Coeds

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Coeds
By
Julie O.

Edited by Amelia R.

This story features characters from Fresh Start, Change of Course, The Protector series, The Scholarship, and Corruption.
Jennifer Stevens appears courtesy of Bob Arnold
Cameos by Trish, Amelia and Eve Peyton-Ten Broeck from Amazon are courtesy of Itinerant

Chapter 1

“Well, what do you think?’ asked Liz Reid.

“I can’t believe it’s the same place,” replied her daughter, Jirra. “I can’t believe that we totally furnished an apartment in less than a week.”

“I’m just glad that there’s an IKEA nearby,” replied Liz. “It sure makes it easier than when I was in college.”

“I’m just glad we don’t have another piece of furniture to put together,” said Jirra as she wiped her brow.

Jirra was about to start her freshman year at Penn, and she was living in a converted warehouse. Jirra’s apartment was on the second floor.

Initially, it had looked so bare, with its brick walls, but now it had Georgia O’Keeffe prints on the wall, a gift from the staff of the spa back in New Mexico. Another wall had photos of her family and friends from the spa. The drapes for the windows also made it homier. The pattern was Navaho, and they had been made for her by another member of the staff. There were also several jars and baskets that were Anasazi reproductions.

The hardwood floors were now covered by several Navaho rugs.

“I don’t know why we needed the rugs, I like walking barefoot on the floors,” said Jirra. “It feels nice and cool.”

“You won’t think that way come January,” said Liz. “Even with central heating, you’ll appreciate the rugs, Roo.”

“I know; I was just kidding,” said Jirra. She looked around her apartment. “I wouldn’t have thought that we could merge these two styles, but it works.”

“Southwestern Viking?” remarked Liz.

“All we need is a cactus,” said Jirra with a laugh.

“I’m sure we can find one, but I think a fern might look more hospitable,” replied Liz.

Jirra laughed again. “You know, I’m so happy that my place reminds me of home.”

Liz put her arm around Jirra. “So, you consider the spa home now?”

Jirra nodded. “It really didn’t hit me until we started the drive back east. I guess it’s because there are so many people there that mean a lot to me.”

“Well, I’m glad to hear that, as I don’t plan on moving anytime soon. To be honest, I’m tired of the gypsy lifestyle that I’ve led my whole adult life.”

“I hope Dan proposes to you soon,” said Jirra.

Liz cocked her head and stared back at her daughter. “Come on, we’ve only been dating for a short time.”

Dan was a college professor who was currently in charge of an archeological site near the spa.

“Still, it’s obvious that he likes you…a lot.”

“And how do you feel about this?” asked Liz. A sly smile was on her face.

“I don’t mind… and I don’t think Dad minds either,” Jirra added.

Major Travis Reid had been killed in action in Afghanistan.

“Thank you, Roo. And for the record, I like Dan a lot too,” replied Liz. “Tell you what, let’s finish mounting the pictures in your bedroom, and then let’s go to dinner.”

“That sounds like a great idea,” replied Jirra. She picked up a large framed movie poster. It was from Alexis Eden’s summer blockbuster “The Minotaur.” Alexis had it autographed by the all the stars and had sent it to Jirra as a housewarming gift. “You know, next to my computer, this might be the most valuable item in my place. The guy at the framing shop wanted to buy it from me.”

“It certainly has done well at the box office,” noted Liz, as they walked into Jirra’s bedroom.

“The critics didn’t like it, but Alexis said that’s normal for a Richard Thorn movie; she said that he makes movie for movie fans not critics.”

“I thought it was enjoyable, even though the dialog sounded like something from a comic book,” said Liz.

“Alexis said that was the idea, so teenage boys would pay to see it over and over again. She said Richard told her that critics don’t pay to get into a movie and teenage boys often pay several times, so it makes sense to make movies for them,” replied Jirra. “Still, I’m more interested in seeing Alexis’s new series. It will be worth the extra cost for the premium cable channel to see it.”

“From what she’s told you about it, it should be very good.”

Alexis was currently making a premium cable series based on the series of detective novels by Faith Collins. Alexis would be playing the Boston based detective Erin Flynn.

“Alexis doesn’t even mind that she had to dye her hair for the series,” added Jirra.

“Well, in the books Erin is a redhead,” replied Liz.

As they finished hanging the poster, there was a knock on the front door.

Jirra walked over, and after looking through the peephole, she opened the door. Standing in the hallway was the young woman who owned the building.

“I just stopped by to invite you and your mom for dinner,” she said. “We’re barbecuing on the deck, and I thought it would give you an opportunity to meet some of your neighbors.”

“That sounds great, Celeste; we were just talking about going out to dinner,” replied Jirra. “You want to come in and see what the place looks like?”

Celeste nodded and walked in. She was only wearing a pair of khaki shorts and a Penn t-shirt, yet Jirra noticed that, even dressed down, the young blonde woman carried an aura of sophistication.

Liz walked out of Jirra’s bedroom and smiled. “It’s good to see you again, Celeste.”

“Mom, she invited us to dinner; what do you say?” asked Jirra.

“That sounds wonderful,” replied Liz.

“I was going to ask if you needed anything, but you look like you’re pretty well established,” said Celeste. “I like what you’ve done with the place.”

Celeste scanned the room and smiled when she saw the stuffed toy kangaroo on the couch; she would have to ask Jirra about it some day when they knew each other better.

“Well, when you’re raised in a military family, you learn how to move,” answered Jirra.

Celeste was drawn to the photos of New Mexico. “Are these from the spa?”

Jirra nodded and began to explain the different photographs.

“I may have to take a trip out there; it looks beautiful,” noted Celeste.

“We’d love to have you, Celeste,” said Liz, as she walked out of the bedroom.

“Well, it’ll have to wait until spring break,” replied Celeste.

“That’s right, you’re a fulltime student yourself,” answered Liz.

Celeste nodded. “Well, I won’t keep you; we can talk more over dinner. Is six okay?”

Both Jirra and Liz nodded.

“Great, I really want you to meet my roommate and some of the others who live here,” replied Celeste.

“Can we bring anything?” asked Jirra.

“Just yourselves,” replied Celeste with a smile.

Chapter 2

Liz and Jirra arrived a little past six and were greeted at the door by a short woman wearing denim shorts and a gray t-shirt that read “Property of The Agency.” The girl was holding a large mixed breed dog back by its collar.

“Hi, I’m Beth, and you must be Jirra,” she said, as she struggled to hold back the very friendly dog. “This is Spirit, and she can’t wait to meet new people.”

Jirra reached out her hand to be sniffed by the dog, who responded with a big lick. “She’s a great looking dog; what is she?” asked Jirra as she began to pet the dog.

“Part Lab, part Chesapeake,” replied Beth. “Come on in.”

“This is my mom,” said Jirra.

Beth nodded. “Celeste told me about you; pleased to meet you Dr. Reid,” said Beth.

“Please call me Liz, Beth,” replied Liz. “And pleased to meet you, Spirit.”

Once they were inside and the door was closed, Beth let go of Spirit’s collar. “She’s always a little excited when she meets a new person.”

“I don’t mind; I love dogs,” replied Jirra.

“Come on out to the deck, that’s where Celeste and the others are,” said Beth.

“So, are you going to Penn, too?” asked Liz.

“Yes, I’m starting my second year,” replied Beth.

“What’s your major?” asked Jirra.

“Cognitive Science, what about you?’ asked Beth.

“I’m an English major; I really want to become a writer,” replied Jirra.

“Cool, what sort?’ asked Beth.

“I haven’t decided, but maybe a reporter or something like that,” she replied.

“That’s great,” replied Beth.

“Cognitive Science, that’s pretty impressive too,” replied Jirra.

“It fits best with what I want to do,” replied Beth.

“What’s that?” asked Jirra.

“Law enforcement, both my parents are federal agents,” she replied. “We can talk more about that later; come on, let me introduce you to the others.”

Sitting on the deck were several other people. Celeste was standing over the large gas barbecue and waved to Jirra and Liz. Spirit flopped down on her dog bed.

“Everyone, this is our newest neighbor, Jirra Reid, and her mother Dr. Liz Reid,” announced Beth.

“Welcome to Philadelphia,” said a tall girl with long brown hair, who was sitting next to a handsome muscular guy. She was wearing a long skirt that seemed to flow over her long legs. “I’m Cat, and this is my fiancé, Matt.”

“Pleased to meet both of you,” said Jirra.

“They’re both studying biophysics,” added Beth.

“Wow,” replied Jirra.

“It’s even better; they’re taking on forensics,” continued Beth.

“Are you planning on going into law enforcement?” asked Liz, as she sat down next to Cat.

“Yes, we’re both in a program with the FBI,” said Cat.

“We just got back from spending the summer at their lab,” added Matt.

“What’s your major, Jirra?” asked Cat.

“English,” she replied softly. She felt a little embarrassed by her major, compared to the others.

“She wants to be a writer or a reporter,” added Beth with a smile.

“Cool,” replied Cat. “My best friend from high school is also a liberal arts major; she wants to teach when she graduates, and she’s minoring in English.”

Jirra sat down across from Cat. “Where does she go to school?”

“It’s a small liberal arts college upstate; it’s called Dewey; have you heard of it?” asked Cat.

Jirra shook her head.

“I have, a friend of mine went there; it’s a very good school” said Liz.

“It’s close to the town where I grew up. My friend, Erika, could have gone to a bigger school, but she wanted to stay close to home,” explained Cat.

“Speaking of Erika, is she still coming down here this fall? You’ve told us so much about her; I can’t wait to meet her,” asked Celeste.

“She’s still planning on it,” replied Cat. “So, Jirra, you’re just down the hall from us; we’re in 2A, stop by if you need anything.”

“I will, thank you,” replied Jirra.

“Well, I was hoping some of the others would join us, but obviously they’re not coming; so how do you like your burgers?” asked Celeste.

Chapter 3

As they ate, Jirra learned that three other apartments were currently rented out to Penn students. One was a guy named Greg Hamilton, who was a grad student. He also lived on the second floor. Two girls were sharing an apartment on the third floor, and they were both in their second year. One was named Jan, and she was studying Cinema, and her partner was Lori, and she was a communications major. The last one was a Japanese-American girl named Sue, who was an economics major.

The first floor of the building was apartments rented out to professionals.

“I’ll introduce you to them another time,” said Celeste. “I like to keep all the students together.”

“Jirra, do you know your schedule yet?” asked Matt.

She nodded and listed her classes.

“You have Diana Bowie’s class?’ asked Celeste.

Jirra nodded as she took another bite of her burger.

“I’d love to take her class,” said Beth. “I just couldn’t fit it into my schedule.”

“I got lucky,” replied Jirra. “It seems she holds a certain number of seats in her class for freshmen.”

Jirra had suspected that she got into the class through Alexis’s connections. The writer of the series was Diana Bowie’s aunt. However, it was the class that Jirra wanted the most, so she didn’t complain.

“That name is familiar, where have I heard it?’ asked Matt.

“She used to be on CNN as a criminal expert, and she’s written a few books,” said Jirra. “She was also just involved with that case down in Virginia; you know, where the Commonwealth Attorney was so corrupt?”

He snapped his fingers. “That’s right, I remember Marlene talking about her,” said Matt.

“Marlene says that Diana is writing a book on the case. I can’t wait to read it,” added Cat.

“Who’s Marlene?” asked Jirra as she took a sip of her soda.

“She’s a legal defense expert,” said Cat. “I’ll talk to you about her another time.”

“It’s really a small world isn’t it?” said Liz.

“Jirra, have you joined any student organizations yet?’ asked Cat.

“I’m still looking at them; it’s a little overwhelming,” she replied. “I’m more concerned with getting onto the campus newspaper staff.”

“That sounds good, but there are a lot of great organizations; after all college isn’t just classes,” said Celeste.

“Speaking of which, do you go to the football games?” asked Jirra.

“You like football?” asked Matt. He seemed slightly stunned.

“Sure, I love it; doesn’t everyone?” replied Jirra.

Cat shook her head and raised her hand.

“You don’t go to the games?’ asked Jirra.

“I’m not a huge fan,” Celeste replied.

“Neither am I,” added Cat.

“She goes, but does it for me,” said Matt, as he reached around her waist

“We usually go together,” said Beth. “It’s a lot of fun; we’ve even taught Celeste the wave.”

“I can’t wait,” replied Jirra.

“Oh, Jirra, since you like football, you want to go to the Penn State - Temple game later this fall?” asked Cat. “Two of my friends from high school play for Penn State. My friend Erika is coming down for the game.”

“That sounds like fun,” replied Jirra.

Chapter 4

Jirra and Liz stuck around after dinner to help Celeste and Beth clean up.

“What do you think of Cat and Matt?’ asked Beth.

“They seem really nice,” replied Jirra.

“You can be open with them, if you know what I mean,” added Celeste. “They’re both very trustworthy and open-minded.”

Jirra nodded. She felt a little uncomfortable about her status. To hide the fact that she had been magically transformed into a female, the cover story was that she was transgendered.

Celeste was actually transgendered, and Beth had a family friend who recently was a post-op transsexual.

“Really?” asked Jirra.

Jirra didn’t like having to live a lie, even though it was necessary. And while it was nice that Celeste seemed to looking out for her, she didn’t think she was worthy of the extra attention.

“Cat went to a high school that has a rather unusual scholarship program,” said Celeste. She then gave a short description of the program run at Golden Hill High School.

Great, thought Jirra, another person I’ll have to lie to.

“That’s incredible,” said Liz. “And you mean to tell me that the community supports it?”

“From what Cat said, for the most part they do, although they’ve had some problems. The friend she told you about is transgendered,” continued Celeste.

Jirra nodded; it kept getting better, she thought.

“Speaking of clubs, are you joining the campus transgendered organization?” asked Celeste.

Jirra looked at Liz and then shook her head. “No, I really don’t plan on it.”

“We’re very careful about protecting our members’ privacy. No one is allowed to attend a meeting until they’ve been screened,” explained Celeste.

“I appreciate the offer, but I just want to fit in as me. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I don’t really want to identify myself as transgendered,” explained Jirra.

Celeste glanced at Beth. “Well, if you change your mind, let me know; I’m an officer in the club.”

“Thanks. I don’t want to appear ungrateful or disrespectful, but right now, I just want to be seen as a girl, not transgendered; does that make sense?” asked Jirra.

Celeste nodded. “Of course it’s okay. This is a very personal journey, and everyone does it their own way. But just so you know, the offer is always on the table, should you change your mind.”

Beth nodded. “Don’t worry about it.”

Jirra smiled back. “Thanks.”

Chapter 5

“Was I wrong to turn down joining the club?” asked Jirra.

She was sitting on her couch next to Liz, as they watched TV.

“It’s your life, Jirra,” replied Liz.

Jirra laughed. “In other words, you think I’m being bullheaded.”

“You admit yourself that you’re still looking for balance in your life. As much as you dislike being perceived as transgendered, it’s the way it has to be. Joining the club may help you find balance.”

Jirra nodded. “Maybe you’re right. I’ll think about it.”

“Honey, I admire the way you’ve handled this change in your life. I can’t imagine what it must be like to suddenly have something so fundamental about your life change. However, you won’t have the same sort of support here as back at the spa. Being in the group might provide some of that missed support.”

“That makes sense,” replied Jirra. “Well, I don’t have to make up my mind today, as Celeste said the offer is always on the table.”

Chapter 6

Meanwhile, up in Celeste’s apartment, a similar conversation was going on.

“What do you think of Jirra?” asked Celeste. She was petting Spirit, who was lying on the couch next to her.

“I like her a lot, but she’s definitely hiding something,” replied Beth.

“Well, you would know,” chided Celeste.

Beth laughed. She had once been a male naval officer who had been transformed into a teenage girl by a DNA process created by a man called Dr. Martz. She had been given a totally new identity by the government. She was now the adopted daughter of two agents.

“That’s true,” she replied. “However, you have to admit that physically, Jirra is the most feminine looking transgendered person that you know. If I didn’t know her past, I would never have suspected that she had once been male. I can sort of understand her reluctance to be seen as transgendered.”

Celeste “I was thinking the same thing. The only other teens that I’ve seen that look close to Jirra are the ones who had ‘special help’ in their transformation, like you for example.”

“I was thinking the same thing,” replied Beth. “Well, I hope that eventually she’ll trust us enough to share whatever secret she’s hiding.”

“I hope so too; life is hard enough without hiding a secret.”

Chapter 7

Jirra was glad when her actual classes started. She had a bit of anxiety as she entered her first class. She stood outside the classroom and suddenly felt that she didn’t belong at Penn. Suddenly, she heard a comforting voice in her mind; it was Killara, her spirit guide.

“Go in, little one, you’ve earned your place here,” he said.

Jirra instinctively grabbed the carved stone kangaroo that she wore on a chain around her neck and smiled. She took a deep breath and walked in.

It was still warm in Philadelphia, and Jirra wore a white cotton blouse and a khaki skirt. She would have preferred to wear a t-shirt, but she felt that her breasts stood out too much when she wore one. It was okay back in her apartment, but she didn’t want to attract extra attention on campus. Deep down, she knew she was kidding herself, as the blouse really didn’t do much to hide her large breasts.

She took her seat in class and looked around at the rest of the class. Many of the students were older than she was, and she had to fight off her feelings of insecurity again.

“Hi, is this seat taken?” asked a young woman who was standing in front of the seat next to Jirra.

Jirra shook her head. “No, it’s open.”

The woman smiled and sat down. “I’m Leah.”

“Pleased to meet you; I’m Jirra.”

The woman was dressed in slacks and a light blue top. She had naturally curly light brown hair, which seemed to flow around her face. “I’m so excited about getting into this class,” said Leah, as she adjusted her steel rimmed glasses. “I’m an English major; what about you?”

Jirra nodded.

“Really? I haven’t seen you before,” said Leah.

“This is my first year here,” replied Jirra softly.

“Wow, I’m impressed, I didn’t know that freshmen could get into Prof. Bowie’s class,” said Leah.

“I guess I got lucky,” replied Jirra.

“Hey, don’t be embarrassed; I think it’s great. I would have loved to get into a class like this my first year,” continued Leah.

“What year are you in?” asked Jirra.

“This is my senior year,” replied Leah. She then laughed. “I’ve already applied to grad school to postpone the inevitable jump into the real world.”

Jirra laughed too.

“So what does the rest of your schedule look like?’ asked Leah.

Jirra pulled it out and showed it to Leah.

“Not bad, I had Prof. Martin’s class, and she’s very fair. Dr. Thomas can be a bit boring,” continued Leah.

“A bit boring? A blank wall has more personality!” piped in a dark haired boy sitting behind them. “Take my advice and always bring caffeine to his lectures.”

Jirra smiled back, and she began to feel a bit more at ease. This wasn’t so bad, she thought.

Chapter 8

An auburn haired woman walked into the classroom and set down her bags; she glanced at her watch and noted that she had two minutes until her class started. She was slightly nervous as she removed the class handouts from her bag. What are you doing, Diana? You’re not a professor. Yes, you have the title, but the only reason why you’re here at Penn is that you’re a celebrity and a best selling author. She took a sip of her coffee and calmed down.

She had talked to her aunt that morning, who had given her a pep talk.

“Diana, just be yourself, and you’ll do fine,” said Faith. “Penn has wanted you for a while, so this isn’t just a publicity stunt. You did great as a guest instructor last year, and the students loved you.”

Diana glanced at the class and was pleased to see that they were currently more interested in talking among themselves. The last thing she wanted was for them to be staring at her. It was bad enough that she had signed several copies of her latest book for her fellow faculty.

She finished organizing her notes just as the bell rang. The students began to stop their conversations and look up at her. Here goes nothing, she thought. TV was so much easier, as you couldn’t see anyone looking back at you, she thought.

“Good morning, I’m Diana Bowie,” she announced.

Her grad student TA, Sasha Greene slipped in and mouthed, “I’m sorry.”

Diana smiled back and had the young woman pass out the class information. She would have a talk with her later about being on time; she didn’t see a need to embarrass Sasha in front of the class.

“Okay, this class is going to be a little different from what many of you are used to,” said Diana. “This class will be heavy on classroom discussion, and I expect you to participate. As you may have noticed, there are only twenty students in this class, so it will be very difficult for you to hide.”

There was a round of nervous laughter from the class. Diana noticed that they were also looking around at the rest of their class.

“Yes, there is a text for this class, and I expect you to do the reading. The theories of journalistic ethics and integrity will be tested in your midterm, final, and papers,” continued Diana. “However, for class I expect you to be culturally literate, meaning read the papers, watch the news, and be aware of what is going on in the world.”

The students nodded and wrote down notes.

“Okay, how many of you consider yourself to be liberal?” she asked.

Half the class raised their hands, including Jirra.

“Okay, how about conservative?” she asked.

Several students raised their hands. Jirra noticed that Leah hadn’t raised her hand. That was somewhat surprising, she thought.

“Okay, and I assume the rest of you are moderates or haven’t made up your minds yet,” she continued. “The reason I asked is that your political beliefs affect your choices for the media. Part of this course will be to expose you to opposing views.”

There was some groaning from the class.

“No, I’m not trying to convert you to the dark side, whichever you think that is; no, I want you to have an open mind. As a writer or a journalist, you are entitled to your own opinion and political views, but you can’t ignore the other viewpoints. No issue is black or white,” she continued. “So, you will view news stories on Fox, on CBS, on CNN, from the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall St. Journal, and the Village Voice and so on.”

A male student raised his hand.

Diana nodded to him.

“Professor Bowie, what sorts of topics will we be discussing?”

“What’s your name?” she replied.

The student seemed a little nervous. “Um, I’m Dave Hopkins.”

Diana smiled. “It’s okay Dave; I will soon know everyone in here by a first name basis. Now, for your question, well, that will depend on what the world provides us. I want to keep this course current, so we will discuss current events, ranging from world and national to local and campus items.”

Jirra nodded and felt excited about the course. This was the type of class she had hoped for.

Diana continued with her lecture and, just before the bell rang, gave the class their first assignment.

“Before next class, I want you to research a major news story from three different sources. Look for bias in the stories; now as for the issue, let’s go with the upcoming Pennsylvania senate election. Be prepared to discuss it. Oh, I will be laying down a few ground rules at the start of next class; I want discussion, not argument.”

As the bell rang, Jirra got up and started out of class. Diana walked over and stopped her.

“Excuse me, are you Jirra Reid?” asked Diana.

Jirra nodded. “Yes, Professor Bowie.”

“Do you have a minute to talk?”

Jirra looked at Leah.

“I’ll see you next class,” said Leah. “It was nice meeting you, Jirra.”

Jirra set down her bag next to the front podium.

When the rest of the class left, Diana turned to Jirra and smiled. “I’ve heard some very good things about you.”

Jirra felt her face getting warm. “Um, thank you.”

“I suppose we’re connected in a roundabout way,” continued Diana.

Jirra fidgeted slightly not knowing what to say next.

Diana nodded knowingly. “Yes, it’s true your friend Alexis requested that you get in my class, but that’s not the reason why you’re here. It was your academic and professional record. I contacted your old school here in Pennsylvania, and I also talked to Judy Ramone back in New Mexico. She had some very impressive things to say about you. I also talked to the editor of your newspaper; he couldn’t say enough nice things about you”

Jirra stiffened when she heard that Diana had talked to her old high school. That meant she knew about her sexual status.

“It’s okay, Jirra, you didn’t get into my class because you’re transgendered either,” continued Diana. “As you know from my books, I obviously know the difficulties that go along with that, but that’s life; nothing is ever easy. No, you show real promise as a writer, and that’s why you’re in my class. I just wanted to make that clear so you didn’t think you were getting special treatment. I will also expect you to work as hard as anyone in the class, if not harder. Don’t expect any special treatment.”

A huge smile broke out on Jirra’s face. “You have no idea how relieved that makes me feel. The last thing I wanted was special treatment.”

Diana smiled back. “I’m glad to hear that, and it’s just want I expected.”

“Thank you, Professor Bowie,” replied Jirra.

Chapter 9

Jirra arrived back at her apartment later in the afternoon and parked her used Volvo sedan in her parking spot in the apartment’s garage. She had a huge amount of reading to do, and to save time she’d picked up a cheese-steak for dinner on the way home.

She had only been in Philly a short time, and the guys at the pizza, steak, and hoagie shop already knew her by name, and even the way she liked her sandwiches. She would have to e-mail her best friend, Lindsey, about her day. She didn’t mind cooking, but she still wished she could cook half was well as Lindsey, who was in college back in New Mexico. Lindsey was a business major, and at the same time was taking cooking classes, as she wanted to open up her own restaurant someday. Lindsey was already a great chef, in Jirra’s opinion.

Jirra put her steak on a plate and grabbed some Herr’s potato chips, along with a birch beer. It wasn’t exactly a healthy dinner, but it did taste good. Jirra forgot how much she’d missed the local food. She promised herself to have a salad for dinner the next night.

As she ate she read an old paperback copy of “Corruption in a Small Town.” It was written by Faith Collins, the woman who had raised Diana. Jirra was also surprised to see that Diana was listed as co-author of the book along with another woman. Jirra had generally known about Diana’s past, but the details shocked her. Diana had been sexually abused by her high school teacher. In fact, the whole town’s leadership had been involved in a variety of illegal activities, ranging from drugs to sexual slavery.

What was even more amazing was that Diana allowed her whole past to be out in the open. It caused Jirra to think; if Diana had been able to overcome so much, maybe what she herself was experiencing wasn’t so bad. Jirra also thought about Jen Stevens and how her transformation was public knowledge. Jirra wondered how her own life would be different if her own transformation was known.

The more she thought about it, she was glad that it had been kept secret, as it would have affected so many other people. The spa would have been ruined and she would have never met Alexis. And who knows what would have happened to her, she was sure the government would have poked and prodded her to try and understand what had happened. She still didn’t like the idea of having to lie to others, but deep down she knew it was the right thing to do. Maybe someday, she could go public with what happened, but now she had enough stress to deal with.

Thankfully, she had always been a fast reader, and she was able to finish the book about Diana in a short time. Maybe it was her imagination, but she seemed to be able to read and comprehend books faster since her change; it was something that she would have to ask Killara about the next time they talked.

Jirra picked up one of her textbooks and started her required reading. The TV was on, and she listened to the news as she read.

An hour later her phone rang. It was Alexis.

“Hey, little miss Ivy Leaguer, just wanted to see how you’re doing?” joked Alexis.

“I’m doing pretty well; I had my first class with Diana, and she’s pretty cool.”

“I thought you’d like her, Roo,” replied Alexis.

Alexis was the only person besides her mom and Jen Stevens who could use Jirra’s pet name without getting a dirty look from Jirra.

“You didn’t have to try to get me into her class,” said Jirra.

“Hey, there are so damn few advantages about being a celebrity, I might as well try to help my friend when I can,” replied Alexis.

“I appreciate the thought,” said Jirra.

“I also know you got in on your own accord; Diana e-mailed me and told me,” said Alexis.

“So, how’s the show coming along?” asked Jirra.

“The premier is in two weeks; the network has been pouring in lots of ad money. They’re also holding a special screening for the critics next week, so they must be pretty confident that it’s good,” replied Alexis. “I’d like to say that I don’t care what the critics say, but I’d be lying. I mean, they did like my performance in the Minotaur, even though they hated the movie.”

“How do you feel about the series?” asked Jirra.

“Honestly, it’s the best acting I’ve ever done,” replied Alexis with confidence. “She’s the first character I’ve ever played who has real depth.”

“I can’t wait to see it. I wish I could be there with you to see the first episode,” said Jirra.

“I know; I wish you could be here too,” replied Alexis. She then paused for a moment. “I have something that I need to talk to you about; I’d rather do it in person, but since we’re talking, how would you feel if I came out?”

Jirra thought about it. She knew that Alexis didn’t like hiding her sexuality. “It’s your life, Alexis; if it feels like the right thing to do, then do it.”

“Jirra, it’s more complicated than that, and you know it. This involves you too. If I come out, you will get a spotlight on you. We’ve been able to keep our relationship a secret so far, but once I’m out, they will find you. And trust me, the last thing I want to do is hurt you.”

“I appreciate that,” replied Jirra.

“Look, before I do anything, I will let you know well in advance,” continued Alexis. “And if I’m outed, I’ll let you know immediately.”

“Is that a possibility?” asked Jirra.

“It’s always a possibility with the entertainment press. If the show does well, they will pry into my life, and it would be a major scoop for one of those parasites,” replied Alexis. “That is my biggest fear – that they’ll out me.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Jirra.

“Personally, I’m not worried about my career if it does happen. Faith Collins knows that I’m a lesbian, as does my producer. I’m signed for a tfive-year run, and that’s all Faith wants to do anyway. I’ll also have enough put away that I can give up show business. What worries me is you being hurt. You mean the world to me, Jirra.”

“I love you too, Alexis. What about your family?”

“They know that I’m a lesbian, and they know about you. They only want me to be happy. They know that I’m not interested in spending my whole life as a celebrity,” answered Alexis. “Oh, that reminds me, would you like to meet them?”

Jirra was stunned. They had talked about going out to see her family a few times, but they had never made solid plans. “Sure, I’d like that a lot.”

“You mean that?”

“Yes, I do,” replied Jirra. “Should we tell them the truth or my cover story?”

“The truth, if you feel comfortable about it. They’re both pretty liberal, especially considering they live in Toledo, Ohio,” replied Alexis. “Seriously, it’s up to you, and I’ll support your decision either way.”

“When?” asked Jirra.

“Well, I know you’re going to be busy for a while, as am I, so what about Christmas break? We can split your break between there and New Mexico, that is if I’m still invited out there.”

Jirra laughed. “Of course you are; Mom would love to see you.”

“It’s good to hear your laugh, Roo,” said Alexis.

They talked for a few more minutes before Alexis had to go. Jirra thought about everything that they had talked about. No, she wasn’t the only person with issues to deal with, she thought. The question remained; how would she deal with them?

Chapter 10

Beth slowly hung up the phone and stared off into the distance with a lost look on her face. She then picked up a throw pillow that was next to her on the couch and began to hug it.

“What’s wrong?” asked Celeste as she walked into their living room.

Beth reached up and wiped away a tear that was running down her left cheek. “That was Kevin….”

Kevin was Beth’s boyfriend, and they had been dating since high school. He was currently going to Georgetown.

Celeste sat down next to Beth and handed her a box of tissues. “Go on.”

Beth took a deep breath and let it out. “It’s over,” she said as her voice began to crack.

“I’m so sorry, Beth,” comforted Celeste.

“I’m not really surprised; I mean, it’s hard keeping something going long distance….”

Celeste took Beth’s hands in hers.

“He said it was just too hard being separated,” continued Beth.

Celeste didn’t say anything, just letting her friend talk.

“He said that it’s best that we start seeing other people.” Beth pulled out a tissue and wiped away her tears. “Shit”

“It’s okay to cry, Beth,” said Celeste.

Beth shook her head. “It’s not that – well, maybe part of it, but I’m just angry that I didn’t see this coming. I’m also pissed that he did this over the phone. I mean we were together just a few weeks ago; why couldn’t he do it then?”

Celeste shrugged her shoulders. “Beats me; I didn’t have an active dating life when I was a boy, so I don’t have a lot of experience in these sorts of things.”

“Well, I did,” replied Beth. “I never pulled a stunt like this when I was a guy. It lacks class. Okay, now I’m officially pissed! If I was still a guy, I would teach him a thing or two about how to treat a woman.” Beth then threw the pillow across the room.

Spirit ran over and retrieved it and brought it back to Beth; Spirit’s tail was wagging at the thought of a new game.

“Um, Beth, if you were still a guy, it’s doubtful that he would have dated you,” replied Celeste. “I hate to point out the obvious.”

“Stop trying to cheer me up,” replied Beth with a laugh, as she took the pillow away from Spirit.

“Just doing my job,” said Celeste.

“I know, and I really appreciate it,” replied Beth as she stroked Spirit’s head. “Well, I suppose it was bound to happen.”

“Does that mean you’re going to start dating guys up here?”

Beth shrugged her shoulders. “Sure, why not? I mean, I’m not going to go out and look for a new boyfriend, but I have had my share of offers in the past.”

“Can I ask you something?” asked Celeste.

Beth nodded as she continued to pet Spirit.

“Did your sexuality change with your gender transformation?”

Beth nodded. “I suppose it was all part of my programming. I was a very heterosexual male as Ben, and after my transformation I was a teenage girl just entering puberty. At first, I had no sexual feelings, but gradually they awoke, and I found that I was attracted to boys. I don’t have any feelings towards girls.”

“I guess it makes sense,” replied Celeste. “I mean, you were in a way reprogrammed to become Dr. Martz’s daughter.”

“You liked guys even when you were a boy, right?”

Celeste nodded. “I never really did anything. It didn’t really bother me when I was trained by that woman to be with men either. I was also genuinely in love with Sherman.”

“Are you going to start dating again?” asked Beth.

“I haven’t given it any thought,” replied Celeste.

“You must have been asked out on dates; I mean, you’re very pretty,” said Beth.

Celeste smiled. “Thank you, and yes, I’ve been asked out, but I don’t seem to be attracted to guys my age.”

“I suppose that makes sense; you were married to a man who was old enough to be your father,” said Beth. “So why not date older men?”

“I wouldn’t know where to start,” replied Celeste. “And my life is full enough as it is.”

“Bull,” replied Beth immediately. “You’re entitled to have a life, Celeste.”

“It’s complicated,” she replied. “I mean, I am transgendered; that does cause some issues for many men.”

“So? There are men that don’t mind, and I don’t just mean the pervs who did business with Margo!”

Celeste giggled. “What do you suggest? A dating service?”

Beth laughed too. “Look, I’m not telling you to go out and get a husband, but going out to dinner on a date would do you a world of good. You are the oldest young woman I’ve ever met.”

“Thank you, Dr. Williams,” replied Celeste with a laugh. “Okay, I’ll consider it, but don’t go out there trying to set me up on a date, okay?”

Beth raised her right hand as if she was making a pledge. “I promise.”

Chapter 11

“Hi, Mom,” Jirra greeted her Mom.

“Well, it’s good to hear from you. I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to send out a missing persons report,” replied Liz.

“Very funny,” said Jirra.

“Okay, maybe I’m overreacting, but with our cell phone plan you can call me more often,” said Liz.

“I’m sorry,” said Jirra.

“It’s okay; it’s just that I do miss you,” continued Liz.

“I miss you too. Maybe I should have stayed closer for college,” said Jirra.

“Nonsense! You’re at an Ivy League school, you can’t beat that,” said Liz. “Dad would have been so proud of you.”

Jirra felt a wave of emotion. “Thanks… I had a dream about him the other night.”

“Was it a good dream?” asked Liz.

“Oh yes, he was taking me to a football game,” replied Jirra.

“That’s good to hear.”

“Mom, how do you think Dad would have reacted to my change?” asked Jirra.

“He would have been fine about it,” replied Liz.

“You mean that?”

“Well, he would have treated you a bit differently,” said Liz.

“In what sort of way?”

“He would have been very protective of you, and he would have been even angrier with Randy that I was,” said Liz.

“Is that possible?” asked Jirra as she remembered her Mom’s angry discussions with the DA.

“Oh, yes, trust me on that,” replied Liz. “I cringe thinking about what he might have done.”

“How would he have felt about me being a lesbian?”

“He would have been okay with that too. I know he’d like Alexis.”

“Thanks, Mom. So how are you doing?”

“I’m busy, but I do miss you, Roo.”

“Well, I’ll be home for the holidays,” said Jirra.

“I know that, I’m already counting the days.”

Jirra laughed. “Okay, I’d better go. I promise to call more often.”

“I know, Roo. I love you, but first tell me how your classes are going.”

“I love you too, Mom,” replied Jirra.

Jirra spent the next twenty minutes telling her mom all about her classes.

“See, that wasn’t so hard,” said Liz.

“Okay, I get it; I promise to tell you more in the future,” said Jirra.

“Good, just remember, I’m a doctor not a dentist.”

Chapter 12

A few days later, Jirra came home from class to find a note on her door. It was from Cat, asking her to stop by when she could.

Jirra placed her book bag inside her place and then walked down the hall to Cat’s apartment. She knocked on the door.

Cat answered and smiled. “Cool, good to see you, come on in,” she said.

Jirra followed her inside. Cat and Matt’s place was furnished in a mismatch of furniture; most of the pieces looked as if they were secondhand, although they were all in good shape.

Cat noticed Jirra looking around. “We didn’t see the need to spend a lot of money on furnishings; we’re saving so we can buy a house once we get married. We both plan on going into federal law enforcement, and that could mean we could end up anywhere across the country; so we figure we can buy new things once we get out of school.”

“I like it,” replied Jirra. “I bought all my stuff out here for the same sort of reason; it was too expensive to bring stuff from New Mexico.”

Cat nodded. “You’ve moved around a lot, haven’t you?”

Jirra nodded. “My parents were in the military.”

“I’m sorry about your dad. Celeste told me,” said Cat.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra.

“Oh, I guess you wonder why I asked to see you; are you still up to going to the Penn State game next weekend?” asked Cat.

“Sure, although I’m not sure how good a game it will be. Temple is pretty awful,” replied Jirra.

“Wow, I’m impressed; you really do know football.”

Jirra smiled back. “Just cause I’m a girl now doesn’t mean that I stopped liking football.”

“Well, you’ll hit it off with my friends from high school. We’re having a small reunion here for the game. My best friend, Erika, will be staying here, and we’re going out after the game with two of the players.”

“Who are they?” asked Jirra.

Cat told Jirra the players’names.

“Wow, you went to high school with both of them? Your school must have had a pretty good team.”

“We won the title our senior year. Alex is my cousin, and I’ve known Mike my whole life.”

“Both are pretty good players. Alex is supposed to be the starting quarterback this year, and Mike is considered one of the best defensive backs in the country.”

“You really do know your football,” replied Cat. “Hey, why don’t you stay for dinner? Matt has a late class, and I hate eating alone.”

“I’d like that,” replied Jirra.

“Cool. I’ll tell you about Erika while we throw something together. I think I have everything to make lasagna,” said Cat as they walked into the kitchen. “My mom gave me her recipe, and it’s world famous back in Golden Hill. I’ll be glad to teach it to you.”

Jirra laughed. “Okay, but only if I get to show you how to make chili. My neighbors back in New Mexico gave me their recipe.”

Cat smiled back. “It’s a deal!”

As they prepared dinner, Cat told her about Erika and the scholarship contest back at her old high school. They sat down in the living room while the lasagna cooked.

“Wow, Erika ought to write that up as a book someday,” replied Jirra.

“She might someday; she’s still carrying around a lot of baggage from what that bastard Jason did to her,” replied Cat angrily. “Writing out her story might help her deal with what happened. Don’t get me wrong; she’s doing pretty well, but she still has some bad nights. I doubt that anyone ever gets over a sexual assault. It also didn’t help that she recently broke up with her girlfriend. That’s part of the reason I want to show her a good time; she needs some fun.”

Jirra just nodded. She thought about her run-ins with Randy and was thankful that it never got as bad as what had happened to Erika.

“Erika had her surgery after her first year in college; when did you have yours, if you don’t mind me asking,” asked Cat.

“Last year,” replied Jirra quietly.

Cat noticed Jirra’s discomfort with the question. “Look, I can understand that you want to maintain your privacy concerning your gender and everything, but there are a lot of good people out there that you can fall back on,” continued Cat. “I just want you to know that you can always talk to me about it. I mean, I think between my high school class and the people I’ve met through Celeste, I’ve probably seen the gamut of transgendered.”

Jirra almost told Cat the truth, but decided to wait until she knew the woman a little better. “I’m not ashamed of who I am; it’s just that I want to look to the future.”

Cat smiled and nodded. “That’s cool. I didn’t mean to pry.”

“I know that, Cat. I guess it’s just that I’m so used to keeping quiet about it.”

“That makes sense. I forget sometimes that not everyone is as open-minded about gender issues as my friends,” said Cat. “One more thing, has Celeste asked you to join the campus transgendered group yet?”

Jirra nodded.

“You should consider it. I belong to the group; I figure it’s the least I can do,” said Cat.

“I just want to concentrate on school right now. I might join later,” replied Jirra.

“That makes sense. The first year is always the toughest,” replied Cat. “Oh, just so you know, Diana Bowie will be speaking to the group the Thursday before the Penn State game. I’m bringing Erika, as I figure she could learn a lot from someone like Diana.”

“I like Professor Bowie a lot. Her class is my favorite,” said Jirra.

“Have you read Corruption in a Small Town?” asked Cat.

Jirra nodded. “It’s an incredible story.”

“Almost as wild as what Celeste went through,” added Cat. “Oh, I need to check on dinner.”

Jirra followed Cat into the kitchen. Cat peered into the oven.

“Well, it looks about ready,” she said confidently.

As they ate, the conversation shifted to more mundane topics.

“So how are you doing so far in school?” asked Cat.

“Pretty good,” replied Jirra, as she tasted the lasagna. “Mmm, this is wonderful.”

“Thanks,” replied Cat. “Have you met any new people?”

“A few. There’s a girl that I’ve started to become friends with; we’re in Professor Bowie’s class.”

“That’s good,” said Cat. “Having friends makes school a lot easier.”

“I’ve also made a few friends in my English Comp class.”

“Have you heard back from the campus newspaper?” asked Cat.

Jirra nodded as she ate. “They asked to see my portfolio.”

“What’s in it, if you don’t mind me asking?” asked Cat.

“Copies of the newsletter I wrote back at the spa, oh, and two interviews I did for the local paper,” replied Jirra. “I also wrote an article on the discovery of an Anasazi site near the spa.”

“Whoa, you mean you’ve already been published?’

Jirra laughed. “It’s not that big a deal. The local paper back home isn’t even a daily.”

“What were the articles?”

“I got to interview some celebrities who stayed at the spa,” answered Jirra.

Cat smiled. “Anyone I would know?”

“Jennifer Stevens and Alexis Eden,” replied Jirra.

“Now, I am impressed. You met both of them?”

“Yes. Alexis came out last year, and I was her liaison, and we became friends. She suggested the spa to Jen,” answered Jirra.

“That’s way cool. And you’re really friends with them?”

“Jen took my best friend and me to the Oscars this year,” said Jirra.

“No way!”

Jirra nodded and began to grin. “It was really cool; we even got to go down the red carpet!”

“Wow, I’m impressed. So do you want to be an actress?”

Jirra vigorously shook her head. “No, I prefer to write.”

“Do you want to write for movies and stuff like that?”

“I don’t know, but can you keep a secret?”

Cat nodded.

“I mentioned that we had a major archeological discovery out at the spa; well, I’m writing a fictional account of it for Jen. I know it probably won’t actually become a movie, but it’s fun.”

“I won’t tell a soul… not until the movie is released!”

Jirra laughed.

“I like Alexis, even though her last movie was more videogame than movie. I also like Jen Stevens. So what are they like?”

Jirra began to describe the two actresses to Cat, leaving out the part about Alexis being her girlfriend.

“I promise to introduce them to you, if they ever visit,” said Jirra.

“Really? That would be really cool,” said Cat. “So, have you told Beth and Celeste this yet?”

Jirra shook her head. “I haven’t had time.”

“Don’t worry, I won’t tell them. Beth will be so envious, but then again, she once met the President,” said Cat. “Her parents took her to a reception at the White House.”

Jirra let out a low whistle.

“Politics aside, it would be cool to meet the President,” added Cat.

Jirra nodded in agreement. The people in this building were definitely interesting, she thought.

Jirra helped Cat clean up and headed back to her place to do some reading before bed. It had been a good evening.

Chapter 13

Jirra read as she waited in the coffeehouse for Leah to arrive. Leah and some of the other students from Professor Bowie’s class were meeting to form a study group.

A few minutes later, Leah arrived with two other women. Jirra recognized both of them, but couldn’t remember their names.

“Hi Jirra,” greeted Leah. She then introduced the other two women.

Jill was a short thin woman with spiked blonde hair. She was a junior and was also on the campus paper. She had several rings in each ear and also a diamond in her left nostril.

Still, Jirra felt she pulled off the look.

The other woman was African-American. She was from New York City and called herself TC. Her hair was styled in a very short length afro.

“I hate my real name, so I go by the initials; besides, it sounds more like an author,” she said with a laugh. She was dressed more like she worked in an office than a college student. She was wearing a tailored suit, stockings and matching heels.

Jirra noticed she carried herself a lot like Celeste, with an aura of sophistication and class.

“Leah says that you’re from New Mexico,” said Jill as she sat down across from Jirra.

Jirra nodded. “That’s where my mom works, but I sort of grew up all over.”

“Are you a brat?” asked Jill.

Leah gave her a dirty look.

“I mean, military brat,” continued Jill with a grin.

Jirra nodded. “Both my parents were in the army when I was born. My mom left to raise me.”

“My dad’s a captain in the navy. I bounced around too. I sort of consider San Diego my home, as I lived there three times,” continued Jill.

“Wow, it makes me feel boring. I spent my whole life in central Jersey,” interjected Leah.

“Yeah, but your dad’s a CEO of a drug company; that’s not the type of job that moves people around a lot,” remarked TC.

“What about you, TC?” asked Jirra.

“My mom works in a bank, and Dad is a reporter,” she replied.

“TC’s dad works for the Times, and her mom is a vice president,” added Jill with a playful nudge to TC’s ribs.

They talked a little more about their families before they shifted to school.

“One thing is obvious; we’d better be prepared for class discussion. Professor Bowie won’t cut anyone any slack,” noted Jill.

The others nodded in agreement. In their last class, Professor Bowie had stopped the classroom discussion when it was apparent that only half the class was participating. She threatened to start requiring weekly papers if this didn’t change.

“You were no shrinking violet today, Jirra,” noted TC. “Usually freshmen are shyer, especially in classroom discussions.”

Jirra sipped her coffee and shrugged. “I guess that I’m sort of used to being treated as an adult.”

“Don’t apologize for it; I think it’s great. I just wish I had been more bold when I was in my first year,” continued TC.

“I think we should meet for coffee and pre-class discussion, is everyone free before class?’ suggested Jill.

The others nodded.

“Cool, why not meet here?” she continued.

“That sounds good,” said Leah.

They talked for a few more minutes before getting up to leave. Jirra decided to talk to Jill about the paper.

“Well, we can always use more help; I’ll put in a good word for you,” said Jill. “There’s an Open House in early September, you should attend that too. If you show up I’ll introduce you to the rest of the staff.”

“I appreciate it,” replied Jirra.

“Speaking of the paper, I need to get going; I have an article to finish up. I’ll see you later,” she said as she left.

“So what do you think?” asked Leah, turning to Jirra.

“I like them, have you known them a long time?” replied Jirra.

Leah nodded. “TC and I have been in a lot of classes together. She works in the administration offices.”

“What about Jill?’ asked Jirra.

“TC introduced me to Jill last year. She’s okay,” replied Leah.

Jirra thought she noticed a little bit of apprehension in Leah concerning Jill, but she kept it to herself.

“Well, I think we have a great study group,” noted Jirra.

“I agree; I think that we’ll be prepared for whatever Professor Bowie throws at us,” replied Leah with confidence.

Chapter 14

Later that evening, a figure walked nervously towards his car. To the casual observer, the person looked like a young woman; however, in reality the young woman was Tom Gregory, a junior in accounting. He was a crossdresser, and he had just spent the evening with friends at a club downtown.

The most difficult thing that Tom, or Tracy as he preferred to be called when dressed, had to deal with was the two block walk from his parking spot to his apartment.

He had been dressing for years, and for the most part, other than an occasional dirty look, his neighbors didn’t bother him, but this year things had changed. Three times there had been notes left on his windshield threatening him. Nothing had happened, so he figured it was nothing, until the phone calls started.

The night before, he’d come home from class and found a very angry message on his answering machine. He mentioned it to his friends, and they suggested that he either move or call the police.

Neither was a viable option for Tom. First off, he had a year’s lease and finding another place now that school had started would be impossible. As for calling the police, the last thing he wanted was publicity.

It was after midnight as he walked quickly towards his apartment. His heels clicked on the sidewalk as he headed home. Maybe he should only dress at his friend’s apartment, but then again, he didn’t like being pushed around.

He was just about to his apartment when several figures jumped out of the shadows and proceeded to attack him. The assault happened so quickly that he was struck several times before he knew what was happening. The figures were dressed all in black and punched and kicked Tom until he was unconscious.

“You should have listened to us, you sissy!” screamed one of the men.

“Shut the fuck up,” ordered another as they ran off.

By the time the police arrived, a crowd of neighbors had gathered and were discussing the assault. No one could even agree on how many attackers there had been, let alone provide a useful description of them.

“How bad is it?’ asked Sergeant Randall Prince of the Philadelphia Police Department as he talked to one of the EMTs.

“Fractured skull, broken jaw, several broken ribs, just to start, I imagine that the victim has internal injuries too,” replied the EMT. “They did quite a job on him.”

Sgt. Prince nodded. He couldn’t understand why a man would want to dress as a woman, but the policeman in him was livid that some punks had committed a very brutal assault in his neighborhood.

Randall was six-five and had played linebacker for Temple before joining the police. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his shaved head.

A young woman with short spiked hair walked up to the large African-American policeman. “Excuse me, officer, but do you think you’ll find out who attacked Tom?”

Randall stared back. “We’ll try, but we don’t have much to go on.”

“In other words, no,” she said. “I bet you’d find the persons who did it if a frat boy was the one attacked.”

He wanted to argue, but he knew she was right. The department wouldn’t put too much effort into catching the attackers. Sure, they could get lucky, but it was unlikely. The only chance they had was if someone turned the attackers in.

“Did you know him?” he asked.

“He lives next door. He doesn’t bother anyone; I mean, he dressed as a girl sometimes, but he’s a nice guy, very quiet,” she replied. “Was he robbed?”

Randall shook his head.

“So it was a hate crime,” she muttered.

“We don’t know that,” he said, even though he suspected that it was.

“Well, I’m not going to just sit back and do nothing,” retorted Jill angrily.

“What’s your name?” asked Randall softly.

“It’s Jill Macintosh,” she replied. “Why, are you going to arrest me?”

He shook his head and smiled. “Look, I know you’re angry, and you have a right to be, but don’t do something stupid. This is my beat, and I don’t like things like this happening around here,” he said. He glanced around and then leaned closer to her. “I want to get the bastards who did this too.”

“I appreciate the fact that you seem to care, but that doesn’t help Tom. I’m a reporter for the campus paper, most of the people who live around here go to Penn, and they’re going to hear about this.”

“Good,” he replied.

Jill’s eyebrows rose. “You approve?”

He nodded and handed her a card. “Here’s the number for the police tip line, include it in your article and let people know that they can call us there if they know anything. Who knows, maybe someone knows who the guys were who did this.”

Jill took the card. “Thanks. Um, I’m sorry I vented at you.”

“It’s okay. Look, the detectives are here; I’ve got to go,” he replied.

“Will you keep me updated on the case?” she asked.

“Does that campus newspaper give out press credentials?’ he asked.

Jill nodded.

“Good, call my station, and they should give you information,” he replied.

“Thanks again,” she said.

Randall smiled back.

Chapter 15

There was a small article in the Sunday edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer about a man dressed as a woman being assaulted near Penn. Jill worked on her article, and it was published in the Monday edition of the campus paper.

Jirra read the article that morning before going to Professor Bowie’s class. She felt an array of emotions, ranging from fear to rage. No, she didn’t know the victim, but having been the victim of bigots back in New Mexico, she could feel for him, and deep down, she knew that it could have happened to her.

She sat down in class next to Jill. “I read your article; it was excellent.”

Jill smiled. “My editor said it was my best. I guess that anger will do that to you. Tom’s a nice person, and he didn’t deserve to be attacked like that.”

“How is he doing?” asked Jirra.

“He’s going to make it, but he’s going to be out of school for a while,” she replied.

TC and Leah sat down next to Jill and Jirra.

“Great article, Jill,” said TC.

“Thanks, I’m impressed that they put it on the front page,” replied Jill.

“It was a well written article, especially for the campus paper,” said Leah.

“Oh, thanks,” said Jill.

Their conversation was interrupted by the arrival of Professor Bowie, who was carrying a stack of the campus paper.

“Good morning everyone,” she greeted. “By looking around, I can see that many of you have read this morning’s paper. For those of you who haven’t, please come up and take a copy; we’re going to use the article on the assault for today’s discussion.”

A few students walked up and grabbed a copy of the paper.

“First, let me congratulate one of your classmates for writing a very good article. Please stand up, Jill,” said Diana.

Jill reluctantly stood up and acknowledged the applause of her fellow students.

“Jill, can you please describe the process of writing this article, including, of course, your interaction with the police,” said Diana. She motioned for Jill to come to the front of the class. “Don’t worry, Jill, you won’t be the only one to be up here.”

Jill smiled nervously and talked about the article. After she sat down, Diana started a class discussion on how the press should identify people in their articles. As a contrast, she handed out copies of the small article from the Inquirer.

“If you haven’t read the articles yet, please scan them now,” instructed Diana.

After a few minutes, Diana again addressed the class.

“Okay, what are the differences in the two articles?” she asked as uncapped a dry marker.

“The length,” said Dave.

Diana nodded and started to write.

“The location,” said TC.

“Good, keep going,” said Diana.

“The Inquirer article refers to the victim as a ‘man dressed as a woman,’ and the Penn article calls the victim transgendered,” said Mandy, a slightly overweight redheaded girl.

“Excellent,” said Diana.

“The Penn article includes information on how to report information on the crime,” added Jirra.

Diana nodded and added it to the list. “Okay, this is a good start. Now, this is a good example of how to determine the political leanings of a publication. We all know that every publication has some politics behind it; some are obvious and some are not. When you look at the front page of a newspaper, you can usually determine this bias by the placement of stories. Now it would be expected that our campus paper would run this article on the front page, as it has a lot of local interest and is about a Penn student. But can anyone think of a way this would make the front of the Inquirer?”

“If the victim had connections,” said Leah.

“Good,” replied Diana.

“If it was a murder,” said Steve Lang, a short thin boy with glasses.

“Not necessarily, murder isn’t that unusual of a crime in Philadelphia,” replied Diana.

“If it was connected to other murders or crimes,” added Jirra.

Diana nodded. “That might do it.”

“What if the crime was especially bizarre?’ asked Dave.

“Like this wasn’t?” piped in a guy name Mike from the back.

There was some snickering.

“Does anyone find a severe assault funny?” asked Diana.

The class got deadly silent.

“Yes, some people may find the fact that victim was in the clothing of the opposite gender amusing, but what was the victim doing wrong?” asked Diana. “Is there a law against cross-dressing?”

No one answered.

“According to both articles, the victim was simply walking back to their residence. Does that earn an attack?”

“Maybe someone was upset that their kids might see the guy in drag?” asked Mike.

“After midnight?’ asked Jill.

“And that neighborhood is almost all students,” added another woman named Kelly.

“Even if there were kids, what gives those guys the authority to nearly kill him?” asked Jill.

Mike put up his hands. “Look, I don’t condone what happened, but he was taking a chance.”

TC turned around and glared at him. “That’s what bigots said when African-Americans moved into their neighborhoods!”

“And when a woman is raped, she is often blamed for the way she was dressed!” added Jill angrily.

“Okay, let’s reel in the discussion. But, Mike, no one deserves to be beaten unconscious by a gang,” said Diana. “But this does bring up a major difference, the description of the victim. Jill, why did you use the term transgendered?”

“It seemed appropriate. It seems to be a better description than what the Philly paper used,” she replied.

Diana nodded. “Why did you include it at all? I mean, wouldn’t just the fact that a person was beaten be enough?”

Jill almost got angry, but then she saw what Diana was doing and smiled instead. “The police are considering it a hate crime; to leave it out would leave the reader wondering why. I tried not to pull a New York Post with the headline.”

There were a few laughs.

“No, it was done as tastefully as possible,” replied Diana. “Okay, titles, designations of groups, and all sorts of things can be used to tip off a publication’s bias. Keep your eyes open and for your next readings look for examples.”

When class ended, Diana asked Jill to stay behind.

“I just wanted to congratulate you on the well written article,” said Diana.

Jill smiled. “Coming from you, that means a lot.”

“I have some information on the case that you might find interesting for a follow up article,” said Diana.

Jill cocked her head. “Really?”

Diana nodded. “I’m an advisor to the campus transgendered organization. I was contacted by the police to let me know that Tom had been receiving threats over the past few weeks.”

“Why would the police tell you?” asked Jill.

“There’s a police officer who is a liaison with the LGBT community in Philadelphia. He told me about the threats, so I could warn our other members,” explained Diana as she opened her purse and took out a business card. “Here is his number. I already talked to him, and he would happy to discuss the case with you.”

Jill held the card and smiled as if she had just aced a test. “My first scoop!”

Diana laughed. “I wouldn’t exactly call it a scoop, but if you plan on being a reporter who works the crime beat, you need to make connections with the local law enforcement community.”

Jill placed the card in her bag. “I’ll call him after my next class. Thanks again, Professor Bowie.”

Diana smiled. “You’re welcome, Jill.”

Chapter 16

The assault was on Jirra’s mind as she drove home after stopping at the supermarket. It had happened only eight blocks from where she lived. While it was true no one knew she was transgendered, it still made her think. She thought about Randy and how he had attacked her back in New Mexico. Granted, it was nothing compared to what had happened to that guy, Tom, but it still worried her.

On days when she didn’t have errands to run, she often walked to campus, but now she had second thoughts.

She fully agreed with the idea that it was a hate crime, and that meant whoever did it just might do it again.

She parked her car in the garage and headed up to her apartment.

“Hi Jirra,” Celeste called.

Jirra was about to press the button for the elevator when she heard Celeste’s voice; she turned around and waved back. “Hi,”

“Just getting home from class?’ asked Celeste as she pressed the button for the elevator.

Jirra nodded. “You?”

“No, I was meeting some people to discuss the attack,” replied Celeste. “You obviously heard about it.”

“Yes, we had a lively discussion about it in Prof. Bowie’s class today,” replied Jirra.

“I know. Diana brought it up during the meeting,” said Celeste. “She’s the advisor for the club.”

“Are you a club officer?” asked Jirra.

Celeste shook her head. “I’d love to be, but I don’t have the time. No, I’m just an active participant.”

The elevator door opened, and they stepped in.

“We’re having a meeting at my place tomorrow evening to discuss the attack, would you like to attend?” asked Celeste.

Jirra shook her head. “I appreciate you trying to get me involved, but I’m… I’m not ready to become involved like you are. Between classes, living away from my mom, and… well, other things, I have enough in my life right now.”

Celeste smiled back. “I understand; you’re what, eighteen?”

“Nineteen,” replied Jirra.

“Not that much of a difference,” replied Celeste. “I won’t push you, Jirra, but the offer is always there if you want to get involved.”

“Thanks. I don’t want you to think that I’m ashamed of who I am… it’s just that it’s complicated.”

“Whenever you’re ready to talk about it, you know where I live,” replied Celeste.

The elevator door opened.

“And this is where you live,” continued Celeste with a smile.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra as she stepped out of the elevator. She then stopped the door from closing. “I can tell that you are being genuine about your concern for me, and I do appreciate it. I know that I’m not the only one to have had ‘issues’ with the change. I don’t want you to think that I’m a snob or anything like that.”

“It’s okay, Jirra,” replied Celeste softly.

“Thanks,” she replied as she watched the doors close. Inside, she wished she was strong enough to be so open about her change, like Celeste, or Jen, or Diana. Maybe it was time for a talk with an old friend.

Chapter 17

Jirra looked at her schedule and decided to wait until Sunday morning before trying to contact her spirit guide. From past experience she knew it could take several hours of her day.

That Saturday she was going to her first football game at Franklin Field. Actually, it wasn’t her first game there, as her Dad had taken her to a Harvard-Penn game when she was fourteen. That seemed so long ago, she thought.

She was going to the game with Celeste, Beth, Cat, and Matt. They had been able to get their seats together.

With her weekend quickly filling up, Jirra worked hard to make sure all her homework was done ahead of time.

So far, she was enjoying all her classes, especially the one with Professor Bowie. She had also made contact with the student paper staff. They seemed genuinely impressed with her portfolio and had set up an interview the following week.

Jill told her to expect a call back in the next few weeks, explaining that nothing ever happened fast when it came to organization in the paper.

Jirra looked at her watch and as her dinner heated up, she decided to call Lindsey back in New Mexico.

Over the past few weeks, they had played answering machine tag, and while they constantly exchanged e-mails, it wasn’t the same as talking.

On the third ring, Jirra was about to hang up when the call was answered.

“Hello?” asked Lindsey breathlessly.

“Did I catch you at a bad time?” asked Jirra.

Lindsey laughed. “No, I was just getting home and had to rush in. How’re you doing?’

For the next thirty minutes, the two good friends caught up on their lives.

“Are you worried about attacks?” asked Lindsey.

“A little. I’m also torn about getting involved politically here on campus,” said Jirra. “There are some really nice people in my building, and one of them is very involved with the campus transgendered community.”

“Let me guess, because of the way you became a girl, you don’t feel worthy of joining a group,” interrupted Lindsey.

“That’s what I miss about you, you’re always so polite,” cracked Jirra.

“Bite me,” said Lindsey with a giggle.

“Funny, but back to the issue at hand, you’re right. These people have had to deal with gender confusion and issues their whole life; I haven’t had it as bad as they have, even though I’m passing as a TG”

“Oh yes, you’ve had it so easy, and you’ve haven’t had any issues adjusting to being a woman,” interjected Lindsey.

“Point taken,” said Jirra.

“Look, you have a gender issue that you need to deal with. I’ve seen you grow and adapt, but you still have things to deal with. Maybe being around others with similar issues can help you find the balance you’re looking for,” suggested Lindsey.

“I know,” said Jirra. “It wouldn’t be practical to try to become male again. I would have to become a new person again, and trust me, once is enough. I know that I’ve changed mentally since the transformation, but there’s still a lot of Josh in me.”

“There’s nothing wrong with that, Jirra. From what I saw, Josh was a nice person, but you are now Jirra. You’ve changed more than you may be willing to give yourself credit for.”

There was a long silence on the other end.

“I know that I’m not the first person to tell you that,” continued Lindsey.

“You’re not. Even Alexis has said that I’ve changed and become more feminine,” said Jirra.

“Look, I’m not telling you to join the group, but it might not be a bad idea,” said Lindsey.

“Thanks, I can always count on you being honest with me,” replied Jirra.

“So when is the big premier?”

“Next weekend,” said Jirra. “I wish I could go to watch it with Alexis, but I’ll have to be content to watch it with friends.”

“I can’t wait,” replied Lindsey. “Well, I gotta get going. I have a cooking class in thirty minutes. Take care, Roo.”

Jirra laughed. “Have fun.”

Chapter 18

The football game was a lot of fun, and Jirra enjoyed Matt’s initial disbelief that she knew something about football.

On the way back to their homes, they discussed the game.

“Well, I finally have someone to talk football with,” he said. “Cat could care less.”

“That’s not true; I like football, it’s just not like life or death with me,” she said. “I also don’t care to go to games once the bad weather starts.”

“You just never asked me any football questions,” piped in Beth.

“Okay, fine, you ‘girls’ know something about football,” he backtracked.

“What do you mean by that?’ asked Beth with a grin.

“I think that calls for a challenge,” said Jirra.

“Okay, do either of you follow professional football?” he asked with a grin.

“Sure, why?’ replied Jirra.

“How about a football pool, starting with tomorrow’s games?’ he suggested.

Beth looked at Jirra and nodded. “Why not? What’s the bet?”

“How about loser cooks dinner for the winner?’ suggested Matt.

“Wait a second, let me point out that Matt cannot cook, not unless you count nuking something,” interjected Cat.

“How about if he loses, he buys us dinner?” suggested Beth.

“I’m game,” added Jirra.

“I’ll just watch this if you don’t mind,” said Celeste.”

“Okay, and I’ll keep score,” said Cat.

Matt nodded. “That sounds fair. I have the paper back in our place; we can fill out our picks there.”

“But let’s use the Monday night game as the tiebreaker with total points as the final tiebreaker,” said Jirra.

Matt looked over at her. “Where did you learn that?”

Jirra just shrugged her shoulders. “Never judge a book by its cover.”

Once back at Cat and Matt’s place, they filled out their selections and handed them to Cat.

“Don’t worry, Matt, we won’t pick an expensive place to eat,” said Jirra.

“Speak for yourself, Jirra. I think he should take us to Le Bec-Fin,” said Beth, referring one of Philadelphia’s finest and most expensive restaurants.

“I’ll just settle for Pat’s,” said Jirra. “Of course, he’ll have to apologize first.”

“You’re both assuming you’ll win,” said Matt.

“Well, at least Erika will feel at home when she arrives next weekend,” said Cat.

“I can’t wait to meet her,” said Celeste. “You’ve told me so much about her, I almost feel I know her already.”

“She’s definitely special,” said Cat.

Chapter 19

Jirra was up early the next morning, well before dawn, to attempt to meet her spirit guide. She thought about her friend Tara back at the spa who’d suggested that she mediate naked, but even in the privacy of her own place, Jirra wasn’t up to that.

She sat on a Navaho blanket on the floor of her living room. She was wearing just a Penn T-shirt and running shorts.

She concentrated for a while before she noticed how everything changed. Jirra stood up and noticed that she was no longer in her apartment; rather, she was standing in a grassy field at the edge of a forest. A river was flowing to the east of her.

“This is much nicer than a city.”

Jirra looked around and smiled when she saw her spirit guide, Killara. As always, he was in the form of a kangaroo rat.

“You look out of place here,” she said.

“No more than you do,” he replied as he hoped closer to her.

Jirra sat down next to him. “So, is this what Philadelphia looked like before man came here?”

“Maybe, then again who said we were in the past?” he replied.

Jirra rolled her eyes. “I don’t even want to go there right now. I have other concerns.”

“About how you should present yourself?” he asked.

Jirra nodded. “Exactly. I mean, Celeste is really transgendered and has gone through so much pain to get where she is today. And what from Cat says, her friend Erika has also suffered.”

“And you don’t think what you’ve gone through was traumatic?”

“Not exactly, but I can’t just tell them that I used to be a boy and was transformed by a lightning strike.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Well, I doubt they’d believe me. I don’t have the supporting cast like I do back in New Mexico.”

“As you said, they are your friends. And their reactions just might surprise you. While what you experienced isn’t that common, it’s not that rare either. You’ve already met others who have been transformed completely.”

“You mean Jen Stevens?”

Killara scratched his ear with his hind leg. “And others.”

Jirra cocked her head “Who?”

“Think about it,” he said. “You’ve met other women that you’ve felt a strange kinship with, and I’m not talking just friendship.”

Jirra thought about it for a moment.

“Just trust your feelings, Roo. You don’t have to hide from everyone,” he explained.

“But what if I tell the wrong person?”

“You won’t. Trust your inner feelings, and you’ll know your real friends from those who aren’t.”

“So, do you think I should become more involved?”

“It doesn’t matter what I think,” he replied.

Jirra shook her head. “Please, this isn’t the time for fuzzy answers.”

“Well, I am rather fuzzy,” he said.

“Please, Killara, I need guidance.”

“No, no you don’t, Roo. You just need to trust yourself. If it makes you feel better, yes, you should get involved, but only when you feel you are ready.”

“That was clear as mud,” she replied.

“Just doing my job. You don’t want me to tell you everything, do you?”

Jirra shook her head again. “Okay, I get it. It is good to see you again, even if you do drive me crazy trying to figure out your answers.”

“It’s always my pleasure, Roo.”

Jirra woke up with a start. The morning sun was pouring through her windows. She looked at the clock on the VCR and it read 11:05.

She got up and stretched. There was just enough time to fill out her journal before the first football game.

Chapter 20

Jirra was sitting next to Jill, TC, and Leah as they waited for Professor Bowie’s class to begin.

“Any word on how Tom is doing?” Jirra asked Jill.

“He was released from the hospital over the weekend, but he’s going to stay with his sister to recover. He’s pretty upset about what happened and scared that it could happen again,” replied Jill.

“Does he think that he brought it on himself?” asked Leah.

Leah’s question sort of caught Jirra by surprise.

“Look, I’m not judging him,” added Leah.

“He does feel guilty that he didn’t tell anyone about the threats,” said Jill. “Apparently, someone had left notes warning him to leave. He didn’t take them seriously, and he thinks that maybe if he did the attack wouldn’t have happened.”

“I didn’t read anything about the notes in your article,” said TC.

“It will be in my next article. I’ve been doing some research, and I found out that Tom’s attack wasn’t the first one near campus. In fact, in the past two years six transgendered students have been attacked, although Tom’s is the most serious. The paper is going to print my next article in a couple of days.”

“What do you know about the other cases?” asked Jirra.

“Mostly harassment of transgendered students, although two of them had their cars vandalized, and one had their apartment ransacked,” said Jill.

“And you think they’re all connected?” asked Jirra.

“Maybe,” she replied. “I hope that the article will lead to more information.”

“Aren’t you worried that the people doing the attacks will be pissed?” asked Leah.

“That would be their mistake,” replied Jill, and she winked at Jirra.

“Well, it sounds like you have a topic you can run with,” noted TC.

“The hard part is that the victims and many in the transgendered community around campus want to live in secrecy and protect their privacy,” continued Jill.

Jirra felt nervous, as the topic was getting too close for comfort.

“Well, I can understand that, I mean they would stand out,” interjected Dave.

“What do you mean by that?” asked TC as she turned to look at the guy sitting behind them.

“Come on, you mean you can’t tell a transsexual from a real woman?” he asked.

“And you can?” asked Jill.

Dave nodded. “In ten seconds.”

“Really?’ asked Jirra.

Dave sat back and nodded. “I mean, there are some that pass pretty well.”

“Like Professor Bowie?” asked a boy named Miguel.

“Okay, I admit that she’s a special case, but she did start when she was a teen,” said Dave. “Yes, I’ve read her books.”

“So, you’d be able to tell if there was a transgendered person on campus?” asked Jill.
By now, the whole class was paying attention to the conversation.

“Sure,” he replied.

“What about in this class?” asked Jill.

Dave laughed. “Please!”

“Are you so sure?” asked TC.

Dave nodded. “Look, I got nothing against them, but I just know that I can tell a man from a woman.”

“So you’re sure that I’m a woman?” asked Jill.

Dave chuckled. “Come on, Jill. Next you’ll tell me that Jirra is a guy!”

Before Jirra could respond, TC stepped in. “You know, not all transgendered people are men, some are women who want to be men. How do we know that you’re a real man, Dave… or is it Debby?”

There was some oohing.

Dave smiled and stood up. “There’s one way to prove that.” He pretended to unbuckle his pants.

Just then Professor Bowie walked in. “Did I interrupt something?” she asked.

Dave’s face turned red, and he sat down shaking his head. The rest of the class started to laugh.

“Okay, then let’s get started,” said Diana.

Chapter 21

That afternoon as Jirra returned home, she bumped into Beth and Celeste in the parking garage.

“Hey, Jirra, we were just talking about you,” said Beth.

Jirra smiled. “What’s up?”

“Cat, and Matt are coming over for dinner, you want to join us?”

Jirra nodded. “That would be great.”

“Cool, come up around six,” said Celeste.

“Can I bring anything?”

Celeste shook her head. “We’re going to send out for pizza.”

Around six, Jirra arrived up at Celeste and Beth’s place. She was greeted as usual by the always energetic Spirit.

Cat and Matt were already there and sitting out on the deck. The pizzas had just arrived, so everyone began to eat.

“So when is your friend, Erika arriving?” asked Jirra.

“Thursday, and I can’t wait,” replied Cat.

As they ate, they discussed the schedule for the weekend. The Penn State –Temple game was being played in South Philadelphia at Lincoln Financial Field, the home of the Eagles.

“Hopefully, we’ll get to see Alex and Mike too before they head back to State College,” said Cat.

“How long will Erika be here?” asked Celeste. “I was hoping that I could introduce her to Diana Bowie.”

“Erika would love that. She’s not due to go back until Tuesday,” said Cat. “She has some family down this way that she wants to see too.”

“Do any of you have plans for Sunday night?” asked Jirra.

“Why?” asked Beth.

“Well, they’re showing the premiere for the Erin Flynn series at nine, and I was wondering if you’d all like to watch it at my place,” said Jirra.

“Oh, that’s right. I heard about it on NPR. It stars the actress who was in the minotaur movie,” said Beth.

“Alexis Eden,” said Matt.

“That’s right, and I got to know her when she stayed at the spa,” said Jirra, as she grabbed another slice of pizza.

“Whoa, you know Alexis Eden?” asked Beth.

Jirra nodded as she fought to contain her smile.

“What’s she like?’ asked Matt.

Jirra described Alexis, leaving out that she was deeply in love with her.

“Wait a second, doesn’t Diana Bowie’s aunt write those stories?” asked Beth.

Jirra nodded again. “Alexis says that Faith is wonderful.”

“So, do you know any other celebrities, Jirra?” asked Matt.

Jirra looked at Cat, who shook her head.

“I didn’t want to steal your thunder,” said Cat.

Jirra laughed and told the others about Jennifer Stevens and going to the Oscars.

“Any chance of you introducing us to Alexis sometime?” asked Matt hopefully.

Cat playfully nudged him in the ribs.

“Hey, I’m just a big fan,” said Matt.

“If she does come down here, I promise that I’ll introduce her to all of you, she’s actually really down to earth,” said Jirra.

The conversation then shifted to more serious topics.

“Celeste, any news on who may have attacked that member of your group?” asked Matt.

“We still don’t know who did it, but they obviously targeted Tom because he’s a crossdresser. What bothers me is that he’s not the first member of the group to be attacked,” she said.

“Do you think there’s a connection?” asked Cat.

“The police don’t think so. Tom was pretty open in his neighborhood about his dressing. He never bothered anyone, but he made no attempts to hide it either.”

“From what Jill said, it doesn’t look like it was someone from the neighborhood who did it,” said Jirra.

“Who is Jill?” asked Matt.

“She’s a reporter for the Daily Pennsylvanian,” said Jirra. “We’re both in Professor Bowie’s class.”

“Oh, that’s right,” said Matt.

“Well, I agree with Jill. We’ve already had the campus police talk to the group about security and personal safety,” said Celeste.

“So does that mean you think there’ll be more troubles?” asked Matt.

Celeste nodded. “Diana Bowie seems to think so too.”

“Are you worried?” asked Matt.

“Maybe a little,” said Celeste. “I don’t advertise the fact that I was once a male, but I don’t deny it either. I mean, my biography is posted on the foundation’s website, but I don’t think that anyone would really come after me. It’s the more closeted students in the group I’m worried about. We’re very careful about screening people into our group and also where we hold our meetings, just to protect them.”

“Well, please call me if you have any problems or need help, and that, by the way, goes for all of you,” said Matt. He then gave out his cell phone number.

“Thanks, Matt,” said Celeste.

Jirra nodded too as she entered his number into her phone. It didn’t hurt to be careful.

“Hey, I hate to interrupt, but the pre-game show should be coming on soon,” said Beth. “Not that it matters in our pool, if you know what I mean.”

Jirra smiled. “Oh that’s right, did any one catch the scores from yesterday’s games?”

“Okay, okay, you both beat me,” said Matt. “Beginners luck if you ask me.”

“No, beginner’s luck would have implied that we just barely beat you. I had three more wins that you and Jirra had four,” replied Beth. She then turned to Jirra. “I’d say we kicked his butt.”

“Do you think you can do it two weeks in a row?” asked Matt.

Jirra nodded. “Especially if you keep kicking the Jets to win.”

“I’m in,” said Beth. “But this doesn’t get you out of buying us dinner.”

“That’s right,” added Jirra.

Matt smiled as he accepted defeat. “Okay, but I know that your luck won’t hold out for a second week.”

Cat just shook her head. “Men!”

Chapter 22

Even though she hated to admit it, Jirra found that she experienced bouts of homesickness. It was strange, she thought, as she had moved so many times growing up, yet she now considered the spa home. She looked at her calendar and counted the days until winter break.

It was true that she communicated with her Mom almost daily, thanks to e-mail, but it wasn’t the same. At the same time, she found herself longing to be with Alexis. It was frustrating that two of the people who meant the most to her were so far away.

She also missed her friends back in New Mexico, such as Lindsey, Cari, and Tara. Then there was Barrett. While Jirra wasn’t attracted to him sexually, she had deep feelings for him. In some ways, he was the brother that she never had.

He had always treated her special, and he also treated her as an intellectual equal. She re-read his latest e-mail about the archeological study of the Anasazi site near the spa.

He told her that they still weren’t sure of the site’s purpose, but it was obvious that it held great significance to them. He wrote that they had found that most of the known Anasazi villages had carvings in the rock that appeared to point to the site.

Barrett also said that they had found some strange petroglyphs at the site and that no one could decipher their meanings.

Jirra decided that, if the weather permitted, she would try to head up to the site when she went home in December to see them for herself.

Chapter 23

Jirra was sitting in between TC and Leah as they waited for Professor Bowie’s class to start.

“I wonder where Jill is?” asked TC.

“I was just wondering the same thing; it’s so unlike her to miss this class,” said Jirra.

“I’m sure she’ll be along,” noted Leah. “Oh, Jirra, how’d you like to come home with me some weekend? My family lives in Doylestown.”

“I’d like that, Leah, thanks,” replied Jirra.

“Didn’t you used to live out in the burbs yourself, Jirra?” asked TC.

“Yes, it was one of the places I grew up,” replied Jirra. Talking about her past always made her nervous.

“I sense some secrecy,” said TC.

Jirra shook her head. “It was only for a year. I really don’t have great memories about it.”

“Was it when your dad died?” asked Leah.

Jirra nodded.

“I’m sorry,” said TC.

“It’s okay,” replied Jirra, hoping that they would change the subject.

Jill walked in with Prof. Bowie.

“Thank you for the advice,” said Jill as she turned and walked to an open seat next to Leah.

“Anytime, Jill,” replied Prof. Bowie.

“What’s up?” asked TC.

“Professor Bowie got me an interview with a member of the administration concerning the attacks,” said Jill.

“Attacks?” asked Jirra.

“Oh, that’s right, you may not have heard; there was an attack on a transgendered student last night. It happened late, so it won’t be in the paper until tomorrow,” explained Jill.

Jirra felt a chill run up her spine. “What happened?”

“I’ll tell you after class, but it looks like it was done by the same people,” said Jill.

Chapter 24

After class, Jirra, Jill, Leah, and TC headed to a coffeehouse to discuss the latest attack.

Professor Bowie had mentioned the attack during her lecture, but said that, as it had just happened, they would wait until the media reported on it.

“I can’t stay too long, as I‘m going over to the campus police department to see what I can find out,” said Jill.

“You mean it happened on campus?” asked TC.

Jill nodded. “Apparently, from what I’ve gathered, the victim lived in the dorms. He would take out his things and change at a friend’s house. He was on his way back late last night when he was assaulted.”

“How bad?” asked Jirra.

“Bad,” replied Jill. “He’s in intensive care.”

“Not to be rude or anything, but was he dressed in women’s clothing when he was attacked?” asked Leah.

“No,” replied Jill. “He was carrying his stuff in a big duffle bag. The attackers opened the bag and spread the items out around him.”

“Is it possible it was just a robbery gone bad?” asked Leah.

“Unlikely, as they left a note on top of him. From what I’ve been told, it’s very similar to the notes left with the first victim,” replied Jill. “I hope to learn more when I talk to the police.”

“So how did they know?” asked Jirra.

“What do you mean?” asked TC.

“Well, Jill said he wasn’t dressed in women’s clothing at the time of the attack. I mean, a student walking across campus with a duffle bag, that’s nothing all that unusual. If he only dressed off campus, then how did the attackers know?” asked Jirra.

“Good point,” said Jill. “I’ll ask the police that.”

They arrived at the coffeehouse and placed their orders.

“Well, I’ll see you later,” said Jill as she started to walk away. She suddenly stopped and turned around. “Oh, Jirra, I almost forgot! The editors want to meet with you next week. How does Monday at two sound?”

Jirra’s eyes opened wide. “Really?”

Jill smiled and nodded as she took a sip of her coffee.

“Where?”

“At the main office, I’ll take you there, that is, if you still want to do it?” asked Jill.

Jirra nodded vigorously. “I can’t wait. Thanks, Jill.”

“Sure thing, Jirra,” she said.

“Hey, wait a second, how have you found out so much about the case if you haven’t talked to the campus police yet?” asked TC.

Jill winked. “A good reporter always guards her sources!”

“So you’re not going to tell us?” asked Jirra.

Jill just shook her head as she departed.

“Well, I can’t exactly blame her for not disclosing her sources,” said TC.

“Still, she better tell us some day,” added Leah.

Jirra then joined TC and Leah who were sitting around a small table.

“Well, I hope that the attack wasn’t done by the same people,” said TC.

“Why?” asked Jirra as she took a sip of her cappuccino.

“What I mean is that I can deal with random violence, but the idea that some group is targeting fellow students is horrifying,” replied TC. “I mean, I’m not transgendered, but who’s to say that they might not switch their focus?”

“I wonder if the attackers are Penn students?” asked Jirra.

“Jirra, do you really think that someone going here would do something like that?’ asked Leah.

“I do,” interrupted TC. “Yeah, I know we’re the elite and all that, but I’ve heard a few racist comments since I’ve been here. I’ve also heard some homophobic comments too.”

Jirra thought about the issues she had dealt with back in New Mexico and nodded. “I guess there are a-holes everywhere.”

Chapter 25

When Jirra called home that night, she told her mom about the attacks.

“I figured you would find out eventually,” explained Jirra. “I just wanted you to know that I’m being careful.”

“I appreciate that, Jirra,” replied Liz

As they talked, Liz updated Jirra on the goings on of the spa.

“Jennifer Stevens has reserved a cottage for next month,” said Liz. “Judy said that Jen asked how you were doing.”

“She’s pretty cool. I doubt it will be boring while she’s there,” said Jirra.

“That’s for sure,” replied Liz.

“So, how’re things between you and Dan?” asked Jirra.

“Um, do I ask you about your love life, Roo?”

“Actually you do,” replied Jirra with a chuckle.

Liz laughed. “Okay, you got me on that one. We’re progressing nicely. He’s invited me to a conference in San Antonio in November. He’s giving the keynote address.”

“That’s great, Mom,” replied Jirra. “I’m so happy for you.”

“Roo, it’s just a conference,” said Liz.

“Still, you’ll be with him, right?”

“Okay, I admit it; I like him a lot.”

“I like him too,” said Jirra. She then took a deep breath. “If you two decide to get married, I suppose we’ll have to tell him about me.”

“I suppose, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. So how would you feel about that?”

“The marriage or the sharing the secret part?” asked Jirra.

“Both,” replied Liz.

“I’m all for you being happy, and I like Dan a lot. He’s pretty open-minded, so I guess he could accept the truth about me,” said Jirra. She then let out a sigh.

“Okay, what’s up?” asked Liz noting the sigh.

“I’ve just been thinking about my friends here and how they might react if they knew the truth about me. I get the feeling that Celeste and Beth would understand and accept me. I think Cat would be cool about it too. Jill is pretty cool, as is TC. I don’t know about Leah.”

“Well, you don’t have to tell everyone at once.”

“I know that, but I hate being dishonest about myself,” said Jirra. “I’d also like to tell Professor Bowie.”

“Well, you’ll know if and when the time is right.”

“I know,” replied Jirra.

Jirra then told Liz about the upcoming interview with the editors.

“I know you’ll do fine,” said Liz.

“Thanks, Mom. Oh, don’t forget to watch Alexis’ show this weekend.”

“I wouldn’t miss it for the world, Roo, Well, have a good time this weekend,” said Liz.

“I love you, Mom,” said Jirra.

“I love you too, Roo.”

Chapter 26

Jirra tried to call Alexis several times that week, but all she got was the answering machine. She did have better luck with e-mail.

Alexis apologized for her inability to reply, stating that her life was crazy with all the hype over the premier of the show.

The good news was that Alexis said that she would be free for a few weeks in November and December as production would be shutting down for the holidays.

It was far from perfect, but Jirra understood… reluctantly.

Chapter 27

“So the campus police aren’t giving out any information?” asked Beth as she sat cross-legged on the couch.

“Not yet,” replied Celeste. “They have promised to give us a briefing soon.”

“I’m glad that they are supportive of the group,” said Beth as she reached for another slice of pizza.

“How can you eat so much and stay so slim?” asked Celeste.

“It’s one of the residual effects of my transformation,” replied Beth as she took a bite of the slice of pepperoni and sausage pizza. “I’m not complaining, as it allows me to eat what I like.”

Spirit had been staring intently at the pizza, hoping for some to fall to the floor, when she jumped up and barked excitedly as she ran to the door.

“Better than an alarm,” said Celeste as she got up and walked to the door.

Judging by Spirit’s behavior, Celeste knew that it wasn’t a stranger approaching their door. She opened the door and smiled as she saw Jirra exiting the elevator.

Spirit ran down the hall, her tail wagging excitedly as she approached Jirra.

“No sneaking up on you guys,” said Jirra as she reached down to pet Spirit.

“Best alarm system in the world,” replied Celeste. “Have you eaten yet? We still have half a pizza left; that is if Beth hasn’t eaten it all.”

“I heard that!” shouted Beth,

“Thanks, but I already ate,” said Jirra. “I actually came up to ask you a favor, Celeste.”

“Sure, come on in.”

Jirra sat down across from Beth. “My friend Jill writes for the Daily Pennsylvanian, and she’s been covering the attacks.”

“I’ve read her articles; she’s very understanding,” said Celeste.

“Well, she’d like to interview you and some members of your group,” said Jirra. “We were talking about the case in Professor Bowie’s class, and afterwards she mentioned that she’d love to interview someone in the campus TG club. I didn’t tell her that I knew you as I wanted to clear it first.”

“I appreciate that, Jirra,” replied Celeste.

“I know that you can trust her,” added Jirra.

Celeste nodded. “I can’t speak for anyone else in the group, but I’d be happy to talk to her.”

“Great, here’s her number,” said Jirra as she pulled a piece of paper out of her bag.

Celeste took the piece of paper and, after looking at it, placed it in her purse.

“Oh, Jirra, it’s good that you came up. Cat and Matt will be coming over as soon as they pick up their friend at the airport,” said Beth as she reached for another slice of pizza.

“Have you met Erika?” asked Jirra.

“Not in person, but I feel like I know her from everything Cat has told me about her,” replied Beth.

“I know; I agree,” added Celeste.

“She’s definitely had a lifetime of experiences, and she hasn’t graduated college yet,” continued Beth.

“Cat told me that Erika had been attacked in her senior year of high school, but she didn’t go into details,” said Jirra.

Celeste nodded. “She was abducted, raped, and assaulted.”

Jirra’s eyes opened wide. “My god, that’s horrible.”

“The attacker had been a classmate. From what Cat told me, he’s a real psycho. The good thing is that he’s in prison,” interjected Beth.

“Erika has also undergone various bouts of PTS, but she keeps bouncing back,” added Celeste. “I can definitely relate to that. I had some rough nights after my abduction. Thankfully, my husband got me into therapy.”

Jirra shook her head in disbelief. “I was attacked by a local bigot back home, but all I got out of it was a bloody nose; I can’t believe how lucky I am.”

“Did he know you were TG?” asked Celeste.

“No, he was upset because I’m a lesbian. He was pissed that I rejected his advances,” explained Jirra.

“Erika’s attacker knew she was TG and tried to use that as part of his defense. Thankfully, the DA was able to blow that theory out of the water.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Jirra.

“You know what the really cool part is? He’s now her step-father!” continued Beth.

“Wow,” replied Jirra. “I can’t wait to meet her.”

Chapter 28

An hour later the Spirit alarm went off again, notifying them of Cat, Matt, and Erika’s arrival.

It was immediately evident to Jirra that Cat and Erika were as close as she was with Lindsey, maybe even more so. Knowing what she did about Erika’s past, she understood why.

Jirra also found that she immediately liked Erika, and it was as if she had known her her entire life.

To Jirra’s surprise, Erika admitted that she felt the same way.

“Cat has told me so much about all of you,” explained Erika. She was sitting cross-legged on the couch petting Spirit, who was lying next to her.

Jirra noticed that while Erika had a runner’s build, she also looked very feminine. It was hard to imagine that Erika had ever been a guy. Jirra also noticed how relaxed Erika was about her status, and it caused her to contemplate her own status.

“By the way, has Matt told you all his good news?” asked Erika.

The others looked over at Matt.

“I was saving this for later, as I didn’t want to steal the spotlight,” he said.

“Go on, tell them,” said Cat as she nudged him gently in the ribs. “He can be so shy about his own accomplishments sometimes.”

“Well, tell us!” exclaimed Beth.

“I got my letter from the FBI today, and they’ve accepted me into the next class,” he said.

“That’s wonderful, Matt,” said Jirra.

“I agree,” added Celeste.

“When do you report?” asked Beth.

“The Monday after graduation,” he replied as he slipped his arm around Cat, who kissed him on the cheek.

“So soon?” asked Beth.

“Hey, don’t feel bad for me; I’ll be glad that I won’t have to put the toilet seat down at five in the morning now!” joked Cat.

“I don’t buy it,” said Erika. “I remember how much you missed him the last time you came up to see me.”

“And by the way, I don’t leave the seat up,” added Matt as he started to tickle Cat, who struggled to get away.

“Okay, okay, you win, please stop!” squealed Cat.

Matt did as she requested, leaned over and then gently kissed her.

After Cat regained her composure, she turned to the others. “We’re also officially engaged now. He even got me a ring.” She held out her hand so everyone could see the engagement ring.”

There were some more rounds of congratulations.

“So when are you getting married?” asked Beth. “I just want to make sure my schedule is clear.”

“It won’t be until I finish college,” replied Cat. “But you all better keep your schedules clear, as I want you all in the ceremony. Erika, will you be my maid of honor?”

Erika tried to reply, but she became too emotional, and all she could do was nod. She then got up and hugged Cat.

Chapter 29

The rest of the evening was spent trading stories. Jirra couldn’t believe the collection of characters that filled Erika and Cat’s lives.

“Please tell me that you plan on writing this all down some day,” said Jirra.

“I’ve been telling her the exact same thing,” added Cat.

Erika laughed. “Well, just so you know, I’ve started to put it together. Thankfully, I kept a journal throughout school. I just want to clear it all with my closest friends first.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that,” replied Cat. “Most of them would love to see their names in print.”

“Well, maybe not Jason, but I really don’t care about what he thinks,” said Erika. “I also doubt that Martin Turner will like what I’ve written about him.”

Jason was the boy who had sexually assaulted Erika, and Martin was the lawyer who had defended him.

“What about the Rev?” asked Cat.

“Who?” asked Celeste.

“A religious zealot and current felon,” replied Erika. “He contributed to my many hours of therapy.”

“He came to town in the spring of our senior year under the guise of helping Jason, but he was also scamming local businesses. Erika’s dad put him away,” explained Cat.

“Now I definitely want to read your book,” said Beth.

“Me too,” added Jirra. “Oh, I know someone who could help you! Have you heard of Diana Bowie?”

Erika nodded. “I’ve read all her books several times.”

“Well, she’s one of my professors, and I sort of have an inside track with her,” replied Jirra. She then told them about Alexis and the TV series. “I could introduce you to her after my class tomorrow.”

“I think that would be a great idea,” added Celeste.

“I don’t know,” said Erika.

“You should do it, Erika,” said Celeste. “I know Diana, and she’s a really nice person. She’s also always looking to help other transgendered people.”

Erika shrugged her shoulders. “What do you think, Cat?”

“I think you should do it,” said Cat.

“Okay,” replied Erika.

“Great, we can meet before class on campus,” said Jirra. She didn’t feel strange about extending her offer to Erika; in fact she knew it was the right thing to do.

Chapter 30

Cat was sitting next to Erika in the living room of Cat’s apartment. They were trading stories and sharing old times.

“So what do you know about Jirra?” asked Erika as she sipped a cup of Earl Gray tea.

“She’s TG, but she’s not active about it like Celeste. I like her a lot, but she’s definitely hiding something about her past. I figure it’s her business, and she’ll tell us when she’s ready.”

Erika nodded. “I sensed the same thing. To be honest, if I judged her strictly on her looks, I would never suspect she’s TG.”

“I know, but what’s strange is that she has a lot of masculine traits. Oh, don’t get me wrong, she passes quite well, but every now and then they come out,” said Cat. “I’m not sure, but I think she went through some sort of traumatic experience.”

“Do you think it was like what I went through?” asked Erika as she took a nibble out of a shortbread cookie.

Cat shook her head. “No, she told me that she was once attacked by a guy who was pissed off at her. He didn’t know she was TG and was angry because she’s a lesbian.”

“I wonder what it could be,” asked Erika.

“I don’t know, but I suspect she’ll tell us when she’s ready,” answered Cat. “So, how are you doing?”

“What do you mean?” asked Erika as a slight grin formed on her face.

Cat cocked her head.

“Okay,” replied Erika. “I still get the occasional nightmare, but now I tell Jenny about them. I only see her every few months now.”

“That’s good to hear, but that’s not what I meant,” said Cat.

“You mean Laura, right?” Erika took a sip of her tea. “I still miss her, I miss her a lot. We still trade emails and calls, but the long distance thing really wasn’t working.”

“Well, it might not be over; maybe after graduation you’ll get back together,” said Cat.

“It would be nice. We broke up a year ago, and I still can’t believe it.”

Cat nodded and took Erika’s hands into hers.

“We’ll find out soon. I’m due to graduate early and have already been offered a position with our old school,” said Erika.

“What? How long were you going to hold onto this nugget of info?”

“It’s not really official yet, but Nancy Bell called me last week and said that she would do everything in her power to get me hired,” explained Erika.

“Is it true that she’s going to be the new principal there?”

Erika nodded as she took another bite of the cookie. “She’s the assistant principal this year and has already been hired for next year. Apparently, Dr. Lee insisted on the school hiring her as her replacement.”

“I can’t believe Dr. Lee is leaving,” said Cat.

“She’ll be teaching at Dewey,” said Erika.

“That’s cool,” replied Cat.

“Oh, Nancy asked me to thank you for telling Celeste about the scholarship contest. Apparently, they’ve talked several times about working together. It looks like some of the students from Celeste’s foundation might end up going to Golden Hill High. Dr. Lee has also talked to Dewey about creating a special counseling program for working with troubled TG youth. I didn’t want to monopolize the evening talking about it tonight.”

“Celeste is something else. She’s so normal after everything she went through.”

“How did she and Beth become roomies?”

Cat laughed. “I’m not sure of all the details, but Beth’s parents work for the Agency. Beth was involved somehow in the same case that Celeste was, but as for the details, your guess is as good as mine.”

“Okay, just so I’m clear about this, we’re not talking about the FBI, right?”

Cat nodded. “The Agency is sort of a hybrid law enforcement organization; it overlaps the FBI and the CIA. Hell, until three years ago it didn’t even officially exist.”

“Do you want to get in?”

Cat shrugged her shoulders. “It would be nice, but I’m happy that the FBI wants me.”

“Do you think Beth is an agent?”

Cat laughed at first, but then stopped. “You know, that might explain a lot.” She then started laughing again and was joined by Erika.

Chapter 31

It was after class that Jirra introduced Erika to Diana Bowie. Erika was wearing jeans and a sweatshirt from a coffeehouse called Spencer’s.

“This is a small world, Erika,” said Diana.

“What do you mean?” asked Erika.

“We have a mutual friend. I actually heard your story several years ago from Marlene Hamilton,” said Diana.

“You know Marlene?” asked Erika as she broke out in a huge smile.

“Oh yes, we’ve fought a few battles together,” said Diana.

“Who is Marlene?” asked Jirra.

“She’s a combination lawyer-activist for TG teens. She’s the one who helped with the Rev,” explained Erika.

“She’s also the one who brought me in on the case that brought down that Commonwealth Attorney in Virginia,” said Diana.

Jirra nodded. It was the subject of Diana’s latest bestseller.

“Speaking of which, I heard he was sentenced last month,” said Erika.

Diana nodded. “All he got was sixty years without parole; bastard should have got the needle, but at least he won’t hurt anyone again.”

“How’s Marlene doing? I haven’t talked to her in a while,” asked Erika.

Diana smiled. “Believe it or not, but she’s engaged!”

Erika’s eyes opened wide. “That’s so cool.”

“I know. She’s head over heels in love with him. He’s a PI who she met on the case in Virginia. He’s going to work for her organization as a special investigator.”

“I’ll have to write her and congratulate her. I’m so happy for her,” said Erika.

Diana nodded as she pulled her card out of her bag. She handed it to Erika. “Look, I know enough of your story to know that others would benefit from hearing it. When you’re ready, send me your manuscript, and I’ll take a look at it. I’ll also pass it on to my editor if you want.”

Erika took the card and stared at it for a moment before putting it into her bag. “I promise that I’ll send it to you, but it’s still has a way to go.”

“Send me what you have,” offered Diana. “I know what you went through, and just writing it down can help a lot.”

Jirra listened and wondered if it would be possible for her to write her own story some day.

Chapter 32

Erika and Jirra walked together across campus to meet Cat.

“Every time I come here, I’m so amazed by the size of this place,” said Erika.

“How big is Dewey?” asked Jirra.

“You could put the whole campus and most of the town of Golden Hill on this campus. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I love it there, and I would have never qualified for an Ivy League school,” said Erika.

“I don’t know; Cat said you have a high GPA,” said Jirra.

“That was just my senior year. I was a bit of a slacker back in San Diego. I didn’t really have a motivation back then,” replied Erika. “I really didn’t get motivated until after I accepted who I really was.”

Jirra nodded.

“So you were home schooled your last year of high school?”

“Yes, but it was more out of necessity. The spa is a long drive from town, and besides with the staff at the spa, I got a far better education than I would have there,” explained Jirra.

“Cat told me some of your adventures. Please tell me that you plan on writing them down some day,” said Erika.

Jirra shrugged her shoulders. “I might; but right now I’m concentrating on school.”

“I can relate, but you still write on your own, right?”

“Yes,” replied Jirra.

“Is it true that you wrote a movie script?”

“I wouldn’t exactly say that. I put some ideas down; basically, I fictionalized some events that took place at the spa,” said Jirra.

Erika laughed. “Cat was right; you really have a knack for downplaying your accomplishments! I mean, you help discover a missing Anasazi site, and then you write a plot for Jennifer Stevens; that’s really cool.”

Jirra smiled back. “I just wrote a story. She’s having a real writer turn it into a script.”

“But you’ll get credit, right?”

Jirra nodded. “That’s what Jen promised.”

“And paid?”

Jirra nodded again. “The money isn’t that much, but I have to admit that I’m excited about seeing my name in the credits.”

“I can’t blame you. Cat told me that you also know Alexis Eden, what’s she like?”

Jirra hesitated for a second. “She’s really nice.”

Erika nodded knowingly. “I understand. It must be hard on both of you.”

A slightly horrified look appeared on Jirra’s face. Erika reached over and put her hand on Jirra’s shoulder. “It’s okay. I understand, as I’m still deeply in love with another woman. Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone else.”

“Thanks, Erika. It’s complicated on a multitude of levels.”

“It always is,” replied Erika. “I mean, considering her career and your status, it must be very difficult.”

“You don’t know that half of it,” replied Jirra without thinking. Catching herself, she tried to recover. “Um, you’re right.”

Erika remembered that Cat had told her that she suspected Jirra was hiding something about her past. “Look, we’re friends now, and whenever you need someone to talk about it, call me. We may have different histories, but we’ve covered some of the same ground.”

“Thanks, Erika,” replied Jirra. “I’ll remember that.”

Chapter 33

As expected, the game was a total blowout. Penn State fans greatly outnumbered the Temple supporters.

“It really doesn’t seem fair; I mean, Penn State’s program is so much better than Temple’s,” said Matt.

“I know, but at least they get a breather before they play Ohio State next week,” said Erika.

Most of the starters for Penn State were pulled out by the third quarter.

“Alex had a pretty good game,” said Cat.

“19 for 23, 200 plus yards, and four touchdown passes; yes, I’d say that was a good game,” said Jirra. “He’s really your cousin, Cat?”

Cat nodded. “Actually, he’s more like a brother. We grew up together. For a star jock, he’s pretty down to earth. His parents wouldn’t allow him to be a jerk.”

“We had some great parties at his house too,” added Erika.

“That’s true,” replied Cat. “I hope I can make it back for next year’s Fourth of July party.”

“Well, according to most of the sports reporters, Alex should be drafted in the second or third round,” said Matt.

“Mike had a great game too,” added Erika. She was watching the star defensive back through the binoculars.

“I heard he broke up with Tracey,” said Cat.

Without lowering the binoculars, Erika replied. “I heard that too.”

Beth looked at Cat, who nodded back. “Erika and Mike have been flirting for years.”

Erika lowered the glasses. “We have not!”

Cat cocked her head. “Erika, you can’t fool me.”

Jirra smiled. “Tell us more.”

Erika sighed and told them about her history with Mike.

“So he thinks you’re his lucky charm?” asked Celeste.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” replied Erika.

“I would. He sent you tickets for last year’s bowl game. He says that he’s never lost a game with Erika watching,” interjected Cat.

“I don’t have to come down here to take this abuse,” said Erika. “I can stay home in Golden Hill and get it there.”

Jirra opened the program to the player’s photos. She showed it to Beth and Celeste

“He’s pretty good looking,” said Celeste.

“Good looking? He’s hot!” said Beth.

Jirra nodded. While she didn’t like to think about it, she had to admit that Mike was very handsome. “He looks really nice.”

“I think you should see what happens,” said Cat turning to her friend.

“I’m just happy to be his friend,” said Erika.

“I say go for it,” added Beth.

Much to Erika’s relief, Penn State scored again, and it distracted the others. Deep down, she wondered what it would be like to be with Mike, as Beth was right; he was hot.

Chapter 34

“Sorry we don’t have a lot of time to spend with you, but Coach wants us back in Happy Valley by tomorrow,” said Alex. “We have to be back at our hotel by ten, as our charter leaves at 7 AM.”

“Yeah, and the last thing we want to do is be late and piss him off. He may be in his eighties, but you don’t mess with him,” added Mike.

“It’s just good to see both of you again,” said Cat, as she snuggled close to Matt.

“I agree, it’s been too long,” added Erika, who was sitting next to Mike.

“It does seem a little like old times – you know, eating pizza with friends,” said Mike as he winked at Erika.

Erika lowered her face to hide the fact that she was blushing.

“It’s really nice of you to have us over,” said Alex to Celeste and Beth. “It’s so nice to relax after a game.”

“It’s our pleasure,” replied Beth.

“This is a pretty cool place,” said Mike, as he looked around. “We have an apartment off campus, but it’s not anything this nice.”

“Let me guess, old furniture, cinderblock bookshelves, a large screen TV and an X-box?” asked Cat.

Alex laughed. “You’re not that far off.”

“I like the dog too,” added Mike.

“Just keep your eye on your pizza,” said Jirra.

“Yes, Spirit’s a genuine Long Island Pizza Hound,” said Celeste.

Hearing her name, Spirit glanced at Celeste before shifting her attention back to the slice of pizza in Mike’s hand.

“Did you like the game, Jirra?” asked Alex.

“It was fun, but you have to admit that you guys are light-years ahead of the Owls,” she replied.

“Our old high school was light-years ahead of the Owls,” retorted Mike.

The others laughed.

“Yeah, but it will be different next week. Going into Columbus is always tough,” said Alex.

“Yeah, and they’re going to be looking for revenge for last year,” added Mike.

“I remember that game; didn’t you have two picks?” asked Jirra.

Mike smiled. “That’s right. Damn, Erika, you know how to pick friends. I mean, another girl who follows football; I’m impressed.”

Chapter 35

Matt, Cat, and Erika drove Alex and Mike back to the hotel. Jirra helped Beth and Celeste clean up.

“They’re both really nice,” said Jirra.

“I know. I hope we get to meet some of Cat’s other friends,” added Beth.

“I’m really intrigued by their school’s scholarship contest and their town’s attitude towards transgendered teens. I might have to take a trip up there,” said Celeste.

“You thinking of putting a branch of your institute there?” asked Beth.

Celeste shook her head. “No, but we could always use some more staff. Our school could definitely use some more teachers.”

“How many teens are currently in your institute, Celeste?” asked Jirra.

“Right now, we have seventy in the mainstream program and another twenty going through more intense therapy,” replied Celeste with a sigh. “Some of the teens we get have been badly abused.”

“How’s Dot doing?” asked Beth.

Celeste let out another sigh, even larger than the first one. She sat down on one of the kitchen chairs. As if she could sense some distress, Spirit got up and headed over to Celeste, who smiled as she began to pet Spirit’s head.

“Who’s Dot?” asked Jirra.

“She was another of Margo Simon’s victims, and unfortunately she was severely mentally abused,” said Beth. “Apparently, Dot was in Margo’s clutches for years.”

“Margo used her to trap other teens. The poor girl became totally mentally enslaved by Margo. We’ve tried all sorts of deprogramming, but she’s still far from being a whole person,” added Celeste sadly. “She’s free of Margo, but her mind….”

Jirra didn’t know exactly what to say. It was the first time she had seen Celeste seem down.

“She has shown improvement,” said Beth.

“Not much, she’s more like a five-year-old now than an adult,” replied Celeste. “I feel like we’ve failed her.”

“Yes, but at least she’s being taken care of. I mean, consider what the alternative would be if it wasn’t for you,” added Jirra. “I know that she’s getting the best care possible.”

Celeste smiled. “Thank you, Jirra.”

Chapter 36

The next evening, they were all gathered in Jirra’s living room sharing bowls of popcorn, watching the premier of Alexis’ show.

Alexis had told Jirra that the series would be very faithful to the character in Faith’s books. They did update the timeline of the series, but otherwise there were few changes.

Jirra had read almost half the series since she had learned of the show, and she had to agree that the show was very faithful. She was slightly shocked by how different Alexis looked. It was the first time that she had seen Alexis in a serious role. She was also impressed by how good Alexis was in the role.

The others seemed impressed.

“She’s really good,” commented Cat.

“I agree; it looks like a hit,” added Celeste.

The premier was two hours, although all future shows would be an hour. Most of the story was spent introducing the main characters, while at the same time having a crime for Erin to solve.

Jirra was so fixated on watching Alexis that she almost missed the unlisted cameo by Jen Stevens as a sassy bleached blonde waitress in a coffeehouse.

The show ended with Erin Flynn solving the case, but breaking up with her fiancé.

“That was excellent,” said Beth. “I was worried that she might be too young to play the character, but she really pulls it off.”

“I agree,” added Celeste. “I’ve read all the books in the series, and I’m not disappointed.”

“I can’t believe that she’s the same actress who was in that Minotaur movie from this summer; she’s really good,” said Matt.

You have no idea, thought Jirra. “I can’t wait to tell her how much I liked the show.”

“So, any chance of her needing so extras, you know ….a bunch of college kids get into trouble?” asked Beth.

“I’ll ask her,” replied Jirra as she glanced over her shoulder to look at Beth.

“I was kidding, Jirra,” said Beth.

“I’m not; I mean, even if we were just in the background, it would be cool.”

“I’ll just be happy to watch the show,” said Celeste as she looked at her watch. “Well, I’d better head up to take Spirit on her evening constitutional.”

“Feel free to bring her next time,” said Jirra. “Besides, she’s one of the family.”

Celeste smiled. “Okay, I’m sure she’d love that.”

After everyone left, Jirra wrote Alexis a long email. Deep down she would have preferred to call her, but she knew that Alexis would be busy.

Just before Jirra went to bed, her phone rang. Jirra wondered who could be calling as she picked it up. “Hello?”

“Well… tell me what you thought,” ordered Alexis.

A huge smile broke out of Jirra’s face. “You were great!”

“You think so?”

“Alexis, you were wonderful. My friends all thought so too. I’m so proud of you!”

“I wish I could be there with you,” replied Alexis.

“That makes two of us.”

They talked for nearly an hour.

“Um, Jirra, I have a favor to ask you.”

“What is it?”

“You know I told my parents about you; well, they want to meet you. I was going to go back home for Thanksgiving, but our shooting schedule will prevent that. They’re going to spend it with me in Boston, and well, I’d like you to be here too.”

“I’d love that,” replied Jirra without hesitating.

“Great. I know it’s not until November, but I wanted to make sure. I know that you’ll probably head back to New Mexico for Christmas.”

“That’s the plan, but I told Mom that I want to spend some time with you too.”

“Really?” replied Alexis.

“Yes, if that’s okay with you?”

Alexis laughed. “Okay? Please! We’re due to shut down for three weeks then.”

“Hey, why don’t you come back to the spa with me?”

“I’d love that, Jirra. I tell you, Roo, that place is starting to feel like a second home to me. I really miss them.”

“That makes two of us,” replied Jirra.

Chapter 37

It was early October when the third attack took place. It was also the most brutal attack to date.

As with the previous assaults, the person was a Penn student and a member of the support group.

What frightened the others was the fact that the victim was one of the most closeted members of the group. In fact, Don had never gone out as Donna. The only time the shy pre-med student dressed was when they were at the monthly support meeting.

Don had been walking home from studying late on a Wednesday evening when he jumped by four or five males. They kicked and punched him until he was left unconscious.

At first, the police thought it was a mugging. It was only after the letter arrived at the Daily Pennsylvanian that the connection to the others came to light.

A group that identified itself as “The Purifiers” took credit for the attack. They even submitted proof by including Don’s student ID with the letter.

Their statement said that they were tired of seeing perverts and moral degenerates attend Penn. They said that they would continue their attacks until the university was cleansed of moral degenerates.

The paper refused to run the letter and turned it over to the police. Celeste was notified of its contents by the university administration.

“What are you going to do?” asked Beth.

“We’re holding an emergency meeting of all members of the student group. The police want to talk to all the members,” said Celeste.

“What about you?”

Celeste shook her head angrily. “I’ll be damned if they’re going to scare me off campus. After everything I’ve been through, I’m not going to run away.”

“I was hoping you’d say that. But as the club president, you’re probably on those idiots’ list.”

“I know. I’ve taken the precaution of hiring some protection,” admitted Celeste.

“Really? When did you do this?”

“Last night, I contacted a friend who has recommended a PI to watch over me. Trust me, I’m not happy about it, but she’ll be watching over me whenever I leave the house.”

“She?” asked Beth.

“Sure, why not? She’s an associate of Max Bowie. He tells me she’s very good.”

“When do I meet her?”

Celeste shook her head. “You don’t. She’s going to be inconspicuous. I call her when I come and go, and she’ll be there. Max said that it’s unlikely that I will ever spot her.”

Beth cocked her head. “Why would you do that? I mean, wouldn’t it be better if she was seen?”

Celeste shrugged her shoulders. ‘I’m not the expert in these sorts of things.”

Beth then snapped her fingers. “Bull! You’re setting yourself up as bait!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” replied Celeste.

“Celeste, you forget my less than conventional background. I was raised by agents and have been ‘bait’ a few times. I admire what you’re doing, but it’s also very dangerous. I was almost killed twice.”

“I don’t see any other way. I’m not running away… I know what it’s like to be scared, and I don’t want to feel like that ever again. I also feel guilty.”

“Why do you feel guilty?”

“I organized the group. I’ve encouraged them to be proud about who they are. If it wasn’t for me….”

“You didn’t make them transgendered, and you’re not responsible for the assholes that are doing the attacks. Look, do you want me to call my dad; maybe he can help?”

Celeste shook her head. “If you want to tell him daughter to father, that’s fine, but this is hardly a federal issue.”

“I disagree, Celeste. This is a hate crime, and if the local police and the campus police fail to make any progress, then I’m going to use my connections.”

Celeste smiled. “I keep forgetting that you’re an agent.”

“I’m serious. Three people have been abused by a hate group.”

“Let’s see if the locals can take care of it first. I’m also going to provide security for anyone else in the group who wants it.”

“That won’t be cheap,” replied Beth.

“It’s only money,” said Celeste.

Chapter 38

Diana looked at the can of mace before putting it into her purse. Max had suggested that she carry a gun, but she refused. Between her martial arts classes and the mace, she felt secure enough. Of course, there was a funny feeling that Max had one of his associates watching her. She didn’t mind, as it only proved how much he loved her.

She wasn’t that worried as she doubted that she would be a target; she was too well known. It was very unlikely that they would try anything in New Hope. It was a very open-minded community with a large LGBT population.

The house that overlooked the Delaware River that she shared with her lover, Kari, was very safe and secure. Kari’s two purebred German Shepherds, Bach and Brahms, were both excellent guards. Added to that was that their closest neighbors were both local policemen, so she didn’t worry much while at home.

The only time she felt slightly nervous was as she walked from her office to the parking lot. It also angered her, angered her that on the grounds of a great institute of learning there were closed-minded, violent bigots.

No, she would do everything in her power to stop the attacks and see that whoever was doing it was punished.

Over the years, she had come to realize that many in her old hometown knew what was going on, and that they had turned a blind eye. Yes, some did it out of fear, but others did it out of indifference. Diana vowed that she would never sit still and let others be hurt.

She also knew that until the attackers were caught, that many transgendered students would leave Penn. It was hard not to blame them. It was bad enough living with the fear of being attacked, but combined with the fear that their greatest secrets would be disclosed was too much for many to take. She remembered how her own parents had reacted to her own situation.

Chapter 39

Jirra was a little worried after hearing about the latest attack. Granted, she wasn’t associated with the campus TG group, but there was always the possibility that someone might find out about her “cover story.”

As the days grew shorter, Jirra drove to campus more often. It wasn’t that far of a walk, but in the dark there was the possibility of someone hiding in the shadows.

Jirra also felt a twang of guilt. Yes, she really wasn’t TG in the conventional sense, but she hated the idea of hiding. It was the only part of her life that she hated. Yes, she understood the necessity of keeping secret the way her life had changed, but she didn’t like being secretive either. Besides, she wasn’t very good at it.

She suspected that Beth, Celeste, and especially Cat suspected something. Maybe she would tell them someday, but for now she would carry her secret. She now understood how tormented secret heroes were.

Chapter 40

Jill closed her notebook and placed it in her bag.

“I want to thank you for allowing me to attend your meeting, Celeste. I promise that I won’t violate anyone’s privacy,” she said.

“Well, we’re glad that you’ve been so supportive,” replied Celeste. “Your articles in the paper have been very positive, all things considered.”

“It’s been a struggle. One of the editors originally wanted me to use the term ‘man dressed as a woman,’ but I fought against that. I mean, we’re in the twenty-first century for Christ’s sake.”

“In many ways, we’re one group that many in the press don’t seem to mind using outdated terms to describe,” said Celeste.

“It’s gotten better,” replied Diana as she joined them. “There were all sorts of ways they described me after the raid.”

“I still can’t understand why someone, let alone a group of people, is attacking transgendered students. I mean, there are all sorts of subcultures on campus, and for the most part the transgendered community is the most hidden.”

“I’ve talked to a doctor friend of mine, and she states part of the reason may be that very fact,” said Diana.

“You mean, because many in the group lead secretive lives, it makes them more vulnerable?” asked Celeste.

Diana nodded. “I wonder how many have been targeted and haven’t reported anything.”

Celeste opened her laptop and scanned a database. “There have been six that have dropped out or transferred from Penn since last semester. They didn’t say anything one way or another about harassment.”

“I think you should try to contact them, Celeste. It’s been my experience that hate groups don’t usually start with violence, they build up to it. I don’t know if all six were bothered, but I’m willing to bet that several left due to being targeted.”

“I’ll do that. I have addresses for five of them,” replied Celeste.

“So you think this has been going on for a while, Professor Bowie?” asked Jill.

“I’m just saying that I wouldn’t be surprised if it has.”

“So what are the police doing about it?” asked Jill.

“Well, you heard what I told the group tonight about personal safety, right?” asked Celeste.

During the meeting, Celeste had read the group a list of safety precautions.

“Is that all?” asked Jill.

“No, but it’s a start. Everyone has also been told to keep more alert as to their surroundings and who is around them,” continued Celeste.

“The Philadelphia PD has been brought in after the last attack. I’ve talked to one of the assistant DAs, and she promised to prosecute the attackers to the fullest extent of the law,” said Diana.

Jill rolled her eyes. “No offense, but I’ll believe that when I see it.”

“I’ve known Carla for several years, and she has a strong mean streak when it comes to prosecuting hate crimes. She comes from a family of cops, and she hates bullies,” said Diana.

“I hope you’re right,” said Jill.

“Judging by your tone, you don’t exactly trust the police,” continued Diana.

“It’s not that; it’s just that I’ve heard so many terrible things since I’ve worked this story. I mean, even some of my friends have made jokes about the attacks; can you believe that?”

Celeste looked at Diana, and they both nodded.

“You wouldn’t believe some of the letters we’ve gotten supporting the attackers!” continued Jill. Her temper was starting to come out.

“Trust me, Jill, I’ve seen and heard things far worse,” said Diana.

“Well, I don’t get it. I mean, what’s the harm in people doing something that feels right to them?”

“Something doesn’t make sense,” said Celeste.

“I know!” exclaimed Jill.

Celeste shook her head. “No, what I mean is something about these attacks doesn’t make sense.” She began to scan through the files on her laptop.

“What do you mean?” asked Diana.

“The last attack has been bothering me. Don was very careful about being Donna. He never… ever went out in public dressed. I mean, he didn’t even start actually dressing until last spring; until then he was too afraid,” said Celeste.

“So how did the so-called purifiers find out about him?” asked Jill.

Celeste shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“It may mean that your group has been infiltrated,” said Diana, who had a very grin look on her face.

“I can’t believe that. We screen everyone very carefully,” said Celeste as she shook her head in disbelief.

“Celeste, someone is working this from the inside… and that makes them even more dangerous,” said Diana. She then turned to Jill. “I’m going to ask you to keep this a secret for now, Jill. This may be the clue that leads us to them.”

“I won’t tell anyone,” replied Jill. “I may want a big story, but I want to see these jerks get arrested too.”

“What do we do?” asked Celeste as she crossed her arms.

“Go over your group information; look for anything that stands out. I’ll work it from my end and see what shows up. I’ll also talk to Carla,” said Diana. “One more thing, be very careful.”

Chapter 41

“It’s all my fault,” said Celeste as she hugged her knees. She was sitting on the couch in her living room.

“No, it’s not,” retorted Beth.

“If Diana’s right, and I know she is, then someone I let into the group….”

“You don’t know that, Celeste,” interrupted Beth. “Look, it could be someone from the university. You’ve had guest speakers, and they’ve also referred many of the members to the club. There are many possibilities.”

Celeste didn’t reply. She just stared off as if she was about to cry.

“Look, you can’t blame yourself; it’ll eat you up,” continued Beth. “I know a thing or two about espionage, so why don’t you tell me everything about the group.”

“What do you mean?” asked Celeste as she looked at Beth.

“I mean, start from when you joined the group; you didn’t start it, right?”

Celeste nodded.

“Okay, how many present members were in it before you?”

Celeste took a tissue from the box on the oak coffee table and gently wiped some tears away from her eyes. “Um, at least fifteen.”

“Now, how many joined before you became a club officer?”

“Another ten, maybe twenty.”

“Okay, and how many have you helped screen?”

“I don’t know, maybe another twenty,” said Celeste.

“How many did you reject?”

“Only a few, mostly those who wanted to join to meet transgendered women.”

“So you didn’t reject anyone who was transgendered?”

Celeste shook her head.

“And was it your decision alone on who joined?”

“No. All three club officers had to agree to let the person in.”

Beth just nodded slowly. “So, it’s pretty unlikely that someone got in, unless they’re really transgendered…right?”

“I suppose,” said Celeste.

“I’m willing to bet that the person tipping off the attackers isn’t in the club. It could be someone in admissions or student services. I mean, you get references from a variety of sources, right?”

“You’re good,” said Celeste, a slight smile growing on her face.

“I learned a lot from my parents,” replied Beth. “I would still be cautious about who you talk to for now.”

“I will. I also have to track down the ex-members,” said Celeste. “Thanks, Beth.”

“No problem. It’s nice to know that this easy college life hasn’t dulled my investigative skills.”

Celeste laughed slightly.

“Good, now let’s take Spirit out for a walk,” said Beth.

Chapter 42

Jirra was sitting across from TC and Leah. They were studying for a midterm exam in Professor Bowie’s class.

Their books and notes were spread around the floor of Jirra’s apartment, along with empty soda cans.

“I wonder what happened to Jill; she said she would be coming,” said TC.

“She’s probably working a story,” said Jirra.

“God, I hope it’s not that crossdresser story! It’s bad enough we have to discuss it in class, but I’m getting sick of hearing Jill talk about it,” said Leah.

“Why is that?” asked TC.

Leah sighed. “Look, I don’t condone violence or what was done to those guys, but you have to admit that they sort of brought it on themselves.”

Jirra was taken back by Leah’s words and wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Brought it on themselves? You’re kidding, right?” asked TC.

Leah shook her head. “I mean, if they want to wear girl’s clothing in private, that’s their business, but flaunting it around campus is just asking for trouble.”

“What about the last one? He wasn’t dressed in ‘girl’s clothes’ when he was attacked,” said TC, her anger was starting to show.

“How do we know what he did before the attack?” said Leah.

“And I suppose if a woman is raped and she was seen dancing in a club earlier by the rapist, then it’s her fault?” asked TC.

“It’s not the same thing, and you know it,” replied Leah. “I mean, what those guys did is just wrong… I mean, how can someone think they’re the wrong sex?”

“They’re born that way, Leah.”

Leah shook her head. “I don’t buy it. They’re just gay men who can’t accept it.”

TC stared at Leah. “You can’t actually believe that!”

Jirra noticed that the two women were so intently staring at each other that they had forgotten she was in the room. She was about to say something, when her intercom went off. It was Jill, and Jirra buzzed her in.

Jill sensed the tension immediately when she walked in. She looked at Jirra. “What did I miss?”

“You don’t want to know,” said TC glaring at Leah. She began to pack up her things. “I need to go… thanks for having us over, Jirra.”

Leah also began to pack up her notes. “I think I’d better go too.”

In a moment, it was just Jirra and Jill. Jirra told Jill what had happened.

“I knew that Leah was a little conservative, but I had no idea,” said Jill.

“I wonder how many others think the same way,” said Jirra.

“Is this the first time you been exposed to this sort of bigotry?”

Jirra shook her head. “Unfortunately no, I saw some back in New Mexico.”

“Are you speaking from personal experience?” asked Jill.

Jirra was taken back. Jill smiled and put her hand on Jirra’s shoulder.

“Jirra, I like girls too.”

“Really? I mean, how long… I mean….”

Jill laughed. “I guess you don’t have very good gaydar. I suspected something when I first met you. Are you a lesbian, or do you like boys too?”

“Just girls,” replied Jirra.

“That’s cool, me too. I have a girlfriend who is currently studying in England; damn, I miss her,” said Jill. “What about you?”

“She’s in Boston,” replied Jirra.

“Long distance affairs suck, but the reunions are worth it,” said Jill.

Jirra giggled. “That’s the truth. So, what do we do about TC and Leah?”

“They fight all the time, by tomorrow it will be forgotten. However, I wouldn’t bring up the lesbian thing with Leah.”

“Does she know about you?”

Jill shook her head. “We really don’t socialize outside of our classes; we run in different circles, if you know what I mean.”

Jirra nodded again.

“I suspected you were different when I found out you were friends with Celeste Farnsworth,” said Jill. “I can’t believe she was once a guy.”

Jirra felt nervous as the conversation began to shift.

“Still, I’m more disappointed that she likes guys; I mean, she was married. Too bad, she’s very cute,” continued Jill with a wink.

“So, you’re okay with transgendered women?”

Jill shrugged her shoulders. “Sure, why not? I mean, I give them a lot of credit for being themselves. That’s why I’m so determined to find out who is doing the attacks.”

Jirra remembered how her Mom had told her that she would know when she could trust someone. She looked at Jill and felt a kinship.

“Jill… can you keep a secret?”

“Don’t worry, Jirra. I know that you’re not totally out here at Penn. I won’t tell anyone,” said Jill.

“There’s more… I… I used to be a guy too.”

Jill stared at Jirra for what seemed like eternity. “No way! You mean that?”

Jirra nodded.

Jill smiled and leaned over and hugged Jirra. “That’s so cool. Thank you for trusting me!”

Chapter 43

“So, what made you tell me?” asked Jill as she poured herself a cup of coffee.

“I don’t know; no, that’s not true… I could sense that I could trust you,” replied Jirra.

“Thanks, Jirra,” said Jill. She then ran her eyes over Jirra. “I never would have guessed. You must have started transition when you were very young.”

Jirra nodded. “I don’t like to talk about it; I like to look to the future.”

“I understand. My god, it must still be tough on you. Does anyone else here know?”

“Just a few people,” replied Jirra. “Mainly people I know I can trust.”

“I’m honored,” said Jill.

Jirra smiled back.

“Are you a member of the support group?” asked Jill.

Jirra shook her head as she sipped her coffee. “I’d rather look ahead.”

“That’s understandable, but someday you may want to join; you could be a good role model for the others,” said Jill. “I mean, you can show them how to move on with your life.”

“Maybe, but I don’t think that my life is really worth emulating,” she said.

“Don’t sell yourself short. You’re a very good writer.”

“Thanks. I just want to get through this year.”

“I wouldn’t worry about that, Jirra. The first few semesters are always the worst.”

Jill and Jirra talked for another hour.

“Well, we didn’t get much studying done, but I think we accomplished much more,” said Jill. “Thank you for trusting me.”

They hugged again, and Jill left. Jirra felt good about what she had done, but then she thought about Leah; she couldn’t believe she had been so wrong about her opinion about Leah.

Chapter 44

Maybe it was the publicity or just the fact that the members of the group were more careful, but there were no more attacks for several weeks.

Celeste had contacted several of the ex-Penn students who reluctantly confirmed they had been harassed via mail and e-mail. She told Diana about this.

“I’m afraid that’s how it usually works. The members of the hate group work up to actual physical violence,” said Diana.

“Does that mean it’s going to get worse?” asked Celeste.

Diana nodded. “I’ve talked to Carla, and she’d like to speak to the group.”

“She’d better hurry; we lost two members in the last week. They dropped out and are planning on transferring to other schools,” said Celeste.

“That’s understandable. Now, I’m not blaming the ones who dropped out last year, but I wish we would have known sooner. However, I can understand why they didn’t tell anyone.”

“I’ve extended an invitation for them to spend some time at my institute in Connecticut. Granted, most of the people who attend are high school age and younger, but it might help them.”

“I really admire what you’re doing, Celeste. I was lucky to have Faith and Max, but there were others from the town that weren’t as fortunate.”

“I initially just wanted to help those who Margo Simon hurt, but its grown way beyond that. I’ve even received inquiries about setting up a similar place in Europe,” she said.

That’s very interesting. I’d like to do a story on your institution some day, if you don’t mind.”

“That might be a good idea. We’ve received some rather bad press as people don’t understand what we’re trying to do. I had one reporter even claim we were turning boys into girls!

“Sounds like a work of bad fiction,” said Diana.

Celeste laughed. “Well, I’ll talk to my board of directors. I’d like the positive press, but I’m also concerned about the privacy of the girls.”

“I fully understand,” replied Diana. “Speaking of privacy, I’m more and more convinced that it’s someone in the campus office that is tipping off the attackers. It’s more of a hunch than actual proof.”

“Why would someone do that?”

“They might be blackmailed, but most likely it’s someone close to one of the attackers – a lover or a relative,” said Diana.

“I hope we catch them before another attack.”

Chapter 45

Jirra smiled as she changed the calendar over to November. She couldn’t wait until Thanksgiving and being reunited with Alexis. Granted she was nervous about meeting Alexis’ family.

Things were still as frosty as the grass in the morning between TC and Leah. They weren’t hostile, but Jirra could sense the tension. Jill had told her that things would work out the way they were supposed to be, and Jirra wondered if Jill was related to Killara.

With the shorter days, Jirra usually drove to campus, especially if she knew that she would be staying late to study. Her friends and her mom all made her promise not to walk, especially with the present series of unsolved attacks.

She had talked to Celeste after watching Alexis’s show and learned that several members of the group had gotten letters telling them to leave Penn.

“Are they going to do it?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t know; they’re pretty scared,” said Celeste. “I know you’re not in the group, but be careful, the people doing the attacks are brutal.”

“What are the police doing about it?” asked Cat. “I know you’re talking to Carla regularly.”

Celeste cocked her head. “How do you know that?”

Cat smiled back. “Oh, I know many things… secret things - even though I’m not a spy like your roommate.”

Beth picked up a throw pillow and tossed it as Cat. “I’m an agent, NOT a spy; get it right.”

Cat caught the pillow. “I was talking about Spirit.”

“Funny, but that doesn’t answer my question; how do you know Carla?” asked Celeste.

“My stepfather is her brother; oh, and her other brother is Erika’s dad,” said Cat.

“You’re kidding?” asked Beth.

Cat shook her head. “How could I make something like that up?”

Beth nodded. “Good point.”

“Wow, it really is a small world,” said Celeste.

“Yeah, and our dog is a spy,” added Beth.

Celeste thought about the woman who had given her Spirit. “Anything is possible.”

Chapter 46

Jirra left the library and headed to her car. It was almost midnight on a Friday evening, but she wasn’t worried as the way to the parking garage was well lit. She liked studying on Fridays, as the library was less crowded.

She was almost to the garage, when she had the sensation that someone was following her. She glanced over her shoulder, but didn’t see anyone there. Not taking any chances, she picked up her pace and walked faster.

Her cowgirl boots made a clicking sound on the sidewalk as she walked. It was just her imagination, she thought as she neared the garage.

Suddenly, a figure dressed all in black jumped out in front of her. He had a hooded sweatshirt covering his head. She heard a noise behind her and saw two more figures stepping out of the shadows.

“You fucking freaks don’t get it; I guess we need to make an example out of you,” said the first figure.

“Only three of you?” asked Jirra. “That’s mighty sporting of you.”

“Fuck you, sissy,” said one of the men behind her.

Jirra’s mind was racing. She knew she couldn’t outrace the three men, and it would give them a chance to pull her down. She then remembered the techniques that Tara had shown her back in New Mexico. Tara had taught her to fight as hard and as dirty as possible, and not to think as a guy would.

“We can do this easy or hard, faggot,” said the first man as he approached her. “There’s no one else around, so screaming won’t help you.”

Jirra waited until he was close and punched him as hard as she could in the face, landing several hits on his nose. The fact that she had her keys in her hand increased the severity of her strikes. He shrieked in pain.

One of the other guys grabbed her from behind. She immediately began to kick at his shins and stomp on his feet. His sneakers were no match for her boots, and he quickly let go. Jirra turned around and kneed him in the groin. He doubled over in pain, and she brought her knee into his face.

The third male was stunned by the fact that Jirra had not only fought back, but had hurt his friends. The others they attacked gave in without a fight. He began to back away.

Jirra didn’t want to press her luck, and she started to run towards the garage. Unfortunately, she ran right into the first attacker, who grabbed her and threw her to the ground.

He stood over her, wiping blood away from his nose. “You’re going to pay for this, bitch!”

Jirra was on her back looking up at him. It was too dark to make out his face clearly, but it was obvious that she had hurt him.

He moved closer, and she began to kick at him, striking him first in his shins. She kicked him furiously as she started to scream for help.

The second attacker had recovered from her initial attack and jumped on top of her. He punched her several times in the face, hitting her in the mouth and on the cheek.

Jirra continued to scream and at the same time reached over and grabbed him between the legs. She then squeezed with all her might, causing him to bellow in agony. He rolled off her, screaming and cursing.

Jirra got up and began to run for the garage, screaming the whole time. She could hear someone chasing her, but she didn’t risk looking, fearing she might fall.

Then, as if by magic, her attackers fled. It took Jirra a moment to figure out why, then she say two large men stepping out of the garage. Both were wearing football letterman jackets. They ran over to assist her.

“Are you okay?” the first one asked.

Jirra nodded as she reached up and felt her face. She could feel blood and then the pain. “They attacked… they attacked me,” she said as she fought to hold in her emotions.

“Here, sit down on this bench. Dave, call the police, and tell them to send an ambulance,” said the first man.

Chapter 47

Jirra didn’t get home until almost three. Beth, Celeste, Cat, and Matt had arrived at the hospital to bring her home.

The police had taken her story and collected her clothing as evidence. She was now wearing a pair of sweats that Cat had gone home to get.

“You should go right to bed,” said Celeste.

Jirra shook her head. “I can’t sleep right now; can we sit up and talk a while?”

“That might be good,” said Cat. She turned to Matt. “Honey, why don’t you go to bed?”

Matt smiled. “I understand, this is girl talk time. Jirra, call me if you need anything.”

Jirra smiled and gave him a gentle hug. “Thanks Matt.”

The girls sat down in Jirra’s living room. Spirit had taken the spot next to Jirra and was resting her head on Jirra’s lap.

“How do you feel?” asked Celeste.

Jirra reached up and touched her lip. “It hurts a little. They gave me some Tylenol.”

“That’s all? Do you want something stronger?” asked Beth.

Jirra touched her cheek and winced. “What do you have?”

Beth smiled and got up. She returned a few minutes later with a bottle and four glasses.

“Good God, what’s that?” asked Cat.

“Irish whiskey,” said Beth as she poured a little in each glass. “A friend suggested that I keep a bottle in case of snake bites.”

“Snake bites? In Philadelphia?” said Cat.

“You never know,” said Beth as she handed Jirra a glass.

Jirra took the glass and sniffed it. She then took a sip. It was very strong, but at the same time soothing.

“Thanks,” she said as she set her glass down and picked up the ice pack. She pressed it gently to her left cheek. “Thanks to all of you.”

“That’s what friends are for,” said Beth.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go to bed?” asked Celeste.

Jirra shook her head. “I don’t want to be alone right now. I want to call my mom, but I don’t want to wake her either. I’m also too keyed up to sleep.”

“I understand,” said Cat. “This reminds me a little of the night Erika was attacked, except for the fact that we weren’t drinking.”

“This is good,” said Jirra as she took another sip. She closed her eyes and smiled slightly as the warmth of the liquor filled her body.

“Well, from what you told us, your attackers are probably nursing their wounds right now,” said Beth.

“I certainly hope so,” said Jirra as she drained her glass. “Can I have some more, please?”

Beth refilled Jirra’s glass.

“From what the police told us, you did a good job protecting yourself,” said Celeste.

“My friend Tara taught me how to defend myself after I was attacked by that idiot Randy. It really worked,” said Jirra.

“Well, besides hurting them, you may have helped the police in other ways,” said Cat. “The CSI I talked to said that the reason they took your clothes was that they had the blood of the attackers on them. They should be able to get a match when they catch them.”

Celeste shook her head. “What I don’t understand is why they attacked you? I mean, you’re not in the group.”

Jirra shook her head. “I have no idea, but they knew my status.”

“Who else knows?” asked Beth.

“Just you all and Jill. I haven’t told anyone else,” said Jirra.

“The admission office knows,” said Celeste. “That’s how I found out about you.”

“Do the police know this?” asked Cat.

Jirra shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t know. I guess we should tell them.”

“Let’s call Diana first,” said Celeste. “She’s working with the DA; if the police start nosing around, they might tip off the mole.”

“Mole? You’ve been hanging around Beth too much,” said Cat.

Jirra laughed slightly and winced.

“You okay?” asked Cat.

Jirra nodded. “It doesn’t hurt that bad. The swelling is starting to go down too.”

“I noticed that,” said Beth.

“It’s weird, but I seem to heal faster since…” Jirra stopped when she realized what she was about to say.

“Since what?” asked Beth.

“Nothing,” replied Jirra.

Celeste looked at Cat and then Beth. She shook her head slightly, as if to tell her friend not to push it.

Beth put her hand up slightly. “Look, we’re all friends right? It’s obvious that you’ve been hiding something, Jirra; if you want to tell us, you can trust us.”

Jirra looked at the other women. “You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Beth smiled. “You’d be surprised.”

“Jirra, you don’t have to tell us, but if you want, you can trust us,” said Cat.

“I don’t want to press you, but you are our friend, and we care about you,” added Celeste.

Jirra took a deep breath. “I’d like a little more of this first.”

Chapter 48

Jirra proceeded to tell her friends the truth about her fantastic transformation. They sat in silence as she talked, occasionally glancing over at each other. When she finished, Jirra crossed her arms.

“I swear to you all that what I just told you is the truth,” she said. “Do you believe me?”

Cat was the first to respond by hugging Jirra, and was quickly followed by the others.

“That’s incredible, Jirra,” said Celeste. “It explains why you’ve been uncomfortable about being considered transgendered. I’m so sorry I kept pushing to get you involved.”

“It’s okay, Celeste. We didn’t know any other way of covering up what happened to me. I mean, boys don’t just turn into girls.”

“It happened to your friend Jen Stevens,” said Cat. “I mean, maybe this sort of thing is more common than we know.”

“So, you’re all cool with this?” asked Jirra.

The other three proceeded to give Jirra another group hug.

“This brings us even closer,” said Beth.

“Why is that?” asked Jirra.

Beth looked at Celeste. “Brace yourself, but I used to be male once myself.”

Beth then told them an abbreviated version of what had happened to her. There were more hugs and a few tears too.

“I feel left out; I mean, I’m the only one here who was born female,” said Cat.

“I never would have guessed, Beth. I mean you seem so… so normal,” said Jirra.

“That was part of my transformation. It changed me in all ways. It was rough at first, but now I feel as if I’ve always been a girl. It helped that when I started over I was around fourteen,” said Beth.

“And are both of you… complete?” asked Cat.

Beth smiled and nodded. Jirra nodded, but she didn’t exactly smile.

“I take it you aren’t totally happy about that, Jirra; am I right?” asked Cat.

“To be honest, it still creeps me out slightly. I don’t know how I would handle being pregnant,” admitted Jirra.

“I wish I could experience it,” said Celeste.

“Erika feels the same way,” added Cat.

“It’s not fair. I accept what happened to me, but there are so many people out there who want to change, and they have to do it the hard way,” bemoaned Jirra.

“It’s all part of a greater plan,” said Cat as she refilled their glasses.

“You sound like my spirit guide,” said Jirra.

“You have a spirit guide?” asked Cat.

Jirra nodded. She then explained about Killara.

“I’ve always wanted to try that. Do you think you could teach me?” asked Cat.

“I guess so,” replied Jirra.

“I’d like that,” said Cat.

“So, how many people know about your status?” asked Celeste.

Jirra told her about the people back at the spa. She then told them about Alexis and Jen.

“Well, you can trust us, Jirra,” said Cat as she extended her right hand.

The others followed, each placing their right hand on top of each other’s. Jirra placed her hand on last.

“We swear never to divulge what anyone said here tonight without their permission, right?” said Cat.

“That’s right,” said Beth as she winked at Jirra.

“I promise too,” added Celeste.

“Count me in,” said Jirra.

“Okay, does anyone have anything else they want to add before we break this up?” said Cat.

“I’m dating Alexis, and my nickname is Roo,” blurted out Jirra.

“Oh my God!” exclaimed Beth.

“What?” asked Jirra worried that she might have told her friends too much.

“Your nickname is Roo?”

The girls started laughing and giggling.

“You promised!”

“I only promised not to tell the other secret,” said Beth with a grin.

“She’s pretty ticklish, Jirra,” Celeste suggested.

Jirra leaned over and began to tickle Beth, who began to laugh uncontrollably. “Promise!”

“Okay… okay, I give, please… please stop!” squealed Beth.

Jirra stopped.

“Thanks,” said Beth as she wiped away her tears. “You can trust me… Roo.”

Chapter 49

“Is she asleep?’ asked Cat softly as she looked up from the book she was reading.

Celeste nodded and joined Cat on the couch. Beth was sound asleep in a recliner,

“Spirit is crashed on the bed next to her. That dog knows when someone is in pain,” said Celeste.

“Now what?” asked Cat.

Celeste looked at her watch. “I’ll call Diana in a bit. I can’t believe that we’ve been up the whole night.”

“Why don’t you go to bed first, and take Beth with you. I’ll stay here.”

“You don’t have to do that. I’ll stay,” said Celeste.

Cat shook her head. “Like I said earlier, I’ve had some experience in these sorts of things. Jirra was lucky in that she fought off her attackers, but she’ll still have some rough times. I want to talk to her about that, maybe have her talk to Erika.”

“I’m still trying to absorb what she told us. I mean, I’ve known about Beth for a while, but I’m still stunned.”

“I know. I’ve always suspected that there are strange things going on unknown to most of us, but now I have proof. It’ll definitely make me keep my eyes open.”

“Beth told me she knows about some even stranger things, but she’s sworn to secrecy.”

“You sure Beth isn’t just goofing with you?” asked Cat.

Celeste shook her head. “No, Beth was very serious about it. She said that even she had trouble believing it. I could tell whatever it was; it was something close to her. I figure that she’ll tell me if and when she’s ready.”

Cat yawned.

“What I don’t get is how easily you accept all this,” said Celeste.

Cat shrugged her shoulders. “I guess after my senior year in high school, I’ve learned to look at things differently. So much happened that year, and yet I sailed through untouched. Now add what has happened here at Penn; well, I’ve begun to see that I’m sort of a magnet for people who are different. Kinda like Scully in the X-Files.”

“That’s an interesting way to look at it,” said Celeste.

“I like it; that’s part of the reason why I want to do the vision quest thing.”

Celeste yawned. “Well, I’m going to take your advice and go to bed. I’ll see you later. I’m going to take my roomie and doggie and go upstairs.”

Cat shook her head. “Let Spirit stay.”

Celeste smiled. “Yes, you’re right. Take care.”

They two women hugged. Celeste woke Beth up, and they left.

Cat walked into the bedroom and checked on Jirra. She was pleased to see that Jirra was sleeping soundly. Spirit looked up, wagged her tail a few times and went back to sleep. Cat stepped out and stretched out on the couch. She pulled a comforter around her and drifted off to sleep.

Chapter 50

When Jirra finally woke up, she was surprised and slightly embarrassed that Cat was still in her apartment. Then it hit her that Cat had stayed to look after her, and she smiled to herself. Spirit was asleep on the floor beside the couch.

She decided to let Cat sleep, and she made the first of several calls from her bedroom.

Naturally, her mom was upset when she told her what happened.

“I’m okay, Mom. In fact, the swelling has gone down so much that I can barely feel it,” said Jirra.

“That’s not what I’m worried about, Roo,” said Liz.

“I know, Mom. But it’s over, and if those bastards think that I’m going to be scared off, then they’ve got another think coming!” stated Jirra firmly.

“I don’t want you taking any more chances, Roo,” continued Liz.

“I won’t,” replied Jirra. “However, I want to point out that I wasn’t doing anything all that risky.”

“I know, dear,” said Liz.

“Look, this attack may lead to the police catching them; at least, that’s what my friend Cat says,” said Jirra.

“Okay, but promise me that you won’t stay late on campus alone until they catch them,” said Liz.

“Okay,” said Jirra. “By the way, tell Tara thanks for the lessons; they really saved my butt.”

Liz laughed in spite of herself. “I hope you don’t mind if I don’t give her an exact quote.”

“Thanks, Mom. I love you,” said Jirra.

“I love you too, Roo. You sure that you’re not hurt?”

“Yes, Mom. There’s barely any swelling now.”

“What did they give you for the pain?”

Jirra picked up the small brown plastic bottle and read off the prescription.

“Okay, that’s what I would have picked. Now, even though you may feel fine, take them for the next day or so. They work best when you take them consistently and don’t wait until the pain gets too severe.”

“I will. Thanks, Mom.”

Next, Jirra called Alexis.

“Do you want me come down?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, but seriously, what could you do?”

“Comfort you! You know, Jirra, this is going to make your life more complicated?”

“How?’ asked Jirra.

“It may out you as transgendered. I mean, your friends know, but what about the rest of your classmates?”

Jirra thought about it; she hadn’t considered that. “That’s true, but if you come down, then your life will become complicated too.”

“Well, it’s bound to happen eventually.”

“I’m okay, Alexis. I’ll be seeing you soon.”

“You sure?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, besides, I wasn’t hurt that badly anyway.”

“What are you talking about? Three guys attacked you!”

“Yes, but they sure sucked at fighting. I was sore last night, but there’s barely any swelling, and I don’t even have a black eye,” said Jirra. “I’m sorta surprised, considering that the one guy hit me several times in the face. I guess I’m just a fast healer.”

“Okay, Roo. Well, call me later today and let me know how you’re doing. I love you so much.”

Jirra felt slightly choked up at hearing this. “I love you too, Alexis.”

Chapter 51

When Jirra hung up the phone, she walked out of her bedroom and found that Cat was now up.

“How’re you feeling?” asked Cat.

“Surprisingly well,” replied Jirra. She then told Cat that she had called her mom and a friend. “Thanks for staying here.”

“I didn’t mind; besides your couch is pretty comfy,” said Cat.

“Liar, that couch isn’t very comfortable,” said Jirra. “Still, I appreciate you staying here.”

Cat laughed. “I’ve slept on worse. The couches in the ER of Golden Hill General Hospital are far worse. I want you to talk to Erika when you feel up to it. Now, I know you came through this pretty much unscathed, but I’ve seen what happens when someone tries to downplay an attack.”

Jirra nodded. “I guess I was pretty lucky.”

“You were,” replied Cat. “Still, I would have done the same thing.”

“I just wish I had gotten a good look at them. I mean, I know I hurt one of them pretty good, but I never got a look at any of their faces.”

“Well, we have their DNA, and that will stand up in court,” said Cat.

“So what happens now? Do the police look around for someone who was hurt?”

“I wish it was that easy,” replied Jirra. “Still, we might get lucky. Celeste is going to call Diana. Hopefully, we can get the paper to help by printing a description of them. I mean, we have sizes and race, also the fact that one has facial injuries may lead to a tip.”

“Assuming they are students,” said Jirra.

“Well, they might be. I mean, they felt secure enough to stake out the campus,” said Cat.

“That’s true,” said Jirra. “That also means they might try again.”

“I wish we would be that lucky. I talked to Celeste, and she’s going to have a PI assigned to watch over you.”

Jirra shook her head. “No way.”

“Jirra, they obviously know your schedule, and they might try again.”

Jirra thought about it. “Just as long as they don’t interfere with my life.”

“You won’t even know they’re there,” said Cat. “Now, I think we’d better take Spirit out for a walk and then take her home.”

“Okay, let me get my coat. I also need to get a big box of doggie treats for her soon,” said Jirra.

Chapter 52

Even though Jirra didn’t hurt too much, she took her mom’s advice and continued to take the pain pills. She immediately felt tired and was about to lie down when the phone rang. She debated not answering it, but then she figured that it could be her mom, and she didn’t want her to worry.

“Hello?” she asked.

“You just can’t stay out of trouble, can you?” asked the woman on the other end.

Jirra giggled. “Word gets around fast. Who called you?”

“Your mom and then Alexis. How’re you doing, Jirra?”

“I’m okay all things considered; thanks for calling, Jen,” said Jirra.

“You feel like telling me what happened?”

Jirra sat down on the couch. “Didn’t you already get the whole story?”

“Maybe, but it helps to talk about things like this,” said Jen.

“That’s true. Well, you’ll be proud to hear that I dished out more than I took,” said Jirra.

Jirra then told Jen Stevens the whole story of the attack and then about the other attacks on campus.

“And what is the administration doing about this?”

“I know they’re working with the police,” said Jirra. She then told Jen about Diana, Celeste, Beth, Jill, and Cat.

“It sounds like you’re running with a good crowd there,” said Jen.

“They’re wonderful; I know you’d like them,” said Jirra.

“I’ve read Diana Bowie’s books but never met her; she’s quite a woman.”

“I’ve learned a lot from her,” said Jirra.

“So, how do you feel about the possibility of being outed… at least as transgendered?”

“I haven’t had much time to really think about it, but most of my close friends already know. I even told some of them the whole story,” replied Jirra.

“I’m glad to hear that you trust them that much. Keeping secrets can be difficult.”

“Well, it seemed like the thing to do,” replied Jirra as she yawned. “Sorry.”

“Look, you must be tired and sore; I should let you go.”

“It’s okay; I’m sort of surprised that I don’t hurt more. I’m more tired from the pills they gave me,” said Jirra.

“Well, you should get some sleep just the same. I’ll let you go, but we’ll talk again soon,” said Jen. “Oh, I almost forgot, I’ll be spending Christmas at the Spa. I get to break in my new cabin.”

Jirra remembered than Jen was having a cottage built at the spa for her personal use. It was the same size as the others and located next to the one that Alexis usually requested.

“I’m looking forward to going home. This is the longest I’ve been away,” said Jirra as she yawned again. “Sorry.”

“About what? Go to bed,” said Jen. “I can’t have my newest script writer being fatigued.”

Jirra laughed. “Thanks again for calling, Jen; it means a lot to me.”

“You take care, Roo,” said Jen.

Chapter 53

Jen immediately called Liz.

“What did you find out, Liz?” asked Jen.

“The doctor who treated Jirra said that he was surprised that she wasn’t hurt worse than she was. He told me that the X-rays of her face didn’t show any injuries, but he asked me if I knew that Jirra had a previous facial injury. He said that it looked like she broke her right cheekbone in the last six months. I know that’s not possible.”

“If she’s like me, then it was from the attack. In a couple of days there will be no sign of any injury,” said Jen. “It definitely looks like she has the same healing abilities that I have.”

“That’s what I thought,” said Liz. “However, I have noticed that she’s aging at a relatively normal rate. I’ve compared photos of her, and I can see changes.”

“Well, our transformations weren’t exactly identical; maybe she just gained the fast healing and not the prolonged lifespan,” said Jen. “The other possibility is that Josh was going through puberty. Maybe Jirra’s new body is finishing its normal development, then the aging will stop.”

“I don’t think she suspects anything at the moment. I’d like to wait until she comes home before telling her. It would help if you were there,” said Liz.

“No problem.”

‘Thanks for sharing your medical records with me, Jen. I know that must be difficult.”

“I trust you, Liz.”

“Thanks again for talking to her.”

“Well, she’s a very special friend.”

Chapter 54

“That was Jirra; she just wanted us to know that she’s feeling better,” said Celeste as she hung up the phone.

“That’s good to hear,” replied Beth. .

“I’m still taking her dinner,” continued Celeste. “I figure she isn’t exactly in the mood to either cook or go out.”

“I’ll go down with you when you deliver it,” added Beth.

“By the way, what do you think about her story?”

“It explains a lot about her. I mean, it was obvious she was hiding something.”

“It’s a pretty wild story,” said Celeste as she stirred the soup on the stove.

“No stranger than mine,” replied Beth. “I even know of some that are stranger.”

“I think that your having told Jirra about your history will make her feel more at ease.”

Beth nodded. “I feel I can trust her.”

“I agree. Now, we need to find out who is behind the attacks.”

“What did Diana say?”

“To put it bluntly, she’s furious. Because Jirra has never been a member of the campus club, it pretty much points to someone in the administration being involved, which angers her even more.”

“Maybe I can do something,” said Beth as she scratched her chin.

“Like what?” asked Celeste. “Wait, you don’t mean involving your family?”

Beth shook her head. “I’d like to, but I was thinking of poking around on my own. I have an idea how we might be able to flush out the person who is tipping off the thugs who attacked Jirra and the others.”

Celeste stopped stirring the soup and stared at her roommate. “What’s your plan?”

Beth then told Celeste her idea.

“And do things like that actually work?” asked Celeste.

Beth nodded. “Whoever has been helping them is bound to be nervous. If we work it right, they might just lead us to the others. It will take some planning and some help. Give me a few days to work out the details, and then we’ll present it to Diana.”

“Okay,” replied Celeste. “Well, the soup is ready; let’s go see Jirra.”

Chapter 55

As they ate, Beth gave Jirra an overview of her plan. They were sitting in Jirra’s living room. Spirit was sleeping on the rug next to the couch.

“I like the idea of helping catch whoever is behind these attacks,” said Jirra as she ate. “Although, this plan sounds like something they would do on Scooby Doo.”

“Hey, why not? They always caught the bad guys,” said Beth. “Trust me, this could work.”

“Well, it will be up to Diana,” said Celeste. “The last thing I want is for us to make this situation worse.”

“Is that possible?” asked Beth as she rolled her eyes. “Look, I’m not saying we become vigilantes, but it’s obvious the campus police aren’t going to solve this.”

“Only if they illegally parked in a faculty parking spot,” added Jirra.

In spite of herself, Celeste laughed. “Okay, but it’s agreed that we run it past Diana first, right?”

Beth looked at Jirra and nodded.

“I agree,” said Jirra.

“So, who else will be in on this plan?” asked Celeste.

“Besides us, Jill, if she agrees to go along, and Cat,” said Beth. “If we do this right, we can hand this case to the police. I don’t care about getting credit for this, just justice.”

Celeste nodded. “I’ll set up the meeting with Diana.”

“Changing the subject, you look pretty good, Jirra. Considering how you looked when we picked you up at the ER, I would have thought you’d be looking like a raccoon,” noted Beth.

“I know. It may be my imagination, but ever since the ‘change’ I’ve noticed that I seem to heal really fast; does that make sense?” asked Jirra.

“Yes. I mean, whatever caused your change may have some supernatural aspects to it,” said Beth.

“You believe in the supernatural?” asked Celeste. “I’ve known you for a while, and I would never have thought that.”

“Why not? I mean, the science that changed me would have been seen as magic just twenty years ago,” said Beth as she reached for some oyster crackers to drop in her soup.

“Beth, do you mind being a girl?” asked Jirra.

“No, not any more. At first I was freaked out, especially because I was also a kid again, but I adapted pretty fast. Granted, this was partly due to the programming, but now I can barely imagine what it was like to be a guy. I do miss my old family, but I’m very content in my present life,” explained Beth. “I got lucky and got some really great parents.”

Jirra didn’t say anything.

“So, I take it you’re not totally happy about your change,” said Beth.

“Yes, your silence says a lot,” added Celeste.

“It’s strange. I mean, in some ways my life is better than it was as a guy, but I’m still uncomfortable about being a woman at times. I know that I’ve changed inside, but mentally I’m not all the way there yet, and I know I may never be,” said Jirra as she stirred her soup almost absentmindedly.

“I suppose that makes sense. I mean, your change happened very quickly,” said Beth. “Granted mine happened in just a day or so, but at least I knew what was happening. I’m glad that Dr. Martz thought of the mind side of gender.”

“I guess my journey is to find the balance,” said Jirra. “I know that having good friends helps a lot. I just want you both to know that I was waiting for the right moment to tell you the truth.”

“Well, what matters now is that we’re even closer as friends,” said Celeste.

Jirra set down the bowl of soup. “Have you even thought about telling your old family, Beth?”

She shook her head. “No, besides they think I’m dead. The government ‘killed me’ in a plane crash. I do have one member of my old family who knows the truth, but she’s rather unique. I’ll tell you about her another time,” replied Beth. “I’ve accepted that my old life is over. It would be too painful to reopen those old wounds.”

“What about you? I mean, how did you explain this to your family, Jirra?” asked Celeste. “Besides your mom, do they know the truth?”

Jirra shook her head. “We told them the sex-change story, and for the most part they’ve shut us out of their lives. I have a few relatives who are cool about it, and I may tell them the truth someday.”

“I feel for you. My mother has cut off all ties with me. My dad has come around though, and we see each other regularly,” said Celeste.

“Your mom rejected you?” asked Jirra. She had a shocked look on her face.

Celeste nodded.

“Even after all the good you’ve done?”

“She sees me as an embarrassment. I don’t even try to contact her anymore. But I’m over it,” said Celeste.

“You suck at lying, roomie,” said Beth as she nudged Celeste.

Celeste slightly shrugged her shoulders. “You’re right, but there’s nothing I can do about it. She won’t even talk to me on the phone… let alone talk to me in person.”

“It’s her loss, Celeste,” said Jirra. “I can’t imagine what it must be like to have your parents reject you. I couldn’t have gotten through my change without Mom.”

“Your mom is very nice,” said Celeste.

“Jirra, how do you think your dad would have been?” asked Beth.

“Mom thinks that he would been great about it, although she told me that he would have been very protective,” replied Jirra with a laugh. Her mood then changed. “God, I miss him.”

She then wiped away a tear.

“It’s okay to cry,” said Beth as she reached over and took Jirra’s hand.

Jirra wiped away another tear. “Thanks.”

Chapter 56

After Jirra got into her bed, she thought about the events of the past twenty-four hours. She now had several more friends who knew the truth about her. It would make things easier, she thought.

She then thought about Beth. The world was even stranger than she had suspected. She was also relieved that she didn’t become younger after her own change.

Her mind drifted to her injuries or lack thereof, and she decided to speak to her mom about it the next time they talked.

Then she thought about Beth’s plan. She hoped that Diana approved it, as she wanted badly to help catch the people who’d attacked her. She agreed with Beth’s statement about not being a vigilante, but she also wanted to play a significant role in catching her attackers.

Just before she drifted off, she thought about her dad. She wasn’t angry about the way he died, as he was a solider. No, she just missed him badly.

“Hey, why the long face?”

Jirra opened her eyes and found herself standing in the backyard of her old home in Pennsylvania. It was a warm summer day, and she was wearing shorts and a halter-top. She could feel the sun on her face, and the grass beneath her feet.

She turned around to look for who was talking to her. Standing on the deck was a handsome man in a US Army uniform. He was wearing the rank of major on his collar.

A big smile was on his face, and he held out his arms.

“Dad?’ she asked.

He nodded. “Who else, Jirra?”

She had dreamed about him many times since his death, but this time it seemed so real.

“Well…are you just going to stand there, or are you going to give me a hug?” he asked.

Without hesitation she ran towards him. As she embraced him, she could feel his strong arms surround her.

“Dad, is it really you?”

“Of course, Roo,” he replied as he began to stroke the back of her head.

She slowly pulled away and wiped away a tear. “How is this possible?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know, but it’s so good to see you.”

“How do you know me?” she asked.

“Roo, you’re my child. A father always knows his child.”

“But…I’m…I’m a girl now.”

He shook his head. “No, you’re a lovely young woman.”

Jirra smiled. “You don’t mind?”

“Jirra, why would that matter? I’m so proud of how you’ve handled this.”

Jirra kicked at the ground nervously. “I haven’t exactly handled it all that well.”

“Nonsense, Roo. You’ve excelled in your new life. It would have been very easy for you to feel sorry for yourself and just exist. No, you’ve marched forward as best as can be expected. I’m very proud of you.”

“So… you know everything?” she asked softly.

“What, are you going to start quizzing me? Roo, I just want you and your mother to be happy. I’m very happy that you’re in love. Alexis is a very nice woman.”

“You mean that?” she asked.

He nodded.

“You know that Mom is dating,” said Jirra.

“He’s a nice guy. Roo, the last thing I want is for her to be alone.”

“How is this possible?” she said. This dream felt so real. “Is this really happening?”

“Look, I know you’re dealing with some issues. I’ll always be a part of you. As for it being real, well, I’ll leave that up to you to decide that. I mean, if you can have conversations with a kangaroo rat, then why not your old man?”

“I’ve missed you so much,” she said, barely holding back tears.

“I know that, Roo. I also want you to know that I’m looking out for you. I love you so much.”

Jirra began to wrap her arms around him again. Suddenly, she was sitting up in her bed hugging her pillow. She ran her hands through her hair and looked around. It had seemed so real. Unable to sleep, Jirra got out of bed and went over to her computer. She began to type rapidly, trying to record every detail. It had to have been a dream, but it felt so real. Maybe it really was her dad, she thought.

As she read her description of the dream, she got a warm feeling, a sensation of love and affection.

Before going back to bed, she attached the file to an email to her mom. She figured that dad wouldn’t mind.

Chapter 57

“That was an amazing e-mail you sent me, Roo,” said Liz.

“The logical side of me says it was just a dream, that I’m stressed out by the attacks, but so many illogical things have happened to me in the past couple of years that I don’t know what to think,” replied Jirra. “Mom, I could smell his aftershave… or at least I think I could. What do you think; am I going crazy?”

“No, Roo, you’re not. I dream of him all the time, but granted not in the details you described.”

“Okay, thanks,” she replied. “Oh, there’s one more thing I want to tell you; my injuries are almost healed. Do you think this could have something to do with my change?”

Liz paused as she thought about her answer.

“Then you do,” continued Jirra.

“To be honest, Roo, we’re breaking new ground here. Your last physical didn’t show anything abnormal. However, it might be something that doesn’t show up. I’ve talked to Jen as she’s the only other person who has a similar experience, and she told me that she has a greatly accelerated healing ability. I wanted to give you another check up when you got back here before I brought this up. I also would have preferred to talk to you in person.”

“I see. I guess all things considered, I can’t blame you. Jen’s transformation was caused by high voltage, so I suppose there might be some similarities.”

“Yes, but there are some major differences too; there’s the mud you were in, and the fact that your change was almost instantaneous,” said Liz.

“I also didn’t get younger,” added Jirra.

“That’s true,” said Liz. She would wait to talk to Jirra about Jen’s aging as it didn’t seem relevant at the moment. “I hope you’re not angry at me for not telling you this.”

“Please! Look, I appreciate the fact that you’ve tolerated all my whining and complaining. You were just protecting me, and I appreciate that, Mom.”

“Well, I have Jen’s medical records, and when you get here we’ll do a few tests. I suppose having accelerated healing isn’t a bad thing to have.”

“I know. Remember when I got hit in between the eyes with the baseball playing little league?”

Liz laughed. “You did look like a raccoon for a week.”

“That was my nickname after that. That was one time I was glad we moved,” replied Jirra.

They talked for another hour, and then Jirra placed another call.

“Hi, Jirra, I was expecting your call,” said Erika.

“Cat insisted that I call you, and you know how persistent she can be.”

“Tell me about it. To be honest, I’m glad she’s there, you can’t have a better friend than Cat,” said Erika. “She has helped me through some very rough times.”

“She slept on my couch after the attack,” said Jirra.

“That sounds like her. So, how are you feeling, and I don’t mean physically?”

“Pissed off more than anything. I guess the fact that was able to fight them off helps,” replied Jirra.

“I can imagine; still, you were lucky,” said Erika.

“I know, thankfully I had some self-defense training,” said Jirra. She then told Erika about Tara.

“I’d like to meet her someday. Now, have you thought about seeing a therapist?”

“Not really,” said Jirra.

“I imagine there’s some sort of free counseling available on campus, right?”

“I’m sure there is,” replied Jirra.

“Take advantage of it. Look, I know you’re strong, but it doesn’t hurt to talk to a professional,” said Erika. She then told Jirra about her bouts of depression and PTS.

“I had no idea it was that bad for you, Erika,” said Jirra.

“I learned my lessons, Jirra, and the last thing I want to see is someone else going through the same sort of thing.”

“Do you still have the nightmares?”

“Sometimes,” replied Erika. “I’ve accepted that that bastard Jason will stay with me the rest of my life. All I can do is not let it get me down.”

“I guess I’m lucky that my attackers weren’t interested in raping me,” said Jirra.

“No, but they might have killed you. From what Cat has told me, each attack has been more brutal. I agree that you caught them off guard; they hadn’t experienced that before. I’m worried that they will take it out on the next person they attack.”

“Hopefully, there won’t be another attack” said Jirra. She then briefed Erika on Beth’s idea.

“It sounds risky, but at the same time it just might work. I wish I could come down and help you.”

“Me too.”

They talked for another thirty minutes.

“Call me anytime, Jirra,”

“I will, Erika,” said Jirra. She then hesitated before speaking again. “The next time we talk, I have something else I want to discuss with you.”

“Sure thing, Jirra. We’re friends now.”

Chapter 58

The meeting with Diana was held in Jirra’a apartment. Celeste, Beth, Cat, and Jill were also present, along with Spirit who was content to sleep under the coffee table.

Diana listened to Beth explain her plan intently. She was surprised that a college student could come up with just a detailed plan. If she didn’t know better, Beth might have been one of Max’s associates.

“Well, what do you say?” asked Beth.

“It goes against my better judgment, but I have to agree that your plan has merit,” said Diana. “We don’t have a description of Jirra’s attackers, but we do know that at least one of them was injured. We need to identify him before his wounds heal.”

“So, you’ll support us?” asked Beth.

Diana nodded. “When do you want to start?”

Without hesitation Beth replied. “Tomorrow.”

“That doesn’t give you much time to get ready,” replied Diana.

“We’ve already gone over the plan; we were just waiting for your approval.”

Diana laughed. The girl reminded her more and more of Max.

“Okay, but see me in my office tomorrow. I have something that might help you.”

“Deal,” replied Beth. “Now, is everyone clear about what they have to do?”

She looked around the room, and the others all nodded.

“Okay, now as I am the one running this operation, if I call it off, then everyone pulls back,” continued Beth.

Diana smiled to herself. Beth had obviously seen too many spy movies.

Chapter 59

Beth stopped by Diana’s office the next morning.

“Is everyone ready?” asked Diana looking up from her desk.

“Yes,” replied Beth.

Diana nodded and placed what looked like a laptop computer on her desk. “I was given this by a… friend, it might help you today. I know it looks like a computer….”

Beth smiled as she walked around to look at it. “Cool, where did you get one of these?” she interrupted. She then reached down and hit a series of keystrokes, and the screen of the computer changed. It now showed the entrance of Diana’s office. She hit another key, and the scene panned and zoomed to the doorknob.

“How did you know how to do that?” asked Diana. She was shocked that the young girl knew how to operate the piece of surveillance equipment that Max had given her several years ago.

“I played with one of these when I was in high school,” replied Beth. “Does this have the directional mic?”

Dina nodded and touched a key.

“Cool, thanks, Diana; this will help us a lot. I don’t have to be so close now,” said Beth.

“You used one of these in high school?” asked an astonished Diana.

“Not exactly; I was still in high school, but I didn’t use it in school,” replied Beth.

Diana stared at Beth.

“My parents work for the government,” continued Beth. “They used to let me try out some of the equipment they were assigned to test. I first operated one of these when I was in tenth grade.”

Diana shook her head. “In the government? You’ll have to do better than that. This model was only used by the Agency.”

Beth nodded. “And your point is?” She smiled like the cat that had just eaten the canary. “Okay, I’ll tell you, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, especially not Robert Ledyard.”

Diana’s eyes opened wide.

Beth pointed to the photo on the wall behind Diana’s desk. “He’s an old family friend.”

“What do you mean?” asked Diana.

“My parents are both in the agency,” replied Beth nonchalantly as she began to operate the enhanced computer. “I guess you could say I sort of grew up around agents.”

Diana shook her head in disbelief. “That explains a lot. So, are you an agent too?” she asked with a grin on her face

“Not active,” replied Beth truthfully. There was no need to tell Diana everything about her past. “But I plan on going back once I graduate.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

Beth glanced up at Diana and cocked her head. From the serious look on Beth’s face, Diana knew that the young woman was telling the truth.

“I hope you can tell me about it some day,” said Diana.

“I’d like that. Of course, it will have to be the unclassified version,” replied Beth with a wink.

“I take it you want to be a field agent,” said Diana. She could understand why the Agency would use Beth, who was both very intelligent and easy to underestimate.

Beth shook her head. “Not really, it is fun, but I want to work in the Internet crime department, specifically the teen predator department.”

“Good choice, they do good work,” said Diana.

“I know. The woman who runs the department is a very close friend.”

“Now I am impressed; you know Ally Burns?”

“She’s sort of a big sister to me,” replied Beth proudly. “Do you know her?”

“No, but I admire her work,” replied Diana.

“Do you want to meet her? I’m sure she’d like to meet you; she’s the one who first turned me on to your books.”

“I’d like that a lot, Beth.”

“Okay; well when this is all over, I’ll call her and set something up,” said Beth. “By the way, even though I’ve never met him, both Robert Ledyard and my dad have told me about Max.”

“I’ll have to introduce you to him; I think you’ll have a lot in common,” replied Diana.

“Cool, I’d love that.”

“Well, I now feel better about your plan, Beth,” said Diana. “I’ll be standing by for your call. Hopefully, this will work.”

“It should,” replied Beth.

Chapter 60

Jill walked into the campus administration building and then entered the bursar’s office. Celeste, who was wearing a long brunette colored wig, followed her. Around Celeste’s neck was a digital camera.

“Can I help you, Miss?” asked a woman from behind the counter. She was in her fifties and had worked in the office for twenty years.

“Yes, I’m Jill McMasters, and I’m a reporter for the Daily Pennsylvanian. I would like to speak to your supervisor,” announced Jill in a loud tone. “It concerns the attacks on several Penn students.”

Jill’s announcement caused all heads to turn towards her. The woman behind the counter began to get annoyed. The last thing she needed was someone causing a disruption in her office.

“Miss Mc Masters, I must remind you that this is a place of business. Mrs. Curtis is currently out of the office; do you have an appointment?” asked the woman.

“Maybe you can help me; may I have first have your name?” asked Jill politely. “And can you spell it so I get it right for my article? Oh, and do you mind if Robin takes your photo?”

Celeste moved forward and began to focus her camera at the woman.

“My photo?” asked the woman.

“Yes, I’m doing an article on how the university administration is helping solve the attacks,” continued Jill.

The woman smiled and reached up to check her hair. “My name is Harriet Applegate. How can I help you?” She turned slightly and smiled at Celeste who took her photo.

Jill smiled and wrote down the name. “Ms. Applegate, I received information from a source that the police have been contacted by one of the attackers _ you know, those assaults on transgendered students this fall?’

“Yes, I’ve read about them, so terrible,” replied Harriet.

“Well, one of the attackers is apparently turning state’s evidence to avoid being prosecuted, and he mentioned that they got confidential information about the victims from this office,” continued Jill. “I was just wondering if there has been anything unusual here – you know, stolen files, break-ins, things like that?”

“No, nothing like that at all. All student files are secure, both computerized and hard copies,” said Harriet.

Jill nodded as she wrote. “I suppose that everyone who works here is trustworthy.”

“Very much so. We pride ourselves on maintaining the confidentiality of every student’s personal information.”

“That’s good to hear,” said Jill. “To be honest, I couldn’t imagine someone here helping a bunch of thugs.”

“I also find it very hard to believe that someone working here would violate the trust the University has placed in them,” said Harriet as she looked at Celeste again and smiled.

“I hope so. Still, I imagine the police may be coming by soon to interview your staff,” said Jill. “Well, you’ve been more than helpful, Ms. Applegate.”

“Please, call me Harriet.”

Jill smiled. “Thank you, Harriet. Oh, can you tell me when Ms. Curtis will be back?”

Harriet looked at her computer monitor. “Not until this afternoon. Do you have a number you can be reached at; I’ll have her give you a call?”

Jill pulled out one of her business cards and handed it to the woman. “Thank you, Harriet, you’ve been very helpful.”

Chapter 61

Overhearing the conversation between Jill and Harriet was a very interested listener. Her name was Virginia Kensington, the fourth generation of her family to attend Penn. Even though her parents where paying her entire tuition, they had insisted that she work part-time, to get an idea what the less fortunate students had to do.

She felt a wave of panic sweep through her body as she heard Jill talk about the police. It was her worst nightmare come true, and the shame of possibly being caught was too much to imagine.

“Debby, I’m not feeling very well, can you cover for me the rest of the afternoon?” she asked, turning to another young woman.

“Sure, no problem, Virginia. You don’t look good; you look all pale and sweaty,” said Debby.

“I know, it must be the flu or something.”

She grabbed her camelhair coat, slipped it on, and quickly departed the office. She was soon walking briskly across campus while at the same time frantically pressing buttons on her cell phone.

Cat was also on her phone. “Yes, I see her, nice coat; I’m sure that will make it easier to follow her.”

Thankfully, the campus wasn’t too crowded. There were just enough people so that Cat could follow the girl without too much difficultly, while at the same time not being noticed.

Cat noticed that the girl was obviously trying to get someone on her phone, but apparently was having little success. The girl left campus and headed towards an area of small shops and coffeehouses frequented by students.

“How’re you doing, Cat?” asked Beth.

“I still have her in my sights; where are you?”

“A little way behind you,” replied Beth.

“Well, you can come up; she just went into a coffeehouse, Billy Penn’s,” said Cat. “Do you want me to follow?”

“No, I’ll head in, but stay nearby, just in case she leaves,” said Beth.

Chapter 62

Virginia sat nervously at a table in the coffeehouse. She kept looking at her watch and occasionally dialing her phone.

Beth took a seat across the room from her, with her back against the wall. She pulled out her laptop and appeared to be just another student using the free WiFi. Actually, she had started her surveillances of the young woman. Thanks to the directional microphone, she was able to record the woman as she spoke into the phone.

“There you are! Where have you been?” she asked.

“Easy up, Ginny, what’s wrong?” asked the voice of a man on the other end.

Beth smiled as she clicked a few keys, which confirmed that she had the number of the person the woman was talking to. Beth knew none of the information she was collecting would be admissible in court, but it wouldn’t matter if they could get a look at the guy.

“Todd, they’re on to us!” blurted Virginia.

“What are you talking about?”

She told him about Jill’s appearance in the office.

“Are you sure she said someone was talking to the police?” Todd demanded.

“That’s what she said. What am I going to do?’

“Shit. Just stay where you are, and I’ll come get you,” he said.

“I’m at Billy Penn’s,” said Virginia.

“Okay, I’ll be there in five minutes,” he said.

Virginia closed her phone and nervously began to twirl her hair.

Chapter 63

A few minutes later, an average sized male walked into the coffeehouse wearing a hooded sweatshirt. It was dark blue in color, and the hood was pulled over his head. He sat down next to the woman.

“Oh, Todd, I’m so glad you’re here!”

“It’s going to be okay,” he whispered.

No one else could hear them in the noise of the coffeehouse – no one else but Beth and her sensitive directional microphone.

“But what if that reporter is right?”

“No one has gone to the police; I know my friends. What was this bitch’s name?’

“Jill something,” replied Virginia.

Todd nodded. “McMasters, she’s the one who has been writing all those articles in that dammed liberal rag of a paper.”

“Oh my God!” whimpered Virginia.

“Calm down, Ginny. The police don’t know a damned thing.”

“But what if she writes that article? They’ll catch me?”

“No, no they won’t. I think we may have to pay a visit to this so-called reporter.”

Virginia shook her head. “Todd, you can’t do that; you’ll get caught!”

“No, Ginny, we won’t. We’ll make it look like a robbery; the police will blame one of the lowlifes who live nearby.”

“Are you sure?’ asked Virginia.

He nodded. “Look, we’ll make it different that the way we’re dealt with the freaks; it’ll look like a robbery gone bad.”

“Wait a minute; you’re not going to….”

He reached over and put his finger to her lips. “It’s all part of our way of cleaning up campus for people like us. Honey, this is a war, and there are only two sides.”

Virginia nodded. “Okay.”

“Now, do you feel better?” he asked.

“Yes, Todd,” she replied. She then reached over and pulled back the hood.

Beth watched on the screen; the guy had two black eyes and a bandaged nose. Additionally, he had lacerations on his cheek, similar to injuries that could be caused by keys. She confirmed that the image was being recorded.

“Let’s go over to my place; you look like you could use some comforting,” said Todd as she pulled his hood back.

Todd and Virginia got up and headed out of the coffeehouse. Beth picked up her phone and called Cat.

Chapter 64

“Are you sure that’s the place?” asked Diana.

Beth nodded. “Cat watched them go in and saw the lights go on. I caught a quick look at the girl when she pulled the blinds closed.”

“Now what?’ asked Jirra. “Do we call the police?”

They were sitting in a van parked across the street from the row house where Todd apparently lived.

“Good question,” replied Beth. “We have the recording, but it’s not exactly a legal surveillance tape. Are you sure you don’t recognize him, Jirra/”

“The voice sounds like him, but I never got a good look at his face,” she replied.

“Add to that the threats against Jill, we have to do something,” said Beth.

“We’ll have to wait,” interjected Diana.

“We can’t let them get away,” replied Jirra.

“They’re not going to get away, Jirra. I’ll start by having my sources find out more about these two,” said Diana. “Next, we’ll have real private investigators start tracking these two.”

“Does that mean what I think it does?” asked Beth.

Diana nodded. “Yes, you’ve done a great job, but now you need to step aside and let the pros take over. I promise I’ll keep you informed, but from what Todd said, they are a dangerous group, and the last thing I want is for any more of you to get hurt.”

Beth didn’t argue, even though she disagreed with Diana, but she had learned from her parents and her time in the navy to take orders.

“I still want to help,” demanded Jirra. “I owe them that much.”

“Well, we’ll see. For now, you all need to go home,” said Diana. “You’ve done a great job in tracking down these two, but please leave this to the experts, no disrespect intended, Beth.”

“None taken,” replied Beth.

“What about Jill?” asked Jirra.

“She’ll be safe,” said Diana.

Chapter 65

Two days later, Diana stopped at the condo. She met with the girls in Celeste and Beth’s apartment.

“This is very nice, Celeste,” said Diana as she looked around, followed closely by Spirit.

“It’s home,” replied Celeste.

“So…what have you found out?” asked Jirra anxiously.

Diana smiled as she sat down on the couch; Spirit flopped down at her feet.

Diana couldn’t blame Jirra for being impatient; after all, it was one of her own faults. “Okay, here’s what we’ve learned so far; the girl is Virginia Kensington, old money from the Main Line; she’s a junior majoring in seeking a husband and minoring in political science. The boy is Todd Kelly, also from Philadelphia, and believe it or not, he claims to be a distant relative of Princess Grace Kelly, so much for genetics. Anyway, he’s a senior and is studying economics. We’ve been able to identify two of his friends; all are from upper class families. They all went to the same private schools. One interesting note –Todd and his friends were kicked out of the campus conservative political club for being too radical. Additionally, they were put on probation last year for six months.”

“What did they do?” asked Celeste.

“They turned a list of campus employees over to INS, claiming the people were all illegal aliens. None were, and several threatened to sue,” replied Diana.

Jill looked at the surveillance photos showing the boys leaving Todd’s place. All were wearing dark colored hooded sweatshirts.

“And this one really threatened to have me attacked?” she asked as she stared at a photo of Todd.

“Yes,” replied Beth. “At least, that’s what I got from what I overheard.”

“What can we do?” asked Jill. “I don’t like sitting around. Can’t Beth just say she overheard them?”

“I want to get them too, but I can’t lie,” interjected Beth.

“I know,” replied Jill. “It’s just very frustrating.”

“We need to collect evidence on them so we can go the police,” said Diana.

“Why not just show them a CD of our surveillance?” asked Celeste.

“It would be considered inadmissible in court. There are judges who are very strict about unauthorized surveillance. If one heard of it, you could be prosecuted,” said Diana.

“But you’ve used things like this in the past, right?” asked Jill.

“When I’ve been working on a story, yes, but we want to get these people arrested. If the police act using the surveillance, their lawyers could get all evidence thrown out,” replied Diana. “I don’t want to see them get off on a technicality.”

“Do they all come from rich families?” asked Jirra.

Diana nodded.

“Then we need to do this right, otherwise they’ll weasel their way out of it,” continued Jirra.

“I agree,” said Celeste.

“In the meantime, you can start working on the story, Jill,” said Diana.

Jill nodded. “Jirra, why don’t you help me? After all, you’re a pretty good writer; what do you say?”

“I’d like that,” replied Jirra. She then snapped her fingers. “I have an idea!”

“What is it?” asked Cat.

“Look, Todd and the others know me, right? And they hang out in that coffee house all the time; what would happen if I walked in while they were there?” asked Jirra. “Let them see me, and let them think I recognized them; they might do something, and then we can arrest them.”

“You mean try to provoke them into doing something?” asked Beth.

“Sure, why not?” asked Jirra. “If they try anything, the PIs could report it, and then the police can arrest them.”

“It sounds risky; what if they do nothing?” asked Jill.

“I doubt that; I imagine that they’re a little nervous since Virginia told them about your appearance in the admin office,” said Beth.

“What do you say, Diana?” asked Jirra.

“You realize the risk, Jirra?” asked Beth. She had been bait a few times, and she had barely escaped being killed.

Jirra nodded. “Look, I know that we have protection right now, but what happens if they don’t do anything else? I know that it can’t be cheap to have PIs watching us. I think we should be aggressive and try to force their hand. I’ve been a victim, and I don’t like it. They think that we’re weak and easy to frighten, so I doubt they’ll think that we’re hunting them. I bet they’d underestimate us.”

“You remind me a lot of me,” said Diana. “Okay, let me place a few phone calls to set this up.”

“I can’t believe how brave you are, Jirra,” said Jill.

“Not brave, just angry,” replied Jirra. “Deep down, part of me wants to run back to New Mexico. All I wanted to do was blend in and be another student here at Penn. Once this gets out, my secret about my old life will come out. I won’t just be Jirra Reid, I’ll be Jirra Reid ‘transsexual,’ and it wasn’t my decision to be outed. I’m not ashamed of who I am, but I don’t want to be defined by it either, if that makes sense to you. This is a very personal thing, and they violated that. No, I’m not brave, just very pissed off, and I want to see those responsible punished.”

“I disagree, Jirra; you’ve very brave, and personally I don’t care about your previous gender; all I care about is that we’re friends,” commented Jill.

“I’m in; let’s get these bastards!” added Beth.

“Count me in,” said Cat. “If Matt was here, he’d be with us too, but he’s down in DC.”

“Well, count me in too,” stated Celeste.

Chapter 66

“You clear about what you’re going to do, Jirra?” asked Diana.

Jirra nodded as she pulled her collar up on her coat. “It sure got cold fast. Are they all there?”

“That’s what Beth says; she’s been in there for an hour,” said Diana. “We also have three PIs in the area. They will move in immediately if Todd and his group do anything. I talked to Carla, and the police lab has good DNA samples of two males from your attack. All we need is one match, and then we have them.”

“Good,” replied Jirra. “Thanks for giving me this opportunity.”

“Hey, I understand all about the anger of being a victim. Besides, I’d rather help you do this; I suspect you’d try something else if I didn’t go along with this. When this is over, we need to have a long talk.”

Jirra hugged Diana and then headed towards the coffee house. It was late afternoon, and it was already growing dark. Jirra walked inside Billy Penn’s and noticed a group of guys sitting at a corner table; all were wearing dark sweatshirts. A blonde haired girl sat next to them. Jirra recognized her from the photos. It was Virginia.

Jirra headed up to the counter and placed her order. There was a long line, as Beth had said. People were milling around waiting for their orders. The girl behind the counter was yelling out the name of customers as their drinks were ready. This worked with their plan.

So far, the guys in the corner hadn’t noticed her; hopefully, that would all change soon, thought Jirra.

She placed her order and gave the girl her name as she paid. The lure had been cast, now it was time to hook the fish, she thought.

A few minutes later, Jirra heard her name being called out by the girl behind the counter.

“Jirra! Grande black,” shouted the girl behind the counter. “Jirra, your order is ready!”

Jirra didn’t immediately pick up her drink.

“Jirra, your drink’s up!” shouted the girl loudly.

As Jirra approached the counter, she could see out of the corner of her eye the guys in the sweatshirts turn and look towards her; one even started to point at her, but his arm was abruptly pulled down by one of the others. When she took her order, she looked over at them and paused as if she momentarily recognized them. She then headed quickly out of the coffee shop.

As Jirra headed across back campus, her cell phone rang. She held it up to her ear.

“They’re following you, Jirra,” said Beth. “They immediately got up when you left; be careful. The girl is still here, and she looks really worried. I’ll stay here and keep an eye on her.”

“Thanks, Beth.”

Jirra pretended to dial her phone as she walked at a fast pace across campus. While she couldn’t see them, her instinct told her that she was being followed. She had to trust that she was being watched by the PIs as she headed for her car.

It won’t be long now, she thought.

Chapter 67

Unlike the last time, the attackers didn’t stop to taunt Jirra before making their move. They rushed towards Jirra and attempted to tackle her; thankfully, their hard soled shoes gave them away.

Jirra turned and was able the dodge the first one. She threw out a leg and tripped him, causing him to stumble and crash to the ground.

As the second one came at her, she pulled the top off her coffee and threw the hot drink into his face.

“Argggh! My face! You fucking bitch!” he shrieked as he clutched his face. He fell to his knees, screaming in pain. “Todd, help me! The bitch burned me!”

The third guy came right at her. His hood slipped back, and Jirra could see it was Todd.

“I’m going to hurt you, freak!” he yelled as he moved to tackle her, but he didn’t get his chance. From out of the darkness, two figures jumped out and grabbed him, quickly subduing him.

The guy who’d made the first attack got up to run away, but he was grabbed by another person. The guy who Jirra scalded was still on his knees crying in pain.

“Let us go! You’re hurting me! Who the fuck do you think you are?” shouted Todd as he was held down. “I’ll sue you; I swear to god that I’ll sue you!”

“Shut your foul little mouth, before I hurt you for real,” said the woman who was pinning his arm behind his back.

“You’re breaking my arm!’ cried Todd.

“No, I’m not. Trust me, honey, if I wanted to break your arm, I would have done it by now,” she stated evenly. “Now, stop resisting, or I will break your arm.”

Todd stopped fighting, but continued to threaten the woman, who seemed to be enjoying his plight.

“They’re so brave when it’s three against one,” she said to Jirra.

Jirra then noticed that her protectors were all women.

Diana soon appeared with several police officers, who moved in to take custody of Todd and his friends.

Jirra was sort of surprised to see both campus and Philadelphia police show up, but then she figured that Diana wasn’t taking any chances.

“Are you okay, Jirra?” asked Diana.

“I spilled my coffee,” she replied with a grin. On the inside her heart was pounding, but for some reason the whole event had thrilled her. “Yes, I’m okay. They never touched me.”

“I’m Officer Johnston. Can you tell us what happened?” asked a uniformed policewoman. She was a pleasant looking African-American woman.

Jirra told her that she had been attacked as she approached her car. She then told the policewoman that they guys were wearing sweatshirts similar to the ones on her previous attackers. She also mentioned that they sounded like the ones who had attacked her and used similar language.

The policewoman nodded as she took notes.

Soon there were additional police officers on the scene.

“And who are you?” Officer Johnston asked the woman who had subdued Todd.

The woman took out her identification and showed it to the policewoman. “I’m Nina Vasquez. I’m a private investigator hired by Ms. Bowie to keep an eye on Ms Reid. Ms. Bowie suspected that there might be another attack, and she hired me and the others.”

The policewoman looked at Nina’s identification. “I see you’re employed by Boudicca Investigations Inc. How long have you worked for them?”

“Just a little over six months,” replied Nina. “I was recruited from the Feds.”

“I admire your company’s work,” replied Office Johnston.

“Well, we’re always looking for good employees,” said Nina.

Jirra leaned over towards Diana. “I know the name Boudicca; she was the Briton warrior queen who fought the Romans, but I’ve never heard of Boudicca Investigations; who are they?”

“They’re an all women PI company. They specialize in protecting women of all kinds,” replied Diana. “I’ve worked with them a few times over the years. I’ve known Nina since she was a police officer in Virginia. She had applied to be a Fed, but she failed the physical; thankfully, Boudicca quickly recruited her; she’s a good detective.”

“Wow,” replied Jirra. “So what happens next?”

“We need to go to the station, but it looks like we won’t have to worry about Todd and his Purifiers. By attacking you, the police should be able to tie him to the earlier attack,” said Diana.

Jirra let out a big sigh as she watched Todd and the others being led away in cuffs by the Philadelphia Police.

“What about Cat, Beth, and the others?” asked Jirra.

“They’ll be along,” said Diana.

Chapter 68

Even though it was late by the time she got home, Jirra immediately called her mom to tell her what had happened.

Liz was torn between feeling proud and being angry; in the end, pride in her daughter won out.

“When will you know if they are the same people who attacked you earlier?” asked Liz.

“Diana thinks the police will have the initial evidence processed by morning. They took DNA samples from all three, and the wounds on Todd’s face were consistent with what I described. Hopefully, the search of their apartments will turn up more evidence.”

“Did they arrest the girl too?”

“She was being questioned when I left, but Diana thinks she’ll try to make a deal.”

“So what happens now?”

“I go back to class; I’m so behind in my studies!”

“While I’m not sure I like the fact that you acted as bait, I’m very proud of you, Roo.”

‘Thanks, Mom. I just couldn’t sit back and do nothing.”

“Well, you get some rest. I love you, Roo.”

“I love you too, Mom.”

Chapter 69

Jirra was just sinking into a hot bath when the phone rang. She jumped out of the tub and quickly slipped on her robe as she hurried to the phone.

“Hey, what’s the big deal? What, aren’t you content with dating a pretend PI?’ asked Alexis.

Jirra laughed. “I wanted to see what it was like. Thanks for calling.”

“Diana called Faith, who called me. Are you okay?”

“Never better,” replied Jirra. She then told Alexis what had happened.

“I’m glad you’re okay, and you know, I can’t blame you for wanting to get involved.”

“Well, it didn’t look like the police were going to catch them,” said Jirra. “I’m just glad that they were caught before they killed someone.”

They only talked for ten minutes, as Alexis had a night shoot to complete.

“I can’t wait to see you, Roo.”

“Um, there’s a very good possibility that I’ll be outed over this,” said Jirra.

“It was bound to happen eventually. In a way, it makes my decision easier,” said Alexis.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, as you know, I’ve wanted to come out myself. Faith and the producer know, and they don’t care. As Faith says, Erin Flynn is bisexual, so why shouldn’t a lesbian play her?”

“What about the network?”

Alexis laughed. “They’ll love it. Besides, I have a five-year contract, so if they fire me, they still have to pay me. This is my last role anyway.”

“When are you going to do it?”

“Not until after the holidays. My parents are cool about it, but I don’t want it to be a distraction,” said Alexis. “How do you feel about your exposure?”

“I don’t know. My close friends know the whole story; others just know I’m transgendered. I guess it shouldn’t matter to anyone who doesn’t know me.”

“Especially if they know you can kick their butts!”

Jirra laughed. “I owe it all to Tara. That reminds me, I need to call her and thank her for teaching me to defend myself.”

“Well, it’s just a couple of weeks until we’ll be together again. I miss you so badly.”

“I love you too,” replied Jirra.

“Well, I’ll let you get back to your bath. I wish I was about to get into it with you.”

Jirra laughed again. “You’re so bad!”

“You have no idea, my sweet Roo!”

Chapter 70

Jill and Jirra sat down across from Diana and Sergeant Randall Prince of the Philadelphia Police.

“I’ve been asked to brief you on the case by my captain,” said Sgt. Prince.

“So are these the ones who have been attacking the transgendered students?” asked Jill.

He nodded. “We conducted a search of their apartments, and we discovered evidence linking them to all the attacks, including several last year that were never reported to the police.”

“What kind of evidence?” asked Jirra.

He smiled. “I can’t go into detail, but we have sufficient physical evidence to charge them in six different assaults, not including the recent attack on you, Ms. Reid.”

Jirra smiled at the fact he accepted her as a woman, even though he knew she was transgendered, then again Jill said that he was pretty open-minded. “What about the girl?” she asked.

“She has made a deal with the DA to testify against them, in exchange for all charges being dropped against her. We know she provided them with some personal information, but as far as we can tell, she didn’t participate in any of the attacks. And before you say it, I know it doesn’t make a difference that she didn’t physically attack anyone, but trust me; her testimony will help convict the three guys. If it makes you feel any better, she’s being expelled from Penn for unauthorized use of personal information in support of gender discrimination.”

“And she’s really going to testify against the others?” asked Jirra.

Randall nodded as he sipped his coffee. “Her parents’ lawyers were quick to make a deal.”

“Have they been charged yet?” asked Jill.

“Tomorrow morning. The DA is waiting for some more DNA results. I know they matched the blood types found on your clothes to Todd Kelly and Andrew Kennedy, so we can definitely link them to your attack, Ms. Reid. The other suspect, Michael Coppersmith, had blood on his sweatshirt that we’re trying to match.”

“How strong of a case do you think it is?” asked Jirra.

“Very strong. I suspect their family lawyers will be desperately trying to cut a deal. If it goes to a trial, they’ll end up in Graterford,” he replied, referring to a state prison outside of the city.

“And will the DA take a plea?” asked Jill.

“Off the record? Maybe, if they are willing to admit to all their crimes, but they’ll have to do time; she won’t let them walk. There are too many victims to let this slide as a prank. I suspect that if their lawyers try to play too many games, the DA will threaten to give it to the Feds and let them prosecute it as hate crimes.”

“Do you really think that a bunch of rich preppies are going to prison over attacking some transgendered students?” asked Jirra.

“Five years ago I would have said no, but the assistant DA who is prosecuting this case is tough. I know her brother; he was a cop, and she’s as tough as him, maybe tougher. No, she’ll fight to see that they are punished.”

“Is the evidence that strong?” asked Jill.

Randall smiled. “Again, off the record?”

Jill and Jirra nodded.

“Okay, you won’t believe this, but the idiots kept proof of the attacks. We have personal items from several of the victims, along with scrapbooks of news stories on the attacks.”

“Well then, they can have copies of the articles that we’re going to write,” said Jill.

“We’ll even autograph them for them,” added Jirra.

Randall laughed. “Keep this up and I may have to change my attitude towards the press.”

Chapter 71

Jirra was very nervous as she rode towards campus with Beth.

“You okay?” asked Beth.

“Sure… why?” asked Jirra.

“Usually, you’re very talkative, but this morning you’re silent,” said Beth.

“I’m just a little nervous about how I’ll be received; I mean, I know the papers never listed my name, but you know how the campus grapevine works,” replied Jirra.

“I know you’ll do fine. Look, you were a victim of an assault – make that two assaults, and you helped catch the bad guys. If someone has a problem with that, then screw ’em!”

Jirra smirked. “I’m not worried about the assault part.”

“Look, this a major university; if they can’t handle some diversity, that’s their problem. Most people won’t care one way or the other, most will forget about this in a few days. If anyone gives you grief, give it right back.”

“Thanks, Beth,” she replied.

As Beth had said, most people on campus were too wrapped up in their own issues to make the connection between the articles in the paper and Jirra. However, Jirra knew it would be different in Diana Bowie’s class.

Jirra almost skipped class, but she decided that she had to give her classmates the benefit of the doubt. She walked into the familiar classroom and immediately saw Jill, who was sitting next to TC. Jill pointed to Jirra’s usual seat.

“I’m glad to see you’re back,” said Jill. She got up and gave Jirra a hug.

TC did the same thing. “I hear you really kicked some butt – nice going. I may have to get a pair of those boots myself.”

“They’re more fashionable than a can of pepper spray,” quipped Jirra.

Dave gave her a “thumbs up” and nodded approvingly at her.

Jirra nodded back as she sat down.

Leah then walked in and glared at Jirra; she then sat down in a different seat.

Okay, thought Jirra, not everyone is going be to supportive.

Diana arrived as the bell rang and immediately started a discussion on how the press covered the recent elections. Jirra was relieved that the topic du jour wasn’t the attacks and arrests of The Purifiers.

The last fifteen minutes of class, Diana opened it up to discussion.

As soon as a girl in the back started to talk, Jirra knew that her luck had run out.

“I know that people in this room are directly involved in the case, but I do have a question that is bothering me,” asked the girl, whose name was Hannah.

“What is it?” asked Diana, who cast a look of support towards Jirra.

“Well, I’m confused about the correct way to designate gender in transgendered people. I noticed that the Inquirer and Daily News sometimes called the victims men dressed as women, while the Daily Pennsylvanian called them transgendered. I understand the differences, but I don’t know when to use each term,” said Hannah.

Jill immediately raised her hand. “May I answer that question please?”

Diana nodded.

“I would only use the term ‘man dressed as a woman’ if someone was dressed in a Halloween costume, and then only after asking them. In the case of someone being assaulted, what difference does it make? Do we have to list every category the person fits?”

“I see your point, but sometimes it is pertinent to the story. The reason these students were attacked was because they were transgendered. I mean, if someone only attacked Asian or African-American students, then it would be a part of the story,” said a guy named Frank.

“That’s true, but using the term ‘guy dressed as a woman’ trivializes the attack,” said Lisa, who was sitting next to Dave.

“Why don’t we ask one of them what “they’ want to be called?” suggested Leah, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

“If you’re referring to me, I consider myself female, but since it’s been brought up, yes, I’m transgendered. I was born male,” snapped back Jirra.

“Leah, remember our class rules; we can have differences, but we don’t attack others,” said Jill.

“I’d expect you to stand up for it,” replied Leah. “I mean, you’re almost as bad as it is!”

“Okay, stop it!” Diana spoke firmly. “Jill is right, you can disagree with others in this classroom, but there will not be personal attacks. I will also point out that those sorts of things violate your student code of conduct just as much as the behavior of the young woman who was just expelled for her involvement in this case.”

Leah shook her head in disgust.

The bell rang, and the discussion ended, but Jirra suspected it wasn’t over.

Chapter 72

“Jirra, can I see you for a moment?” asked Diana.

“We’ll be at the usual place,” said Jill.

“We’ll see you there,” added TC.

After everyone left, Diana sat down next to Jirra.

“You okay?” she asked.

Jirra nodded. “I used to consider Leah a friend.”

“Well, I know it’s hard when you see the true side of someone, but you’re better off without her; besides, you’re not exactly lacking good friends.”

Jirra smiled and suddenly she felt her eyes welling up with tears.

Dian handed her a tissue.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “I guess I’m a little on the edge.”

“Have you talked to a campus counselor yet?”

Jirra shook her head.

“I recommend you see one as soon as possible. You’ve been through a lot in the past few days. I know you’re strong, but trust me, it’s not a sign of weakness to seek help.”

“Did you see a counselor after what happened to you?” asked Jirra.

“I still see one,” said Diana. “As she says, I still have some ‘issues’ to resolve.” She used her fingers to emphasize the word “issues.”

“You?” asked Jirra.

Diana nodded. “I’m doing much better, but I know it would have been worse if I hadn’t sought help. By the way, I would be telling you this even if you weren’t transgendered. The assaults alone are worth a few trips to the counselor.”

“Thanks, Professor Bowie.”

“When we’re alone or in a social situation, please call me Diana. I hope that you’ll consider me a friend.”

“I’d like that… Diana.”

“But just so you know, it will have no impact on your grades,” continued Diana with a smile on her face.

“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t expect special treatment.”

Chapter 73

A short time later, Jirra was sitting next to TC and Jill in their favorite coffeehouse.

“My editor says that he wants you for next semester’s paper,” said Jill. “She was very impressed with your writing skills.”

“Thanks for giving me the chance, Jill.”

“Oh shit,” exclaimed TC.

Jirra turned around and saw Leah walk in the coffeehouse. Leah walked over and glared at Jirra.

“How could you be so deceptive?” she demanded as she stood across from Jirra. “I thought you were a girl… I invited you to my house!”

“Chill out, Leah. Jirra didn’t do anything wrong,” said TC.

“Nothing wrong? Try lying, try being deceptive, try being something you’re not!” snapped back Leah.

“Get over yourself, Leah,” interjected Jill. “I could see you being pissed off if you were having a relationship with her, but you were just classmates!”

“Ugh, that’s so disgusting! How can you two sit there and act like nothing is wrong? I mean he’s a guy!” said Leah angrily.

“I’m not a guy,” replied Jirra.

“Well, excuse me, then please tell me what the fuck you are?” asked Leah. “Why couldn’t you be content to be the way nature made you!”

“I didn’t have a say in the way I was born,” snapped back Jirra. “You have no idea what it’s like to be conflicted over something so basic!”

“Please! You act like it’s something biological or something. Why couldn’t you just be content to be a gay man?”

“I don’t like guys,” retorted Jirra.

Leah stared back. “That’s so sick! You mean you like girls yet you became one? You need some mental help!”

“Leah, get out of here before I file charges against you. We’re still on campus, you know,” said TC.

“Why are you defending him?” demanded Leah.

“Jirra’s a friend; she didn’t ask to be different. Personally, I think she’s brave for wanting to live her life without conflict.”

Jirra listened to TC’s remarks. If she only knew the truth, she thought.

“Look, Leah, it’s obvious that you don’t understand. Let’s just end this now,” said Jirra.

Leah rolled her eyes. “You know, I don’t condone violence, but I can definitely understand why those guys attacked you.”

Jirra was about to stand up, when she felt a hand on her shoulder. It was Dave from Diana’s class.

“Leah, leave. By the way, if Jirra doesn’t file charges against you, I will. I’m on the Honor Council. You’ll be hearing from us soon.”

Jirra turned around and stared at Dave.

Leah gritted her teeth and stormed out.

“You’re on the council?” asked TC.

Dave nodded. “I know, it’s hard to believe, isn’t it? I mean, a goof like me on the council, but I take it seriously. Jirra, if you don’t press charges, I’ll do it for you. I mean, Leah violated numerous student rules.”

“I just want it to be over,” said Jirra.

“I know, but she needs to learn a lesson that you can’t go around berating others just because you don’t like them.”

“You need to do it, Jirra. I’ll submit a statement too,” said Jill.

“Me too,” added TC.

“Write it up and give it to me in class; I’ll fill out the paperwork,” said Dave.

“What will happen to her?” asked Jirra.

“Probably a warning or maybe probation, maybe even a suspension; if it happens again, she can be expelled,” replied Dave. “She’ll have to attend diversity training too.”

Jirra thought about it for a moment, and then she wondered if Todd and the others had been disciplined, maybe the attacks wouldn’t have happened.

“Okay, I’ll do it,” she replied.

Chapter 74

Jirra couldn’t wait for the weekend to arrive. While she wasn’t feeling any of the physical residuals of the attack, she was deeply bothered by what had happened, especially the blow-up with Leah.

She had called Dave and told him that she would drop the charges, if Leah apologized.

He told her that wasn’t a good idea, but he would pass it on. He called her back a short time later and told Jirra that Leah said she would apologize when hell froze over. So much for being diplomatic, thought Jirra.

She did stop by the campus health center and saw a therapist. Diana was right; it did feel good to talk about it, and Jirra signed up for an initial eight weeks of therapy, which would be spread out over the next few months. The therapist said that Jirra could break up her sessions over the holiday break.

The therapy was very helpful, but Jirra was more thankful for her wonderful friends. They took it upon themselves to ensure she was okay.

Diana promised to keep her informed of the case. Presently, Todd and the others were all out on bail. Penn suspended all of them indefinitely. Additionally, the courts issued a restraining order, telling them to stay away from Jill, Jirra, and the others involved in the case.

Saturday morning, Diana stopped by Jirra’s apartment. She brought a bag of fresh sticky buns. Jirra asked what good the order would do as she brewed some coffee.

“If someone wants to violate it, then it’s just a piece of paper. However, just so you know, Boudicca will be watching you and the others just in case.”

“Normally, the idea that someone has me under surveillance would creep me out, but I now can sleep easier,” replied Jirra as she picked apart one of the buns.

“They’ll only keep an eye on you while you’re in Philly. However, I doubt if any of the Purifiers will do anything. Their lawyers are going to have a big enough fight on their hands without anything new being added,” said Diana.

“Do you think there will be a trial?”

“I doubt it, the last thing these sort of people want is publicity. I figure the parents will push for a deal,” replied Diana.

“But that would mean their kids would go to prison, right?”

“Carla will insist on it. However, the media in this city would eat up a trial, and well-to-do families hate that sort of publicity; it has a tendency to put too much light on their lives. Too bad, as a trial can be good for the victims; it would give them some closure.”

“Did you want the people who hurt you to go to trial?” asked Jirra as she absentmindedly licked her fingers.

“Not when it happened. I was just glad it was over, but looking back, I wish I could have had my day in court. Still, I get to go to parole hearings every two years,” replied Diana. “I did some closure when we wrote the book, especially when I wrote the preface for the latest edition. You know, Jirra, you ought to consider writing this out, even if you have no intention of trying to get it published.”

“I might do that,” said Jirra. “Diana, I have a favor to ask of you. I have something I want to tell you, but I need you to promise not to tell anyone, okay?”

Diana wondered what it could be. She wondered how many more secrets Jirra could have. “Sure, I promise.”

Jirra refilled their mugs. “I’m not a transsexual, at least not like you are.” Jirra then told Diana about the lightning strike and transformation.

“That explains a lot,” said Diana.

Jirra smirked. “Why does everyone say that? So you believe me?”

Diana leaned over and hugged Jirra. “Yes, I believe you, dear.”

“Thanks.”

“So is that why you didn’t join the campus transgendered club?” asked Diana.

Jirra nodded as ate another piece of sticky bun. “Until these attacks, I didn’t think I had the right to belong. I mean, you had to deal with an issue your whole life; I was changed by an accident.”

“Yet, now you are dealing with a gender conflict, right?”

“Somewhat,” replied Jirra. “I accept who I am, yet I’m still a little uneasy at times with being a woman. I’m definitely not comfortable with having a period and the fact that I could become pregnant.”

“That’s to be expected, Jirra. However, while I’ve noticed some differences about you, I would have never suspected that you were once male. To be honest, I was stunned when I was told you were transgendered. I don’t think you’re giving yourself as much credit as you are due.”

“But I prefer wearing jeans and sweaters,” said Jirra.

“So do I; what does that make me?” replied Diana. She reached over and placed her hand on Jirra’s shoulder. “There’s no right or wrong way. Everyone takes the path that is best for them. I give you a lot of credit for not crawling into a shell and hiding from the world. I imagine that it would have been very easy to just stay back in New Mexico and work at the spa, right?”

Jirra nodded.

“Yet, from what I’ve heard about you, you’ve done anything but shy away from challenges. I doubt I could have walked down the red carpet at the Oscars.”

“You heard about that?” asked Jirra.

“Alexis told me, although she didn’t tell me about your transformation,” replied Diana.

“It was pretty cool,” replied Jirra with a grin.

“And who else have you told?” asked Diana.

“Well, around twenty-five people back in New Mexico know, Alexis and Jen Stevens know too. Here at Penn, Cat, Celeste, and Beth.”

“So you haven’t told Jill?”

Jirra shook her head. “Not yet, but once I get to know her better I would like to.”

“She’s a good person. I’m glad you’ve become friends.”

“I still feel bad about Leah.”

“It happens, Jirra.”

“I filed a complaint with the Honor Council,” said Jirra. She then told Diana about the incident in the coffeehouse.

“You did the right thing. Hopefully, Leah will learn a lesson from this and have a more open mind,” said Diana.

“Thanks,” said Jirra. “I’m also glad you believed me concerning my change.”

“Well, as a writer I’ve seen a lot of incredible things. I also had the opportunity to talk to Jennifer Stevens once. I’m glad you have her as a friend.”

“How did you meet her?”

“I was down at the main CNN studio, and she was there to promote one of the projects. Turns out we admired each other’s work. When we went to dinner the next day, she had me sign a copy of Corruption in a Small Town. She somehow had found a first edition in an Atlanta used bookstore. I told her that I when I first read of her accident I had wished that something like that would have happened to me when I was younger. She told me that she wouldn’t wish it on anyone, even those who wanted gender change.”

“I can relate to that, thankfully, my change wasn’t painful…physically,” commented Jirra.

“Well, anytime you want to talk, call me,” said Diana. She then reached into her bag and pulled out her card. Then she wrote a number on the back. “This is my private cell phone number. I only give it out to good friends.”

Jirra took it and stared at it. “Thank you so much, Diana.”

She then wrapped her arms around Diana, who hugged her back.

“Well, I’ve got to get going back to New Hope. Have a great weekend, Jirra.”

“Thanks, Diana. You too.”

Chapter 75

Jirra threw herself into her studies and working on the articles for the Pennsylvanian with Jill. It felt good to be in a normal routine again.

The only disruption to her schedule was when she had to appear before the Honor Council.

It went pretty smoothly. Jirra made her offer to drop her complaint if Leah apologized, and again the offer was rejected.

Leah came out with a warning and a requirement to attend diversity training. She was told that a second offense would lead to her expulsion from Penn. Jirra just hoped that it was over.

The big thing that Jirra was looking forward to was Thanksgiving and her road trip with Alexis to Ohio.

Still, she found time to relax and hang out with her friends.

Chapter 76

Spirit greeted Jirra as she entered Celeste and Beth’s apartment on Saturday morning.

“There she is; you ready to go?” asked Cat.

They were going to the Art Museum and then to lunch in center city.

“Celeste will be out in a moment,” said Cat.

“Where’s Beth?” asked Jirra as she sat down. “I though she was going with us.”

“She has a date,” said Cat.

“Really? That’s cool. Wait, she’s going on a date in the morning?”

Cat smiled. “He’s taking her out to Bucks County to go horseback riding.”

“Um, has Beth ever been on a horse?” asked Jirra

“I don’t know if Beth has ever seen a horse, but the guy is pretty cute,” said Cat.

“Tell me more,” said Jirra.

“His name is Jim, and he’s in one of her study groups. He’s six-two, short brown hair, hazel eyes, and plans on a career in law enforcement,” said Cat. “He’s pretty nice; I met him once at a party with some of Matt’s friends.”

“Well, they have a nice day for it,” said Jirra.

“Well, I’m finally ready, let’s go,” said Celeste as she walked into the living room. “Now, Spirit, you be a good dog, and we’ll bring you back some treats.”

Cat laughed. “You spoil her so bad.”

“She’s worth spoiling,” said Jirra.

Chapter 77

“That was a lot of fun, Jim,” said Beth as they got into his car.

“You did pretty good for your first time,” said the handsome young man. He was a senior and due to graduate in the spring.

“Well, all we did was ride along a trail; the horse did most of the work.”

“No, you have a nice feel for the animal, and they can sense that,” he said.

“Your parents are really nice,” she said.

“Thanks,” he replied. “I think they liked you too.”

“So, where are we going to eat?”

“I figured we’d head into Doylestown; they have a lot of great places to eat. Have you ever been there?”

Beth shook her head. Not in this lifetime, she thought.

“Great, well, we’ll be there in twenty minutes,” said Jim. “I ‘m really glad you accepted my invitation.”

“I had fun; what else do you like to do?”

“I like sailing,” he replied.

“Really? I love that!” replied Beth.

“You know how to sail?”

“I’ve been doing it for years,” she replied.

“Years? Come on, how old are you, twenty-one?”

Beth smiled, if she counted the years she sailed when she was Ben, it was almost twenty years. “I learned when I was ten.”

“What on a lake?”

“No, Chesapeake Bay at first, then San Diego Bay, later the Pacific and Atlantic,” she replied.

“Wow, now I am impressed. I didn’t realize you moved around that much,” he replied. “I thought you were from the DC area.”

“I was born on the East Coast and then we moved to San Diego. When my parents died, I was adopted by family friends and moved to the DC area. I now consider them my parents.”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t know,” said Jim.

“It’s okay. They were killed in a private plane crash when I was fourteen,” she replied.

“That’s tough. I can’t imagine losing my parents,” said Jim.

“I still miss them, but the people who adopted me are very nice. I really love them,” said Beth truthfully.

“You mentioned that they work for the government, in what areas?”

“They’re Federal Agents, but if you tell anyone I’ll have to kill you,” replied Beth with a laugh.

Jim glanced over at her. “You’re something else, Beth. I’m so glad that Cat and Matt told me about you.”

“What did they tell you?” asked Beth.

“That we’d hit it off. I wasn’t so sure at first,” he replied.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, to be honest, you’re a little intimidating. I mean you’re the best student in our class, you’re self confident, and if you don’t mind me saying, the prettiest girl on campus,” said Jim.

“You mean that?”

“Yep. I mean, it’s taken me this long to get the courage up to ask you out,” said Jim.

“You mean that you’ve wanted to ask me out for a while?”

“Since the first day of class. I noticed you the moment you walked into class. As I got to know you, I wasn’t sure that you’d want to go out with me. I guess I was afraid of being rejected.”

Beth laughed.

“What’s so funny/” he asked.

“I’ve been waiting for you to ask me out. If you waited any longer, I was going to ask you out!”

Jim smiled. “That would have been a first.”

“Oh?”

He laughed. “You know, I almost wished that you had asked me first!”

They found a parking spot in the downtown shopping area.

“Well, there are plenty of good places to eat around here, what do you feel like?”

Beth shrugged her shoulders. “I don’t have any preferences, just as long as it’s good.”

They walked down the sidewalk, making small talk and window-shopping.

“This is a good place. They have great soups and stews here,” said Jim.

Beth looked at the menu posted outside the main door. “It looks good.”

Jim opened the door for her, and they walked inside.

“Hi, welcome to Horton’s,” said the woman at the front podium. “Table for two?”

Chapter 78

It was after nine when Beth arrived back home. Spirit greeted her at the door and then escorted her into the living room.

Cat, Jirra, and Celeste were watching a movie.

“Well, did you have a good time? And what we mean by that is what do you think of Jim?” asked Cat.

Beth flopped down on the couch and hugged a throw pillow. “I think I’m in love!”

Celeste hit pause on the DVD player. “Okay, we want details.”

Beth sighed. “Where to start?”

“This is serious,” said Cat.

“We had a great time. We rode horses on his parent’s farm, then he took me to lunch in Doylestown, and then we went shopping in New Hope,” said Beth.

“He took you shopping? My, this is serious!” said Celeste.

Beth just smiled.

“What’s his name?” asked Celeste.

“Jim, Jim Buchwalter,” replied Beth.

“You can’t keep seeing him,” said Celeste seriously.

“Why not?” asked Beth sitting up straight. “What’s the matter?”

“Beth, Celeste is right, it would be a bad decision,” added Cat.

“What are you two talking about?” asked Beth as she looked back and forth at her friends.

“Just think about it… Beth Buchwalter?” said Cat, pronouncing it as Buchvalter, placing heavy emphasis on the second syllable. “Do you really want to go through life with a name like that?”

Beth tossed the pillow at Cat. “It was just a first date! Besides, I happen to think it has a lovely sound to it!”

“So why aren’t you still with him?” asked Jirra. “It’s still kinda early.”

“Hey, like I said, it was a first date,” replied Beth. “Actually, he had a paper to complete. We’re going out to dinner Friday night.”

“A second date, now this is serious,” said Cat.

“I really like him,” said Beth with large grin on her face.

“Obviously,” said Celeste, as she rolled her eyes. “I’m really happy for you, Beth. Now, are you hungry?”

Beth shook her head. “We stopped to eat on the way back.”

“So, give us details,” said Cat.

Beth described her day with Jim.

“You went to Horton’s for lunch?” asked Celeste.

Beth nodded. “Why, do you know it?”

“You remember Brenda?” asked Celeste.

Beth nodded.

“Her parents own the place,” said Celeste.

“Wow, small world,” said Beth.

“Who is Brenda?” asked Jirra.

“She was one of the first teens I helped. Like me, she was abducted and transformed by Margo Simon. Her parents never gave up hope of finding her. They totally accept her as their daughter,” explained Celeste.

“Where is Brenda now?” asked Cat.

“She’s attending college up in Connecticut, and she also works as an administrative assistant at the institute. She’s still carrying a lot of baggage from her abduction. Margo knew what buttons to push to break someone down,” said Celeste.

“I would have thought that Brenda would attend college down here,” said Jirra. “I mean, it would allow her to be closer to her family.”

“It was her choice, and trust me that was a big deal. Brenda is rather submissive, thanks to Margo, and just making her own decisions is huge. She does spend the summers down here working at the restaurant,” explained Celeste.

“And Margo was the one who abducted you too, right, Beth?” asked Jirra.

“Yes, but she didn’t know that we were onto her,” said Beth.

Beth then went back to describing her day with Jim.

“Well, I’m very happy for you, Beth,” said Cat. “Now all we have to do is get Celeste a beau.”

“I’m very happy, thank you,” replied Celeste.

“Seriously, you should start dating,” said Beth.

“Jirra, can you help me out?” asked Celeste.

Jirra shook her head. “I’m on their side.”

“Seriously, Celeste, you should do it,” added Cat.

“I just don’t find college boys all that interesting,” said Celeste.

“So date someone out of college,” said Beth.

“And where do I find someone like that? I can’t go dating my professors!”

“Now, that’s not a bad idea!” said Beth with a grin on her face.

“It would be nice to go out again,” sighed Celeste. “I still love Sherman, but I doubt he would want me to spend the rest of my life alone.”

Beth gave Cat and Jirra a look as if to say, we have a new mission.

Chapter 79

“How long will it take us to get to Toledo?” asked Jirra.

“Weather and the State Police permitting, seven to eight hours,” replied Alexis.

“Not that I’m complaining, but why are we driving?” asked Jirra.

“I wanted to spend some private time with you, even if it’s in a car,” said Alexis. “Now, as navigator, your job is to get us out of the city and to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.”

“No problem, just take a right at the next light,” said Jirra.

“Aren’t you going to use the map?” asked Alexis as she drove her BMW through the predawn streets of Philadelphia.

“Please! I can get us to Toledo without a map. We just take the turnpike across PA, head up into Ohio and across the state. We’ll know we’re lost if we run into Lake Erie or drive into Indiana.”

Alexis laughed. “Sorry, I’m not used to simple journeys after living in Boston. I swear there’s no sense to the streets of that city.”

“I’ve never been there, but Mom told me about it,” replied Jirra.

“I want you to come up in the spring,” replied Alexis. “Do I turn here?”

“Yes, just look for the signs for 76,” replied Jirra. “Do you really mean that?”

“Yes, I want you to come up,” said Alexis. “Traffic isn’t too bad.”

“It will be soon, but we’ll be long out of the city,” replied Jirra. “Are you worried about coming out?”

“Not really. The show is a hit, I have a contract, and the producer knows what I plan on doing. Even if the show tanks, I’ll still get paid, and combined with what I made in The Minotaur, I’m set for life. My accountant has invested my money very well.”

“Do you trust your accountant?” asked Jirra.

“Sure, she’s my aunt,” replied Alexis. “Aunt Robin works for a top investment firm in Chicago. She has an outside auditor review my investments regularly.”

“That’s good to hear. I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about financial investors stealing from their clients.”

“So has Aunt Robin. She turned in her first boss for illegal practices.”

“Back to the original topic, do you think it will affect the show?”

“No,” replied Alexis. “As you’ve probably seen, the show has a LGBT overtone to begin with. I mean, Erin is bi-sexual, and we’ve already had two storylines with LGBT characters. We’ve received great ratings from a variety of sources; added to that, we’re on a premium channel. No, if anything, it will increase ratings.”

“I see,” replied Jirra. “What will happen when they find out about us?”

“Well, since I sort of shun the spotlight and lead a pretty normal life, the story won’t have long legs. I mean, I live in Boston and haven’t been to a club in ages. No, there are far more interesting people for the media to cover.”

“What about me?”

“I hate to say it, but you may get some unwanted media attention. Nonetheless, if you just be yourself and don’t do anything out of the ordinary, then they’ll move on,” said Alexis.

Jirra laughed. “Not do anything out of the ordinary? My whole life the past few years has been out of the ordinary!”

Alexis joined Jirra in laughter. “Okay, you got me. What I meant was just go about your daily routine, but don’t beat anyone up or throw coffee in their face.”

“Only if they don’t attack me,” replied Jirra. “We should catch the turnpike at Valley Forge; I recommend we stop and get something to eat before we get on it.”

Chapter 80

After breakfast, they were back on the road.

“I’m glad you have satellite radio in your car; once we get past Harrisburg, we enter ‘radio-free Pennsylvania.’ It gets pretty sparse until we get near Pittsburgh,” said Jirra.

“Thanks for the warning,” said Alexis.

“Just in case, I brought some CDs along,” said Jirra.

“What do you have?” asked Alexis.

“A whole bunch of stuff: Alanis Morissette, Pink, Steely Dan, Warren Zevon, U2, Jack Johnson, and some others. I know I have a weird taste in music for someone my age, but I can’t stand rap or pop,” said Jirra.

“That’s fine, I like all the artists you mentioned,” said Alexis.

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

“So what’s the latest on the guys who attacked you and the others?” asked Alexis.

“They’re facing a laundry list of charges. According to Diana, the Assistant DA has enough evidence to tie them to five different assaults. She plans on treating the attacks as hate crimes, which will put them away for a long time.”

“Are they going to make a deal?” asked Alexis.

“Diana said they don’t want to take it to trial, but the DA wants them to do significant time; so we’ll see what happens,” said Jirra.

“Any idea why they did it?”

“They had all been members of rather conservative groups on campus. Diana said that the police found a lot of racist and homophobic material in their apartments.”

“And the girl?”

“She’s already made a deal to testify against the others to avoid being charged. The university has expelled her for stealing records,” replied Jirra.

“Is that all?”

“No, apparently the other victims have gotten together to sue the defendants under Federal civil rights laws. They want me to be part of it,” replied Jirra.

“Are you?”

“Only so they have a consensus, I don’t want any money out this. If I get a settlement, I plan on donating it to Celeste’s foundation. Anyway, the suit won’t be filed until after the criminal case is settled.”

“I read your articles that you sent me online; they were very good,” said Alexis.

“Jill wrote most of them.”

“Maybe, but I could see your touch.”

“I’ll be working on the paper next semester,” said Jirra.

“That’s good to hear. You know, you should write out a version of what happened for me. Do like you did with the Anasazi, fictionalize it, and I’ll give it to Faith; we might be able to do something with it on the show.”

“You mean that?”

“Sure, Faith is open to new plot ideas as long as the characters aren’t changed. You’ve read the books, right?”

“Yes,” replied Jirra.

“Okay, think of how a private detective could be brought into a case like this and work it from there,” said Alexis. “I mean, your last script was excellent.”

“I didn’t write a script, just a story,” countered Jirra.

“From what Jen said, the script writer used most of your material. Just so you know, she’s pitching the script around Hollywood, and it looks like it will be her next production. I know that Jen wanted to tell you first, but I want to encourage you to write.”

“They’re really going to make it into a movie?” asked Jirra. “I thought Jen was just trying to boost my ego when she said that she had shown it around, but I had no idea that she was serious.”

“One thing Jen doesn’t joke about is her career. If she thought your story was bad, trust me, she would have told you. She’s given me some very good advice over the years, and she doesn’t pull punches or lie.”

Jirra just nodded. “Okay, when do you want to see the story?”

“As soon as possible, but I don’t want it to interfere with your class work.”

“It won’t,” replied Jirra. “Hey, would it be okay to keep the story at Penn? I mean, Erin works mostly in Boston.”

“It would be great; we’ve talked about shooting in other cities,” said Alexis.

“Cool, because I have an idea how to get Erin involved.”

“Tell me,” replied Alexis.

“Okay, Erin has two brothers and a sister, if I remember right.”

“That’s correct,” replied Alexis.

“Okay, what if one of their kids was attending Penn, and there were attacks on students by a hate group.”

“She has a niece, who just went to college, but Faith has never mentioned the school’s name, just that it was an Ivy League school.”

“Great, the niece is attending Penn, and she’s working on the campus paper…”

“Sounds pretty unbelievable to me,” interrupted Alexis.

Jirra laughed. “Let me finish.”

“I’m sorry; actually, it sounds good so far.”

“Anyway, she’s covering a story about campus hate crimes and starts to get threats,” continued Jirra.

“Good.”

“Anyway, when she’s attacked, Erin comes down and works the case.”

“So far so good,” replied Alexis.

“I will expand the victims to be LGBT, not just TG, and throw in a corrupt official who is obstructing the official investigation because his son is one of the attackers.”

“Okay, but don’t make it too obvious at first, remember it’s a mystery,” said Alexis. “You’ll need some red herrings too.”

“Aw, do I have to? I was planning on some orange roughy and a big bluefin tuna.”

After they both stopped laughing, Jirra pulled out a notebook and began to write down ideas. For the next couple of hours, the two girls brainstormed ideas about the story. By the time they stopped for lunch, Jirra had a good idea of how the story would work out.

“I just don’t know if Penn will go along with this,” said Jirra.

“I think they’ll do it. I have an ace up my sleeve,” said Alexis.

“What’s that?”

“The producer is a Penn alum, and he donates a lot to his school. Besides, you have a lot of sympathetic characters in the story who are associated with the university, so they should like it.”

“True,” replied Jirra.

“And if they don’t let us film on campus, we’ll change the name of the school and film elsewhere; we do that sort of thing all the time in Boston. We have to change the name of hotels and things like that. I don’t think it will be a problem as we can always tell them that Harvard has let us shoot on their campus.”

Jirra smiled. “That’ll work; we can’t be stuffier than Harvard.”

Chapter 81

“I wish I could have met your friends,” said Alexis as they approached the PA-Ohio state line.

“Me too, but they all headed out. Cat and Matt are heading up to Golden Hill, Beth is having Thanksgiving with her new boyfriend and his family, and then she’s taking him down to DC to have another dinner with her family. Celeste and Spirit are going up to Connecticut for dinner at the foundation. Oh, and Jill is back with her family.”

“Faith and Max are going down to spend the weekend with Diana and Kari,” said Alexis.

“That’s cool.”

“So Celeste doesn’t have anyone right now?”

“That’s right,” replied Jirra. “We’re actually looking for someone for her.”

“Really?”

“I’m just a co-conspirator,” replied Jirra. “Actually, Diana says she has a neighbor who might be perfect, but I don’t know much else, other than she’s going to have us over for a dinner party in December.”

“You sure have some interesting friends. Do you think they’d want to have roles as extras if we do the show at Penn?”

“You mean that?”

“Sure, we always need extras, and it would be fun for them,” said Alexis.

“I don’t know about Celeste, but Beth, Jill, and Cat would do it. I’ll bet TC would too.”

“I’d like to get Diana to play herself,” said Alexis.

“That would be really cool; do you think she’d do it?”

“I think Faith could talk her into it. Maybe we can get Jen to make another appearance.”

“She was really good,” replied Jirra.

“We’re doing our last episode until after Christmas next week; Nick and Kyle are both going to have roles,” said Alexis.

“Really? How are they?” asked Jirra.

Kyle and Nick were the two young actors that Jirra and Lindsey had walked down the red carpet with at the Oscars. They were also secretly a couple.

“They’re both doing great. Kyle is going to play a cop, and Nick is going to be a lawyer. I’m just glad to give their careers a boost,” replied Alexis.

“Say hi for me,” said Jirra.

“I will,” said Alexis.

Chapter 82

The weather started to change as they drove south of Cleveland. Light rain began to fall, and the wind began to pick up.

“We’ll be at my parent’s house before the storm gets bad,” said Alexis as she switched the radio station from weather to rock.

“That’s good to hear,” replied Jirra.

“I’ve decided to move to Massachusetts full time,” said Alexis.

“Really?”

“I really like it there. I have a condo in Boston, but what I want is a house on the Cape. What’s nice about living there is that I can just be me. Oh sure, I get recognized, but most people are cool about it. The only people who bug me are tourists; the locals respect your privacy.”

“Why is that?”

“Part of it is that they appreciate the fact that the show is actually being shot in Boston and not somewhere else like Hollywood or Toronto,” replied Alexis.

“That makes sense,” said Jirra.

“There’s another reason why I want to change my residency; Mass has gay marriage.”

Jirra glanced at her, unsure what to say.

“Relax, I’m not proposing or anything, but I’m looking ahead… does that appeal to you?”

Jirra was dumbfounded. “To be honest, I hadn’t given it much thought. I mean, I love you, but I just figured that it would be too complicated to have an actual marriage.”

“Well, when the show ends, my show business career ends too. I want to settle down, and I want you to be part of it. Of course, I want you to finish college and start your own career, but you can be a writer in Massachusetts as well as any place.”

“You have been thinking about this, haven’t you?”

Alexis nodded. “I wanted to talk about this later, in a more appropriate place, but I couldn’t wait.”

“I don’t know what to say,” said Jirra.

“That’s a first,” said Alexis followed by a snicker. “Seriously, I want you to be part of my life; I hope you feel the same.”

Jirra turned and looked out the window.

“You okay, Roo?” asked Alexis, who reached over and placed a hand on Jirra’s shoulder.

Jirra nodded as she turned around. Tears were rolling down her face. “I… I thought that when I changed that I would be alone… even after we met, I didn’t think that we could be together legally… if you know what I mean.”

“I know what you mean, Roo. I’ve had the same sort of fears my whole life.”

“So, you want to wait until I graduate?” asked Jirra.

“Well, you’ll have to establish residency in Mass too. I figure that will be easier after you graduate Penn.”

“That makes sense,” said Jirra her voice trailing off.

“Look, I want you to graduate. I want to attend your graduation and see you in your cap and gown; so don’t do something stupid like drop out to just try to please me!” Alexis said emphatically.

“I promise,” replied Jirra, holding her right hand up.

“Good. My one regret is that I never graduated college. I plan on starting up again in the off-shooting time. I’m only thirty credits away from getting my degree.”

“Have you looked into transferring them?” asked Jirra.

“Yes,” she replied. “I owe this to myself.”

“Well, I’m looking forward to your graduation too!”

Alexis laughed. She then looked at the clock. “Let’s stop to get some coffee; you also need to clean yourself up.”

Jirra wiped her eyes. “I don’t mind.”

“Well, I do. I want my parents to see you as the beautiful woman I fell in love with.”

“Watch it, I may start crying again,” said Jirra.

Chapter 83

“So, this is your home?” asked Jirra.

“Yes,” replied Alexis as she stared at the split-level house. “I offered to buy my parents a new home, but they wanted to stay here… now I’m glad they did. I forgot how much I missed this place.”

A short time later they were inside being greeted by Alexis’s family. Jirra had to admit that she liked them all immediately. They accepted Jirra into their home as if they had known her for years.

“Did you kids have a good drive?” asked Alexis’s father.

“It was uneventful, the rain held off until just past Cleveland,” said Alexis.

They were all sitting in the living room. Harold, Alexis’s father, sat in a large plush chair. Helen, Alexis’s mom, sat in a chair next to him. Alexis and Jirra sat on the couch together.

Harold was a around the same height as Alexis and appeared very fit. Alexis had told Jirra that he went to the gym three days a week. He was a high school math teacher. Helen taught English at the same high school. She looked like an older version of Alexis.

What struck Jirra was how they accepted her as Alexis’s lover. Alexis had also told them that Jirra was a post-operative transsexual. Jirra and Alexis had decided not to tell them the complete truth until they got to know each other better.

“How do you like Penn, Jirra?” asked Helen.

“I love it,” replied Jirra.

“All of it?” asked Harold.

“Well, other than the problems,” replied Jirra.

“Alexis told us about that. She told us you helped catch the idiots who were doing the attacks; that was very brave of you,” said Harold.

“Not brave, I was just angry,” replied Jirra.

“No, it was brave,” replied Harold. ‘We’ve heard so much about you, Jirra. I’m not surprised you stood up to those bullies.”

Jirra smiled nervously.

“Well, I’d better check on dinner,” said Helen. “I just made some lasagna; I hope that’s okay.”

“Mom, I’ve missed your cooking so badly,” said Alexis.

Helen laughed. “That’s good to hear.”

“So, do you need any help with preparing Thanksgiving dinner?” asked Alexis.

“No, we’re going over to your sister’s for dinner. It’s her first one since she got married, and she insisted on cooking it,” said Helen. “Don’t worry, I’m preparing my yams.”

“You’re actually letting Sue cook the turkey?” asked Alexis.

“She’s become a very good cook,” said Helen. “Okay, actually, her husband is going to cook the bird.”

“That’s good to hear. Sue’s husband Rick is a chef,” said Alexis to Jirra. “I feel a little better about dinner now.”

“He’s going to barbecue the bird; he says it comes out very tender,” said Harold.

“I’ve had that a few times; it’s very tender and tasty too,” said Jirra.

“I’ll be back in a moment,” said Helen.

“Alexis said your mom lives in New Mexico; that’s some beautiful country,” said Harold. “I passed through that area when I was in the Air Force.”

“It’s very beautiful; you ought to go out to the spa sometime, I know my mom would love to meet you,” said Jirra.

“We just might do that,” said Harold. “Alexis told us about an Anasazi site near the spa; I would love to see that too.”

“That could be arranged,” said Jirra.

Helen came walking back into the living room. “Dinner’s ready; do you want to eat in the dining room?”

“Mom, can we just eat in the kitchen like old times?” asked Alexis.

“Are you sure?” asked Helen casting a glance towards Jirra.

“I don’t mind; that’s where we always ate as a family,” said Jirra.

Chapter 84

After dinner, Helen showed Jirra to Alexis’ room.

“Since you’re a couple, I don’t see any reason to give you separate rooms,” said Helen.

“I… I don’t know what to say,” replied Jirra as she followed Helen into the room.

“I won’t kid you, Jirra. We were a little concerned when Alexis first told us about you, but we can see what she sees in you. I can see that you’re very happy together, and well, that’s all that matters in the world, right?”

Jirra couldn’t restrain herself, and she hugged Helen.

“Thank you so much,” said Jirra.

“You’re welcome, dear,” replied Helen.

_____

Alexis arrived in the room an hour later.

“I see you’re still up,” she said to Jirra ,who was sitting up in bed reading.

“I was waiting for you,” said Jirra. “Your parents are very nice.”

“They like you too,” replied Alexis as she changed. “What are you reading?”

“It’s called A Fist Full of Charms by Kim Harrison. It’s about witches, werewolves, vampires and other supernatural beings living in a world with mortals,” replied Jirra. “The lead character is a witch who is a bounty hunter.”

“It sounds really good,” replied Alexis.

“It’s the fourth book in a series; I have the others back in Philly if you want to read them,” said Jirra.

“I just might take you up on that. I like reading in between takes. I’m gong to grab a bath; you don’t have to wait up.”

“I don’t mind,” replied Jirra. “I’m still in shock that your parents gave us a room together.”

“That makes two of us,” said Alexis. She leaned over and kissed Jirra. “I’ll be back shortly.”

Chapter 85

Jirra awoke in Alexis’s arms.

“Good morning, Roo,” said Alexis softly as she gently stroked Jirra’s hair.

“Good morning,” sighed Jirra.

“I know our first time together in months shouldn’t be in my old bedroom, but life isn’t perfect,” continued Alexis.

“I’m just happy to be with you.”

Alexis reached down and began to rub one of Jirra’s nipples. “You have the loveliest breasts, my sweet.”

“I just wish they weren’t so big. I mean, my weight is the same, but they keep getting bigger.”

“They’re not too big, Roo, you have the body for them,” said Alexis.

“I just can’t stand it when guys stare at them,” she complained.

“Let them stare,” said Alexis as she continued caressing Jirra’s breasts and nipples. “Does that feel good?”

Jirra smiled. “You know it does.”

“Well, I promise that we’ll soon get to spend lots of time together,” said Alexis. “Do you want me to continue?”

“Yes, but you’d better stop; I mean, your parent’s room is right down the hall,” said Jirra.

“What, you don’t want them to hear you scream out in sexual bliss?” asked Alexis with a grin.

“Not funny,” replied Jirra.

“Actually, it would be, but I won’t push it… now,” said Alexis as she gave Jirra a passionate kiss.

Chapter 86

Over breakfast, Harold asked Jirra more questions about the Anasazi site.

“I get regular e-mails from Barrett and Dr. Montgomery. They’re pretty sure that the site was only used for some sort of fertility ceremony and not inhabited year-round,” said Jirra.

“Who are they?”

“Barrett’s a grad student and close friend; his family owns a coffeehouse in the town closest to the spa. Dr. Montgomery is his professor; he’s also dating my mom,” explained Jirra. “They’re both really nice.”

“So, what’s their evidence for it being a fertility site?” asked Harold as he got up to refill the coffee pot.

“They’ve only found food storage areas that would support either a very small population or short term habitability. There were few living structures, even though the site is well preserved. They’ve also used satellite photos and have determined that there was no agriculture in the area. Barrett told me that by analyzing the photos they can usually determine if the land has been disturbed, even going back centuries or thousands of years. He said that many archeologists use such photos to find missing sites,” explained Jirra.

“Very interesting; so do they think the food was brought in?” asked Harold as he stood cross-armed by the coffeemaker.

“That’s what they think. They’ve found some remains of corn in a cave; it matches a type grown two hundred miles away,” said Jirra.

“I would really like to see it now,” he said.

“They’re also holding something back from me,” said Jirra.

“What’s that, Roo?” asked Alexis.

“Roo?” asked Helen as she made pancakes.

“It’s my nickname; Jirra means kangaroo,” replied Jirra as she pointed to the polished stone kangaroo that always hung around her neck. “My parents had shared a leave together in Australia, and I arrived nine months later. After I transitioned, it seemed to be a fitting name.”

“Did Alexis tell you her nickname, Jirra?” asked Harold.

“Dad, don’t you dare!” exclaimed Alexis.

“You have a nickname?” asked Jirra as she looked over at Alexis. A sly smile grew on her face.

“It was just something that was used when I was a kid,” said Alexis in a dismissing way. .

“And you haven’t told her?” asked Harold as he walked back to the table with the coffee.

“Please, Dad,” replied Alexis.

“Come on, you know mine,” said Jirra.

Alexis sighed. “Okay, but it’s not as interesting as yours, Roo.”

“Come on, tell me, please?” begged Jirra.

Alexis signed. “Okay… it was Chipmunk; there, are you satisfied?”

Jirra did her best not to giggle, although it was difficult. “Chipmunk?”

“God, this is why I don’t bring friends home!” exclaimed Alexis with a laugh. “When I was four, we went on a family camping trip. There were chipmunks at the site, and I fell in love with them. I even wanted one so bad for a pet.”

“That’s not all,” said Harold as he sipped his coffee.

“Dad, don’t you dare!” ordered Alexis.

“We gave the chipmunks food, and Alexis loved how their cheeks got big as they shoved food in. So she began to copy them,” explained Harold.

“I only did it a few times,” countered Alexis.

“Honey, you did it for months; we almost stopped taking you out to eat,” said Helen. “She would fill her cheeks with food until they bulged out. I think I might be able to find some photos if you want to see them, Jirra.”

“Mom! Don’t you dare!”

“I’ve always liked chipmunks,” said Jirra as she grinned in Alexis’s direction. “You know, it sort of fits her.”

“Don’t you start,” ordered Alexis.

“Don’t worry, I won’t,” said Jirra.

“Thank you,” replied Alexis as she sipped her coffee.

“You’re welcome… Chipmunk,” said Jirra.

Chapter 87

“Back to where we were; you said something about you think they’re holding something from you; what do you think it is?” asked Harold.

“Well, Barrett told me that they found some strange glyphs in the walls of the canyon, but he won’t tell me anything else. I think he’s waiting for me to come back to show me,” explained Jirra.

“Sounds mysterious,” said Harold.

“I know,” replied Jirra. “I hope that you do head out there, I know my mom would love to meet both of you.”

“That would be nice, Alexis has told us how kind your mom has been to her. I would also like to meet the woman who runs the spa, what’s her name, Judy?” asked Helen.

“That’s right,” said Jirra.

“She sounds like a real character,” continued Helen.

“She is,” replied Jirra.

“Well, it looks like everything is ready,” said Helen. “Alexis, help me please. Now, Jirra how many pancakes do you want?”

Chapter 88

Jirra picked out an avocado colored cashmere turtleneck sweater to wear with her long tan skirt and cowgirl boots. As it would be the first time she would be meeting the rest of Alexis’s family, she decided that she would use make up.

Alexis came in as Jirra was finishing up.

“You look fantastic, Roo,” said Alexis.

“Thanks, Chipmunk,” replied Jirra.

“Okay, keep that up, and I’ll tell my family how ticklish you are!”

Jirra smiled. “Your parents are very nice. I can’t believe how accepting of me they’ve been.”

“They really do like you,” replied Alexis as she sat on the bed. “I’m really glad you came along.”

“I’m glad you invited me,” said Jirra. “So, I assume the rest of your family knows the edited version of my past, right?”

“Yes,” replied Alexis. “My sister Sue and her husband are very open-minded, and I know they’ll welcome you with open arms. My other sister, Trish, is a little more conservative. She thinks that the only reason why I’m a lesbian is because of being an actress. She’ll probably try to push your buttons a little if she gets the chance.”

“Is she married?” asked Jirra as she sat down next to Alexis.

“Engaged to an insurance salesman named Bill; he’s nice, but not the most exciting person in the world,” explained Alexis. “I swear, Trish must be adopted.”

“They’re both older than you, right?” asked Jirra.

“Yes, now my brother, Harry, is younger; he’s attending Ohio State and is studying to be an engineer; you’ll like him.”

“Anyone else going to be there?” asked Jirra.

“That’s enough for the first visit,” said Alexis.

“Do Sue and Rick have any kids?”

“Only Marley, their Irish setter,” said Alexis. “He’s a sweet dog, goofy, but sweet.”

“I like dogs,” replied Jirra. “Um, one more thing, does anyone else know you’re in town?”

“If you mean the local press, yes, but Emily asked them to stay away. I promised to give a phone interview if they stayed away and not mention that I was in town.”

Emily was Alexis’s longtime agent.

“Does that work?”

“Around here it does,” replied Alexis.

“Does your family know about your plans to come out?”

“Mom and Dad do, but not my sibs,” replied Alexis. “I plan on telling them tomorrow, just so they can be prepared for the media reaction.”

“Have you thought about how you’re going to do it?”

“Emily and I have talked about this; what seems best is to call a press conference and make the announcement. I would prefer to let it go after that, but Emily wants me to go on the talk show circuit. She’s already been in preliminary talks with Ellen, Leno, and Letterman.”

“Wow,” replied Jirra.

“It’s not like I’m he first to come out, but the network wants to keep it positive,” said Alexis.

“Um, what do you want me to do?” asked Jirra.

“We need to talk about that. I don’t want your life disrupted, but knowing the press, they’ll find out about you. I would prefer that you have control over it.”

“I could be at your press conference,” offered Jirra.

Alexis cocked her head. “Do you mean that?”

Jirra nodded. “Look, we’re in this together, and that means for both good and bad. I want to be there with you.”

Alexis immediately hugged Jirra.

Jirra wasn’t sure, but it sounded like Alexis was crying.

“You okay?” asked Jirra.

Alexis pulled away and wiped her eyes with both hands. “You have no idea how much your offer means to me.”

Jirra smiled back. “I think I do. Well, this is a switch; usually I’m the one crying.”

Alexis laughed. “I guess I’d better get ready. I love you so much, Roo.”

Chapter 89

Jirra called her mom while Alexis got ready.

“How’s it going?” asked Liz.

“They’re really nice, although I haven’t met her brother and sisters yet,” replied Jirra. “So, what are you doing today?”

“We’re having a big feast in the main hall,” said Liz. “The spa is fully booked, and in addition to the guests and staff, Judy invited the team who have been working the site.”

“And is Dan going to be there?”

“Of course,” replied Liz. “I think he’s going to propose soon.”

“Really? Mom, that’s wonderful news; I knew he liked you!”

“So, I take it you’re fine with me remarrying,” asked Liz.

“You know I am,” said Jirra.

“Good, because when we do, even though it will be a small ceremony, I want you to be a part of it. Before you protest, there won’t be any awful dresses to wear.”

Jirra laughed. “Okay, but only if you agree to do the same for me.”

“What do you mean?”

Jirra told her about the conversation with Alexis. “It’s not like we’re going to do something immediately, but I just wanted to let you know.”

“I think it’s a wonderful idea; you two were made for each other.”

“Thanks, Mom. Well, I’ve gotta run; say hi to everyone for me. I can’t wait to see you next month,” said Jirra. “I love you.”

“I love you too, Roo.”

Chapter 90

The rest of a day was a blur to Jirra. She did her best to remember everyone’s name.

As Alexis had said, Trish was a bit of a pain. While she didn’t say anything directly to either Jirra or Alexis, she threw out the occasional verbal dagger. Jirra suspected that there was jealousy about Alexis’s success.

Jirra did her best to ignore her.

Her fiancé ignored both Jirra and Alexis. He seemed very uncomfortable even being in the same room with them.

Harry, on the other hand, was very nice. He couldn’t believe that Jirra had once been a male.

“Why did you do it?” he asked. The way he phrased the question, Jirra could tell it was out of curiosity.

“I was conflicted and didn’t want to live my life like that,” replied Jirra.

He nodded. “That makes sense. I think it’s pretty brave.”

Jirra smiled back. “Thanks.”

“No, I mean it.”

“So, I guess I’m the first transgendered person that you’ve met,” said Jirra.

“At least that I know of. To be honest, I never would have suspected that you weren’t a girl from birth, so maybe I have met others,” he said. “I do know one thing, Alexis likes you a lot. I hope you two stay together.”

“Thanks, me too!” replied Jirra. “So, Alexis says that you’re studying engineering, what type?”

“Electrical, with a minor in robotics,” he replied.

“Do you like it?” she asked.

He nodded. “It’s hard work, but I do enjoy it.”

“That’s what matters,” replied Jirra. “Do you have someone in your life?”

He shook his head. “I date, but school takes up too much of my time to get into a serious relationship; but I’m only twenty, so I figure I have plenty of time.”

Jirra figured that someone would be lucky to date Harry as he was a really nice guy.

Sue and her husband were also very nice to Jirra. In some ways, they reminded her of some of the people back at the spa.

“Well, I’m glad to finally meet you,” said Sue as she worked in the kitchen. “I mean, Alexis has been talking about you for ages.”

Jirra was leaning up against the counter watching Sue cook. “I like her a lot.”

“That’s pretty obvious. I was a little worried about her when she first told me she liked girls, but it’s her life, and as long as she’s happy, why should anyone complain?”

Jirra nodded. “Um, is there anything I can help you with?”

Sue shook her head. “Just about everything is done. Rick is taking care of the bird. I’ve noticed that Trish and Bill have been their usual charming selves. I admire that you can ignore her comments.”

Jirra shrugged. “I’m learning to ignore people like that.”

“Except when you beat them up,” said Sue. “Alexis told me how you took on those thugs, nice going.”

“I was just defending myself,” replied Jirra.

“Still, you stood up for yourself,” added Sue.

Marley came padding into the kitchen and came up to Jirra, who began to pet him.

“Hey, you know you’re not allowed in here when I’m cooking, scoot,” said Sue.

The dog looked up at Jirra as if to say, please say something, I won’t cause any problems. He then turned around and left.

“He’s a great dog,” said Sue.

“Alexis called him your son,” said Jirra.

Sue laughed. “She’s close. Rick gave him to me as a wedding present three years ago. He was so small that I could hold him in my hands; now he’s almost seventy pounds.”

“I love dogs. I want to have one after I leave college.”

“Alexis loves them too, so I imagine you’ll have one or two at your home,” said Sue. “Don’t look so shocked, Jirra, only a fool couldn’t see that you two belong together. I’m happy for both of you. I’m also happy that you’ll be a part of our family.”

“Thank you.”

“Now all we need is for Harry to meet someone.”

Chapter 91

The dinner was excellent, and even Trish and Bill seemed to lighten up. Jirra remembered Alexis’s comment about Trish being adopted and smiled.

After dinner, Jirra helped Sue, Alexis, Trish, and Helen clean up. Harold and Harry loaded up the dishwasher, and Rick lit a fire in the fireplace. Bill stood and watched. Marley investigated the dining room for anything edible that might have fallen on the floor.

“Mom, how much do you want to take home with you?” asked Sue.

“Enough that your father can have his turkey sandwiches for the next few days,” replied Helen.

Sue laughed. “Harry, you want to take some back to OSU with you?”

“As much as you can spare, that was delicious,” he replied.

“Okay, what about you, Trish?” asked Sue.

“Whatever you see fit,” replied Trish.

Rich emptied a plate of scraps into Marley’s bowl and whistled for the dog.

“Sit, boy,” he said before putting the bowl down.

Marley immediately obeyed, staring intently at the bowl of food in Rich’s hands.

“Do you want Mommy’s cooking?” he asked.

Marley barked twice.

Rich smiled and placed the bowl down. Marley then attacked the food with gusto.

“You spoil him,” said Alexis.

“Yes, but he’s such a good puppy,” said Sue.

She then stood next to Rich, and he put his arm around her waist.

“We have an announcement to make… we’re going to have a baby,” announced Sue.

“What!” exclaimed Harold. “When did you find out?”

“Yesterday,” replied Rich.

“Oh, Sue, that’s wonderful,” exclaimed Helen as she began to hug her daughter.

“Way to go, Sis,” Harry added.

Alexis was next to hug her sister. “I’m so happy for you.”

Trish also hugged Sue, followed by Jirra.

“Congratulations,” said Bill.

“This is wonderful news,” exclaimed Harold. “I was wondering why you didn’t have wine with dinner.”

“I’m not taking any chances,” she replied.

“Good for you,” said Helen. “But don’t you think that you shouldn’t be working so hard?”

“Mom, the baby isn’t due for months,” replied Sue.

Alexis slipped her arm around Jirra’s waist. “I’m so happy for you; now Marley will have a sibling.”

“Do you think it will be a good idea to keep the dog when the baby arrives?” asked Trish.

“Actually, big dogs like Marley usually get along great with babies,” said Jirra. “They become very protective, as they see the baby as a new member of the pack. I doubt you’ll have anything to worry about.”

Trish rolled her eyes and shook her head in disgust.

Chapter 92

Alexis and Jirra cuddled close to each other in bed.

“That was a great time, although I don’t think Trish or Bill particularly like me,” said Jirra.

“Actually, that means you passed the test, if they liked you then we would have had to break up,” replied Alexis. “I know she was pissed when you contradicted her about Marley.”

“I was just telling the truth. We had a big dog when I was a kid, and he was great.”

“Trish is such a prude,” replied Alexis.

“Are you still going to tell them?”

“I talked to Harry today, as he had to go back to OSU to study. As expected, he was very supportive. I’ll talk to Sue and Trish tomorrow.”

“Harry is very nice. I really like him. Sue and Rick are also wonderful.”

“Actually, Trish isn’t that bad, she just needs to get over herself. She was the beauty queen in high school, and I think she resents the fact that I became an actress.”

“Her loss,” replied Jirra.

“Still, it would be nice if she was more accepting of me and my life. I also wish she was nicer to you,” said Alexis. “I mean, I didn’t do this just to bug her.”

“I don’t know what to tell you; I was a single kid,” replied Jirra. “So, when do you plan to tell them?”

“They’re coming over for breakfast in the morning, and then they’re going shopping. I figured after we eat.”

“Do you want to be alone?”

Alexis shook her head. “No, this concerns you too; that is, if you don’t mind?”

Jirra kissed Alexis on the lips.

“Is that a yes?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded and kissed her again. “I love you, Chipmunk.”

“You asked for it, Roo,” teased Alexis, who began to tickle Jirra unmercifully.

Chapter 93

Alexis and Jirra were sitting in the living room. Alexis’s parents and sisters were also scattered around the room, along with their partners. .

“First, I want to thank you all for all the support you’ve given me over the years,” said Alexis. “I just wanted to let you know about something that I’m about to do, but I also want to make it clear that I’m not asking for permission.”

“Go on, dear,” said Helen.

“While I haven’t set an exact date, sometime early next year, I’m going to come out as a lesbian,” continued Alexis. “Now, before you say anything, I have the full support of my producer and network. I’m just tired of having to hide part of my life.”

“Good for you, Alexis!” said Sue.

“You have our support,” added Rick.

Trish just slowly shook her head in silence.

“Go on, Trish, you can speak you mind here,” said Alexis.

Trish looked over at Bill, who nodded.

“I can’t believe that you’re going to throw your career away over something… something so trivial!” exclaimed Trish. “You’re on the verge of becoming a huge star!”

“Trivial?” asked Alexis. “You think that my sexuality is trivial?”

“Okay, trivial might not be the best word, but why risk your career?” continued Trish.

“My career isn’t the most important thing in my life. Christ, I didn’t even want this as a life. I just did that first commercial as a goof; my dorm mates were the ones who wanted the job; I just did the audition because they did,” replied Alexis.

“You know that this will bring the world down on you… and us too,” continued Trish.

“I doubt the whole world will be at my door or yours for that matter. Yes, I know there will be some media attention, but it will fade. I’m not exactly a media darling as my life is too boring for them.”

“Yes, but what will happen when they find out that you’re dating… hi… I mean HER,” said Trish.

“I have a name, thank you,” interjected Jirra.

Trish ignored Jirra and stood up. “Look, Alexis, you have to start thinking about others and not just yourself! Think about the affect this foolish decision will have on us.”

“Someone is thinking about themselves in this room, and it isn’t Alexis,” said Sue. “Trish, get over yourself. You’ve been a pain ever since Alexis got her first show; why can’t you be supportive of her?”

“I knew you’d take her side. You’ve always taken her side. I mean, you didn’t even mind when she changed her last name!”

“I did that partly to protect you guys,” said Alexis. “Besides, I didn’t make it up, it was our grandmother’s maiden name if you remember!”

“Okay, this is getting nasty; everyone take a deep breath and calm down,” said Harold. “Alexis has decided to make a very personal decision regarding her life, and we owe her our support.”

“So you and Mom are supporting her?” asked Trish.

“Yes, dear,” said Harold.

“What about Harry?” asked Trish as she sat down next to Bill.

“He’s supportive too,” added Helen.

“About everything?” asked Trish as she looked at Jirra.

“Yes, about everything and everyone,” said Harold.

“Jirra is part of Alexis’s life and therefore part of our lives,” added Helen.

Alexis put her arm around Jirra. “Trish, you’re my sister, and I’m sorry we’re not close anymore, but I can’t live my life as a lie. I love Jirra and want her to be part of my life.”

Trish looked down at the ground.

“I miss you being a part of my life,” continued Alexis.

“Come on, Trish, this is family we’re talking about,” said Sue.

“I need time to think about this,” said Trish as she stood up. “I need to go.”

Chapter 94

“Trish has always been a drama queen; remember how she threw a snit when I got married?” said Sue.

Sue, Jirra, and Alexis were in the kitchen with Helen preparing lunch.

“Give her time,” said Helen.

“Are you sure she wasn’t switched at the hospital when she was born?” asked Sue.

“Sue, what a terrible thing to say,” said Helen. She then paused. “Actually, we had a blood test when she was ten.”

Sue and the others laughed.

“Seriously, she’ll come around,” said Helen. “I’ll sit down and have a talk with her in a couple of days.”

They made a stack of turkey sandwiches and took them down to the family room.

The rest of the weekend was exceedingly normal, and Jirra enjoyed every minute of it. With the exception of Trish and Bill, she felt a part of the family.

Chapter 95

On Saturday, they drove back to Philadelphia and talked about the visit.

“Thanks so much for inviting me,” said Jirra. “You really have a nice family.”

“I wish that Trish had been more social,” replied Alexis.

“Well, I really don’t have anything to complain about; most of my family has ignored me,” said Jirra.

“Their loss,” said Alexis.

“Have your parents always been so open-minded?”

“Yes, they tried to teach us to be respectful of others and their beliefs,” replied Alexis. “I’m hoping that Mom is able to talk some sense into Trish’s narrow mind.”

“Has she always been like that?”

Alexis shook her head. “No, she changed when she went to college. She hung out with a rather conservative crowd; that’s where she met Bill.”

“Oh,” said Jirra.

“You know, I wonder what it takes to make someone shift from being just close-minded to being a thug like the ones who attacked you?”

“I have no idea,” replied Jirra. “Looking the map and the clock, we can either drive straight to Philly and get there around ten, or we can stop somewhere.”

“I think we should stop, have a nice dinner, and then make mad passionate love until we pass out; what do you think?”

“I like plan B,” said Jirra with a grin on her face.

Chapter 96

They ended up stopping in Harrisburg, and after three attempts found a hotel room. It was a suite with a Jacuzzi.

After dinner they returned to their room. Alexis ordered a bottle of champagne from room service.

“Do you think we’ve caused enough scandal for one day?” asked Jirra as she took the glass from Alexis.

“Roo, this is the state capital; I’m sure they’ve seen worse,” replied Alexis. “By the way, thanks for dinner.”

“Well, after you kissed me numerous times, and the way everyone was looking at us, I figured that it would be best if they just thought you looked famous,” said Jirra.

“I appreciate that, but I have a card with my old name for just such situations,” replied Alexis. “Now, let’s get undressed and into the Jacuzzi.”

The warm bubbly water felt good, but being in Alexis’ arms felt even better.

As always, Alexis took control, and soon she worked Jirra up to a state of sexual bliss.

“Let’s dry off and get into bed,” whispered Alexis.

Jirra just nodded, and she let her lover lead her to the king-sized bed.

Chapter 97

They were back on the road early, stopping for breakfast in Lancaster.

“The woman at the front desk was very nice,” said Jirra.

“Well, you did see her ring,” said Alexis.

Jirra nodded, remembering the silver ring the woman wore that had a small pink triangle mounted in it.

Jirra placed her order first, ordering scrambled eggs, scrapple, wheat toast, orange juice, and coffee. Alexis ordered a short stack of pancakes, bacon, fruit, and coffee.

“What is scrapple?” asked Alexis, after the waitress left.

“You really don’t want to know,” said Jirra.

“Why do I have the feeling that it is made up of leftovers.”

“That’s about right, sort of like the Pennsylvania Dutch version of haggis,” replied Jirra. “While that’s not exactly accurate, it’s what Dad always called it; but he didn’t exactly mean that as a compliment.”

“And you actually eat it?” asked Alexis with a disgusted look on her face.

“It’s an acquired taste,” said Jirra. “My mom loved it, my dad hated it. Do you want to try it?”

“Maybe,” replied Alexis cautiously.

The food arrived a short time later. Alexis looked at Jirra’s plate.

“It looks as good as it sounds,” she said.

“Here, try some,” said Jirra, as she placed a small amount on Alexis’s plate.

Alexis picked at it before trying a small amount. “It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but I think I’ll pass on more.”

“Your loss,” said Jirra as she ate her breakfast.

“No, no, it’s not,” said Alexis.

Jirra smiled. “So, when do you have to be back in Boston?”

“Not until Thursday,” she replied.

“Soooo, does that mean you’ll be staying in Philly?” asked Jirra

Alexis nodded. “Just as long as you don’t expect me to eat any scrapple.”

“I promise,” replied Jirra. “I’d like to introduce you to my friends.”

“I’d like that,” said Alexis.

Chapter 98

The first thing Jirra did when they got into her apartment was call her mom. She told her all about the visit.

“Well, why don’t you give me Alexis’s parents’ number, and I’ll give them a call to set up a visit at the spa,” said Liz. “That’s if Alexis says it’s okay.”

“She’s all for it,” said Jirra.

“Well, I’m glad that overall you had a good trip,” said Liz. She then told Jirra about Thanksgiving at the spa.

“It sounds wonderful. Maybe next year I’ll come back” said Jirra.

“Maybe I’ll come out there instead; would you like that?”

“Like it? I’d love it!” replied Jirra.

“Well, that’s a long way off. Oh, do you have your flight info yet for Christmas?”

“Yes, I should have emailed it to you sooner,” said Jirra. “Sorry, I don’t know where my mind’s been.”

“I do,” said Liz. “Oh, Jen confirmed her reservations for Christmas at the spa.”

“That’s great,” said Jirra. “I love you.”

“I love you too,” said Liz.

Jirra hung up the phone and then handed it to Alexis. “I suppose you want to call your family.”

Alexis nodded. “They do worry about me when I drive.”

Jirra unpacked as Alexis called home. The trip was good, but it felt wonderful to be back in her own place.

Chapter 99

The next evening, Jirra introduced Alexis to her friends.

Celeste insisted on making dinner. She slightly undercooked boneless chicken breasts, as they would finish cooking in the hearty sherry mushroom sauce she’d create in the sauté pan. A pot of water was on the boil for noodles, and the mixed greens salad was waiting in the refrigerator.

Jirra and Alexis arrived first, and after the traditional greeting from Spirit, Jirra introduced Alexis to Celeste.

“It’s pleasure to finally meet you in person. I really like your new show,” said Celeste.

“Thanks,” replied Alexis as she petted Spirit.

“Beth just called and is running a little late,” said Celeste. “Oh, Matt is back in town, and Cat said that they should be here in thirty minutes.”

“Matt is the one who was just picked up by the FBI, right?” asked Alexis.

“That’s right,” said Celeste. “Do you want something to drink?”

“Wine would be fine,” said Alexis.

“Jirra, there’s a bottle of red over by the fridge: can you get it please? Oh, there’s some Diet Coke in the fridge too,” said Celeste, as she sautéed onion, garlic, and baby Portabella mushrooms in the chicken drippings.

“No wine?” Alexis asked Jirra.

“Not on a school night,” replied Jirra as she poured the wine. “Do you want a glass, Celeste?”

“Yes, please, and pour a half cup of the dry sherry in that cup there,” she replied. “Alexis, can you add the noodles to the water and give them a good stir?”

They talked to Celeste as she worked on the meal. The smells in the kitchen became delightful as she added the sherry, some tomato paste, a spoonful of Dijon mustard, and chicken stock to the sauce. Then the chicken was returned to the sauce with the noodles, and the pan covered and placed in a warm oven until they were ready to serve.

Spirit alerted them to Beth’s approach.

“She has a different reaction to everyone who arrives,” said Celeste. “I knew you were coming as soon as you entered the elevator. Her tail started doing corkscrews.”

Chapter 100

Cat and Matt arrived a short time later. Celeste began to serve dinner.

“Is your friend Jill coming over this evening?” asked Alexis.

“Not tonight, she’s working on an article,” said Jirra. “But I’ll introduce her to you tomorrow after class.”

“Cool, so I can talk to Diana too,” said Alexis. She then turned to everyone else “Now, please treat me like a normal person.”

“Do we have any normal people here?” asked Cat.

“Just Spirit,” said Celeste.

Beth placed both hands on her cheeks and pretended to be shocked. “Celeste made a joke!”

The others joined in laughter.

Alexis immediately felt as if she had known them for ages.

“So, how do you like Boston?” asked Matt.

“I really like it, but then I haven’t gone through a full winter yet. The driving is difficult, but it’s a really nice city – so many great restaurants,” replied Alexis.

“I’m glad the show is actually shot in Boston; it really makes it more realistic,” said Cat.

“I know, most of the extras are locals,” said Alexis.

“Really? How do you get them?” asked Celeste.

“We do open casting or get them through talent agents. We also do word of mouth,” said Alexis. “Why do you ask?”

“I happen to know an extremely talented young woman up there who is an excellent jazz pianist,” said Celeste. “In fact, that’s her you’re hearing on the stereo.”

Alexis nodded as she turned towards the sound. “I was wondering who that was. She’s very good; we could use her,” said Alexis.

“You mean that?” asked Celeste.

Alexis nodded as she sipped her wine. “We like to showcase local talent, especially musical talent. Did you see the episode two weeks ago?”

Everyone nodded.

“Remember when I caught the bad guy near the end of the show? Well, the guy playing guitar on the street just happened to be playing near where we were shooting an earlier scene. He was so good that we brought him as an extra, Thanks to his scene, he’s picked up several real gigs and might even get a recording contract,” said Alexis. “We’re going to put out a CD of music from the show next year.”

“Well, I think you’ll like Tina,” said Celeste. “I’ll call her first and see if she’s interested.”

“Okay. Is she one of your girls?” asked Alexis.

Celeste nodded. “The first class, she’s now studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. She sometimes plays in local clubs.”

Tina Lennox had been abducted by Margo Simon and sold as a sex slave. Later Tina had ended up working in a sex club in Tokyo before she was recovered and brought to Celeste.

“I have to be back in Boston Thursday, do you think you can get ahold of her before then?” asked Alexis.

“I can call her as soon as we’re finished eating,” Celeste said.

Chapter 101

“Celeste, it’s good to hear from you; how’re you doing?” asked Tina.

“I’m doing well. I have a question for you; do you ever watch the Erin Flynn show?”

“I wouldn’t miss it. They filmed a scene right near my home; why?”

“Well, I’m sitting next to Alexis Eden, and she’s interested in having you as an extra; would you like that?”

There was a long silence on the other end. “Is this a joke?” asked Tina cautiously.

“Here, I’ll let her ask you herself,” said Celeste as she passed the phone.

“Tina, hi, this is Alexis. Celeste wasn’t kidding; we’re always looking for good local musical talent, you interested?” asked Alexis.

“Um, what’s your real last name?” asked Tina.

Alexis laughed. “If you’re going to test me, ask me something hard; it’s Finster and I’m originally from Toledo, Ohio.”

Tina gasped. “It is you. Oh My God!”

“So is that a yes?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, of course. I’d love to try out,” Tina replied.

“Good. Now, Celeste said you play jazz piano, do you play any music that you’ve composed yourself?”

“A few things,” replied Tina.

“Good, I’d like to hear some of those. I’ll be back in Boston later this week; can we get together this weekend?”

“Absolutely!” replied Tina.

“Great, well let’s trade phone numbers, and I’ll call you on Friday to set it up,” said Alexis.

After they exchanged number, Tina thanked Alexis and asked to speak to Celeste again.

“Thank you so much, Celeste.”

“Hey, we’re sisters, remember. I’ll look forward to seeing you on TV,” replied Celeste.

“I owe you so much,” continued Tina. “I owe you my life.”

“And you’ve helped me too. I’ll call you this weekend.”

“Thanks, Celeste,” said Tina. “I won’t let you down.”

“Trust me, Tina you haven’t.”

Chapter 102

“Thank you, Alexis,” said Celeste.

“I’m glad to help,” replied Alexis.

Celeste then told her about Tina and how she had opened up.

“And Margo is the same one who abducted you, Celeste?” asked Alexis.

“And Beth too,” said Celeste. “But that’s where she screwed up. Margo didn’t know what she was getting into.”

“That’s right,” replied Beth. “I was targeted by Margo’s kidnapping ring, but what they didn’t know was that we were hunting them; my parents work for the Agency.”

“Wow,” replied Alexis. “You’ve all had real adventures; I just pretend to stuff like that.”

“Yes, but you do it well,” said Matt. “By the way, you must have a very good technical expert on the show. When I was down at Langley, we talked about your show, and several of the agents were impressed with what goes on in the show.”

“Thank you,” said Alexis. “Actually we have several experts who we run things by. One of them is Faith’s husband, Max Bowie.”

“Have you ever met him?” asked Matt excitedly.

Alexis nodded. “He untaught me on how to hold a gun. He then showed me the right way.”

The others laughed.

“Well, in my last show I wasn’t shown; I just did it like everyone else. Max corrected that. How do you know him?”

“Some of his cases are required reading on surveillance and undercover work. I can’t wait until I get to read the more interesting ones when I get into the academy,” said Matt.

“I would like to meet him too,” said Cat.

“Actually, we came close. He helped train many of the detectives who work for Boudicca,” said Celeste.

“And you didn’t tell us?’ asked Cat.

Celeste shrugged her shoulders. “You didn’t ask.”

Chapter 103

Alexis then told them about the idea for fictionalizing the attacks at Penn for a storyline.

“We plan on going on location out of Boston once a season,” said Alexis.

“Do you think that they’ll do it?” asked Matt.

“Sure, one of the producers once worked on one of the Law & Orders; she likes to bring in real life issues,” said Alexis. “Now, if they do it, would you like to be extras?”

“I’m in,” said Beth eagerly.

“I’d like to do it, too,” said Cat.

“What about you, Celeste?” asked Alexis.

“As long as it’s a small part,” she replied.

“Great, what about you Matt?” asked Alexis.

“It will depend when you shoot, but if I’m available, I’d love to do it.”

“Great,” replied Alexis.

“You in too, Jirra?” asked Beth.

“She’d better, as she’s writing the story,” said Alexis.

“Really?” asked Cat.

Jirra nodded. “I’ve worked most of it out already. Alexis will then give it to Faith, who’ll have final say. If she says yes, then it will be given to a scriptwriter.”

“But you’ll get credit, right?”

“And a check,” added Alexis. “By the way, Jirra, Faith loves the idea. I emailed it to her over the weekend; the only thing is that she needs the story in a week. She’d like to add it to our shooting for season two, which will start in the spring. Is that a problem?”

“A problem? You’ve got to be kidding. Thanks for telling me!” exclaimed Jirra.

“Relax, you have most of it done already,” said Alexis as she snuggled closer to Jirra.

“Why didn’t you tell me that Faith liked the idea?” continued Jirra.

“I didn’t want to put any pressure on you,” said Alexis as she kissed Jirra on the cheek. “I’m sorry; I know that was sneaky of me, but do you think you can get it done on time? I promise I’ll make it up to you.”

Jirra smiled. “Actually, I should have it done before you leave. Gotcha!”

Alexis stared back and then began to tickle Jirra.

“Okay… okay… I give!” shouted Jirra in between laughs.

Cat turned to Beth and Celeste. “Alexis sure fits in, doesn’t she?”

Chapter 104

“Your friends are really nice,” said Alexis as she cuddled close to Jirra in bed.

“I know,” replied Jirra. “I’m very lucky to have them.”

“So, do you really think that you’ll have the story ready by time I leave? I really didn’t mean to put pressure on you.”

“I knocked a lot of it out between classes today. All I have left to do is flesh out the characters,” said Jirra. “However, the main story is done, so the scriptwriters can get started.”

“I can’t believe you got it done so quickly,” said Alexis.

“The story sort of wrote itself. The fact that I was a part of it helps a lot. I did make the group more widespread in their hate, so the victims include gays and lesbians, in addition to TG characters.”

“Okay, but that probably wasn’t necessary,” said Alexis.

“I know, but I’ll leave that up to the producers and scriptwriters,” said Jirra. “It’s actually pretty cool that I’m helping to write for your show.”

“Just so you know, I’d doing this because you’re a great writer, not because I’m sleeping with you,” said Alexis.

“I bet; I imagine you say that to everyone.”

“Hey, who do you think I am, Benito?” asked Alexis.

“Ugh! Now there’s an unpleasant thought. Just the thought of being in bed with a pig like that would turn me into a lesbian if I wasn’t already one!”

Benito was a Hollywood director who’d tried to drug Jirra’s best friend, Lindsey, at a post-Oscar party. After stopping Benito at the party, Jen’s discrete tip to a Hollywood reporter friend had unleashed a firestorm of publicity over his numerous sexual harassment lawsuits.

Alexis smiled. “Hey! That’s my line! I said that back at the Oscar party. By the way, Jen told me that after the smoke cleared over all the negative publicity he got, none of the big studios will ever hire him again. He’s descended into directing porn films now.”

Jirra laughed. “I think that suits him just fine. If I was doing a story about him, I think that’s the way I’d have it end.”

“Seriously, Roo, you have a knack for writing very interesting stories. If you decide to work for Hollywood, you would be very busy.”

“Thanks, even though it’s fun, I would rather be a reporter or write books.”

“I’d like you to spend some time with the staff when you do come up to Boston. Maybe you could do an internship on the set.”

“But wouldn’t people just think I was there because of you?” asked Jirra.

“Maybe at first, but once they see what a good writer you are, they would change their minds. Hell, half the crew is sleeping with each other as it is!”

Jirra laughed.

“I love you so much, Roo,” said Alexis.

“I love you too …Chip....’”

Alexis interrupted Jirra by kissing her passionately.

Chapter 105

“Thanks for coming over to my place,” said Jirra to Diana, TC, and Jill. “Alexis really wants to meet all of you, but at the same time she didn’t want to cause a disruption.”

“I understand, Jirra,” said Diana as they walked to the elevator.

“I can’t believe that I’m going to meet Alexis Eden,” said Jill. “Do you think she would do an interview?”

The door for the elevator opened up and Jirra and the others stepped in. “If she does, then it better be with me,” replied Jirra with a smile.

“You never stop trying do you?” asked TC.

“Hey, it doesn’t hurt to ask,” said Jill.

Jirra pressed the button for her floor.

“So why does she want to see me?” asked Jill.

“I’ll let her tell you,” said Jirra. “I don’t want to ruin the surprise.”

Diana and Jill followed Jirra into her apartment.

“Do you know if there are going to be any openings in this building?” asked Jill.

“I’m not sure; you can ask Celeste,” said Jirra.

“It’s a lot nicer than where I presently live, and it’s much more secure,” continued Jill.

“Actually, we’re both interested,” said TC. “We’ve been looking for a place together to share the expenses.”

“I was thinking about asking Celeste myself about one of the studios. There are nights when it would be easier for me to spend the night in the city. I could also use it as my office,” said Diana.

“It would be nice to have all of you here,” said Jirra as she unlocked her door.

Alexis was sitting on the couch reading a script for an upcoming show. She immediately set it down and stood up to greet Jirra and the others.

After giving Jirra a hug and kiss, she greeted Diana, TC, and Jill.

“It’s good to see you again, Diana,” said Alexis.

“I feel the same way. So how do you like working for Faith?”

“She’s wonderful,” replied Alexis. “And you must be Jill. Jirra has told me so much about you; it’s good to finally meet you.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m a little overwhelmed meeting you,” said Jill.

“Relax, I don’t bite,” said Alexis.

Jirra leaned over and whispered in Jill’s ear. “Yes, she does!”

Jill broke up laughing.

“And I’m also glad to meet you, TC,” said Alexis.

“The honor is all mine,” said TC.

“Please sit down; does anyone want anything?” asked Jirra.

“Coffee would be nice,” said Diana. “I can’t believe how cold it is today.”

“Okay, does anyone else want some?”

Alexis and Jill both nodded.

“Okay, I’ll fix up a pot,” said Jirra as she headed to the kitchen.

The women all sat down.

“Jirra said that you wanted to see both of us,” said Jill.

Alexis nodded. “I talked to Faith and the producer this morning, and they like my idea. In fact, they’ve already started negotiations with Penn. We want to film an episode of the show here on campus. The story will be a fictionalized version of the recent attacks, and I’d like both of you to have roles.”

“You mean on TV?” asked Jill excitedly.

Alexis smiled back. “Yes. I already have a few other of Jirra’s friends signed up.”

“I think it’s wonderful,” said Diana. “But, I’d rather nor accept.”

“I really would like you to do it; besides, the part is perfect for you, as you’ll be playing yourself in a cameo,” said Alexis.

“I doubt Faith would agree to that,” said Diana.

“She already has,” countered Alexis. “Sorry for going over your head, but it would be very cool to have you in the show.”

Diana laughed. “Okay, I’ll do it.”

“Great,” replied Alexis.

“How did you get a script so quickly?” asked TC.

“That wasn’t a problem. I talked to a talented writer I know to throw the story together. It will be in the scriptwriters’ hands by tomorrow.”

“Who was that?” asked TC.

“The person making your coffee,” said Alexis with pride.

“Jirra, is that true?” asked Jill.

Jirra stuck her head out of the kitchen. “Yes.”

“Wow. Can I get an interview?” asked Jill.

“Please!” replied Jirra.

“Actually, it will be her second credit. She wrote up a story that Jen Stevens is turning into her next movie,” continued Alexis.

“Now, even I am impressed by that,” said Diana. “Is that what you want to do?”

Jirra walked in carrying a tray with mugs and a carafe of coffee. “Not really, but it is fun.”

“Wait a minute – you know Jen Stevens, too?” asked Jill.

“Alexis stayed at the spa, and she told Jen about it,” said Jirra.

“Still, how did that lead to you writing a story for her?” asked Jill.

Jirra laughed. “To be honest, I keep thinking that I’m going to wake up from a dream.”

“I’m impressed that Jen Stevens gave you the opportunity,” said TC.

“From what I hear, Jen Stevens is very demanding when it comes to her productions,” continued Diana. “What did you write about?”

Jirra poured the coffee. “I told a fictionalized account of the discovery of an Anasazi site neat the spa back in New Mexico.” She handed the first mug to Diana.

“It’s very Clive Cussler-like, mixing the past with present day events,” interjected Alexis.

“I can’t wait,” said Jill. “I learn something new about you all the time.”

“I wouldn’t get my hopes up too much about filming at Penn,” said Diana. “The administration is still upset over their portrayal in the press with the recent attacks.”

“Jirra might have the solution,” said Alexis.

Diana turned to Jirra. “What did you come up with?”

“Well, when the fictional attacks start, a member of the faculty suggests the administration bring Erin in to help solve the case. In one of the earlier stories, Erin helps a woman professor, and they’ve become good friends. Well, Faith never said where the woman went on to work, so why not Penn? The admin will agree when they suspect that someone on the inside is helping the attackers, so bringing in an outsider is the best way to solve the case. It’s actually a little more complicated than that,” said Jirra. “But it will show that the administration is trying to solve the case.”

Diana shook her head while a small smile grew on her face. “Obviously, you’re read all of Faith’s books. I imagine she’d be proud of something that complex.”

Jirra grinned back.

“You two will hit it off famously,” continued Diana.

“We also have another ace up our sleeves,” added Alexis. “One of the members of the production staff is a graduate of Penn. But if they don’t agree, we’ll film elsewhere in the city and make up a fictional name for the school.”

“When will this happen?” asked TC.

“Most likely in the spring,” said Alexis. “Do me a favor and don’t tell anyone else until we get it all formalized, okay? Trust me; you’ll be the first to know.”

“You can have that scoop, Jill,” said Jirra.

“Cool.”

“Oh, Jirra, here’s something you don’t even know yet; we’re going to have a special director for the episode,” said Alexis.

“Who?” asked Jirra. “You?”

“Please! I have no desire to direct. No, it will be Jen,” said Alexis.

“Jen is going to direct?”

“She mentioned to me that she wanted to try it. I offered it to her this morning, and to my surprise, she agreed.”

“This will make it really fun,” said Jirra.

TC gave Jill a nudge in the ribs.

“Go on, ask,” ordered TC.

Jirra turned to her friends. “Ask what?”

“Well, with the attacks and the lack of knowledge among most of the students at Penn of transgendered people, I thought about writing a series of articles on the topic,” said Jill.

Diana nodded. “That’s a wonderful idea.”

“I wanted to talk to you two about this idea before I went to my editor,” continued Jill. “I sort of got the idea after that whole mess with Leah. I mean, I doubt if she’s the only misinformed person on campus.”

“I’m all for it,” said Diana.

“What do you want from me?” asked Jirra.

“Just personal insight to humanize the issue. Don’t worry; I won’t give out your identity. I also hope you’ll talk to Celeste; I’d love to get her to help too.”

Jirra looked at Alexis, who nodded her approval.

“I think it’s a great idea,” said Alexis. “I imagine you’ll have enough material for a whole week-long series.”

“I suppose it would help clear up a lot of false ideas,” said Jirra.

“Is that a yes?’ asked Jill.

Jirra nodded.

“Great, and Professor Bowie?” asked Jill.

“Yes, I’ll participate too,” said Diana.

“I’ll run your idea past Celeste, but knowing her, I suspect she’ll agree,” said Jirra.

“Thank you both. I know that you don’t want to stand out Jirra, so I really want to thank you,” said Jill.

“You’re welcome, Jill.”

“I promise to protect your privacy, but I still want to interview you if the show is shot here!” added Jill.

“You don’t give up,” said Jirra.

Jill shook her head. “Nope, that’s why I’m going to be a great reporter.”

Chapter 106

Celeste loved Jill’s idea and agreed to talk to other members of the campus transgendered community.

“The fact that Jill has previously written sympathetic articles should make people in the organization more at ease,” she said to Beth.

“It’s really a great idea,” said Beth as she slipped on her coat.

“Where are you off to?” asked Celeste.

“I have a date,” she replied. “Jim’s taking me to the movies. I won’t be out late.”

Celeste nodded. “Have a great time.”

Beth stopped at the door. “Why don’t you join us/”

Celeste put up her hands in protest. “Please! Beth, don’t worry about me; go on and have a great time.”

“You sure?” asked Beth.

“Yes, now go,” ordered Celeste. “I have some phone calls to make concerning Jill’s article.”

“Okay, see you later.”

Chapter 107

About half the people that Celeste contacted were interested in the article, including two of the victims of the attacks.

Celeste then called the foundation in Connecticut.

“Well, this is a pleasant surprise. How’s school going?” asked Dr. Nancy Chen, the lead therapist at the foundation.

“It’s going well, but I’m looking forward to the end of the semester,” replied Celeste.

“Tina called and told me the great news; that was very nice of you to recommend her,” said Nancy.

“After everything she’s been through, she deserves it,” replied Celeste. “How’re things with the other girls?”

“Dot is still a work in progress,” replied Nancy.

Dot was another of the teens abducted and transformed by Margo Simon. She was deeply mentally scarred by her enslavement.

“Any progress?” asked Celeste.

“To be honest, I’m not sure. She’s calmer, but in some ways she’s regressed in age, her behavior is almost like a child sometimes.”

“I wish we could find the key to healing the damage Margo did to her,” said Celeste.

“I’ve read Margo’s notes. She’s a real expert at mind control, and apparently she took great pleasure in molding Dot,” said Nancy.

“And the others?” asked Celeste.

“Well, Bobbi Marks is progressing along nicely. She’s been approved for her SRS in January. Oh, her parents have been a great addition to the staff; it was a wonderful idea of yours to offer them jobs.”

Bobbi Marks had been abducted and feminized the previous year. She’d accidentally killed two of her tormentors during her escape, which had led to her being charged with murder. Thankfully, Max Bowie and others had helped to clear her name and in the process uncovered a very corrupt Virginia Commonwealth Attorney named Thomas J Hill..

“I saw that Thomas Hill is facing a whole new round of charges. If this keeps up, he’ll spend the rest of his pitiful life in jail,” said Celeste.

“Serves him right; he hurt a lot of people,” added Nancy. “I read where he’ll have to be kept in solitary as he wouldn’t last a day in prison otherwise.

“Too bad. Now, as to the foundation, I was thinking that we should increase the parental involvement, with your approval of course. We have the land to add some more cabins, so that the families who want to can stay closer,” said Celeste.

“I think that would be a great idea,” said Nancy. “Having the parents around has helped many of the teens adjust. They also help the teens who don’t have parents.”

“I also want to increase the number of positions for them whenever possible,” continued Celeste. “I think we can also talk to the local employers.”

“That sounds good,” said Nancy. “Oh we’re getting two new arrivals next week. One was abused by her stepmother; the other was delivered by the police – they arrested her for shoplifting, but have decided to let us work with her. Both are currently in the hospital as they have medical needs,” said Nancy.

“Like what?”

“Lori, the one abused by her stepmother, is severely malnourished. The other one likes to be called Jane and she was beaten regularly,” said Nancy. “Apparently Jane had been working as a prostitute, and her pimp was the one who beat her.”

“Have the police arrested the pimp?”

“They can’t find him,” replied Nancy. “I’ve notified security just in case he shows up looking for her.”

“Of course,” replied Celeste. She fought off a yawn.

“You sound tired,” said Nancy.

“I just need to find some time to relax.”

“That’s not what I meant. Celeste, you’re in your early twenties going on sixty.”

“Come on, I’m not that bad,” said Celeste.

“No, you’re worse. I admire what you’ve done, but you have a life to live too,” said Nancy.

“Is that a hint?” asked Celeste. “If I didn’t know better, I would think that you’ve been talking to Beth.”

Nancy laughed. Actually, she had talked to Beth and Cat.

“Seriously, you need to look after yourself.”

“You mean I should start dating again, right?” asked Celeste.

“You got it,” replied Nancy.

“Well, I’ll take your advice under consideration,” replied Celeste. “Now, back to business.” She then talked to Nancy about Jill’s article.

Chapter 108

Jirra watched Alexis drive away. She waited until the BMW turned the corner before heading back into her apartment.

At least she would be seeing her again soon, she thought.

Alexis took the completed first draft of the story with her. Jirra expected there to be several re-writes, but that would have to wait as she had papers to write and finals to study for.

For the next few weeks, Jirra’s attention would be focused on her first set of final exams at Penn, after that there would be time to play.

The other girls also became focused on their studies. They would see each other in passing, but schoolwork took top priority.

Chapter 109

“Thank god that’s over with,” exclaimed Jirra as she clicked the seatbelt closed.

“I know what you mean,” said Beth.

There was an unspoken rule that once the exams were over, there would be no discussion on how people thought they did. They were currently on their way out to New Hope for a post-finals party being thrown by Diana at Kari’s restaurant. The party was being held for everyone who was involved with the breaking of the assault case.

Jirra, Beth, Celeste, Cat and Matt were driving out together. Jill and TC would meet them in New Hope.

“I thought Jim was coming to this celebration?” asked Cat.

“He is, but he’s meeting us there. He finished his finals yesterday and was out at his family’s farm,” explained Beth.

“I’m glad that we’ll all get to meet him,” said Jirra. “I was beginning to think he might not exist.”

“Oh, he exists alright,” said Beth. “I’ll be spending a few days with his family, and then he’s coming down to DC with me to meet my family.”

“That explains the suitcase in the trunk,” said Matt. “I mean, the rest of us just brought overnight bags.”

Diana had arranged for them to stay at a local inn that overlooked the Delaware River. She didn’t want them to be driving back to Philly late at night.

“So, who is taking care of Spirit?” asked Cat.

“She’s on her way up to Connecticut with Michael,” said Celeste.

“You mean she’s riding in a limo, by herself?” asked Matt.

“Sure, why not? Besides, she deserves it,” explained Celeste. “Hey, what’s the point of having money if you can’t spend it on loved ones?”

“Heads up; we should be approaching 263 soon,” said Beth as she looked at the map.

“Got it, I see the sign up ahead,” said Celeste.

“So, Jirra, when is Alexis arriving?” asked Beth.

“Her jet gets in tomorrow. We’ll be heading out to New Mexico the following day,” said Jirra. “She would have been here today, but they had to reshoot a couple of scenes.”

“So, are you really flying out to New Mexico in a private jet?” asked Matt.

“It’s actually easier,” replied Jirra. “To get there on commercial flights, we’d have to catch two connecting flights. Also Alexis wants to relax. The network executives are letting her use it. I imagine they’ll claim it as a business expense.”

“I imagine it’s hard for her to relax on a regular flight,” said Beth. “I mean, she’s becoming pretty well known, and even in first class she would get bugged.”

“Normally she doesn’t mind, but this time she wants the privacy,” said Jirra. “So, besides us, who else is coming to this party?”

“The assistant DA who’s prosecuting the case and the detectives from Boudicca,” said Celeste.

“Cool,” replied Cat. “I was hoping to see Carla again.”

“Oh, that’s right, you’re related now, right?” asked Beth.

Cat nodded.

“So, any word on the case?” asked Jirra. “I haven’t looked at the paper or watched TV in days.”

“From what I heard, two of the guys are close to making a deal; the leader of the group is holding out. His parents are putting together a legal team to try to get him off,” said Celeste.

“You’re kidding?” asked Jirra.

“He’s facing forty years,” said Celeste. “I guess they figure that it’s worth a shot to get a jury that will be sympathetic.”

“Sympathetic?” asked Jirra. “In what way?”

“Well, he’s going to claim that his rights were violated. However, from what Carla has told me, they have a very solid case against him. Add to that the fact that the girl is going to testify against him, and it doesn’t look good for him. If there is a trial, we’ll all be called up to testify,” continued Celeste.

“Good,” replied Jirra. “If he thinks that I’m going to back down, he has another think coming.”

“Well, let’s turn our thoughts to more pleasant thoughts,” said Cat. “The good thing is that the press has been pretty good about using correct terminology for a change.”

“I may have to go back and look at the articles,” said Jirra.

“Well, you can thank Diana. Apparently she used her connections to talk to the local radio, TV, and print reporters.”

“She’s wonderful,” said Jirra.

Chapter 110

Kari’s café was called The Drunken Squirrel and was located on North Main Street in New Hope.

“What an odd name!” exclaimed Beth as they walked up to the café.

“Diana told me that Kari named it after a squirrel that used to get drunk on fermented apples from an apple tree in her yard,” said Celeste.

“I like it,” said Cat. She then pointed up the street. “Oh, look, there’s Jill and TC.”

“Come on, let’s get inside; it’s freezing out here,” said Jirra.

“I agree,” said TC.

There was a sign on the door stating that The Drunken Squirrel was closed for a private party. It had a cartoon of an inebriated squirrel saying “I’m sorry.”

As they stepped inside, a tall man joined them. Beth kissed him and then introduced him to the others.

“This is Jim,” said Beth. “I’ll introduce you to the others in a moment.”

Once inside, they were greeted by Diana.

“Well, I’m glad to see you made it; you can leave you coats up here and follow me,” she said.

Diana led them slowly to the largest room of the restaurant, taking them on a tour along the way. “The building was originally built as a family home. It was later used as an apartment building and then a gift shop. Kari bought it five years ago. She liked the layout of the rooms and didn’t make too many structural changes. There are four dining rooms on the ground floor and two on the second floor. The kitchen had to be expanded, and it’s the only part of the building that isn’t original. However, you would never know it by looking at the addition from the outside.”

The walls of the restaurant displayed a variety of artwork, ranging from photography to watercolors. Diana told them that it was all from local artists and all was for sale.

“Here we are,” said Diana.

They entered the largest of the dining rooms. Several tables had been pushed together. In many ways, it looked like a table set for a large family get-together.

A short thin woman with spiky black hair was talking to a distinguished looking man and several women. When Diana entered the room, she excused herself and walked over to them.

Kari slipped her arm around Diana’s waist and smiled.

“Hi, I’m Kari,” she said.

Kari was a short woman with spiky black hair. She had multiple piercings in each ear. Her outfit consisted of black slacks and a dark purple top. Over her outfit was a professional white chef’s apron with her name embroidered on it.

“Let me see if I can identify each of you. Diana has told me so much about you,” continued Kari.

She stood in front of the girls and ran her eyes over them. She stopped in front of Celeste.

“Obviously, you must be Celeste. Diana said that you always have an air of sophistication about you, even when you’re dressed casually.”

Celeste smiled and extended her hand. “I’m pleased to meet you too.”

Kari ignored the hand and instead hugged the young woman as if she had known her for years. “You’re all family now; so let’s dispense with the formalities.”

“I should warn you that Kari isn’t shy,” said Diana.

Kari laughed, looked at Beth, and then glanced back at Diana.

“I agree, Diana, she does have the same look of adventure in her eyes as Max does,” said Kari. She then turned to Beth. “Are you Beth?”

Beth nodded and hugged Kari.

Kari laughed. “Good, good, I see that Diana was right about you.”

“This is Jim,” said Beth.

Kari hugged him and then she approached Jill.

“Ah yes, I would know you anywhere. You have the gleam in your eye that I’ve seen in Diana’s many times. I’ve read your articles, Jill; you have great potential,” said Kari. “I was also pleased to see that you got some of the credit for helping catch those bigots. In fact, you all got credit, even if they didn’t give your names.”

“I was just doing my job,” said Jill.

“Yes, but you’ve helped changed some people’s attitudes. Diana showed her press connections your articles and asked if a college paper can get it right, why can’t they? Please don’t sell yourself short.”

Jill couldn’t reply and began to feel very emotional. Kari sensed this and hugged the young woman.

After they hugged, Kari turned to TC.

“I guess you could call me the ‘gimme’ in the group,” said TC.

Kari laughed. “Diana told me that you weren’t shy.”

They hugged, and Kari moved to Cat and Matt.

“Do you two get a lot of jokes about your names rhyming?’ asked Kari with a big smile on her face.

“We’re used to it,” replied Cat.

Kari laughed. “Well, welcome!” She then hugged them.

She then stopped in front of Jirra. “Last, but definitely not least; I’ve been looking forward to meeting you, Jirra. What a lovely name,” said Kari.

The two women hugged.

Kari then stepped back. “You’re missing something.”

Jirra cocked her head and smiled. “What do you mean?”

Kari motioned with her left hand, and Alexis stepped out from the kitchen.

Jirra’s eyes opened wide and her jaw dropped.

Alexis walked over and hugged and kissed Jirra.

“I… thought you couldn’t make it,” stammered Jirra.

“We finished the shoots early. I just got here a few minutes before you did,” explained Alexis.

“Okay, now that everyone is here, let me introduce you to everyone else,” said Kari. She motioned for the man and the women.

“First, let me introduce a rarity in these parts, an honest politician,” Kari began.

Cat walked up and hugged Carla. “Good to see you, Aunt Carla!” said Cat.

“Aunt Carla?” asked Kari.

“My little brother married Cat’s mother,” said Carla.

“Wow, what a small world,” said Kari. “Diana, why don’t you introduce the others?”

Diana nodded. “This is Nina Vasquez, and Lori Tompkins, and Olivia Salvador; they all work for Boudicca.”

Jirra broke out in a huge smile. “I thought I recognized you. I never had a chance to thank you for rescuing me.”

Nina laughed. “You were doing a pretty good job without us.”

Olivia, a stocky woman with short blonde hair nodded in agreement. The color of her hair was natural and came from her Argentinean mother whose family had originally emigrated from Germany in the 1920’s. “I’m not sure who needed rescuing; you handled two of them without our help.”

Lori shook Jirra’s hand. “By the way, have you talked to Tara lately?”

“You know her?’ asked Jirra excitedly.

“Oh yes, she taught me my first self-defense lesson when I was in college,” replied the tall redheaded woman.

“She taught me too!” Jirra said proudly.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” said Lori.

“But how did you know that I knew her?” asked Jirra.

“Sorry, but I can’t give away all my detective secrets!” replied Lori with a wink.

“Okay, last but not least, let me introduce you to our friend and neighbor, Sean McClain,” said Kari.

He was six feet tall and medium build. He had a full head of hair, which was turning grey, although he didn’t look old. Jirra suspected he was in his late forties.

The man smiled and greeted everyone, although not as enthusiastically as Kari had done.

Chapter 111

“Now, feel free to mingle, the appetizers will be out soon,” said Kari. “By the way, we will have three more guests, although one is also our entertainment for the evening. She owes me that for catering her last party. Anyway, her name is Trish Peyton-Ten Broeck; she and her partner, Amelia, and their young daughter are running a little late, but they should be here within the next thirty minutes. Seems someone ran into a deer ahead of them along River Road,” said Kari.

“Are we adding venison to the menu?” asked Sean with a wink.

“I have enough already,” said Kari. “Besides, the preferred way of tenderizing Bambi isn’t with a SUV. Now if the deer had a red nose, we could add it to the holiday menu.”

Beth almost choked on her wine upon hearing Kari’s joke. “That was awful… funny, but awful.”

“Sorry, but I’ve hit three deer along that road since I’ve lived out here,” said Kari. She then held up two fingers. “Two more and I become an ace.”

Celeste gave Beth a puzzled look.

“It’s a fighter pilot’s term; shoot down five of the enemy and you’re classified as an ace,” said Beth with shrug.

“I’m impressed,” said Kari. “Are you into trivia?”

Beth shook her head. “Military history.”

“Really, I haven’t met too many women who are into that,” said Kari. “Well, Diana said that you all were filled with surprises.”

Kari then turned to Jirra and Alexis. “I really like the show, Alexis,” said Kari.

“Thank you,” replied Alexis, who had her arm around Jirra’s waist.

“So how did you two meet?” she asked.

“It was back in New Mexico at the spa where Jirra lived,” said Alexis.

“Oh yes, you must give me the name of it; I would love to go out there,” said Kari.

“It’s called Caldera de Gaia,” replied Jirra. She then briefly described the facilities.

“It sounds wonderful,” said Kari.

“I know you’d love it,” said Jirra. “The funny thing is one of the women who works there is also named Cari, although she spells it with a c.”

“A rose by any other spelling,” replied Kari. “Now for the important part, what’s the menu like?”

Jirra laughed. “It’s great.” She then described some of the meals and told Kari about Lindsey and Hannah.

“Now I know we have to go. I would love to see the portable barbecue. So, this friend of yours, she’s serious about going into the restaurant business?”

Jirra nodded again. “Yes, Lindsey is very serious about it. She’s taking business courses along with her cooking classes.”

“I wish I had done that. Thankfully, I had some friends to help me, like Sean. He helped finance the place, and he still provides me with good advice. I know Lindsey is getting experience at the spa, but do you think she’d like to spend some time working in something smaller?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I’ve wanted to add some Southwestern tastes to the menu, and I could use some help. Do you think she would like to spend a few weeks out here working for me this summer?” asked Kari.

“Really?” asked Jirra.

Kari nodded. “Sure.”

“Well, I’ll be sure to tell her when I see her in a couple of days,” said Jirra.

“Maybe she can return the favor and allow me to spend some time in their kitchen,” continued Kari.

“I’m sure they would take that as a tradeoff,” said Jirra.

Kari then noticed one of her assistants motioning to her. “It looks like I’m needed, excuse me,” she said.

“Shy she isn’t,” said Alexis.

Chapter 112

Everyone took their seats at the large table as the appetizers came out.

“Now, this will be run like a big family dinner; so take what you want and pass down the platters. Don’t worry, there’s plenty,” announced Kari. “There are several appetizers: The little round balls are Max’s Devilish Crab Balls – crabmeat dipped in a light mustard sauce, rolled in buttered bread crumbs, and then quick baked. There are two kinds of canapés, the uncooked ones are Faith’s Favorites – minced smoked ham and gouda cheese with a bit of chopped green olive, held together with a light vinaigrette on a round of dill rye bread, and the ones with a melty top are tiny pissaladière – there’s a little dollop of caramelized onion between the French bread round and the melted Swiss cheese. There’s also a platter with two dips and a variety of fresh veggies to dip in them – the green dip is my own basil-garlic hummus, and the other is Sean’s Special – a bacon-horseradish-cheddar blend with sour cream. Bon appetit!”

Jirra noticed that Kari had arranged for Celeste to sit next to Sean, who seemed more than slightly interested in her.

There was a brief interruption as a gust of cold air brought three newcomers in the door. A stocky, cheerful-faced young woman carrying a guitar case was followed by a slightly older woman with a long, thick strawberry-blonde braid, who was carrying a squirmy, but happy-looking two-year-old with matching hair.

Kari made quick introductions as she pulled a highchair up to the table between the two remaining empty seats. “Everybody, these folks are the Peyton-Ten Broeks: Trish, Amelia, and Eve. Can you say ‘hi,’ Eve?”

The little girl waved at everyone and, grinning broadly, yelled out, “Hi, Eve!”

Trish and Amelia immediately pointed at each other and chorused, “You can tell who she got her sense of humor from!”

Amelia then hastily explained that she and Eve were in need of a quick visit “to the potty” and would be right back.

Jirra felt a strange feeling as she looked at the little girl. It passed quickly, and she hoped that no one else noticed how she had been staring at the child.

“Sorry, we’re late,” said Trish as Kari handed her a glass of wine.

“Was anyone hurt?” asked Diana.

“Not too bad. The Suburban Assault Vehicle knocked the deer into a car in the opposite lane. It went through the windshield. The two people in the Toyota were more scared than hurt,” said Trish. Their biggest delay, she explained, was due to the oafish driver of the SUV, who bored everyone with his unending complaints about the not-very serious damage to his pride and joy. It had taken forever for the cops to get him to give them a report of the incident.

“What about the deer?” asked Sean.

“It was killed instantly,” said Trish.

“That’s good to hear,” said Sean.

“Why is that good?” asked TC. “Sorry, but I’m a city girl.”

“I’ve seen a few accidents around here when the deer is trapped from the impact; it isn’t pretty,” said Sean. “Also if the deer is even slightly hurt, the local police will just shoot it. There’s no vet that will treat a deer for a car accident. This time of year there are so many due to the rut.”

“How awful,” said TC. “That seems rather cruel.”

“He’s right, TC” said Jim. “Unfortunately, there are so many deer around here now that cars have taken over the role as the main predator. My dad hit one last year, trashed the front of the truck, and it didn’t do the deer any good either.”

“Where do you live, Jim?” asked Sean.

“Up 611, past Revere,” Jim replied. “I was born in Allentown; my parents moved to Revere when I was three.”

“Okay, I know the area,” said Sean as he nibbled on a crab ball.

“Are you from here originally, Sean?” asked Jim.

Sean nodded. “I was born in Doylestown way back in 1955, and other than the four years in the navy, I’ve lived in the area. Oh, I did go to college in Philly, but that’s still close enough.”

Jirra did the math in her head and was surprised, as Sean didn’t look like he was in his fifties.

“Where did you go to school?” asked Celeste.

“Well, I would have loved to go to Penn, but I got my degree from Temple,” he replied.

“Don’t sell yourself short; you also attended Princeton,” interjected Diana.

“Just for graduate studies, but I still lived here. It was cheaper to commute,” he said. He then turned to Celeste. “I hope you don’t think less of me.”

Celeste giggled. “No, not at all.”

Beth looked at Jirra and mouthed. “I think she likes him.”

Jirra nodded back.

Amelia came back with Eve, and they got settled in at the table. Kari whispered something into Trish’s ear, and they exited together to the kitchen.

Chapter 113

Jirra would have been content to just eat appetizers for dinner as everything was so good. However, Kari had other ideas. A server soon came to clear the appetizer plates away.

Just then, the door from the kitchen swung open, and Trish appeared with a tray holding a large pumpkin on it, held up above her shoulder with the fingertips of just one hand. She held a ladle in her other hand. With a huge grin, she broke into hearty song as she paraded around the tables, showing that the pumpkin had a silly looking face drawn on it:

The bore’s head in hand bear I
Bedecked with bays and rosemary
I pray you, my mistresses, be merry
Quot estis in convivio.

Amelia sang along on the chorus, joined promptly by Celeste and then Sean, who had a very pleasant, strong baritone:

Caput apri defero,
Reddens laudes Domino

“The song is ‘The Boar’s Head Carol’, a very old English traditional Christmas song,” Celeste said to several who had rather blank faces. Then there was general chuckling.

With rather surprising grace, considering her burden, Trish swung the tray down in front of her, shifted to grasp it with both hands, and placed it on a small serving table that Kari had waiting. It then became obvious that there was steam coming from a vent in the top of the pumpkin.

Kari explained, “I wanted to present the soup in the pumpkin, because it was cooked in it. However, the face and the song are all Trish’s doing. Well done, Trish.

“We’ll ladle the soup into bowls and pass them around. It’s a puree of pumpkin cooked in cider with onion and fresh apple added, and it’s lightly spiced in the Pennsylvania Dutch tradition.”

Chapter 114

As Jirra ate, she wished that Lindsey could be there as she would have appreciated the variety of the delicious food. Jirra then wondered if Lindsey would consider coming out for a few weeks; it would be fun to show her around the city.

Jirra then noticed how Sean and Celeste seemed to be hitting it off. That was good, she thought, as Celeste deserved to have someone in her life.

Kari next brought out a couple of large wooden salad bowls, which she started passing around. “The salad is a mix of baby greens with slices of fresh pear and freshly toasted pecan pieces. It’s dressed with a pear-infused white balsamic vinaigrette, and there are side dishes of bleu cheese crumbles for those who desire them.”

Alexis took Jirra’s hand.

“So did I surprise you?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, but I don’t mind,” replied Jirra.

Alexis looked around the room. “You’ve done well, Roo; you’ve surrounded yourself with a strong circle of friends. There’s some real strength in this room tonight.”

“I know, I was thinking that myself,” replied Jirra. She then looked over at Beth, who was taking in Jim. They really made a nice couple, she thought. It was hard to believe that Beth had once been a man.

Alexis then leaned close. “Are TC and Jill a couple?” she whispered.

Jirra looked over at her friends and could see that something was going on between the two. She looked at Alexis and grinned. “Could be.”

“Well, they do look like they’re in love,” whispered Alexis.

“Sean, are you going to help me with the entertaining after dinner?” asked Trish from across the table.

“Depends,” he replied.

“Depends on what?” asked Diana.

“Depends if Kari finally got the piano tuned,” he replied.

“What piano?” asked Celeste as she looked around the room.

He pointed to the corner. “It’s currently being used as a serving table.”

“It’s a small place,” replied Kari. “And yes, it’s been tuned.”

“You really play?” asked Celeste.

“He’s a real Renaissance man, Celeste,” said Diana. “He plays piano, writes books, paints, and has even been known to act in the occasional play.”

Sean laughed. “A jack of all trades, but a master of none.”

“Don’t listen to him, Celeste. I’ve tried to get him to play with me at one of the local fundraisers,” said Trish.

“I doubt if our musical tastes would be a good combination,” said Sean as he toasted her with his drink.

Trish laughed. “While that would be true for my regular audience, I think I could make an exception for you, especially if it was for a good cause,” countered Trish.

“What type of music do you play, Sean?” asked Celeste.

“He can play everything from the standards to rock,” interjected Kari. “Sorry, but you can be too shy sometimes, Sean.”

“I can’t wait to hear you play,” said Celeste turning to him.

“Okay, but not until after dessert; I have no intention of missing any part of one of Kari’s feasts,” he said.

Chapter 115

The entrées were brought out on large platters. “OK, folks,” Kari announced, “there are two entrées, but this is family style, so don’t hesitate to have some of each. This one is a medley of sautéed shrimp, scallops, and sole in a sherried cream sauce over penne pasta. The other is another of my inventions – medallions of pork tenderloin and Pennsylvania Dutch smoked sausage sautéed with apples and dried sweet cherries in a spiced cider reduction, served over puréed sweet potatoes. There are also dishes of a steamed medley of green beans, carrots, cauliflower and broccoli with butter and lemon zest. Enjoy!”

The conversation slowed significantly as people filled their plates and began eating.

Everyone seemed a bit surprised at how quiet and well-behaved little Eve was, despite being an enthusiastic eater. Her bib seemed to show samples of just about everything on the menu. Her quiet ended suddenly though, when she discovered the big dollop of whipped cream on top of the warm, fragrant gingerbread that Kari served for dessert.

“Mit schlag!” she cried delightedly. “Yummy!”

Amelia explained that while it wasn’t easy for a two-year-old to say “whipped cream,” Eve had learned the easier German equivalent, “schlag,” from a friend in DC.

As promised, after dinner the table was cleared away, and the piano was wheeled out. Sean played in the background for Trish. At first, they played Christmas carols, which got everyone in the mood. Trish said that if she saw anyone not singing she would drag them up for a solo. She then transitioned to some “piano-bench” songs that almost everyone knew, and then got them to sing on the choruses of a few of her own songs.

“Well, I need to take a break,” said Trish. “Please, Sean, continue to play.”

“I smell a set-up,” he replied with a laugh. “Well, I’ve sort of used up my repertoire of holiday songs.”

“Don’t let that hold you back,” shouted Kari.

Her comment was met with laughter.

“Okay, if you insist,” said Sean.

“We insist,” chorused Diana, Trish, and Kari.

“Please, play,” said Celeste.

Sean smiled at her. “Only, if you sit by me… I need the support!”

Before Celeste could protest, Beth and Cat gently nudged her towards the piano.

Celeste sat down next to Sean.

“No more excuses!” said Diana.

Sean shrugged his shoulders and began to play. “Well, since I have no choice, then I guess I’ll play some of my favorites. Here’s one of my favorite composers.”

He then started to play a medley of Cole Porter songs. They were familiar enough to get most of the others to sing along. He deftly moved from one classic to another without skipping a beat. Celeste was beaming and couldn’t take her eyes off of him.

“Okay, one last song, and since this charming lady next to me seems to know all the lyrics and has such a lovely voice, I’d like her to accompany me,” he said looking at Celeste.

“You can’t mean me,” interjected Celeste.

“No one else,” he replied softly, and then he began to play.

Soon the two of them were singing “Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.”

Chapter 116

“Celeste, you were wonderful. I had no idea you could sing so well,” said Beth.

“Singing was the easy part,” she replied.

They were standing in front of the mirror in the restroom.

“What do you mean?” asked Beth.

“I love him… but how…how do I tell him… I mean…” stammered Celeste.

“Tell him the truth,” said Beth.

Celeste turned to her friend. “Just like that?”

Beth nodded. “Look, he obviously has feelings for you. My god, Celeste, it was like a Hollywood movie watching you two together. And, if he’s a good friend of Kari and Diana, I doubt that your past will be an issue.”

“Are you sure?” asked Celeste cautiously.

Beth put her hands on Celeste’s shoulders. “Yes, I’m sure, but what’s the worst thing that could happen if he rejected you?”

“My heart would be shattered”

“Is it that strong a feeling?” asked Beth.

Celeste nodded. “I haven’t felt this way since I was married to Sherman.”

“Then you should be honest with him. Look, I’m wise beyond my years when it comes to these sorts of things. He obviously is interested in you, so if he makes a move, tell him up front. If he’s the person I suspect he is, then everything will be fine.”

“And if he isn’t?”

Beth shrugged her shoulders. “Then you save yourself a whole lot of time.”

Celeste nervously bit her lower lip. “I don’t know, maybe I’m just reading too much into this.”

“No, no, you’re not.”

“I suppose you’re right. I don’t think he just pulled that last song out of his hat.”

Chapter 117

The party had settled down to small groups of people talking and drinking coffee or hot chocolate.

“The inn is just down the road on the right,” said Diana.

“It was a wonderful idea to stay out here tonight,” said Cat.

TC and Jill were the first to leave, followed shortly afterward by Cat and Matt.

Sean was sitting at the piano, playing some gentle background music; Celeste was sitting next to him.

“Well, we have to leave too,” announced Trish. “It was a great party as always, Kari, but Eve is already up way beyond her bedtime.” She and Amelia then said goodbyes to the others, with Eve sleepily waving bye-bye to everyone.

The three women from Boudicca also decided to leave at the same time.

Alexis, Jirra, Diana, and Kari were sitting at the other end of the room chatting. Beth and Jim were sitting next to the fire talking and cuddling.

“Are you leaving too, Carla?” asked Diana.

“In a moment,” she said as she began to check her phone. She listened to a message. “Kari, my cell phone’s dying; can I use your phone?”

“Sure, let me show you where it is,” said Kari.
“You look concerned; is there something wrong?” asked Diana.

“I don’t know,” she replied.

“Kari said you also paint,” said Celeste to Sean. “What style?”

“Watercolors,” he said. “You want to see one?”

Celeste looked confused. “What do you mean?”

He laughed, “I have a piece for sale in the front room.”

“Oh!”

“Come on, let me show you,” he said. “No one is listening anymore anyway.”

They walked together to the front of the café.

Chapter 118

The painting was a watercolor of the Delaware River with the canal in the foreground.

“That’s very good,” said Celeste.

“Thank you,” he said. He then took a deep breath. “Okay, I didn’t bring you out here to look at my painting. I wanted to speak to you alone.”

“Really?” she asked.

“I know that there’s a big age difference between us, but I would like to see you again sometime.”

Celeste took in a deep breath and let it out. She suddenly felt weak in the knees and sat down in a chair at one of the tables.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

Okay, here goes nothing, she thought. “Sean, there’s something you need to know, and after hearing it, if you change your mind about asking me out, I’ll understand.”

He pulled out a chair next to her. “What is it?”

Celeste bit her lip and then looked into his eyes. “I was born male. I underwent sexual reassignment surgery several years ago.”

He stared back.

“I just wanted to be honest with you,” continued Celeste. “I’ll understand if you don’t….”

He interrupted her by kissing her gently on the lips.

Chapter 119

Carla came back into the main room looking as if she was about to explode.

“What’s wrong?” asked Diana.

“I just got a call from my office,” said Carla as she sat down. “Can I get something to drink?”

Kari stood up. “What do you want?”

“I don’t care, just as long as it’s strong.”

Kari returned with a bottle of cognac and poured Carla a glass.

Carla took the glass and nodded. She then took a long drink. “A detective got a tip this morning, and he decided to follow up on it. He talked to a friend in the Miami-Dade area and confirmed the story.”

“What do you mean?” asked Diana.

Carla held out her class, and after Kari refilled it, took another long drink. “I’m so sorry, Jirra, but don’t worry, we’ll get him back.”

Jirra tensed up. “What do you mean, Carla?”

“Todd Kelly boarded a jet to Miami this morning. After getting off the jet, he caught a cab to a marina. His family’s yacht was just located in Nassau, Bahamas. The Bahamian authorities have been notified, and we’re issuing a warrant for his arrest.”

“Will they turn him in?” asked Jirra.

“They have no record that he ever entered the Bahamas,” replied Carla. “Most likely he slipped off the boat before it pulled into Nassau.”

“Are his parents involved?” asked Alexis.

“I would bet my life on it,” said Carla. “I worked a similar case a few years ago. The boy of a rich family was accused of rape. He turned up in France. It took a little time, but we caught him by investigating the parents. They were sending him money. We’ll start on Todd’s parents immediately. I am not about to let a little rich punk like him get away. Shit!” she exclaimed.

“You can throw the glass if it will make you feel better, but just do it into the fireplace,” offered Kari.

Carla nodded and then stood up and flung the glass into the fireplace.

“Did that help?” asked Diana.

“It didn’t hurt,” replied Carla. She then hugged Jirra. “I will get him, I promise.”

“I’ll help,” said Diana, as she reached for her purse.

“Who are you calling?” asked Kari.

“Max, and he’ll contact Boudicca,” said Diana.

Jirra felt a flare of emotions ranging from anger to fear. Alexis slipped her arm around Jirra’s waist.

“I’m so sorry, Jirra.”

“You didn’t do anything wrong, and I know that you’ll get him,” said Jirra. “May I have some of that cognac, please?”

“I think we should all have some,” said Kari.

Chapter 120

“I feel so bad,” said Celeste as she stood outside of her room at the Inn.

“I know,” replied Beth. “I’m thinking of placing a phone call myself.”

“Don’t you trust the police?”

“Oh, I do, but my family can give them a hand, even if it’s unofficial,” said Beth.

“Jirra must feel awful,” said Celeste.

“Thankfully, Alexis is here to comfort her. Speaking of which, how did it go with Sean?”

“He wants to take me to dinner,” replied Celeste.

“And?”

“I told him, and he doesn’t care!” replied Celeste with glee in her voice.

Beth wrapped her arms around her friend. “That’s wonderful.”

“I know,” replied Celeste.

“Well, you have to tell me everything when I get back,” said Beth.

“Are you leaving tonight?”

“Jim’s taking me to his family’s farm. It’s less than an hour from here,” said Beth.

“Okay, but watch out for Bambi,” said Celeste.

“And Rudolph,” added Beth.

Chapter 121

“You want to talk about it?’ asked Alexis as she propped herself up on a pillow in their bed.

“Talk about what?” replied Jirra.

“Come on, Roo, don’t try that on me; you’re obviously bothered by Todd’s escape.

“Is it that obvious?’ she replied.

“It’s a good thing you only write movies and shows; you can’t act worth a shit,” said Alexis.

Jirra smiled in spite of herself. “Okay, I’m pissed. If Todd isn’t caught, the others may change their pleas and also get off.”

“You don’t know that,” said Alexis.

“I don’t know what to think. His family is rich, and I’m sure they’ll find a way to support and hide him,” replied Jirra.

Alexis began to slowly slide her fingers through Jirra’s hair. “From what Carla said, they’re not going to let up on this. He can’t live in the open, and sooner or later he’ll be spotted. He’s not charged with a capital crime, so it’ll be harder for him to find a foreign government to shelter him. They often do it if the person is facing the death penalty, but he’s just facing a long sentence. Also there’s the fact that he’s charged with a hate crime; not too many countries like to be associated with things like that, and those that do, well, let’s just say I doubt if Todd would want to live there.”

“Maybe he’s in disguise,” said Jirra.

Alexis snapped her fingers. “I know. He’s dressing up as a girl!”

Jirra laughed. “You’re so bad!”

Alexis leaned over and kissed Jirra. “You have no idea, Roo!”

Chapter 122

“We’ll be landing shortly, Ms. Eden,” announced the flight attendant.

“Thank you,” she replied.

Jirra was looking out of the window of the jet.

“I imagine you can’t wait to see your mom,” said Alexis.

“I was doing okay until we started our descent. This is the longest I’ve ever been away from her,” replied Jirra.

“It’s always harder the first time,” said Alexis.

“Thank you for spending the holidays with me,” said Jirra.

Alexis smiled back. “Thank you for asking me. My family is cool about it; I’m having them up to visit in January. They want to be there when I make the big announcement.”

“The whole family?”

“Not yet, but Mom is working on Trish,” replied Alexis. “Changing the subject, who is meeting us at the airport?”

“To be honest, I’m not sure. I’m pretty sure my mom will be there, barring any medical emergencies at the spa,” replied Jirra.

“Well, it’s too cold for snakes,” said Alexis.

Chapter 123

“There she is!” exclaimed Jirra as she pointed to her mom. She ran over and gave her mom a long hug.

“Well, I’m happy to see you too, Roo,” said Liz.

“Sorry, it’s sort of been building up the closer we got here,” said Jirra.

“Hi, Liz,” said Alexis.

“It’s good to see you again, Alexis. I’m so happy you accepted our invitation,” said Liz.

The two women hugged.

“Are you by yourself?” asked Jirra.

“No, I had some company,” said Liz.

“Who?” asked Jirra as she looked around the terminal area.

“Over there,” said Liz, pointing to the right.

“Lindsey!” exclaimed Jirra.

Lindsey ran over and embraced her friend.

“Welcome back,” said Lindsey. “Hi Alexis!”

“How’re you doing, Lindsey?” asked Alexis.

“Good, it feels good to be done with classes for a while,” she replied.

A porter walked over pulling a cart with Jirra and Alexis’ luggage.

“Well, it’s a good thing you chartered a jet, I doubt the airlines would allow that much baggage,’ said Liz as she looked at the all the bags on the cart.

“Well, most of that is gifts,” replied Jirra. “Oh, there’s a case of Tastykakes, and some Amoroso rolls.”

“What’s in the cooler?” asked Liz.

“Scrapple for you,” replied Jirra.

“Well, bless your heart for remembering,” said Liz.

“Scrapple?” asked Lindsey.

Alexis put her arm around Lindsey’s shoulders. “Trust me, you don’t want to know.”

Chapter 124

“We should be home in time for you to grab a shower and change before dinner,” said Liz as they drove towards the spa. “Before you argue, Judy and the others have a little welcome home party planned for you.”

“I don’t mind,” said Jirra. “They’re my family. Will Dan be there?”

Liz nodded.

“Cool,” replied Jirra. “Who else?”

“In addition the staff and their families, Barrett will be there too. He’s anxious to update you on the site,” said Liz.

“Can we go up there?” asked Jirra.

“If the weather holds,” replied Liz. “We had an early snow a few weeks ago, but thankfully Dan had pulled his team out before it got too bad.”

“We’ve been lucky; it’s been cold in Philly, but no snow yet,” replied Jirra.

“Oh, Jen called and she’ll arrive tomorrow,” said Liz.

“That’s good to hear,” said Alexis.

“Changing the subject, what’s the news on the fugitive?” asked Liz.

“They know he caught a flight out of Nassau to Mexico, but after that they have no idea,” said Jirra. “His parents claim that they have no idea where he is, but they also said that they still believe he is innocent.”

“Um, wasn’t he caught in the act?” asked Lindsey.

“As red-handed as possible,” replied Jirra.

“There are private investigators tracking him down,” said Alexis. “He may be free now, but he’ll be caught.”

“You sound confident about that, Alexis,” said Liz.

“Todd pissed off a lot of people who want to see him behind bars,” said Alexis. “Besides, I think he’ll get tired of being on the run.”

“Too bad you can’t get America’s Most Wanted on his ass,” suggested Lindsey.”

Alexis smiled. “I called a friend who works at Fox, and they’re considering it.”

“I can’t wait to see that show,” said Liz.

Chapter 125

As promised, there was a large welcome home party for Jirra in the dining room. Lindsey excused herself to assist Hannah in the kitchen.

The main meal was chalupas, a spicy Mexican pork stew that was served over a bed of corn chips. A large selection of condiments was available to allow everyone to personalize their meal.

“I wanted to do a steer barbecue, but that will have to wait until summer,” said Hannah.

“I’ll look forward to it,” said Jirra. “This is very good; you’ve changed the recipe slightly since the last time I had it. It’s spicier than before.”

“Well, I figured that you haven’t had anything spicy in a while,” said Hannah.

Jirra made the rounds greeting the rest of the staff.

Judy was very pleased to see her. “So the big question is, will every semester be this exciting?”

“I can’t imagine that,” said Jirra. “I mean, it would take several people to come up with something more thrilling for the spring semester.”

Judy laughed. “You make it sound as if someone is scripting out your life.”

“Stranger things have happened,” said Jirra. “I mean, just look at my life.”

“Hey, there she is!” called Tara. She put down her bowl and gave Jirra a big hug.

“Thanks for the great lessons,” said Jirra. “They really were helpful.”

Cari then hugged Jirra.

“So, did you learn anything at Penn this year, other than how to fight off bigots?” asked Tara.

Jirra nodded. “I learned that I’m lucky to have two great sets of friends, one here and one back in Philly.”

Chapter 126

It took Jirra a while to greet all her friends; she finally took a seat at the same table with Liz, Dan, Barrett, and Alexis.

“Everyone seems pretty up-to-date on my life at Penn,” she said.

“Judy has me post a weekly newsletter,” said Liz dryly.

“I hope you’re kidding,” replied Jirra.

“I think it’s cool that here you’re a bigger celebrity than me,” noted Alexis.

“Please!” exclaimed Jirra. “So how’s the dig been going?”

“Very well, we made some great progress this fall. We’ve shut it down until spring,” said Dan.

“Oh, so that means I can’t see it,” said Jirra sadly.

“Well, we’re going out tomorrow to pick up the last of the gear; you can come along if you want,” said Dan.

“You mean it?” asked Jirra excitedly.

“Sure,” replied Dan. “We’ve made some improvements to the path, so we can get up there easier.”

“We call it the Jirra Highway,” said Barrett.

“You do not!” countered Jirra.

Barrett laughed. “Actually, we call it Judy Road, but I did suggest the first one.”

“Mom, do you mind if I go up there?” asked Jirra.

“No, I sort of expected that you would want to go there,” replied Liz.

Jirra looked at Alexis. “You game?’

Alexis nodded. “I brought my camera hoping we would.”

“Cool,” replied Jirra.

“How long will you be up there, Dan?” asked Liz.

“Well, if we get an early start, we’ll be back mid-afternoon,” he replied.

“Good, I just wanted to know for planning dinner,” said Liz.

“How’s Jen getting here?” asked Jirra.

“Oh, knowing her, she probably has a Hummer standing by for her at the airport; she loves driving vehicles like that,” said Alexis.

“By the way, Alexis, your show is excellent,” said Barrett. “I haven’t missed a single episode.”

“Thank you,” said Alexis. “Speaking of the show, did you know that Jirra has written a story for it?”

“Really? You didn’t tell me,” said Liz.

“Well, there’s no guarantee that they’ll use it. I just fictionalized the attacks at Penn,” explained Jirra.

“Actually, Faith loved the story so much that it’s been added to the spring shooting schedule,” interjected Alexis. “I wanted to surprise you.”

“And are they going to film it at Penn?” asked Jirra.

“They’re in negotiation right now,” said Alexis.

“Is Jen going to direct it?” asked Jirra.

“Yes, I twisted her arm,” said Alexis. “I also mentioned using the Scooby Gang in cameos.”

“Scooby Gang?” asked Barrett.

“I think she’s referring to my friends who helped catch the thugs,” said Jirra.

“So who are you?’ asked Barrett.

“I was the bait,” replied Jirra.

Chapter 127

“You don’t have to stay here,” said Jirra as they walked into the cottage that Alexis had requested. “I mean, Mom knows we’re a couple; you could stay with us.”

“Yes, but I haven’t come out yet. It could raise questions among the guests, and thanks to the internet and blogs, it would be seen nationwide. I want to control this on my own. But trust me, Roo, after January, I won’t have to worry about it again,” replied Alexis. She then closed the door and kissed Jirra.

“I’ve been wanting to do that since we got here,” said Alexis. “Can you stay a while?”

Jirra nodded.

Alexis took Jirra by the hand and led her into the bedroom. They sat down on the bed and began to caress and kiss. Slowly, Alexis began to undress Jirra. First, she removed Jirra’s blouse and then her bra.

“You have the most beautiful breasts,” cooed Alexis as she leaned down to kiss them.

While most of the time Jirra wished that her breasts were smaller, when Alexis touched them she no longer had regrets. Jirra lowered herself down on her back.

Jirra had gradually accepted Alexis’s dominant nature in the bedroom. At first, it had been very difficult for her to accept, as if t was another reminder of her lost masculinity, but as she learned to accept her life, it wasn’t so bad. Granted, she hadn’t had a lot of sexual experience as a guy, but as Josh she had assumed that being male meant being in charge. The more she was with Alexis, these feelings changed. She had come to realize that Alexis wasn’t trying to control her. Another thing was that Jirra found that she enjoyed it.

Alexis had also taught her how to make lovemaking a mutual sharing experience and always made sure that both fully enjoyed each encounter.

Afterwards, as they cuddled together under the sheets, Jirra asked her lover a question.

“You’ve been with a man, right?” asked Jirra.

“Yes, I’ve told you that, why? Are you still curious about it?”

“No, I just wanted to know if it’s true that many men don’t make sex as… as mutual as women do,” said Jirra.

“Well, I’m not exactly an expert, but I had good and bad experiences. There are women who will use another woman too,” replied Alexis. “You can’t group it all together.”

“I see,” replied Jirra.

“Okay, now my turn,” said Alexis. “Do you ever wish you were still a male?”

“Not as much as I used to. I mean, I realize that we wouldn’t be together if I was a guy, and I can’t bear to think what that would be like,” replied Jirra.

“I don’t know, Josh sounded like a nice guy,” said Alexis. “But you still think about it, right?”

“I guess when I was attacked, especially the first time here in New Mexico. I felt pretty helpless then. But, I’ve learned to defend myself, so that isn’t a major issue now.”

“Okay, I buy that; what about the biological side?”

It took Jirra a moment to realize what Alexis was talking about. “You mean having a baby?”

Alexis nodded.

“It worries me; I mean, it’s one part of being a woman that really scares me,” replied Jirra. “Why?”

“Well, looking down the line, it would be nice to have a family; don’t you agree?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded.

“So you’re not anti-baby or anything,” asked Alexis.

“No, I like the idea of having a family; it’s just that I hadn’t figured on being the one who gets pregnant.”

“That’s an honest answer,” replied Alexis. “Are you totally against the idea?”

Jirra sat up and propped herself on one elbow. “I don’t know. I mean, I know that I’ve changed in ways. I’m not dead set against it or anything like that, why?”

“I was just wondering,” said Alexis.

Jirra sensed something was wrong. “What is it? Come on, we share all secrets, right?”

Alexis nodded and appeared to be fighting back her emotions. “I can’t have children. Oh, I’m healthy in all other ways, but I can’t get pregnant.”

Jirra reached over and touched Alexis’ face. “I didn’t know.”

“Anyway, I’ve always wanted a family; it’s part of the reason why I want out of show business. I don’t want to raise kids around that sort of life. I fully understand your feelings too. Maybe we can adopt.”

“Well, since we’re still talking in the future… let’s not rule anything out yet,” said Jirra.

“Roo, don’t feel like I’m forcing you into anything,” said Alexis. “That’s the last thing I would want to do to you.”

Jirra shook her head. “I know that. I just never gave getting pregnant much thought. I figured that since I only like women, it wouldn’t come up, but now I have something to think about. Alexis, I love you so much. I mean, I’m a writer, yet I can’t come up with the words for how much you mean to me. I appreciate you being so honest with me, and now I can think about this in a logical manner. I don’t know what my answer will be, but I will think about it.”

Alexis pulled Jirra close and they kissed. “That’s all I could hope for, Roo,”

Chapter 128

Jirra wasn’t totally surprised to find her mom still up when she came into the house.

“Hi, Roo,” said Liz.

“Hi,” said Jirra as she walked into the kitchen. “You want some tea?”

Liz, sensing that her daughter wanted to talk, nodded. “That would be nice. I’ve missed our little talks.”

“Is it that obvious?” asked Jirra as she filled the kettle with water.

Liz nodded.

Jirra smiled. “Thanks.”

After they fixed their tea, they sat down together at the kitchen table.

“Okay, Alexis and I were talking, and some issues came up…concerning the future,” said Jirra as she stirred her tea.

Liz just nodded.

“I told you how she’s coming out next month,” said Jirra.

“Yes, and I’ll fully support both of you; is this what you want to talk about?”

Jirra shook her head. “No, it’s just that we’ve talked about getting married… oh, nothing immediate or anything like that!”

Liz smiled. “That’s your decision, but just so you know, I think you two make a lovely couple.”

Jirra smiled. “Thanks. Anyway, we talked tonight about… well, about the future and raising a family.”

Liz sipped her tea.

“Anyway, Alexis can’t get pregnant, and well, you said that I’m capable of it, right?”

“Physically speaking, yes,” replied Liz.

Jirra sipped her tea. “I just assumed that it would never come up; now I have to think about it.”

“And what do you think about it?”

“It scares me, Mom. I mean, it really scares me.”

“It’s a huge change,” said Liz. “It should scare you a little.”

“I mean, we’re talking a few years from now,” said Jirra.

“I think the fact that you’re at least thinking about it is a good thing,” said Liz.

“Why?” asked Jirra.

“Roo, you’ve told me how you’re lacking balance in your life, in which the duality of your life is hard to deal with, right?”

Jirra nodded again.

“You’ve been able to shut out a major biological aspect of your life. Oh, you have to deal with your period and all that, but you don’t date men, so you’ve been able to put the idea of being a mother out of your thoughts. I’m not telling you to go out and get pregnant, but it’s very healthy for you to think about it,” said Liz.

“Can you see me with a big belly?” asked Jirra with a smile.

“If it’s because you wanted a baby, it would be wonderful,” said Liz.

Jirra hugged her mom.

“Jirra, I have something else I want to talk to you about. I wanted to wait until you were home, and well, this is as good as any time,” said Liz.

“What is it?” asked Jirra.

“I’ve had a chance to compare your medical record with Jen’s. Since your transformation was under similar conditions, it only made sense.”

“What did you find?” asked Jirra.

“There are some similarities between you two. Jen has a very high recuperation rate, and from what I’ve seen, so do you,” said Liz.

“I was wondering about that,” said Jirra. “What else?”

“Now, what I talk to you about stays between us, okay?” said Liz.

Jirra nodded.

“As you know, Jen is actually older than she appears,” said Liz.

“I know that,” said Jirra.

“What isn’t well known is that her aging process is very slow,” said Liz. “Now before you get worried, I’ve checked you physically, and you appear to be aging at a normal rate. But we are dealing with uncharted territory here, so I will monitor your aging from now on.”

“How old will she live to be?” asked Jirra.

“We don’t know,” said Liz as she lifted her mug.

“I don’t want that,” said Jirra, shaking her head vigorously. “I don’t want to be like Connor MacLeod in Highlander and outlive everyone I know!”

Liz smiled. “Well, as far as I can tell, you’re aging normally. You didn’t change age when you were transformed, and your transformation happened much faster than Jen’s. I hope you’re not angry with me for not telling you this sooner.”

“Angry? Please! Mom, I fully understand,” said Jirra. “Now, I have something to bring up; Dan knows that I used to be a guy, right?”

“Yes, you told me I could tell him,” said Liz.

“When should we tell him everything?” asked Jirra. “I mean, I don’t want it be an issue between you two.”

“I appreciate that, Roo.”

“I also need to tell Barrett,” said Jirra.

“I understand. I’m happy to see that you’re more open to trusting others,” said Liz.

“Well, I’ve told several of my friends about it. I still have a few to talk to, but I have time,” said Jirra. “It’s rather freeing actually.”

“I imagine it is. Well, just so you know, Dan’s been very supportive. I have a feeling he’ll understand completely; as for Barrett, well you know him better than I do.”

“Thanks, Mom. Well, I better get to bed; I have to get up early,” said Jirra. “Hey, why don’t you come with us?”

“I just might,” replied Liz. “Good night, Roo.”

They hugged before going to bed.

Chapter 129

“I’m surprised to see you this morning, Liz,” said Dan. “Not upset, just surprised.”

“Well, I figured since Jirra was here, I’d ride out with you,” said Liz. “Can you turn the heat up a little more?”

They were in the first Land Rover, while Jirra, Alexis, and Barrett rode in the second.

“If you’re hoping to get some wildlife shots, we usually see some mule deer near the site,” said Barrett. “They’re pretty used to us by now, so they’re not spooked by the sounds of the motors.”

“That’s good to hear. I take it no one hunts them,” said Alexis.

“Not up here, the land is all posted. It’s amazing how animals seem to know where the no-hunting areas are,” he replied.

“Do you hunt?” asked Jirra.

“Not in the past few years. I used to go deer hunting when I was younger,” he replied. “Just so you know, it was for the meat. I wouldn’t think of hunting just for the sake of shooting something.”

“You should come to Pennsylvania, we’ve got a lot of deer there,” said Jirra.

“I’ve heard that,” he replied.

“So, any additional ideas on what the site was used for?” asked Jirra.

“Just what I’ve been e-mailing you. Oh, we did find some really strange petroglyphs, but no one has any idea of what they mean, even the professor is stumped.”

“Can we see them?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t see why not,” he replied.

“I’m glad the weather is nice,” said Alexis. “ I mean, it’s cold, but not unbearable.”

“It will get a lot colder. The canyon doesn’t get much sun this time of year,” he said. “We were up here a few weeks ago, and well, we almost froze our butts off. That’s part of the reason why we’re stopping for the year.”

“When will you start up again?” asked Jirra.

“Depends on the weather, hopefully late spring,” he replied.

An hour later, they pulled up to the campsite.

“We’ll hike up to the canyon first and then load up the vehicles for the ride home after lunch,” said Dan.

Most of the campsite had already been packed up; there were just a few boxes under a tarp left to remove.

“I see you took the sign down that had our names on it,” said Jirra.

“It’s being kept safe for next year’s dig,” said Barrett.

“Any more problems with the grave robbers?” asked Jirra as they headed up the worn path to the canyon.

“No, not since this was declared a protected site. They don’t like to have the feds after them. Unfortunately, there are still a lot of undiscovered sites for them to loot,” said Dan.

To Alexis’s delight, they spotted several mule deer along the way. Just as Barrett had said, the deer seemed to ignore them.

Jirra was amazed by the amount of work that had been done just since the previous summer. There were several areas under excavation.

“We’ve pretty much proven that the site was not lived in year round,” said Dan. “It also has potshards from at least six other Anasazi sites.”

“All from the same time?” asked Jirra.

Dan nodded. “That proves that whatever this place was used for, it was shared by all the villages. I still think it was used for some sort of ritual, maybe a fertility or purification rite. We know so little about these people that it would be just guessing at this point.”

“Can we see the glyphs?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t see why not. Barrett, why don’t you show them,” said Dan.

Barrett nodded and led Jirra and Alexis to the back of the canyon.

“They’re really strange,” said Barrett. “They’re unlike anything else we’ve ever seen. We’ve cleaned them up since we discovered them. At first, you could hardly see them with the naked eye.”

He led them to a plywood enclosure. The door was locked, and he fumbled for the key for the padlock.

“Okay, look on the wall, around six feet off the ground; maybe you can figure out what they mean,” said Barrett as he handed Jirra a flashlight. “Sorry, but there’s only room for one at a time.”

Jirra flicked on the light and pointed it where Barrett had pointed. It took her a moment to see the ancient rock etchings. At first, they just looked like scratches, but then she was able to see them better. Her eyes opened up wide, and she dropped the light as she gasped.

Chapter 130

“Jirra, you okay?” asked Liz.

Jirra opened her eyes and found that she was on the ground with the others standing around her.

“Take it easy; you passed out,” said Liz.

Jirra immediately sat up. “Did you see them? Did you see the glyphs?”

“What?” asked Dan. “The glyphs?”

“Mom, have you seen them?” asked Jirra as she tried to stand up.

“Take it easy, Roo. What are you talking about?” asked Liz. “What did you see, Alexis?”

“Nothing, there wasn’t room for both of us,” said Alexis.

“Mom, please go look at them,” pleaded Jirra.

Liz nodded and walked over to the enclosure.

“You okay?” asked Alexis as she helped Jirra up.

“I’m not sure,” replied Jirra.

A moment later, Liz walked out with a shocked look on her face. “I need a drink,” she said.

Dan reached into his backpack and pulled out a stainless steel flask. “Jack Daniels,” he said as he handed it to her.

Liz took a long swig. She was about to hand the flask back, but instead she took another drink. She then handed the flask to Jirra. “For medicinal purposes, Roo.”

Jirra rook a short drink and coughed slightly. She then handed the flask back to her mom.

“Okay, will one of you tell me what you see in them?’ asked Dan.

Jirra looked at Liz, who nodded back.

“You might as well tell him,” said Jirra.

Liz nodded and handed Dan the flask. “Here, you might need this before I’m done.”

Chapter 131

Dan was sitting on a boulder scratching his head.

Barrett was sitting next to him. He had a sly look on his face. “I always thought there was something special about you, Jirra. “

“Do you believe me, Dan?” asked Liz as she sat down next to him.

“I have to; who would make up something like that?” he said.

“It looks like the Anasazi knew about the mud, and they must have used this site for some ceremony,” said Jirra.

“The glyphs show lighting and a transformation of a man into a woman,” said Alexis.

“But why?” asked Liz.

“I suspect it was religious in nature,” said Dan. “Maybe the transformed person became a priestess or something like that. From what I can see in the carvings, the person was obviously held in high esteem by the others. Maybe it was a fertility rite.”

“Did it hurt, Jirra?” asked Barrett.

She shook her head. “It was painless… physically anyway.”

“I can’t imagine what it must be like,” said Barrett.

“I’d doing okay,” she replied.

“Thank you for trusting us, Jirra,” said Dan.

“I planned on telling you soon, but after seeing those petroglyphs…” she said as her voice trailed off.

Dan smiled. “Well, we know what the glyphs mean; now we need to find proof.”

“Um, what do you think I am?” asked Jirra almost amused.

“That’s not what I mean, Jirra. If I use you as proof, then your cover will be blown. Everyone and his brother will want to poke and prod you to determine what happened. No, I’m afraid that we’ll have to do this the old fashioned way and use what was left behind to solve this mystery.”

“That’s right, Jirra. We can’t allow your secret to be told,” said Barrett.

Jirra immediately hugged Barrett and then Dan.

“Thank you,” she replied.

Chapter 132

“Well, we’d better start back down,” said Dan. He then snapped his fingers. “I almost forgot, I have one more thing to show you.”

He led them to the original entrance of the canyon. It had been closed off by dynamite by Dr. Randolph Margate in 1940 to protect the site. Unfortunately, the same explosion killed him. Jirra had discovered his remains the previous summer.

“We got special permission to do this from both the Feds and the local tribes. I mean, if he hadn’t done it, who knows what would have happened to the site,” said Dan as he showed them what appeared to be a simple stone grave marker.

“You mean Dr. Margate is buried here?” asked Jirra.

Barrett nodded. “He had no known family; hell, we don’t even know what his real name was. We’re positive that Margate was an alias. I was amazed that the tribes approved it.”

“Apparently, they knew and respected him. He would often tell the tribes of his discoveries and no one else. From what information I was told, he may have discovered dozens of sites that are still hidden,” said Dan. “Anyway, it’s nice that he’s resting in a site he helped protect.”

“I agree,” said Jirra. She wondered if Killara could tell her something about the mysterious Dr. Margate someday. She also decided that she would have to bring flowers for his grave the next time she came here.

“Well, let’s get going,” said Dan.

They started out of the canyon.

“Aren’t you worried about looters? I mean, there’s no guard here,” said Alexis. She pointed at one of the warning signs. “I mean, I doubt if those signs will deter a grave robber.

“We have electronic monitors in the area,” said Dan.

“Yes, but what good are they? By the time you got up here, the place could be stripped clean,” said Alexis.

Barrett laughed. “We have a special security system.”

“What’s that?” asked Jirra.

“The locals think the place is haunted. I tend to agree. I mean, I told you about the dreams we had when we slept in the canyon; well, since then we’re heard stories from locals of other things.”

“Like what?” asked Alexis.

“One man claimed that he was hiking through here several years ago, and as he got close to the canyon he heard drums,” said Barrett.

“Do you believe him?” asked Jirra.

Barrett shrugged his shoulders. “I keep an open mind. The spirits seem to tolerate us, and I see no reason to upset them. Maybe they’ve been waiting for someone to come along who could tell their story. Anyway, the word is out that this place is haunted, and if that keeps out the looters, so be it.”

“I wonder if Dr, Margate is still out there,” said Jirra as she looked back into the canyon.

“I wonder that myself,” said Barrett.

Chapter 133

They arrived back at the spa to see a large canary yellow Hummer H-3 parked in the guest parking lot.

“Good God!” exclaimed Dan, as he stepped out of his Land Rover. “Who would drive such a beast?”

Alexis and Jirra broke out laughing. In unison they answered his question. “Jen Stevens!”

They found her sitting in Judy’s office, where it was apparent that she was having a high-spirited conversation with the owner of the spa.

“What’s the matter, didn’t the H-3 stand out enough by itself?” asked Alexis.

Jen stood up and smiled. “I know the color is hideous, but it was the only one they had. It was either that or an old Aztek, and trust me, I would have rather walked than be seen in one of those!”

After a round of greetings and introductions, they moved over to Liz and Jirra’s place for coffee. They then told Judy and Jen about their discovery and the connection to Jirra’s transformation.

“Are you sure about the glyphs?” asked Judy, who poured some Irish whiskey into her coffee. She held out the bottle. Dan nodded and held out his cup.

“Yes,” replied Jirra. “I mean, if I hadn’t been changed, I wouldn’t have made the connection, but it’s obvious that the Anasazi knew about the mud.”

Dan nodded, and he pulled some photos of the glyphs out of his case. “Knowing the answer makes it a lot easier to decipher the drawings. We couldn’t figure out what this meant, but now it’s obvious that it’s a reference to the mud.” He was pointing to what looked like a puddle.

“What do we do now?” asked Judy.

“We keep the truth a secret,” said Dan. “The petroglyphs have been shown to many archeologists, and their consensus is that it’s part of a myth. I mean, no logical scientist would suspect that they are telling actual events. We’ll keep it to ourselves unless we can find physical proof in the canyon; even then, we’d get Jirra’s approval before disclosing it.”

“You don’t have to do that,” said Jirra. “If you can find something that supports the truth… then tell it. I mean, who would connect me to it?”

“It does raise some interesting issues,” said Barrett. “I mean, up until now, we’ve assumed that the many strange glyphs that have been discovered at Anasazi sites were all just fantasies or done for mystical reasons: what if they’re literal recordings too?”

Dan scratched his head. “I was thinking the same thing. It looks like I’ll have a job for a while – you too, Barrett.”

“I’m just a grad student,” he replied.

“Not for much longer. Thanks to the discovery of the canyon, my grant has been increased substantially. I guess you could call this an early Christmas present, but when you finish your degree, I’m prepared to take you on fulltime as my postdoc.”

“You mean that?” asked Barrett excitedly.

Dan nodded. “I can think of no one more deserving. So do you want the job?”

“You’d better believe it.”

Jirra hugged Barrett. ‘I’m so happy for you, Barrett.”

The others all congratulated him.

Liz then made an announcement. “Hannah, Cody, Lindsey, Tara, and Cari will be here soon with dinner. Hannah’s bringing some venison chili. Some of us need to shower and change, myself included.”

“Dan, Barrett, you can use one of the empty cottages,” said Judy. “Follow me, I’ll take you over.”

“I’ll see you shortly,” said Alexis as she got up and kissed Jirra goodbye.

Chapter 134

“Good morning,” Beth said into her cell phone.

“Good morning to you,” replied Celeste. “Are you still in Bucks Country?”

“No, we’re on our way down to Virginia,” she replied. “We’re just outside Baltimore on I-95.”

“I hope you’re not the one driving,” said Celeste. “You’re scary enough when you’re not distracted.”

“Very funny. No, Jim is driving,” replied Beth.

“I’ve very relieved to hear that,” replied Celeste.

“Obviously, you’re not in Philly. I tried the home number first,” said Beth.

“We’re on our way up to the house on Long Island,” she replied. We just stopped for breakfast.”

“We?” asked Beth.

“Sean is riding up with me, along with Spirit. It saves Michael a trip,” replied Celeste.

“Sure,” replied Beth. “I’m sure that’s why you’re doing it.”

Celeste laughed. “We’re going to spend a day there before heading up to Connecticut. Sean wants to see the institute,” replied Celeste.

“And that’s it?”

“Hopefully not,” replied Celeste. “We’re going to take in a show on Broadway too.”

“So Sean isn’t there at the moment, right?” asked Beth.

“He’s washing up,” replied Celeste.

“Okay, so we’ve got time then. Are you two an item yet?”

“A cultured woman doesn’t respond to questions like that,” replied Celeste.

“I know you, Celeste. A cultured woman doesn’t watch Monty Python either,” countered Beth.

Celeste laughed. “Let’s just say that everything is going well.”

“I’m so happy for you,” replied Beth. “It’s long overdue.”

“It is nice to be with someone again… I’d sort of forgot what it was like to be with someone who cares about you… if you know what I mean,” replied Celeste. “So when will you be back?”

“We’ll be back before New Year’s Eve. Jim and I are going to a party together. What about you?”

“I don’t know yet,” replied Celeste.

“Good for you! You have no idea how good it is hear that you haven’t made plans in advance!”

“I’m not that organized, Beth,” replied Celeste.

“Yes, yes you are,” said Beth. “Oh, have you heard from Jirra?”

“I got an email from her. She says that everything is going well, and that there’s an exciting discovery at the spa. She wrote that she’ll tell us about it when she gets back. She also asked about Todd.”

“Any news on him?”

“We know that he was in Mexico, but the trail has gone cold. I know that Boudicca is on the case,” said Celeste.

“I’ll talk to my parents when we get in,” said Beth. “Maybe they’ll have some advice. Well, I’ll call you on Christmas; take care.”

“You too, Beth, have a safe trip.”

Chapter 135

“It’s a really great fire, Judy,” said Dan as he stood near the large bonfire in the courtyard of the spa. Liz was standing next to him.

“It’s going to be cold, but clear,” she replied. “My family always used to have a bonfire on Christmas Eve, and I decided to make it a spa tradition. We’re going to have music soon too.”

“What kind of music?” asked Jen.

“We have several very good guitar players here at the spa, oh, and some drums too,” said Judy. “As for the drinks, we have hot chocolate, hot buttered rum, and glögg.”

“Glögg? What’s glögg?” asked Alexis.

“Red wine with fruit extracts and spices, served hot,” said Judy. “I dated a Swede once and he always had it for Solstice. I figure that we can use it for this celebration since we missed the Solstice.”

“It’s strong but good,” said Tara. “Although, I prefer the kind made with vodka.”

“I like it with vodka too; I never developed a taste for aquavit, which is more traditional,” added Cari.

“I like it stronger too,” added Judy. “But I don’t want to take any chances with the guests. The last thing my lawyers want is some drunken guest to fall in the fire.”

“Um, I know dinner wasn’t that long ago, but is there going to be any food?” asked Jen.

“Only the best!” added Hannah. “What’s a bonfire without snacks.”

“Now we’re talking!” said Jen.

“We’ve roasted some chestnuts, and we have some old fashion popcorn poppers, that we’ll be passing out as soon as the fire dies down a little,” said Hannah. “Oh, and of course we’ll have mountains of Christmas cookies. Lindsey is in charge of bringing those out.”

“What? No marshmallows?”

“Would I forget something like that?” asked Hannah. “Cody spent the afternoon making up sticks. Oh, we even have all the supplies for those of you who want to make ‘smores.”

“Even though I was never a girl scout, I know how to make those,’ said Jen.

“This is wonderful, Judy,” said Jirra.

“I agree,” added Alexis.

“There’s something very communal about a bonfire,” said Judy. “I wanted to do it last year, but it was snowing. However, from now on it will be a tradition at the spa regardless of the weather.

The guests also seemed to enjoy the fire, along with the food, drinks, and music.

Most of the music played was familiar enough to get everyone singing along.

“It’s too bad that Beth, Celeste, and the others aren’t here,” said Jirra to Alexis.

“It is pretty special,” she replied. “It’s so beautiful.”

The only light came from some strategically placed luminaries and the fire itself. The sky was clear and a blanket of stars spread out across the sky.

The darkness also allowed Alexis to told Jirra’s hand without drawing any undue attention. It also allowed her to slip Jirra the occasional kiss too.

“What a wonderful way to spend an evening,” said Jirra.

Chapter 136

Hannah and her staff produced a massive Christmas feast. There was roast turkey, standing rib roast with Yorkshire pudding, and roast goose.

“How on earth did you have time to do all this?” asked Liz.

“I have a great staff,” replied Hannah.

“Everything is excellent,” said Jirra. “I really like your Yorkshire pudding.”

“That was a request from some English guests. Just between you and me, it was the first time I ever made it,” replied Hannah.

“It’s wonderful, Hannah,” said Liz.

Dan, Liz, Hannah, Cody, Lindsey, Jen, Judy, Alexis, and Jirra were all sitting at the same table. Lindsey’s boyfriend, Dave arrived just in time for dinner.

“Dave, I need some help in the kitchen getting the dessert ready,” said Lindsey, as they finished dinner. “Would you excuse us?”

“Lindsey, the kitchen staff can see to that,” said Hannah.

“I just want to make sure,” said Lindsey as she grabbed Dave by the hand. “We’ll be back shortly.”

“Where’s Barrett?” asked Jirra.

“He’s with his family in town,” said Dan. He then looked at Jen. “Excuse me, Jen, that’s a rather unusual pendant you’re wearing; can you tell me where you got it?’

Jen undid the clasp and passed it to Dan. “It was a gift,” she replied.

Dan looked at the pendant, which had an image of a man being struck by lightning on one side and the other side had an image of a woman with what looked like a glow around her.

“It’s not Anasazi, but the images look remarkably similar to the ones up in the canyon,” he said.

“Do you think there’s a connection?” asked Jen.

“There could be. We know so little about the history of the Anasazi. We don’t know where they came from, and we don’t know where they went when they abandoned their villages here. The image looks more modern than the ones in the canyon, so there could be a connection. Before you leave, I would like to take some photos of it, if you don’t mind.”

Jen shook her head. “I don’t mind.”

“May I see it, Jen?” asked Jirra.

“Sure, Roo,” replied Jen.

Jirra looked at the figures on the pennant.

“If I had to guess, I would say that this came from an East Coast tribe,” said Dan. It’s possible that the Anasazi traveled that far.”

“You’re right, Dan. The shaman of a local tribe in New York gave it to me. He said that it would protect me. I was wearing it when I got hit. Several of the links in the chain are fused together now.” Jen pointed to several spots in the chain that were fused solid from the heat generated by the lightning strike. “There must have been something to it, since I don’t know how I could have survived the strike. The doctors said that I should have died. I wore it today as a reminder of my survival and to honor the Ancient Ones.”

“Ancient Ones?” Jirra had a slightly puzzled look on her face. “You mean the Anasazi, right?”

“Yes, the Anasazi. My people refer to them as the Ancient Ones.”

“Your people?” Now Dan was confused.

“Yes, Dan. I do have some Native American heritage in my family. I was raised to respect the beliefs of the tribe as well as to have a solid grounding in the scientific world. While science can explain a lot, there are many more things in this world that have no scientific explanation. Jirra and I are prime examples of that. We were both hit by lightning and transformed. I’ve been poked and prodded by the best scientific minds that the planet has to offer, and I still have no satisfactory reason why I survived or why I was transformed. If the Ancient Ones guided my transformation, I am most grateful that they did so. I’ll try to make the most of the new life I’ve been given.”

“Thanks for showing this to us, Jen,” said Jirra as she passed it back.

“Oh, I have another pierce of jewelry that I want to bring out,” said Dan. He then reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out an engagement ring. He then got out of his seat and lowered down to one knee in front of Liz. “I know this is a little corny, but Liz, would you marry me?”

Jirra clutched Alexis’s hand and broke out in a huge smile as her mother beamed.

“Of course, I’ll marry you, Dan,” replied Liz.

Dan placed the ring on her finger, stood up and kissed her. He then stood up on his chair. “She said YES!”

There was a standing ovation from the staff and guests. At the same time some of the staff wheeled out a big tub of chilled bottles of champagne.

Liz pulled at Dan’s hand. “Please get down before you break your neck.”

“Sorry, I just want the whole world to know how much I love you,” he replied.

As the champagne was passed out, Liz turned to Judy. “I suppose you were in on this?”

“Of course, especially when he agreed to hold the wedding here,” she replied.

Jirra couldn’t contain herself and got up to hug Liz and Dan.

“I’m so happy for both of you,” she said as she wiped tears away.

“Thank you, Roo,” said Liz. “I suppose you know that I will want you in my wedding party.”

“I don’t mind one bit,” she replied. She then kissed Dan.

“It means a lot to both of us that you’re so accepting of this,” said Dan.

“Thanks, Dan,” she replied. While she couldn’t bring herself to call him Dad, she was very happy that he was marrying her mom.

Lindsey and Dave returned. Lindsey had a flushed look on her face. “What did I miss?’ she asked.

“Dan and Liz are getting married,” said Hannah. “Where were you?”

Jirra and Alexis noticed that Lindsey’s blouse was mis-buttoned, and it was all they could do to refrain from laughing.

Jirra got up and motioned for Lindsey to follow her.

Chapter 137

Alexis and Jirra cuddled up next to each other in bed.

“Do you think anyone else noticed that Lindsey was mis-dressed?” asked Jirra.

“I doubt it, as everyone was too busy congratulating Liz and Dan,” said Alexis. “What did Lindsey say when you talked to her?”

“Her face got as red as I’ve ever seen it,” said Jirra. “I guess love is bursting out all over.”

“That’s for sure,” replied Alexis.

“I’m so happy that my mom is getting married again,” said Jirra.

“Dan’s really nice,” said Alexis. “It’s also nice that he’s so open-minded and accepting about you.”

Jirra nodded.

“I can’t wait to see you in a bridesmaid’s gown,” said Alexis. “Actually, I can’t wait to help you get out of the gown.”

“You’re so bad!”

Alexis laughed. “Have you given any further thoughts to us getting married?”

Jirra nodded. “I talked to Mom about it. She said that as long as we’re happy she would support us.”

“My family feels the same way. In fact, my sister said that I would be a fool to let you go.”

“Which sister was that?” asked Jirra with a wink.

Alexis laughed. “Ohhh and you call me bad!” She then pulled Jirra into her arms. “I think I’d better put you over my knee and spank you.”

“You wouldn’t dare!”

“Maybe another time,” said Alexis as she began to kiss Jirra.

Chapter 138

“This is quite a facility, Celeste,” said Sean.

They were walking around the grounds of the institute.

“Well, we still have a lot to do, but it’s a start,” she said.

“That may be true, but you’ve done a lot of good. I can just imagine what traditional facilities would do with kids like these.”

“I just want to give back. Our goal is make our students as self-sufficient as possible. There are a few who may never be able to function on their own, but we’ve had a lot of success stories so far,” she replied.

“Where do they all come from?” he asked.

“We get some from law enforcement, and some get directed to us from state facilities. Then there are those who are rescued by other groups,” explained Celeste.

“What do you mean?”

“As I told you, there is a market for transgendered teens as sex slaves. Well, every now and then we get some teens dropped off here who have been rescued. I don’t know much about the rescuers except that they seem to bring us some of the most abused teens. I wish I knew who they were so I could thank them,” she said.

“So, we’re talking vigilantes?’

“I don’t think so. I get the impression that they work for a law enforcement agency, but as to which one, I have no idea.”

“Remarkable, I had no idea,” he said. “You’re quite an amazing woman.”

“Like I said, I just wanted to give back. I was abducted myself, but thankfully, I was purchased by a very kind man, who helped me. I cringe sometimes thinking about how different my life would have been if someone else had got me.”

“Do you talk to your family?”

“Just my father. He’s working in northern Jersey, and we see each other every few months. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but we weren’t on the best of terms before I was abducted,” explained Celeste.

“And your mother?”

“She wants nothing to do with me,” replied Celeste.

‘I’m so sorry,” he said.

“Thank you. I wish things were different. So what about you – do you have any family?”

“Both my parents passed several years ago. I have two older sisters. Claire lives in San Francisco with her girl friend, and June lives in Homer Alaska. She owns a small art gallery and a bed and breakfast.”

“Are you close?”

“We talk on the phone regularly,” he replied. “What about you?”

“No official siblings, but I have several unofficial sisters,” she replied. “You met Beth, Cat, and Jirra at the party. Then there are two other girls who were abducted by the same psychopath who seized me. Tina is going to college in Boston, and Brenda is attending a local college – oh, she also works summers in her family’s restaurant in Doylestown.”

“Really, which one?”

“Horton’s,” replied Celeste.

He nodded. “I know it well. They have great Cuban black bean soup.”

Celeste smiled. “I also have a very close friend who’s a department head at the Agency; she’s also like a sister.”

“It sounds like you’ve surrounded yourself with good people.”

“I’ve been very fortunate,” she replied.

“But no one in your life since your husband passed, right?”

Celeste nodded.

He took her by the hand. “Look, I know there’s an age difference between us, but you’ve a lovely woman, and I’d like to see you more.”

Celeste smiled back. “I’d like that.”

Without a word, Sean slipped his arm around her, and they continued their walk across the foundation’s grounds.

Chapter 139

“I really liked your family,” said Jim.

“They liked you too,” replied Beth.

“I also like your family friends, although I got the distinct impression that my life wouldn’t be worth a dime if I ever hurt you,” he said.

They were driving back to Philly up I-95.

“My parents aren’t that bad,” said Beth.

“I wasn’t talking about them. At the party, a short muscular white guy and a huge black guy told me that I’d better treat you nice. I had the distinct feeling my life was being threatened… in a semi-friendly way.”

“That must have been Tom and Madison,” said Beth with a sigh. “I doubt they would really kill you… rough you up maybe, but not kill you.”

Jim looked over at Beth. “You’re kidding, right?”

“They’re sort of like overprotective big brothers,” she said with a smile. “I’ve know them since I was a teenager. I can’t tell you the details, but they saved my life.”

Jim shook his head. “I can’t wait to hear all your stories, Beth.”

“I’d like that too,” she replied.

He placed his hand on hers.

“So, besides being threatened by Tom and Madison, what did you think of the others?” she asked.

“I was very impressed with Ally Burns,” he said. “I can’t believe she’s a department head; I mean, she looks so young.”

“She virtually built the Teen Internet Department from scratch. I hope to work for her some day,” said Beth.

“Well, I wouldn’t mind working for your father someday,” said Jim.

“Did he tell you what he does?” asked Beth cautiously.

Jim nodded. “Special Operations.”

“He must really like you then. Just so you know, it’s a very dangerous job,” said Beth.

Special Operations, or Spec-Ops, was the 911 force for the Agency. It also had the distinction of having the highest casualty rates, although under Beth’s father this rate had decreased greatly.

“They’re the best of the best,” said Jim.

Beth smiled and nodded. Deep down, she would have preferred that Jim had taken an interest in one of the other departments, one slightly safer. While she was immensely proud of her father, she also saw the anxiety on her mom’s face whenever he was called out on a mission.

Jim noticed he’d touched a nerve and decided to shift the conversation. “Changing the subject, any word on the fugitive?” asked Jim. “I know you wanted to talk to your dad about him.”

“Well, it looks like Todd used a false passport. A guy matching Todd’s description caught a flight out of Mexico City to Brazil two days ago.”

“So they think he’s there?”

“I think it was just a stopover, and a way to throw people off his trail. Todd doesn’t speak Portuguese, and the Brazilians aren’t as strict about their extradition laws. No, I think he’s either going to Europe or he’s going to try to sneak back into the US. However, from what we know about Todd, he’s not exactly opened-minded culturally. I can’t see him living in some foreign country for the rest of his life. He’s also arrogant and just might figure that in time we’ll stop looking for him.”

“Does your dad agree?”

Beth nodded. “Todd slipped up once, and he’ll do it again.”

“You’re the most interesting woman I’ve ever met,” blurted out Jim. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out the exact way I meant.”

“Thanks!” replied Beth. “I know what you meant. I’m not exactly conventional.”

“That’s what I like about you. I mean, I’m never bored when I’m around you, Beth,” said Jim.

“Well, if it means anything, I like you a lot too,” said Beth.

“A lot?” he asked.

He glanced over at her.

Beth smiled back. “Yes, a lot!”

Chapter 140

Diana was nursing a glass of cognac as she watched the snow gently fall outside. Kari added another log to the fire and then joined her on the couch.

“This is excellent,” said Diana as she inhaled the aroma of the drink.

“It should be, it’s over a hundred years old.”

“I like the way you sniffed the bottle after you opened it,” said Diana.

“It’s a trick I learned from watching the movie Highlander. I mean, how often can you sniff air that’s over a hundred years old?” said Kari.

“Actually one hundred and six years old,” said Diana.

“It’s just so nice to have customers who like me enough to give me such expensive gifts,” she replied. “I mean, there’s no way that I could buy such a costly bottle of Hennessy for myself. I love it, but this costs over $300 a bottle.”

“It’s worth it,” replied Diana.

Kari slipped her arm around Diana. “I’m glad to see you’re opening up. Throwing that party before Christmas was very nice.”

“They’re a good group. I see a lot of myself in some of them, and well... I want to give back. I can’t imagine how I would have turned out without Faith and Max,” said Diana.

“Any one of them in particular?”

Diana smiled. “Jirra; I mean, I know she’s transgendered, but I sense she’s dealing with something else. Oh, she’s doing a good job hiding it, but from all my experience in hiding emotions, I just get a feeling she’s in conflict.”

“She’s a very pleasant young woman, and she and Alexis make a very nice couple.”

“Alexis is going to come out in January,” said Diana. “She told me and asked that I keep an eye on Jirra for her, especially when dealing with the press.”

“Well, the good thing is that Alexis won’t be the first,” said Kari.

“Yes, but she does have a top rated show,” said Diana. “And she’s young and very attractive. I imagine the press will make a big deal about it. I’ve talked to her about it and have made a few suggestions.”

“Like what?” asked Kari.

“Pick a week when there’s something else big going on,” said Diana. “If she’s going to do it in January, then do it around the Super Bowl; that way the press will have something else to cover.”

“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Kari. “It’s too bad that it’s even a news story.”

“I know,” said Diana. “I wish we could get them to put more coverage on that punk who skipped out of the country.”

“Well, let’s not worry about that tonight. Let’s just enjoy the snow, the fire, the cognac, and our love.” She then kissed Diana.

“I’m so lucky to have you in my life,” replied Diana.

Kari kissed her again. “Don’t you ever forget that!”

Chapter 141

The spa had a big New Year’s Eve party. Judy had planned it all year and insisted that guests and staff dress up for the celebration.

“Roo, you look fantastic,” said Liz.

Jirra stared at herself in the full-length mirror. The red sequined gown seemed to flow over her body.

“I don’t know, Mom. It’s a little revealing,” said Jirra as she looked down at her exposed cleavage.

“Roo, you’re only young once. You have a lovely body, and you shouldn’t be ashamed of it. Besides, Alexis will love you in it,” said Liz.

“Where did you get?” asked Jirra.

“I saw it in a store in Santa Fe and immediately thought of you,” said Liz.

“It is a nice dress,” said Jirra. “I didn’t think they made them like this anymore.”

“They don’t, I bought this in a used clothing shore that specialized in eveningwear. My dress was made in the fifties too,” said Liz.

Liz was wearing a black evening gown.

“Dan promised me he would be wearing a tux,” said Liz. “When Dan and I walk in, I want everyone to look at us.”

Jirra laughed. “I’m so happy for you, Mom.”

“I never thought I would be happy with another man. I loved your father so much,” said Liz. “Dan has made me feel whole again.”

“You deserve it, Mom.”

“Now, here’s a wrap for you to keep you warm while you walk over to the dining hall,” said Liz.

“I’m just glad there’s no ice out there. Walking in these heels is hard enough as it is,” said Jirra. “I’m heading out to meet Alexis. I’ll look forward to your entrance.”

Chapter 142

“Oh, Roo, you look stunning,” said Alexis. “I love that dress; it’s perfect for you!”

Alexis was dressed in a silver gown.

“I’m glad you like it. God, I can’t believe I’m wearing something like this!”

Alexis laughed. “Your mom is right; you have the body for it, and it’s perfect for you. I’m also pleased that you’re wearing the string of pearls I gave you for Christmas.”

“I know they don’t exactly go with the dress, but I really wanted to wear them,” said Jirra.

“Well, I can’t wear the turquoise necklace you gave me tonight, but I plan on wearing it as part of my costume for the show,” said Alexis.

“Cool,” replied Jirra. “I’m still a little nervous about tonight.”

“Why? You look great.”

“Aren’t you worried what the guests will think?” asked Jirra.

Alexis shook her head. “I’m coming out soon anyway. Besides, we haven’t exactly done a good job of hiding our relationship. I had a woman come up to me and tell me that we make a lovely couple!”

“Really?”

Alexis nodded.

“Okay, let’s do this before I change my mind,” said Jirra.

“I can’t wait to see what Jen is wearing. She said that she brought something extra special.”

Chapter 143

Jirra was pleased to see that there were many other women in evening gowns. She had a lingering fear most of the others would show up in jeans and sweater.

Jen was dressed in a forest green cheongsam that looked like it was painted on her.

“That’s so beautiful, Jen,” said Alexis.

“I have a friend in LA who made it for me,” said Jen. “I have to admit that you two make a rather stunning couple. Jirra, red is definitely your color.”

“Thanks, Jen,” replied Jirra. “Alexis is right; you look great.”

“Well, the next time you’re out in LA, I’ll have you fitted for one like this.”

Jirra laughed. “I’ll keep it in mind.”

Liz and Dan arrived a few minutes later, and Jirra got chills at seeing how happy her mom looked.

“Just so you know, I do expect a wedding invitation,” said Jen.

“It will be worth it just to see Jirra in a bridesmaid’s gown,” added Alexis.

“Actually, I’m looking forward to seeing her in a wedding gown,” said Jen.

Jirra felt her face getting red. “Did you tell her?” she asked Alexis.

Jen smiled. “Roo, she didn’t tell me a thing, but she would be a fool not to marry you.”

Jirra smiled back.

“How does that make you feel? I mean, growing up I doubt you ever thought about being a bride,” asked Jen.

“You got that right. But I’m warming up to the idea,” said Jirra.

Alexis slipped her arm around Jirra. “Come on, let’s go mingle. Do you want to join us, Jen?”

“I’ll be along,” said Jen.

Tara and Cari greeted Alexis and Jirra.

“You look great, Jirra. You definitely have the figure for a dress like that,” said Tara.

“Thanks,” replied Jirra. “You two look great too.”

Both were dressed in black gowns.

“My god, do you see Jen?” said Cari. “I love her dress!”

“Jen could wear a gunnysack and make it look glamorous,” said Alexis with a smile. “She definitely has a sense of style.”

“You’re not too bad yourself, Alexis,” said Tara.

“Thank you,” replied Alexis.

“So when are you going to make the announcement?” asked Tara.

“A friend has suggested I do it the week of the Super Bowl,” said Alexis.

“Good idea,” said Tara. “Call me if you need anything; that applies to both of you.”

“Thanks, Tara,” said Jirra.

“So when are you flying back east?” asked Cari.

“In two days,” replied Jirra. “I wish I was out here longer.”

“Me too,” added Alexis. “But we’re starting shooting again on the eighth.”

Lindsey came over wearing a dark purple gown. Dave was wearing a standard evening tux.

“Wow, I feel underdressed,” said Lindsey. “You all look fantastic.”

“Lindsey, you look great,” said Jirra.

“Thanks. I wish we could have had more time together,” said Lindsey. “I’ve missed our adventures.”

“I like the tux, Dave,” said Tara as she reached over and adjusted his bowtie. “You really look dashing in it.”

Dave smiled. “Thanks, Tara.”

“See, I told you that you looked great in it,” said Lindsey.

Jirra then told Lindsey about Kari’s offer.

“That would be so cool. How far is New Hope from where you live?”

“Not too far,” said Jirra, “about forty miles, I’d guess.”

“It sounds like a great opportunity,” said Dave. “You know, I’d love to go with you. There’s so much history around there that I’d love to see.”

“I’ll e-mail you the info when I get back to Penn,” said Jirra. “I’d love to have you out there.”

“I’d like it too,” said Lindsey.

Judy then made an announcement. She was dressed in a gold evening gown.

“Excuse me, before things start to get out of hand, I have a special announcement to make. As most of you know, Jennifer Stevens is a regular guest here. She just asked me to let everyone know that her next movie will start filming here in late-May. What’s even more exciting is that the movie is based on a story written by our own Jirra Reid.”

There was a loud round of applause.

“Did you know about this?” Jirra asked Alexis.

“Nope, but I knew Jen had something up her sleeve,” replied Alexis.

Jen then joined Judy. “This announcement is for the staff. I have booked the entire spa for two weeks of shooting. Now that will be expensive, and to save cost I won’t be bringing in extras from LA. I was hoping that many of you would be willing to appear in the movie. Yes, you will be paid, and some of you may get speaking roles.”

There was more cheering.

“That is so cool,” said Lindsey. “So, does this mean you’ll be getting a writing credit, Jirra?”

“She’d better,” said Alexis with a smile.

Jen then came walking over towards them.

“Sorry for not telling you before, but you know how I like to surprise people, especially my friends,” said Jen. “My lawyers will be sending you the contact, Jirra.”

“I’m stunned,” said Jirra.

“Well, you shouldn’t be. You have a real talent for storytelling. I showed your story to some friends, and they’re very impressed. If you decide to go into the movie business, I think you’d have a great career.”

“Thanks, Jen,” replied Jirra. “By the way, I’m looking forward to seeing you direct the episode for Alexis.”

“I had second thoughts, but I’m warming up to the idea of directing,” said Jen. “Especially, when I’ll have friends in the production.”

“Well, I think you’ll do great,” said Alexis.

“Thanks, Alexis,” said Jen. “Roo, I know that you’ll just be just finishing classes when we start filing, but it was the best I could do. I didn’t want to interfere with the spa’s summer schedule, and I didn’t want to wait until it was too hot.”

“I understand,” said Jirra. “I’ll get out here as soon as finals are over.”

“I’ll supply you with a jet,” said Jen. “Alexis, I know that you’re going to be on break then, and I would like to give you a role if you don’t mind?”

“I’d like that,” said Alexis. “Maybe a nice uncredited cameo, I’ve always wanted to do one of those!”

“Deal,” said Jen. “Well, I’d better go mingle some more. I imagine there are still two or three people who I haven’t signed autographs for.”

Chapter 144

It was after one when Jirra and Alexis stepped into Alexis’s cottage.

“I know that I couldn’t give you the kiss I wanted to back in the hall,” said Alexis. “So, I had this installed.”

Jirra looked up and saw a sprig of mistletoe hanging from the ceiling fan.

“How thoughtful,” she replied.

Alexis pulled Jirra into her arms. “You’re the best thing that has come into my life. Happy New Year, Roo.” She then began to kiss Jirra.

Jirra felt like melting from the passionate kiss, and it was all she could do to keep standing.

“Come on, let’s sit down. I have something to give you,” said Alexis.

They sat on the couch.

“Look, I know that we have time, but I want to show you how much you mean to me,” said Alexis. She then pulled two small jewelry boxes out of her purse. “Jirra, will you marry me?”

Jirra stared at the engagement ring. She tried to reply, but couldn’t as she got so choked up with emotion. All she could initially do was nod.

“Is that a yes?” asked Alexis.

“Yes… yes, I will marry you,” replied Jirra.

Alexis placed one of the rings on Jirra’s finger. She then handed Jirra the other ring. Jirra nervously placed the matching ring on Alexis’ finger. They then kissed again.

“I know we won’t actually get married until you finish college, but I want us to be a real couple. There may be some difficult days in the future, and I just figure that if this is official it will be easier,” explained Alexis.

“This means so much to me. In the months following my change, I wondered if I would ever be with someone. In some ways, I sort of resigned myself to the fact that I might go through life alone,” said Jirra. Tears began to roll down her cheeks.

“You’ll never be alone, Roo,” said Alexis, who reached over and gently wiped the tears away.

They started to kiss again.

“Come on, Roo, let’s go to bed.”

Chapter 145

Liz looked at ring on Jirra’s finger. “It’s a very nice ring,” she said.

They were having coffee in the kitchen.

“It matches Alexis’ ring,” said Jirra.

Liz looked at Alexis and nodded. “I want to say that I’ve very happy for both of you.”

“Do you object, Mom?” asked Jirra.

“I don’t object, Roo. I just want you two to be happy. This could make your lives difficult.”

“We’ve talked about that, Mom,” said Jirra.

“Liz, the last thing I would want to do is hurt Jirra,” said Alexis.

“I know that, Alexis. My concerns are for both of you,” said Liz.

Alexis smiled. “Thank you.”

“When do you plan on getting married?” asked Liz.

“We haven’t set a date, but it won’t be for a while. I want Jirra to complete school,” said Alexis. “I just wanted to show Jirra that I care deeply about her, and even though we’re separated by distance, we’re together in spirit at all times.”

“That’s very lovely, Alexis. I know that you two love each other dearly, and I just want you to be happy.”

“You mean that?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, my dear, welcome to the family,” said Liz. She then gave Alexis and then Jirra a big hug.

“Thanks, Liz,” said Alexis.

“Thanks, Mom. It really makes me happy that you’re so understanding,” said Jirra.

“Alexis, have you told your family yet?” asked Liz.

“No, but we’re going to stop there on the way back. I’d rather tell them in person,” said Alexis.

“That’s smart. When you see them, please tell them that I’d like to meet them, since we’re going to be family,” said Liz.

Chapter 146

Jirra was sitting next to Alexis on the couch in Alexis’s cottage. They were drinking hot chocolate and watching the fire.

“I can’t believe we have to go back tomorrow,” said Jirra.

“I know, but we have to stop in Toledo to see my family,” replied Alexis. “I will miss this place; it’s so relaxing.”

“I hadn’t realized how much I missed it,” added Jirra.

“Well, we’ll be back in the spring,” said Alexis. She set her mug down on the coffee table. “Can I ask you something?”

Jirra nodded.

“What do you miss most about not being a male?”

Jirra ran her fingers through her hair as she contemplated her answer. “I guess it would be the fact that I never really had an opportunity to experience life as a male. I mean, I was eighteen, but there were many things that I never got to do.”

“Like having sex?” asked Alexis.

A sly smile grew on her face. “That’s one thing. But, there’s more to it than just that. I mean, I was close to graduating high school, and there were things that I wanted to do. I mean, I’m it’s not like I have led a sedate life as a woman, but there were things that I missed out on.”

“Like what?” asked Alexis.

“Well, even though my parents never pushed me, I had thought about joining the military,” said Jirra.

“Really?” asked Alexis.

“I wanted to get out and see the world. I had talked to the navy recruiter before Dad was killed,” said Jirra.

“The navy? But your parents were both in the army,” said Alexis.

Jirra laughed. “I know, but I didn’t want to be a ground-pounder. I was thinking of applying for a NROTC scholarship and then going surface.”

“I didn’t know you liked the ocean that much,” said Alexis.

“Actually, the only time I was on a ship out of sight of land was on a charter boat off the Jersey coast. My dad took me on a bluefish expedition. I got really seasick and didn’t catch a thing,” confessed Jirra.

“So that experience made you think about joining the navy?” asked Alexis.

“I wanted to confront my fears,” admitted Jirra. “Dad always said the best way to overcome fear was to face it. The funny thing is that I’m getting to do that now.”

Alexis nodded. “Even though you’ve adapted, it must be terrifying sometimes.”

Jirra nodded and sipped some more of her chocolate. “I can’t imagine how I would have gotten this far without my friends, family, and of course…you.”

Alexis smiled back and leaned over and kissed Jirra. “Thank you.”

“I accept my life now, although I’m still scared about some things,” said Jirra.

“Like what?”

“Being found out,” said Jirra. “I know Jen has done well, but she didn’t have a choice. The whole world knew about her change.”

“Is that all?” asked Alexis.

Jirra shook her head. “The discovery in the canyon just confirmed my greatest fear. I know that I’m fertile.”

“That’s understandable,” said Alexis. “It must be a great shift in your thinking to suddenly realize that you can physically have children”

Jirra shook her head. “It’s not that, Alexis. I have a confession; it’s something that I’ve never told anyone…not even my mom.”

Alexis took Jirra’s hand into hers. “What is it, Roo?”

“There are times when I feel a very strong urge to be a mother. They pass quickly, but they always come back. Alexis, I’m nowhere close to being ready to be a mother.”

Alexis sensed the fear in Roo’s words.

“I mean, I know that I’d have to be with a guy and all that to get pregnant, and I still have no desires for men, but there are times when I see a woman with a baby and I get a longing feeling. It’s very strong, but thankfully it passes quickly. But the feelings come more often now,” continued Jirra. “I had it at the party when I saw Eve. I’ve had it when I saw one of the pregnant guests.”

“Really?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, so if you notice me spacing out sometime when there’s a baby around, you’ll know why,” said Jirra.

“You did a good job of hiding it,” said Alexis.

“I guess you’re not the only one who can act,” said Jirra. “It both scares me and fascinates me; does that makes sense?”

“Yes, it does. Just so you know, I’ll support your decision either way, my love,” said Alexis as she pulled Jirra close. “In the future, please don’t hide your feelings, it’s not healthy.”

“Thanks,” replied Jirra, as she snuggled closer to Alexis.

“I know you have a period, but have you ever been given a full exam?” asked Alexis.

Jirra nodded. “Mom has insisted that I get regular exams. I’m very capable of having children.”

“So everything is normal?” asked Alexis.

Jirra held out her right hand horizontally and rocked it back and forth. She then told Alexis about her increased healing ability, leaving out the information about Jen’s health and aging.

“It makes sense in some ways,” said Alexis. “I mean, it’s not surprising that the transformation would have some special aspects to it.”

“I hope that Dan and Barrett find out some more information on the Anasazi,” said Jirra. “I’d like to know about the reasons why they used the canyon. I suppose I could ask Killara the next time I see him, but knowing him, it would just leave me with more questions than answers.”

“Well, I’m with you all the way now, Roo,” said Alexis as she leaned over and kissed Jirra on the lips. “Besides, what’s life without some mysteries?”

“Normal?” asked Jirra.

“Normal’s overrated,” replied Alexis.

“I love you so much,” said Jirra.

“I love you too, Roo,” said Alexis as they began to kiss.

Chapter 147

Jen insisted on driving Jirra and Alexis to the airport. Liz and Dan rode along.

“You know, Jen, you complain about being spotted in public, yet you insist on driving vehicles like this,” said Alexis.

“Life is too short to drive boring cars,” replied Jen. “I know one thing, when I make the movie out here, I’ll bring my own Hummer from LA.”

“Oh, yes, a huge fire engine red Hummer; that will certainly blend right in,” added Alexis.

“Keep it up, Alexis, just remember that I’ll be directing you in a few months,’ said Jen.

Alexis winked at Jirra and they began to laugh.

“Changing the subject, how long will you be staying in Ohio?” asked Liz.

“Just a few hours,” replied Alexis. “I told my sister, Sue, about our engagement, and she’ll be bringing out my parents. My brother won’t be able to make it as he’s already back at college,” said Alexis.

“And Trish?” asked Liz.

“No, but I really wasn’t expecting her to come along,” said Alexis. Even though she did her best to hide it, her disappointment showed in voice.

“Please have your parents call me after you’ve told them,” said Liz.

“I will,” replied Alexis.

The ride to the airport passed way too fast for Jirra’s taste, and soon they were at the airport.

“Maybe you and Dan could come out to Philly,” said Jirra hopefully.

“We just might do that, Roo,” said Liz. She then hugged Jirra. “I’m going to miss you.”

“I’m already missing you, Mom,” replied Jirra.

Jirra then gave Dan a hug. “Please keep me up to date on the dig.”

“Well, we won’t be doing anything until spring. Barrett and I are going to be in the archives until them. Hopefully, we can find some similar glyphs to the ones we discovered.”

“Good luck. Also, I just want to say how happy I am that you’re going to marry my mom.”

Dan laughed. “I’m pretty happy about it too.”

Jen then hugged both Alexis and Jirra.

“Have a safe flight,” said Jen.

“We will. So when do you go back to Hollywood?”

“In another week. I want to relax a little more,” said Jen.

“Now, call me when you get in to Philly,” said Liz.

“I will, Mom,” said Jirra, who then hugged her mom again.

Chapter 148

It was a week later, and Jirra was watching Alexis on TV. Cat, Beth, Celeste, and Spirit were sitting around Jirra’s living room.

“So her family is okay with you two being engaged?” asked Cat.

Jirra nodded. “Well, with the exception of her sister Trish.”

“It’s amazing that two people can have the same name and be so different. I mean, Trish from the party is like the exact opposite,” said Beth.

“We shouldn’t let them in the same room. It might be like matter and anti-matter, and we’d have an explosion,” said Cat.

“Shhhh!” said Jirra as she pointed to the screen.

They watched the rest of the show in silence.

“Okay, now we can talk,” said Jirra.

“So, tell me, is the show going to be shot on campus?” asked Celeste.

“They’re still negotiating it,” said Jirra. “But either way the show will be shot in Philly.”

“And we’re really going to get parts?” asked Beth.

Jirra nodded.

“Even Spirit?” asked Beth.

Jirra laughed. “Why not?”

“So, how did things go with Jim?’ asked Cat.

“Very well,” replied Beth. “His parents like me, my parents like him, and we love each other.”

“Sounds perfect,” said Cat.

“Celeste had a good break too,” added Beth.

All heads turned towards Celeste, who just shrugged her shoulders.

“You’re not getting off that easy,” said Cat.

“Okay. Sean and I had a wonderful time together,” she said.

“That’s it?” asked Jirra.

“We’re going to The Mann this Saturday for a concert,” said Celeste. “He’s really nice, and Spirit likes Sean too.”

“I’m very happy for you, Celeste,” said Jirra.

“So am I,” added Cat.

“Has Matt started his class yet?” asked Jirra.

Cat nodded. “He’s doing very well. I’m happy for this, but I miss him a lot.”

Eventually, the talk shifted to Todd.

“Diana couldn’t tell me much, but she hinted that they have proof that his parents have been helping him,” said Beth.

“Do they know where he is?”

“They know he left Brazil, but they’re not sure where he is; although Diana said Boudicca was checking out a lead in Costa Rica,” continued Beth.

“So he’s heading north,” said Cat.

Beth nodded. “That would be my guess.”

“Well, I doubt if he’ll come back here, and if he does, it would be a great mistake,” said Celeste. “I rented out one of the first floor apartments to Nina. She’ll be working out of Boudicca’s local office. Just so you know, they will be keeping an eye on us. Todd might try to seek revenge.”

“He can’t be that stupid,” said Jirra.

“Never underestimate a numbskull,” said Beth. ”Still, he’s going to have enough things to worry about.”

“I’ve talked to some of the other campus clubs, and they’re going to help us put up posters of him all over campus,” said Celeste. “Also, Jill said that the paper isn’t going to let this die out until he’s caught.”

“Cool. Now, what about the other empty apartment on our floor?” asked Cat. “I noticed that sign came down.”

Celeste nodded. “Very observant. I rented it yesterday to TC and Jill.”

“That’s wonderful; when do they move in?” said Jirra.

“In a few weeks; I need to get it painted first,” said Celeste.

“What about Diana?” asked Cat.

“She’s going to rent out one of the other first floor apartments. It will be her office and allow her to sleep in the city when she has to work late,” said Celeste.

“Soon the whole building will be family,” said Cat.

Celeste smiled. “That’s the plan.”

Chapter 149

Jirra received a call from Alexis just before she went to bed.

“Did you like tonight’s show?” asked Alexis.

“Yes, it was very good, although the ending was a little dark,” said Jirra.

“I know, but it creates some good tension between the characters. Faith doesn’t always want a happy ending.”

“Just as long as we get ours,” said Jirra.

“I like that idea. Well, I have an early shoot tomorrow. Good night, and remember that I love you, Roo,” said Alexis.

“I love you too, Alexis,” replied Jirra.

Chapter 150

He watched as his passport was examined at the San Ysidro border crossing. He had picked the busiest time of day to make his return back into the United States, hoping that this would make his entry easier. As expected, his false passport passed inspection, and he was allowed to cross.

Todd was very bitter over how his life had changed so dramatically in the past few months. One moment he was at Penn, and the next he was on the run, and why? Just because some freak of nature upset his plans.

His father had told him to lie low and not cause any trouble and to let the lawyers work everything out. But Todd had his doubts. That bitch of an assistant DA didn’t look like she would back down.

Todd re-read all the articles about his arrest online. It really angered him that his arrest was due in part to a group of students who’d tracked him and the others. He would get their names and someday make them pay.

However, Todd would do as his father said; he would lie low for and lick his wounds. He would live in LA for now and wait for the right moment to strike back. There were others who thought like him, and all they needed was a leader. In his mind, he had a list of those he would strike back at, starting with the freak who had led to his arrest, Jirra Reid.

The End… for now.

Jirra, Alexis, Beth, Cat, Celeste, Diana, Jen, Spirit, and the others will be back in Coeds 2.

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Editor's note

Four years ago today, Julie O started posting what would become her 34-part masterpiece, The Scholarship, over at FM. That was later edited, revised and expanded to the three-part version posted here.

Today, with the publication of Coeds, we have Erika's first appearance in the Julieverse since The Scholarship.

Congrats on the milestones you have set, Julie!

Amelia

Outstanding Epic

I haven't seen such a large body of work tied together so well since Heinlein's Future History. The characters are alive for the reader and while they have terrible things happen to them, in the end they are well cared for by their friends and the author.

I agree

It is a very very good story.
One McGuffin, the transformation, and the rest is all very plausible, if somewhat politically loaded (service family going around the country with military person who if being promoted and not being stationed at foreign bases would certainly be performing foreign hazardous duty assignments and they are self proclaimed Liberal???)
I am mildy surprised that after some of Celeste's tenants left, that other TG students weren't offered the available apartments since Todd was still out there and Celeste's building would probably have been safer than most any alternatives. Oh, and as a celebrity professor Dianne would certainly have an office on campus (unless she never wanted one before).
Write More Please
J'hn1

Oh, wow!

Not had time to read it, just a quick dash through, and already I have used up several Kleenexes. There's some touching stuff in here, Thanks Julie! And Amelia! I hope the sequel isn't too long in coming.

Karen J.

"A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you."
Francoise Sagan

Don't hold your breath...

... for the sequel. Julie, Bob, and I already have tentative plans for two sequels to Coeds. However, Julie is making noises about either a new story in the Turbulence series or a new Protector story first.

Not to mention those little short ones she pops out in a couple days whenever she needs a change of pace. ;-)

Amelia

Jeese, now I feel guilty

Julie, Amelia, Bob, other, oh yeah, Itinerant

I never fully read the Scholarship, I skimmed some parts. Now I have to read it.

I'd love a new Turbulence or a Protector as I miss Aly but I dearly miss Iona and co.

Todd scares me, he wants revenge so bad would he attack Alexis if he can't get to Jirra? Lots of plot complications.

At times it was a four-ring circus but Julie the ringmaster kept them all running smoothly.

Now if you can figure a way for Jirra to have Alexis's baby ...? Maybe something to do with the fertility rites part of the transformations? Ack, I'll never figure out this plot in advance.

Nice stuff.

I had an inkly Amazon might tie in, I was glad to see it happen and with a daughter at that, hum? Oh, Itinerant ...!

John in Wauwatosa

The But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine)

Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine) Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

Shocked!

I'm shocked, shocked to find that you haven't read "The Scholarship", John! A really great story, one of the very best!

Just finished "Coeds", couldn't sleep so I had to get up and finish it. Now you tell me I have to wait for the sequel, Amelia. That's going to be tough!

Karen J.

"A dress makes no sense unless it inspires men to want to take it off you."
Francoise Sagan

Reading Assignments

John,

Your assignment is to read "Scholarship". We'll expect a preliminary outline of your 100 page report by the Ides of March. ;-)

I concur regarding Todd, though I'd guess Jirra is a more likely target as she is the proximate cause of his problem -- not that that has *anything* to do with what Julie will do.

Itinerant

PS: "I had an inkly Amazon might tie in, I was glad to see it happen and with a daughter at that, hum? Oh, Itinerant ...!"

Yes? You have a question?

Nicole (a.k.a. Itinerant) -- "Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely." - Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, Computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale

Okay, I'll read it

It's a good thing they don't know I never fully read the first two Protector .. Ah, now I gotta read those too?!

I'll never catch up now and I still need to finish reading Warrior from Batuk for aardvark.

Oh, Great One in Michigan, Trish + Ameila + a baby = ????? Who's the daddy? Parthenogenisis and immaculate conception are right out. Cloning I doubt though there is the Artimis Express. Maybe she can do this too, allow one woman to fertilize the other. My suspicion leans more toward the mundane, the human equivalent of ABS -- American Breeders Service.

Somebody owes use a chapter or more. You probably have a week or two free before I dump a pile of cra ... inspired prose upon you.

It was so nice to see these various stories and charcters interacting.

John in Wauwatosa

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine)

Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

But you're not a scientist. Surely you believe in all this superstitious nonsense. (MAD Magazine) Could be worse, could be raining. (Young Frankenstein)

Replying elsewhere

Rather than clog the comments here, I've replied in my blog.

Nicole (a.k.a. Itinerant) -- "Power corrupts. Powerpoint corrupts absolutely." - Edward R. Tufte, professor emeritus of political science, Computer science and statistics, and graphic design at Yale

Shocked!

Julie O and friends, I was so pleased when I that Coeds had finally posted. This is a great Saga that is full of action, love and passion. Once begun I couldn't stop reading. Chapter 150 with Todd's return I kept seeing Darth Vader's Tie-fighter spin away to fight another day in Star Wars. Then at the end to see a promise of Coeds 2 was a great boost to my day even if I had been reading all day rather than doing what I was supposed to. I don't think I can heap enough praise so thanks again to Julie, and all of the cameo authors!
Hugs!
grover

Plan? Ain't got no Plan!
"Beyond Thunder Dome"

Plan? Ain't got no Plan!
"Beyond Thunder Dome"

So very, very wonderful!

Julie there are not enough words to describe how great this was! You delivered a fantastic and very satisfying story.

There are so many things you do so well, but one of particular note is the way you let the reader into the lives of your characters. The balance between detail and flow is great.

One thought hit me early on and stuck with me as I read Coeds. It is really kind of bittersweet - our little girls are growing up and becoming beautiful, strong young women. There is a great sense of pride at all they have accomplished, and excitement for all that is yet to come, laced with just a little sadness.

Congratulations on the anniversary of The Scholarship too. I'm not exaggerating when I say I believe it is one of the finest pieces of fiction I have ever read, TG or otherwise.

Sincerely,

Scott

~If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just.~
Lazarus Long
Robert A. Heinlein's 'Time Enough for Love'

Sincerely,

Scott

Calvin: You can't just turn on creativity like a faucet. You have to be in the right mood.
Hobbes: What mood is that?
Calvin: Last-minute panic.

Shoot..

everyone else has already said what I would. This is a great series and I can't wait for the next edition either. I don't think you have tuned out Leah yet either, but that is just a guess. Thank the Goddess you spelled it that way.

The only ittybitty problem I saw was Matt signed up for the FBI but you had him coming back from Langley training once. Langley is HQ buildings for CIA and Quantico is home for the FBI academy. Camp Perry in Virginia, also called the Farm, is one of the past training centers for the CIA.

Leia Marie

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor.

Coeds

Julie,

As usual, another epic in the making. I had forgotten some of the other characters, from your other stories so I am glad you brought them all together here.

It is nice to have a bit of refresher course on your characters which you succeeded in doing in this one chapter.

What a great story, can't wait for more. Todd really sounds like he has only two brain cells to rub together. Not too bright is he. I hope we hear more soon on your next chapter.

Keep up the good work.

Joni W

Julie

For years I have had the pleasure of reading the great fiction on all the sights. Some of the stories I read are purely for escapism, they require no emotional investment from me and all they entertain me. The Julieverse characters along with Bob's Jennifer Stevens are different for me. From the first, the characters reached in and wrapped themselves around my heart and never let go. I read these stories and I can close my eyes and though I have never been to the locations I can see everything. I don't just read the text, I can actually heard the girls' voices in my head and I can distinguish the voices for each one of them. I can see the expressions on their faces and I can heard the emotions in their voices. I have come to love them and wish I could hold them and comfort them when they hurt and laugh with them when they are happy. This is what makes a truly great writer to me and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me and all of us the gift of these stories. Bob, everything I have said goes for You and Jennifer also. Thank you.
Randy

Me too ! Me too!

... Oh yes, I like it too :-)

There is not much more I can say that other readers have not already
said about the breathtaking length, depth and scope of Julie's
Universe. It encompasses you and draws you in a way that few Universes I have seen. The only saga that, before the last 6 books so so where it has really tanked, that has such a quality of drawing one in is 'The Cat Who' series by Lillian Jackson Braun. You always want to come back to find out the latest happenings and changes to the lives of the citizens and denizens of Pickax, the 'Mystery' aspect of it only a side show. But you don't mind.

Julie however does it one by better by still being able to weave in an in-depth mystery thread. So all I can say is Brava! Brava! to a transfiction diva.

Finally, thank you to all the wonderful folks whose labors made this universe possible.

Kim

Hi Julie

Good story, nice to see the continuation of Jirra's story. I truly hope you won't keep us waiting as long for the next part.

with love,

Hope

Random Speculations

Hmm,
I think the Detective Agency should be putting a watch out on Alexis. Once the self outing comes about, what is to say that Todd isn't watching the press conference on TV? He will see Jirra on the stage with Alexis and then we have instant vengence in the making. All he has to do is grab Alexis and Jirra will come running. If she doesn't, then Alexis is as good as dead. But then again, who knows? Only the Julie meister knows! But with this story, another wonderfully enticing look into the fruitful mind of one of the greatest TG fiction writers around. Thank you so much for this. I can hardly wait for the next episode of *WHATEVER* story you continue with.

Goldie

Another superb JulieO saga...

I just love the blending of all the various characters from Julie and Bob's stories! A simply gripping read from start to finish! I must say that while I'd love to have a sequel to this fine story as soon as possible I will enjoy reading another story in the Turbulence Universe also. Julie just has such vibrant characters and dialog that all her stories are must reads for me. Thanks to Julie, Bob, and Amelia for all your hard work and time that you put into these stories!

"Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition."

-- Timothy Leary --

"Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition."

-- Timothy Leary --

Thx Julie

Phew, I just finished reading the whole story and want to thank you, JulieO.
I really enjoy your stories and can't wait 'till you write another one of those epics (Perhaps we see some characters of the "Turbulence" and "Ambition" series *wink* ).

Cya Chris

YEAA!!! They're back!!! Thank you Julie O!!

Julie O is one of my favorite TG fiction authors, with the Fresh Start and Protector series being top of the list. Thank you Julie O for this wonderful addition to the series. I can't wait for part 2 (and more?)!

And a big thanks to Amelia and Bob and the rest for bringing this to us!

Cheers,

Dx

Marvelous, simply marvelous!

I must admit, JulieO turned out another amazing story. I only recently (past 3 months) started (and subsequently finished) reading her stories, and must admit that I find myself very interested in the julie-verse stories.

Coeds is an amazing piece of work, and I rather enjoyed trying to piece together the many connections to the other stories out there, or guess where perhaps future stories might be linked through characters.

Only quip I might have is my 3rd time through, I just noticed a bit of a continuity quirk. I believe around the time Jirra sets up Todd & Company to get caught for assault, she explains her background to Diana. This seems to conflict, unless Diana is under the impression Jirra is hiding something else, around Christmas time when Diana mentions to Kari that Jirra is hiding something other than being transgendered (assuming normal tg with hormones+SRS).

Again, I loved the story, and I look forward to JulieO's future works. I'm especially interested in stories with Jirra, Iona or Ally. ^_^

- ExaltedNekoKun -