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The Kitten Tail

by Maggie O'Malley

 

It was 1:30 and time for Maggie to check the meters in the small shops district again. Maggie the meter-maid had been working her route for over six months now, and she knew what streets to hit and when. The small shops district, especially the restaurants, was always packed at lunch time. Between the motorists who thought they could just duck in to pick up a carry out order without paying the meter, and those whose meters had expired because they had lingered too long over their pie and coffee, Maggie always made her quota.

Today was no exception. She was on the hottest street in the district, and writing tickets as fast as she could type the numbers into her palm pilot. Bob's Cafe and Amelia's Meals were packing them in as usual. Aside from nearly a dozen expired meter tickets, Maggie had already written two tickets for parking in front of a fire hydrant and one for parking at a handicap spot without a permit.

Maggie glanced up at Bob's Cafe as she waited for the next ticket to come hot off her printer. She shook her head and smiled as she thought to herself. "I can't believe these people! Getting forty-five dollar parking tickets, just so they can get their hands on a five dollar sandwich. Gawd, the food at Bob's and Amelia's must be something else!"

Maggie placed the ticket in a bright pink envelope and deposited it on the windshield of the illegally parked car. Turning to mount her bicycle and move on to the next meter, she was loudly hailed by a man heading out of Bob's Cafe at a trot. "Hey you! That's my car! I'm just leaving!"

The_tall pony-tailed redhead closed her eyes and heaved a heavy sigh. She had but a second to get her composure. "Okay Maggs. Don't lose your cool! If he gets out of line, just shut up and walk away. You gotta remember what the boss told ya. If he gets just one more incident report about you, you're fired! It don't matter if it's the customer's fault, your fault, nobody's fault. You're fired! No matter what he says, just smile."

The overweight, balding middle-aged businessman was as much red-faced from his quick sprint out of Bob's as he was from the rage he felt over being ticketed. Angrily, he jerked the ticket out from under his windshield wiper and shook it at Maggie. "This is bullshit! I just went in to pick up an order. I couldn't have been in there for more than a minute! You can't give me a ticket for that!"

Maggie's green eyes peered out from beneath her baseball cap. They were a light green which signaled her calmness. She gave the irate motorist a freckled face smile and soft words. "I'm sorry sir, but I can give you a ticket and I'm afraid I did. You've parked at a handicap meter. Unless you can show me a handicap permit I can't take that ticket back."

The man's eyes narrowed as the meter-maid's voice caused him to take a closer look at the officer in front of him. The long auburn ponytail peeking out the back of a ball cap, the slender frame with what appeared to be small breasts beneath a blue uniform shirt, and the light make-up, all said woman, but that deep voice said otherwise.

Maggie recognized the look immediately. She had seen it every day since she'd transitioned. Maggie the meter-maid was a thirty-seven year old male-to-female transsexual, and even though she had the heart and soul of a young girl, the world only saw a man masquerading as a woman. If her masculine features didn't betray her, the deep voice always did.

Socialization for a non-passable TS is always difficult, but in dealing with people who are already upset with you for giving them a ticket, it could get down right ugly. Add to the mix Maggie's Irish temper, and each confrontation was like a lit match and gallon of gas just waiting to get together.

Maggie and a few motorists had already had several small explosions. Maggie hated dealing with all the jerks and she really hated losing her temper. She would have quit after the first week, but the job market was tough right now, and for a TS with no real job skills or education, any job was a good job.

Her boss would have fired her long ago if it wasn't for the fact that she was the best ticket writer he had. She routinely pulled in 80 to 100 tickets a day and saved his butt on quota many a time, but even as good as she was, the complaints were piling up and he was starting to get heat from up top. He had no choice yesterday but to call her into his office and give her the final warning. She was going to have to keep that temper in check. One more report on her and she was fired, a hundred tickets a day or not.

As she continued to play Miss Congeniality and smile at the man, she could only hope he didn't 'go there'. Her hopes were quickly dashed in his first few words. "Listen miss or sir or whatever the hell you are, there wasn't any place else close to park. I'm not walking a block with an open space right here, and besides everyone knows most of those people with handicap plates are faking it anyway. I mean it's not like I see anybody out here in a wheel chair, do you?"

Maggie dropped her head. She kept her smile, but she had to grit her teeth to do it. Her body trembled and her bottom lip quivered. Yeah, he'd played the TS card, but he also made the handicap crack and to Maggie that was just as bad. When she stared into the man's face again, her eyes were a darker green, and her voice much more forceful. "Look sir, I really don't care what your excuse is, but let me tell you this; maybe you ought to thank God you CAN walk that block, because I have a friend in a wheel chair who's not 'faking it'! She would give anything to be able to walk at all, and she needs these spaces! Look, I'm not going to stand here and argue with you. You parked illegally and I ticketed your car. If you wanna contest it, then I'll see you in court!"

Maggie turned her back on the man and swung her leg over the bicycle seat. All she had to do was pop the kickstand and ride off. She had gotten a little flustered, but she hadn't really lost her temper. God knows she wanted to unload on this jerk, but she'd been a good girl.

The man was furious at being dressed down by the likes of a meter-maid, especially a sexually challenged one, and he wasn't about to let Maggie turn her back on him and ride off with the last word. He just had to light the match.

Before Maggie could pop the kickstand he called to her. "Hey officer! If I gotta eat this ticket, the least you could do is answer one question for me. Now you can do that can't ya?"

Maggie looked back over her shoulder. She didn't get off the bike or answer. She just glared at him. Taking her silence as a yes, he continued. "Are you supposed to be a guy or a girl, or are you one of those he/she freaks like they got in those porno movies?"

The man smiled evilly at Maggie, content he'd gotten his shot in. Maggie swung her leg back over the bike and quickly closed the distance between her and the man. The smile was gone and her fists were balled and at her side. Her eyes were a dark, almost hunter green, and as her body trembled, she gave him the gas. "I'll answer that question for ya buster, if you answer something for me first."

Maggie never gave him a chance to reply one way or the other, she just gave him both barrels. "Why don't you answer me this. Are you asking me a personal question like that because you're actually that ignorant and weren't raised any better, or are you just that damn rude and thoughtless? OR...is it that maybe your interested in me, you know sexually or something? Well...let me set you STRAIGHT! I'm a woman! GOT IT? And I only date men, which leaves an ASSHOLE like you out. Now you got any more questions for me?"

  The man survived the blast, and he was seething with anger. "You...you can't talk to me like that! I want your God damn badge number and I want your name. I'm calling the city-county building and reporting this. I can't BELIEVE they would hire freaks like you!"

Maggie reached into her shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. "My badge number is 431. My name is Maggie O'Malley, and don't waste your time calling the city-county building. Here's my boss's phone number, you can reach him direct."

The man grabbed the card from Maggie's hand, and glared at her. "Oh, you can be damn well sure I will!"

Maggie watched as the man walked over to the driver's side, got in the car, and barked the tires as he drove off. She let out a heavy sigh, releasing a little of the post-blast anger and tension. Suddenly, she felt very weak and sick to her stomach. She gripped the bicycle seat with both hands and began crying. Tears and regret always came after one of these incidents, and today they came in sobs as she knew she had lost more than her temper. She had lost her job.

Maggie's body trembled as the tears flowed freely, and then suddenly she was overcome by a wave of dizziness. Whether it was the hot summer sun, the sobs, the fact that she hadn't eaten since yesterday, or a combination of all three, she didn't know, but the street started to spin and soon afterwards so did she. She tried to steady herself by reaching for a meter post, but she swiped at air and tumbled down on her bicycle. Both bike and meter-maid hit the sidewalk hard and Maggie's world went black.

A man's voice called to her through a fog. "Ma'am can you hear me? Are you gonna be alright? Do you want me to call an ambulance or something?"

The word "ambulance" helped sober the fallen meter-maid, and she quickly waved off the man's offer. Shaking her head to clear the cobwebs, she struggled to get to her feet. As her vision cleared, the man's image came into view and she smiled weakly at him. "I'm okay, really I am. I...I just fell. Please don't call an ambulance."

The gallant stranger offered a strong arm to the fallen damsel and she took it graciously. Maggie thanked him for his help, checked to be sure her ball cap was in place, and dusted off her shirt. When she glanced back at the handsome older man eyeing her suspiciously, she smiled nervously. "Thanks for the help sir, but I'll be fine now. Just gotta get my trusty steed here and get going."

Maggie leaned over to pick up her fallen bike and a second wave of dizziness came over her. The pale meter-maid stumbled and headed for the pavement again, only this time strong arms caught her and swept her off her feet. Pulling the tall, slender woman close to him, the man chuckled. "I should have done this in the first place, but who can tell a redhead anything!"

*****

The owner of Bob's Cafe walked the "catch of the day" across the sidewalk and in through the front door of his eatery. Misty heard the bell over the door ring and she looked up from the counter to smile and greet her next customer, but was shocked to find her boss carrying a woman in his arms.

The petite platinum blonde sprinted to meet Bob at the door. Her azure blue eyes went wide when she saw the badge on the woman's shirt. "Oh my God, Bob, you killed a policewoman!"

Bob's brown eyes sparkled as he smiled at his cute young waitress. "Nope, she's just a little meter-maid who fell for me."

Misty rolled her big azure blues and shook her head. "Bob, sometimes you can be a real horses-".

The beautiful blonde never finished her sentence as both her and Bob's attention was drawn to the woman in his arms. A moan escaped Maggie's lips as she returned to the land of the living. "Ooohhh...what happened? Where am I?"

Bob smiled and spoke softly. "Good afternoon, Sleeping Beauty. In answer to your questions, you fell down AGAIN and this is Bob's Cafe. I'm Bob, and the lovely little pixie to the right is Misty."

Maggie forced a weak smile at the petite girl before her and then looked into Bob's brown eyes. "Thank you, AGAIN. I'm really sorry to be such a bother. If you'll just put me down, I'll be on my way. I'm gonna be okay now."

Bob gave her a stern look and shook his head. "Oh, no you won't. We're not going to do that again. This time you're gonna sit a spell, missy. I'll get ya a drink and a bite to eat, but you're not going anywhere until there's some color back in that face."

Maggie frowned at her new-found father figure and whined, "But...I'm fine now. Really!"

Her handsome prince was not taking no for an answer. "Let me put it to ya this way. Either you sit with me and at least have a coke, or I'm calling that ambulance."

Misty smiled at her and pulled on her shirt. "Hey, I know this guy and there's no point in arguing with him. Trust me, take the coke and a smile. He's letting you off easy."

Bob winked at his feisty little waitress. "Misty, don't you have some coffee to spill in someone's lap or something?"

The platinum blonde princess stuck out her tongue playfully at her boss and then smiled again at Maggie. "I better get moving. It's nice to meet you...uh..."

The redhead returned her smile and finished her sentence. "Mary Margaret, but puhleeze...call me Maggie or Maggie the Cat, and it's nice to meet you too, Misty."

Misty smiled impishly. "Okay Maggie the Cat. Hope you've got sharp claws, you might just need them."

The short-skirted waitress winked and then wiggled off toward the counter and Maggie returned her eyes to the man holding her. He was waiting impatiently for an answer. "Well, Maggie...what is it? Lunch for two, or an ambulance for one?"

Maggie had to laugh. "Okay...okay! When you put it that way, how can I turn you down. Now...will you puhleeze put me down."

Bob smiled victoriously, content he'd gotten his way at least for the moment. Gently he sat her down, but maintained a strong hold on her arm, as he escorted her to a booth toward the back. Seating her at the table, he played personal waiter for her. "Welcome to Bob's Cafe. My name is Bob and I will be your waiter this afternoon. Would you like to see a menu or may I recommend our blue-plate special?"

Maggie's face finally showed the first signs of color as she blushed crimson and laughed. "Do all your customers get this kind of treatment, or just the ones that you carry in off the street?"

Bob laughed and winked. "Only those who fall for me."

Maggie threw up her hands. She knew she was bested again. "Okay, you win. I'll have a bottle of diet soda, but nothing to eat and thank you."

Bob nodded. "Very well, my lady. One bottle of diet soda, and we'll discuss what you're having for lunch over it."

Maggie shook her head as the proprietor turned and headed for the counter. The woman stretched her legs out beneath the table and her left knee ached. She rubbed it gently; she could tell it was swollen from the fall, but she wasn't about to say anything to her charming host or he WOULD call an ambulance.

Maggie surveyed the inside of Bob's Cafe and found it as warm and attractive as the man who owned it, and the delicious smells emanating from the kitchen were just as inviting.

The redhead glanced back over toward the counter and saw Bob talking with Misty. When Misty noticed her looking, she smiled nervously and waved. Maggie wiggled a few fingers and then slumped down in her seat. She recognized that uneasy look. It was the same one she got from most women when they gave her the second look, and as soon as she opened her mouth, she always got the second look. Maybe she was just being paranoid. Misty and Bob had treated her like any other woman, almost as if they couldn't tell; obviously they were just being polite, because EVERYBODY could tell.

Maggie frowned and chastised herself. Maybe she had hit her head in the fall, or maybe she had just let the princess treatment Bob was giving her, go to her head. Either way, it was time for a reality check.

Glancing up at the clock on the wall, it was nearly three. Surely by now that irate motorist had phoned in his complaint, and she was officially unemployed. With about three bucks to her name, and one last check, she was one week away from being homeless, and despite Bob making her feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, she knew she was anything BUT a pretty woman. She sighed, stared out the window, and began contemplating her fate.

Her concentration was broken by the return of her handsome personal waiter. Carrying two glasses with straws, he smiled and slipped into the seat across from her. "One diet soda for the lady, and fresh water for the boss."

Maggie turned back from the window and smiled demurely. She thanked him properly before putting a straw in her soda and taking a sip. Bob shook his head and winced. "I don't know how you women drink that stuff. Diet soda tastes like castor oil with fizz if you ask me!"

A hint of sparkle returned to Maggie's green eyes and her host was glad to see it. He immediately set out to get a little more. "And I'll tell ya something else. Why is it all you tall fashion model types are always drinking diet soda? A diet is the last thing you need to be on!"

Maggie sucked soda through her straw and shrugged her shoulders helplessly. Bob wasn't done laying it on yet. "And I know you get plenty of exercise. I've seen you pedaling that bike up and down that street for the last six months."

The pony-tailed redhead frowned. "Well...you might see that bike tomorrow, but I guarantee you I won't be on it."

Bob gave her a puzzled look. "Oh? You get a day off?"

Maggie sighed. "Yeah, a whole bunch of them. As in a permanent vacation. My boss told me if I had one more incident with a motorist I'd be fired, and I don't know if you saw any of what happened out there before I did that swan dive onto the sidewalk, but it was definitely an incident."

Bob frowned and nodded solemnly at her. "I'm sorry to say I did catch most of that exchange, and, if I could have gotten out the door before that jerk left, he'd have had another incident, but I guarantee you he wouldn't have been able to drive off from that one."

Maggie smiled warmly at her brave knight. "Thanks, Bob, but I'm glad you didn't get involved. You would've just got yourself into trouble and I still would've lost my job anyway."

Bob's eyes flared and his shoulders tensed. "Why would you lose your job? I heard the whole thing. That guy was way out of line! All you did was put him in his place, and you did it a whole lot nicer than I would've. There is absolutely no reason for you to lose your job."

Maggie's champion smiled knowingly at her and then snapped his fingers. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out his cell phone and clicked open the cover. "Maggie, I'll fix it. Give me your boss's number and I'll call him. I'll tell him I was an eye witness and saw the whole thing. Once I tell him how you were just defending yourself, I'm sure he'll understand, and if he doesn't, I'll bribe him with a few free dinners at Bob's."

The slender redhead reached out and put her hand over Bob's cell phone and shut the cover. She shook her head and spoke softly. "Save your air time, Bob. I mean, I really do appreciate you trying to help, but it won't do any good. See...I've been DEFENDING myself way too often, and my boss thinks I have an attitude problem."

Bob chuckled. "You? Why you seem like such a cuddly little cat. I can't believe you'd ever have an attitude problem."

Maggie rolled her eyes, and gave him her full freckled-face smile. "Oh, I'm a cat alright, but it don't take much to get this Irish feline's claws out and her back up."

She reached around her head and took her pony-tail in her hand and shook it at Bob. "You see that red hair? Trust me, it goes all the way to the root and somehow it manages to shut off my brain and open my mouth. You've seen and heard the fire that comes out."

She sighed and shook her head. "My father always told me to never let my quarter-mouth overload my nickel-ass. I wished I remembered those words a few times, maybe I'd still have a job."

Bob rubbed her hand gently, leaving it there just for a moment. "Maggie I'm really sorry about your job. I wish I could offer you one here, but I just hired two new kids."

Maggie smiled gently. "That's okay. I think I really need to find something where I'm not dealing with the public anyway. I just get too frustrated!"

Bob nodded knowingly. "I can understand that. I get people in here every day who are never satisfied, no matter how I cook their steak, but it must really be bad for you. I've seen you out there every day in all types of weather, so I know you are hot, cold, wet and tired, and then you've got to deal with people screaming at you all day long over tickets. Anyone would be frustrated!"

Maggie sighed. "Yeah, it's a lousy, low paying job, and some of these people really go ballistic over a parking ticket, but that's not what really frustrates me. I'm just unhappy about other things and well...sometimes it just gets the best of me."

Bob nodded and then slipped out from the booth seat. "I think I understand. Part of your problem is an unhappy belly! You don't feed it enough! So what do ya say we have some lunch and give ya a happy belly? Guaranteed to improve your disposition. Why don't you let me fix you at least a sandwich or something?"

Maggie waved him off and politely declined. "Thanks, Bob, but I don't think I'd better. Meter-maids are not allowed to eat or purchase things from businesses on their route while they're on duty. There's been some instances where business owners have given free food or goods to officers to get them to leave the meters alone in their area. Sadly, there have even been meter-maids who have gotten food poisoning from 'doctored' food served to them by owners irate over their customers being ticketed."

Bob frowned and shook his head. "Well, if you'd feel safer, you can go into the kitchen and fix your own sandwich. I just think you need to eat something."

Maggie dropped her head to her chest. She had been so thoughtless. This man had rescued her twice, brought her into his establishment, treated her like a royal princess, and now she had as much as accused him of trying to poison her. Her mouth had done it again. Quickly, she tried to rectify her faux pas. "Bob, I'm sorry. I didn't mean that I thought YOU would do that. It's just you have to be so careful out here. I mean meter-maids have almost no friends and meter-maids like me have none."

Bob smiled at her and winked. "Well...you've got at least one now, and Misty makes two. And I was just thinking about those meter-maid rules of yours and well...I don't think they apply anymore. I mean you did say you're fired right? So...goodbye Maggie the meter-maid, hello Maggie the Cat; and I'm a big cat lover, so you're always welcome here. Now Miss Cat, are you gonna let me fix you a sandwich or not?"

Maggie threw up her hands and laughed. "Okay, you win again. I'll have a sandwich. Gawd, you must have some Irish in you. No one but an Irishman could be that stubborn."

Bob winked and smiled broadly. "Good Kitty! Now let me go fix you my best sandwich. I can make you a reuben that'll put hair on your che ..."

Now it was Bob who wished he could pull the words back. He closed his eyes and winced, and then looked pleadingly at the woman sitting before him. "I'm really sorry about that. I mean the last thing a woman would want is a hairy chest right? Unless, of course, it belongs to a man and she's running her fingers through it."

Maggie could see just how bad Bob felt about what he'd said. He wasn't trying to be cruel like most of the people she'd run into. He really was trying to treat her like a lady, despite her appearance, and so, like a lady, she was gracious. She smiled warmly at him. "Yeah, I'm not much into having a hairy chest. Electrolysis is way too painful and too expensive. Trust me, I know! However...I AM into a good reuben sandwich, and I'll bet yours is whisker lickin' good."

The sparkle returned to Bob's eyes and he winked at her. "One Bob's special reuben coming up!"

*****

Maggie watched as the man headed for the kitchen to prepare his trademark dish. After he disappeared from view, she turned her attention back to the window she had been gazing out earlier. It was after three-thirty, and Maggie watched as young mothers took their children by the hand and walked them home from the day-care just around the corner. Maggie knew the place well. It was one of her two favorite places in the whole world; the other being the little pet shop one block over.

Every afternoon, she had her lunch on the picnic table in the park across from the daycare. Her meal wasn't much, usually never more than a few crackers, and the squirrels got more of those than she did, but it was the view that made lunch special. She loved watching the children on the playground, especially the little girls. Every time they played, and ran, and giggled, a part of her was right there with them. That part of her sighed longingly at the little girls' cute dresses, and long hair that it so wished it had. That same part of her would cry when she would see the girls get cuddles from the day care workers or a momma who had come to pick up her daughter. Maggie's body, in some small way, resembled an adult woman's now, but half her heart and soul was little girl.

The other half could be found at her other haunt, the pet shop. Every day after work, she would stop in and talk to the babies. She loved them all, but of course her favorites were the kittens. She spent most of her time fawning over them, cuddling and playing with the little fur balls. The owner had grown so accustomed to Maggie's presence that she treated her as if she was an employee, allowing her to feed and care for the kittens each day she came in. The owner would have hired her, if she could have afforded to take on an employee. Maggie didn't mind, she gladly volunteered her services just for a chance to play with the kittens. Her apartment complex was not kitten friendly, and this was as close as she could get to having one. It was the shop owner who had originally christened her "Maggie the Cat", because of her love and devotion for her little furry friends. Maggie knew if she could be any animal it would have to be a cat, especially a kitten. There was nothing cuddlier, cuter, or more fun than a kitten. Yes, half of her heart and soul was a little girl on a playground and the other half was a cuddly fur ball pouncing on a ball of yarn.

A soft voice brought her back to reality. "Maggie, can I get ya another diet?"

The redhead whirled around to see the smiling face of the beautiful young blonde. "Hmmm?...I'm sorry Misty. I didn't hear what you said. I was just watching the kids coming home from daycare."

The petite pixie smiled knowingly. "Yeah, I do the same thing when I get the chance. I can't wait to be a momma! I'm gonna dress up my little girls in bows and dresses, and walk 'em back and forth everyday!"

Misty saw the sad look in Maggie's green eyes. She was pretty sure why it was there, and her own azure blues threatened to mist. "I guess you probably wish you could be a momma too, huh?"

  Maggie sighed and forced a weak smile. "Oh, sure I've thought about it, but, to tell you the truth...I'd rather be the little girl than the momma. Pretty silly for an old woman, huh?"

  Misty reached over and squeezed the woman's hand. "No, I don't think that's silly at all. I think that who we are is defined by whatever's in our heart and soul. The only way we can ever know who we truly are is to listen to them, because your body will tell you lies."

  Maggie was touched by her new friend's kind gesture, and her own eyes threatened to mist. Not wishing to start crying, she tried to lighten the mood. "You know, Misty, you're pretty wise for such a young woman."

  Misty winked an azure blue at her and whispered. "Well, don't tell Bob. He only hired me because he thought I was just another dumb blonde with a body. I'd hate to spoil his fantasy."

  Maggie laughed. "Don't worry, your secret is safe with me."

  Misty gave her a thumbs-up and then asked her again if she'd like another soda. Maggie was still working on the first and politely declined. The young waitress told her if she changed her mind to just give her a wave, and she'd bring her out a cold one. Misty then smiled and greeted two handsome young men who had just come in. The hungry look in their eyes was as much for Bob's food as it was for the waitress who served it. Maggie watched Misty work her magic for a bit and then returned her attention to the parade of children and parents outside the window.

   Maggie was lost somewhere between daydreams of little girls and little kittens when the aroma of grilled bread, corned beef, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut made her mouth water. She turned to find Bob sliding a plate in front of her. The sandwich was stacked high with corned beef and a few trickles of thousand island dressing oozed from the side of the juicy sandwich. Bob had complimented it with a side of chips and a dill pickle. He had even brought Maggie a fresh bottle of diet.

  Bob smiled as he watched her eyes devour the sandwich before her mouth had the chance. "One reuben deluxe ala Bob! A sandwich fit for a queen! Now, may I get your majesty anything else?"

  Maggie blushed and reached to take Bob's hand. "Yes, you can! You can sit down and help me eat this thing. My God, it looks good, but it's HUGE! There is no way I can eat all this."

  Bob laughed and slipped into his seat across from her. "Maybe just a few chips, but after you make these things all day, you just don't have much appetite for them. Look, just eat what you can, and the rest you can take with you."

  Maggie smiled and winked, then grabbing a sandwich half, took a big bite. The pleased look on her face that bordered on pure ecstasy, made Bob smile. He knew he'd created another culinary masterpiece.

  "Mmmmm...that's so...good", moaned Maggie. "Oh, Bob, this is the best sandwich I've ever eaten. No wonder this place packs 'em in. At least I know what garbage cans to raid when I'm a street person in a few weeks."

  Maggie had thrown that last remark out there as a bad joke, a way to try and laugh off her precarious position, but Bob wasn't amused, he was concerned about the well-being of his new friend. "Seriously, Maggie, do you have any idea where you're going to look for another job now?

  The redhead took another bite and shrugged her shoulders. Bob wasn't about to let her off that easily. "Have you thought about getting a job in a daycare or a school? Misty mentioned to me you really like kids. Of course, I guess all women do, but I was just thinking there's several daycares and private schools in the area. A few of the administrators come in here for lunch now and then. They always tell me they're looking for people. I'd bet you'd be a natural in a daycare setting."

  Maggie turned back toward the window. Bob's words had gone straight to her heart. Yes, she would be a 'natural' for a daycare, but only as one of the little rugrats, not as a care giver. Yet, even if she wanted to work there as an adult, the fact that she was far from a 'natural' woman would prevent that. Bob had been the ultimate prince, but she was far from Cinderella and it was time to end the fairy tale.

  Maggie sighed and turned her eyes back to Bob. "Bob, there's something you need to know about me. I'm...well...not quite what I seem. I mean, I'm not like most women. I'm probably not like any woman you know. I'm different, REAL different. Trust me when I tell you this. No daycare is going to want someone like me to work for them.

  Bob took Maggie's hand in his. "Yes, you are not quite what you seem, and you aren't like most women. I'll give you that, but it's not because you're a transsexual."

  Maggie sighed heavily and dropped her head. "I can't believe I was so stupid. It's just that you were so nice and treating me like a real girl that I was almost starting to believe you thought I was real."

  Bob gently placed two fingers beneath Maggie's chin and raised her face to meet his gaze. Her eyes were brimming with tears. "Maggie you are a real girl. Yes, I could tell you used to live as a man, but it's not as obvious as you think. It's just that I've been around a while and I've experienced a lot you might say. I was able to pick up on it pretty quick, but Misty wasn't sure if you were genetic or not."

  A hint of sparkle returned to her green eyes as she wiped away a tear. "Really?"

  Bob smiled softly. "Yes, Maggie, really! You are more passable than you think and you are as 'real' as any other genetic woman, but you are different. At first I thought it might be the TS thing, but after talking to Misty and gazing into those big emerald-greens of yours, I think I figured it out. Why you're not Maggie the Cat at all, you're nothing but a kitten masquerading in a cat's body."

  Almost on cue the "Kitten" giggled. "What have you got behind that counter, Bob, a crystal ball or something?"

  Bob rubbed Maggie's hand and winked. "Nothing quite that magical. Although I do have this special blend of coffee...but that's a story for another time. Actually sugar, I just know how to read people. Being behind the lunch counter is kind of like being a bartender. You hear and see everything and after awhile you can read the customer and know what he or she wants before they order it, sometimes before they even know they want it."

  Bob had piqued Maggie's curiosity, and her eyes sparkled with excitement. "So...what's my order Bob and I hope it doesn't cost more than three dollars cause that's all I got?"

  Bob sighed and shook his head. "Sorry, Maggs, I wish I could fill your order, but I can't give you what you need most of all. However, I know someone I think who can, AND I'm pretty sure she can put you to work."

  Maggie smiled broadly. "Bob, I'm not so much worried about the order part, but if you know someone who you think'll give me a job, please tell me."

  The cafe owner caressed her hand lovingly. "Her name is Jenna, and she owns 'Jenna’s Jumping Jacks Toy Store' across the street. She's a good friend of mine, and just the other day she was telling me she was looking for someone to help out in her shop; and she's also got two little girls I think you would really hit it off with. Maggie, maybe a job at a daycare might be too much for you, but I still think you need to be around kids, and I can't think of a better place than a toy store."

  Maggie frowned and worry swept over her countenance. "Bob, I'd love to work at a toy store, but are you sure this friend of yours would hire me? I don't have much experience and as you say, I am different."

  Bob smiled warmly at her. "Relax, Maggie, Jenna is a lot like me. She kind of has an ability to see beyond the physical. Your gender problem will not be a problem for her, trust me. As for your lack of experience, don't worry about that. I'm sure she will gladly teach you everything you need to know. Listen, above all else, Jenna is crazy about kids, so I know she will like you."

  Maggie tilted her head and gave Bob a puzzled look. She really didn't understand his last words but, when she thought about it, there was really very little she actually understood about the strange but wonderful owner of Bob's Cafe. A word Maggie did understand was, "unemployed". She knew that word meant no money, no food, and no place to stay. If there was any chance at all this woman might hire her, she had to go for it.

  Maggie took a deep breath and then smiled at her charming host. "So...how do I get an interview?"

  Bob returned her smile and took her hand in his. "There's no time like the present. I'll just give her a call and tell her to expect you in say 30 minutes? That'll give you a chance to freshen up a bit. That is what women always do right? Freshen up a bit?"

  Maggie chuckled lightly and waved her hand over her uniform. "Well, in this outfit, I don't think I can do to much to freshen up, but I will throw a little water on my face, maybe some lipstick." Maggie paused a moment and then continued, "Well...maybe a little eyeliner and mascara wouldn't hurt."

  Bob shook his head and muttered, "Women!" He then winked and smiled at her, before heading to the counter to call Jenna.

*****

Maggie made a quick trip to the bathroom. She opened her fanny pack and checked for war paint supplies. Grabbing the bill of her ball cap, she sighed sadly and removed her hat. Thin strands of auburn straw fell over her ears. The red hair that seemed so long and thick protruding from the back of her hat was actually sparse on top and getting thinner every day. The female hormones she had been on had slowed the advance of her male pattern baldness, but not stopped it. Her father was a billiard ball by the time he was forty-five and she was terrified she was following in his footsteps. The one good thing about working as a meter-maid had been she always could wear a hat. If she got that job in the toy store, she would have no choice but to invest in a wig. For today, she could tell Jenna she had come straight over and hadn't had time to fix her hair. Any woman would understand that.

  Maggie wiped a few stray tears from eyes as she shook her head at her quickly dissolving crown of glory. She took ten minutes to do her make-up and replace her hat. She blew out a heavy breath and strode confidently out of the ladies room.

  Bob was at the counter, waiting patiently for her. He smiled approvingly. "Very nice, very nice. You look marvelous, darling."

  Maggie blushed and giggled like a schoolgirl on her first day.

  Misty walked up and handed her a small paper sack. "I bagged up the other half of your sandwich for you, and threw in a few extra chips."

  Maggie smiled lovingly at the little waitress. "Thanks Misty. Thanks for everything."

  The beautiful blonde smiled impishly. "No prob, Maggs. Comeback when you get a chance and we'll have a couple of sodas and chat. You'll have to catch me though when I'm getting off shift, 'cause ol' slave driver here don't give his employees any breaks."

  Bob crossed his arms in front of his broad chest and regarded his favorite little minx. "If you really think you need a break. I'm sure I can arrange some days off for you."

  Misty winked at Maggie. "That's his loving way of telling me to get my ass in gear. I better get moving before he breaks out the other way."

  The petite waitress grabbed a tray of dirty dishes and then disappeared into the kitchen. Bob took Maggie's hand in his and spoke soft words of encouragement. "Okay, everything is set. She'll be expecting you when you get there. I've already told her all about you and she's dying to meet you. If you'll just relax and be yourself, I think you are going to be very happy at Jenna's".

  Maggie looked into the eyes of the only man who had ever been a knight-in-shining-armor to her, and it was all she could do to keep from crying. "Bob, I don't know how to thank you for everything you've done for me this afternoon. I don't think I've ever felt this good."

  The handsome man chuckled. "It's the reuben. I'm telling ya nobody makes 'em like I do."

  Maggie hugged her hero and gave him a light peck on the cheek. Bob smiled and took her hand. "Maggie, I'm glad you feel better now, but trust me, the best is yet to come. Now, go over there and get that job!"

  Maggie nodded confidently and walked to the door. Hesitating for a moment, she turned and waved to Bob before slipping away. Misty came out from the kitchen when she heard the bell ring. "Was that Maggie leaving?"

  Bob's eyes were still trained on the doorway. "Yep, sent her over to Jenna's Toy Store to see about a job."

  Misty immediately frowned. "I don't think she's hiring Bob. I went over there the day before I had an interview with you and she said she didn't need any help."

  Bob's brown eyes twinkled and he smiled broadly. "You're right Misty, she doesn't need any help, but Maggie does! And...I think Jenna's just the one who can help her."

 

Maggie stepped out of Bob's and into the late afternoon as a confident woman on mission. With a reuben sandwich in her belly and a job interview just moments away, the ex-meter-maid was starting to believe that things were finally on the up for her. Sadly, there were still a few more dips in the road for Maggie.

  After her second swan dive onto the sidewalk, and being carried in by Bob, she hadn't thought about her bike and equipment sitting outside the cafe. She had gotten too lost in the good company and good food to think to come out and lock everything up. Her heart sank as she looked up and down the street but saw no signs of her trusty two-wheeled steed or the black case that carried her palm pilot and printer.

  "Great!", she thought. "Well, there's goes my last check and my uniform deposit. It'll take at least that much to pay off the bike and the equipment."

  The redhead sighed heavily and gazed down the street at her prospective employer's toy shop. "Jenna, I sure hope you hire me and I definitely hope you don't hold back the first week's check, 'cause I got three dollars between me and a career as a bag lady."

  Maggie took a deep breath, tried to recapture a bit of the confidence that Bob had instilled in her just moments ago, and once again headed off toward her appointment. She had walked past a couple of shops when she just had to stop and peek in a window. "Prue's Perusals" had caught her eye. The curious little shop always did. Every time she wrote a ticket at the meter in front of Prue's, she always stopped to see what little knick-knack or treasure she had displayed in the window. She wasn't exactly sure what Prue sold in her store, but she had a feeling it was one of those kind of places that if Prue didn't have it in there somewhere, it probably couldn't be found anywhere. Maggie was tempted to go in there and begin a treasure hunt, but she had more important matters to attend to, and left an adventure at Prue's for another day.

  The shop next door to Prue's was the sister restaurant to Bob's. Amelia's Meals was every bit as popular with the breakfast and lunch crowd as was Bob's, and had been every bit as lucrative to Maggie's ticket writing. She shook her head and smiled as she thought of the number of tickets she had written there. On numerous occasions, the meter-maid had issued a ticket to an illegally parked car and the motorist, who at the time was standing in a line outside the door waiting to be seated, watched her write the ticket rather than leave his place in line to move his car.

  Maggie thought to herself. "Now, either these people don't care about paying parking tickets or they really love the food at Amelia's."

  The incredibly delicious aroma that emanated from Amelia's all day, pretty much convinced Maggie it was the food.

  Like Bob's Cafe, Maggie had always been so tempted to sample Amelia's wares, but meter-maid rule number one had always stopped her; and if that didn't, her seemingly permanent lack of funds usually did. Today though, she was about to get a chance to see what all the fuss was about.

  As Maggie walked by the front door of Amelia's; she was greeted by a strikingly beautiful young woman. Tall, slender, and with waves and waves of strawberry-blonde hair, the twenty-something woman greeted her with a smile and a wave. "Good afternoon, beautiful day isn't it?"

  Maggie returned her smile and nodded. "Well...it started off a little rough, but I think it's gonna shape up to be pretty good."

  The gorgeous gal with big blue-grey eyes and dimples balanced a covered tray in one hand, as she took a second, longer look at the tall uniformed redhead before her. A look of recognition swept across her face. "Say...you're our little meter-maid, aren't you? I've seen you buzzing up and down the streets on that bicycle of yours in all sorts of weather. You sure write a lot of tickets on this street. I see tons of those big pink envelopes all over my customer's cars."

  Maggie thought for sure she was going to have another irate business owner on her tail and she immediately went on the defensive. "Ma'am, I don't have your place singled out. I mean...I write tickets all over this area. It's nothing personal against you, I swear. It just seems like your patrons are more concerned about getting a seat and a meal than taking care of the meter. I mean it's not my fault."

  Amelia immediately tried to calm the flustered meter-maid. "Hold it, hold it! I'm not mad at you, dear. You're just doing your job, same as I am. I mean, if these people don't take care of these meters, it's your job to enforce the law. I don't hold that against you. In a funny way, I take it all as a compliment. I mean, if that many people who eat here think the food is so good they don't want to leave their plate to feed the meter, well...I must be cooking something right."

  Both women laughed, and Amelia extended her free hand toward Maggie. "I'm Amelia, owner, chef, part-time waitress, and even chief bottle-washer when he doesn't come in. It's a pleasure to meet our neighborhood meter-maid."

  Maggie took Amelia's hand and shook it. "I'm Maggie, or as some people call me, 'Maggie the Cat'. I'm afraid though you are addressing your former meter-maid, as I am sure you will see a new unfriendly face tomorrow. Today was my last day. I hadn't actually planned it to be, but it sort of worked out that way."

  Amelia caught Maggie's drift and smiled sadly at her. "That must be a miserable job in the winter. I saw you out there in all that bitter cold and snow. Several times, I fixed you a cup of hot chocolate, but by the time I could get to the door with it, you were long gone."

  Maggie returned her smile. "Thanks for the warm thoughts, even if I didn't catch up with your hot chocolate."

  Amelia's blue-grey ovals sparkled as she lifted the lid off her covered tray. "Well...I didn't get a chance to give you hot chocolate, but I've got something a whole lot better here. You've just got to try one. They're free samples!"

  Maggie surveyed the tray and found it overflowing with huge fluffy golden brown muffins. They looked mouth-wateringly delicious. Her green eyes smiled at the selection. She immediately spotted blueberry, strawberry, and banana-walnut among the varieties. Her belly though was still pretty full from the reuben she's had at Bob's. "Amelia, they look scrumptious, but I just had a pretty big sandwich down at Bob's."

  Raising the brown paper bag that Misty had given her, she showed it to her friend. "It was so big, I couldn't even eat it all."

  Amelia smiled knowingly. "Bob makes some killer sandwiches. What kind did you have?"

  Maggie licked her lips and smiled. "I had the reuben. It was so...good."

  Amelia nodded. "Yep, the reuben is Bob's pride and joy. Nobody, but nobody, makes them like he does. I wouldn't even dream of putting one on my menu, after I tasted his."

  The strawberry-blonde then smiled proudly. "However, I have two things on my menu that Bob wouldn't dare try to match either; one is my jambalaya. You won't find any better this side of New Orleans, and the other is my muffins. Only they really aren't my muffins. Actually, I have a girl named Tess who comes in before I do, and she makes these delights. They are the only item that I personally don't make or oversee the making of. She brings in all her own ingredients and everything is natural and preservative-free. I believe she actually grows some of the fruit that goes in the muffins. I can tell you this, you will never taste any store-bought factory muffin that can compare with these."

  With such a sales pitch, Maggie could hardly resist and she selected a yummy-looking blueberry muffin and took a bite. The delicious sweet made her eyes roll, and nearly buckled her knees. Amelia recognized the high-pro glow and knew she had hooked another one.

  A moan of pleasure escaped Maggie's lips. "Ohhh...that's good! I've NEVER had a muffin like this."

  Amelia shook her head and laughed. "That Tess is an angel with an apron! She makes double and triple batches some days, and STILL I don't have any left for the afternoon tea crowd. Actually, I had to put this little sample platter back this morning, just so I had some to give out today. You know...as a chef, I ought to be insulted that one of my most popular menu items is one that I don't even make; but as a business owner, I smile all the way to the bank."

  Both women laughed as Maggie enjoyed another bite of blueberry heaven. She would have loved to stay and chat with the lovely restaurant owner, but she had an interview and prospective employer waiting on her. "Amelia, thank you for the muffin. Please tell your Tess she makes muffin magic! I wish I could stay and chat, but I've got an interview to go to and I really need this job."

  The tall beauty's eyes flashed. "Wow! That's great. Where's your interview?"

  Maggie pointed across the street at the toy store by the corner. "It's over at Jenna's. I guess she's a friend of Bob's, 'cause he called her and she offered me the interview right on the spot. I just hope she likes me."

  Amelia took Maggie's hand in hers and smiled warmly. "I'm sure she will. Jenna is an absolute sweetheart, and those two little girls of hers are earthbound angels. Once in awhile, she brings them by on the way to the park, and we chat for a bit while she lets me fill them with muffins and cookies. Trust me, you couldn't ask for a nicer person to work for."

  Maggie let out a heavy breath. "I just hope she lets me work for her. I've kind a had a hard time finding work. It's not real easy for me to find understanding employers sometimes."

  Amelia looked at the tall redheaded woman before her and almost empathetically felt her pain and 'understood' her plight. She set down her tray of muffins and wrapped her arms around Maggie, snuddling her tightly.

  Maggie the Cat purred from contentment in her friend's embrace and, when she released her, Maggie smiled happily. "Thanks, Amelia, I needed that."

  Amelia nodded knowingly. "I could tell you did. Now...go over there and get that job, girlfriend, and if you come back by after your interview, stop in. We can celebrate a little over MY specialty, jambalaya!"

  Maggie graciously accepted the invitation and then waved at her friend as she headed to the corner to the catch the light. Rush-hour traffic was far too heavy to allow her to cross in the middle of the busy street.

  Moments later, she stood in front of Jenna's Toy Store. As she grabbed the door handle, she hoped she was opening the door to a new job. What she didn't know was that she was opening the door to a new life.

 

When Maggie stepped into Jenna's, she literally stepped into a children's paradise. The shop was overflowing with toys, games, and stuffed babies. The little girl within her stirred, and the woman had to suppress the urge to giggle and play. She always felt 'Little Maggie' whenever she was at the pet shop playing with the kittens. Maggie could have just about drifted into dreamland had it not been for the giggles and shouts that came flying at her in the form of one running pup and two girls in hot pursuit. The woman smiled at the trio. The pup had a small shoe in its mouth and, considering the smaller of the two girls in persuit was wearing socks but only one shoe, it wasn't hard for Maggie to figure out who the shoe's rightful owner was.

  The pup came straight at Maggie and then stopped abruptly, dropping the prized shoe at her feet, barking and wiggling happily. Maggie knelt down to cuddle the playful pup and was soon greeted by two cute little girls who just had to be Jenna's.

  The older of the two smiled broadly at her. She had beautiful strawberry-blonde hair pulled back into a pony tail and big green eyes. Her eyes sparkled as she spoke. "Hi! I'm Becky. This is my momma's toy shop. She's got all kinds of toys in here, you know. I can help you find something if you want me to, 'cause I know where everything is at."

  Maggie knelt down and smiled lovingly at the tiny sales clerk. "Hi Becky! My name is Maggie, but you can call me Maggie the Cat!"

  Becky giggled. "That's a silly name for a people. How come they call you that. You ain't no kitty-cat."

  The woman shrugged her shoulders. "I guess because I like cats and kittens so much."

  Becky nodded. "I kinda like kittens too, but I really love puppies." The little girl then pointed to the pup that Maggie was gently petting. "That's Beagle Bailey. She is me and Cathleen's puppy that Mommy gived us."

  Almost on cue, the second of the two girls popped her angelic face in. It was obvious she was Becky's little sister, as she had the same strawberry-blonde locks and big green eyes, only her hair had been adorably put up in pig tails. The toddler smiled impishly at the woman petting her puppy and then squealed with delight when saw her shoe. Grabbing it quickly, she shook it at the pup. "Dat's my shoe, Bailwee."

  Becky took the toddler's hand in hers. "This is Cathleen. She's my little sister. Bailey kinda likes to chew on her shoes all the time, and then we gots to chase her to get them back."

  The littlest imp stepped forward and opened her arms to Maggie. "I'm Cathleen. Hug me!"

  Maggie couldn't resist the command of such a royal princess and immediately drew her into an embrace. Becky rolled her eyes and scolded her younger sibling. "Cathleen, Momma says you ain't s'posed to go hugging strangers! 'Sides, I ain't even solded her nothin' yet. You gotta wait till I sells her somethin' first."

   It was all Maggie could do to keep from laughing at the little sales girl. When the redhead released the little one from the cuddle, Becky immediately took her hand and started dragging her through the store. "Maggie the Cat, is you buying toys for your little girl or your little boy, 'cause I gotta know so's I can show the bestest toys."

   Maggie stopped the little dynamo in her tracks. "Becky, I'm not here to buy toys. I'm here to see your momma about a job. I think she is expecting me."

   Becky's eyes grew wide. "She is! Mommy tolded me so. Wait here. I'll and get her."

   The little girl ran toward the back of the store hollering, "Momma, Momma, Momma!". Cathleen followed after her sister. She was a little slower and wobbled a bit, but still on her sister's heels. Not to be left out, Beagle Bailey barked playfully and followed the pair to the back.

   Maggie laughed heartily as she stood by the counter and watched the trio disappear behind a curtain. A minute or two later, a smiling young woman emerged alone from the back room. The woman had to be in her early twenties, and with long wavy strawberry-blonde tresses and big green eyes, she had to be not only Jenna, the owner of the store, but the children's mother as well. She smiled at Maggie and then immediately begged her forgiveness. "I'm really sorry I wasn't out front to greet you. I've been going over a new shipment that just came in. I'm Jenna, owner and operator of this toy store and unofficial daycare center. I see you have already met my two sales associates and our attack-trained security animal."

  Maggie laughed. "Don't worry about being so busy. That's a good sign for me, since I'm looking for a job, and I loved meeting your kids. They are adorable! They must be about the luckiest kids in the whole world. It's gotta be a kid's dream to have a momma who owns a toy store."

  Jenna sighed happily. "I think I'm the lucky one living a dream. Those two little angels are my whole world. They give me so much love and joy that I can't imagine life without them."

  The proud momma blushed lightly and reached out to take Maggie's hand. "Maggie, I'm sorry. Listen to me go on! You didn't come here to hear a momma carry on about her babies. You came here for a job interview. I would take you back to my so called "office", but I've got the kids in there with rice crispy treats and cartoons. That ought to keep them occupied for a little while. If you don't mind just grabbing a seat here behind the counter, we'll talk for a bit. I can kinda keep an eye on the front that way."

  Maggie smiled warmly. "Sure, Jenna, that's fine with me! And, as for the girls, I don't blame you for being proud. Those two are precious little beauties. I don't think there is anything more special in the world than children. They are everything and I love being around them."

  Jenna gazed deeply into Maggie's green eyes and smiled at her in return. "Yes, I can see that. You really do love kids, and most of all I think you need to be around them. Bob was right when he told me about you. I think you are going to be perfect for what I have in mind."

  Maggie was glad that Jenna thought she was perfect, but she was as curious as a cat to know what Bob had said about her. "Jenna, if you don't mind. May I ask you what Bob told you about me?"

  Jenna smiled warmly at her and squeezed the woman's hand. "Don't worry so, little one. He didn't say one bad word about you. Bob is a real sweetie and a very good judge of character. Trust me, if he didn't see the same qualities within you that I do, he never would have sent you to me. Bob is very good at reading people, but I kinda have a gift that goes a little further. Usually, I can just look into someone's eyes, hold their hand, and get a pretty good look at their soul."

  Jenna could see by the look on Maggie's face, she was understandably nervous about being a naked soul bared before someone she hardly knew. She immediately tried to calm the shaken woman. "Relax, Maggie! I know you are worried about the transsexual thing. Well...don't be. The body you have is no more a true measure of who you really are than that meter-maid's uniform you wear. It's not the wrapping that makes the present, it's the gift inside, and I think you have a marvelous gift. I hope I can find a way to help you share it with others."

  Maggie was overwhelmed by the kindhearted and seemingly clairvoyant young woman. After facing rejection from employers, family, and most people on the street, finding someone as understanding as Jenna was a Godsend. Tears welled in her eyes, and Jenna immediately pulled her into her arms. She held Maggie as she would one of her own girls, rocking her softly, rubbing her back, and cooing softly. "It's okay now, little one, everything's going to be okay now. You'll see, child."

  As the tears subsided, Maggie pulled back and looked sheepishly at the woman. "Jenna, I'm so embarrassed. I don't know what came over me. I don't think crying in your boss's arms is a good way to start an interview."

  Jenna chuckled lightly. "Don't be embarrassed, Maggie. Remember, I'm a momma. I'm used cuddling a crying child. There's times that's what they need the most."

  Maggie smiled and shook her head. "Thanks for the hug, Jenna, but I'm hardly a child anymore. I'll bet I've got 15 years on you, if I've got a day."

  Jenna shook her head and said in a barely audible whisper, "You're still looking at the wrapping and not the gift."

  The pony-tailed redhead gave her a puzzled look. "I'm sorry, Jenna, I didn't hear what you said."

  The young mother waved her off and quickly changed the subject. "Oh nothing, really. I was just admiring your earrings. Those are adorable!"

  Instinctively, Maggie reached up and lovingly caressed the twin gold kittens dangling from her lobes. "Thanks. Those are my kittens. Unfortunately, they're the only ones I can have. My landlord won't let me have pets in my apartment, and I love animals, especially cats and kittens. My second home is that little pet store around the corner. The owner lets me feed and play with the kittens whenever I come in. I'd have asked her for a job long ago, if she had an opening."

  Jenna gave her that same knowing gaze she had earlier. "Yes, you do look like a 'cat person', more accurately a 'kitten person'. I think this is going to work out perfectly. See, my little store doesn't just cater to two-legged babies but, as you can see with Beagle Bailey running around, we also are four-legged friendly too. We carry a small assortment of pet toys and such, so the fact you love animals as well as kids is a real bonus. As far as I am concerned, the job is yours."

  Maggie nearly fell off her stool. This was too easy, too good to be true. The tall redhead blinked big green eyes from beneath her ball cap. "But...but...you didn't ask me about my work history, or for references."

  Jenna shook her head. "I don't need all that. You've already told me everything I need to know. You're exactly what I'm looking for. My only question for you is, how soon can you start?"

  Maggie was still reeling from having a job placed in her lap and she could hardly put two words together. "I...ummm...well...can start right now. I mean if you want me to!"

  Jenna's green eyes flashed and she smiled broadly. "Wonderful, because I've got something I want to show you, and now's as good as time as any. I have some specialty items that I don't keep on the shelves. They are by-request-only you might say; my request. These are only for the customers who I think really need them, and I think it's essential for you to become acquainted with the product. Would you be willing to do that for me?"

  Maggie thought it was a little odd to be so cryptic about toys, but Jenna was the boss and if she wanted her to check out some special toys, she wasn't about to say no. Smiling at her new boss, she was ready for work. "Sure, Jenna, anything you want. You're the boss?"

  Jenna winked and put an arm around Maggie's shoulder, and led her through the curtain and back toward the store room. The shop owner stopped in front of a door and pulled a skeleton key out of her pocket. Inserting it into the lock, she turned the key and opened the door. Jenna led Maggie into the room, flipping on the light switch as she entered. The large room was relatively empty, save for a large floor length mirror and a row of built-in shelves along one wall. The shelves were lined with small cardboard boxes and Jenna walked toward them with her new associate close behind. Stopping at a third level shelf, she ran her fingers across the boxes and then smiled when she found the one she was searching for. Taking the box from its place, she handed it to Maggie. Naturally, she started to open the box to examine the contents but Jenna quickly laid a hand over hers and stopped her. "Maggie, I need to tell you something before you open the box. The items in this room are made for me by my sister, Shelly. She's a remarkable woman and I have a feeling you're really going to like her. In fact, she's due here anytime. We usually do dinner on Thursday's, but when I told her about you, she insisted that we do dinner tonight just so she could meet you."

  Maggie blushed slightly. "I ummm...don't know what to say. I'd be honored to meet your sister. Tell me, Jenna, you said she makes all these items herself. Is she like an arts and crafts person?"

  Jenna smiled and chuckled. "Well...sort of, but not quite the same arts and crafts you're thinking of. Actually, I don't want to scare you, but my sister is a witch."

   The redhead's eyes grew wide at the word 'witch'. "You mean a real witch, like spells-and-potions-and-caldrons-type witch?"

  Jenna nodded. "Yes, that's Shelly, but she is a good witch, I promise you. Kind of like Samantha off of Bewitched, only...I think Samantha's cousin Serina might be a little better match. Shelly does kind of have a wild side, but most of that's in her hair. But, I assure you Maggie, when it comes to magic, she knows what she's doing. Actually, I've been trying to get her to rent that empty shop next to mine and open up like a Wicca bookstore or something. You know, with all that metaphysical and new age stuff, tarot cards, potions, etc., but she said she had to have a witch's apprentice to do that. Unfortunately, my sister is alone. She has yet to be blessed by children. So...until she can open up her own place, I'll be featuring her magic items, like the one you hold in your hand."

  The new sales associate just stood there dumbfounded. Here was this perfectly normal mother of two and owner of a toy store, telling her that her sister was a bona fide witch. She stared helplessly into Jenna's eyes. Jenna rubbed her hand reassuringly. "Maggie, just trust me. Do you really think I would have anything in my shop that would be harmful, especially with the children around?"

  Maggie dropped her head like a scolded child and then shook it back and forth. "No, Jenna, I know you wouldn't. I was just a little surprised. Can I see this specialty item now. You've kind of got me curious."

  Jenna winked at her and squeezed her hand. "That's my girl."

  The strawberry-blonde removed the top from the small box, and Maggie peered inside to find what appeared to be a ball, more accurately a tennis ball. She gave Jenna a puzzled look, and the young mother chuckled lightly. "Were you maybe expecting a miniature goat's head or something?"

  Maggie blushed lightly. "To tell you the truth, Jenna, I really didn't know what to expect, but I don't think it was a tennis ball."

  Jenna smiled warmly. "Tell me, Maggie, what color is the tennis ball?"

  The redhead gave her boss a strange look and then answered the question. "It's green. Kind of an emerald green, I guess, but definitely green."

  Jenna nodded her head. "That's what I thought you'd say. Now, if I can get you to take the ball out of the box, I want you to smell it and tell me if you recognize the scent."

  Maggie picked up the ball, and immediately got a small charge, almost like a static electricity shock. She brought the ball up to her nose and inhaled. Her eyes immediately grew wide and a smile turned at the corners of her mouth. "I know that smell! I've smelled that before somewhere." She hesitated just a moment, and then she recognized the scent. "That's catnip! We give that to the kittens and the cats at the pet store. They love that stuff. They go bonkers!"

  Jenna nodded and smiled again. "If I wasn't sure before, I am now. Maggie I want you to 'test' the product for me."

  Maggie looked at her helplessly again, and the young woman laughed. "It's a ball, Maggie, just play with it. You know, toss it around the room, and bounce it. That's all you have to do."

  The front door chime rang and Jenna turned toward the door. "That might be a customer, I better get out there. I'm going to shut the door behind me, Maggs, and I'll be back to check on you in a few minutes. Enjoy!"

  Before Maggie could say another word, the young woman was gone, and she was alone with the ball. She felt kind of ridiculous holding the green tennis ball, but if her boss said play with it, she was going to play with it. She took a deep breath, and bounced the ball across the room. Suddenly she felt compelled to chase it, and quickly ran to recapture the ball. Each time she picked it up she felt the strange electricity run through her body and the scent of catnip grew stronger. After a few rounds of pitch and catch, she found herself completely focused on the bouncing green tennis ball, and totally unaware of the changes her body was undergoing. A few minutes more, and she realized that at some point she had gotten down on all fours to chase the ball, but instead of slowing her down, she felt exceptionally light and quick. She also noticed that the ball had grown quite a bit larger, but even more fun to play with. In fact it was irresistible. She had never felt so free, so happy, and so alive in her life.

  The magic ball had rolled in front of the mirror and, in her haste to catch it, she found herself unable to put on the brakes and slid across the polished wood floor, crashing into the floor-length mirror. She shook her head to clear the cobwebs and for a moment she was able to focus on something beside the ball. Glancing into the mirror, she saw her reflection. It was lucky she sitting down or she would have fallen down, as the reflection that greeted her was that of a short-hair rust-colored kitten. Green eyes blinked in the mirror; her eyes were still the same, but nothing else. Maggie raised a hand to touch the mirror, but the reflection showed a tiny paw tapping on the glass. She tilted her head back and forth watching her perky ears and admiring the little whiskers. Getting up on all fours, she walked back and forth strutting her new body and wiggling her tail. She was little and cute and cuddly, and she loved it!

  She was so engrossed in checking out her reflection, she never heard the door open or a presence enter. It was a soft voice that got her attention. "Hello, Maggie the Cat! Although, it's obvious you're really Maggie the Kitten, and, oh, what a beautiful little kitten you are."

  Maggie, in kitten form, stared up at the lady smiling down at her. She was as strikingly beautiful as Jenna, only much more petite in stature, and with hair like she had never seen before. It was a virtual rainbow of highlights from platinum blonde to raven black. While her facial features had almost an oriental quality, her emerald green eyes were unmistakably identical to Jenna's. She could only be Shelly, Jenna's sister, and the witch whose magic had turned Maggie into a kitten.

  The little feline felt strangely drawn to this woman and, as a soft purr escaped her mouth, she so wished Shelly would pick her up and cuddle her. Immediately, the young woman reached down and picked up the kitten. Holding her to her chest, she lightly stroked Maggie's soft fur.

  Maggie could hardly believe it; somehow this woman had read her thoughts, because all she could do now was purr. Shelly pulled the kitten from her breast and sat her down on her lap. "That's right, Maggie, I can read your thoughts. I'm the only who one can now. Since it was my magic that made the transformation possible, you and I are now bonded. While you are in 'kitten-form' we will be linked telepathically."

  Suddenly, Shelly was plagued by a barrage of questions, and she laughed while scratching the kitten behind her ears. This immediately soothed the high-intensity kitten and she purred softly. "That's better, isn't it, Maggie? Now...one question at a time. Yes, you are a real kitten. No, the magic is not permanent. It will wear off in a about an hour; however, it can be permanent if you want it to be. How did this happen and why are you a kitten? Okay, that will take a little longer to explain."

  Cuddling the rust-color kitten in her arms, she began the tale. "Within each of us dwell two spirits. One spirit is our true human form. Usually, it closely resembles the physical form that encases it, but, in some cases, that spirit is totally different and those who have this condition often suffer terribly in the outside world. I think you know already know that pain all to well.

  The second spirit which dwells within us is animal in nature. Each of us has an animal form that is our own. For many it is the bird, or the horse, or the bear. For you, Maggie, it is the cat, but more accurately the kitten. The magic ball you played with allowed that animal spirit to be released. Tell me, Maggie, what color is the tennis ball?"

  The kitten glanced over at the ball sitting by the mirror and thought her answer to Shelly. 'Green?'

  "That's right, Maggie, you saw a green ball, because the green symbolizes for you your connection to your spirit animal, your green eyes. Someone else might have seen white, to symbolize their connection to the dove, or brown for their connection to the horse. See, Maggie, everyone sees a different color, depending on their needs. The scent of the ball works the same way. You smelled catnip, because that is a scent reminiscent of the cat. Someone else would have smelled something totally different, but pertinent to their spirit animal. Do you understand now?"

  The cuddly kitten bobbed its head, causing a smile to curve Shelly's lips. She cuddled the little kitten tightly. "Maggie, the magic made you a kitten, because you are a kitten. I can feel your happiness and contentment, and I meant what I said earlier; I can make this permanent for you, if that's what you want."

  Maggie considered the witch's words. She had never known such peace and happiness before. She loved being held and cuddled. A life of curling up on a sun-filled window sill sounded awfully tempting, and at that moment she would have killed for a fresh dish of cream. Still, she wasn't sure she really wanted to spend a lifetime as a cat. Kittens do grow up, and she was a girl kitten, which meant soon she would be quite popular with the toms. That thought, and one of her eating a dead mouse, convinced her that, as wonderful as being a kitten seemed right now, she wasn't ready to take it on permanently. Glancing up at Shelly, she made her decision known. Shelly nodded her understanding. "Very well, Maggie. You have about forty-five minutes left, but...I've got an idea. Would you be interested in trying out one more tennis ball for me? Same deal as before, the effects are only temporary unless you wish otherwise. What do you say, Kitten, you feel frisky?"

  Maggie purred softly and communicated to Shelly she was definitely willing. The lovely young witch went to the shelf, opened another box, and dumped its contents on to the floor. As with the first box, another tennis ball greeted Maggie, and she watched with interest as it rolled across the floor. Shelly asked her to look at it closely and tell her what color it was. Little kitten eyes blinked and she answered the witch immediately. Shelly smiled. "Pink you say, Maggie? Yes, I thought you would say that. Now, I'm going to put you down, and I want you to go sniff it and tell me what you smell."

  The lovely lady gently released the kitten to the floor and soft paws crept up on the ball cautiously. Sniffing the ball several times, little kitten whiskers twitched, and her tail whipped back and forth. Shelly received her response and smiled again. "Cookies you say? Chocolate chip cookies, huh? I can't say that's surprising either. Well, Maggs, the ball's in your court so to speak, enjoy yourself."

  The kitten pushed the ball with her paw and, as soon as it began rolling, she pounced on it, sending the ball bouncing across the floor with Maggie in hot pursuit. Another game of bounce, pounce, and chase went into full force. Just like the last one, Maggie was so engrossed by the ball and its almost hypnotic scent, she was totally unaware of the changes that once again reshaped her body; but Shelly was not and she smiled approvingly as Maggie continued to play.

  As the changes slowly changed her body, she went from being on all fours to back on her two legs. The ball seemed to grow smaller, and herself bigger and not so quick, but the chase was every bit as enjoyable as before. She threw the ball and it bounced into Shelly's lap. When she ran to collect it, the young woman picked her up and tickled her. The sound of giggles rang in her ears, and she immediately grew wide-eyed as she knew the giggles came from her. Shelly knew it was time then, and she carried Maggie over to the full-length mirror and sat her down before it.

  Once again, she was greeted by big green eyes, but the body of the fur-covered little kitten had been replaced by long auburn curls, freckles, and the body of a six-or-seven-year-old girl. Dressed in baby blue shorts, matching t-shirt, and tennis shoes, she was adorable and cuddly once again. Little fingers felt the soft skin on her face, and then ran through her long locks. The same peace and contentment she had felt in kitten form washed over her and she smiled broadly.

   Shelly gave her the moment and then reached for her hand and led her back over to the chair. Lifting her up into her lap, she smiled at the little imp before her. The telepathic bond was no longer necessary as Maggie could now speak, but Shelly was still bonded to her on another level, and she could sense the joy in the child's heart, but also the fear and confusion. Once again, she set out to calm Maggie. "Maggie, sweetheart. You can talk now, you know?"

   Maggie took a breath, and a soft child's voice filled her ears. "Shelly, is I really a little girl?"

   The young witch smiled lovingly at the child and stroked her long auburn trusses. "Yes, Maggie, you are really a little girl."

   Maggie took another breath. "Shelly, I gots turned into the little girl 'cause of the magic ball, didn't I?"

   The witch smiled again and answered. "Well...the magic ball kinda helped a little, because you were always little girl inside." Shelly lightly tapped Maggie's chest to emphasize her point and the little girl giggled immediately. "The magic ball just helped you let her outside, Maggie, that's all."

   The little girl smiled impishly. "Kinda like when I was a kitten, Shelly? That was fun!"

   The witch's green eyes sparkled as she regarded the little bundle in her lap. "That's right, Maggie, only this magic ball released your true human form. Do you remember how you saw the color and smelled the scent that belonged to your animal spirit?"

   Maggie nodded and smiled as Shelly continued. "Well, the second ball did the very same thing. See, little one, you saw the color pink, and that's because pink represents female. If you had really been a boy inside, you would have seen blue. And, if I remember right, you smelled cookies, chocolate chip cookies. Well...everyone knows kids love cookies, especially chocolate chip ones, more than just about anything. Maggie you saw pink because you are a female. You smelled the cookies because you are a little girl in heart, soul and, now, body."

   Maggie trembled slightly, and Shelly could see the fear in the small child's big green eyes. "Shelly, do I gots to quit being a little girl when the magic is all gone, 'cause I don't want to. I wanna be a little girl all the time, Shelly, please! I don't want go back."

   The young witch wrapped her arms around the frightened child and held her close as a lifetime of tears poured out of the sobbing little girl. Rivulets of tears ran down Shelly's face too, as she felt the child's pain as if it were her own. She rocked Maggie and cooed softly in her ear. "No baby, you don't have to go back. You can be a little girl and grow up the way you always should have. Would you like that?"

   Maggie wiped the tears from her eyes. Sniffling, she managed to get out a weak, "Uh huh", before dropping her head back on Shelly's chest and cuddling close.

   The young witch smiled at the hug monster clutching her. "Your wish is my command, Maggie! Now, first of all, I need you to squeeze me real tight and then give me a kiss."

   Maggie squeezed the young woman with all the strength she could muster and then gave her a kiss on the cheek. The freckle-faced girl looked into the witch's eyes hopefully. "Is I all permanent now?"

  The petite beauty grinned at the child. "Actually, Maggie, I just wanted a hug and a kiss. NOW, I'm going to make the magic permanent."

  Shelly looked at the magic ball and immediately it rose into the air and hovered in the center of the room. Blowing it a gentle kiss, the ball exploded into a cloud of bubble-gum-colored dust and was gone. Maggie's eyes grew wide with excitement. "Shelly, is I all permanent NOW?"

  The young witch laughed. "Yes, Maggie, you 'is' all permanent now."

  The little girl bounced off the woman's lap, too happy and excited to sit still. She ran around the room, giggling and jumping for joy. Shelly watched her, her own heart overflowing with the same joy that Maggie felt.

  The small child finally stopped, and then an all-too-serious look came across her face. "Shelly, where is I gonna live. I don't gots no place to go and nobody to be with."

  The young witch quickly crossed the distance between her and Maggie; kneeling down to the little girl's level, she smiled lovingly at her. "Maggie, dear, you do have a place to go if you want it. Honey, I told you my magic comes from my heart, and now you carry it with you always. Baby, I love you as if you were my own daughter and, if you'll let me, I want you to live with me and let me take care of you."

  Maggie's emerald green's grew wide. "Does that mean you would be my mommy?"

  Shelly nodded. "Yes, baby, if you'll have me."

  Maggie jumped into her arms and answered her with hugs and kisses. The two held the embrace for quite some time before Maggie looked up into her new momma's eyes. "Momma, I still got bad thoughts in me. I 'member stuff kinda. You know, stuff before you gived me magic."

  The young witch stroked her daughter's hair. "Don't worry, baby. I am going to give you some special tea tonight before you go to bed and, when you wake up, you won't remember all those bad things anymore."

  Shelly picked up her daughter in her arms. "I think it's time we introduced you to the rest of your family. I know Jenna is dying to meet you, and I can't wait to see the looks on Becky's and Cathleen's faces."

  Maggie dropped her head on Shelly's shoulder and cuddled. "Momma, when I grow up, can I be a witch just like you?"

  The young woman smiled proudly. "Sure, baby, you are now an official witch's apprentice."

  "Wow!" exclaimed Maggie, as her momma carried the excited child from the room.

*****

Shelly stepped through the curtain and entered the selling-floor holding Maggie in her arms. When Jenna saw the pair, her eyes filled with tears of joy and she ran to them. She hugged them both, and then opened her arms to Maggie. Maggie reached toward her, and Jenna immediately pulled her in, hugging her tightly. The little girl savored the cuddle and then whispered in the woman's ears, "Jenna, I don't think I can work for you no more. I gonna live with Shelly. She's my momma now, and she's gonna teach me magic stuff."

  The strawberry-blonde kissed the child in her arms. "I know, baby, and that's okay 'cause I think you've got a much better job now."

  Maggie smiled broadly. "Me too, Jenna!"

  Jenna set the little girl down as Beagle Bailey, Becky, and finally Cathleen came flying onto the selling-floor. When the two sisters saw the little girl standing between their Aunt Shelly and their momma, they ran over to meet her.

  Becky smiled at the freckle-faced little girl. "My name is Becky and this is my little sister. Her name is Cathleen."

  Cathleen smiled proudly. "I'm Catleen!"

  Maggie rolled her eyes and blew out a breath. "I know who you is. I'm Maggie, Maggie the Cat!"

  Becky looked at the little girl, just slightly smaller than her, and frowned. "But Maggie the Cat is a big girl."

  Maggie giggled. "Shelly used magic on me and made me a little girl, so I guess I'm kinda Maggie the Kitten now, AND guess what, Becky? Shelly 'dopted me and now she's my momma!"

  Becky's green eyes grew wide. "That's kewl, Maggie, 'cause Aunt Shelly is mommy's sister, and that kinda makes us like sisters too."

  Shelly knelt down to face the girls. "Actually, Becky, your mommy is Maggie's Aunt Jenna now, and you and Cathleen are Maggie's cousins."

  Maggie smiled broadly and grabbed her momma's hand. "Momma, since they is my cousins, can I be their cousin too?"

  Jenna laughed as the young witch kissed her daughter and smiled. "Yes, Maggie, you can be their cousin too."

  The three little girls jumped up and down and then hugged each other. Suddenly, Cathleen let out a squeal as she saw Beagle Bailey had another one of her shoes. "Bailwee got my shoe."

  The little toddler took off after the playful pup. Becky smiled impishly and grabbed Maggie's hand. "C'mon, Maggie! Help us catch Bailey, she's fast and it's fun to chase her!"

  Maggie glanced up at her new momma, her eyes begging for permission. Shelly smiled and nodded, giving it to her. A few seconds later, the shop was alive with laughter and giggles as the three little girls chased the elusive pup.

  Jenna reached over to Shelly and took her hand. Smiling playfully at her sister, she spoke, "You know, Shelly, you did kind of steal Maggie from me. She would have made a great salesgirl."

  Shelly sighed happily. "Maybe, but you didn't really lose a salesgirl. You gained a niece and I got a daughter. I think everyone got what they wanted most."

  The two sisters hugged each other and, as they happily watched their children play, it was obvious everyone did get exactly want they wanted most.

  Huggles all!

  

  

  

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