Something Feels Strange - 50

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Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

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?

Chapter 50: Family, Work, and an Unhappy Boyfriend

I’m so nervous and I don’t know why—after all, it’s just dinner with my mother and sisters. I’m standing outside of Strizzis restaurant getting up the courage to have dinner with my own mother and sisters—one of whom doesn’t know about the Chris/Tina connection.

It was decided—because of the media stakeout at the Mercer home—that it’d be better for me to meet them as opposed to having them pick me up.  In fact, I never made it home this evening. Word of a spy ring bust has the national news media in a feeding frenzy and there are reporters everywhere—especially right outside our house. I had Caitlin drive us by Andy’s house and saw another group of hungry reporters waiting for an opportunity to speak to the inhabitants there. Apparently the names of several of the suspects became public knowledge as arraignments were made throughout the day in court. Mrs. Lang’s little SUV is sitting in the driveway so I suspect that she and Andy are hunkered down. Why won’t he call me?

Anyway, we ended up at Caitlin’s house where I changed into a loose skirt/blouse combination and some sandals that I bought today. Of course we had to spend some time with Mrs. Sommers and the boys answering what questions we could. They actually find it fascinating that they know a real live spy. I asked them to keep it to themselves, but I bet the boys had spread the news before I had a chance to get changed.

Caitlin dropped Laurie at Amy’s and me on the curb down the block from Strizzis which brings me to my current predicament.

I see Mom’s minivan on the street so I know they’re here. Here goes nothing. Taking a deep breath, I walk by the outdoor tables and into the restaurant. Looking around I see the three of them at a table in a back corner of the restaurant. Mom waves me over.  I am definitely over dressed for the occasion as my two sisters are wearing jeans and Mom’s wearing slacks. That’s okay because my days in skirts are numbered and I want to enjoy them while I can.

As I arrive at the table Tiff stares at me with a confused look. “Hey, Tina, it’s good to see you.” Turning to Mom, she asks, “I thought you said this was a family dinner?”

“It is, sweetheart,” Mom smiles conspiratorially as I take the only empty seat.

Tiff is really confused. “To my knowledge, Tina’s never met Chris. How’s she joining the family if not as a sister-in-law? Laurie would be royally pissed if that were to happen.”

Marla can’t keep it together and busts out laughing so hard that she has trouble breathing which only adds to Tiff’s confusion. We get strange looks from the other patrons as Mom tells Marla to cut it out. “What’s wrong with her?” Tina asks the rest of us. “How come I feel as if there’s something I don’t know?”

If there’s something Tiff really hates, it’s being the last to know a secret. I giggle myself. This is the ultimate payback for a number of pranks she’s pulled on me over the years.

“Are you a long lost cousin or something?” she asks me with a puzzled expression on her face.

I just shake my head while suppressing a laugh. I’m going to leave this one to Mom to deal with. Mom, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to clear the mystery for her. Poor girl—she looks positively distressed over this.

The waitress shows up to take our orders. The others have been here long enough to have made their choices. It’s a good thing that I’ve been here before—as Chris—so I simply order the Seafood Risotto as I did on my last visit. Hey, it was good last time so it’s a safe bet.

After the waitress scurries off to fill our order, Mom focuses our attention by raising her wine class and proposing a toast: “To the completion of a very successful mission and an relaxed evening with my girls.”

We raise our glasses—water in the case of Marla and me—in agreement.

Realizing that she’s not going to get the full story out of us, Tiff moves to another topic, “Tina, the buzz around the Lab today is that you’re the one that brought down the spy network.”

“Why would people think that?” I ask innocently. I was hoping that my involvement would stay quiet. “I’m just a summer intern.”

“Well, what do you think?” she asks rhetorically. “You’re almost run down by a car on Thursday and kidnapped on Monday—which also happens to be the day that a dozen Lab employees are busted for espionage. Then there’s the fact that you have, like, a whole SWAT team or something staking out your house. Then Mom makes this strange toast. It all seems a little too coincidental for me.”

“Yeah,” Marla adds, “Even though the news didn’t name you, like, everyone at the store was talking about the girl who was kidnapped today too.”

It sounds like the story of my rescue is also common knowledge. I guess it’s hard to explain the failed abduction any other way. So much for being anonymous.

I just smile and admit nothing.

“At least tell us about the kidnapping,” Marla begs.

“There’s not much to tell,” I shrug my shoulders in response. “I woke up to someone creeping around in my room.  The next thing I know, someone clamps a cloth over my nose and mouth and I’m out like a light. I woke up to find myself in the emergency room. I’m told they used chloroform to knock me out. Basically, I missed the whole thing.”

“So how did you get rescued?” Marla inquires. “The news said that there was a SWAT team there protecting you and they busted the bad guys as they carried you out of the house.”

“I really shouldn’t talk about that,” I reply. It’s probably best to stick to what’s public knowledge.

It turns out to be a very frustrating dinner for Tiff in particular and also for Marla since I’m not forthcoming with any juicy information about the spy business. I try to act the clueless teen intern but they’re not buying it.

To deflect the questions, I enquire about Tiff and Steve the programmer.

“We’ve had lunch together three times now,” she informs me. Apparently Mom and Marla already know all the details. “He’s turning out to be rather interesting. You must have put the fear of death in him though, Tina. He’s very careful not to upset me.”

“That’s your fault,” I remind her. “You threatened me with harm if this turned out poorly. I just made sure that he understood where you were at the time.”

“Well,” she tells me, “next time you see him you can tell him that I’m not going to decapitate him if he asks me out. I think that he almost asked me on a date during lunch today but you can tell he’s a bit frightened.”

“You might have to tell him yourself,” I inform her. “It looks as if I may be done at the Lab. I probably won’t be seeing him at work anymore.”

“What?” they all exclaim in unison.

I have to tell them that I’ve been told that my usefulness at the lab is over. This kicks off a flurry of discussion in which all of them—even Mom—express the injustice of firing me. I don’t tell them that it’s because my mission is over.

“Don’t worry about it,” I let them know. “It’ll be nice to have some time off. Speaking of which, I’m really excited to be going camping with you all this weekend. It sounds like fun.”

Tiff rolls her eyes. She’s never really been an enthusiastic outdoors girl. Marla generally tolerates these family outings but you can tell it’s not her first choice of things to do.

“Come on, Tiffany,” Mom chides her. “You always end up enjoying these trips.”

“You’re right,” she admits reluctantly. “It is nice to be with family but there are other ways to do it. This is more of a Dad and Chris thing.”

“I enjoy it too,” Mom points out. “It’s nice being away from interruptions and to just enjoy my family.”

“You’re lucky,” Tiff points out to me, “you at least get to bring your boyfriend. Our parents never allowed us to do that.”

Her comment brings sadness to my heart. I hope he’s coming. I wish he’d call me back.

The rest of the evening is spent in girl talk and a walk to the park. Mom never does clear the mystery for Tiff. As it gets dark, we head back to the car but not without a group hug. “It’s so nice to have an evening with my girls,” Mom declares. Tiff still looks confused. I just enjoy the moment knowing it’s not likely to happen again.

---<>---

When I get home from our Mother-Daughters date, I manage to make it in the house without being accosted by newshounds. Laurie and her mother are there waiting to bring me up to speed on the latest developments. Lots has been happening today.

Apparently, Dr. Lang’s car was found at the San Francisco International Airport. While there is no record of him catching a flight out of there, the general belief is that he slipped out of the country on a false passport. The FBI is still going through security films trying to spot him at the airport. He’s gone and no one knows where he went. He’s got plenty of funding in his offshore account and it’s suspected that he’ll be well supported by the terrorists if he agrees to work for them. I doubt he’ll have the choice not to.

Mr. Rana is still missing. No one has been able to locate his little airplane either. Rana’s obsession with my identity is a mild concern to the FBI but both Aunt Jen and the Major are more than a little worried. Apparently they don’t think he’ll let go of his obsession with me. The FBI will be withdrawing their protective detail from me tomorrow but the Major’s not convinced that’s the right thing to do just yet. Apparently the royal protection detail has been following me all day and will until the Major’s happy. He is convinced that the way to catch Rana is to keep dangling me out there as juicy bait.

The Lab security team wants me to transition back to Chris so that Rana won’t be able to find Tina. Admittedly it is the safe option. I—on the other hand—am feeling cheated out of a couple of weeks of girl time. I also want—as Tina—to tie up loose ends with Andy.

We have a meeting tomorrow at the Lab to wrap things up and to plan for my transition back to Chris. I’m not looking forward to it.

I decide to wear my sexy baby doll lingerie to bed tonight. I want to feel as feminine as possible. It may be for the very last time and the thought saddens me. Sleep is slow in coming as I recall the events of the summer. I end up crying myself to sleep. I’m really going to miss being Tina.

---<>---

For once, I’m up before the rest. I take a long shower reveling in the sensations of the hot water on my sensitive female body. I adore the smoothness of my skin, the roundness of my bottom, the feel of my breasts and the tingle in my crotch as I lightly finger my clitoris.

My reverie is broken as Laurie stumbles into the bathroom to start her day. From her seat on the toilet, she grumbles, “Leave some hot water for the rest of us, Tina.” She is still not a morning person.

I decide to wear my leopard print lingerie set from our trip to San Francisco for what could be my last day as a girl. I add a garter belt and stockings as well—they’re much more feminine than plain old pantyhose. I’m just standing there staring into the full length mirror when Laurie comes into my room.

“You really are very pretty,” she observes. I think she picks up on the emotion that’s running rampant through my system. “That lingerie is just perfect for you.”

She comes over to give me a long hug and I can’t help but lose a few tears. “I’m really going to miss all this,” I quietly cry.

“You’ll be fine,” Laurie reassures me as we continue the hug. Pulling away, she adds, “but for now we need to get you ready for work. I take it you want to be very feminine today.”

I just nod affirmatively. God, this hurts so much.

Knowing my attraction to longer loose skirts, she suggests the tiered skirt from our first shopping adventure. I add a light camisole and a peasant style top. Of course I wear my runner’s necklace. I’m tempted to wear some dangly earrings, but I just can’t pass up the Forget-Me-Not earrings that Mom Polly gave me. On seeing my selection, Laurie decides to wear her set as well.

I apply my makeup with a now experienced hand. I clip my hair with the most feminine hair clip that I can find. A pair of strappy sandals with two inch heals completes the outfit. The final product is actually quite nice. Giving a twirl in front of the mirror I try to record the feeling in my heart. I find myself wishing it could continue.

“My,” Aunt Jen comments with some awe as we join her for breakfast in the kitchen, “you really are going out in style, aren’t you, Tina?”

I smile back at her, “Would you mind taking some pictures of me?” I request.

We spent almost twenty minutes taking pictures of me in various poses. Most by myself, but many with Laurie and her mother in them. I wish that Caitlin and Andy were here.

At the thought of them, it occurs to me that I’ll have to tell them the camping trip is off. That’ll be hard. I wish we could wait at least until next week to make the transition.

We’re almost half an hour late for work but I don’t care—what can they do, fire me? I meet with my supervisor when I first arrive at the office to close out my normal work projects. She seems surprised to see me walking on an apparently healthy ankle.

“I heal quickly,” I tell her. It’s easier than getting into the whole story. Of course, news of my near kidnapping and apparent role in bringing down the spy network is running rampant through the department. Word gets out that I’m in my supervisor’s office and it seems it seems as if everyone has urgent need to see her too.  In the end, I suggest that we move to the conference room and invite everyone who wants to hear my story to come to an impromptu meeting. It’s standing room only as the entire office drops what they are doing to come hear the tale.

“Yes,” I tell them in response to a question, “I did help with the investigation, but I was just a small part of it. I did not lead the investigation. Get real, I’m just a teenager.”

“No,” I respond to another question, “I wasn’t ‘out to get’ Dr. Lang because he’s a sexist jerk.”

“Yes,” I maintain my cover while answering another question, “I really am from Alaska and Jen Mercer is my Aunt.” It’s my one outright lie for the session.

“No, I don’t know who all the suspects are.” It could be you, I don’t say out loud. No sense causing panic.

“Yes, I really do like Andy Lang. He’s a great guy. Can I take him home with me?”

“No, I can’t finish out the summer. My parents want me home and I’ve been gone long enough.” Well, that’s not quite true but it’s not really false either.

“Yes, I really liked working here and yes, I’d like to come back again next summer if it works out.” It’s just that I won’t be back as Tina if I do come back.

“No, I’m really not an FBI agent, nor do I work for any other national security organization.”

“Yes, if I’m still in town I’ll come to the picnic. Has everyone signed up? If not, you really should.”

“Yes, the sprained ankle was just a ruse but I really do appreciate the cards. They made me feel special and like I belong here. I love you guys. You really should do something nice for Ben Harrison, though. He didn’t deserve to end up in the hospital.”

It takes over half an hour for the questions to peter out. When they do, everyone heads back to work a little more satisfied, but I expect that productivity is low. I also suspect that many of them are on the phone sharing their new found knowledge with other friends and colleagues.

With the curious out of the way, I spend a little time with my supervisor going over my progress on the library program and showing what still needs to be done. She wants me to hand it off to Steve for completion. I bet he will finish it in an afternoon—that is he will after he quits laughing at all my beginner mistakes. She’s already handed off my part in the picnic organization to the other office intern.

It’s almost eleven o’clock before I can get over to see Steve who—naturally—makes the time we needed to hand off the library project. He’s just as curious about the investigation as anyone else.

“Steve,” I thank him, “thanks for all your help with the other programming projects. It made all the difference in the investigation.”

“I thought it might have helped,” he glowed, “when I heard about who they took down. If I’d known you were a professional undercover agent instead of just a nosy girlfriend I would have been more cautious about helping you out. It’s not good to do any hacking while the big guys are watching.”

“Well,” I tell him, “you ought to know that the FBI geeks were pretty impressed by what they found on the Lang system once they started doing their own hacking.”

He goes white, “You mean they found it? That’s bad news.”

“Oh, don’t worry,” I grin at him. “I told them I did it.” I don’t think they’re going after him anyway—if anything, they’ll want to know how he did it.

He doesn’t look as if he knows whether to be relieved or offended but at least his color has returned. It’s so hard for a geek not to take credit for great work—even if it is slightly illegal.

Changing topics now that we’ve finished the real work, I toy with him. “I hear you’re still having lunch with Tiff. When are you going to ask her out?”

He goes white again. “Ah, I thought you said to go slow. I’d like to ask her out, but I wouldn’t know what to do with her. Do you think she’d really like to go out with me? She’s quite the girl.”

I smile at him, “I went to dinner with her and her family last night. I got the impression that she thinks you’re interesting. I think you can start thinking about asking her out. Just take it slow and don’t expect a kiss on the first date much less anything else that’s too familiar—if you know what I mean.”

“You think she’d really go out with me?” He looked hopeful.

I just nod at him.

“Oh boy,” he looks worried. “What do you think she’d like to do?”

“What has she said about her likes?” I ask him.

“I think she likes hiking and outdoor stuff,” he muses, “At least she’s talked about doing such things with her family. She also knows a lot about the theatre. I think she said something about liking some play in the City.”

I’m mildly surprised by the remark about the outdoor stuff. Maybe it’s just being together with the family.

“Don’t take her to a movie for a first date,” I counsel him. “That’s just lame because you don’t really get a chance to talk during a movie. If you want to bond with someone you have to do something with them where you can interact. You need to develop shared experiences. Something like taking her to someplace like Monterey for the day. You can explore the shops, visit the aquarium, and walk the beach together then take her someplace nice for dinner where you can watch the sun set over the ocean. You’ll get a lot of one-on-one time that way.”

“That sounds expensive,” he observes with a cringe. “I was thinking something shorter to start out—you know so that she’s not stuck with me all day if things go bad.”

“Okay,” I agree. “Save that one for after you’ve found out if you really are compatible.  But I can guarantee you that she’ll be impressed with that one. How about taking her for a drive to the top of Mt. Diablo for a picnic on a clear day? You can do a little hiking up there if you get the urge. You can do that on an evening after work and watch the sunset from up there. There’s a dozen other hikes around that could be made romantic with the right touch.”

It occurs to me that I seem to know a lot more about the local options than a new-to-the-area girl should, but fortunately Steve is too nervous contemplating how to ask Tiff out, to notice.

“I don’t do romantic very well,” he complains. “I don’t have any experience in that department.”

“It’s time to learn, lover boy,” I coach him. “Haven’t you ever been out on a date?”

“Well, yeah,” he hedges, “a few, but never with a girl like Tiff. And the other dates didn’t go well at all. I don’t want that to happen again.”

Oh boy. I’m wishing I was going to be around to help him, but I think my Tina time is counted in hours right now.

“You’ll do fine,” I tell him. “Try watching a few romantic movies and pay attention to what the girl likes and what guys do that turns them on or off. I think that Tom Hanks really has the touch. You can learn a lot from him. When’s the next time you’re seeing Tiff?”

He nervously looks at his watch, “In about twenty minutes.”

“You know she’s going camping with her family this weekend don’t you?” I ask.

“Yeah, she mentioned that,” he said. “She didn’t sound super excited about the trip.”

“Why don’t you surprise her and ask her to drive up Mt. Diablo to watch the sunset after work tonight?” I suggest. “You can stop by a deli and pick up something for a picnic on your way out of town.”

“You don’t let grass grow under your feet, do you?” he observes. “I’m seeing that every time you get an idea you act on it right then.”

“He who hesitates is lost,” I’m not sure of the source, but it’s a great quote. “March forth and meet your destiny or stay home and wonder what might have been.” Not to mention the fact that Tina doesn’t have much time to work with.

I watch as he mentally strengthens his resolve. It looks like today is the day for this relationship to move to the next level.

“Go for it, Steve,” I encourage him. “Tiff’s a great girl and you’re a great guy. I really do hope that things work out for you two.”

“Thanks, Tina,” he says as he prepares to make the leap. I just hope he doesn’t have a seizure in the process.

---<>---

I’m making my way to the cafeteria with Steve where I’m to meet Laurie, Aunt Jen and Mom for lunch when my phone start’s moaning. Looking at the caller ID I see the call is coming from Mrs. Lang’s art store. My heart about stops.

“Excuse me, Steve,” I say with a touch of panic in my voice. “I need to take this call. You’ll do great. Just let Tiff know by your actions that you respect her.”

He gives me a weak smile as he continues down the sidewalk.

“Hello,” I answer tentatively.

“Hey, Tina,” Andy’s depressed voice greets me.

“Oh, Andy!” I exclaim, “Are you alright? I’ve been trying to reach you for the last twenty four hours. I’ve so been worried that something happened to you.”

“I’m fine,” he flatly responds. He sure doesn’t sound fine. “I’m wondering if you have time to talk or if you’re too busy for me now that you’ve got what you want.”

“Andy,” I reply in a hurt tone, “That’s not fair. I’ve been trying to reach you, like forever. I love you. I want nothing more than to be with you right now.” There, I finally said the ‘love’ word.

He’s quiet for a minute. “Have you got time for lunch with me?”

“Yes,” I’ll make the time. I have a final meeting at two o’clock, but I’m sure I can get back for that. I really want to part on good terms with Andy and this’ll probably the last time I—the Tina me—will ever see him. Leaving him will be the hardest thing that I’ve ever done but I’ve known that from the beginning. “I’ll have to ask Aunt Jen for her car.”

“I’ll come get you,” he says. “I can be at the gate in fifteen minutes.”

“I’ll be there,” I promise. “I do love you, you know?”

“Bye,” is all he says before closing the connection.

I think my heart is going to break. It’s painfully apparent that he’s really hurting right now.

Mom, Aunt Jen, and Laurie look surprised as I literally run into the cafeteria. Everyone looks up as I slide to a halt at their table.

“Andyjustcalledandwe’regoingtolunchlikerightnow.” I get out with tears in my eyes. “Heiscomingtogetmerightnow. IwillbebackforthemeetingIpromise.”

“What?” Mom blinks. Jen didn’t get the message either.

“I got it, girl,” Laurie responds with concern, “Go. I’ll let them know. Go!”

With that I spin on my heel and flee for the gate leaving a wondering audience behind me.

I arrive at the front gate before Andy does. The guard asks me if everything is alright when he sees that I’m upset.

“Hey, you’re Tina Jeffers,” he says with awe. “The girl who took down the spy network.”

I thank him for his concern but assure him that there’s nothing he can do to help and yes, I’m Tina, but I didn’t do much.

My phone goes off again. This time it’s the Major.

“What are you doing, Tina?” He sounds concerned and not entirely happy. “I just got a frantic call from Jen.”

“Andy is coming to get me for lunch,” I tell him breathlessly. “I need to talk to him before this is over. This is such a mess!”

“Where are you going?” he asks with intensity.

“I don’t know,” I honestly reply.

“I need to scramble the team,” he informs me. “I gave them the afternoon off since you were to be safely tucked away at the Lab. Keep your phone active. Do you still have the lipstick beacon with you?”

“I think so,” I tell him. I didn’t think about my protective detail.

“Turn it on. Give me twenty minutes,” he requests, “and I can get people on this. In the mean time, stay inside the perimeter.”

“I can’t wait twenty minutes,” I look up to see Andy pulling in the parking lot. “He’s here.” I wave at him to show him where I am.

“Damn,” he swears. “Stall him for five minutes and at least give me a chance to get to my car.”

While Andy is working his way through the parking lot, I dig around in my purse to find the hideous lipstick. I’m lucky that I find it right off. It’s activated by the time Andy pulls up. I keep my smart phone accessible as I climb into his mother’s car. I notice a bag from the deli with a couple of bottles of water.

He doesn’t look like he wants to be here. All I get is a grunted hello when I greet him. It is painfully clear that he has his emotional defenses up. This hurts and tears start dripping down my cheeks.

“Where are we going?” I ask more for my keepers benefit than mine. I don’t care where we go as long as we get a chance to talk.

“I know a quiet place by the creek along the bike trail near Robertson’s Park where we can talk,” he sullenly says. “I thought we’d go there.”

I hope my keepers got that because I’m shutting down the phone now. I really don’t need the whole world hearing this conversation. If they want to know where I am, they can follow the phone and lipstick beacons. I push the phone deep into my purse. I know I’ll get in trouble for this but at this point, I don’t care.

“Sounds good to me,” I meekly reply.

As we begin the trek in silence, I pray that I might find the words to make this all right again.

My relationship with Laurie suddenly comes into sharp focus. It was what? Two months ago that I was having this same conversation with her? Only then I was the one feeling like a fool. If she felt half as bad then as I do now, I really feel sorry for her. I know how Andy must feel having been there myself. I need to try to make him understand that I really do love him, regardless of the motivation which began the relationship. That’s how Laurie got through to me.

I really, really hope this conversation has a similar ending to the one I had with Laurie. At least we won’t be fighting mosquitoes at the same time.

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 Another fine job of editing by Gabi.