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Round Trip
by: Hebe Dotson
2001

Part 1

 

"What do you mean, you can’t find your return ticket?" Aunt Cathy demanded.

"I just can’t find it, that’s all," I said. "I’ve looked everywhere in my room and every place I’ve been in the rest of the house. It’s gone."

"Have you looked in your suitcase?"

"Yes."

"Have you looked through all your pockets?"

"Yes -- I’ve even checked the dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. I’ve looked everywhere, Aunt Cathy -- honest."

"Robert James Morris!" Aunt Cathy said. "As I’m sure you remember, I told you the day you got here to give me that ticket so I could keep it safe for you. I’ve reminded you every day since then. Now, when I tell you that you can’t have dinner until you give me your ticket, you tell me that you’ve lost it." She sounded just like my mother, which wasn’t too surprising because she’s Mom’s twin sister.

"I’m sorry, Aunt Cathy."

"‘Sorry’ isn’t going to help, Bob. What’s your mother going to say? And how are we going to get you back home?"

Those were good questions. I didn’t have any good answers.

It was the summer after my sophomore year in high school. I’d just turned sixteen, and this trip to visit my aunt in California had been the biggest thing in my life so far. It had been a great trip, too, right up to the moment when I’d realized that my return ticket had flown the coop. I hadn’t done anything you’d call extravagant, but I’d been able to spend a day at Disneyland and I’d taken the Universal Studio tour. They’d both been fun, but what I’d really enjoyed the most was just wandering around and seeing the interesting buildings and people and the palm trees and the ice plants and all the other weird vegetation that could never grow back home in Maine.

My twin sister Sarah (twins run in our family) and I had saved every penny we could get our hands on for the last two years to pay our airfare. My aunt wasn’t crazy enough to have both of us visiting her at once, so I’d come first -- I’d made a little extra money shoveling snow, and I was first to have enough to buy a ticket. I’d flown out in the middle of June for my four-week stay with Aunt Cathy and her seventeen-year-old daughter, Kim. Sarah needed to earn a little more money for her ticket, so she’d taken a waitressing job at a summer hotel in Kennebunkport. She was planning to fly out to California a week after my return for her four weeks with Aunt Cathy and Cousin Kim. I was planning to get a job when I got home -- a part-time job, so I’d have plenty of spare time for hanging out with my pals.

My parents were divorced. Sarah and I lived with Mom in a rundown little rented house in Auburn. Dad and his new wife and our two little non-twin half-sisters were living in New Hampshire. Mom worked, and she was somehow managing to keep all three of us housed and clothed and fed, but just barely. Dad paid a little child support, but he wasn’t much better off himself, so he sometimes skipped a monthly payment or two -- or even three.

One thing I knew -- and knew very well -- was that Mom didn’t have the money to buy another ticket for me, and neither did Dad. Aunt Cathy was in the same position as Mom -- divorced, working, and struggling. California may be the Golden State, but Aunt Cathy hadn’t found her personal pot of gold yet.

Aaaargh! I was so stupid!

* * *

Aunt Cathy relented and let me have dinner. Between her glum expression and various cousinly barbs from Kim about my just-admitted stupidity, it wasn’t one of the more pleasant experiences of my life.

The next morning I repeated my search with Kim’s assistance, generously provided in fear that I’d have to stay if I couldn’t get home. We ransacked the house, but the ticket was still not to be found. I reported to Aunt Cathy when she got home from work, and she promptly phoned Mom. They talked for several minutes. When they finished, Aunt Cathy turned to me. "Your mother wants to talk to you," she said.

I took the phone from her. "I’m really, really sorry," I said.

"I know you are, Bobby dear. I’m sorry, too."

"What are we going to do, Mom?"

"I don’t know, dear -- not yet -- but we’ll think of something. Don’t let this spoil your trip. Something will come up, and we’ll get you home all right. I’m going to hang up now so I won’t run Aunt Cathy’s phone bill up any more, but I just wanted to tell you not to worry. Goodbye, Bobby."

"Thanks, Mom. Goodbye."

* * *

A few days later, Aunt Cathy received a thick envelope in the mail. It came from Mom by registered mail and it contained a round-trip airline ticket from Los Angeles to Portland and return. It also contained a letter from Mom. Aunt Cathy read it aloud to Kim and me.

 

After you called me and told me Bob had lost his ticket, Mom wrote, I called Sarah and talked things over with her. She offered to give up her trip so we could bring him back. At first, I was going to take her up on her offer -- I couldn’t think of anything else I could do. Then, when I went to a travel agent, I found out that a one-way ticket for Bob would cost almost as much as a round-trip ticket and I thought, "Why waste all that money?" So I bought a round-trip ticket to get Bob back home and Sarah to L.A. Bob will have to find a job when he gets back so he can earn enough to pay for Sarah’s return flight.

The round trip ticket had to be for one person, of course, she continued, so it’s in Sarah’s name and Bob is going to have to pretend to be Sarah. That brought a scream of derision from Kim and put a smile on Aunt Cathy’s face.

"Why did she do that?" I yelled. "Why couldn’t Sarah pretend to be me?"

 

I can hear Bob now, Mom wrote. "Why did she do that? Why couldn’t Sarah pretend to be me?" Because you were thoughtless and careless, Bob. Why should your sister have to pay for your mistakes? This won’t kill you, and perhaps it will teach you to be more careful in the future.

Aunt Cathy inspected the ticket. "It really is in Sarah’s name," she said, "and it’s on the same flight as you originally had, so it won’t change your plans at all -- except that you’ll have to travel in a dress."

"In a dress?" I shouted. "Why can’t I just wear jeans or something?"

"How much do you think you’d learn from that?" Aunt Cathy asked. "No, Bob. You’re going to wear a dress and heels and makeup -- the whole nine yards."

"But I don’t have any of that stuff, and I don’t have enough money to buy it," I said.

"I’m sure Kim will be glad to help you out -- she’s about your size," Aunt Cathy said. Kim smiled helpfully (and happily), and I knew I was doomed.

"But I’m not a girl," I said. "I don’t look like a girl, and I don’t have any idea how to act like a girl."

"You look just like Sarah," Aunt Cathy said. "And Kim and I have almost two weeks to teach you all you need to know -- or at least enough to get you by -- and we’re going to start right now."

"What if I…"

"No arguments, Bobbi. You’re going to cooperate with us, and you’re going to learn everything we decide to teach you. Otherwise, you’re going to look like a boy in a dress when you get on that plane, and the security people may decide not to let you on board."

I was doomed. Doomed!

* * *

Two hours later, when we sat down for a late dinner, I was wearing a dress. And a bra padded with wadded-up socks. And panties. And a slip. And pantyhose and a pair of shoes with two-inch heels. I had shaved the peach fuzz off my chin and legs and Aunt Cathy, who usually did Kim’s hair, had converted my longish locks into a curly feminine hairdo. I was wearing lipstick and a little blush and a necklace and clip-on earrings. And damned if I didn’t look almost exactly like Sarah -- but I certainly didn’t feel like her. How did I feel? Good and bad. I had always considered my sister to be a gorgeous girl, even though I would never have admitted that to her, so I felt perversely good to think that I was almost as gorgeous. And bad -- really bad -- to think that I looked like a pretty girl and felt good -- even perversely good -- about it.

Dinner was a seminar in girlish behavior -- how to sit, how to talk -- even what to eat and how to eat it, for Pete’s sake! Things got even worse after Kim and I cleared the table and washed the dinner dishes -- I got lessons in how to walk! I was afraid I’d sprain an ankle in those stupid high heels, but I came through it all unscathed though still inexpert. Tomorrow would be much more of the same, Professor Kim promised as she handed me a pink polyester nightgown for my girl-sleep training.

* * *

The training continued for several more days under the intensive scrutiny of Master Sergeant Kim, with occasional oversight from Captain Cathy. Kim began the process by explaining my options one more time. I was going to travel as Sarah Morris, and I was going to wear a dress and heels. Those were not options. We all wanted me to get home without any difficulties. When the airline people looked at me, we wanted them to see a girl -- therefore, the dress. If they happened to look at me again, we wanted them to see a girl the second time, too -- therefore I had to learn how to behave and sound like a girl. My one option was either to work hard and master my role or goof off and take the risk of being derided from coast to coast or -- even worse -- not being allowed to travel under Sarah’s name. I knew they were right and I agreed, though not enthusiastically, to make an honest effort to learn everything they tried to teach me. And I had a lot to learn! I was drilled, critiqued, and drilled again and again until I finally began to overcome my masculine habits and tendencies. I learned to walk like a girl and talk like a girl. I learned how to dress myself satisfactorily and do my own makeup and hair. Female facial expressions and gestures became second nature to me. I was almost ready for my Girlhood Achievement Certificate, Kim told me. Almost…

My relationship with Kim had changed in the last few days. On the few occasions that I’d seen her in the past, she’d always gotten along fine with Sarah but had had a somewhat adversarial relationship with me. This time it had been much, much worse. When she began instructing me, she found fault with almost everything I did and was constantly criticizing me in rather unfriendly terms. However, as I began to catch on and do things right more and more often, something happened -- her criticisms were transformed into cheerful reminders and she laughed and joked with me. We had become girlfriends, and it was the two of us against the world. I liked it, so help me -- I actually enjoyed being her girlfriend.

* * *

On the Wednesday evening before my scheduled Saturday night redeye flight, Kim pronounced me ready for a test run at the mall. "Don’t you think so, Mom?" she asked.

"Yes, I do," Aunt Cathy said. "You’ve made wonderful progress, Bobbi."

"Thanks," I said. "But why do we have to go to the mall?"

"Two reasons," Kim said. "You’ve got to get used to being out in public before you go to the airport -- right?"

"I guess so," I said. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but I could see the necessity. "What’s the other reason?"

"We’ve got to get you your own underwear," Kim said. "We’ve managed so far by laundering twice a week, but I haven’t got enough for you to wear any of it back to Maine."

"I don’t have much money left," I said. "Only about thirty dollars."

"That should be plenty," Kim said. "Do you want to come with us, Mom?"

"No, thanks," Aunt Cathy said. "You can take the car."

"Thanks, Mom. Are you ready to go, Bobbi?"

"Do I look all right?" I was wearing a short-sleeved top, a pair of Kim’s jeans, and low-heeled sandals.

"Perfect!" said Kim, who was dressed the same as I was. "Oh -- before we go, I’ve got something for you." She beckoned to me to follow her. We went into her bedroom. She opened the bottom drawer of her dresser, dug under some folded clothing, and pulled out two flesh-colored blobs. "Here, you can have these."

"What are they?"

"They’re breast forms. I was a little slow developing and I got too impatient to wait any longer for Momma Nature, so I broke open my piggy bank and bought these. They weren’t expensive, but they did the job. I don’t need them any more, so you can have them -- a little gift to celebrate your graduation from Cousin Kimberly’s Academy for Refined Young Ladies."

"Thanks, Kim -- these are great!" I hugged her.

"You’re welcome. Go ahead and put them in your bra, and then we can be on our way."

* * *

The mall was only moderately crowded, and Kim was able to find a parking space near the entrance to the Mayco department store. She thought I should buy myself a bra, two pairs of panties, two pairs of pantyhose, and a lipstick. I could borrow one of Kim’s dresses and a pair of her shoes to wear on the plane, and Aunt Cathy would loan me a handbag. Sarah could bring the borrowed items back with her.

I felt a bit nervous, to say the least, about my first public appearance, but Kim told me not to worry. "You just have to believe you’re a girl," she said. "You look like a girl, you talk like a girl, you act like a girl. Anyone who sees you will think you’re a girl. Now all you have to do is believe in yourself and you’ll be a girl."

"That’s easy to say, but what if I do something wrong?"

"Just don’t worry about it. If you should happen to slip up somehow -- and I don’t think you will -- there’ll be no need to feel embarrassed. There’s no one here who knows you."

I knew she was right, and that gave me confidence. We marched into the store together and Kim led the way to the lingerie department. Several lines of lingerie were on sale that night. As we pawed through the marked-down merchandise in search of the best bargains, I was half expecting the public address system to announce that there was a boy at large in the lingerie department and the police were on their way to the scene of the crime -- but of course that didn’t happen. Kim told me what sizes to buy and I made the selections, with her advice -- one bra, two pairs of panties, and two pairs of pantyhose, exactly as planned.

"I’ve got six dollars and eighty-seven cents left," I announced after paying for my purchases. "How much will the lipstick cost?"

"Most of what you’ve got," Kim said. "Tell you what -- I’ve got an old one that’s almost used up. You can have it -- there’s enough in it to get you back to Maine -- and I’ll get myself a new one."

"Thanks, Kim."

"You’re welcome. Now let’s go to the food court -- you can buy us Cokes."

* * *

We found an empty table in the food court and sat down to nurse our Cokes, survey the passers-by, and plan my last three days in Los Angeles. Kim wanted us to go to the beach in the morning, but I didn’t think that was a good idea -- I didn’t believe I could pass scrutiny in a swimsuit. Besides, I only had a pair of trunks. Kim assured me that she could find something for me that would look just fine.

As we were debating, I suddenly realized that Kim was looking past me and smiling. I heard a male voice behind me say, "Hi, Kim! What’s happening?" and I turned my head to see two sun-bronzed surfer dudes in their late teens bearing down on us.

"Hi, Jason! Hi, Chad!" Kim said.

The two dudes swept up to our table. One was blond and the other black-haired. "Mind if we join you?" the blond one asked.

"Of course we do," Kim said with a big smile.

"In that case, we’ll join you anyway," blond dude said as he pulled up a chair.

Black-haired dude dropped into the fourth chair. "Who’s your friend, Kim?" he asked.

"She’s no friend," Kim said. "She’s my cousin -- Bobbi Morris. Bobbi, this is Chad Nichols…" (the black-haired guy) "and Jason Reynolds. They go to my high school -- or they did. They graduated last spring. No one knows how they did it."

"Don’t ask us," Chad said.

"We don’t know either," Jason added.

"And they’re going to UCLA this fall," Kim said.

"No one knows how that happened, either," Chad said. "Do you live around here, Bobbi?"

I waited a moment, hoping Kim would answer for me, but she didn’t. I realized that I’d have to say something with my very own vocal cords, and I hoped whatever I said would come out girlspeak. "No," I said. "I’m just visiting." I guess I said it all right because no one looked startled.

"Where from?" Jason asked.

"Maine."

"Wow!" Chad said. "You’re a long way from home. How do you like California?"

"It’s great," I said. "I’m having a wonderful time."

"Especially now that she’s met some California guys," Kim said. I shot her a dirty look, but she ignored it.

"This must be your lucky day," Chad said. "Mine, too -- I’ve never met a girl from Maine before."

I seemed to be falling into a situation that I wasn’t at all sure I could handle. Cousin Kimberly’s Academy hadn’t offered any courses on repartee with surfer dudes. Maybe I could toss the ball to the headmistress. "Sure you have," I said. "Kim’s from Maine, too."

"I didn’t know that," Jason said.

"No one knows my hidden secrets," Kim said. "I’m a woman of mystery."

"Well, mystery gal, I remember that you were my sister’s best friend when she was in kindergarten," Jason said.

"True. My parents moved here from Maine when I was only two."

"So that makes you a Californian, I’d say," Jason said.

"I don’t know," Kim replied. "If I’d moved to Maine from California when I was two, I’d always be ‘from away’."

"We’re not so exclusive here," Jason said. "You’re a Californian."

"We’ll let you be a Californian, too," Chad said to me, "if you want to."

"That’s a tempting offer," I said, "but then it wouldn’t be your lucky day any more. Besides, I’m going back home Saturday, and I’d hate to have everyone there think I was from away."

"This Saturday?" Chad said. "We really should…" He was cut off by the mall’s public address system. "The mall will be closing in fifteen minutes," an amplified voice boomed. "Please make your way to the exits. Thank you, and good night."

Kim finished her Coke and stood up. "We’ve got to go all the way to the Mayco," she said. "We’d better get going."

"We’re parked at the other end," Jason said. "We’ll keep you company to the Mayco if you’ll give us a ride to our car."

"Okay," Kim said. She and Jason took off at a good clip, talking up a storm, while Chad and I trailed along behind them. Chad didn’t have much to say, which was fine with me since I didn’t have a thing to say myself.

We zipped through the Mayco and out into the parking lot. I slid into the front passenger seat, preempting Jason, and the boys piled into the back seat. Kim drove the length of the mall to Jason’s car. Jason said good night to Kim and me and got into his car. Chad held back for a minute.

"It was nice to meet you, Bobbi," Chad said. "I’m sorry you’re going back to Maine so soon -- it would have been fun to show you some of the California sights."

 

No way! was what I wanted to say, but that seemed impolite, so I just smiled and said, "I’m sorry, too, Chad. Good night."

"She’s going to be here three more days," Kim said.

"Oh…well…" Chad said. At that moment, Jason honked his horn and beckoned impatiently to Chad. "Uh…good night," Chad said.

He hurried off to Jason’s car, and Kim and I headed home.

* * *

"What in the world were you doing?" I asked Kim. "I mean, it’s almost as if you were pushing Chad at me."

"Didn’t you like him? I think he’s really cute."

"He’s all right," I said. "I mean, I didn’t dislike him or anything. But I’m not looking for some guy to get interested in me -- I’m a boy, or at least I will be when I get back home and out of these clothes."

"I know," Kim said. "It’s just that…I have this thing for Jason."

"That’s fine, but what does that have to do with me?"

"I’ve been trying to get Jason interested in me for more than a year," she said. "So when he and Chad came over to talk to us, I wasn’t about to let them get away. Since Chad seemed to like you, I thought…well, I guess I shouldn’t have…"

"That’s right," I said. "You shouldn’t have."

"But I did. I’m sorry, Bobbi -- I wasn’t thinking. But you survived."

"Yes, but…I wasn’t ready for that sort of thing," I said. "Not that I wanted to be," I added hastily, "but it wasn’t part of the Kim Academy curriculum."

"Just think of it as extracurricular lab work. You passed."

"That’s good -- I wouldn’t want to take that course over again."

* * *

"Come on!" Kim said the next morning. She was wearing a bright red bikini. "It will be fun! You don’t want to go home without going to a California beach."

"Look," I said. "You know I can’t get away with wearing a swimsuit."

"Sure you can, if it’s the right suit. Mom has an old one that should fit you. I’ll dig it out and you can try it on, and if you don’t feel okay about it, we won’t go. Fair enough?"

"I guess so."

Kim went into Aunt Cathy’s bedroom and came back a few minutes later with a couple of pieces of teal-blue cloth in her hand. "Put this on," she said.

I took the swimsuit into my room and obediently put it on. The halter top was unexpectedly modest, with a cloth panel that extended to the throat and tied around the neck, completely concealing the wearer’s cleavage (or, in my case, non-cleavage). The bottom was a spandex panty, sturdy enough to hold my tucked-away male apparatus in place, with a little skirt for even greater modesty. I put it on, inserted my breast forms in the top, and looked at myself in the mirror. I wasn’t exactly curvaceous in the waist and hips area, but I’d seen plenty of girls on the Maine beaches who were no less angular.

I went out to show Kim. "You look okay to me," she said. "Don’t you think so?"

"I guess I’m okay," I admitted. "Can I wear these breast forms in the water?"

"Sure -- if you really want to go in. It’s pretty cold."

"I’m from Maine!" I said.

"Yes, but…well, let’s get going."

Wearing sun hats and sandals, with jeans and long-sleeved cotton shirts over our swimsuits, we walked two blocks to the bus stop. The beach was a 35-minute bus ride from home. It was a gorgeous, sparkling day, and the sand and ocean were spectacular in the sunshine. Since it was a weekday, the beach wasn’t too crowded. We found a place to spread our blanket, took off our shirts and jeans, coated each other with sunscreen, and lay down to enjoy it all. One of us took extra pleasure in observing the dozens of truly remarkable beach bunnies, wishing only that he were in a position to get acquainted with some of them.

Kim had brought a couple of paperback romance novels in her beach bag. She kept one book and gave the other to me. "I think you might like this one," she said. I made a face at her. "I know, it’s a stupid romance novel," she said, "but it’s a little different." I looked at the cover -- The Masqueraders, by Georgette Heyer. I decided to read the first chapter and see if I liked it -- after all, I didn’t have anything else to read.

We lay on our backs, reading, for half an hour, re-coated ourselves, and lay on our stomachs for half an hour. "I think we should rent a beach umbrella," Kim said. "We don’t want to get too much sun. There’s a concessions stand just down the beach that rents them -- if you’ll watch our stuff, I’ll go get one."

"Okay." I cradled my head in my arms and closed my eyes contentedly.

A few minutes later, I heard Kim’s voice. "I’m back," she said. I opened my eyes and saw six feet standing next to me. The two with painted toenails were Kim’s. I raised my head and looked up. The other four -- you guessed it! -- were attached to Jason and Chad, who were carrying an enormous umbrella.

"Guess who’s working at the concessions stand!" Kim said brightly. "And guess who’s letting us have a free umbrella!"

 

What a wonderful surprise, I growled to myself. I’d like to kill her. I put a smile on my face and a lilt in my voice. "Jason and Chad! What a wonderful surprise!" I said, hardly believing I’d said it.

The boys opened the umbrella and stuck it in the sand. "We can’t stay -- we’ve got to go back to work," Jason said.

"But we get our lunch break in half an hour," Chad said. "If you’d like, we can get burgers and Cokes for the four of us and bring them here."

Kim looked at me. "That would be very nice," I said.

"Okay, great!" Chad said. "We’ll be back in a few minutes."

Kim sat down beside me and we watched the boys sprint down the beach to the concessions stand. "You’re a good sport, Bobbi," she said.

"Of all the concessions stands on the California coast," I said, "I can’t believe that you walked into theirs. Coincidence?"

"Well…not exactly. I told Jason last night that we might go to the beach today, and he said they’d be working here. But this was the beach I’d already planned on, and we’re on the part of it that I like best, so it’s sort of a coincidence."

"Okay," I said. "I’ll forgive you this time. I’ll be going home in two days, so I guess I can put up with them, just for you. I’m not going to flirt with Chad or anything like that, but I’ll be a cheerful member of the foursome."

"Terrific! That’s all I could ask for," she said as she hugged me.

* * *

Jason and Chad, true to their word, came back in half an hour with hamburgers, fries, and Cokes for all. They had to eat quickly because they were allowed only forty-five minutes for lunch. "But we get a half-hour break at 2:30," Jason said. "We’ll be back then."

Kim and I settled down with our books in the umbrella’s shade. I woke up from a short nap to find that we were both partially in the full sun. I shook Kim awake and we retreated to the shade. It was all very pleasant and peaceful.

The peace vanished when the boys returned at 2:30. They were full of energy and ready for a swim. "You’re kidding," Kim said. "That water’s like ice."

"It’s okay once you get used to it," Jason said.

"If you live through it," Kim muttered. We looked at each other and stood up. The boys charged across the beach and into the surf while we followed sedately behind. I was going to show them the meaning of macho, I decided. I was from Maine, where the ocean was really cold.

Kim stepped carefully into the water and I followed. The first step wasn’t too bad. The second step was uncomfortable and the third was positively painful. If I turned my head and looked behind me, I’d see palm trees -- and yet the water felt as cold as it did in Maine!

"I’m not going to swim in this," Kim said.

"I can take it," I said -- and then I had an epiphany. I didn’t have to take it. I didn’t have to prove I was as tough as Chad and Jason. "But I’m not going to," I added hastily. Kim smiled at me.

Kim and I waded around on the edge of the water, where the warmth of the sand offset the chill to some extent. Jason and Chad charged in and out of the waves. Jason urged Kim to get wet all over, but she held back. Chad and I watched as Jason grabbed Kim’s hands and tried to pull her farther into the water. She pulled back, laughing and squealing. "Don’t you dare, Jason!" she shouted. "It’s too cold!" Obviously, Jason was strong enough to toss her into the waves, but he thought better of it and let her go.

Now it was my turn. "How about you, Maine girl?" Chad said. "This isn’t too cold for you, is it?" He took my hands and tried to pull me into the waves, but I profited from Professor Kim’s latest lecture. I dug in my heels and laughed and squealed just as she had. "No, Chad!" I said. "I was wrong -- I admit it! The water’s a lot colder here!" He laughed and let me go.

The boys’ next tactic was to splash a little water on us to show that "it wasn’t all that cold." We retreated to the beach, out of range. When they realized we’d had enough of the water, they followed us back to our blanket.

Chad looked at his watch. "Our break’s over," he said. "We’ve got to go back to work."

"How about taking the umbrella back with you," Kim said. "We’re going home now."

"Why don’t you stay until six?" Jason said. "We get off work then, and we can give you a ride home."

"No, I think we’d better go now. If Bobbi gets any more sun, she’s going to look like a Maine lobster."

"How about pizza and a movie tomorrow night?" Jason said.

"That’s fine with me," Kim said. "It’s up to Bobbi -- she may want to pack or something. What do you think, cuz?"

She’d given me an out, and I appreciated it, especially since I knew how much she wanted to date Jason. But maybe Chad didn’t want to date me…

"Come on, Bobbi," Chad said. "You can pack Saturday. How long can it take, anyway."

"Oh, about twenty minutes," I said. "Okay -- count me in."

The boys said they’d pick us up at seven and hurried back to work, carrying the umbrella. We put our shirts and jeans on, packed our things in Kim’s beach bag, and began our walk to the bus stop.

"One thing…" Kim said.

"What’s that?"

"When you get back to Maine and become El Roberto again, don’t go wandering around bare-chested. You’re going to have some very interesting tan lines."

* * *

As seven o’clock approached, I began to feel more and more nervous. I’d only had two (unspectacular) dates with girls, and now I was about to have one with a boy. I felt woefully inexperienced.

"Don’t worry about it," Kim said. "They’re both nice boys, and they won’t give us any problems."

"But what do I do? I haven’t a clue!"

"Just watch me," Kim said airily.

"But you’re in love, you lunatic, and I just want to get through the evening! If Jason wants to kiss you, you’ll let him, won’t you?"

"Oh…probably."

"And what if Chad wants to…to kiss me?" I asked.

"That’s up to you."

"Kim!"

"Sorry, dear. Look, if he makes a move on you and you don’t want him to, just turn your head so he smooches you on the cheek."

"Well, of course I won’t want him to," I said, "but what do I say to him?"

"Just give him a nice smile and tell him you never kiss a boy on the first date."

"And there won’t be a second date," I said.

"That’s his problem, not yours."

"True. Okay, what are we going to wear?"

* * *

As Aunt Cathy had insisted -- she had her reasons, she said -- Kim and I were ready for our dates half an hour early, at 6:30. We had decided to wear skirts and blouses, pantyhose, and low heels, and Aunt Cathy had devoted a lot of effort to helping us get our hair and makeup just right.

"You both look just lovely," she said, "and I want to take some pictures of you." She picked up her camera, led us out to the back yard, and posed us in front of the lemon tree. She took pictures of both of us from several distances and then repeated the process for each of us individually. "You’ll both treasure these," she assured us.

She asked us if we wanted our pictures taken with Chad and Jason. We exchanged glances and shook our heads. We both would have felt totally embarrassed and, besides that, the last thing I needed in my life was photographic evidence that "Bobbi" had dated a boy. Aunt Cathy seemed disappointed, but she couldn’t persuade us to change our minds.

* * *

Chad and Jason arrived right on time. They came in to meet Aunt Cathy and receive their orders to bring Kim and me home no later than midnight. With that accomplished, we walked out to Jason’s car. It had looked a little ratty at the mall, but it had obviously been washed and vacuumed out since then.

Jason opened the front passenger door for Kim while Chad held a rear door open for me. We settled in and fastened our seat belts and Jason started the engine and pulled away from the curb.

"You girls look really awesome tonight," Chad said.

"Thank you," I said. "You guys look pretty awesome yourselves." The surfer dude look was gone -- they were wearing sports shirts, slacks, and blazers.

The next day -- oh, I guess you probably want to hear more about that night. Well, we went to a nice Italian restaurant where we didn’t have to have pizza but did anyway. Then we went to the local 500-screen Megacineplexeon and saw a completely unmemorable movie -- it was actually fairly funny but I can’t remember its name. I do remember that Chad put his arm around me about halfway through the movie. I felt a little strange about that, but I didn’t want to make a fuss. That encouraged him to reach out and take my hand a few minutes later. I looked at him and he smiled at me and I, for some totally unknown reason, smiled back.

The movie was over at 10:30, too early to go home, so the boys took us to a rather peculiar miniature golf course -- each hole was a tiny set from a Cecil B. De Mille movie. Jason said that the owner had been one of De Mille’s set builders, years ago of course. I’m usually pretty good at miniature golf, but not that night -- I think my heels threw my balance off. I came in fourth, but I didn’t care -- we were having too much fun to worry about scores.

Jason pulled up to the curb in front of our house at 11:55 and turned off his lights and engine. I watched the front seat carefully to see what he and Kim would do. At the same time, I glanced at Chad from the corner of my eye -- he was watching the front seat just as carefully as I was. Jason put his right arm across Kim’s shoulders and pulled her toward him. She slid to her left with no reluctance. He touched her cheek with his hand, turning her face toward his. He smiled at her and she returned his smile and closed her eyes. They kissed.

From the corner of my eye, I saw Chad inch closer to me and I felt his arm slide across my shoulders and tug me gently toward him. I prepared myself to present my cheek to him. That was when I had another epiphany: I really liked Chad. He was a nice guy and a lot of fun -- someone I’d enjoy having as a friend. I decided that I really wanted him to have happy memories of our one date. I slid closer to him and turned to face him. He smiled at me. I smiled back and closed my eyes and we gently kissed. It was my first kiss, and it was nice. I imagined he was Meg Ryan and I’m sure he never for a moment imagined I was Robert James Morris -- he was more likely imagining Meg Ryan too.

"We’d better go in, Bobbi," Kim said. "Mom will be mad if we’re even a minute late."

We all piled out of the car and hurried up the walk to the porch. Jason looked at his watch. "We’ve still got almost a minute!" he said as he pulled Kim into his arms.

"Thank you so much, Chad," I said. "This was a wonderful way to end my vacation."

"I wish you weren’t going so soon, Bobbi." He took my hands in his.

"So do I," I said truthfully. "It’s been a lot of fun."

Chad embraced me and pulled me closer. I wrapped my arms around his neck, lifted my face, and closed my eyes. He didn’t feel the least bit like Meg Ryan (I say this in retrospect, because I know I wasn’t thinking of Meg at all at the time). He felt like Chad and -- just for a moment -- I was a girl, a girl in his arms, a girl named Bobbi. His kiss was warm and firm, and I kissed him right back.

"Come on, break it up, you lovebirds," Kim said. "I can hear the clock striking in there." She put her key in the lock and opened the door. Chad and I exchanged smiles and I hurried inside, right behind Kim.

* * *

"I don’t think I have to ask if you had a good time tonight," Kim said. She had beckoned me into her room when I came out of the bathroom, all ready for bed.

"It was fun," I admitted.

"Well, Miss ‘What-do-I-do-if-he-tries-to-kiss-me,’ I didn’t see you having any problems making up your mind."

"I guess I didn’t. Well, I like him and I didn’t see anything wrong with kissing him, as long as he thought I was a girl. I wouldn’t do it again, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt me any to do it once."

"Twice," she said.

"All right, twice -- but that’s it. I’ll never see him again. I kind of surprised myself, though. Well, nobody knows except us -- I’m glad your mom didn’t see us."

"But she did."

"What?" I yelled.

"Shhhhhhh! Keep it down. Her bedroom window has a clear view of the porch. I’ve known that for years. That’s why I sort of pulled Jason over to the side."

"Thanks for the warning," I said. "Well, maybe she wasn’t looking."

"She was -- I could see the curtain moving."

"Oh, great!" I said. "I hope she doesn’t tell my mom -- or Sarah."

"She won’t. She’s cool. She was talking to me just before Jason and Chad got here. She said you looked so cute that you’d really have to fight Chad off, and I told her I wouldn’t let anything bad happen to you. I think she just wanted to see if she was right."

"I’m a real fighter, aren’t I?" I said.

"Don’t let it bother you. You really are cute, you know. You can’t blame Chad -- and, like you said, it’s not going to happen again. Under those circumstances, it’s okay to kiss a boy once."

"Twice," I said.

* * *

My flight home left Los Angeles International at eleven o’clock Saturday night. Aunt Cathy and Kim drove me to the airport. It was hard to leave -- we’d become very close in the last two weeks. I hugged both of them, set my handbag on the moving belt to the X-ray machine, walked through the metal detector, and waved goodbye to them from the other side. There were no security problems, and passenger Sarah Morris encountered no challenges when she boarded her flight.

The flight was less than half full, and I had a row of seats to myself. When the plane was in the air and the lights of the city had disappeared, I opened my handbag and took my book out. I hadn’t quite finished reading The Masqueraders, so Kim had let me borrow it. I read for a few minutes and then turned my light off, stretched out, and tried to sleep.

I slept sporadically and finally gave up when the sky grew light. It was 3:30 in the morning, Pacific time -- 6:30, Eastern time. The captain turned the cabin lights on at seven and the flight attendants began serving breakfast a few minutes later. We landed at Dulles International, just outside Washington, at about 8:30 -- I was back in my native time zone, but still several hours from home.

I had an hour and a half to kill before my next flight departed for Portland -- not enough time to do anything but wait. What I really wanted to do was sleep, but I was afraid of missing my flight, so I made myself stay awake. I walked around for a few minutes and then made my way to the gate for the Portland flight, where I finished my book just as a loudspeaker announced that the flight was ready for boarding.

This plane was much, much smaller than the one that had flown me across the country, and it was full. I read most of the way (Kim had let me have the other book we’d taken to the beach -- it was another romance novel, not as good as The Masqueraders, but the handsome hero was named Chad). At 11:20, we were told to prepare for landing, and I put the book back in my handbag and gazed out the window as the plane descended over the islands of Casco Bay and landed at the Portland Jetport.

I saw Mom as soon as I entered the terminal, and Sarah was with her. They were both scanning the crowd for me, but even though they knew I was traveling as Bobbi, they were trying to find Bob. If Sarah had been looking for her mirror image, she might have spotted me, but she didn’t. It was so funny that I had all I could do to keep from laughing. I was practically on top of them before they gasped and opened their arms to welcome me.

"I can’t believe it!" Mom said.

"You look so pretty!" Sarah almost shouted.

I was afraid these expressions of disbelief would attract a crowd of people wondering what it was they shouldn’t believe. "Hey, take it easy," I said. "It’s just me. Let’s go get my suitcase."

I claimed my bag, Mom bailed the car out of the parking garage, and we drove over to the Maine Mall, where I was invited to select a restaurant. Over lunch, I told them all (or almost all) about my trip and conveyed Aunt Cathy’s and Kim’s love. They couldn’t take their eyes off me -- I was beginning to feel embarrassed.

After lunch, we got on the Turnpike for the forty-minute trip home. That was when I began to worry that someone I knew might see me. As we drove into our neighborhood, I slouched down in my seat -- unnecessarily, as no one was out on the sidewalks or porches. Fortunately, our garage was connected directly to the house and (since this was Maine) it was reserved for the car rather than for storage space. Mom used the automatic garage door opener to get us into the garage and close the door behind us, and I was safely home.

Now, at last, I could banish Bobbi and extend a hearty "Welcome back!" to Bob. I hauled my suitcase up to my room and looked at my bed -- an appealing, enticing vision. Kicking off my heels, I succumbed -- just for a minute…

I could hear Mom’s voice. I opened my eyes with great difficulty. She was sitting on the edge of my bed, smiling at me. "Supper’s ready, dear," she said.

I sat up. "Just let me change clothes," I said. "It’ll only take a minute."

"Oh, no -- not yet. I have to take a few pictures of my two gorgeous girls."

"Mom!"

"And after that, there’s something we need to talk about." She stood up and left the room. What did we need to talk about? That sounded ominous. I glanced in the mirror -- I was a wreck. I went into the bathroom, rinsed my face in cold water, brushed my hair into place, refreshed my lipstick, and hurried downstairs.

 

To be continued

 

 


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2001 by Hebe Dotson. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.