Chapter Thirteen

"Whoo!" Carys set her mug back down on the table and called out, "Coffee's a little strong this morning, Jami! You trying to put hair on my chest?"

Jami walked into the kitchen, toweling her hair dry and wearing only a T-shirt and underpants. "It'd be cheaper than hormones, if that's what you want."

"Well, keep it away from me then," said Tam, coming into the kitchen and pulling out a chair.

"Good morning, sleepy-head," said Jami. "I'll be back as soon as I hang up this towel."

"I wasn't really asleep. I just needed to think for a while before I faced the world." Tam stood up as Jami returned and walked to the counter, where Carys was adding creamer to her coffee.

Carys smiled. "I often thought, when I was growing up, that bed was a reality-free zone. The place of dreams." She looked thoughtful at saying that, set her cup on the table and walked out of the kitchen. "Would you like some pants, Jami?"

"Please!"

Tam poured a cup of coffee, sniffed it, took a cautious sip. "Hey, not bad. I guess I'll risk the hirsuitism."

Jami also poured a cup, took a sip. "Gah! That is rather strong." She ran a little water into the pot, put it back on the warmer. "I suppose I could actually measure the coffee instead of just putting in what looks right, but I prefer to live dangerously."

"As a cat, Jami, a little fur shouldn't bother you," said Tam.

Jami purred at Tam, then said, "You may have noticed that I am not particularly furry, anywhere?" She turned from side to side.

Tam blushed. "Eeep." She took a sip of coffee.

Carys returned to the kitchen with a piece of paper and some black sweats for Jami. She sat down at her place, reading the piece of paper.

"Not this coffee, nor anything else, will make me furry," said Jami, pulling on the sweats and sitting at the table. "I'm a PAIS cat, partial androgen insensitivity syndrome. Grade 5 on a scale someone once came up with." Jami ticked off on her fingers. "That means I have almost normal female genitals, with an enlarged clitoris, some pubic and some underarm hair. My body simply does not react to testosterone."

"I wish some of that would rub off on me," mumbled Tam into her coffee cup.

"You're not hairy at all, Tam," said Jami, reaching out to stroke Tam's arm.

"No, thank the elder gods. What little body hair I had has pretty much disappeared since I started taking anti-androgen and estrogen."

Carys looked up at that. "What are you going to do about that long-term?"

"My immediate goal is to loose a couple of small bits."

"Have you seen my scar?" asked Jami.

Tam shook her head. Jami stood up and pulled up her shirt. She pointed to a barely visible line on her abdomen. "My gonadal tissue was removed when I was very young," she said. "It was felt there's a tendency for it to become cancerous in AIS people, though I don't think they're quite so certain about that any longer. Whatever. It's long gone."

"Doesn't the body convert some of the testosterone to a form of estrogen? Isn't that necessary for puberty?" asked Tam.

"Yes," nodded Jami. "The estrogen and testosterone molecules are very similar, and some conversion does occur, naturally, in everyone. So of course it's not true that girls have only estrogen in their bodies and boys have only testosterone. Sex is a lot more complicated than that." Jami too a sip of coffee, grimaced. "But to answer your question, I take a low maintenance dose of estrogen."

"And I'm on the pill, too," said Carys. "We're a bunch of hormone junkies."

"Huh? You're on the pill? Why?" asked Tam.

"Not because I'm worried about getting pregnant, obviously. My periods, which I hate, loathe and despise, are wildly erratic without being forced into a regular cycle. I prefer that to being unpleasantly surprised. I don't know exactly what the deal is with my body. I've never had a doctor who cared to figure it out. This is America you know; so long as a pill a day fixes it, why bother?"

"Do you care?" asked Tam.

Carys drained her coffee. "I'm still working on deciding that. I am not incredibly happy with my body, especially the boobs. I'm not at all happy with the social expectations placed on women. The occasional orgasm is nice. I sometimes fantasize about having a larger clitoris. I just haven't assembled all the pieces of my self into a target image, as yet. Too bad we can't swap some pieces, Tam."

Jami picked up the pepper mill and began talking into it as if it were a microphone. "Yes, Midwest America listening audience, that's what breakfast conversation is like around the table at the CJT ranch."

"The CJT ranch?" said Tam.

"CJT. It'd make a good brand," mused Carys.

"Just so's it's not no dude ranch," drawled Tam, "'cause I ain't no dude."

"Can I be a dude?" said Carys.

"No problemo," said Jami. "Now where did I put that transmogrification gadget?"

"What's on the piece of paper?" asked Tam.

"A poem," said Carys. "We were talking about bed being a no-reality zone, and I said something about dreams that made me think of this. It's one of Kathy's poems." She read from the sheet of paper she was holding.

   Thin lines

   The universe is a network
   of so, so thin lines.
   Life and death,
   boy and girl,
   love and friendship,
   conscious and unconscious;
   They weave in warp and weft

   of Dreams...

   What mighty creatures be they,
   to stalk the night
   as swift conquerers
   of upheld reason.
   Perfection unequaled,
   bliss unending,
   power unchallenged;
   they do their battle

   against Reality...

   I am cold in a place you cannot touch,
   in a way you cannot reach.
   You do not touch,
   do not reach.
   Touch me.
   Reach me.
   I need you so much,
   but you're not there

   in the fabric of my existence.

"Ouch," said Tam.

Jami reached out to take one of Tam's hands, then one of Cary's hands. Carys reached for Tam.

"We are very lucky," said Jami, softly.

"Yes, we are," agreed Carys. "Now I need to call the lawyer and see how soon she'll see us."

Jami and Tam cleaned up the kitchen while Carys went to the bedroom to call the law office. She talked with the secretary.

"I talked with Ms. Emerson last Wednesday. I have a problem. The situation we talked about has become even more complicated. There's some really bad stuff involved. I'm scared. I'd really like to talk with her again as soon as possible."

The secretary said that Ms. Emerson had a rather full day, but she'd check with her as soon as possible and call Carys if there was any possibility of an opening.

Jami left for work at the mall. Tam stayed with Carys.

"Miss class or stay with you in case we can talk to the lawyer? That's not even a question, Carys. Of course this is more important."

They sat at the low table in the center section, talking about ideas for the gender performance troupe. After about an hour Carys's cell rang.

"Hello? Oh, Ms. Emerson! Yes. We did take a look at the disk. Not much of a look, but what we found is really scary. Should I say on the phone? Okay. Um, it looks like someone was selling drugs and pornography, probably to high school students. Yes, I'm pretty certain. There's more, but it's really complicated. Any time. I'm just sitting here with Tam biting my nails, so to speak. Four o'clock. Yes. Thank you so, so much!"

Carys called Jami at work to let her know that she and Tam would go to the law office at four o'clock, so they would probably not be back in the apartment when Jami arrived after work.

Tam decided to catch the bus to campus for her one o'clock class. She would either return to the apartment by half past three, or meet Carys at the law office. The weather was decent, so Carys was planning on walking to the meeting.

After Tam left, Carys poured the rest of the coffee down the drain. She made herself a cup of tea and curled up on the window seat, a blanket over her legs, to write in her journal.

I thought I was pretty settled, only what, two months ago? Living with Jami, doing my accounting and clowning. Now Tam is spending a lot of time with us. I'm working on changing my clown act into a performance troupe. And I'm up to my neck in I don't know what kind of mess. I've talked to a lawyer, I've talked to a priest, I've lost a friend who I now realize I may not have known at all, I'm suspicious of another person I thought was a friend. (If Crystal is involved with this, that'll change my plans for the troupe, as well. Damn.)

Right now I just want to get that disk and its ugliness out of my life. I'm content to have the new poems Kathy sent me on paper. I wish I had only my original memory of her. I suppose it's possible she wasn't really very mixed up in all that filth, but I may never know.

Why me? Why is my life like this? Why is everything about me, everything I get involved with, something that makes my life more difficult?

No, that's just whinging. I'm not alone and I'm not unique. There are other people like us out there. There are other trans-whatever-the-fuck-I-am people out there (maybe). I am not the problem. I am not un-good. It's the world that's a fucked-up mess.

She closed her journal, finished her tea and went back to the center section to work on ideas for the troupe.

Her cell rang at two fifty-five. It was Tam, calling to say she was just getting on the bus and would be there before half past three. Carys tidied up what she was working on, checked the weather and decided on a jacket instead of a coat. This has been an unusually warm winter.

She put Kathy's poems and the copy of her letter in the satchel she used when she visited her accounting clients, then went to sit downstairs to wait for Tam. Mrs. Carmichael was in the living room, reading the paper.

"Going out, Carys?"

"Yes, Mrs. C. Tam will be here any minute. We have to run off to an appointment. Jami knows I probably won't be back when she gets home, but Tam and I shouldn't be much later getting back."

Mrs. Carmichael folded the paper and laid it on the side table. "Carys? May I ask you a question, that may not strictly be my business, but as your landlady, and a person who cares about you?"

I bet this is about Tam. Maybe we should have said something. "Of course, Mrs. C," said Carys.

"Tam seems to spend quite a lot of time here these days."

"Yes, she does." Carys sat on the edge of one sofa, so she could still see the door. "I've been meaning to say something to you about Tam, but so much is happening to me right now, I just haven't had time."

"And what about Tam?"

"It's nothing earth shaking, Mrs. C, but Tam has become a really close friend of ours. She spends the night here from time to time."

Mrs. Carmichael nodded.

"You know that Jami and I are unusual. It's hard for us to be close to, well, normal people. There are so many things we talk about that don't make sense to most people. And it's hard to keep all that contained between just the two of us." Carys shrugged. "It's hard to explain."

"I think I understand. Tam is someone you trust, someone you care about and who cares about you."

"Yes. The support group is great, but it only meets for a couple of hours twice a month. Anyway, there's lots of stuff I wouldn't want to talk about in front of people I don't know very well. It's not like we're becoming a threesome or anything." Carys realized she was sounding a little defensive.

"If you're thinking I'm going to disapprove, Carys, you're wrong." Mrs. Carmichael shook her head. "Every time I hear about a teacher fired because they're gay or transsexual or about, Lord above, a hate crime, my blood runs cold." She looked at Carys. "When I hear that kind of news now, I see faces in my mind's eye, faces of you and Jami and Tam and the others in your group."

She smiled and picked up the paper again. "I believe it's not a good thing that we've moved away from having extended families. In the old days you could always find someone who knew you and cared about you to talk with, at least about most things. Maybe you're just trying to reconstruct something like that in the modern age."

"Wow, that's quite a thought," Carys stammered. She looked out the door panel, didn't see Tam yet and quickly walked over to Mrs. Carmichael. She bent and gave her a kiss on the cheek. "You're such a wonderful person."

"Oh, now." Mrs. Carmichael looked up at Carys. "I'm a reasonable person, who has seen a thing or two in her day. And you know you can call me Mary."

"Thank you, Mary," said Carys. She saw Tam coming up the sidewalk as she walked back to the sofa and opened the door. Tam had her coat unbuttoned, so Carys slid her arms around Tam's waist, giving her a hug. "I'm glad you're back."

"Are you okay, Car? Should I have stayed home, I mean here?"

"I'm fine. I'm just happy to see you."

"I'll just toss my pack upstairs and use the bathroom real quick, okay?"

"Yep. I'm ready to leave."

Tam ran up the stairs. Carys turned back to Mrs. Carmichael. "Mary?"

She looked up.

"Just so you know. We're going to see a lawyer, about that package I received last week. We saw the lawyer once last week. I can't explain fully, but there's some nasty stuff on that disk. I'm trying to figure things out and keep any of us from getting hurt, if that's what someone intended. I also talked to Father Dave at the student parish about this."

"Oh, my word! Are you in trouble Carys?"

"No, I don't think so. But I want to stay that way. I'm trying to be careful, but something funny is going on."

"Well, you let me know if I can help."

"I will. If you see Jami when she gets home, tell her we'll be back as soon as we're done at the lawyer's."

Tam came quickly down the stairs. "Do you need to lock this?" she asked, closing the stairwell door.

"No, Jami should be home soon."

"I'll likely still be sitting here, reading this paper," said Mrs. Carmichael. "Just be sure the front door is locked and pulled shut."

"Okay. Bye, Mary."

"Good-bye, Carys, and you, too, Tam, dear." She returned her attention to the paper.

Tam, not expecting the 'dear,' looked at Carys. She motioned to the front door and they left the house.

"While I was waiting for you, I tried to explain to Mary about us, the three of us being really close friends."

"You did? What did she say?"

"She's amazing! She suggested we might be trying to construct an extended family and said she thinks it's a good idea," smiled Carys.

"I'm speechless."

"No you're not."

"Hrmph. You know where the law office is. Lead on, MacDuff."

"Lay on, MacDuff, and damned be him that first cries, 'Hold, enough!' " corrected Carys.

"That isn't a very cheerful play, is it?" said Tam.

"Fair is foul, and foul is fair." Carys shuddered. "I certainly feel that fate is toying with me. I hope I don't become as entangled with evil as Macbeth did." She grabbed Tam's hand and they hurried down the sidewalk.

* * *

When Carys and Tam returned from meeting with the lawyer, they found Jami sitting in the downstairs living room, talking with Mrs. Carmichael. She stood up and went to give them hugs.

"You're freezing, Car! No hat, no gloves. This is a jacket you're wearing. It's January." She looked reproachfully at Tam.

"We were in a hurry. And it wasn't that cold when we left."

"I'm fine!" insisted Carys. "I walked fast to keep warm."

"I know," said Tam. "You're taller than me."

"What did the lawyer say?" asked Jami.

"In brief, I think we're okay," said Carys.

"How about something hot to warm you up?" asked Mrs. Carmichael. "If you don't mind, I'd like to hear what the lawyer had to say."

"I filled her in a little," said Jami.

"Good," said Carys, removing her boots and jacket.

"Something hot sounds great," said Tam.

"You all sit down, then. I'll fix something," said Mrs. Carmichael, heading to the kitchen. "I know just the thing."

Once Mrs. Carmichael was out of sight, Jami looked at Carys and raised an eyebrow.

"Ms. Hansen is worried," said Carys. "She's going to check on some things, and had some definite suggestions." She picked up her satchel. "I'm going to run this upstairs and use the bathroom. I'll be right back."

Tam and Jami went to sit at the table.

"Did anything good happen at the mall today?" asked Tam.

"Actually, yes," said Jami. "Alyssa and I ate lunch together, and we talked some about the performance troupe. She said that once we're ready to perform, she'd be willing to help us look for gigs. Apparently she has some contacts and some experience."

"That could be good. Though I must admit," said Tam, "that as much as I like the idea of a gender theater troupe, I'm not sure we're going to be very popular here in the upper Midwest."

"Maybe not," agreed Jami. "Alyssa also said again that she'd be interested in seeing what I can do for her with a camera. I wouldn't mind doing something other than the usual portrait stuff I do in my day job."

"Sounds like a pick-up line to me. 'I want to see what you can do with a camera.' "

"She has some good ideas about doing publicity for a troupe. This is the digital age. Just because we live in Michigan doesn't mean we can't have a wider impact."

"What am I coming in on the tail end of?" asked Carys, taking a seat at the table across from Jami and Tam.

"Photography. Alyssa has some managing and marketing experience, and would like to see what I can do. We had lunch together today. It was just something she said, that I'll have to talk with her again about once we have a better idea what we're doing."

"Okay. Sounds cool. Maybe we should invite her over and talk about the troupe and stuff? Try to think outside the box."

Jami cocked her head, thinking.

Carys leaned across the table and took her hands. "You need to do more fun, creative stuff, honey."

Tam folded her arms and rested her chin on them, looking at Carys. "We should definitely think larger than we have been. This is stirring up ideas in my brain."

Carys sat back. "Yes, but first we have to deal with the problem at hand. I'm not going to be able to think about anything else until we at least get rid of that damned disk."

"Okay, now," said Mrs. Carmichael, bringing a tray in from the kitchen. "This should warm us up."

Tam took a sip from her mug and looked surprised. "What is this?"

"Hot coffee, dear, with a bit o' the Irish," said Mrs. Carmichael. "The best thing for warming a cold body."

Tam, Carys and Jami looked at each other.

"This won't hurt, dears, on a family occasion. It's strictly medicinal." She took a sip of her Irish coffee. "Now tell me what the lawyer said. Are you in trouble, Carys?"

Carys set her mug on the tray. "The lawyer, Ms. Hansen, is worried, because there's no good explanation why anyone, even Kathy, would send me a disk with that kind of information on it. She thinks it likely that Kathy only meant to send me the poems, and someone else included the disk. She's going to ask around and try to find out what's been going on in this area, especially in the schools.

"She agrees that at this point it's best to not touch the disk. She may decide we need to hand it over to the police. She also suggested we move the disk and the box into a safe deposit box. But I don't have one."

"My parents do," said Jami, "but I'm not sure I want to explain this to them just yet."

"I have one," said Mrs. Carmichael. "Have had for years. I only keep a little jewelry and some papers in it."

"Oh, Mary, I don't want you involved in this!" said Carys.

"Well it looks like I am, now doesn't it?"

"If you really want to?" said Jami.

"Yes. We can do this tomorrow morning," she said. "You wouldn't want the police to search your parents house, would you now, Jami?"

"No! When we put the disk there, we didn't know what was on it." She looked at Carys and Tam, who nodded.

"Then that's settled. Ten o'clock in the morning, Jami."