Something Feels Strange - 20

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Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

“That’s what I’m afraid of,” I confide, “I’m so afraid that, if I let myself go, I’ll like it too much to go back.”

“Well, girl, it seems to me that you’ll have to go back to being Chris. After all, how would you explain Chris’s disappearance? I would miss him terribly. Just think, if you didn’t switch back then we’d both need to find new boyfriends; and let me tell you, girl, guys like Chris are rare and very hard to find. Anyway, letting yourself go may make the transition back to being Chris harder, but not unbearable, and I think that it will make your summer much more fun. Think about it, girl friend.”

I do think about it—a lot—before I finally get to sleep.

Chapter 20: Race Day

It’s half an hour to race time. The four of us are stretching and doing a little last minute encouragement for our first runner. The Major gets us to pose for a group photo and gives us a pep talk.

It’s hard to find everyone in this huge crowd. The Airborne t-shirts and cell phones help. There must be two or three thousand people milling around and another thousand on the way, so this is by far the biggest mass start that I’ve ever seen! Fortunately, the sash that we will be handing off has a chip in it so our time doesn’t really start until the sash crosses the start line but, all the same, we encourage Spud to get near the head of the group which is already filling up. It doesn’t make sense to stick around for the starting gun so the rest of us decide to get an early start for the first exchange point. The Major has offered to provide transport services so the remainder of us pile into his big crew cab truck and head for the aid station where the first exchange will take place.

As we get out of the truck I hear someone calling to me. Looking around I see Joey and Alex, two of the boys we met on the boat, heading our way. Joey has his big camera out.

“Tina, we were hoping to see you,” Joey says after they catch up to me. “We thought that we’d come cheer you on.”

Helen looks at me with a cocked eyebrow.

“Thanks, Joey,” I say. Turning to the rest of the team, I make introductions. “Killer and Jalepeno this is Joey and Alex. Guys, I think you’ve met Major Jeffers.”

The guys give my running partners a strange look. 

“Actually, I’m Helen and this is Manuel,” Helen clarifies for them. “Killer and Jalepeno are just nicknames. So what brings you fellas out on such a nice morning?”

“We met Tina and Laurie on a boat tour this week and heard about the race, so we thought we’d come out to cheer Tina on,” Alex replies. “Where’s Laurie?”

“She’ll be meeting us at the next relay point where I start my leg of the race,” I reply. Alex looks a little disappointed.

“Look guys, it’s really sweet that you came but I need to help Helen get ready for her run. I’ll see you in a bit,” I say as I drag Helen off for a short warm up jog.

“You didn’t tell me you had a boyfriend up here already,” Helen says. “Girl, you sure work fast.”

“He’s just a guy I met on the boat. He’s a nice guy, but I swear, I didn’t do anything to encourage the relationship. I’m not interested in a boyfriend right now. He’s been emailing me but I’ve tried to ignore the last few,” I explain.

“Well it looks as if he found you. It seems pretty clear that he likes you a lot,” she observes.

“Any idea on how to get him to realize that we’ll never be more than friends?” I ask the older woman.

“I’d have thought a cute girl like you would already have that maneuver down by now,” she replies.

“Actually,” I say, “I don’t have much experience with this sort of thing.  I do think that he’s a nice guy so I don’t want to hurt his feelings.  At the same time, I’d like him not to get his hopes up for greater things.”

“Why don’t you stay down the trail until Spud shows up. When he does, call the Major with your cell phone to let us know he is coming. You can run back with him.  When you get back there won’t be time to visit with the two boys,” she suggests.

I agree to the plan and wait about a quarter mile up the trail from the relay point while Helen heads back to finish her stretching and warm up.

About ten minutes later the first runners start to appear.  So do Joey and Alex.

“We heard that you were doing lookout duty so we thought that we’d come wait with you,” Joey explains.

“Sorry, guys, but when my runner shows up I’ll have to go quickly,” I tell them. “You can help me by looking for a guy wearing an Airborne shirt like mine.”

“Why didn’t you answer my last email?” Joey asked.

“Sorry, Joey, I’ve been pretty busy and haven’t checked it recently,” I tell him, trying my best 'sad puppy' look. “Oh look! There’s Spud now!”

I pull out my cell phone and hit the speed dial button for the Major and I report that Spud is in sight.

“Hey look, guys, I need to take off! It was good to see you,” I say with a smile as I start jogging back to the exchange point. When Spud catches up to me, I run with him giving encouragement as he sprints for the exchange.

We give Spud about five minutes to cool down before piling back into the truck for the ride to the next exchange point.

The traffic around the check points slows us down some, but we get to the next stop with about ten minutes to spare—plenty of time for me to complete my warm up exercises. 

I don’t know how they did it, but Joey and Alex pull in to the parking area just after us.  These guys are tenacious. Also at the check point are Laurie, Tom, Ashley, and Don. It seems that we—or maybe, I—have quite the fan club.  When Joey and Alex join us I let Laurie do the introductions as I focus on getting ready for my run. Laurie makes a point of telling everyone that I need my space to get focused, which really helps.

Jalapeno jogged down the trail to give us warning of Killer’s arrival and, as a result, we get about two minutes notice prior to her arrival.  At least a hundred runners have passed through the aid station.  Spud did not get a good start but Killer really made up some ground. She is in an all out sprint when she arrives at the aid station and hands the sash off to me.  I don’t waste any time heading down the trail.

The City of Anchorage has an extensive bike and walking trial system so the entire route is off the roads. My leg of the race starts near the high point of the course so most of my run is gently downhill.

I take off pretty fast but soon settle into a strong steady pace.  I am fresh and pass many of the runners that are doing the full marathon.  I even find myself passing a few other relay runners. There is something to be said for starting behind slower runners. There is a mental boost every time you pass someone—I always loose energy when someone passes me.  Anyway, the paved trail winds through the woods before entering the city proper. The route crosses several major roads via pedestrian bridges.  At one bridge not far from the exchange point Joey is ready with his camera, shouting encouragement as I run by. The rest of my fan club is there also.

I sprint the last quarter mile to the exchange and make the transfer to Jalepeno who takes off like his tail is on fire. It takes a few minutes for me to catch my breath as I cool down.

“Wow, girl!” Helen enthuses as she gives me a big hug before she joins me for my short cool down jog, “you really kicked some butt! 43:23 is not a bad run for seven miles. Great job. You can run with me anytime.”

I’m pretty sweaty so the hug I get from Laurie is rather tentative. “Great job, Tina. You looked like you were really flying when you got here. You haven’t lost your touch at all.”

Joey and Don catch up to me about the same time.  Apparently the two of them are in competition for my attention. Alex is focusing on Laurie.

“Wow, you’re pretty fast!” exclaims Don. “I’d hate to have to race you.”

“You sure are,” agrees Joey, “I had the continuous shoot feature going on the camera but only got a few images as you flashed by.”

“Thanks guys,” I say, “I’d love to see the images, but we need to head out to the finish line. Maybe you could send me the good ones, Joey?”

“You bet!” he says with a big smile. “I’ll follow you guys over to the finish line and let you look at them there. You can pick out the ones you like.”

As we drive toward the finish line, Helen tells me about the competition between Joey and Don for my affections.  She says that it was humorous to watch them posturing.  Neither seems to be sure if the other is my boyfriend. It appears that Laurie is not helping them out too much either.

“Let me know if they get to be a problem,” the Major says with a twinkle in his eye. “I think it would be fun to play the part of the over-protective relative. After all, I've never had a daughter to protect.”

“Stick close,” I tell him.

“I’m called ‘Killer’ for a reason,” Helen says. “I’ve killed more budding infatuations than any girl I know. It is amazing how amorous these soldier types get when they’ve been away from home for a while. They all think that they are can sweep any woman off her feet. It gets old after a very short time. I find the best way is to tell them straight up that they need to get their hormones under control. Unfortunately this also insults their manhood, so you need to find a way to tell them that they are valuable without being bed mates. Sometimes it helps to have someone else put them in their place for you. If they get out of hand let me know and I’ll show you how it’s done.”

As expected the whole crew is waiting for us at the finish line. The first runners have already started arriving.  There aren’t a lot at the front of the race. While we are waiting for Jalapeno to show, Joey shows us all the images that he has taken. I make him delete one where I have a less than flattering expression. I am surprised at all the candid pictures that he took while we where hanging around the various exchange locations.  I think that there are enough images of my warm up to illustrate a how-to book. It looks as if I have my own personal photographer.

Don is feeling upstaged at this point and you can tell he is trying to find some way to impress me. Things are getting out of hand.

I stroll away from the group and, as expected, Don and Joey follow me. This is really strange! I’ve never felt like a magnet before. When we get out of earshot of the group, I turn to them and say, “Listen, guys, I think that both of you are really nice guys and it has been great to meet you. I may be flattering myself here but I get the impression that each of you are trying to find some way to ask me out tonight before I leave.”

I can tell from the expressions on their faces that I have hit close to the mark.

“I want you two to know that I think that we could all become good friends if there were time. But, guys, I am not interested in being anything more than friends with anyone right now. Also, we don’t have the time to develop much of a friendship right now since I will be in California about this time tomorrow. I have a full schedule today and tonight, so please let’s just part as friends and be glad that our paths crossed at least once in our lives. Can we just be friends?” I ask as I look them each in the eye.

“Sure,” they both say looking somewhat uncomfortable.

“Come here, guys,” I direct holding out my arms. I give them each a little hug and a peck on the cheek then put my arms through theirs so that they can both escort me back to the main group. “Let’s go watch Jalapeno finish this race.”

As we get back with the others, Laurie gives me an enquiring look. Helen gives me a look that clearly indicates that she is ready to jump in. The Major just smiles and shakes his head.

Letting go of the two guys I go over to Laurie and whisper in her ear, “I’ll tell you later.”

While still attentive, the two smitten young men give me some space. Before too long, Spud shouts that he can see Jalapeno coming up the final hill. We all start to shout and cheer him on as he valiantly attempts to sprint past another runner on his way to the finish. He doesn’t quite make it, but it was fun watching him try.

Our final time puts us in about 8th place in the relay teams and first in the military service category. While I’m the only one in the group not employed by the military my military dependent ID is sufficient to make me eligible to be part of the group. We are pretty jazzed as a team. Helen put out the best performance and I came in a close second for the team. The Major is also pleased that his soldiers did so well, but he did point out to the two guys that they had been bested by a teenage girl.  I can tell from the predatory grin on Helen’s face that they will be hearing about how they got beat by a couple of girls for quite some time.

The four of us pose for some photos by our fans. It is great fun.

“Anyone hungry?” the Major asks.

“Yes, Sir!” comes from the military guys and similar responses for the rest.

“Well, Polly and Jen have prepared a barbecue up at the house.  Everyone is welcome to join us.” He says, directing the last comments to my two bands of admirers. Swell! I thought he would be more help than that, but I guess now that the ground rules have been established maybe things will be okay.

We collected our new T-shirts for being race finishers, directions to the Jeffers’ house are exchanged, and I hop into Spud’s SUV with the rest of the team. We’re sweaty enough that everyone else is politely keeping their distance. The four of us together smell pretty ripe. The ride back to the house goes quickly as we share stories of our experiences on the run.  I received a good natured ribbing about the size of my fan club. All of them volunteered to act as bodyguards for me if need be. There is nothing like a team success to bring a group of people together. It feels really nice to be part of this particular group.

At the house, we runners take turns in the shower before we are allowed to join the rest of the group. I guess the others just don’t appreciate the smell of success!

I put on shorts and a loose t-shirt with an “Alaskan Grown” logo on the front.  I pull my hair back with a large butterfly clip and add a touch of makeup before joining the rest of the group. As I head down the stairs I realize how natural all this feels. It has been a tough week in a lot of ways, but I think that I am getting used to this body and it’s care.

Laurie intercepts me before I make it out to the deck. “What did you say to those guys? They are getting along like old friends now.”

I recount the conversation I had with the guys and mention that I think that they got the message.

“Wow, I wouldn’t have thought to do that. We’ll see if it works,” she says with some admiration. “Why the hugs and kisses though?”

“The Major pointed out to me yesterday that after you take someone down a peg that you need to let them know that they are of some value so that you don’t totally destroy the relationship,” I explain, “so I decided to combine that advice with the training on feminine wiles you women have been trying to teach me. I decided to be direct like a guy, but then follow it up with a little feminine attention to let them know that they are not total failures. The hugs and kisses seemed to be the feminine way to tell them that they are not total losers. By doing it to both of them, it communicated that hug and peck on the cheek are not necessarily symbols of undying love. I think that combining the best of the two gender approaches might make things easier. So far it seems to be working.”

“Great move, Tina. It looks as if you’ll be teaching me soon!” she chuckles as we head out to the deck and join the party.

“Oh, I don’t think so,” I tell her, “I still have a lot to learn about the girl side of things. Just don’t expect me to do things the same way as a girl would. I intend to mix the techniques from both teams.”

“By the way,” I ask her, “do you think that we can find another running shoe necklace when we get home?”

“Sure, there were a few more like it at the store. Why?” she asks.

I explain my plan to her and get her approval. As we rejoin the party, I seek out Helen.

“Helen,” I say, “I can’t thank you enough for working with me this week and including me in your team. It really made the trip for me.”

“It was nothing, kid,” she tells me. “You are a great kid and have been a great help to our team. Plus it got me out of some less desirable duty. As I said, you can run with me any time.”

“And likewise, but I want you to have this as a symbol of my appreciation,” I say as I hold up my runner’s necklace up.

I swear I saw her eyes water as she said, “Oh, Princess, you don’t have to give me your special necklace.”

“But I want to, Killer,” I say as I reach out and put the necklace around her neck.

We embrace for what feels like more than a few minutes.

“Oh, Princess,” she says with noticeable tears on her cheeks as we pull back, “that is the nicest thing that anyone has done for me in a long time. I promise to take good care of it.” We embrace again.

It is still early afternoon on a very sunny and gorgeous day. Good friends, good food, the glow from achieving something wonderful, and beautiful scenery.  Overlooking a mildly upset stomach, it doesn’t get much better than this. What could possibly go wrong?

We have a game of volley ball going on the back lawn when Laurie suddenly grabs me and drags me aside.

“You aren’t wearing a pad are you?” she whispers urgently.

“No. Why?” I ask.

“Because your period has started and you are starting to stain your shorts,” she says as she drags me into the house with everyone watching.

“We’ll be back in a few,” she calls out to the crowd.

“Do you think anyone else saw it?” I ask.

“Helen did. She is the one who got my attention,” Laurie says.

By now we are up the stairs and in the bathroom.

“You’ll want to get out of those shorts and sit on the toilet until I get back.” she directs.

I just about faint when I see the mess in my panties. Ugh! I don’t think that I like this. The sight of blood has always made me squeamish. Especially when it is my own! I am sooo glad that I was expecting this. I would be really freaking out right now if this were a surprise.

She is back in a flash with fresh panties, a tampon and a pad, and a denim skirt.

As I attempt to clean myself up, she shows me how to rinse out and soak my clothes to minimize permanent blood stains. Somewhere during the instruction, Aunt Jen and Mom Polly show up to lend a hand. So much for privacy.

Eventually, the bloody mess is under control, a tampon installed, and I get redressed with a pad in my panties to handle any leakage. There’s nothing like having full protection.

The tampon is really strange. I don’t really feel it, but having something stuck up inside of me is a wholly new experience.

“You don’t normally wear both a tampon and a pad,” Mom Polly tells me, “but a back up pad for the tampon is pretty good insurance when your flow is heavy or you may not be able to change out the tampon in a timely fashion. How are you feeling, Honey?  Any cramping?”

“I was thinking that something I ate didn’t agree with me,” I reply, suddenly remembering Laurie’s description of the onset of her most recent period, “but it wasn’t too bad so I didn’t worry about it.”

“How are your breasts?” asks Aunt Jen, “Mine often get a tender just before my period starts.”

“Maybe they are, but I wrote that off as resulting from the running and not being use to the bra,” I reply.

“With time, you’ll come to recognize the signs,” Mom Polly tells me, “but I suspect that at times you will get caught off guard like the rest of us.”

As we finish cleaning up I am regaled with stories of times when each of the women has been caught in embarrassing situations when their periods started.  It is good to know that I didn’t do anything too stupid. It all goes to emphasize the need to pay close attention to my body and the calendar. Being a girl is definitely more complicated than being a guy!

There seem to be enough pads and tampons around to get me through this period, or at least to California, so there is no need for a quick trip to the store for supplies. The ladies help me stock my purse and carry on bag with extra panties, pads and tampons so that I will be good for the next few days.

“In a couple of hours we’ll help you change out the tampon and pad. You need to be discrete about how you dispose of them so that you don’t gross everyone out. And don’t ever try flushing them down the toilet,” Mom Polly instructs me.  I get the feeling that she kind of likes having a ‘daughter’ to share such intimate instruction with.

By the time we head back outside, things are winding down. Everyone pitches in to clean up the kitchen and yard before heading their various ways.

Helen gives me a big hug and thanks me again for the necklace. Whispering in my ear, she says “Good thing your period didn’t start a couple of hours earlier! Take care, Princess. Look me up next time you’re in the area.”

I give my other two team mates a big hug and a peck on the cheek. They blush a little. It is amazing what a hug and kiss does to a guy. On reflection, I suppose Chris would have a similar response. This is a neat trick for influencing guys. I’ll have to watch out for it when I change back.

“Thanks for letting me run with you, guys,” I say gratefully, “it was the highlight of my trip.”

I end up hugging Joey, Alex, and Don as they all head out too. We agree to keep in touch by email. I had had Joey download all the pictures from today onto my computer soon after he arrived so he won't be emailing me any pictures.

Tom and Ashley took off for some purpose or another, which left the Jeffers and our crew sitting on the back deck enjoying the afternoon sun before going in to finish packing for our departure.

“Well, Princess,” the Major says, “you’ve really come a long way this week.  I’ve been watching you all day and, while I still see a little of the boy left in your mannerisms, you have become much more feminine in the short time that you’ve been here—enough so that you portray the tomboy image very well. I have also been very impressed at how quick a learner you are. You really picked up on different ways of approaching problem solving using your new assets. I am particularly amazed at how you handled the two-love struck boys today. Your combination of male and female approaches came off really well.”

“I agree,” adds Mom Polly. “In many ways you are much more mature than many girls your age. I suspect that you brought a lot of that with you from before the change but you are learning how to make use of your new gender status to compliment your approaches to life. You are not nearly so awkward as you were on Sunday. While there is so much more for you to learn about being a woman, you seem to have learned the basics. In a way, having your period now is like a graduation certificate. You’ve arrived as a girl. You’re having an experience to which no man will ever be able to relate. You are now one of us.”

 I blush as I respond. “Thanks for the praise. I still think that I have a long way to go before I really become all girl. There’s still a lot of boy in me and I’m not sure that I can let it all go.”

“Oh, darling,” Aunt Jen says, “you don’t need to totally let go of the boy in you to become one of us. In fact, you have a unique perspective that none of us, man or woman, will ever have. You have the chance to gain insights that will help all of us. After all, there are not a lot of people that have the chance to be a full genetic man and a full genetic woman during their lifetime. When you change back, you will go back to your old ‘team’ but for the time being you are fully adopted into ours. For now, I think you should make the most of the experience and just let yourself be the girl that you appear to be.”

Laurie has been pretty quiet during the conversation so I ask, “So, Laurie, what are your thoughts?”

She hesitates and looks at me with an apologetic expression, “I agree with Mom. As much as I miss Chris, I think we’re finding that it won’t work for you to simply be Chris in a girl disguise. We can’t be ‘Chris & Laurie’, boyfriend and girlfriend, this summer. We need to be ‘Tina & Laurie’, cousins and best girl friends, if we are to get through the summer without going nuts. As the week has progressed I find myself viewing you more and more as a girl and less and less like my boyfriend in disguise. I’m sorry!”

It seems that I’m the only one holding on to what was. On reflection, I think that I can easily adopt the role as a girl. I am starting to feel more like one every day.  My self image has been morphing into that of a girl as I get more accustomed to the body, the clothes, and the role. It is easier to let go of my male identity knowing that this is only temporary. I just hope that the transition back is easier. The only fly in the ointment, so to speak, is my relationship with Laurie. My current situation makes it impossible for me to be the boyfriend that I’d like to be. It will be an awkward summer indeed if I try to be. I’m afraid that it will be hard to go back to what we had after spending a summer as close girl friends.

Taking a deep breath, I make the decision. I feel as if I am walking blindfolded towards a cliff. I need to have faith in the voices guiding me if I am to avoid personal injury. Brain Central, who has been strangely quiet lately, supports my decision. It’ll be fun, it tells me, being a girl seems to be a lot more interesting than being a guy. I guess that I’m the last to make the mental transition.

With mixed feelings, I say, “I don’t know how this will all end, but yes, I will do my best to put away Boy Chris and become Girl Tina. This means that I must stop thinking of you as my girlfriend, Laurie. That’s the hardest part of all and will take sometime to implement. We’ll have to make some modifications to our ground rules for this to happen. You will have to treat me just like any other girl and I will need to behave like one. I just hope that we can make the transition back to what we had when this is over at the end of the summer but I’ll try not to worry about that until the time comes.”

Laurie and I embrace each other with tears that could either be happiness for our new relationship or sorrow for the one we are giving up. They could be mix of both. It is hard to say.

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Edited by Gabi.... Thank you! - Tiff