are not your style is that it?" Randy was starting to get a little mad which was uncharacteristic of Randy and she was starting to feel hurt and defensive. Beth had forgotten that Randy didn't know it was, as Erin had put it, "William under all this girl."

"Look you wouldn't understand even if I tried to explain it. You're just," she fumbled around for the right word and spat you exactly the wrong thing, "...not what I need right now." She knew the minute she said it that those words were trouble.

"Not what you need? What the hell do you think we're doing here? Going out on a date? I'm just trying to be friendly."


"For what? So you can make me feel like a bigger jerk? No thank you." He was raising his voice. This was something she had never seen Randy do and Beth's misery was now complete. She must have hurt him more than she could have imagined. Beth had not yet mastered the art of letting someone down easy. But she could see why girls did it, as foolish and transparent as it always seemed. It was more to spare her feelings. Beth found she felt like she wanted to cry. Randy was a good person and she had made a fool of him, in front of all his friends no less.

"It's not like that..." she began.

"Ms. Wright?" It was Mr. Lynden. "Is something the matter or is Squire Benton so captivating that your school work no longer seems important?"

Again the class laughed at her expense. Blushing badly now she said, "No Sir, we were just going over what I needed to get my assignment completed."

"Hummmm, yes. Well, please keep it down will you? It would be a very disappointing idea indeed to think that such a pretty young lady is going to be a disruption to this class so soon after joining us." He turned and went back to his paper.

"Yes Sir."

She turned back to Randy, who was back to writing his notes deliberately not looking at her. "I'm sorry," she whispered to him but he ignored her. She tried again. "I said I was..."

"Look," he said and turned to her, "no harm no foul. You leave me alone; I'll leave you alone, OK? I'm sorry I said you looked beautiful. I can promise you, it won't happen again," and with that he turned and went back to his work.

Beth was amazed that he hadn't called her a bitch. "Good going! You know Randy has a good heart and a friend couldn't hurt in all of this."

From behind Randy she could see out of her peripheral vision the hand of cute Geri Carson reach up to rub Randy's back in a sympathetic gesture. She gently and slowly rubbed his back with her long dark fingers and brightly polished nails. Geri slowly turned her head to look at Beth and quietly said, "Bitch!"

With that Beth did cry. She sobbed silent tears that made Geri smile. This one, Geri thought, doesn't stand a chance.

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Michelle walked quickly off after leaving the office. It was all she could do not to run back screaming it was all a huge mistake; that Beth didn't belong here, not like this. But she had been strong, right or wrong it was done now, Beth was in the system. They would work on returning her to her proper state as their son and then worry about returning Beth to her proper state, non-existent, as soon as they found a way to get that thing disengaged.

Now however, depression was setting in. The feeling that she had betrayed her son, that she was conspiring to keep William as a girl, was starting to overwhelm her. Every fibre of her being told her that she had just passed hemlock to her son and told him it was grape Kool-Aid. Maybe you should change your name to Jim Jones.

On the way home she moaned quietly to herself in an effort to stave off the tears that were trying to drive their way out of her body. She was a woman in mourning. Michelle's vision would blur with them as they surfaced but she was able to force them back. Michelle focused on her children. They only had themselves to count on. If Gary and herself were taken away, who would care for Shelly? Erin could but she would also be busy caring for herself as well. If they were arrested, then that would mean that Beth would have been arrested as well.

Despair hit her hard and she wanted to weep for her son. But she told herself to be strong. No one must see her cry as she left the building. She held on and made it home and in uncharacteristic style, she started drinking at 9:30 am. But she didn't cry. That was at least something. By noon she was numb, by 1:00 she was asleep. Time passed and Michelle was blissfully unaware of it's passing.

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Detective Callahan stood at the window thinking about Michelle Donavan. The erection he was supporting was huge. He knew that she was in trouble, and if she stayed with that Shipley character much longer then she would wind up dead. Just like Vello.

The disease he was host to was rapidly feasting on his brain cells and leaving huge holes where tissue had once been. He was still capable of rational thought nearly all day long, but his moments of delusion were coming more and more frequently with longer periods of duration, like now.

He had been standing at the window; left hand stuck down his trousers stroking his penis while the two office workers in the building across the alley looked on in horror. He was oblivious to their presence. His focus was his lovely future bride, Ms. Donavan. He refused the think of her as Mrs. Shipley any longer. She had never really been legally wed to pathetic snail Shipley. How could she have been? He shouldn't be free to marry, he should be in jail; everything he had done since killing Vello was not legal or valid. It was Callahan's duty to take what Shipley had created and validate it; make it legal.

And of course, rid the world of those spawn he had forced Michelle to bear. Yes, he would drown them like his Grandfather had done with the male goats that were born on his farm in Western Pennsylvania. Then Michelle would be free of all the burden and chains that were forced on her by Shipley. He stroked hard on his staff and soon a gooey wet spot spread on his surface of his pants.

Behind him his VID started beeping. "God damn..." he said, startled. He yanked his hand out of his pants and slung spunk on the glass of the window.


One woman, who had been unable to look away, gagged and drew her shade when the white crap landed there. The other man could been seen to mouth the words, "Holy shit! Is that what I think it is?" but the woman's response was unknown because of the drawn shade.

Callahan lurched back to his desk and he looked at the screen not believing what he was seeing. He had set the flag just after that little shit head had stolen his betrothed. Now, after all these years, something had happened to set it off. Something was not reconcilable in a database some place.

His hard-on forgotten, Callahan sat at the desk and dug in to the source of the error. William Shipley was not in school, withdrawn! It said to that he had gone to Europe to complete his studies. "So fucking what?" growled Callahan. "Wait... Oh yeah baby," he said as he realized there were no travel records for young Shipley. If he had gone already, then there should be some record of his getting there.

Callahan's mind cleared as he did the work that, as a young officer had made him famous in Rouston, and the youngest detective the force had ever seen. Not only were there no records of flight, there was no record his passport chip had been recorded leaving the country or entering any others. Callahan called the school, but they said he was recorded as "out of the country" already. Something was not right.

Callahan looked up from the VID, a big grin spread across his face and said. "Gotcha!"

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At the end of class, in a world where order ruled, it only made sense that since William wouldn't need his assigned seat in the class rotation or his locker while in Germany, Beth would use them. The trouble for Beth was that these assignments had been made at the personal request of William and Randy at the beginning of the year. The two boys were not only best friends but also school project collaborators. So the two had made sure they were close at hand to each other during the school year. The two together were a complete set, one complete student if you will. Randy provided William with the necessary know-how on technical projects for math and science. Where Randy was good with numbers William was good with history. Alone, they would have struggled in the others area of expertise. But the together they had the best time a pair of kids one could imagine.

Now as this girl, she had alienated her (William's) best friend with a few simple words. She had managed to cut him where she knew he was most vulnerable without even meaning to. The words had been a slip. Now, she had to either repair the damage or spend an unknown period of time sitting next to someone that hated her. If luck hadn't changed, then she would likely drive Randy to stab her to death before the end of the day. She wanted Randy on her side for no other reason that she knew she could trust him.

Slowly she moved out of the class at the sound of the bell and made the way along the hall to her locker.

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It hurt Randy to think that Billy had gone off to Germany with out so much as a "See ya fuck face," William's favorite departing salutation, but he fully expected to hear from his friend soon. When a good thing happened to William, he just couldn't keep from rubbing it in Randy's face for too long and he really didn't mind, Randy was one of those rare people that was genuinely glad to see good things happen to others even if he had been left out.

Now, he had the wonderful prospect of looking forward to this new girl sitting next to him for the rest of the year. He simply couldn't stand it any longer. If life got any better he was just going to have to shoot himself as soon as he could. What the hell had he done to deserve such a miserable fate? It was bad enough he usually got tongue-tied around pretty girls, but to have one that seemed to enjoy making him look foolish sit next to him was misery, never ending misery. I hate you for this Billy-boy.

One bright spot in all of this is that this girl, Beth, didn't seem to be making any other allies in class. As bad as Randy felt about being so mean-spirited, she had worked hard for such a distinction. It was well earned. It was right she get what she had worked so hard for. Still, he could not help but feel sorry for her. I wish that she were just a little friendly.

His thoughts turned from the unpleasant events of the previous class and back to his friend. It was strange knowing that Billy wasn't going to be at school for a while. Randy scoured around in his locker for his history book. History, that's what I'm going to be in this class without you pal, history! "There you are..." he grabbed for the book when the door of the locker next to his crashed into his own. That was William's locker and at first it didn't seem strange at all to have it opened between classes.

"Hey! You want to be..." he pulled his locker door closed to see her. "Oh it's you," he said and started to close up his locker and walk away but then realized that this girl was invading his buddy's territory. "Just what do you think you're doing? That locker belongs to my pal."

The girl glanced at him with sad eyes, and then without a word continued to rummage around in the messy space that was William's locker. "Fine! Be that way." Randy said and shut and locked his locker.

"Wait!" said the girl, she reached out and grabbed Randy's shoulder. "I'm sorry... "

"Forget it!" he said curtly and started to walk off again.

"Why are you being such a butt-head?" she said angrily stopping Randy dead in his tracks.

"What's your problem?" he asked turning on her.

"If I told you, you wouldn't believe me. As long as I'm apologizing, I'm sorry about what I just said too. You're not a butt-head."

"Yeah he is! You just haven't gotten to know him well enough yet," shouted a girl from the bank of lockers opposite of where they were standing. There was giggling up and down the hall at that. Randy shook his head, "Thanks. Thanks a lot."

He turned to go a third time when Beth confessed, "Look, I'm having a really bad day here. Can't a person have a bad day around with you?"

"Sure, you can have a bad day. Have a whole bunch of them for all I care. Just don't blame me for them, OK? All I was trying to do was be nice. It might have made a difference in your bad day if you had just let me." He started to walk away and then stopped for a second turned and said, "I assume that you'll be sitting next to me in all our classes since you seem to have completely replaced my friend."

There was something in her eyes that made Randy stop and ask, "What?" but the girl who was clutching her books tightly to her chest just shook her head no in short rapid jerks to indicate there was nothing wrong. Her eyes remained wide and frightened. For just a second, Randy's heart broke for her. She seemed so lost here. It would have been easy to get sucked in again. So he made the rules very easy for her to understand and calmly stated, "Since you and I are neighbors for the duration of the class day, I'm going to make you a promise. I won't compliment you any more and you don't make me look like the village idiot. Fair? Just because you're good looking doesn't give you the right to make others look foolish."

"I'm sorry." Beth offered with a weak, pathetic whine.

"Yeah, OK. Have a nice life." And with that Randy vanished in to the crowd of students leaving Beth alone and feeling awful for her friend, for herself, and for the mess she had made of her friendship. He's not your friend, he's William's friend. A voice in her head spoke up and she fretfully responded to it I'm William! I'm William! I'm William Goddamn it!

She shut William's locker and started off toward history class when a thought came to her. She rushed back to the locker, opened it, and found the papers she was looking for tucked in a pocket taped to the inside of the door. The name at the top of the cover sheet was 'Randy Benton'.

"Yessssss!" she exclaimed. "One bright spot in an otherwise gloomy day," she whispered to her self as she stuffed it back into the pocket. The paper wasn't due until tomorrow. If she played it just right, she could still get Randy his passing grade in history and regain his confidence at the same time. She smiled, a wide grin pasted on her pretty face. "Please God, don't let me screw this one up."

The rest of the day was tense and uncomfortable, much as it had started out. Beth would spend time in class avoiding stares and glares from males and females respectively. She had made a bad first impression. She wondered if she had been William still and had behaved the same way, would the class have acted so negatively? She doubted it. The world expected something different from her now than it had when she had been male. She hated that. It made her mad to think about it but she was helpless to change it. Fortunately she had a trick to pull tomorrow that she hoped would make the days to come better. Yes, it was nice to have something to look forward to.

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Michelle woke with a splitting headache sometime before four in the afternoon. "Oooooo, How long have I been sleeping?" she asked out loud to no one. She turned her head quickly to catch the time and when she did, it seemed her brains were sloshing against the insides of her skull. "Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!" she cried as she held her forehead to stave off what pain she could. When enough of the pain had receded that she felt that her head would not explode if she exposed her eyes to the light, she dared a glance at the clock. "Three forty-eight! Oh God, school is almost out."

Shelly was at a day care facility and was supposed to be there only for the morning but after depression had set in, Michelle had called and asked if there was room for Shelly to stay the entire day. Sandy, the Director, was happy to have her spend the entire day. Sandy and Shelly always had the best time together and Sandy was so good with children. So that meant, that Shelly was good until five p.m. and Michelle could get Erin to pick up Shelly for her.

Michelle slowly swung her feet over the edge of the bed as she eased herself up. What did you think you were doing starting to drink like that, and at 10:00 a.m.? "Whew! Someone shoot me, please."

She looked at herself in the mirror. "Wow! You look like crap girl,"she said and giggled. In fact she didn't look like crap, Her hair could have used brushing and her clothes were bed-wrinkled. It was nothing that a hairbrush and a pair of jeans and a t-shirt wouldn't fix.

Instead, she undressed to take a shower. She cast her skirt and blouse in the dry cleaning bin leaving her underwear on for the moment. In the huge master bathroom with its garden tub and six-head wall shower, she went to the basin. She turned on the water and slipped out of her bra and then her panties.

More concern struck her. She noticed that the effects of the hangover, a punishment she felt she deserved, were weakening. It wasn't the first time. Michelle had noticed it many times when she had been younger and she and Gary had been in the habit of inviting friends over for parties. It had taken a while for this secret trick of hers to make itself known.

At first, very shortly after they had been reunited; for want of a better term, she had gotten pregnant with Erin. Mike had always been a drinker. Michelle, much to her credit wasn't much of a drinker, not as much of one as she had been as Mike anyway. But when the music was loud and members of the band were over or some of her more rowdy friends, she sometimes lost track of how much she had taken in.

The mornings after had always started out like this afternoon had, with painful headaches and a sense that she was dehydrated and nauseated. It didn't take long for the feeling to pass completely. At first Michelle simply looked upon this as her own good fortune. Now however, when she saw herself as the symptoms faded she could see the bags under her eye's caused by the previous nights unrestrained festivities tighten and disappear. Wrinkles caused by the dehydration would fade to nothing on close inspection, and not gradually either. They would simply vanish right before her eyes.

Now as she looked in the full-length mirror at the nude body she identified as hers she knew they were all connected. She was not a normal human being. Oh she may be human enough, but not normal. She laughed at the idea. Why would she ever think that anything about her would ever be normal? It was clear that she was not aging, and she had a suspicion that she was never going to age. Her rejuvenation abilities were even more frightening. She thought to herself, how long does it take for your cuts to heal? As she couldn't remember the last time she had even had a cut she didn't have an answer.

She crossed her arms below her breasts and began to tremble. "I like who I am, but please... let me be just a normal girl," she whispered to the image in the mirror. Then the room darkened as if a dark storm cloud were passing by overhead. She looked to the large one-way window and she saw that it was bright and clear outside. She looked back at the mirror and gasped when she saw her sister Erin standing right beside her.

Michelle spun quickly on her heel. When she did, the bath mat she had been standing on slipped out from under her and she landed hard on bottom. In her mouth her teeth came together on her tongue and she let out a high-pitched whine of anguish. She could taste the coppery saltiness of blood in her mouth and knew that she had bit her tongue. She surmised she had probably cut it completely off from the impact and she realized that she was genuinely worried about just that.

"Outhh. OOOOooooooo." She didn't know if she should go soak her fanny or tend to her tongue. "Oh... Tha' hurth," she said, one hand on her cheek and one hand rubbing her left fanny cheek. The image of her sister, just as the dream she had had in the car with Shelly, was forgotten almost as fast as the fall had taken to happen.

Slowly she got up but already she understood what she was feeling. The pain was receding not only in her rear but from her mouth as well. She limped over to the basin. The pain may be receding but it was not gone, not by a long shot. With each step, she would give a small feminine grunt as the pain shot from her rump down her legs and up her back.

She got to the basin and hovered close to the mirror. She stuck out her tongue and examined it in the mirror. It was cut. Blood flowed from the surface in a steady stream. Michelle furrowed her brow in concern. How do I put a bandage on that? The idea made her giggle just a bit but the pain came back to her each time she did making it easy to stop laughing.

Michelle looked around the room for something to spark an idea on how to stop the bleeding. She was considering getting dressed and driving to the hospital when she decided to examine the wound again. The bleeding had nearly stopped. While she watched, with her tongue hanging out of her mouth, it did stop all together.

Michelle drew in air in surprise. The cut had not healed and was ugly and deep, but the bleeding had stopped. There was also no swelling, at least not yet. Michelle could not imagine this cut not swelling.

I guess that nixes any ideas Gary might have had for oral sex tonight. It was a sneaky thought and made her giggle even more and the pain came back again but not as bad. I'm healing. Right here as I watch, I'm healing. I bet if I stand here long enough, I could watch the wound close.

Michelle backed away from the mirror. She didn't want to watch that. Maybe Beth had been right about her, maybe she really was a freak. She couldn't tell Gary about this. Even worse, how was it that she had never noticed this before?

From the direction of the living room came the sounds of someone moving around. She stuck her head out of the bathroom door and shouted. "I'm in here!" and then in a lower voice, "Ouch! Ouch!" the pain returned and she held her cheek again.

"It's me Mother!" It was Beth, sounding her always pleasant and chipper self. Must have been another winder of a day for her. Michelle's heart broke for the girl, her own problems forgotten.

"I'm going to take a shower. I'll be right out," she said. Followed by. "Oooooooooo," as she sucked in air

Michelle sat on the bench built into the shower wall and let warm water cascade over her. Pain drifted to normalcy and she was able to relax a little and ignore the throbbing in her mouth.

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"How was your day?"

Michelle couldn't say why she had asked the question. She felt she probably knew what Beth's day had been like, the details didn't need to be queried. It was perhaps because it was the most obvious question to ask. It was simply a place to start. She supposed she could have come up with something more relevant if she had not been so preoccupied with the fading pain in her tongue.

"Mother, it was perhaps the second worst day of my life."

"Hon, I'm sure..."

"No Mom! No more. I'm sorry I was a prick. I'm sorry I was a stupid jock who only thought about what was in his jock. What do I have to say to get the fuck out of this mess?" Beth exploded. "I hate the name Beth. I just hate it. I've been punished for being a pig. I get it now. I've seen the light from the other side. God Damn... I get it!"


"No Mother!" screamed the girl. "I'm done! I want out!"

"I can't get you out," Michelle said flatly and Beth only stared back. "You must think I'm really enjoying this. What do you think is going on here? Do you that I haven't grown up enough to get over playing dress up? Do think I see you as some huge Barbie doll? I'm your mother. If there is anyone on this earth that wants you back it's me." Michelle moved closer to the child whose eyes were filled with tears that had not yet breached the dam.

"Honey. You are my only son. I don't want another daughter. I'm not having fun with this. I'm trying to protect us all. That includes you. I'm trying desperately to make sure that you are not in some Federal institution where they will keep you to avoid being exposed." She moved yet closer. "If that happens, you can forget about getting out of that body. I don't want to scare you, but baby, if they get their hands on you then I can't help you any more. You will simply cease to exist."

The child began to shudder and Michelle moved in one more time and held the child. "Shusssh It will all be OK."

"How do you know that mother?" Beth asked in a tender voice.

"Because I'm your mother, didn't I tell you that already?"

Beth sighed and wrapped her arms around her. She rested her head on her mother's shoulder and was grateful that she was there to comfort her. Beth could not remember a time, either as William or as the freak she had become, that she had needed her mother so. Beth made up her mind right then and there to help rather than hinder, to be what she was as long as she had to be, if only to help her parents focus on a way out rather then calming an irrational child.

She was not completely ready to submit to her body, but she was no longer going to punish her family for only trying to help. A light of sorts did in fact, come on in her head. She understood that the details of her outburst had been right. She had been a pig as a boy, a selfish jock that felt he was entitled to his fair share of the female high school sex pool, and he was going to take a double helping if he could because he was Captain football quarterback and King baseball pitcher. Maybe she should stop acting like the spoiled jock she admitted she had been and acting more like a normal, humble person she claimed she had learned to be.

Beth later that afternoon went to her mother and told her to go to work. To get out of the house and do what she enjoyed doing so much. Tending to her husband's castle.

"Hon, I really don't feel like working. I'd rather stay here and make sure that you're going to be OK."

"That's not true Mother. You've been dying to get out and work through some of your stress. I'm a constant reminder of your pain. Do you think I can't see it?"

"That's just not true, Will... Beth..." she slipped. It was a slip that, had it happened at the school administrative offices this morning would probably been over looked as an accident, but you never knew.

"See mother! You need a distraction. You need to work. Please go, or I'm going to start feeling guilty."

"What about you. Can't I be your distraction? You need one too."

"Mom. How can you distract me from this?" Beth took a sweeping hand to indicate her body but smiled a sweet smile. "I'll be fine for a few hours. Dad could probably use the support too."

Michelle smiled. "I could use a change of scene. But only if you're sure."

"Go!" Beth said and got up, smoothed out her skirt, turned and left the room. Michelle watched her go, then got up and went to her bedroom and changed for work. She donned a black thigh length dress, a gold necklace, black heels, and a clutch, and left for the Red Fish.

A distraction will be nice... any time with Gary will be good.

Gary had been surprised and pleased to see that Michelle had come in to help. "You want to be here?" he asked. "Don't get me wrong, I want you to stay if you want. I just don't want you taking on too much."

"I need to be here Gary. Besides, Beth insisted." Michelle smiled.

Gary lifted his eyebrows in surprise. "Is she going to be OK alone?"

"I think we have to find that out, don't you?"

Gary pursed his lips and nodded. He kissed his wife and she returned the favor. "Get to work then, there are customers that come here just to see your pretty face."

Michelle smiled, "Yes Sir!" and then saluted. It was one good evening in a sea of fear and doubt. That was a start.

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When they got home that night, Beth and Shelly were asleep and Erin was writing music. "Hi hon," Michelle said as she stuck her head in the bedroom door of her daughter's room.

"Hi Mom," Erin smiled as she looked up.

"How's Shelly doing?"

"She's great Mom. No trouble. She insisted on playing Tea Party with the new girl."

Michelle looked at Erin sideways with that comment but let it go. "I want to thank you for all the help you're giving me with Shelly. I know you have other things to do. I'll make it up to you."

"Naw... She's great Mom. She's a ton of fun. She sees things so differently. She's just a riot. We had chocolate covered bananas today; she called them Moose Ears. Where the hell did she get that?"

"Yeah, she's funny isn't she?" Michelle paused, then said, "Chocolate eh? Have you been holding out on me?"

Erin looked up and smiled. "No actually, I bought a batch for the bananas; there's some downstairs, help yourself. I don't think I could eat another bite for... oh, at least an hour or so."

After retrieving a hand full of chocolate morsels from the kitchen, Michelle returned to her bedroom and placed a napkin and the morsels on the nightstand next to her side of the bed.

Gary raised his eyes at the snack, his lips pursed. "You found someone's stockpile eh?"

Michelle narrowed her eyes at her husband. "Don't you touch my chocolate!" and she waved a finger at him.

"What? Are you kidding? I've never touched your chocolate, I value my manhood and don't want to find it laying next to me some morning."

"Mmmmm", Michelle moaned. She walked around to his side of the bed and knelt next to him where she stretched her hands over the flat of his stomach. "I do too. It would be a pity if you forgot that and accidentally ate some of my stash over there." She got up and kissed his lips gently and pulled away.

"Hey! Where ya goin?" Gary called after her; a small tent was rising under the sheet in the area of his waist. Michelle giggled at the sight of it. "Come back here!" he cried. "God... That's not fair."

She went to the garden bath to pee and get ready for what she had started, excited at the prospect of some play time with Gary. When she entered the bathroom she saw the mussed up bath mat she had slipped on earlier that day and remembered. She approached the mirror slowly and slowly stuck out her tongue. It was nearly healed.

"Oh no." she said, it was almost a whimper. "This is not happening to me. Please, I just want to be normal. Please!" She decided that this problem took a back seat to the one William was facing and decided not to mention it to Gary, which was status quo as far as she saw it. This development could wait and why not. At this rate her body might keep her alive for a hundred and fifty years or more. The idea of outliving Gary terrified her. She understood her heart better than most women and her heart told her there would never be another man for her. She would be alone until she joined him in death.

She went back to bed where Gary waited for her but her heart was filled with dread. Instead of making love, she allowed Gary to hold her but made no move to any amorous notions. Instead she tried to keep from shivering from her dread. Gary felt the fear in her body but made no attempt to ask her what was wrong. He felt he knew what was wrong and wanted to respect her desire to just be held.

So that's what he did. He was not the recipient of sleep that night. In the morning when she woke, he was still holding her.

"Mmmm... morning," she said groggily. She looked around her; the sun was not yet up. She stretched in his arms and then snuggled in again against his nude body. "How long have you been up?"

Gary shook his head. "Not long... just watching you sleep."


"Yep. I do that from time to time. Just watch you sleep."

She gave him a peck on the lips. "I love you. I'm sorry about last night."

"I'm not, I got to hold you all night long. As long as I'm close to you, I'm happy," Gary said and kissed her forehead.

"God, I still don't get it."


"What good thing I did to deserve you."

"You saved my life remember."

"Is that all? I would have done that anyway."

They lay there until they heard the kids stirring for school. Michelle got up, went to the bathroom; remembered again and took a tentative look at her tongue; half hoping it was infected. It was completely healed.

"Oh man," she moaned.

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