Something Feels Strange - 53

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Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

The cooler we’ve just hauled out to the car signals the end of our preparations—everything is packed in the car and ready to go. I can hardly wait until morning when, finally, we will be on our way. I realize that I’m looking forward to heading to the mountains with almost as much anticipation as I would if I were still Chris. The thought of hiking to the top of the mountain overlooking the lake really appeals to me as does spending some time in the canoe with a fishing pole. It’s been a long time since I’ve done either.

Of course, doing it with Andy really adds to the appeal.

On the flip side, hanging out while waiting for Rana & Co. to drop the other shoe will be nerve-wracking.

Maybe he won’t get the message.

One can always hope.

Chapter 53: Andy's Secret

Andy and I ride with Laurie and her mother for the four hour trip to the Lake. We have a rollicking good time listening to a few MP3s that drive Aunt Jen crazy and chatting about all the things we’ll do once we get to the lake. Of course, Andy and I snuggle in the back seat while the two Mercer’s take the front. I like the snuggle part. My father, Dr. Quinn, is driving the motor home towing a trailer which has a small skiff and a canoe on it. The rest of the Quinns are riding with him.

Aunt Jen finally breaks the happy mood by telling us the current plans for the Rana trap. It seems that—in spite of a massive hunt—no one has found Rana yet. His airplane remains unaccounted for and no communications have been uncovered by the geeks. Apparently there’s nothing worse for the hunter than not knowing where his prey is and what he’s doing—particularly when his prey is also a predator. For all anyone knows, Mr. Rana has fled the country or he may be just around the next bend waiting to pounce.

If he does decide to pounce this weekend, it’s expected that he’ll send more goons to do the job. Just like last time, it’s unlikely that he’ll be a part of the actual snatch squad. This does, needless to say, complicate things a bit. If he hasn’t been located by the time I’m snatched, they want to let the bad guys have me in hopes that they’ll take me to him. Everyone’s very certain that no harm will come to me before Rana interrogates me, as long as I don’t resist too much. Everyone is pretty nervous about this plan—especially me, my family and friends. The good news is that there are a couple of dozen agents working on site and many more trying feverishly to locate Rana. This is a big deal for the FBI—and other agencies—so they’re pulling out all the stops.

“You mean,” Andy exclaims when we bring him into the loop—not telling him, of course, about where I came from and how I got here, “you’re still going to be bait? I thought this was going to be a relaxing vacation.”

“It will be,” I assure him, “if Rana doesn’t show up.”

“In the meantime,” he points out, “we have to look over our shoulders the whole time. That’s not my definition of relaxing.”

“Don’t worry,” I try to get him to relax. “You just need to stay out of the way if they show up. It’s me who has to worry.” I don’t think my comment does much to alleviate his concern.

“That’s right,” Aunt Jen told Laurie and Andy, “If anything happens, you two need to back off and let them take her. We think, though, that they’ll wait until she’s on her own to make the snatch. We need to make sure that Tina is on her own as much as possible to give them opportunity to do their thing.”

“Are all your vacations this relaxing?” Andy asks me with a touch of sarcasm.

I just smile sweetly at him and give him a quick kiss. “It’ll be fine. Trust me.”

---<>---

Once we get settled into the campsite we have a short security meeting in the RV. Apparently all the Quinns are up on the plan. Marla is excited, Mom and Dad are concerned, and Tiff doesn’t know what to think. We have a short radio chat with the leader of the on-site surveillance team—Steph—while we are all together. Steph is apprehensive because all is quiet—too quiet in her opinion. A popular 4-wheel drive trail passes nearby and apparently somebody missed the fact that on Friday morning the place will be crawling with 4x4 Jeeps passing through on the Rubicon Jeep Jamboree. The resulting confusion would be a good time for Rana’s thugs to make their move. It will also be hard to keep an eye out for trouble with so many happy jeepers passing by.

Another find has been a remote dirt airstrip just two miles south of the campground. It’s a twenty mile drive—much of it over primitive dirt roads—to get there from here, but only two and a half miles by trail. Awareness of Mr. Rana’s flying capabilities, brings concern that he might show up there. One of the Major’s squads has pitched camp near the strip where they can keep a discreet eye on who comes and goes. There’s been no traffic at the strip in the two days they’ve been there.

As all the options are discussed, procedures for various contingencies are presented. The meeting winds down after an hour’s intense discussion. With the game plan agreed, we’re set free to go explore nature’s wonders—as long as we let everyone else know where we’ll be.

Loon Lake is located in the high Sierras only about 15 miles west of the more famous Lake Tahoe. The terrain is characterized by copious quantities of granite in the form of slabs and boulders. The vegetation is fairly sparse as a result. There are trees but—with the exception of some discrete pockets—it’s not exactly dense forest. The granite surfaces make for great hiking—you can go in just about any direction without tearing up the countryside. It’s also part of the attraction for the 4x4 Jeeps. At 6,400 ft elevation, the air is thin and clear. I tried going for a short run along the lake road right after our arrival but found breathing difficult. It takes some time to acclimate to this elevation.

In the early 1960s the lake itself was artificially enlarged with the construction of two dams built to contain spring runoff for hydroelectric power making the lake more of a reservoir. The water is very clear and extremely cold—it’s not the best of swimming lakes. You can see quite far down into the water and watch rainbow trout swimming amongst the granite boulders. In fact, the water is so clear that it seems as if you’re floating in air when in a boat on a calm day. My father has come here often since the mid 1960s when he was a small boy. My grandfather helped with the construction of a Boy Scout camp further up the lake and the family tagged along for a vacation. The camp was eventually sold to another private outdoor adventure group which also holds youth camps on the site. The location has been a favorite of Dad’s because of the hiking and fishing options. It’s a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of our normal everyday lives. We tend to come here for vacation every couple of years. It’s something I always look forward too.  As Tina, I’m just as excited about it as I would have been as Chris—even with the threat of being kidnapped looming on the horizon.

Andy and I join Dr. Quinn for a quick fishing excursion in the skiff during the mid-afternoon. It would seem that Dr. Lang neglected to teach his son the fine art of fishing so we spend some time introducing Andy to the tools of the sport. He shows great interest in the pastime and seems surprised to see that I’m very much familiar with fishing.

“I’m an Army brat from Alaska,” I remind him while winking at Dr. Quinn. “Outdoors is my specialty.”

It doesn’t take too long for him to get the hang of rigging a pole but it really does take time to learn the intricacies of the selecting the right gear and how to use it. Much like an eager child with a new toy he asks lots of questions. It’s almost as much fun to watch him discover this whole new world as it is to fish for myself.

“I got one! I got one!” he shouts barely able to keep his seat. “What do I do now?”

I try explaining how to play the fish so that he doesn’t tire it too much but he’s way to excited and he about jerks the fish straight out of the water—and loses the fish in the process. I laugh so hard that it hurts.

“What’s wrong?” he looks chagrined.

“You don’t need to get quite so excited,” I grin at him. “Next time, just let the fish take the hook a bit deeper into his mouth before you bring him in. If you don’t set the hook then they’ll get away every time. You just need to keep the pole tip up and tension on the line.”

The irony of the situation almost catches me off guard. In a sense, this trip is really a Rana fishing excursion and I’m the bait. Last time we jerked the line too quickly to get him. We need to let him take me deeper into his trap this time.

Dr. Quinn just quietly smiles as he watches me teach Andy the basics. Eventually we land a few fish each. I let most of mine go, just keeping the largest ones for tonight’s dinner. Andy seems puzzled when I let the first fish go.

“We only keep the best for dinner,” I explain. “This one needs to grow up a bit more. Also, the fun is in the challenge of catching them. We tend to release more than we keep.”

Andy looks puzzled at this. “I thought the object was to catch as many as possible to fill the freezer.”

“First,” I instruct him, “we don’t have a freezer here. Second, the challenge is in catching as many as possible, but that doesn’t mean we need to keep them. The more we throw back, the more there are for everyone to enjoy.”

“Doesn’t catching them fatally injure them?” he asks.

“Actually it can,” I admit, “but you’ll notice how I made sure my hands were wet when I handled him. That does less damage. Also you’ll notice we’re using barbless hooks, those are easier to extract. I also gently support him until he’s ready to swim away on his own.”

“I was wondering about the hooks,” he mentions, “I think that’s why I keep losing some.”

“You’re right,” I respond. “It is harder to catch them this way, but that’s part of the challenge.”

And so our fishing lessons progress.

Dinner that night includes the fresh trout and some rice pilaf that Mrs. Quinn made. The Mercers add some salad and we make samores—a common delectable camping treat consisting of marshmallows toasted over the fire, chocolate bars, and graham crackers—around the campfire as things wind down for the night. My diet included something that looks like a horse pill of some type. I’m told that it’s a tracking device. I’ll have to swallow one each evening. I hope passing one is not too unpleasant.  As we sit on the ground around the fire, I just settle back into Andy’s arms as we listen to random stories about other such outings as the mood strikes the other participants. I can’t imagine a better ending to the day.

Andy has his own little tent set up next to female central. I feel sorry to send him off alone as the girls all head to the RV. I can tell he’s feeling a little left out too so, after letting everyone know where we’ll be, the two of us walk down to the lake and sit snuggling together atop a huge boulder to watch the stars and talk for a while. I notice another couple doing something similar between us and the main part of the camp. What do you bet that it’s Steph and one of her crew?

We spend a while quietly chatting about the events of the day and the possibilities for luring Mr. Rana—hoping that no one is eavesdropping. Throughout the conversation I sense a certain melancholy in him.

“I’m sorry we don’t have any other boys here for you to spend time with,” I apologize. “It must be strange to hang around with a bunch of girls and be excluded at night.”

“It’s okay,” he responds with something less than enthusiasm. “I think that any guy would like to hang out with his girlfriend and a few cute girls for the weekend even if he has to sleep alone.”

“You don’t quite sound like one of them,” I point out.

He tosses a small stone in the lake as he struggles with a response.

“Tina,” he says after taking a deep breath. “you really have turned my world upside down.” I can tell that there’s something he is debating telling me. I just stay quiet as his internal debate rages.

“Tina,” he restarts, “It’s not that I mind hanging around with you guys. It’s just...,” he hesitates.

“It’s just what?” I gently ask.

“Forget it,” he changes his mind. “You’ll just think I’m weird.”

“Come on, Andy,” I gently encourage him. “I can keep a secret.  I’ll be gone soon anyway but I’d like to help you anyway I can.”

“Naw,” If I could see his color in the dark I’m sure he’d be bright red right now. “It’s just too strange.”

Ah, I think to myself. I bet it has something to do with those websites he’s been visiting.

“Um, Andy,” I cringe slightly as I prepare to admit prying into his private life. This could be detrimental to our relationship but I’ve got to tell him. “When I first planted spyware on your system, I, um, looked around your hard drive a little and looked at the log of websites you frequent.”

He stiffens noticeably and loosens his hold on me. “You what!?!?” he exclaims.

“Sorry,” I really cringe, “Please don’t be mad at me. The internet not as private as most people think. I was just checking to see if the software worked.”

By now, he’s sitting by me but we’re definitely not snuggling anymore. I’m not really sure what his emotions are. I sense some embarrassment mixed in with betrayal and some anger—not a good mix.

“Is anyone eavesdropping on us right now?” He asks suspiciously.

“I don’t have any bugs on me,” I assure him, “besides the ingestible homing device and my lipstick beacon.”

“What did you find?” he softly asks.

“Some websites about boys becoming girls,” I honestly tell him.  When he doesn’t say anything I ask, “Do you want to be a girl?”

“Ugh!” he responds, “This is so embarrassing. I don’t want to talk about it. You probably think I’m some kind of pervert.”

I scoot over to where he’s retreated across the boulder and put my arms around him—it’s a stretch.

“No Andy,” I assure him, “I don’t. I think you’re just the most perfect guy in the world. I am curious, though, why you would want to be a girl. You make an awesome guy.” I find myself trying to picture him in a dress—it just doesn’t work. “Besides, you’d look horrible in a dress.”

“It’s not that I want to be a girl,” he explains, “at least, not anymore. At least not permanently. Until you came along I used to fantasize about becoming a girl quite a bit—in fact I still do, but now it’s different. I like the fact that girls are more sensitive to other people. Girls don’t have to be manly or prove anything. They are more kind and thoughtful than most guys. I wonder what it’s like to wear the clothes and be close with someone like girlfriends are. The world of girls seems so fascinating.”

“It’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” I try to tell him. “There’s periods—periods are the worst—blood and mess all over the place in addition to the cramps and off kilter hormones. You definitely should consider yourself blessed to miss periods. As a girl you’re not as big and strong as a guy which limits what you can do. Girls have to be much more careful about where they go and what they do since there’s so many weird guys out there hunting them. Girls’ lives are a lot more complicated. The clothes are an example. Girls take twice as long to get ready to go anywhere because they have so much more to do to get ready. Things like hair, makeup, bras, and having to choose the right underwear take forever even before you have to decide which of the 10,000 things in your closet you’ve worn recently so you don’t wear them again anytime soon. And don’t forget the shoes—girls shoes may look nice but many of them are painful to wear for extended periods of time plus a girl needs ten times as many shoes as a guy does in order to go with the infinite array of clothing in the closet. And then there is the problem with bathrooms—guys just walk in and do their business, while girls have to stand in line forever because they have to literally remove all those layers of clothes to relieve themselves. Out of doors, guys can just stand there and relieve themselves while girls, again, have to undress and squat. Believe me, it’s a real pain. It’s no wonder that an outhouse is a girl’s best friend when out of doors. If that’s not enough, I could mention what a pain breasts are when you’re running, the fact that people—even other women—don’t take girls seriously, how women seem to naturally make any task more complicated, how women have higher rates of depression and emotional trauma, and then there’s the fear of pregnancy. Need I continue?”

“Don’t you like being a girl?” he sounds a little confused.

“Sure,” I admit. He doesn’t know that I’m an expert on comparing the two genders. “but I am a girl. I don’t have a choice right now so I might as well enjoy it.” What’s a little half truth amongst friends? “I just think that being a guy sounds so much easier. I think I’d be happy with that too. Anyway, enough about the trials of being a girl, how have I changed things for you?”

“For one,” he laughs, “you’ve shown me how great it is to be in love with a girl. My male hormones are alive and well. I’ve never felt this way about a girl before.”

“You’ve never had a crush on a girl before?” I enquire.

“Sure,” he admits, “but this is different. I really enjoy being around you. I enjoy holding you. I enjoy our kisses. It may sound strange, but I even enjoyed the agony of wondering if you liked me too after we had our moment under the tree. I just never expected anything like that.”

“But it didn’t ‘cure’ you of wanting to be a girl?” I gently ask.

He relaxes as he realizes I’m not going to run screaming into the night after hearing his secret. “I don’t know,” he admits. “I’m still fascinated with girls—I’d like to know what it’s like to be one. I’d like to experience those things you’ve mentioned. I’d like to go back to the RV and have fun as one of the sorority tonight instead of listening to the giggling while I’m alone in my tent. But now, I also want to be your boyfriend. I want to hold you and protect you. I want to do nice things for you like a guy should. Like I said, you’ve turned my world upside down. Now I don’t know what I want,” he sighs in frustration.

“You’re welcome to hold me some more,” I suggest.  He complies. His warmth is appreciated in the cool night air.

We both sit pondering the brilliantly clear star filled sky for a while, each immersed in our own thoughts as we enjoy each other’s warmth. The moon is not quite full but it is effective in washing the granite landscape with the silvery moonlight which makes night magical.

“If you had the choice—right now—between being a girl or a boy for the rest of your life,” I ask him, “which would you choose?”

“I don’t think I’d make a convincing girl,” he laughs.

“No,” I agree, “you wouldn’t. I don’t think any amount of surgery would make a convincing girl out of you the way you are now. But what if someone could wave a magic wand and turn you into pretty girl—a complete genetic girl—for the rest of your life, would you want to?”

He laughs, “That’s really impossible! But if someone could do that so I could compare for a while, sure, I’d take them up on it.”

“That’s not what I’m asking,” I patiently tell him. “What I’m asking is would you want to be a girl for the rest of your life? No changing back.”

He ponders that one for a while.

“I doubt it,” he finally admits. “I suspect it’s just that the grass seems to be greener on the other side of the fence. I’m afraid that if I got there, I might not find it to be as appealing as I thought. It’s just that I’d really like to find out without committing to it. It’s not that I hate being a boy, it’s just that I want to experience what it’s like to be a girl.”

“Do you feel like a girl trapped in a boy’s body?” I ask after we sit with our own thoughts for a while longer. I’ve heard that transsexuals generally feel that way.

“I don’t think so,” he thoughtfully replies. “I’ve never thought of it that way, really. Like I said, I’m curious. I’d just like to experience it.”

“What would you like to know about being a girl?” I offer. “I can tell you what it’s like.”

He gently laughs, “Oh, I’ve read a lot about it and I’ve observed a lot of girls over the past couple of years. I think just knowing about it is not enough. To truly understand something you have to experience it yourself. We can talk about how it feels to win a race but until you actually win one, it’s all academic. The person who forever comes in second place will never fully appreciate winning until they’re the first one across the finish line. I really get a laugh out of sports interviewers forever asking winning athletes ‘What’s it like?’ No words can, I assume, ever really communicate the sensation to someone who hasn’t actually been there. In a similar vein, someone once tried to explain what salt tastes like to someone who had never tasted salt. They were unable to find the words to do it adequately. Once the person actually tasted salt, they admitted that no words could have prepared them for the actual experience. If I ask you ‘What’s it like to be a girl?’ you’ll describe something that I’ll neither be able to relate to fully, nor understand. I’m sure that if I tried to explain to you what it’s like to be a boy you’d have the same problem.”

I hold back on correcting him on his last assumption.

“Let’s play a game then,” I suggest, “You ask me a question about what it’s like to be a girl and I’ll ask you a question about what it’s like to be a boy. We can alternate until one of us runs out of questions.”

We spend the next hour volleying questions back and forth. He added the stipulation that each question needed to be accompanied by a kiss—a condition that I agreed to readily. I have to be on guard continually to keep from describing girl experiences using my boy experiences as a reference. I am the only person I know of who can make the comparison but I can’t let him know that. In the end, he’s right. I don’t know how to satisfactorily describe what it’s like to be a girl without comparing it to male experiences in a way that no other girl would be able to. I can relate to his descriptions of life as a male only because I’ve been there, done that, got the t-shirt. I can see where any of the girls I know wouldn’t really be able to connect with his descriptions. I guess he’s right: you can’t really know what it’s like without experiencing it.

---<>---

It’s pushing midnight as we pick our way back to the campsite—with a side trip to the outhouse—trying not to awaken other campers in the campground. We notice the lights are still on in the RV. There’s also giggling coming from within. The girls are having a good time. Mom and Dad are still sitting by the fire in much the same pose that Andy I had been in earlier. Mom looks very comfortable and contented wrapped in Dad’s arms.

“Hi kids,” Mom quietly greets us. “You have a nice walk?”

“We just sat out by the lake and talked,” I inform her.

Dad just chuckles. “Anyone interested in fishing in the morning?” he asks, changing the subject.

“Sure!” Andy eagerly replies, “I’d like to go.”

“I’ll wake you up around sunrise,” Dad tells him with a slight grin. “The best fishing is in the early morning. How about you, Tina?”

“If I’m up,” I sigh, “but don’t wait for me if I’m not. It looks as if the girls may keep me up for a while.”

“Why do you think I’m sleeping in the tent?” Mom grins back. “You girls could be up all night.”

Looking at Dad, I ask, “Do you feel like going for a short run after fishing?”

He just groans and rolls his eyes. “At this altitude?”

“Don’t be such a wimp,” I admonish him.

Mom replies for him, “He’d love to, wouldn’t you sweetheart?” The question is more of a command.

“Sure, Tina,” he sighs, “we can do that.”

With a final round of goodnights—and another toe-curling goodnight kiss from Andy around behind the RV—we part for the night.

I’m right about not getting to sleep right away. The girls are up playing a very competitive game of Scrabble.  Aunt Jen is in the back room of the RV sleeping—I’m told that she’s wearing earplugs and a night mask.

After changing into my pajamas, I get sucked into another game amidst some gentle ribbing about moonlit walks by the lake with Andy.

I finally give up and crawl into my sleeping bag at one o’clock. I just can’t stay up any longer. I’d like to reflect on the evening’s chat with Andy, but I lose consciousness as soon as my head hits the pillow.

My last thought for the day is that I’m so glad we came.

This is going to be a great vacation.

---<>---

Another chapter edited by Gabi.

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I really like this story. I

I really like this story. I like Tina's character as well as Andy's. Very creative mind. Very well written. Good job!