User:Erastus/On the Outside Looking

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Paradise story universe

On the Outside, Looking...

Author: Erastus Centaur

Toby's Story

A life-changing moment may be small, but it may be the case that it only looks small in the moment. I'm sure Mark would dispute how small the moment was since he was in the center of it and I was standing outside. But the changes included me soon enough.

I would like to introduce Mark as my husband because for all practical purposes he is. But while there are a couple states that allow gay marriage in 2010 there were none in 2000. Besides, we live in Michigan, which wrote its gay marriage ban into its constitution. As much as I like to rant about this injustice, I have a different of story to tell.

By August of 2000 I had known Mark for five years and it had been three years since our private commitment ceremony. I knew that when something bothered him he usually took off in his car and it would do no good to go after him. He would return in time, rarely more than two hours, and sometimes he would even tell me about it. So, when he headed out the door one morning in the middle of the month with a brief, "Need some air," I figured it was one of those times. He had just recovered from a rare summer bout of flu and I'm sure he was also feeing a hefty dose of cabin fever. I didn't worry.

Until he didn't come home that evening. I was to the point of wondering about the procedures of filing a missing person report when he called. "Hi dear." Before I could respond to his greeting he went on. "I'm in Chicago. I'm OK. Be home in a couple days. Can't talk more now. Sorry for being abrupt. Love, you." And he hung up.

That was strange.

I had no idea why he would drive all the way to Chicago on a whim since the trip was five hours from Ann Arbor where we lived. He wasn't known for bizarre behavior. Even so, I trusted him. I knew the best thing to do was simply wait for him to return.

But when he did return a few days later I could only describe his story as bizarre.

I was in the front yard when he drove up in the late afternoon. He got out of his car with a rather sheepish expression, came over and hugged me, and said, "Toby, my love, this is going to sound really crazy. Especially since what I'm about to say won't match with what you see. Let's get some lemonade and sit on the deck."

"Not beer?" I asked.

There was a faint glimmer of a smile. "Though it is a good day for that I don't want you to blame my story on drunkenness. Lemonade will do."

He was silent while I mixed concentrate and water and he readied glasses and ice. Once we were seated in the back yard, icy glasses in hand and the pitcher within reach, he continued his story. "I debated all they way home whether to tell you any of this since it will appear to you that nothing has changed. But you will notice little things and you need to understand them."

Mark was being his usually analytical self, which allowed him to avoid talking about whatever he wanted to say. For a brief moment I thought he had found another lover and was leaving me. I dismissed that when he said it would be little things. I merely waited for him to continue.

He sighed and said, "I've become part Clydesdale."

I reached over and patted his abs. "You've always been my Clydesdale, dear. You're such a stud."

He kissed me, rather carefully I thought, trying to make sure our noses didn't bump, something he hadn't worried about since our fourth date. He then said, "I don't mean the slang term. I mean the horse. By some strange process I've acquired the fur, head, tail, and hooves of a Clydesdale horse." He held up a hand. "Yeah, I know you can't see it. Whether it is a hallucination on my part or yours could be debated without resolution, though I am well aware I'm on the short end of the argument. You would have grounds to commit me to an institution and there were times in the last few days I would have agreed and gone willingly. But I decided life can go on pretty much as it has, though if my behavior, rather than just this story, gets crazy you have my permission to drag me off to the little padded room."

He took a moment to drain his glass and refill it. "Perhaps I should start with why I left a few days ago." I nodded, but otherwise stayed quiet. "I really did need some air that day. I was finally feeling good again, but the whole house had begun to stink." He patted my arm. "This is not a comment on your housekeeping skills -- or mine, for that matter -- but on the growing sensitivity of my nose. A sick person simply doesn't smell good." He took another sip and continued.

Mark's Story

When I left the house it was more of a desire to leave than actually go anywhere -- as it usually is -- so I suppose it was only by chance I was heading towards Dexter. The air conditioning smelled too mechanical, so in spite of the heat I put the windows down. Once I got out of town I was surprised how wonderful the countryside smelled, and I relaxed.

Once in Dexter I decided to head over to I-94 and just cruise for a while. I was heading west again when I glanced down and saw white fur on my hands and brown fur on my arms. About then my head decided to reshape. I stopped -- being off the road anyway -- and got out and leaned against the car. My feet chose that time to become hooves. I pulled my shoes off and dropped them on the passenger seat through the open window. When the pain subsided enough for me to move I panicked. I jumped into the car and started speeding.

I don't know if it was better to have been in Michigan or Ohio at the time. I'm sure the Ohio police would have stopped me before I got to 75 miles per hour and I would have felt safer in retrospect, but I was up to 110 and had gone a good distance before flashing lights behind me got my attention.

I handed over my registration and license and the cop made a show of comparing me to my photo. I hadn't gotten a good look at myself yet but I knew from the way my nose stuck out there was no way I looked like that picture, no matter how bad it was. But the cop seemed satisfied. "You don't see anything wrong?" I asked.

"Other than going 40 miles per hour over the speed limit and not wearing shoes? No. Put your shoes back on and stop trying to kill yourself." He gave me a hefty ticket and was gone. I looked like a freak and he saw nothing?

As I approached the Indiana border -- like I said I had gone a good distance -- at a safer speed I passed the Michigan Welcome Center in the rest area for the traffic coming into Michigan. I clearly saw standing close to the parking area a human sheep, a guy with curving horns.

I doubted what I saw, of course, but just had to investigate. I got off at the next exit, joined the eastbound traffic, and rolled into the rest area. I practically ran over Mister Sheep and I'm sure I looked ridiculous gaping at him. "You're a … a … sheep!" I stammered.

"Hello, Clyde. Good to meet you. I'm Don. Why don't you park your car and join me for lunch. I'm here to help the newly changed, such as yourself."

"Clyde? My name's Mark. And how did you know I had just been changed?"

"Mark, then. Forgive me. The name was an easy handle for someone who looks like a Clydesdale horse. The clues to your recent change are actually quite visible, such as shoes and the speeding ticket on the seat beside you. Panic is a frequent reaction."

"Oh," was all I could manage. I felt like I was blushing. I wondered if he could see it.

Don said, "There is a trick with shoes once you've changed. Though it looks like your hooves won't fit in them they will go on and then disappear." I looked at him. "Even stranger," he continued, "pretend to pluck at the shoelaces and they reappear so you can take them off. I'll explain more later. But I suggest you put them on before using the men's room." I complied while giving Don a look to suggest he was crazy. He ignored it. Amazingly, the shoes went on.

I used the restroom and that's where I got a good look at myself. Brown fur, white feathering over hooves, horsey face, and … a tail.

Most of the men in and out of the restroom ignored me, except the guy at the next sink, who said, "You act like you've never seen your own face before." There was no way to explain that I hadn't.

It was only Don whispering "Easy now. You've got help," that kept me from going bonkers in public.

I followed Don to a picnic table a ways from the pavilion. He had a good vegetarian spread laid out. I was surprised how delicious it looked.

"It looks like you were expecting me," I said.

"Not exactly. though I was hoping someone like you would see me. Standing in a highway rest stop is a way of being visible to those newly changed like you who need help."

"So, what happened to me?" I asked.

"Other than the obvious -- that you are now part Clydesdale -- I have no idea." He held up his hand. "However, I will be glad to share with you what I do know."

He went on to tell me the earliest known change happened in 1987. As far as anyone could tell the number appeared to double every August. Don had changed back in 1995 which, if the doubling theory was correct, meant there were only 250 changed at that time and eight thousand now. Most of the changed appeared to be centered around Chicago. In another 20 years he figured the total worldwide population would be changed. In the meantime, those not affected would not be able to see the change. How that worked, he had no idea, though some were talking about the Matrix movie that came out last year that both of us decided to skip because it looked so weird.

He took me on into Chicago to meet The Club there. I'll say only that the visit kept me sane. Their practical approach to their situation and their network of support was refreshing, but it took a couple days before I was convinced of it. I didn't call home simply because there was nothing believable I could have said over the phone.

Toby's Story

"So what now?" I asked.

"We go on with our lives," said Mark. "I still love you and still want to be your life partner. Whatever happens we can deal with it together."

"You're not going to insist I believe this story, are you? You're not going to be in my face about it?"

Mark laughed. "You sound like your Uncle Simon." I stared at him. "He use the same phrase when we told him we were a couple. It seems my change is as invisible to you as your orientation is to your uncle. No, I'm not going to insist you believe me. That was something I learned from The Club in Chicago. But, I have changed. If you see differences in what I do, this is likely the reason."

Over the next days and weeks I did see differences.

The first was that evening when he said he was now vegetarian. This was Mark, the guy who loved his steak and the backyard grill. He said meat no longer looked appetizing and the bit he had eaten over the previous few days had caused considerable abdominal distress. So Mark prepared dinner and agreed to be the head chef until I learned how to create healthy and tasty vegetarian meals.

That night I found that I tended to roll up against Mark as we slept and I felt more secure when I did. He was a very comforting presence. The next night Mark felt ready for sex, though he was afraid he might hurt me. I can't say I felt anything different, but I found the experience to be much more satisfying than before.

The next weekend he went through his half of the closet. He said that he needed to create tail holes in his jeans and shorts even though once they were on I couldn't see the hole. He couldn't just rip the back seam because that would look like a ripped seam. He turned all his t-shirts and pullover sweaters over to me because they were not going to make it over his head. Much to his dismay (and mine) he would have to get a supply of clothing with some type of fastener down the front. No more wet t-shirts at the pool.

Whenever he thought he could get away with it he went barefoot. I never again saw him wearing socks, shoes, or slippers in the house no matter how cold the floor got. He started keeping socks and shoes by the door to remind him to put them on when he went out.

The clincher happened on a day we went to the park. I carefully lathered on sunscreen, then handed the bottle to Mark.

"Don't need it," he said.

"Don't you remember what happened to your fair skin the last time we forgot to pack sunscreen? I don't want you to get skin cancer the way your mother did."

"I have fur now. Sunscreen would only make a mess of it." I wiggled the bottle in front of him. "Really," he insisted. "I don't need it anymore."

I sighed heavily and put the bottle away. I then made a big show of reapplying it four hours later.

But at the end of the day he was just as pale as when he stepped out of the car that morning. I was convinced he had fur I couldn't detect. But no matter how much he had changed it was still clear that he loved me and I loved him. He didn't demand I acknowledge what I could not see and I loved even his eccentricities.

By the time I noticed Mark never trimmed his beard, which never seemed to grow, I understood why that was. About the same time he changed his hair style. He trimmed the hair on his forehead -- his forelocks, he said -- and let the rest grow down to his shoulders. He would brush it carefully to hang over the right side.

That September Mark took me to what he called a furry convention in St. Louis. A large number of the participants wore elaborate animal costumes or had their faces intricately painted to represent their totems. A small number, maybe forty-five of those who didn't wear a costume were changed like himself. He introduced me to Don the sheep, then pointed out to me (not that I could confirm it) a bear, deer, otter, raccoon, cougar, coyote, bison, and mustang. And those were the ones I remember. Most were members of The Club. Mark said the convention was a way for the long-term members of the community to help the newly changed come to terms with their new forms and do it under a publicly acknowledged cover.

Not being changed myself, I was strongly discouraged from attending a few of their sessions. I wandered the booths that sold costumes and costume pieces, that had artists who specialized in "anthro" images, and booksellers who featured anthro novels and comics.

Mark found me just as I was fastening a horse tail under my shirt. He tugged it playfully and said in a soft husky voice, "Nice choice!" I pulled him over to one of the artists and pointed to a painting on the side of his booth that showed a zebra that stood on two legs wearing skimpy shorts with a spear in his hands and an African cap on his head. "Is that what you look like?" I asked.

"Yeah, pretty much, other than I'm Clydesdale, not zebra," Mark responded. "Would you like to me to commission a portrait?"

"That's the general idea." We had already tried to take a photo of Mark. I saw in the photo what I saw with my eyes. The same was true for him. Having a photo that showed different things to each person didn't make any more sense than what we saw directly.

So Mark stepped over to the desk at the front of the booth to talk to the artist. The man was just old enough to no longer be called a kid yet he had already acquired a low tolerance for the youthful exuberance that paid his bills. "Chet Yaldara?" asked Mark.

"Yeah?"

"What would it cost me to for an image like that zebra except of a Clydesdale horse?"

Chet pulled a loose-leaf binder between them, turned a few pages, then flipped it around to show Mark. "Like that? As is, let's see…" He named a price.

"Close, but not quite," said Mark. "I'd want you to leave off the hat, make him a little taller and slimmer, a bit more muscular, and a narrower blaze."

"Wouldn't you like to draw it yourself?" said Chet with a bit of tartness.

Mark shrugged. "Drawing is one thing I'm not good at. And I want this to be an accurate portrait."

"Are you one of those people who thinks he's been changed into some animal?"

I saw Mark about to get defensive then realize it would do no good. "Yeah, I want to show my friend," he gestured in my direction, "the new me."

"Then you want an original work." Chet named a price considerably higher than for the image in the book. Mark choked on a rebuttal but nodded. I suspected Chet had this thing against the changed and was scamming Mark. I thought that to be odd since the guy made his living selling artwork to people in animal costumes.

"Then we need to get the description into the contract and get it signed. I've had too many people conveniently forget to pay me after I send the artwork, so payment is in advance. Credit cards strongly encouraged so if I default you have some leverage."

When the painting came a month later, Mark studied it closely. "Yep, this is me," he finally said as he showed it to me. He had an expectant smile on his face.

It was my turn to study it in detail, glancing between it and him. The artist was quite good and I got a good sense of the figure it showed. This is my love? Could I make love to that? As strong and handsome as the image was, I had my doubts.

Mark picked up on my thoughts. His smile faded and an eyebrow arched.

I set the painting on the table and gave him a loving look from head to toe and back again. "I like what I see right here."

"But it's no longer me."

"We could argue that for a long time, my love. Let's enjoy what we've got."

Mark hung it in a prominent position in the family room.

In mid September two years after Mark's change he got a long phone call. He came into the back yard carrying a pitcher of lemonade and two glasses. I gratefully took a break from pruning the wisteria vine.

"That was The Club in Chicago. They have an important request for us," Mark said.

"Us? Not you?"

"Yes, us. A ten-year-old boy showed up at The Club two days ago saying his parents kicked him out." I winced. "Don suspects the boy ran away from home, but at this point the distinction is moot. The boy knew about The Club from his change last month. He's now part cougar. It seems the boy insisted his parents acknowledge his new form and his parents just as firmly insisted such a strange imagination had no place in their home. They couldn't even bring themselves to say, 'Fine, you're part cougar. Now eat your dinner.' It all came to a boil when his mother found he had cut a hole in his school slacks for his tail. The boy said he had cut the hole before the last time he wore them and neither parent had seen the hole while he was wearing them. They hauled the kid off to a shrink who didn't have any more tolerance for delusions than the parents and the proposed course of treatment scared the hell out of the boy. It sounded a lot like homosexual reparative therapy and we've heard what that does to a guy. Don said the situation could have been a lot worse. Though the parents could not see the claws on their boy's fingers, those claws could have done real damage if he had used them on someone."

I winced again. "And how do we fit into this story?"

"The Club wants to know if we're willing to adopt the boy."

"Why us? Most people, hell, most states, have a problem with kids being adopted by a gay couple."

"First of all, with only 32 thousand changed in the world it is rare for both couples to be changed. In couples where only one has changed the human partner seems to have a hard time with having a changed partner or the one who is changed leaves for another similarly changed. Many relationships don't survive and those that do would have a hard time with a changed child. We seem to be one of the few bright exceptions.

"We've met the committee that runs The Club. They know how stable we are and know you would be able to handle something you can't see. We know what it's like to be on the wrong end of bigotry and know how to not be bigots to someone else, especially to a kid."

"It is good to hear they put so much trust in us," I said. "It's been a while since we talked about adopting a family. This sounds like it is time to actually do it."

Mark smiled. We hugged. "I'll call them back," he said.

Two days later we went to Chicago to pick up Dylan. He was a sullen kid. I could understand his mood, having been ejected from a loving home and not knowing if this guy and horse would work out. "Hi, Dylan. I'm Toby and this horsie guy is Mark. We'd like to be your fathers. Having a cougar for a son sounds like a fine idea to me."

At that he gave a glimmer of a smile. He asked, "You understand things you can't see?"

"You bet," I replied. "There's things about me that other people can't see. For instance, some people just can't see how much I love Daddy Mark. My love is somehow invisible to them. So what if you have a tail. A cougar is strong and fearless and I can see that even if I can't see the fur." The smile grew.

Once back in Ann Arbor Mark told Dylan, "Daddy Toby can't see your claws in the same way your first parents couldn't see your tail. Since I know you don't want to hurt him, even by accident, I think we need to slide some protectors over them. The other option is to cut off the claws and I don't think a cougar would want that." Dylan gave an "I suppose" shrug and allowed Mark to install the protectors. The little black triangles appeared to me to be at the tips of his fingers.

The following Monday I took Dylan to school. We had sufficient paperwork from The Club to make registration go smoothly and I was soon on my way to work.

Two hours later the principal called and I hurried back to the school, arriving just before Mark. Kids always tease the newcomer to find, I'm sure, what kind of stuff he's made of, to see where he fits in the 10-year-old-boy social pecking order. Dylan's claw protectors were the obvious target. Dylan didn't help matters any by claiming to be part cougar and needing them to protect the other boys from his claws. I was pleased the kid was level-headed enough not to demonstrate the claws on some boy's face, but he did pull out a piece of paper and proceed to slash it with an unprotected claw. I could guess the other boys' expressions in seeing a rip in the paper grow as Dylan ran a bare fingertip along it.

That got the teacher's attention real fast. She hauled Dylan to the principal's office and he called us. We were told, with Dylan present, that while the principal couldn't see the claws, he could see the protectors and figured they were there for a reason. He didn't know how Dylan managed it, but he didn't need to know. The protectors had to come off and the claws clipped, at least until Dylan graduated from his school system.

Mark called The Club about how to trim claws, then dashed off to the pet store down the street while the rest of us waited. He soon was back with claw clippers for dogs, though he didn't tell Dylan that. Mark said, "Sorry, sport, we must do it." He then one-by-one pulled off the protector and clipped the claw under it, carefully collecting the pieces. He gave Dylan a hug and laid the ten claws on the principal's desk. I was astonished that I could see them and raised eyebrows in Mark's direction, who only shrugged. Mark held up a piece of paper and asked Dylan to scratch it. There was no rip.

The principal thanked us for being so understanding and sent Dylan back to class and us back to our jobs.

On the way out I asked Mark, "What species is that principal?"

"Human. Why ask?"

"That means he saw Dylan as a human." Mark nodded. "So why didn't he freak out when you put ten feline claw tips on his desk?"

"I have no idea," said Mark as he stopped to look at me. "Though I suspect an elementary school teacher has seen stuff even weirder than that and as long as the students are safe he's happy."

The teasing stopped and Dylan actually rose fairly high in the pecking order. The other boys granted him the nickname -- a positive name is a sure sign of peer approval -- of "Coog."

Mark and I didn't worry about the legal matters or Dylan's former family. A year later we showed up in the proper courtroom in Chicago with Dylan to make the adoption final. According to Dylan our lawyer was a moose and the judge was a bison.

That same trip we took home Ruben, a raccoon, newly changed and in need of a new home. The kid was only seven.

One of the first things Ruben said to me was, "Why do you look over my head when you talk to me?" I thought I was looking him in the eye.

I knew enough about being around the changed that when I turned to Mark I placed my hand at the same level as Ruben's head, but not on it. "I take it Ruben isn't this tall?"

Mark said, "Nope, he's shorter," and held his hand five inches directly below mine.

"Ah," I said. It took me a while to get the knack of looking at Ruben's chin when I talked to him.

Mark worried about predator-prey issues between the two boys but Dylan quickly decided that Ruben was more fun as a brother than as something to chase.

The following year, 2004, we collected another boy, Austin, a sullen 13 year old otter, and two girls, Zoe, a 9 year old brown bear, and Melanie, an 8 year old Dalmatian.

This time it was clear to both Mark and myself as well as to The Club where this was headed. They built a large house with ten bedrooms for us and made both of us employees of The Club. We gladly left our day jobs to be full-time parents.

I took cooking lessons sponsored through The Club and a good deal of my day was spent in the kitchen. I had to be the cook because Mark was no longer able, due to the stench, he said, of cooking the mostly meat diet Coog and Melanie needed. Mark and Ruben were vegetarian while Austin and Zoe liked seafood with their fruits and vegetables. Menus had to be carefully planned.

Our annual vacations to "furry" conventions, both regional and national had already become family traditions. That year they began to be major undertakings. That was also the year when we first found a changed artist to create portraits of the family so I could see how they appeared to themselves. The series of paintings were hung surrounding the original one of Mark to document how our family grew.

We added to our family every year. Diego, a coyote, and Rose, an antelope, just in 2005. That same year I started teaching each child how to cook for themselves and teach Austin how to cook for everyone.

Every August around the middle of the month Mark watched me for any signs of illness. He knew I tried to bluff may way through any illness to keep going, to keep my home in order and my children fed. But two weeks of persistent "How you feeling?" could annoy joust about everyone. He was almost delighted when I caught a summer cold in 2006 that was severe enough to send me to bed. I appreciated the way he doted on me though it got to be unnerving when he would stand beside me and study my face. He was quite disappointed when I stayed stubbornly human once I was well.

In 2008, our twelfth child Terry, a ferret, was given to us and proved to be the most challenging. The first challenge was the poor child was only 18 months old, several years younger than what we had dealt with before.

The second challenge was that though Mark and Don continued to use female pronouns when I changed the diaper I found Terry was a little boy. There was no mistake when that little fountain went off and I had a mess to clean up.

"Didn't anyone bother to check before deciding that Terry was a girl?" I said, pointing to the evidence before closing up another fresh diaper.

"Oh, we checked, all right," said Don. "Terry is definitely female now." I caught that word but before I could do more than stare at Don he continued, "But she changed genders when she became part ferret. Sometimes it happens." He shrugged. "I guess we're fortunate she has one of those genderless names."

Mark responded before I could. "So while I see Terry as a girl, Toby sees her as a boy?"

"Yup, that's it," said Don. "It also means the unchanged world will see her as a boy. You will have to dress her in boy clothes, or at least asexual clothes, or deal with the world that has a hard time with gender misfits."

"Is this going to be a problem?" asked Mark, looking at me.

"Honey, You and I are already gender misfits. Terry needs a home. We can provide one. We'll just have to teach everyone how to be careful with pronouns."

Don said, "This may only be a short term problem. According to our research, with the way the number of changed appears to double every year the entire world population will be changed by 2020, about the time Terry becomes a teenager. Until then it may be possible to raise a tomboy. Whatever is preventing you from seeing us as we are may end a few years before then."

Mark was looking at me strange smile. "What?" I said.

"It means," he said, "at least by 2020 and perhaps even before you will cease being the holdout in the family."

My next summer illness wasn't until 2010. This one was a doozy and there was no way I was going to bluff through it. Care of our fourteen children fell to Mark and our oldest two, Coog, then 18, and Austin, then 19 and no longer sullen. Mark, damn him, was almost gleeful at my misfortune.

I awoke one morning a few days later feeling much better, but assaulted by odors. Mark had been right all those years ago -- sick people don't smell good. I rolled over to give my lover a kiss before getting out of bed and got quite a shock. There was a horse in my bed!

Mark awoke to the sound of the sheets rustling with my reaction. "Ah," he said, "you can see the real me!"

After a few deep breaths to calm myself I could tell the figure beside me did look a lot like the portraits in the family room. "Mark?" was all I could manage.

"Yes, my love. It's me." The voice didn't sound like him. "Welcome to the furry side."

That prompted me to look at myself. I still had toes and bare skin, so I gave him a questioning look.

"It will come soon." He got up and stuck his head out the door, keeping most of his naked body behind it, and called softly, "Coog?" I heard a reply from the room across the hall and soon another door opened. "He saw me."

I heard a voice respond, "Cool!" That was Coog?

"No, you can't watch," Mark said. "Please get Austin to start breakfast for the other kids and bring something up here for us."

"Meat? No meat?" asked Coog.

"Don't know yet. Bring a variety."

Mark shut the door and turned around. I took a good look at him, which he allowed with a smile. Wow, he looked hot! Especially that tail! I had never had this kind of reaction to the portraits.

He saw my reaction and said, "We should wait until your change is complete. I wouldn't want you to become disoriented in the middle of it." But he did come over and wrap his furry arms around me.

I felt a strong something, not quite pain, on top of my head between my ears. I reached up to touch the spot and brushed ears that stuck out by several inches. I paused to feel them in wonder for a moment, but soon another sensation on top of my head urged my fingers higher. I felt two large bumps protruding through the scalp.

"I can't say I'm an expert on these things," said Mark, "but it looks like you are becoming some kind of deer. A good thing because I think antlers are hot!"

I grinned and kissed him. "Happy to oblige."

There was a knock at our door and a voice called out, "Breakfast."

Mark retrieved the tray and set it on the dresser. The eggs and sausage didn't smell appetizing but the oatmeal smelled wonderful. However, I only got a few bites before things began to happen quickly. I felt my jaw pull out and I sat abruptly as my toes cramped. My skin tingled all over as fur began to grow.

I felt a moment of panic and Mark's arms were around me again. He pulled me to my feet saying, "It's actually better to be walking as your feet change." He kept talking while my body continued to shift and tingle. "I'm so pleased you are joining the rest of the family, that you will be able to see us as we really are. A blended body is actually quite wonderful and you'll be able to adapt in no time. Besides, you'll have me with you." He glanced at the top of my head and at the head of the bed. "Though it looks like we'll have to pull the bed away from the wall."

The strange sensations subsided. "Come on, let's see the new you." He guided me to the bathroom and its full-length mirror. I stepped gingerly on new hooves. What I saw astonished and pleased me. A buck stood there with a six-point rack, big ears, an impressive muzzle, soft brown fur with a white muzzle and throat, lighter fur on the back of slender hands that had thick nails, a strong body, legs that tapered to dainty hooves, and a small tail.

I was again overwhelmed by odors, many of which were not pleasant. Mark saw my expression and said, "I suspect you smell your own sickness. Let's go meet the family and I'll send Coog up to clean."

At Mark's suggestion I put on shorts but left off the shirt. I held tight to Mark as we descended the stairs. I could hear the blur of voices from around our huge kitchen table, though none of the voices sounded quite familiar. As we entered the room a cheer went up and I sagged against Mark.

As I suspect happens in any family, especially large ones, each person tends to sit at the same place for every meal. It is a way for the parents to tell which child is missing and a way to make sure the older ones are well positioned to help the younger ones. Having Coog and Austin take the middle position on each side and the other kids filling in as they always do helped me a great deal right then. While I knew the species of all of my kids from the family portraits it took great mental effort to associate names with the live bodies before me.

Breakfast could wait. I circled the table slowly hugging each child, getting a good look at them, and breathing in their scent. Halfway around the table I passed my seat and glanced to the opposite end where Mark sat. He had a contented smile on his face. His family -- our family -- was now whole. I completed my circuit with all of them watching and gave Mark a kiss and a hug.

A couple months later at the fall furry convention I could finally attend the sessions for the newly changed. And, of course, we had to document the current state of the family again for the family room wall. This time we could do it with a photograph.