Something Feels Strange - 21

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

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.

Chapter 21: Welcome to California

Laurie wakes me as the airplane makes its final approach to the Oakland airport. I am tired and uncomfortable.

We spent the evening washing and drying clothes, packing and visiting before heading to the Anchorage Airport at eleven o’clock in order to catch our one am flight. We were loaded pretty heavily.  We had to put my new acquisitions in a cardboard box because all our suitcases were crammed full. In addition to our regular luggage we were given an insulated box with several large freshly caught and frozen salmon in it that are a gift from the Jeffers.

I was feeling rather embarrassed about having all this baggage and cardboard luggage until we arrived at the madhouse that is the Anchorage International Airport in the middle of night. Not that it is dark, mind you. At eleven-thirty pm the sun was just touching the horizon to the northwest, providing interesting backlighting for Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain on the North American continent.

There were easily a dozen flights leaving for the ‘Lower 48’ between midnight and three am and it would seem that everyone boarding the full flights was a fisherman judging from the stacks of insulated fish boxes we found awaiting check in. The airlines workers checking people looked pretty harassed but they were efficient.  Even arriving an hour and a half early we barely made it through check in and security with enough time for a bathroom stop before the flight boarded.

The Major and Mom Polly were very gracious and helpful. Before we joined the long line at security they gave us each big hugs and invited us back. Mom Polly actually had tears in her eyes as she asked me to call often. “You make a beautiful daughter. I wish we had more time together. I’ll miss you.”

As a parting gift, they gave Laurie and I each a pair of very pretty Forget-Me-Not earrings. The Forget-Me-Not is the Alaska state flower.

“We want you two to remember us,” the Major explained.

I have no memory of the flight to Seattle since I slept for the whole three hours. I don’t even remember the plane leaving the gate in Anchorage.

We only had about an hour in Seattle, but that was enough time for a quick breakfast at the food court. I didn’t eat much as I am suffering somewhat from mild abdominal pain and feel generally uncomfortable. The Midol that Aunt Jen gave me takes the edge off the cramps but they are still there. I also made a couple of trips to the ladies room to change pads. I had received lessons in proper pad and tampon disposal etiquette earlier but I am still disgusted by the process.

I managed to stay awake long enough on the flight to Oakland to get my free soda pop then ended up falling asleep somewhere over northern California.

The first stop after exiting the aircraft is the ladies room. Never again will I complain about all the bathroom time girls take. As we were near the back of the airplane, all the other women beat us to the restrooms so there is a long line waiting for an empty stall. Laurie sees my impatience.

“Get used to it, girl,” she quietly tells me. Another downside of being female.

Exiting the secure zone, we find my mom—Mrs. Quinn—waiting for us in the baggage claim area. I have to resist greeting her as a family member.

“Mrs. Quinn,” Laurie handles the introductions, “I’d like to you to meet my cousin, Tina Jeffers, from Alaska. Tina, this is our family friend, Mrs. Quinn.”

“Tina, is it?” she remarks, “Welcome to California.”

“It is nice to meet you, Mrs. Quinn,” I continue the game, “You must be Chris’s mother. I’ve heard a lot about you!”

“So you know about Chris,” she states with a smile.

“Oh, yes,” I reply, “Laurie’s been moaning about him being gone all week. He must be quite the guy. I feel as if I know him already.”

Laurie just rolls her eyes as Mrs. Quinn grins.

We find a cart to pile all our possessions on as they come off the baggage carousel. Mrs. Quinn expresses some concern over the volume of baggage as the mountain grows but we are successful in cramming it all in the minivan for the trip home. Lugging the heavy boxes and suitcases is much more difficult in this light female body than it was for me a week and a half ago. We find it to be definitely worth paying for help with the baggage.

It is actually a little early for lunch, however, the travelers are all hungry so we stop for brunch at Country Waffles just off the freeway near home before heading to the Mercers’ home.

Upon arrival, we unload the contents of the van into the house.  The Mercers have cleaned out the bedroom that they have been using as their home office and set up a bed and chest of drawers in the room for me. There is also a small study desk in the room. There is plenty of room for me to unload my new clothes and other stuff into the drawers and closet. Laurie helps me get things settled after dropping her suitcases off in her room. When we are done with mine we go into her room and I sit on the bed as she puts her things away.

I’ve never been in her bedroom before. It has always been off limits.

The room reminds me of my sisters’ rooms—packed with clothes, posters of guy bands and male movie stars on the wall. She has a vanity with a rack that must hold several dozen necklaces, a multitude of makeup supplies and beauty implements, hair brushes, hair clips and bands, and a framed picture of the two of us taken when we went to her Junior Prom. There is also a small study table with her laptop computer sitting on it. The bed has a pink comforter with ruffles and there are stuffed animals arrayed on the pillow, including a stuffed horse that I had given her at Christmas. This is, without any doubt, a girl’s room.

“So what now?” I ask.

“We’ve got the afternoon free, so I think that we should get you introduced to the town and some of the kids.” she says.

Almost on cue, her cell phone rings.

Checking the caller ID, she says, “It’s Amy Stevens. That’s as good of a place to start as any.”

“Hey, girl friend,” she answers the cell phone enthusiastically, “What’s been happening?”

I can only hear the one side of the conversation as they go at it for about five minutes catching up on local gossip before it seems as if they get down to business.

“Yeah, she’s with me now,” Laurie says into the receiver. “You want to meet her? ... Sure, in an hour at your house? ... We’ll be there.”

“So, I take it that we are on our way to see Amy?” I comment.

“Yes, and she is calling a couple of other girls to see if they want to come too,” she says, “It looks like it’s time for Tina to start work!”

“I’ve always wanted to see what you girls do when you hang out.” I say wryly.

“I think that you’ll find it a bit different than hanging out with the guys,” she says with a grin.

---< > ---

While waiting to go over to Amy’s house I take time to send an email to the Jeffers, letting them know of our safe arrival and thanking them for their hospitality.  Checking my male email account I find a few of email messages from my sisters, parents, and my best running friend, Dan. The camp was going to allow the staff access to computers on Sundays so that we can send emails home. I end up sending emails to my real parents and a couple of friends—including Laurie—as if I am really at camp   I tell them all that staff training week went well and that we’re expecting our first campers any time.  The troops stay only for a week at a time, from Sunday afternoon to midday Saturday.

It’s now an hour and a quarter after the phone call and we are walking the five blocks to the Stevens’ home. Since it is pretty warm I am dressed in shorts and a nice top that Laurie picked out for me.  It is almost hot—particularly after hanging out in Alaska for a week. Of course my purse is stocked with all the equipment necessary to keep a menstruating young teen girl out of trouble. On the walk over we decide to practice using the recording feature of my new cell phone so I turn it on as we approach the door.

Amy sees us coming and meets us at the door.

“Hey, Laurie,” she bubbles, “it is great to have you back! And you must be the infamous Kristina from the frozen north. Welcome to California! I hope that it’s not too hot for a northern girl. Come in where it’s cool.”

I swear she got that all out without taking a breath—and in under two seconds too. I’ve got to figure out how girls do that!

“Oh, Amy,” Laurie replies in like manner, “Alaska is sooo beautiful. You just have to go there sometime.  They have all sorts of cool things there.  Did you know that they have bears and moose running around loose right in town? And you should see the mountains there. They are sooo awesome! Yes, this is Kristina. I call her Tina for short. Tina this is Amy.”

“Hi, Amy,” I say, “it is nice to be here.”

By this time two other girls have come to join us. Of course as Chris I know both of them by sight but they are new to Tina.

“Hi, Tina,” says the tall brunette, “I’m Cindy and this is Marjorie. We’re both in Laurie’s class at school. Welcome to California. What do you think of it?”

“Nice to meet you all,” I say not knowing what else to say. “I’ve only been here a couple of hours but it seems nice.”

“Is this your first trip to the States?” Marjorie asks. I feel inclined to remind her that Alaska is part of the “States”, but let it go.

“Oh no, my dad is in the army so we’ve moved around a bit,” I follow the cover story. “We have only been in Alaska for a couple of years. Before we that we lived in Virginia, Kansas, and Georgia.”

“Oh,” Marjorie seems disappointed. “I thought from what Laurie has told us that you’d been in Alaska all your life. Oh well, at least you know what civilization is like.” I feel inclined to roll my eyes but resist the urge. My Alaskan friends told me several stories about the strange misconceptions that people seem to have about life in the 49th state. They say that you can actually play these misconceptions to your advantage if you’re looking for a little entertainment. I decide I’ll save the story about living in igloos and using dog sleds to get to school for later.

The girls go on like a house on fire for a while, catching up on all the latest gossip. While I know most of the subjects, they go so fast that I find it difficult to keep up with. If I were still a guy, I would’ve wandered off and left them to it, but as a girl I need to not only endure it but actually participate in the conversation. Good thing that they think that I don’t know anyone yet so I don’t have to contribute much.

The conversation is not completely wasted on me as one piece of the conversation does deal with Caitlin Sommers, someone I need to get to know. Caitlin is the runner girl with the snobby attitude that Mrs. Harrison wants me to befriend.

“Did you hear that Caitlin Sommers got a job at McDonalds for the summer?” Amy tells us, “Well, Cindy and I were in there on Wednesday, her first day on the job, when she said something snotty to one of the customers right in front of the manager. You should have seen his expression! He took the little bitch to the back of the store and gave her a good talking to. Rumor has it that he threatened to fire her if she did it again. Well, word got out and some of the kids that she’s been mean to in the past have made it a point to go in and push her buttons. To be fair, she has taken it pretty well, but you know that she’d like to explode.  The manager has been keeping a close eye on her. I imagine that baiting Caitlin has been good for business but hard on the girl.”

“Isn’t she one of the runner chicks?” Laurie asks.

“Yeah, your boyfriend knows her,” Amy points out.

“Tina’s a runner,” Laurie informs the group. “In fact she ran part of a marathon race yesterday.”

“Whoa, girl!” exclaims Marjorie, “Way to go! Why didn’t you finish?”

“I was on a relay team,” I inform the group. “I only ran about seven miles. I did finish my part.”

“Seven miles!” exclaimed Marjorie, “I don’t think that I’ve ever even walked that far in one day much less run it. Why would you want to do that?”

I shrug my shoulders, “I don’t know, I just like to run. It’s fun and relaxing.” I spend a few minutes trying to explain the joys of running to an unappreciative audience.

“Maybe I can get this Caitlin girl to tell me where to run around here,” I openly ponder. “I need to find someone to run with soon.”

“Well, she might be able to,” Cindy says with some reservation in her voice, “but there are a lot more sociable people out there who can help you with that I’m sure. Also, I don’t think the running team starts workouts until the end of the summer so I don’t know if she is training or not.”

Changing the subject, Amy asks us if we have our swim suits with us.

“No,” Laurie says, “we don’t feel to much like swimming today, plus I don’t think that Tina has a suit.”

“So, you girls, are on right now?” Marjorie remarks knowingly.

“I’m good to go,” Laurie says, “but Tina here is in the midst of the worst part. Also, we didn’t get any real sleep last night as we were in airports or on airplanes for what seems like the whole night so we are a little tired.”

Ignoring the tired part, Cindy’s eyes light up. “Oh great! We need to go shopping to get Tina a suit—it’s more fun than swimming anyway.” The idea takes hold with the group and I am shepherded off to the bathroom to make sure that I have a new tampon in place before we go.

It turns out that Cindy has her own car: it is an older Saturn, but gets the job done. After checking with Amy’s mother—I ‘meet’ Mrs. Stevens also while we are at their house—the five of us pile into the Saturn and head to the local Kohl’s department store where we spend over an hour looking through the junior’s section.

The general consensus is that I need a bikini—the skimpier the better. My feeling is that a bit of coverage would not be bad. The end result is that I get some hipster style bottoms with green and white horizontal stripes, a matching halter style bikini top, and a matching striped halter style tankini top that covers up my midsection and almost meets up with the bottoms.

I really like the tankini  top since I don’t feel so exposed wearing it.

Standing in front of the mirror admiring myself, it occurs to me that I have not received any conflicting messages from Brain Central in several days. This all seems so natural and—dare I say it—normal, even though it has only been about a week? Glancing at Laurie who is trying on a new halter top I realize that I am no longer consumed by the mysteries of the female body like I was as a guy. I don’t find myself aroused by this beautiful girl, although I can appreciate her beauty. In fact, I can relate to the tugging and adjusting that she is doing to check the fit around her breasts—I’ve been doing exactly the same thing. Yes, I’m pretty sure that I can follow through on my commitment to be the girl I portray this summer.

After shopping—we all came away with something new—we decide to stop at the McDonalds down the road to see if Caitlin is working. I’m not sure if this is to goad the girl or to introduce me.

Sure enough, the girl in question is standing behind the counter taking orders as we walk in the door.

As we wait in line, I notice that the kids that she is waiting on are being difficult. I also see a manager continually glancing over to watch her reactions to the bad behavior. She seems to be holding up pretty well given the load of crap she is taking from the customers. In fact, I am beginning to feel a little sorry for the girl. She is obviously resigned to her fate and patiently works through the order.

The store is not busy. In fact the only other customers at the counter are the ones whose order Caitlin is taking. There is another girl there that offers to take our order, but we wave her off and wait for Caitlin to finish with the obnoxious ones. Caitlin looks up and you can tell that she is bracing herself for more trouble.

“Welcome to McDonalds, girls. How can I help you?” she says in her best manufactured pleasant tone.  Her eyes, however, have a resigned look in them.

We place our order for drinks and some chicken nuggets then Amy says, “Caitlin, we want you to meet Tina. She’s Laurie’s cousin visiting from Alaska for the summer. She’s a distance runner and we thought you could give her some advice on where to go running since you are on the track and cross country teams.”

Caitlin glances at the manager and sees that he is focused on another task.

“I can’t talk now,” she says, “but I’m not sure how much help I can be. We don’t start practice for another month and a half and I haven’t done much running since track got out.”

“Maybe we can talk later,” I say, “I just need a few ideas. I’ll give you my cell number if you don’t mind talking to me when you have time.”

“Sure, I could do that,” she says as she heads off to fill our order. I write my number and name on a scrap of paper to give her when she gets back.

As she completes our order she says, “Thank you for coming to McDonalds and,” in a lower voice, “thanks for not being a pain like everyone else. I’ll call you tonight when I get home.” Caitlin seems like a changed girl from the Caitlin that I’ve known in the past. She actually appears to be nice.

We are just sitting down to eat when Laurie’s cell phone starts singing. Aunt Jen is calling to tell us that we’ve been invited to the Quinn’s for dinner in about an hour and that we should get home soon.

“So, how is good old Chris these days?” asks Amy. “I’m kind of glad that he is gone for the summer. Maybe we’ll have time to hang out like we did before he came along. He’s a nice kid, but I still think he’s too young for you.”

“You just wish that you had a boyfriend like him,” Laurie laughs. “You know how hard it is to find guys like Chris. I miss him dreadfully already. His cell phone doesn’t work where he is and there is only one computer in the camp.  He only can get to his email once a week. It’s really hard for us.”

“Oh, you poor girl,” Marjorie coos sarcastically, but with a smile. “How will you ever survive? Maybe you should join a convent for the summer.”

Cindy rolls her eyes and leans over to me and stage whispers, “You’re lucky to have missed this guy. Laurie gets all gooey when he’s around. I just hope we don’t have to put up with the ‘poor little me, my man is gone’ routine all summer. You should have seen them the last week of school; it was like they were stuck together by superglue or something.”

I’m actually feeling better about my relationship with Laurie as this conversation progresses. It is pretty obvious that even her closest friends think that she likes Chris a lot. This gives me hope for our relationship surviving the summer.

“Hey, Laurie,” Amy exclaims, “you talked about a slumber party before you left for Alaska; when do you want to have it? I think that all of us work during the week, so maybe Friday? We can have it at my house since we’ve got a pool we can do some swimming.  Also, Dad had that new big HDTV installed last winter for the Superbowl. He even hooked it in with his big stereo system, so we can watch some videos or whatever. What do you, guys, think?”

Everyone seems up for the suggestion, so we all agree to check with our parents and talk more about it tomorrow. I share my cell phone number with the group so that I can keep in touch as well. It seems that I am readily accepted as a part of the group even though I’m a year younger than the rest.

I wave to Caitlin on the way out to the car. She is busy with another obnoxious group of teens but gives me a small wave back. It seems pretty obvious that the girl is not at all happy. I imagine her problem is the new job. She has never struck me as being the type of person that would be good at customer service. It must be hard for her. I wonder why she’s doing it and how long it will last. At least I’ve made first contact with one of the people that the Lab security team wants me to befriend.

Cindy drops Laurie and me off at the Mercer home after we leave the restaurant. Aunt Jen has taken a nap and seems to be pretty chipper. She has taken one of the salmon fillets out to thaw and is preparing it for the grill. The fresh salmon is our contribution to the night’s dinner. Dr. Quinn will put it on the grill when we get there.

“Hey, girls,” she says, “you’re cutting it a bit fine here. Why don’t you go put on something nice then we can go.”

Back in my new room, I evaluate my clothing options. I know that I want to look nice for my real parents but I want it to be conservative and comfortable. I don’t really have a lot to choose from. I end up with the tiered skirt and a reasonably loose top. Just to see what happens, I opt for a pushup bra. I brush my hair and try to tie it back with a ribbon. It takes a couple of tries before I give up and use a hair clip. I wear the high heeled shoes that I wore on our big night out last week. I need more practice in them anyway.

The next stop is the bathroom to refresh my feminine hygiene products. There is quite a supply in the cabinet under the counter. Sitting the toilet I gingerly extract the tampon from my new anatomy. The blood soaked device is really gross. Wrapping it in toilet paper, I drop it in the waste basket. I decide to use a large thick pad in place of the tampon. The flow of blood appears to be pretty heavy, but I don’t really have a reference. This is definitely one part of being a girl that won’t be missed when this job is over.

Cleaning up, I join my aunt and cousin in the kitchen.

“You look very nice, darling,” Aunt Jen says to me. “Why don’t you two wear your new earrings? And, Tina, you should wear some sort of necklace.”

Back to my room I go to get the suggested jewelry. I don’t have much to choose from, so I decide to wear the heart pendant in addition to the Forget-Me-Not earrings.

I am more than a little nervous about this first meeting of the family. Mom—Mrs. Quinn—told us this morning that Tiff has come home for the summer. I don’t think that Tiff is in the loop on my sex change so I’ve got to keep up the facade in my own home.

Arriving at the Quinn’s—it is all I can do to keep from just walking in—I stand back from the door, carrying the fish, as Aunt Jen rings the bell.  Tiff opens the door.

“Hello, Mrs. Mercer and Laurie,” she happily greets the two Mercers with a little hug. “And you must be Kristina,” she says to me. “Welcome to our home. I’m Tiffany—most people just call me Tiff. Come in, everyone. Here, let me take the fish while you all go through to the living room.”

Entering the living room behind the Mercers, I see Marla standing on the far side of the room looking me over. Mom and Dad are in the kitchen with Tiff. Marla is making me nervous. I never know what to expect from her.

Laurie takes it upon herself to make the introductions.

“Hey, Marla,” she says, “how are things? I’d like you to meet my Alaskan cousin, Kristina Jeffers. Tina, this is Marla, Chris’s other sister.”

Marla walks over to me, looking me over from head to toe. “It is nice to meet you. Tina, is it? The name suits you.”

She gives me a friendly hug and whispers in my ear, “Definitely an improvement over the previous model. You look nice.”

I whisper in her ear, “Thanks. You always look nice. Thank you for helping me.”

She gives me a strange look as she steps back from the hug. I guess that she’s not used to pleasantries from her former little brother. I smile happily at her which causes further confusion. I can tell that she is bursting with questions but knows better than to get into it now.

“Hey, Laurie,” Marla asks, “where is the runner necklace?”

“Tina gave it to one of her running partners after a race they ran yesterday,” Laurie replies. “Do think that there are any more at your store?”

“I’m pretty sure that I saw a silver one at the jewelry counter the other day. I’ll check tomorrow” she replies. “So Tina, you’re a runner? My brother Chris likes running a lot. You two would get along well if he were here.”

“Yes,” I say, “from what I’ve heard of Chris, we are a lot alike in that way. I ran as part of a marathon relay team yesterday. It was fun.”

“I’ll never understand what you see in it,” she says shaking her head. “Running is just too much like hard work.”

Tiff comes in to join us. “What’s this I hear,” she asks, “Tina is a runner like Chris? It’s probably a good thing for Laurie that he is off the camp this summer otherwise he might run off with you. I gather from Chris that Laurie’s only weakness is that she is not a distance runner.”

“Well, I’m sure that my cousin has many other redeeming qualities that keep his attention,” I reply with a blush.

“Oh she does,” Tiff says emphatically. “According to Chris she walks on water and is the source of light for the entire universe.” Now it is Laurie’s turn to blush.

Mrs. Quinn joins the crowd, hearing the last statement.

“Ah, Laurie, you are good for Chris,” she says. “We like having you around here too. Don’t be a stranger this summer. You are always welcome here. Tina, it is good to see you again. Are you all settled in?”

“Thank you for inviting us over tonight,” I respond. “I’m just starting to find my way around.”

Marla pipes up, “Mom, Tina here is a runner like our Chris. She ran in a marathon relay yesterday. We were just telling her that Chris is a runner too. It’s too bad that their paths won’t cross this summer.”

“Oh my, not another runner!” Mrs. Quinn exclaims in mock horror. We must have not told her that this morning. “How did your race go yesterday, Tina?”

“Fine,” I reply, “we finished eighth amongst the relay teams and first in our division. It was fun.”

“Was your team all high school girls?” She asked.

“No, actually I was the only high school kid on the team,” I say, “The other three, a woman and two men, are in my father’s army unit.”

“Did you do well?”

“I was the second fastest on our team, behind the other girl,” I grin. “The guys were a little embarrassed, but they’ll get over it. At least we beat all the other military teams.”

Now Dad walks into the room. “The fish is on the grill, ladies. It should be done in about 20 minutes if I read the recipe correctly,” he announces to the gathering. Turning to me, he asks “And who might this lovely creature be?”

Marla rolls her eyes and makes gagging motions behind his back. Tiff slaps her on the shoulder and looks at her strangely. I just blush.

Aunt Jen says, “Michael, this is my niece, Kristina Jeffers. She goes by Tina. Tina, this is Dr. Quinn.”

“It is nice to meet you, Dr. Quinn,” I say, holding out my hand in greeting. He ignores it and gives me friendly hug instead which gives Tiff a shock. It is out of character for Dad to hug a stranger.

“Welcome to California, Honey, and in particular, welcome to our home,” he says. “I hear that you are staying the summer and will be working out at the lab.”

“That’s correct. Laurie and I start there tomorrow,” I say.

“Maybe we’ll see you there,” he says, “without Chris here to attract the lovely Laurie to our home, I don’t imagine that we’ll be seeing much of you two this summer, but you are always welcome in our home.”

Has Dad always been this sappy? Now that I think on it, he has always been super nice to our female friends. It just seems strange to be on the receiving end.

Tiff tells him, “Tina was just telling us about the marathon relay that she ran in yesterday. It sounds as if she runs like Chris. We were commenting that it is too bad that he’s not here to run with her.”

I take a few minutes to recount the race—again—but in more detail now that everyone is present. I made sure to avoid the word ‘jogging’ while emphasizing the word ‘running’.

“Amazing,” he says, “and you enjoy all this running?”

“Yes, Sir, I do,” I tell him. “It’s how I find balance in life.”

“And where have we heard that before?” asks Mrs. Quinn rhetorically. “Now, everyone, let’s get dinner on the table.”

Even though I know where everything is in the house, I stand by like a newcomer and just follow directions as the dishes are all placed on the table. Last of all, Dr. Quinn brings in the salmon on a large platter.  The fish is complemented with fresh salad, asparagus, and rice. By the time we get through the dessert of apple pie and ice cream, both Laurie and I are feeling the effect of a missed night’s sleep even though it only a little past seven pm.

After helping with the clean up I ask for directions to the bathroom; passing the doorway to my old room, I can’t resist a peak inside. It is not vacant. It appears that Tiff has set up camp for the summer in my place. It seems almost as if I have been replaced.

After I return to the living room the three of us make our excuses and head back to the Mercer’s home with an open invitation to stop in anytime at the Quinn’s.

We are ‘home’ in under five minutes. As we are walking through the door, my cell phone starts moaning. I’ve been told that the ring tone is the sound that a moose makes. It is weird, but Alaskan. I will probably change it. Answering, I find Caitlin on the line.

After exchanging greetings, she asks, “So you want to do some running?”

“Yes, I do,” I reply. “I normally run four to eight miles a day at home and longer on Saturdays. Can you help me find a place to run and maybe a running partner? My Dad doesn’t want me to run alone, particularly in a strange place.”

“Wow, girl, that’s a lot of running!” she exclaims, “I was about suggest that we try running together, but there is no way that I can keep up with that kind of schedule without some serious training. The only one that I know that runs like that year round is a guy named Chris who is on our cross country team, but he’s out of town for the summer.”

“I’ve heard of him,” I tell her. “He is my cousin’s boyfriend. She has been pining over him all week.”

“Chris is a good sort but I’m not sure what Laurie sees in him,” she says. “She could have just about any guy in her class if she would loosen up a bit. Anyway, would you like to get together and try a short run tomorrow sometime? I have the day off. I’m not sure that I can keep up with you, but we can try.”

Interesting comment about Laurie. I’ll have to find out what that means.

“I start a new job tomorrow and I’m not sure when I’ll be done,” I tell her. “I suspect that it’ll be around 5 pm. Can we get together after that?”

“Sure,” she replies, “It gets cooler in the evening anyway, which is nice. Let’s say around 7 o’clock? That would give you time to get home and have a light snack. Where are you going to be working?”

“My aunt helped me get a job where she works—a place she calls ‘The Lab’. I am to be a temp office helper. Do you know the place?” I ask.

“Yeah, I know the place,” she answers. “Everyone around here does. My dad works out there. He’s a chemist and does some kind of research. How’d you score a job at the Lab? It beats the heck out of Micky D’s.”

“I’m not sure,” I reply, “but my parents want me to have a character building work experience away from home, so my aunt helped line this up.”

“Talk about character building work experiences, my parents are forcing me to work at Micky D’s and if I get fired they’ll find something worse. I hate the place. I was hoping to just hang out with my friends this summer.” The bitterness just drips from this girl.

“I hear you, girl,” I commiserate with her, “I was hoping for the same thing this summer, but good old Mom & Dad felt that I needed a break from my friends and to do some ‘growing up’. Something about my friends being a bad influence and idleness being a problem.”

“As if running four to eight miles a day is idleness! I think our parents must have gone to the same parenting school. Your parents sound almost exactly like mine,” she sighs.

I think that I am making the connection that Mrs. Harrison wants so this is good. I’m not real comfortable playing the part of a troubled girl, but it appears that is just what Caitlin is. Maybe I can help her. Who knows?

We agree to meet at the local high school track at seven tomorrow after I check with Laurie to see if she can give me a ride.

After hanging up, I visit with Laurie in her room. She has already changed into her night clothes. It is strange having free access to her bedroom, however it only feels as if I am just hanging out with one of my sisters. There’s not even a stir from Brain Central on this one.

I had recorded my conversation with Caitlin and replay it for Laurie. I’m pretty sure that we broke some kind of law by recording the conversation but we won’t save it. Having a recorded conversation is certainly handy since you don’t have to remember everything that was said.

Laurie is pretty impressed with how easy it was to make friends with Caitlin. My first move is ahead of schedule. We still need to find a way to connect with Andy Lang, the quiet loner that Mrs. Harrison wants us to befriend. We think that task will be much more difficult.

But first, we have to find him.

---< >---

Thanks again to Gabi for her editing efforts. I particularly appreciate learning the difference between ‘English’ and ‘American’!