Something Feels Strange - 49

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Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

The first indication something is wrong comes when I hear someone stumble over some shoes I left out just for that purpose.

“Laurie?” I enquire as, groggily, I try to sit up.

“Not quite,” a gruff male voice responds quietly, as I become aware of an aromatic cloth clapped over my mouth and nose. I begin to struggle and bite but I’m pinned to my bed and my world quickly turns black.

My last thought before passing out is: Where’s the FBI——?

Chapter 49: Happenings

The first thing I notice as I waken is a throbbing headache and nausea. I shut my eyes quickly after opening them when confronted with a brightly lit room.

“She’s coming around,” an unfamiliar female voice says in response to the moan that escapes my lips.

“I feel sick,” I moan with my eyes tightly closed. I hear hospital type sounds around me. The smell matches the sounds.

“I’d think so,” agrees the voice. “Chloroform will do that to you. I’ve got something here for you—should you decide to vomit.” As if vomiting was a choice—in my limited experience it’s more like an uncontrolled reaction.

Several sets of footsteps enter the room followed by a greeting from a welcome male voice, “Hey, Princess, how’re you feeling?”

“I think someone stomped on my head and kicked me in the stomach,” I reply with pain in my voice. “Could someone kill the lights? What are you doing here, Major Dad? Aren’t you supposed to be off on a mission somewhere?”

He laughs lightly: “You are my mission, Princess. I’ve been here for several days now keeping an eye on you.”

“Not close enough,” I accuse him. “Somebody got into my bedroom who wasn’t supposed to.”

“Close enough that we need to have a talk about your boyfriend,” he informs me in a fatherly tone.

“They moved faster than we expected,” Helen’s voice admits while my eyes are still tightly shut. “Those guys were good—but we were waiting for them when they carried you out. We nailed them all without a scuffle. They weren’t ready to die for their cause.” She sounded disappointed at that last statement. The girl is seriously messed up.

Hearing the click of the light switch, slowly I open my eyes to see the Major, Helen, a nurse and a doctor in the darkened room. Helen and the Major are both wearing black uniforms and bullet proof vests.

“I can’t tell you how good it is to see you guys,” I admit.

The next phase is spent by the medical staff making sure that I’m all right. I guess an overdose of chloroform can be damaging and even fatal but I check out okay. Somewhere along the line I must have lost my pajamas as I find myself in one of those stupid hospital gowns that everyone complains about. I understand the concern—they’re drafty and don’t cover much.

“Anyone care to tell me what happened?” I ask after the medical people are done and my pajamas are returned to me. Checking the pockets, I find that the hideous lipstick beacon is still with me.

“We’ll talk about it on the way home,” the Major says, “Get dressed and we’ll get you out of here.”

Helen helps me get dressed in my pajamas again. She thinks the ‘Hello Kitty’ hipster briefs are cute. I just roll my eyes at that comment. No one thought to bring any of my other clothes so I guess I get to go home dressed as I came. That means that I’m braless—something which is painfully obvious as I walk out of the examination room. I have to cross my arms on my chest to try and keep my small breasts under control. I really miss my bra. At least we’ve dropped the boot thing. “It’s the in thing for teenage girls to wear the pajama bottoms everywhere these days,” Helen reassures me. Yeah, I think, but the camisole top is a bit too revealing.

A policewoman and a policeman show up and we spend more time than necessary going over my version of the evening’s events. They record my statement and take lots of notes. The Major and Helen are standing by to listen. What’s there to tell? I was awakened by a stealthy intruder and was out like a light a minute or two later. No, I didn’t see the guy. Could I recognize the voice if I heard it again? Maybe. Did they hurt me? Not really.

It’s not too soon for me when the black SUV pulls up to the emergency room entrance and I scramble into the back seat before too many people see me like this—I’m so embarrassed.

It’s seven o’clock—as in morning seven o’clock—when we finally pull away from the hospital. Traffic is already picking up.

“So,” I bring up my earlier question, “Tell me what I missed. It must have been good.”

“The short version,” Major Dad begins, “is that the thugs came in quick. They pulled up to the house in a black utility van at the stroke of two o’clock and three of them headed for the house at double time. There were two other cars—one up and one down the street—acting as lookouts. It was a well organized lightening strike. They gained entry to the house as if it wasn’t even locked. They must have found your bedroom quickly. We suspect that they’d broken into the house sometime earlier and had the layout all figured out so they just had to go straight to your room. By the time we scrambled our team they were carrying you out of the house. By then we had two squads take down the lookouts and another had captured the getaway van. The kidnappers found themselves looking down the barrels of half a dozen automatic assault rifles. One of the perps decided to try the hostage trick, but the laser dot on his forehead convinced him otherwise—that and the fact that his two partners in crime had immediately dropped their weapons and put their hands on their heads when asked to. It was over as quickly as it began and without a shot fired. The team was posted in the vacant house just down and across the street so they were able deploy quickly. Helen was monitoring the security system from there and recorded the whole thing. These guys don’t stand a chance in court.”

“I bet they were surprised,” I said in awe. “I imagine all the action and flashing lights woke up the whole neighborhood.”

Helen grins from ear to ear, “That’s the best part. The whole operation didn’t even wake up your Aunt and cousin. It was fast and quiet. We didn’t bother to call the police until everyone was secure. I’d already headed off to the hospital with you before anyone woke up Jen. We asked the police to send only one car and to can the lights. It must have been a slow night because they sent six cars but at least they kept their strobe lights off. They were very disappointed to have missed the fun. The neighbors didn’t figure out there was anything happening until they saw the crime scene tape around your Aunt’s house in the morning, I think the neighborhood phone tree is working well, because a hour ago half the neighborhood was out asking what happened. I think a lot of folks are going to be late for work this morning.”

Sure enough, when we arrive at the house, there are several police cars and a crime lab motor home out front, crime scene tape around the front yard, two news teams, and a gallery of nosey neighbors watching from across the street. There’s no way I’m going to get in the house unnoticed. I wonder why they have to go to so much trouble collecting evidence when they’ve got all the recordings from the Major’s team, but hey, I guess that’s what they do.

“Helen,” I beg, “will you at least go get me a robe or something to cover up with?”

“Sure, Princess,” she grins at me. “Is there anything else Your Highness requires?”

I just glare at her, “Funny. Ha, ha. Just help me out, will you?”

I’m really glad the SUV windows are heavily tinted. Unfortunately, the news hounds are bored with conjecturing about everything for the last hour and are attracted to the black SUV like bees to honey. There’s really no way I’ll get in the house unnoticed.

“On second thought,” I ask the Major. “Can you get word to Helen to find me some clothes instead and we go somewhere else until the crowd goes away? We really don’t need to bring any more attention my way.”

“Good idea, Princess,” he responds and gets Helen on the radio. A few minutes later, Laurie comes blasting out of the house with my book pack in hand and jumps into the back seat with me. I duck down so as not to be seen as she enters the car with several TV cameras recording the event. Helen is right behind her.

“Tina,” Laurie exclaims as she literally throws herself at me in a huge hug. “Are you all right? When I heard that you’d been taken to the hospital I was so worried but they wouldn’t let us leave. They kept telling us that you were fine, but I was so frightened for you.”

“I’m fine,” I hug her back. “How are you? I was afraid that you might have gotten hurt.”

“You know how scary it is to be awakened by a big guy dressed in black and carrying an automatic weapon?” she begins to tell me of her experience.

“Kinda like a having a couple of big guys trying to smother you in your sleep?” I remind her that my wakeup call this morning was probably a tad bit more dramatic than hers.

We spend the rest of our drive twittering about the evening’s events before Laurie finally calms down. Asking the Major to keep his eyes on the road, I do a quick change out of my pajamas and into the bra, skirt and top that Laurie had brought me. I never thought I’d appreciate a bra so much. It actually feels comforting to have the secure feeling around my chest and to have my two friends under control. I slip on the skirt before slipping off the pajama bottoms.

Laurie reminds me of my obligation to check in with Mom so—reluctantly—I call her. She’s on her way to work when I reach her. As expected, she’s not exactly happy about the morning’s events but is relieved to hear that I’m well. She insists on having me fulfill my other obligation to her tonight. Dad’s still out of town so she has the time. We make a date for when she gets off work later this afternoon.

It turns out that the Major is staying at the same extended stay hotel that Dr. Lang spent a few days in last week. It’s adjacent to the municipal airport. Helen has a room there as well and she let’s me take a shower and clean up in her suite. Fortunately my makeup and wallet are in the bag Laurie brought to me. It’s getting to the point that I feel naked without a little make up on. Thirty minutes later we’re eating bagels in the Major’s suite.

“The good news,” he begins, “is that your mission is over. You don’t need to go back to work except for debriefing and turning in your special equipment. Either of you,” he also refers to Laurie.

“So what’s the bad news,” I enquire.

“The bad news,” he says with more seriousness, “is that we’ve just learned that Steph’s FBI team let Rana slip away.”

“What!” I exclaim. “How’d they do that?”

“We’re not sure,” he explains, “We think he was monitoring the attempted kidnapping from somewhere nearby—probably from wherever they were going to take you. When things went bottom up, he must have fled. The FBI was monitoring him and thought that he was home, but he wasn’t there when they went to serve their warrant. Only his son was home. His car was found across the street from here at the airport and his small private plane has gone. We’re not sure where he went, since he didn’t adhere to his flight plan but we suspect that he’s finding his way out of the country. We’re trying to track the plane now but he turned off his transponder. He can land at any remote strip and we won’t find the plane for a long time. We’ve got a lot of people searching for him right now.”

“All this work for nothing,” I pout.

“Actually, it’s not exactly for nothing,” the Major points out. “The FBI is currently serving warrants on about a dozen Lab employees for espionage. I’d say the spy ring has been broken and Harata Rana is pretty much through operating in the U.S. We’ve also taken out a decidedly vicious group of thugs. I’d say it’s been a pretty fruitful venture.”

“Oh,” Helen jumps in, “there was a woman driving the getaway van who matches the profile for the person who hit Ben. The FBI crime lab people are looking for evidence that will connect her with the hit-and-run. It appears they might have found a hair in the car that may help them. If they can connect her with that crime, then she’ll have another charge that’ll put her away for years.”

“Yeah,” I sigh, “but we really wanted to take down Rana’s downstream contacts as well.”

“That’s not without fruit either,” the Major responds. “but I’m not sure on the details of that.”

My cell phone starts moaning. Looking at the caller ID I see that it’s Caitlin.

“Hey, Caitlin,” I answer the phone.

“Tina!” she practically screams into the phone. “My God, girl, are you okay! I just got a call from Jenny who got a call from Mary whose Dad saw something about an attempted kidnapping at your Aunt’s home on the morning news. I turned on the TV and, like, there’s a picture of your house with, like, police everywhere. Was that you? Oh, my God, I can’t believe this is happening. Tell me it’s not true?” No need to put this on speaker phone—she’s shouting so loud everyone can hear what she’s said.

The Major gives a look that says: Now’s not the time to be telling the story.

“Yeah, girl,” I admit, “that was me but everything’s cool.”

“OH MY GOD!” She shouts into the phone. “You’ve got to, like, tell me all about it, girl. Are you home? Can I come over?”

“Not now,” I tell her. “I’m not home and I’m kinda busy right now. I’ll get with you later, okay?”

“I’m not working today,” she informs me. “You just, like, call me when you can. I’m, like, just dying to hear about this. The talking heads on the TV haven’t got a clue what’s going on.”

“’Bye, Caitlin,” I tell her patiently, before hanging up.

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The rest of the morning is pretty boring for both Laurie and I. Everyone else is off running around tying up loose ends while we’re just left to ourselves hanging around the hotel where no one knows us. The effects of the chloroform are long in leaving my system. Unfortunately, there’s not a pool at this hotel to sit by, so we end up watching TV and talking. Caitlin's right—the talking heads really don't have a clue as to what happened.

Aunt Jen called to check on us around noon. She updated us on the status of the investigation: apparently Dr. Lang slipped the net somehow too. When the FBI served a search warrant on his apartment they found evidence of a hasty departure. He has valuable knowledge that the terrorists can use so it’s suspected that he’s been spirited away. He was—by far—the most knowledgeable mole at the lab. It’s feared that terrorists could also set him up with a lab to work for them. That would be bad.

I tried calling Andy at home, but no one answered the phone. I left a message for him to call me. I call the shop but neither his mother nor he is there.

All this time on my hands gives me time to think. That’s not necessarily a good thing.

Now that the investigation is winding down I’m sure that, once again, I’m going to be given the option to transition. I find myself depressed at the thought. It seems strange for everything to be over. It seems to have happened too quickly. Laurie notices my depression.

“Tina,” she asks, “what’s on your mind. You seem pretty sad.”

“I don’t know what to do now,” I reply in frustration, “I suppose they’re going to want me to give up being Tina. I was kinda looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Also, it seems pretty anti-climatic now that it’s over.”

“You’re still enjoying being Tina, aren’t you?” she asks. “Just so you know—in spite of our rift last week—I really like Tina too.”

I smile at her, “Thanks, Laurie. I’ve really enjoyed spending time with you this summer also.  I know that I’ve been distracted by Caitlin and Andy, but it’s been really nice having you around. I was thinking the other night during our sleepover how fantastic it was to be there with my three best girl friends. There’s something about being close girl friends that is so much better than what boys experience. I’ll really miss that closeness probably more than anything else.” I reach out and give her hand a gentle squeeze.

She tries to lighten the mood, “And gee whiz, I thought it was your period that you are really going to miss.”

I give her a playful poke in the ribs.

“What else are you going to miss?” she asks. “I bet you’ll be glad to be getting back to the simplicity of being a guy. You know, no more makeup, no more panty hose, no more bras, no more messing with your hair, and the joy of a simpler wardrobe.”

“Actually,” I say looking down at the skirt and blouse I’m currently wearing, “I think I’ll miss the clothes. I really like comfortable skirts. I particularly like the way they feel on my legs as I walk. And there’s something special about wearing the fabrics women use. I really like the feminine feeling you get when wearing sexy underwear. Bras are a pain but I really like what they do for my look. I’ll really miss looking nice.”

“So, what’s so great about being a guy?” she asks. “What is that you miss about being Chris?”

I think about that one for a minute before replying, “I guess you hit the nail on the head when you said ‘simplicity.’ It is easier being a guy. I can guarantee you that it didn’t take Andy all day to prepare for our country club date. It was a fun social activity getting ready as a girl and the results were stunning, but it took up most of the day. I bet Andy only had minor help getting ready to go—probably from his mother—and it didn’t cost a small fortune. He didn’t even consider making getting ready for our date a social event. Sure, he had to pay for dinner and the dance—which probably makes things even financially—but it took a lot less time. Just getting ready for the day is easier without the complexity of feminine attire, makeup, and hair.

“Speaking of simplicity, there’s always the issue of peeing. There’s no lifting of skirts, wrestling with panties and panty hose and having to sit or squat. It’s simply a matter of unzipping your pants and fishing out the equipment, doing your business, then shake it off and put it away—all while standing up. That’s really nice.

“Guys are also much freer. There’s a lot less worry over a guy’s personal safety. A guy is rarely on the defensive. You remember Alaska? I felt like a deer during hunting season when Alex, Kyle, and Joe tracked us down on that boat. And look how hard it’s been to be rid of them! While they’re nice guys and all, Joey still wants me for his girlfriend and I have to constantly drop hints about not getting romantic and sidestepping his advances.  Just yesterday I got another email from him saying he was still looking for a way to come see me—and that after posting the image of me sitting on Andy’s lap on the back of Caitlin’s boat. The guys on the running team—particularly Ben—haven’t been much better.

“Anyway, speaking of freedom, as a guy nobody cared if I went out running by myself. I really miss my morning meditation sessions. While I’ve come to appreciate the more social nature of girls, there is something about a good long and hard solo run which I really miss. Running has been my salvation in a lot of ways, but as a girl I’ve had to drag Dan along which has caused its own set of problems.

“You can pretty much bet that when we go camping later this week, if I go as Tina, I’ll be restricted in my movements. I won’t be permitted to wander off myself for early morning fishing, I won’t be able to climb the big hill above the campground to meditate by myself, I’ll have to be with someone at all times. And why? Because I’m a girl and—like it or not—girls are targets for all sorts of bad things. And girls don’t have the strength that guys do. And you know what? I actually agree with the restrictions. As a girl I like the security of having someone else around because I’m always feeling vulnerable. I want to be protected from the predators out there. But as a guy, there’s not the need for that feeling.”

Laurie is contemplative as I unload my feelings about all this.

“So,” she asks as I pause for a moment, “if it’s so great, why are you so hesitant about changing back? It sounds as if you’re more passionate about being a guy than a girl.”

“I suppose,” I reply, “that I know being Tina is a unique opportunity that will never happen again. As I said, there’s things I really like about being a girl that I’ll never have again—I want to hold on to them for as long as I can.”

“Things like Andy?” she asks with a coy smile.

“Yes,” I grin back with a slight blush, “things like Andy. And also things like Caitlin and Laurie—close girl friends. I’ve always known that girls can be much closer than guys, but to experience it has been fantastic. There’s no way that a guy and a girl can have the same kind of  bond as two girls. I love you guys to death, and I’ll miss that special companionship.” My eyes start to water as I give her hand another squeeze.

“Me too,” she agrees, pulling me into one of those wonderfully warm, sisterly hugs. Happy tears flow from two sets of eyes.

“You sidestepped my question about Andy,” she points out after a tender moment passes. “How are your feelings different for Andy than Chris’s feelings for me?”

“There’s a loaded question if I ever heard one,” I grin at her. “Being a girl in love is very similar to being a guy in love. The physical response, however, is very different. As I girl I feel like I’m melting and it’s a wonderful feeling. As a guy Chris gets more sexually aroused—which is more uncomfortable as a guy—and worked up. As a girl I like being held and protected. As Chris I like to hold and protect. It’s hard to say which is better. I like them both in their context although I’ll always miss aspects of one or the other, since you can never have both.”

“You don’t get sexually aroused as a girl?” she asks with some wonder.

“I didn’t say that,” I blush. “I do, and it as hard to control as girl as it is as guy in a lot of ways. It’s just as a guy it seems a little more overwhelming.”

“Have you experimented with your female equipment at all?” Laurie asks with a slight grin.

“Laurie!” I blush a bright red. “That’s kinda personal.”

“I take it from your blush that you have,” she adds, ignoring my protest.

“Only a couple of times,” I admit, recalling a couple of long showers and couple late night bedroom incidents. Hey, I’ll never get another chance you know. Sometimes a girl just has to let off some pent up sexual frustration just like a guy does.

“And how does it compare?” she presses with interest.

“Let’s just say,” I reply, trying to sidestep the question, “that I really like being a girl.”

“You and Andy haven’t done it yet, I hope,” she looks intently at me.

“No,” I reply emphatically, “we haven’t.”

“Haven’t you wanted to?” she asks. My, she’s getting personal here—but, as Caitlin would say, that’s what girl friends do.

Blushing even harder than before. I guess I might as well be open with her, “Wanted too? You bet. There’s been times when it’s been hard to keep my clothes on. But, I’ve maintained the same discipline we did as the Chris and Laurie team—for all the same reasons. The one intense female experience that I won’t have is sex. I’ve been sorely tempted to give it a try so I can compare later, but I’m sure that if I did, it would really mess me up for life; I’d always be comparing. That’s just too much intensity for me. Also I want sex to be special when it happens and the time’s not right for either Andy or me. You tell me that’s why you haven’t had sex with Chris.”

“Yes,” she responds, “but I know that sex is going to happen sometime for me. It’ll happen at the right time and with the right guy. I really look forward to it, but I want it to be a priceless experience.”

“Well,” I add, “sex is going to happen for me too—and under the same conditions. Only I’ll experience it as a guy, not as a girl.”

We sit and contemplate what has just transpired between us for a few minutes.

Eventually Laurie breaks the silence. “Okay, Tina,” she asks with a big smile, “now that we don’t have to work for the rest of the summer, what would my favorite girl friend like to do with her time? The Lab is paying us a big bonus for completing our mission so we don’t have to worry much about money.”

“Let’s call Caitlin and bust out of here,” I suggest. “I’m feeling much better now, but I could use some shopping therapy and Caitlin needs a new wardrobe. Are you up for it?”

Her eyes light up. “Shopping! You bet I’m up for it. I’d love to help out Caitlin.”

After calling Aunt Jen to get permission, I call Caitlin who’s apparently been sitting on pins and needles waiting for my call.

“Shopping!” she exclaims, “I like shopping as much as the next girl, but at a time like this? Shouldn’t you be hunkered down in hiding somewhere?”

“They caught most of the bad guys,” I tell her, “and the last have fled the area. I’m safe now.” I tell her where we are.

“Whatever, girl,” she obviously doesn’t believe me, “I’ll be there before you know it.”

She was right. It’s a miracle that the girl got here without a speeding ticket—I suppose she was moving so fast the cops couldn’t catch her. Anyway, it seems as if she’s banging on the door before I get a chance to freshen up.

When Laurie opens the door, Caitlin bursts in like a small tornado and envelopes me in a huge hug. “I’m sooo glad you’re safe, Tina.”

“Me too,” I reply, “but I won’t be if you don’t let me breathe.”

We spend the next hour giving her an edited version of the summer mission—including how her father was a suspect—and working through the ramifications of the events. She went through similar feelings to those I’ve had about Laurie when she learns that our primary purpose in contacting her was to use her to get to her father. We point out that if we weren’t true friends, we wouldn’t have asked her to go shopping. Eventually we get most everything out in the open—there’s no mention of the sex change nor my past as Chris—and reassure Caitlin that she is one of my very best friends. She eventually notices that I’m walking without the aid of the boot and crutches so we explain the deception of the past few days.

By this time, we’re well past lunch and we’re all getting hungry. We adjourn to the nearby Carl’s Jr. and have something to eat while planning the shopping blitz we’re about to undertake. Caitlin is funny in the way she critiques everything about the eatery. She’s obviously thinking that her shop does it better. She’s taking a strange pride in her work at McHell. There’s no doubt that she’s very much a changed girl. With this afternoon’s shopping we’re about to take her change to the next level.

The afternoon is not going to be nearly long enough to do all that needs to be done because it is going to be cut short due to my date with Mom Quinn. With our time limit in mind, we go back to the mall in the next town over and engage in a detailed attack on all the clothing stores. We have much success and end up taking several trips to the car to unload bags. Caitlin doesn’t seem to worry much about budget—”My parent’s will ecstatic about the change,” she happily informs us, “They’ll pay for everything.” She’s still such a spoiled child at times. The selected clothes are much more restrained than her normal fare and we work hard to make sure that the items have style. We have a blast. Even Laurie and I picked up a few items. I sadly remind myself that Laurie will probably inherit my purchases before I get a chance to wear them.

If it weren’t for one nagging problem, I’d say it was a perfect afternoon.

The nagging problem?  It’s Andy. I’ve called at every opportunity and left a dozen messages but he’s not called me back. I’ve also sent several emails from my smart phone—he hasn’t responded to those either.

Where is that boy?

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Special thanks to Gabi for doing extra editing duty this week. I couldn't have done it without her.