Chapter Three


 

 

I don’t know how long I’d been sitting under that tree, but it must have been a fair old while, because my backside had gone to sleep and was totally numb.

 

I had been running through various scenarios in my head, going over what was likely to happen when Mum and Dad finally got back; what I was going to say or how I was going to handle the situation - whatever that turned out to be when it happened.

 

The situation brought to mind a scene from ’The Mask’, when Stanley Ipkiss’s world had just turned to complete shit. Dripping wet, he has an argument with his totally unsympathetic landlady, Mrs. Peenman on the landing. She rants, raves and when he gets into his room, all he can say is “I wish I’d said that.”

 

There was no way I was going to let that happen to me.

 

I pretty much knew that my situation - whilst not as hysterically funny as Stanley’s - was still bad and that Mum and Dad were going to have a bloody menagerie, never mind kittens when they came face to face with me in this get-up, so I really needed to decide what to say.

 

The problem of course, was that my imagination was pretty acute and the least offensive reaction I considered coming from my parents was to be dragged to the house by the ear to explain to all and sundry that no, I wasn’t Jamie - a girl, but James - a boy.

 

The scenarios went downhill from there and my ear hurt just from thinking about Mum or Dad tweaking it.

 

Then suddenly there was Mum, large as life, looking down at me as I sat against the tree in my Capris, wedge-heeled sandals and a bra stuffed to make it look like there were breasts under the feminine, pastel-coloured t-shirt - oh, and let’s not forget the shaved legs.

 

Despite the practice runs and the hypothesising, the clever retorts disappeared out the proverbial window. “Um,” was the sole utterance I could manage.

 

“Is that the best you can do?” Mum asked, her face and tone unreadable. “After such eloquence on the television, I was expecting a much more practiced and polished speech.”

 

“You saw that?” I asked, my jaw dropping open.

 

“We did - and do close your mouth or it’ll wind up full of flies.”

 

I was dumbstruck. I wasn’t expecting anything so calm from her. I had expected something akin to an epileptic fit at the very least, but she just calmly sat down beside me.

 

“You look nice,” she said.

 

Incomprehension was all I felt. I could tell from the tone of her voice and the way she couldn’t look at me when she spoke that she wasn’t comfortable. So if that was the case, why did she say it?

 

Again could think of nothing to say in response and just sat there staring at my feet.

 

“Where did you get the clothes?” she enquired; I presumed to break the silence.

 

“Um, Deirdre gave them to me.”

 

“That was kind of her.”

 

I think perhaps we were both a little embarrassed by the situation. I know I was. I could understand how Mum felt, well - sort of anyway. Andy said his mum found a copy of some nudie magazine when she was making his bed one day and went nuts. If Andy’s mother could get angry over him looking at pictures of girls and it wasn’t as if they were explicit pictures either, I can only assume it would be much worse for a mother to find her son dressing as one, which led to a question:

 

Why was she being so calm about it all?

 

“I know this time it wasn’t your fault,” she said, as if to read my mind; at least it answered the question of calmness.

 

“You do?”

 

“We do - though your sister swears blind it was all your idea.”

 

I shook my head, vigorously. “It wasn’t, mum, I swear.”

 

“I know, honey. I know. A little bird told us - a pretty little bird who seems to think the world of you, just as you are - which is confusing, but - ” she shrugged. “Each to their own.”

 

“Megan?”

 

She nodded. “I must say, your father didn’t take it at all well.” She laughed. “He turned more shades of purple than I knew existed when you popped up on the TV screen.”

 

I blinked.

 

“Yes, he wasn’t happy and was going to ground you on the spot. He was even considering sending you to Nan’s.”

 

“He wouldn’t, would he?” I asked. Then I thought of summer holiday at Nan’s. “He hasn’t, has he? He wouldn’t, would he?”

 

“No - on all counts. Let’s just say I ‘suggested’ we - and by that, I mean, ‘I’ spoke to you and the others first.” She patted my leg and smiled.

 

“Where is dad?” I asked.

 

“Oh, he went off with Frank to have a look at the damage - you know, man stuff. So while he’s out of the way, why don’t you tell me what happened?”

 

Having a conversation with Mum, that didn’t involve me getting into trouble was definitely not something I was used to. It wasn’t unheard of, but it was about as rare as hen’s teeth. It was however, something I could easily have got used to.

 

Nevertheless, I wasn’t in the clear yet. I was still kind of cautious and apprehensive of things degenerating as they’re so apt to do - very quickly. It’s happened that way in the past, but I needed to get the events of the last eighteen hours or so off my chest and just dived in.

 

“I so didn’t want this - the dressing up I mean, but Jess told me that if I didn’t, she’d make sure I wouldn’t get to go to Aston Park.”

 

“Why?” Mum queried, clearly taken aback.

 

“Because she was going to tell you that I was antagonising her and her friends; arguing and giving her jip.”

 

“That’s ridiculous. I did not give her carte-blanche to make you do anything she wanted. That’s not what I meant at all. I just wanted someone to take responsibility.”

 

“That’s what I said,” I replied, perking up quite a bit, knowing I was right. “But would you have believed me if I’d said I wasn’t antagonising them and all three of them were telling you I was?”

 

She looked down and away from me. “Hmm,” she murmured, nodding, though I feared that meant she wouldn’t have believed me.

 

“The thing was, after they had me all dressed up with makeup and everything, the rain started - like really heavy, thundering and lightning all over the place and before we knew it, the mudslide started.

 

“Everyone was really scared - especially Megan - who wouldn’t go anywhere without me - and we went down the hall to check out all the noises we were hearing. We could hear it hissing as it moved, but you should have seen it, Mum. It had broken through the windows, crushing things as it started to fill up the kitchen and everything. We could feel the cabin moving and hear it creaking. Once it started to split and squirt through the kitchen door - from the inside, I decided it was time to get out. We never got the chance to get our stuff and I was stuck with what I had on.”

 

“And what was that?”

 

“A denim skirt - ”

 

“Not that tiny little thing Jess insists on wearing?”

 

“I didn’t know she had more than one. I suppose it must have been.”

 

Mum shook her head, not looking pleased at all. “What else?”

 

“White knickers, a bra stuffed with some socks - this one,” I said, plucking at my faux-boobs and getting a bit of a chuckle and a smile from Mum in the process; “A t-shirt, my denim jacket and these sandals.” I lifted one foot and shook it.

 

Her smile evaporated and I waited for her to say something. She just sat there, silently fuming like I’d seen so many times when I was on the receiving end of one of her ’talks’.

 

I took a deep breath and continued.

 

“When we got outside, I told the girls to go back up to the office, but they wouldn’t go without me. Megan had practically welded herself to my arm by now and I knew I wasn’t going anywhere without her, so we all went to the other cabins to check to see if anyone was there.

 

“We discovered that Joe and Martha - Deirdre’s mum and dad - were still in theirs and had to get them out. Trouble was that took ages - they’re not too quick on their feet and once we had, they realised they’d forgotten the cat.

 

“I told Jess and the others to get Joe and Martha to the office while I went and got the cat. It was a horrible thing too, all claws and teeth. Wouldn’t take my word that I was trying to help and I got all these scratches and bites.” I raised my arms to show the lacerations Joey had given me.

 

“After I got back with the cat, Jess was all ‘don’t ever do that again. I thought I’d lost you,’ and stuff, and everyone else was patting me on the back telling me I was a heroine or something. I didn’t even think about what I looked like right then, but of course, when I did think about it, I was too embarrassed by the thought of what they’d say if I suddenly blurted out that I was actually James, since they already appeared to have assumed I was a girl.”

 

I sat fidgeting with my hands, wondering how Mum was taking all this; wondering whether it sounded believable to her - it didn’t to me. The more I thought about what had happened, the less plausible it sounded.

 

“I can see why,” she said, looking me over.

 

I was about to say something, but just glared at her instead.

 

She looked away. “Just go on with your story.”

 

That look away spoke volumes. I knew right there that she probably agreed with the others and just didn’t want to say that I did look like a girl; it wasn’t obvious that I was a boy.

 

“Go on,” she said, giving me a nudge and bringing my meandering mind back from its thoughts.

 

“Well, after that, Deirdre took us upstairs so we could take a shower and get into dry clothes, which she’d sorted out for us. I told Jess I didn’t know what to do, so they decided I should stay as a girl rather than upset the apple-cart.

 

“Jess admitted that she and her friends were responsible for the situation I was in and promised to help, starting with helping me pick something suitable out of what Deirdre had provided - which explains this particular ensemble,” I said, gesturing down my body.

 

“All the other clothes were too flimsy and it would have been too difficult to disguise me, if you know what I mean. It was Jess’s idea that I shave my legs too - at least from just above the knees down and as soon as she said that, she and Chris disappeared downstairs, saying that I was alright, I knew what I was doing and could get on with it.

 

“But I’d never shaved anything before. I hadn’t a clue what to do, so it was lucky that Megan stayed to help, because as it was I cut myself twice and it could have been much worse.”

 

“Only twice? I made a hell of a mess the first time I tried shaving my legs,” Mum admitted. “I’d got toilet paper up and down my legs when I’d finished; to stop the bleeding. I looked like I’d got polka-dot legs!”

 

We laughed.

 

“Thanks, but then I did have a good teacher,” I said with a smile. “Anyhow, I tried to stay out of the way after that.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I was embarrassed that everyone thought I was some sort of heroine. I knew we’d helped Joe and Martha, but I really didn’t do that much. So I decided to lie low and helped out in the kitchen with Megan and Deirdre, getting those who had become stranded - and had taken refuge in the office - something to eat and drink. Jess and Chris were all moony over two boys in the office, so they weren’t much help at all. After that we went to bed. I had a made up bed on the floor and when I woke up I thought it had all been a bad dream, but it wasn’t.”

 

I deliberately kept Megan’s sleeping with me out of the story. I wasn’t sure how Mum would react to that, even though nothing happened.

 

“The news crew was round a little later and I got cold feet thinking about all the people who would see me dressed like this, but everyone was expecting me to sit there in front of the camera and tell them my story - backed up of course by Joe, Martha and the others and with each word, I felt as if I was never going to get out of this.

 

“Later I got to help with grooming the horses, which is where I met Valentina. She and I got on right from the start, and when Jess came in and decided she should groom her, Valentina knocked her on her bum - several times. I liked her from the beginning and I think she likes me too.

 

“We were talking in the bedroom later after we’d walked the horses to the paddock about the fact that Frank saw me kissing Megan. I suppose he wasn’t to know I wasn’t a girl, but the girls said that I was probably more girl than boy.

 

“I don’t suppose that felt too good, did it?”

 

“Well, to be honest, it answered a lot of questions for me. Jess had said that it always seemed as if I had to try to be a boy. She said in the short time I had been pretending to be a girl, I’d passed scrutiny without trying, without any practice or training and that got me thinking. 

 

“A little later I got to see myself on the television. It’s surprising how different we look on that isn’t it? I’d seen myself in the mirror, but this time I got to hear and see myself at the same time and I didn’t see a boy anymore. That’s why I’ve been in the paddock since then trying to work out what I’m supposed to do.”

 

I started to leak around the eyes again and a lump began growing in my throat. “I never meant for this to happen, Mum; never.”

 

“Hey. Don’t cry, sweetheart,” she said, wrapping her arms around me and stroking my hair. “I’m very proud of you.”

 

“You are?” I asked, wiping my eyes and sniffing. “I thought you’d be angry.”

 

“What you did was truly heroic and I yes, am shall we say ‘confused’ about my son becoming my daughter - even if it’s only temporary - but it doesn’t matter, we can get you back to normal in no time.”

 

“I don’t know if that’s what I want,” I said.

 

“Why ever not?” Mum asked, obviously startled.

 

“At first I was thinking that when you and Dad got back, I could go back to being James. Just get some boys’ clothes and away we go, but then I thought about trying to explain why I had been dressed as a girl and couldn’t think of anything plausible that wouldn’t make the situation worse than it already was.

 

“As it is, it’s likely that some of the kids from school will have seen me on the television and when I go back to school, I’m like, dead meat, but that’s not what’s important. Right now, there are a number of people here that think I’m a girl and I don’t think it’s right to change that. Especially since I’ve had plenty of time to come clean and haven’t.

 

“These are good people here who are doing their best to look after us and I feel that if I suddenly admit that I’m not what they think I am, they might think that I’ve deliberately tried to trick them. Worse would be how it makes you and Dad look and I don’t want either of you to be embarrassed - although it looks as though Dad’s boat has already sailed as far as that’s concerned.

 

“What Jess and the others said about the fact that I didn’t have to try to be a girl, makes perfect sense, because I do have to try to fit in as a boy - all the time. Yet everyone here has accepted me like this, Frank, Joe, Martha, Deirdre, Chris, Megan, Rich Howarth, the TV news man - or creep - and especially Valentina.”

 

“Valentina - didn’t you mention her earlier?”

 

“Yes. She’s my new friend.”

 

“I don’t think I remember seeing her. Was she in the office?” Mum asked.

 

I laughed. “No, silly; I told you, she’s the horse I was grooming. She’s over there. Would you like to meet her?”

 

I stood up and called to Valentina, who walked straight over to me.

 

“See?”

 

Mum’s face was a picture. It was a look of disbelief mixed with wonder as the big dappled grey sauntered on over and immediately put her velvety mouth on my hand. I patted her large grey face and looked into those large, dark and incredibly trusting eyes. “You don’t think I’m weird, do you?” I asked and, as if in direct response, she snickered.

 

“I don’t believe this,” Mum said very quietly, as she walked up to the huge mare and patted her long neck, shaking her head. “This is unreal.”

 

I giggled. “Deirdre seems to think I’m going to take her away with me when we go.”

 

“Why does she think that?”

 

“You’ll see,” I replied with a knowing giggle.

 

“Actually, speaking of Deirdre, perhaps we’d better head back to the house. The others will be wondering where we’ve got to by now.”

 

We started up towards the gate and I glanced over my shoulder.

 

“See?” I said, gesturing behind me.

 

Mum turned to see the big mare, quietly plodding along behind us. “Are you sure you’re not encouraging her?”

 

“Perhaps, but it’s not intentional.”

 

“She’s just following you of her own accord?”

 

“Yes. Has been all day.”

 

“Unreal,” Mum muttered.

 

I closed the gate to the field behind us, giving Valentina a pat on her nose. “Be a good girl,” I told her.

 

We walked slowly towards the house and Mum seemed to be thinking.

 

“You’re happy like that?” she asked.

 

“Not really,” I told her. “But the fact is, I don’t have anything else to wear and besides, I don’t want people’s impression of me to change - which is the as good a reason as any to stay like this.”

 

“I’m not sure I’m comfortable with you carrying on like this, Jamie and I know your dad isn’t.”

 

“But, Mum. I can’t suddenly become a boy, can I?”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

I know. The irony of that statement wasn’t lost on me either. However, Mum didn’t seem to see the funny side.

 

“You know what I mean. Everyone here knows me as Jamie - the girl. What’s going to happen when I turn up as Jamie - the boy?”

 

She thought for a moment.

 

We stood outside the kitchen and I was on tenterhooks. I couldn’t believe what I was standing there in anticipation of:

 

The chance to stay as a girl.

 

I could probably go on and on about this, but I didn’t want to stay a girl; I just didn’t want to suffer the indignity of being looked at as if I was some kind of pervert.

 

Having said that, I liked the attention - the positive attention I was getting. Obviously, there were special reasons for this, but at the same time, I’d done good things as a boy too - honest, but at the end of the day, I was still James Powers, royal pain in the arse and any positive things were only ever very short-lived.

 

“Oh, thank God,” said Deirdre, almost falling out of the kitchen. “I thought I heard you out here.”

 

Mum and I looked at her.

 

“What’s happened?” I asked, thinking someone must have died or something.

 

“There’s a whole bunch of newspaper reporters here to see you, Jamie,” she said.

 

Almost instantly we set foot into the room, Mum and I were hit by a barrage of camera flashes and shouts: “Jamie, look this way - ” “Over here, Jamie - ” It seemed endless and I was glad that my celeb status would, hopefully, not last long.

 

This was so far removed from the orderly television interview and although Rich was a creep - an oily creep - I wasn’t made to feel as if one wrong move and I would be torn limb from limb. Here I felt just that. In fact, I was completely overwhelmed by the situation; the constant shouting, as all at once, the reporters yelled question after question accompanied by the perpetual Woomph of flashes going off.

 

Mum came to my rescue, stepping forward to take control.

 

For about the next twenty minutes, she handled the questions, which ranged from how old I was, where we were from, what we were doing in Banthorpe and from there, what we planned to do with the rest of the holiday.

 

I answered them as best I could - including of course, a trip to Aston Park - I just had to get that in.

 

The whole thing was manic and I was so pleased that Mum was with me. If she hadn’t been, I think I would have just fainted or stood there like a gormless guppy, looking just about as intelligent too.

 

The ’interview’ eventually finished and I know I’d said it was about twenty minutes, but believe me, it felt interminable. Soon enough, the reporters and the photographers all filed out, leaving me feeling drained and very vulnerable for some reason.

 

“I think we could all do with a cuppa, don’t you?” Deirdre asked, leading us into the kitchen. “That’s one hell of a daughter you have there, Mrs. Powers,” she said.

 

“You have no idea,” Mum replied. “No idea at all.”

 

I passed on the tea. “Where are the others?” I asked.

 

“They’re upstairs in the bedroom,” Deirdre informed me.

 

Upstairs, the girls were all sitting on the bed.

 

“Where’ve you been?” Jess asked accusingly.

 

“Leave her alone,” Megan hissed, threateningly, scooting across the bed to thread her arm though mine and pull me protectively to her.

 

Her? I wondered. Not one of the others so much as turned a hair at the feminine pronoun being used in reference to me. Secretly, I was just a little thrilled to hear it, but at the same time, I was scared silly.

 

Was this getting out of hand?

 

Had it already got out of hand?

 

Where was it all going to lead?

 

“You two disgust me,” Jess said angrily. “Bloody lezzies.”

 

”Bitch!” yelled Megan, who let go of me and dived at Jess.

 

“Who are you calling bitch?” Jess screeched, pushing Megan off the bed to land with a loud thump on the floor. She got back up and rushed at Jess again, only to get caught mid-flight by Chris.

 

“Stop it both of you,” I shouted.

 

“Well get that bloody pervert away from me, then.”

 

“What the hell’s going on here,” growled Mum. Her face was red and it looked as though she was anything but pleased. “Jessica Alice Powers. Would you mind explaining what you just said?”

 

“Well it’s true. Look at them. It’s sick.”

 

“And just what’s wrong with Jamie being friends with Megan?”

 

“Well, it’s like one of my best friends is trying to get off with my sister.”

 

“Have you heard what you just said?”

 

So?

 

“Might I remind you, young lady,” she said, looking over her shoulder to ensure there was no-one there, then lowered her voice to a whisper. “You’re the one who started this in the first place.”

 

“I did not,” Jess said, pouting.

 

Megan, Chris and I all went wide-eyed and took a sharp intake of breath at this.

 

“I take it you three don’t agree?”

 

“No, Mrs. Powers,” Chris said quietly.

 

“You all feel this way?”

 

“Yes, Mrs. Powers,” Megan admitted. “We were all involved, but it was Jess’s idea. She was planning it from the moment you said you and Mr. Powers were going out to dinner and would be leaving her in charge.”

 

“Seems we’ve got to the truth of the situation at last,” Mum said. “I think you owe them an apology, don’t you?”

 

An almost inaudible sound escaped Jess’s lips as her head bowed. “Sorry.”

 

“Pardon?” said Mum. “I didn’t hear that.”

 

“Sorry,” she said again, slightly louder after which, she got off the bed and ran, full-tilt to the bathroom, slamming the door behind her.

 

Chris ran after Jess. “Hey! Wait!” But the bathroom door was tightly locked.

 

“I’m sorry about that, girls. I had no idea.” She shook her head and turned away, heading back downstairs.

 

Once Mum was out of earshot, “Girls?” Chris remarked, blinking. “Girls?

 

“I know,” replied Megan, looking a little puzzled.

 

I didn’t know what to think either. Did Mum mean me too? Did she want me to stay as I was? She never did answer me before we came indoors, but I know she was about to say something.

 

I know I was running hot and cold over being Jamie, the girl, but the fact was, there were some parts about it I definitely enjoyed. However there were other elements - mostly, wondering what the future held - that scared the living crap out of me. It shouldn’t have mattered though, it wasn’t like it was going to be permanent anyway.

 

*        *        *

 

Chris returned to the bathroom and tried again and again to get some sort of response from Jess, but eventually gave up knocking and calling through the bathroom door as she got absolutely nothing. She returned to us on the bed and sighed. I knew how she felt.

 

The three of us were rather subdued, just sitting looking at one another, but saying nothing. Eventually though, the bathroom door opened and Jess came out, but instead of joining us, she just headed downstairs. We heard Deirdre say something, but it was cut short as the kitchen door opened and then shut rapidly.

 

“I’ll go talk to her,” I said and sloped off downstairs.

 

I found her - eventually, sitting on a pile of straw in the stables.

 

“You alright?”

 

“No I’m bloody not!” she exclaimed. “I thought those girls were my friends.”

 

“And you thought that they would automatically cover for you, right?”

 

“That’s right,” she sniffed. “That’s what friends do.”

 

“But friends shouldn’t put their friends in that position in the first place. You lied Jess and you expected them to lie too.”

 

“Huh! What d’you know? You’re not even a girl.”

 

“That’s not what you were saying earlier, is it?” I asked.

 

Jess looked down. “No,” she said and threw her hands in the air. “Oh, I don’t know.”

 

“Neither do I.”

 

She looked at me as if I was mad. “What d’you mean?”

 

I shrugged. “I actually like parts of being Jamie, the girl.”

 

“Eeyeeeew. You some sort of pervert?”

 

“No, I mean - ” I dried up, not knowing where to go from there.

 

Was that the case?

 

Did I really like being Jamie - meaning the girl?

 

Well there were things that had happened to Jamie that didn’t happen to James. Conversely, there were things that happened to James that didn’t happen to Jamie too.

 

I didn’t get into trouble - or hadn’t since I’d been Jamie and nobody thought I was up to something mischievous or that there was an ulterior motive behind anything I did and that was nice.

 

Being James however, was something I was used to, but did I really want to continue with the groundings, the trouble at school - the name-calling and bullying? I know name-calling shouldn’t be a worry, but if it’s continuous, it does get you down. It means that you have to develop a skin thick enough not to want to go and top yourself or something.

 

Not only that, but you find that your friends are limited - if you’re lucky enough to have any in the first place - and probably just as confused and ostracised as you are, which no disrespect, generally makes them weird.

 

I didn’t think I was weird.

 

All I wanted was to fit in.

 

As for the bullying, I detest it. I was always being told that I was either gay or girly and behind most of it was Jess. Curiously though, I didn’t blame her for it. She was my sister, my own flesh and blood and I know there’s always going to be rivalry between siblings - or so they say, but looking like I do and having realised how I must have appeared to the majority, I can understand how it had gone on so long.

 

This transition to Jamie has opened my eyes, but where would it end?

 

“Oh I don’t know,” I said with a heavy sigh.

 

There was evidently a lot of not knowing going around.

 

“You’re serious aren’t you?”

 

I nodded and it felt like a weight had been lifter from my shoulders. A shock for sure, but it was true. I really didn’t know.

 

“I am. I really don’t know if I want to be James anymore.” It was hard not to start crying again, but the tears got the better of me.

 

“Hey! Jamie! Easy,” Jess said, scooting over and putting her arm round me. “But you have to remember that this isn’t something you can just jump into.”

 

“Why not? I’ve tried it for fourteen years and being a boy doesn’t fit. How much longer do I have to be the boy that doesn’t fit before I can be what I might have been supposed to be all along?”

 

Did I really just say that?

 

Silence fell and neither of us could even look at the other for a while.

 

I felt as if I had overstepped a mark and began getting the impression that things were once again slipping from my grasp. I didn’t know which way to look and why oh why did I choose Jess to say that to? Hadn’t she already got me into enough trouble?

 

“I shouldn’t have said that.”

 

Hmm. Thinking before I opened my mouth seemed to be a problem, not just for James, but Jamie too.

 

“No, I think you’re right,” she replied quietly. “It could explain a lot. I mean, you’re not the same person you were as you are now - if that makes sense. You’re not James at all. I can’t put my finger on what it is, but you’re definitely not the same person.”

 

“You’re just saying that,” I said, the regret for having opened my mouth and not thought first, building. “I know you, Jess. Why on earth should I believe you now after everything that’s happened?”

 

“Because you know I’m right.”

 

I couldn’t argue with that.

 

My head was in a whirl. It was like being two people at the same time. There was James - insecure, confused and belittled and Jamie - sure, confident (on the outside) and respected.

 

In between the two of them was me.

 

The real me didn’t know which of the two packages I needed to be in and I could almost feel myself being sucked down into a maelstrom of confusion, not knowing whether I would ever be able to reach the surface again. Even if I did, I didn’t know which one of the two of me would win out. I needed to think - again.

 

“I think maybe you should go and make peace with Megan and Chris. They didn’t deserve to be dropped in it like you did, you know.”

 

“I know.”

 

She got up and left the stables.

 

“Jess,” I called.

 

She turned.

 

“Thanks.”

 

*        *        *

 

It was my turn to sit quietly in the stable, the spiky straw poking me, but I wasn’t bothered. I could smell the smell of horses; strangely intoxicating and calming. I thought of my friend Valentina and wondered whether this was another part of my girly side coming out.

 

“Dipstick!” I exclaimed, shaking my head and grinning stupidly. “Horse riding isn’t only for girls.”

 

There was a lot of truth in what I had said and what Jess had said, but wasn’t it all happening a little bit too quickly?

 

Surely, it would take someone a while to consider something as drastic as changing their gender - wouldn’t it? It really shouldn’t be a snap decision, after all, it’s a life-changing thing and by no means easy.

 

I didn’t really know much about it. I knew about the differences in plumbing between boys and girls of course, but as to what changing one’s sex entailed, I had no idea. I knew that people referred to ’the operation’, but no more than that.

 

The more I thought about it though, the less I wanted to go back to being James. It was understandable that I should have felt that way, as Jamie got more respect without even asking for it. She was able to get on with people better than James - even Mum. She was the one who really surprised me because I can’t remember ever having had a conversation like the one I had with her in the paddock.

 

You can see how it coloured my judgement, can’t you?

 

Outside, I could hear people talking.

 

“We won’t be long,” said Frank. “But we desperately need to get those supplies.”

 

“Do you need any help?” asked Dad.

 

“No, you’ve offered enough of that already. Let us deal with tonight and we can sort the rest out from there.”

 

I wondered what on earth was going on.

 

Sort what out?

 

Help? What help?

 

After Deirdre and Frank were out of sight, I tip-toed back across the yard and entered through the kitchen door.

 

I could hear Mum and Dad talking in the lounge.

 

“I’m not impressed, Jessica; not impressed at all,” said Dad. “You let us down.”

 

“It was just a joke, Dad,” Jess said and I could imagine that pugnacious look on her face. Mum and Dad must have collared Jess after she left the stables. “It wasn’t like I hurt him or anything.”

 

“You think it’s a joke for your brother to be parading around here and on television in girl’s clothes? Now, go upstairs and don’t come down until we call you. Consider yourself grounded. You need to think about what you’ve done; the lying to your friends and your mum and what you did to Jamie.”

 

“But Daaaad,

 

“Don’t ‘but Dad’ me, young lady. Upstairs, toutes vite.”

 

“Huh!” she snorted. “Don’t know why we can’t just go home, if I’m grounded. It’d be better than here.”

 

“Because we can’t. The car’s not big enough for all of us.”

 

“Not big enough. God what did you get?”

 

“A Vauxhall Corsa.”

 

“A Vauxhall Corsa? That’s no bigger than a bloody roller-skate. I’m surprised you can even get in it. Your knees must be up round your ears.”

 

I could hear Mum snigger, but Dad evidently didn’t see the funny side.

 

“Don’t use that kind of language, young lady, now upstairs - now!

 

I ducked out of sight and watched through the crack in the door as Jess raced upstairs, sobbing. I wondered whether I should give her some time for Megan and Chris to calm her down or just go straight up and be there with her, but then Mum and Dad started talking again.

 

“What are we going to do with Jamie,” Dad asked. “I really don’t like him pretending to be a girl. He’s not a girl you know.”

 

“I know he’s not, but for once I agree with him.”

 

“What!?”

 

“Well, he made a lot of sense in the paddock earlier. I think we may have underestimated him. He’s a thoughtful and intelligent boy and I think he’s staying like he is for all the right reasons.”

 

“How can you say that?”

 

“Think about it for just a moment, will you?” Mum said patiently. “He’s been trying to make the best of a bad job. He’s been polite and no-one’s said so much as a negative word about him. Plus, he’s thinking about us and the people around him. That’s a first for a start.”

 

“What about us?” Dad asked. “We know he’s Jamie - our son. It’s the other’s he’s been lying to.”

 

“I don’t think he has lied, he’s just been caught up in a difficult situation, one that’s been made no easier by the fact that everyone has automatically been referring to him as ‘she’.”

 

“Only because he turned up in a bloody mini-skirt.”

 

“And whose fault was that?”

 

“Jess’s, but - ”

 

“Precisely.”

 

“I still don’t understand how you think he’s got our best interests at heart.”

 

“Men!” Mum exclaimed. “How do you think it will look if all those people find out that Jamie’s a boy and we have been letting him appear as a girl?”

 

There was silence, but I could almost hear Dad’s internal cogs whirring and grinding away.

 

“Okay,” he said at last. “But I’m still not happy with it.”

 

“Neither am I, darling. Nevertheless, for once I think he’s got it right.”

 

I was completely shocked and stunned. My heart leapt - in a good way - because now, I got to stay as Jamie and didn’t have to worry about James slipping out - if you’ll pardon the term.

 

I crept upstairs so as not to alert Mum and Dad to the fact I had been ear-wigging their conversation and sat on the bed.

 

“How are you doing?” I asked of Jess.

 

“Alright I suppose. I’ve been grounded.”

 

“You didn’t do too badly, sis. It could have been worse.”

 

“How could it be worse? We’re on holiday and I’ve been grounded,” she asked, slapping my shoulder. “We can’t even go home.”

 

“Alright, I’m sorry,” I winced, rubbing my shoulder.

 

“You shouldn’t be sorry, Jamie,” said Megan. “It wasn’t your fault.”

 

“Okay, okay, okay,” Jess said dramatically. “I’m sorry, alright. God! How many times have I got to say it?”

 

“As many times as it takes until we believe you,” Chris replied.

 

All was not sweetness and light in the girls’ camp, apparently.

 

Mum shouted up the stairs. “Girls? Come down here please.” She sounded serious, so we slowly made our way downstairs - none of us knowing whether we were heading for more trouble.

 

We were greeted by the four adults in the kitchen.

 

“Hi - err, girls.” Dad said. He didn’t sound at all comfortable, but I didn’t let on how amused I was at his obvious distress.

 

“Now sit down and listen, kids. We’re in a bit of a pickle and so are Frank and Deirdre. We’ve got a car, but it’s not going to get us all home from here - even if we wanted it to,” Dad said.

 

“Why not?” Megan asked.

 

“Because it’s only a little Corsa - the only thing available. I did try and explain that we had the Renault because we needed the space, not because I like driving something that feels about as responsive as a London bus. The Corsa only seats five and even that’s going to be a squeeze, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It was take what they had or wait - several more days.”

 

“What’s happened to ours?” I asked.

 

“Water in the engine,” Dad answered, sourly. “It died when we went through a puddle. Apparently the air intake is under the car.” He rolled his eyes.

 

Like I knew anything about what any of that meant. “I thought you had to put water in the engine,”

 

“You do, but in a particular place,” he explained. “This water went where it wasn’t supposed to.”

 

“So, is our car, like, dead? I mean, really dead?”

 

“Might as well be,” he muttered with a grimace. “The water has caused the engine to seize solid and the mechanic thinks it might take ten days to two weeks to fix, by the time they’ve got the parts. Anyway, that’s all in hand. Now we don’t have the transport to get us all to the places we had planned to take you to, but we have another plan.”

 

As we were listening, Megan managed to scoot round pretty much unseen and attach herself to my arm once again. We stood before him like a pair of Siamese twins and when he realised what had happened, it made him look more confused and uncomfortable than ever.

 

“Errr, yes, well,” he said, blushing slightly. “As I was saying…” he cleared his throat. “We don’t have the resources to go elsewhere. Meanwhile, Frank and Deirdre need help and your mum and I feel that well, if we all chip in, we can help them and they can help us.”

 

“But what about our holiday?” I asked.

 

“I understand what you mean, but you won’t miss out. We can fit trips and things in; it’s just that there will be other things to do as well. I’m sure you won’t mind helping with the horses now, will you?”

 

The thought of getting to see Valentina again did appeal. However, there was something that didn’t quite sit right with me.

 

“You don’t seem convinced,” Dad observed.

 

“Where are we all going to sleep?” I asked.

 

“Now that’s the good bit,” said Dad. “Frank’s got an old caravan. You four will stay in that. It’ll be like camping. Joe and Mildred are going to go back to their own house and we will be staying in the annex.”

 

“Why can’t we stay with you in the annex?”

 

“Because it only sleeps two and besides, I thought you’d be up for the challenge.” He had a big grin on his face, but none of us changed our expressions.

 

“Camping you say?” Jess asked.

 

“Yes, Jess. Camping. That way, you won’t have to put up with us all the time.”

 

That bit appealed, but I’m sure the others felt as I did, that the caravan was going to be like a sardine tin and it also appeared that Mum and Dad had definitely jumped into this ’me staying as a girl’ thing with both feet. I wondered what else was up their sleeves.

 

“Tomorrow, I’ll take you into town for some new clothes,” said Mum.

 

All of us got pretty excited at that.

 

*        *        *

 

Our first job after some sandwiches and cold drinks, was to get the horses back in from the paddock.

 

I watched from the gate with Deirdre, as Jess, Megan and Chris chased about the field trying desperately to round up the horses, who appeared to think that running away from three girls who were in turn running after them whilst squealing, was a very enjoyable game.

 

“Looks like Valentina is the ringleader,” I said.

 

“She certainly is. I suppose we ought to go help.”

 

“I think I’d like to try something,” I said and called to Valentina, who came to me like an obedient dog. The other three girls just stood, mouths agape, as the big mare trotted across the intervening space and stood before me, the other three taking her lead and following on behind.

 

“One day, you’re going to have to tell me how you do that,” said Deirdre.

 

I didn’t know. It was just that the big grey had taken a shine to me and once she was stood by the gate, the girls plodded over, panting for breath and not at all happy.

 

“You could have done that sooner,” Chris said sourly.

 

“But you looked like you were enjoying yourselves so much; I didn’t want to spoil your fun.”

 

Once the horses had been fed, watered and safely locked away, we headed back to the house and a bit of a clean-up before dinner.

 

After that, we headed out to where Frank and Dad had put the caravan.

 

It wasn’t what I thought it would be either. It was more like a small self-contained flat. It had bedrooms, a kitchen and a lounge with a small portable television.

 

“You can’t get satellite, but it’s not too bad,” said Frank. “What do you think?”

 

Jess was the first one to speak.

 

“You mean this is all ours?”

 

“Yup.”

 

“It’s wicked,” she said and gave the Elvis look-alike a hug.

 

After much cleaning and getting in each other’s way, we settled down in our new holiday home - a caravan. It was actually fun. We got on together, well, sort of. Megan and Chris were still a little sore after what Jess had said or done earlier, but they mellowed and so too did Jess. In the end, we slid into our beds, grateful that the day was over.

 

Although I’d really enjoyed waking up with Megan in the spare room, I was glad to see that the beds were separate and singles. I needed a really good night’s sleep. I wasn’t sure about sharing a room with Jess, but like I said, I needed sleep and being squeezed in a small single bed with Megan didn’t seem to be the way to achieve that.

 

*        *        *

 

The next day after breakfast, Mum took us into town.

 

As soon as we hit a department store, the girls went crazy, making a bee-line for the various dresses, skirts and other feminine apparel. I just moseyed along with Mum, wondering what she had in mind for me.

 

“Aren’t you going to go with your friends?” she asked.

 

“Um,” I replied, not really sure what to think.

 

“Well, I think you should. They’re going to be much better at picking out things for you than me, don’t you think?”

 

I couldn’t argue with that, but I have to say, I’ve never really been a fan of shopping and have certainly never been that close to women’s clothes in a shop before. I didn’t feel particularly comfortable - especially when the subject of underwear came up.

 

“You’ve got to have some,” said Megan. “What d’you fancy?”

 

My first thought wasn’t boxers, but the actual act of picking up a pack and looking at the various colours from white through to black and every tone, hue and shade in between, made me nervous.

 

“I think these,” she said, holding up a pack labelled ’multicoloured cotton panties’.

 

“Okay,” I said, snatching them away from her and quickly making my way away from that section.

 

“Wait!” Megan called. “These might be better.”

 

My goodness; I’d picked a pack and that should have been that, shouldn’t it? I mean, no-one was going to see them anyway, were they?

 

I plodded back only to find that she’d picked up a pack of nylon tanga-style jobs that were all shiny.

 

“They’ve got a display pair up there. Look.”

 

I looked up and unconsciously reached out to touch them.

 

They felt silky-smooth and sent goose-bumps tingling their way down my back, while I could feel heat radiating from my neck upwards.

 

“They’re a bit showy, don’t you think?” I suggested, whipping my hand away.

 

“Hmmm,” she replied, pressing herself up against me.

 

The heat got more intense. I don’t think I’ve ever blushed quite so much - ever.

 

“You’re embarrassed.”

 

“Well Duh!” I replied, turning away from the offending items as quickly as I could and nearly screwing myself into the floor in the process. “They’re… well… they’re…” I couldn’t finish my sentence.

 

“Maybe,” she sighed, putting them back on the rack. “Spoilsport.”

 

My heart rate dropped to about one-fifty then and I felt a great deal better, despite the hard stare I was getting from Megan.

 

“Ooh,” she cooed. “What about these.”

 

The pair she’d found came on a hanger, but were so small, I’d be surprised if they would have covered anything. Besides which, they were trimmed with delicate lace and completely transparent. Worse, they had nothing but a thin bit of string to go up between the bum cheeks.

 

This time I went white, followed rapidly by crimson.

 

Megan giggled and so did Chris and Jess.

 

“Now you’re just making fun of me, aren’t you?”

 

“Ah, but it was worth it,” Chris said, giggling some more. “Besides, we owed you one after the horse incident.”

 

I had been had.

 

“Come on, prude. Bras,” said Megan, grabbing me by the hand and dragging me like a little doll, round the various stands and racks.

 

I sighed. This wasn’t nearly as easy as it had been as James. Then I was pretty much given what I needed to wear, had very little say and even less to do with it all. It was so simple.

 

Now however, it was fully interactive shopping.

 

I wasn’t sure I liked it at all.

 

Mum came over and asked how we were getting on.

 

“She’s a bit negative, Mrs. Powers,” said Chris. “Doesn’t seem particularly interested at all, in fact.”

 

“Come on Jamie. There must be stuff here you like.”

 

I blushed, deep, deep scarlet and they all laughed - again.

 

“I’ve got something for you,” said Mum, taking me to one side and taking out a bag, which she handed to me.

 

“You’ll need these if you’re to be able to pass,” she said.

 

“Pass? What d’you mean, pass.”

 

“Your breasts, dear.”

 

I felt like a set of traffic lights, going from one colour to another and back again. When I considered this being a girl thing, it didn’t include any of this stuff and when I opened my bag from Mum, I changed colour yet again.

 

Inside, were two pieces of jelly-like stuff that looked remarkably like a pair of boobs.

 

“What do I do with these?” I asked.

 

“What d’you think?”

 

“No! Really?”

 

Mum nodded. “They come with adhesive, so they don’t come off when you’re braless or something comes loose.”

 

“You mean you have to stick them on?”

 

“That’s right. Come with me and we’ll sort it out now.”

 

“Now?”

 

“Is there a parrot in here?”

 

“Where?”

 

“Never mind. Just come in here with me and take off that top and bra.”

 

I stepped into the cubicle and whipped off my t-shirt and bra, letting the socks fall to the floor.

 

“Lay down,” Mum said.

 

I looked about me. The cubicle was about five feet deep and four feet wide. “Where?”

 

“On the seat. If you have to, put your feet up. You need to be lying down.”

 

I did as I was told and gasped as my back touched the cold surface of the seat.

 

“You’ll need to lie still and I’ll fit these so we can get on.”

 

After about five minutes, I was told to stand up - and boy, did that feel weird.

 

The forms - as I now know them to be called - were cold when mum first put them on my chest and I could feel them sticking to my skin like heavy plasters, but the real difference was when I stood up. They weren’t big, not like real big Angelina Jolie boobs, but they had more weight than I was expecting.

 

“They feel weird,” I said, cupping each one in each hand.

 

“Don’t fuss with them,” Mum said in a business-like tone. “Here; put these back on.”

 

I put the bra on - with Mum’s help.

 

“You’re going to have to learn how to do that yourself, sweetheart,” she said.

 

“I haven’t had much time to practice,” I said defensively.

 

“Well, you’ll have to learn quickly, won’t you?”

 

I pouted and slipped on my t-shirt.

 

The feeling of it all together was - odd I think is the best term. It wasn’t strange - once the bra was on, but there was a kind of pull from my chest.

 

“Is this what having real breasts is like?” I asked.

 

“Almost,” she replied.

 

We rejoined the others and I have to say, I was somewhat abstracted. I’d looked at myself in the mirror after I’d dressed and there was a definite difference between before and after. Any vestiges of boyishness that had been there before had completely vanished and all that was left was pure girl. I didn’t mention it, but I could see that even Mum was shocked.

 

I didn’t just ’decide’ to leave James behind in that changing room, it just happened. I knew then that Mum wanted me to be as near to a real girl as possible - without calling out a plumber, so to speak.

 

I didn’t know exactly why she had decided to go down that route, but that was what happened and I figured I’d do the best I could. My new look wasn’t met with universal approval, as Jess began looking at me in a very weird way. I just ignored her and just got on with the job of immersing myself in femininity.

 

I knew what the girls at school liked to wear. There was no uniform and there were girls wearing all sorts of different styles and whatnot, so I had more than half an idea about what should be going on my body.

 

So far, I had only panties and the next job was a bra - or two. Mum helped by supplying me with size, since she knew the cup size of my boobs, but it was a slightly stunned Megan, who couldn’t seem to take her eyes off my nice new chest, who helped to choose colours and designs.

 

After that, we had been left pretty much to our own devices. We were under strict instructions to get things which would be practical except for something nice - should we need it. I can’t even remember what I had taken for James - I don’t suppose it was anything really good, but I decided now was the time to change all that.

 

I wanted leggings as part of my ’practical’ stuff, but Megan and Chris introduced me to something I hadn’t heard of before - jeggings.

 

“What?” I asked.

 

“Jeggings. They’re leggings - sort of, but they’re made to look like skinny jeans.”

 

I blinked a couple of times as I was shown a pair of blue jeans, which weren’t.

 

“Wow!” I exclaimed as I stepped from the changing room.

 

“We’ll have to do something about the shoes though. They’re not exactly right.”

 

“What’s wrong with them?” I asked.

 

“You’ll learn,” replied Chris, with a roll of her eyes.

 

For that ensemble, I ended up with a pair of Converse All-Stars in red and a couple of tops with spaghetti straps - in case I felt brave enough to go without a bra. I went beet red at the prospect of that, but Megan and Chris just laughed and Megan winked.

 

Jess was severely put out by what was happening.

 

“How come you’ve got bigger ones than me?” she whined.

 

“Just lucky I guess,” I replied.

 

She huffed and stomped off and before I could even think about what had just happened, I was whisked off towards another section - dresses.

 

“Well, you need something nice and since we don’t have unlimited budget, I suggest we find you something you can wear with the sandals,” said Megan, rubbing her chin, thoughtfully.

 

Now the sandals were dark brown to begin with, but since they’d been muddied and soaked, they’d gone a lot darker.

 

“Maybe we could get away with that,” Chris mused and she and Megan disappeared into the myriad racks that stood like bushes in an overgrown garden.

 

Moments later, they returned with nearly a dozen dresses of one form or another, but my eye was drawn to a blue one. Even as James, I liked blue and this one had an almost iridescent quality about it.

 

“She has got taste,” said Chris. “Thank God.”

 

I disappeared into the cubicles to try it on and emerged to gasps.

 

“What d’you think?” I asked, knowing full well what they thought.

 

I don’t think I have ever felt as good as I did with Megan and Chris helping, but they really took what they felt was their duty to initiate a ’new’ girl into the delights and intricacies of shopping.

 

We all changed into one of our new outfits before we left and I got to try out my new jeggings.  I still feel that’s a silly word - a bit like ’spork’, totally stupid - but it didn’t detract from how I looked. Even Mum was surprised. Whether that was pleasantly or otherwise, I’m not sure; she was too busy blanching at the cost of re-outfitting four girls, herself and Dad.

 

I would like to think it was pleasant.

 

I didn’t really think about Jess much during the course of that shopping expedition, but afterwards, I felt really mean. Chris and Megan had been buzzing around me like bees round a honey-pot, paying little or no attention to what she was doing and she looked like her whole world just collapsed from underneath her.

 

Mum saw it too and made a special point of giving her, her undivided attention, but it wasn’t the same, I could see that. I could have done something about it, but I didn’t. I was too wrapped up in all this new stuff, the attention I was getting and for Jess it was about to get even worse…

 


 

 

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