Danny, Jim and Marcus had returned to their jobs a week after she’d woken up. In the weeks following, Her father returned to work, busier than ever-preparing to spend the next few months on Capitol Hll explaining to Congress just what had taken place. So she spent the majority of her time with Her mother Grace, and Peter. Peter was strangely much more attentive to her than she might have thought. He’d always been rather Spock-ish when it came to emotion. All in all, she wasn’t sure that she liked it.
Grace did little to dissuade him, which perplexed her more than anything. She’d managed to pull her mother aside privately to ask why.
“I should think the answer would be obvious, Mike. I taught you boys from the time you were little to be especially polite and kind to girls and ladies. It’s a proper thing for a young man to act that way.”
“But it feels so icky! He’s not ignoring me all the time like he used to. It’s weird.”
Her mother rolled her eyes as if to signal she’d expected this and more. “It’s one of the things you’re just going to have to work out between the two of you, Mike. As you are, you’re going to have the attention of boys wherever you go.”
“But Mom?” She exhaled in exasperation.
“I can’t help you on this one, Mike. It’s something I have had to deal with as long as I was old enough to draw someone’s attention. I guess you have to learn to accept it. But I can say this, good men –young or old—will be gentlemanly to a fault, even if they pretend to be anything else out in the open. But if it bothers you, the best thing you can do is tell Peter how you feel.”
She didn’t say anything for another two days. In her mind, she mulled over what was said and looked at Peter, trying to do so with new eyes. As she’d become accustomed to her new body, she held back on a lot of the urges she’d had when it came to physical contact. She felt the urge to touch him a lot. It didn’t throw her that she felt that way, but her confusion came from his reactions. When she was his younger brother, Peter would never allow such a thing. In fact, he used to enjoy making a game of trying to touch him at the most inopportune moment. Peter would always respond with a vicious attack of some time, and he would laugh in triumph that he had riled his brother’s cool façade.
Now, he did no such thing. He didn’t recoil at her touch, nor try to avoid her. When they sat together on the couch watching a terrible movie on the SCIFY Channel, she’d even boldly put her feet on his lap while he was reading. He looked up, and she expected him to shove her to the side and glare at her, but he merely looked at her impassively and went back to his book.
In a way, it made her feel rejected that he would treat her differently. And that made her mad. She cornered him in the kitchen, waggling a tiny finger at him as he put the cap back on the orange juice container.
“Why won’t you play with me?!” She demanded.
A second later, Peter smiled and began to snicker uncontrollably. It wasn’t uncommon –but usually happened when Mike had said something completely absurd. She reviewed her choice of words, and blushed deeply.
“Don’t you laugh at me!”
Peter howled with laughter, barely able to contain himself any longer. “You angry is like being chewed out by a Muppet! You’re so Tiny!”
She couldn’t help but laugh for a minute with him, but then her frustration returned and she turned somber again. She tugged at the base of his shirt, waiting silently until he calmed down.
“I’m serious… You don’t act the same towards me anymore.”
Sensing that the time for laughing was over, Peter turned serious, throwing his hands up. “I know… I know… I’m sorry. I don’t know how. You’re all tiny and I’m afraid that I might hurt you, so I didn’t say anything.”
She didn’t realize until that moment that she was not the only one having to deal with change.
“I’m afraid that I don’t have a lot of experience with girls…” He added.
“Listen… Peter. I don’t want you to think like I’m some kind of porcelain doll. You can play with me like before –you just can’t be as rough about it.” She reached up and hooked her hands around his neck, and laid her head upon his shoulder, squeezing hard.
“See! That’s exactly what I’m talking about. When you do that, I feel all gushy and mushy! What the hell am I supposed to do?”
“I can’t help that. I see you and that’s what I feel. I want your attention, and I don’t want you to treat me like you’re scared of me.”
“Okay! I get it! Now let go!”
“Not until you promise to stop pretending like what I do doesn’t bother you at all!”
This time Peter was the one to get upset and embarrassed at the same time. “That’s just it, it doesn’t bother me! You’re soft, and you smell nice and I’m not used to that yet!”
Mike halted her attack, her eyes widening. She let go of his neck, and stared at him directly in disbelief. “I’m sorry. I didn’t realize…”
“To you, you’ve only been a girl for a couple of weeks. But to all of us, you’ve been this way for months now. I’ve watched over you every day all of that time and all I see is a beautiful, tiny dynamo of a girl. It was easier when you were asleep, but now that you’re right in front of me, it’s a little scary. I don’t know what’s ok to touch and what’s not ok.”
“Well touching the rack is definitely out…” she said will looking down at her breasts, “and keep your hands off my ass, too. Everything else we’ll just have to take as it comes. Just try not to be rough. I don’t know how I am with pain yet, and I’m not really eager to find out. I just can’t take it when you pull away from me… That’s all. You’re my older brother and I expect you to be a little mean to me. Being too nice is just creepy…”
Peter relented under the weight of Mike’s newly acquired girl logic, even though he didn’t entirely understand it. He patted her head and turned to close the fridge.
“That felt totally gay.” He murmured.
“A little... The boobs make it all right, though.” She laughed.
Mike’s mind came back to the present as she sat quietly in the car beside her mom.
“You’re going to have to think of a name, Sweetie. We’ve been kind of putting this off for a while, but we can’t put you back in school as Michael Taylor.”
“Why can’t I just go by Mike?” She asked, staring out the window.
“Well honey, I don’t think Mike would be a very appropriate first name for a teenage girl. I mean, we can all call you that as a nickname, but we don’t want to arouse any suspicion at school, do we?”
“I don’t see how we’re going to get around that, Mom. It’s not like I have any identification or a birth certificate or anything like that.”
She looked out the window as the miles rolled by. They passed Dana Point headed south for the sixty five miles between Dr. Rigby’s private clinic, and their home in La Jolla. Her and her father had decided it best to keep her in an induced coma for several months after the successful incubation of her body, rather than wake her immediately. It allowed them time to let the pain of her death and the shock disappear from the public eye, while it also gave her father time to prepare his research for distribution to the scientific community. Her mother had called in a few political favors in order to generate a false identity for the recipient and some suitably misleading possibilities for any who wouldn’t buy the initial story. As she slept, her parents labored tirelessly to ensure her return was not a media circus. But in the end, neither of them felt comfortable with giving her a name.
“What about Tabitha?” She asked.
“I don’t know, sweetie. I guess the question is do you like it?” Her mother smiled warmly at the suggestion. Mike couldn’t get over how much things seemed to please her now.
“I remember you saying that if I was going to be a girl before I was born, you picked that name. Dad wanted something a little more plain, but you were dead set on that one. One of the many, many, many times he’s been overruled.”
Grace didn’t turn to her again as she continued to drive. Her mother looked out her driver side window, presumably at her sideview mirror, but Mike knew she was trying to hide her embarrassment.
“Ahh Mom…” She chided. “You didn’t think that I was paying attention when you said it.”
Grace quickly wiped an errant tear from the side of her face, and quickly regained her composure. “I only said it that one time… You were like nine or ten.”
“I remember most everything you say, even though I may not look like it. Especially when you talk about us as kids.”
“You don’t remember half the things your father talks about.” She replied.
“That’s not true! I do listen. But you can’t let him know that you’re paying attention. It’s just how sons are supposed to treat their fathers. But I guess now, I think it’s all right to let him know that I’ve been paying attention.”
“I think your father would really like that. It’ll be nice for a change to have someone who isn’t treating him like some old coot past his prime.” She shrugged.
“I don’t think your father really minds either way. But it would be nice if you could show him a little kindness. Since the announcement, he’s been inundated with work –symposiums and lectures, research consultations and interviews. I think he’s born the worst of it. “
“I just can’t get over how absurd this all is. Everything’s a mess –honestly, I don’t know why he did it at all. If it means all this –why did he have to go and announce it publicly?” Mike put her feet on the passenger chair, hugging her knees.
Grace’s eyes narrowed to near slits and her jaw clenched as though she was preparing for some kind of impact. “The world isn’t a straightforward place, Mike. There are people who would have tried to take you away from us if we were found out. Then there would be people who’d want to take the technology and keep it for themselves, or worse still pervert it for other more terrible uses. Whatever happens, your father was thinking of our safety more than anything else. So he gave the technology to everyone. It may create problems for the world down the line, but it solves our problems nicely for the most part.
Scientists all over the world have all the information they need to repeat and confirm his findings. Even to scientists from places we may call our enemies. It would have been even worse if he’d tried to keep it to the United States. There’s nothing to fight over because everyone has access to it. There’s no reason to pursue you covertly, politically or militarily because they can conduct their own experiments.
We don’t have to worry about shady government agents trying to take you away in the middle of the night. I think that’s what he was thinking when he did it. That’s why he has to work so hard now, but in time it will die down and he’ll be able to go back to his normal routine with a few changes.”
“I didn’t think about that.”
“I know, sweetie. You have enough on your plate right now. You don’t have to worry about him. We will do like always and we’ll do what we can and make it through.”
Just then, her mother’s cell phone rang. Mike reached into the top of her bag, and handed it to her mother. She chirped a pleasant greeting. After a minute, Mike could tell that it was Peter on the other end. Peter had gone home earlier with her father to get things ready for Mike’s homecoming, making sure to be completely obscure on what that meant.
“It figures…” Grace huffed. “I swear that boy has our house bugged or something… All right –thanks Peter. We’ll be there shortly.”
Grace closed her phone and looked at Mike. “Paris is visiting right now. It seems he’s caught wind of your arrival.”
“My arrival? God! What did you all tell him?” Mike had a look of abject panic, fidgeting in the passenger seat.
“Relax. We told him you’re my Sister’s child from Oregon and that you’ll be staying with us while she’s abroad.”
“But you don’t have a sister?!!”
Grace smiled wickedly. “I know, it works out nicely… Loosen up, Mike. It’s a pretty simple cover story. You can be as cryptic as you want about it, and no one will know the difference.”