Something Feels Strange - 55

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Something Feels Strange…

By Tiffany B. Quinn

Eventually, I join my Dad in the land of nod. The morning will start my journey back to what I was born to be.

I shall really miss life as Tina.

Chapter 55: The Aftermath

"Hey, Chris," Ben asks, "Isn't that Laurie over there with Andy?"

Ben and I are on a gentle run through town. I’m helping him get back into running as he continues his recovery from the attack last summer. I’ve been working with him ever since the doctors gave him the green light to do so, only two months ago. We’ve become good friends over the past year as I’ve tried to help him get back on his feet. I’m still feeling somewhat responsible for his condition and feel the obligation to do what I can to help him.

Reluctantly I look in the direction he’s pointing to see the two of them cuddled together on a bench in Carnegie Park engrossed in painting a picture of some new spring flowers. I can’t help but recalling a similar scene almost a year ago. She’s actually wearing one of Tina’s favorite tops.

“Yeah,” I respond with little enthusiasm. Ben knows that I still have a thing for Laurie, but he’s still tactless. His is, however, getting better under Caitlin’s constant tutelage.

“Sorry, man,” he realizes what he’s done. “I forgot you still have a thing for her.” Fortunately, he doesn’t know about the thing I had for Andy too.

“Naw,” I deny it, “It’s for the best.”

Laurie and I tried to make it work when I got ‘back from camp’ last summer but it wasn’t meant to be. It’s largely my fault because I couldn’t resolve the Tina/Chris relationships. I couldn’t seem to forget the closeness of being favorite girl cousins with her. She seemed a bit flustered whenever I’d slip and make some comment about the sorts of things boys are not privy to concerning the private life of a girl—things like the knowing comments about how uncomfortable a push-up bra can be or how miserable menstrual cramps are. It also brought back fond memories when she’d wear some of the jewelry and clothes that she inherited from Tina—memories that a boyfriend shouldn’t have. Somehow it seemed wrong to revert to the boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. We struggled with it through November before we agreed that we should just keep our relationship to being just friends. I was ‘introduced’ to Andy when I got back into town and it wasn’t long before we became good buddies though I had to really struggle to keep from giving him a hug whenever he mourned the loss of Tina. Laurie and I spent a fair amount of time with him helping him get over his loss. When Laurie and I decided to part ways, Andy naturally slipped in to fill the void in her life and she the void in his. They make a great couple, but it still hurts when I see them together though I’m still friends with both. I’m not sure the relationship will last as it doesn’t have the passion that each of them had shared with Chris/Tina. It’s probably more of a rebound relationship.

The weird thing is that I’m not sure of which one I’m more jealous. I miss being held by Andy almost as much as I miss holding Laurie. I miss the kisses too—from both of them. I’m really messed up—just like I expected.

Changing the subject, Ben asks, “Hey, dude, Caitlin wants to know if you want to go to the reservoir with us on Saturday. Her family is having a picnic and they’ll have the ski boat there. It’ll be fun and there’ll be lots of girls there to take your mind off the Mercer chick.”

Caitlin, also, has made it her mission to help Ben with his recovery. Following the death of her best friend, Tina, she’d spend long hours helping Ben deal with his injuries. I think it was therapeutic for her as well since she took Tina’s death pretty hard. She needed to focus her energy somewhere and Ben seemed like a worthy cause. I guess if you hang out with Ben long enough he grows on you. By the time I’d broken up with Laurie I think Caitlin had forgotten about her crush on Chris. She was dating Ben steadily by then anyway. I’m not feeling any romantic attraction to her but it tears me up inside that we can’t be the kind of friends we were last summer. She has continued working part-time at McHell after school started again, even though she doesn’t have to. She denies it vehemently but I’m pretty sure she likes it there now—after all, she’s been made employee of the month three times in the last year. I hear that the manager is trying to talk her into becoming an assistant manager after graduation but I’m sure she has a greater destiny. Caitlin is a girl with a purpose now and she’s a lot happier than she was a year ago. She has also changed the way she dresses and—in my opinion—she looks hot without looking slutty. People are taking her more seriously.

“I don’t know,” I respond, “It sounds like fun, but my Dad and I are talking about a hike this weekend if he’s in town.”

Dad and I have become even closer since last summer. He still jets off on short notice, but he’s always there when it really counts. He managed to make it to the regional championship races last fall when I won the varsity cross country running championship—I keep wondering if the wizards didn’t give me a little boast to my running abilities on the return trip as a bonus. He was also there to help pick up the pieces when Laurie and I broke up. Good or bad, he’s there when I need him. He’s a great father.

I did recommend Andy for the next mission. I haven’t told Dad—or anyone else—about Andy’s curiosity so Dad thinks I’m just trying to get back at Andy for stealing Laurie. I assure him that it’s not the case but he just grins knowingly. Whatever. 

“Well,” Ben assures me, “the offer’s there if something happens.”

“Thanks, man,” I reply.

Finishing our run I leave Ben at his home before continuing for a longer, more abusive run for myself. I’ve really enjoyed being able to do this again on my own. If anything, I do these runs more often than before, although I pay much closer attention to crazy drivers than I used to. Today’s run gives me time to reflect on the thoughts that Ben started with his comments. What has been the result of my summer in skirts? I think it had a lot of positive effects on a lot of people.

Mom—well, she’s Mom. She let it be known that I am not available for any more risky missions. She says that goes for the rest of the family as well. Dad and I just smile when she goes on one of her rants. She’s thinking a summer internship with her engineering firm would be a much better deal than last summer—at least it’d be safer.

Actually nothing can compete financially with last summer. I came off pretty well set—I even had enough cash to buy my own car. Also the experience was definitely unique but it’s not anything I can put on a résumé. Anyway, Mom has had about all the excitement she can handle and shows her love for me by keeping me away from her friends Jen and Susan as much as she can. She seems to have an unnatural fear that they’ll recruit me for something else. Who can blame her?

Aunt Jen—forever Aunt Jen in my mind—and I have had several long talks since my return. A few of them after I parted ways with her daughter. I’m still welcome in her home as she promised but, sadly, she was right about the longevity of teen romances. She’s like a second—or is that third?—mother to me in a lot of ways. I can go to her for advice anytime. I’m still on her favorite people list, as she is on mine. She still works for the Director’s office and I’m sure she still has her ear to the ground looking for more trouble brewing at the Lab.

She has also been keeping me posted about the Jeffers; apparently Mom Polly had developed quite an attachment to Tina and really was relatively sad about her 'death'. The Major either doesn’t know that the essence of Tina survived the mission or he’s a great actor as he’s been somewhat down about Tina’s demise as well. Of course, they don’t know that I was her and we need to keep it that way.

Mrs. Harrison, I am told, has mellowed in her job somewhat. The investigation took a lot out of her—particularly when Ben was injured. She still enforces the rules, but she’s not quite the terrier that she was and less prone to false accusations. She’s even made peace with Dr. Sommers. She seems grateful for my work with Ben and is always ready to help me in any way that she can. She offered me another job this summer, but Mom won’t allow it—go figure. She’s become an unofficial assistant coach to the running team where she particularly encourages the girls to higher performance. She keeps an eye out for my welfare as well. We’re friends.

And the running team—we can’t forget the running team. What a year! Not a single school could touch us in distance running in either cross country or track this year. Lots of records have been set. The girls were particularly powerful, and they all wore runner’s necklaces in honor of Tina Jeffers. At the start of all races they shout “for Tina” before they pass every girl in sight. It seems that just the sight of a runner’s necklace strikes fear in the hearts of the competition. The boys weren’t a lick behind them either. Someone conjured up a “For Tina” pin with the image of a running shoe on it which we all wear on our race uniforms—even those of us who didn’t really know her. Coach Arnold has been a very happy man. Dan and I continue to lead the team though Dan’s frustrated when he always finishes second best. He has yet to experience finishing first—a feeling which I cannot adequately describe for him. The coaches have been receiving inquiries about the two us from colleges around the country. It looks as if a running scholarship might augment my FBI money.

When I look back on that summer, though, I think the big winner was Mrs. Lang. Sure it was hard for her to both go through the divorce and being associated with the major scandal of the year through her marriage; but she’s come out of the experience much stronger. She got everything in the divorce except the offshore account. Dr. Lang changed the password on the account after she'd siphoned off about a million dollars which she turned over to the FBI. He wasn't too happy about it, but what could he do? She’s still sad that she and her husband couldn’t make things work, but she’s glad to be away from the tension and his treachery. Initially, she wanted to sell the store and move back east to be closer to family, but Andy begged her to stay. He’s made a lot of new friends and now that he’s rather attached to Laurie he doesn’t want to go anywhere just yet. Mrs. Lang approves of Laurie, but I think she still has regrets about Andy losing Tina. She really liked Tina. She’s also made a few new friends and has gotten more involved in the local business community. She was even invited to join Rotary. Rumor has it that she’s still intent on moving east after Andy leaves for college in the fall, but I know for a fact that she’s met another scientist from the Lab who gets her motor running. She’s still got a thing for scientists. We’ll just have to wait to see what happens.

Speaking of romance at the Lab, Tiff is still seeing Steve the programmer. This is a new record for her—she’s never dated anyone for this long. When I got home, I made a point of meeting him once when he came to see Tiff and ever since then I’ve been feeding him tips on how to be a gentleman. He’s been a quick learner. She comes home every chance she gets to see him and he’s been to the college a few times visiting her. I’m starting to think they might make things a little more formal when she graduates in the near future. He’s been kind enough to help his girlfriend’s little brother with a few programming projects—nothing illegal I should mention. We never have told Tiff about who Tina really was though she’s still trying to figure out how Tina was connected to the family. It’s nice having an inside joke on her. I still have that picture of her changing in the motor home to prove that I was there.

And speaking of sisters, Marla went off to college in the fall. She’s kept silent about my transformation, but we did have a couple of long talks after I returned. She’s no longer the prankster—well almost—and we’re closer than ever before. She’s decided that my summer in skirts was a good thing for our relationship. For Christmas, she gave me a pair of thong panties with a message that read: ‘For the cutest ‘boy’ that I’ve ever seen in panties’. Fortunately it wasn’t under the tree for the whole family to see. I think they’re the pair she tried to get me to wear that first night at the store. Like I said she’s almost given up on her prankster ways but not quite. I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I put them in a box under my bed along with Tina’s runners necklace, the Forget-Me-Not earrings from the Jeffers, the leopard print lingerie from our San Francisco trip, and the dried corsage from the country club dance.

Some of the individuals arrested at the Lab are starting to appear in court. Even though attempts have been made to downplay Tina’s role in the affair, some investigative reporters have recently picked up the scent and discovered that Tina doesn’t really exist. It didn’t take much to punch a hole through the cover story in Alaska since nobody really knew her there. In spite of having borne the brunt of the media onslaught, the Mercers and Jeffers haven’t revealed anything. A recent headline read: ‘Who was Kristina Jeffers?’ The article was full of speculation which was entertaining to read because it was all so far off the mark—I added a copy of it to my box of Tina memorabilia. The defendants’ lawyers also want to know the answer to that question, and I’m sure that Mr. Rana constantly asks the same question from his prison cell. I gather the FBI would still like to know. The revelation of Tina’s lack of history has just added to her mystery and seems to be the foundation for an emerging local legend. I think that’s kinda cool. The running team was—at first—dismayed by the revelation that Tina was a fabrication but then Caitlin stepped forward and emphatically declared that she didn’t care where Tina came from—Tina was here and Tina made a difference. Tina is worth remembering. Everyone agreed.

In case you think that everyone but me made out well from last summer’s activities, let me assure you that I’m okay. The first couple of weeks after the change back were awkward but I got to do it doing the things I love the most.  I did have a few quiet moments where the memories came crashing in, but a good cry took care of them. I’m not ashamed to cry anymore. Those moments still come from time to time and I deal with them in the same way. To help with the adjustment I have also spent a fair amount of time in the last year with a psychologist from the Lab who I think will get some ground breaking papers out of the deal.

Financially, I’m set through college and maybe beyond. The scholarship the FBI offered me is now the Tina Jeffers Memorial Endowed Scholarship and is funded with the money that Mrs. Lang siphoned off her husband's off-shore account—the FBI got off easy. The Lab's security committee administers the scholarship and I've been promised first priority.  I've also suggested that Laurie, Caitlin, Andy, and Ben all get something as well for the parts they played in completing the mission. Given my academic and athletic performance, I think scholarships will be easy to come by so why not share the wealth?

There are still a mere handful of people who know what I really did last summer and they’re not talking. As I mentioned, my Dad and I are closer than ever. Dan and I are still good friends—in fact we hang out more now that Suzy has left him for some football star and I’m no longer attached to Laurie. Neither one of us are ready for another relationship just yet. I’ve aced all my classes this year and I have to keep running because there’s a half dozen girls chasing me with hopes of stepping into Laurie’s shoes—most of them are glad that Tina’s not around to capture my heart. Several people have told me that I really missed out by not being here to run with her last summer. They’re convinced that Tina and I would have made a dynamite couple. Finding a date when I want one is not at all difficult. I’ve got lots of friends and few enemies at school. It doesn’t get much better for a high school kid. My senior year should be a great year. My most difficult task for the year will be to decide who to take to the senior prom if I decide to not graduate at mid-year.

Trying to forget the wonderful experiences of last summer has been a constant difficulty. I really don’t want to forget what it was like to be a girl, but people think it’s strange when I comment on a hair style or dress with the critical eye of someone who has been there, done that—and worn the dress. I often find myself recalling the pleasant feel of a long loose skirt billowing about my nylon-clad legs or the feel of dangly ear rings swinging against my neck. Looking in the mirror is not nearly as appealing as it was when Tina was staring back from the glass. I tend to get a little melancholy when I see two or more close girl friends sharing a special moment together and occasionally I miss being treated like a lady. Shopping is not nearly so enticing anymore now that it’s for plain male fashions to adorn a decidedly plain male body. Yes, I miss the options.

I’ve covered the pros and cons of female vs. male life in earlier chapters. I still think they’re true. Some days I really wish I could have the best of both worlds, but sometimes the best of one world is mutually exclusive of the other. I’m doomed to be caught emotionally between the two and am resigned to that fact. Some days I just wish that I didn’t know what it’s like to be a girl—to know what I’m missing.

Time and again I think back to that moonlit night on a boulder by the lake. I ask myself the same question I asked Andy that night while enjoying the warmth of his arms around me: “If you had the choice—right now—between being a girl or a boy for the rest of your life which would you choose?” Unlike Andy, I have experienced both sides, and I’ve had plenty of time to think about it too.

So what’s my answer?

I don’t know.

---<>---

And so ends Tina’s saga.

I thank all of you who have taken the time to read this—my first and probably last—story. It started as a lark and ended being so much more for me. I hope that it has been as enjoyable for you as it has been for me.

I know that many of you are probably disappointed with the ending, but that’s the way it is. I personally feel it fits well with the dynamic nature of teen relationships and it felt right as the words rolled off my fingertips. I hope that you will see it that way too.

I need to especially thank those of you who took the time to comment on the chapters and who sent me PMs which helped improve the story. Thanks for making this much better than it would have been.

The biggest help of all came from Gabi who taught me a lot about writing in the process. Like so many other volunteers, she has made a difference—a huge difference. Thanks Gabi!

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Terrific serial. Interesting

Terrific serial. Interesting concept, well-plotted and well-written. I really hope this isn't your last story.

I read 'Something Feels Strange' when it was posted the first time around. My reaction to the ending was the same both times: Chris was the only one who came out the worse for the experience. Sure, he gained unique insights but I'm not sure that's a good thing. He could be feeling the dichotomy from having two 'selves' for a long time. He lost his girlfriend, and lost the relationships he formed during his Tina summer. He can't really talk to anyone about his alternate life. He took the risks, made the sacrifices, and yet it was the people around him that gained from Tina's presence. Sad, innit?

Yes it was a bitter ending

Chris gained pretty much nothing from the experience. A cool experience? Maybe, but it was a lot of work for little gain and inconsequential rewards.

Well written, sure, but I can hardly rejoice in such an ending for our poor protagonist.

Kim

Something Feels Strange...

Thank you very much Tiffany for a lovely saga! I've very much enjoyed the story and even though I had wished Tina had found a way to stay with us it was well fleshed out and very in depth. I would hope that sometime in the future you might see your way clear to giving us another taste of Tina in some other adventure but if you can't I still wish to thank you for taking of your time and talent to entertain all of us non-writers out here!!

"Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition."

-- Timothy Leary --

Wonderful story!

Just finished "Something Feels Strange", and I am impressed with the whole package. Good character development, realistic dialog, believable action, the list goes on and on. The author has a true talent, and should continue writing.

RE: Something Feels Strange

I found this to be an interesting and compelling story. It was well written with great character development. It was easy to feel Chris' anguish both in becoming Tina and then returning to himself. The ending was sad, yet there was hope. He was suddenty very popular, and had many friends, some of whom he had been unaware.
I look forward to reading other of your works. Perhaps they will be extensions of this original story. It seems like a device that could be explored almost endlessly, especlially with a strong espionage component.
Thanks for a great story.