User:JonBuck/Eve's Apple

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This story is a work in progress.
National Enchanted Forest story universe
This story contains adult content.

Eve's Apple

Author: Jon Buck

Whoever had loaded the vending machine was an amateur. Instead of neat lines of potato chips, candy bars, and pastries, everything was jammed inside like stuffing in a turkey. There were several rows that were obviously hopelessly jammed. The Hostess Twinkies and the Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies were both lost causes, somehow mashed against the front glass. An epic failure for whoever had stocked the machine. Jim stared blearily at his choices.

Enough energy flowed from the Unseen World in the Spring to kick up magic-enhanced storms that caused the protective runes on aircraft wings to flicker unreliably. Too much magic could be as dangerous as too little. A storm had made Jim miss his connecting flight by fifteen minutes, leaving him stranded in Houston without another flight out until eight o'clock. But it was three in the morning and airline food was hardly a decent meal. He counted out the few coins he had in his pocket, and tried to come to a decision of some kind. Four Cokes wasn't enough caffeine to keep him sharp at this time of night. Okay, what isn't all blocked up?

Near the bottom there was a neat line of Nature Valley granola bars for a dollar. Grumbling at the expense he put the coins in, then prayed a little as he pushed the buttons for the selection. The green foil-wrapped food fell to the bottom. Yawning, Jim groped for it through the dispenser slot and shoved it in his pocket for when his stomach quieted down.

The Coke machine next to it was empty of anything caffeinated. He lurched back towards the seats he'd claimed for a so-called "bed". The airline had thoughtfully provided blankets and a pillow for his overnight stay, though there wasn't enough room to actually lay down. He was the only person left in this concourse. Even the TVs that showed endless Headline News had been shut off two hours ago.

The freelance photographer sighed and grumbled at the airline, and the weather. And wondered if his five thousand dollars in equipment made it to Seattle before him without things going missing. Little things like lenses and camera bodies. Even rune-etched commercial magelocks needed a master key for the TSA these days. And more than a few of them engaged in some quite complex theft. On one occasion, after a flight that had two stops, Jim finally got to the shooting location and one of his most valuable flash attachments simply turned to sand when he'd removed it from the padded case.

A substitution spell. Those didn't come cheap. But neither was that bespoke mana-flash. And whoever had stolen it was smart enough to strip the identifying runes as well. It'd probably sold on eBay for ten thousand dollars.

Still, wandering around the empty airport had made for some passably interesting subject-matter, even in his exhausted state. Shuttered shops and restaurants. Empty vending machines. Empty concourses reduced to puddles of light since much of it was shut off. Janitorial staff following their oversized self-propelled vacuums. Two men with tattooed shoulders and don't-mess-with-me frowns, wandering aimlessly. Their animated tattoos flipping him off as he passed them.

When a faun airport cop asked him what he was doing, he showed his press credential and said he was just passing the time while stranded here. The policewoman just frowned with her deer-like ears folded back, and that was that. Jim headed back to the spot near his gate, but not before telling her about the two thuggish men he'd seen earlier. she'd just rolled her animalistic eyes. "We have security cameras all over the place, sir."

"Well, maybe you should still keep an eye on them?" he suggested.

"Look, Mister..." she bleated.

"Lambert," Jim said.

"Mister Lambert. It's big place, but there's more than one of me and we've got all sorts of surveillance," she stifled a laugh. "Arcane crap the TSA makes us use now. Don't worry about nothin'. That's my job."

Yes, ma'am, he thought, grumbling irritably to himself. Lack of sleep and a fragile stomach were going to make this a grindingly boring night. There was no way he was going to allow himself to fall asleep. Most of his equipment was going in the baggage compartment, but he had an expensive digital setup with him as a carry-on. If he fell asleep there was nothing to stop someone from running off with it. He simply didn't trust the airport cops to do their jobs, or the honesty of cleaning staff.

The other bag he had with him contained the portfolio he was using to shop his skills around as a freelancer. Business was down lately--way down. His agent hadn't even given him anything to go on other than "something's missing, Jim." And wouldn't elaborate beyond a single word: demographics. Martha Winston had just given him a Look that said if he couldn't figure it out, there was obviously something wrong with him. If he didn't figure out what it was very soon, he'd likely be looking for a new agent.

He'd wandered far enough from his gate that resting was a good idea anyway. Like most hub airports, Houston was spread out over miles of terminals and corridors. As luck would have it, the gate he'd come in was at the very end of this terminal. Fully half a mile from the departure gate, if he was any judge. There were more people on this side of the airport than on his. A married couple with two young children, who were still running around and screaming. The bespectacled father gave him a long-suffering look, while he and his wife tried once more to get the kids to settle down. Jim just shrugged. He was single and liked it that way, for just that reason.

The other person was a woman wearing a dark green ankle-length dress. She had short brunette hair, and light green eyes that glowed dimly in the half-lit terminal. Oh, a witch. Or possibly an Arcanist, or whatever they're calling themselves now, he thought. Anyone who "awoke" their magic talents were marked in some way. Glowing eyes were just the latest fashion.

Jim checked his watch. Assuming the weather cooperated it was still over six hours before he could even board the plane. In no hurry to return to his gate for now, he sat down and took a few examples out of his portfolio. Just in time for the kids to settle down. He found a seat under one of the few lit fluorescent lights. "Demographics," he muttered, laying out some 8x10s on the seat next to him. "What's missing?"

"What's missing is you being quiet!" the father hissed from right next to him. "Please, can you look at your pictures somewhere else?"

The photographer was tired enough, and petulant enough at this stage, to not want to move again. Sighing, he gathered up this things again and moved down two more rows of seats. The light wasn't as good here, but he didn't have to endure parental scowls.

It was then that the witch's phone rang. It wasn't one of those irritating ringtones, but a decent facsimile of an old-fashioned bell. Their glare instantly transferred to her. She flipped open her phone. "It's two in the morning! What could you possibly want at this hour?" she said in a whisper still loud enough for Jim to hear, making the children stir and earning yet more scowls.

The witch stood up and half-jogged far enough down the concourse to be out of earshot. Jim couldn't help but watch, since her jerky movements revealed she obviously wasn't wearing a bra. Nature girl, he thought, not uncharitably. Her figure made his blood stir. It was better than a cup of his agent's best brew. That'll keep me awake for a while.

Some time later, a polite cough made him look up. They glowy-eyed witch was smiling at him. "Those are very good," she said in a near-whisper. "Are you a professional? You look like it."

"I am," he replied evenly, keeping his eyes firmly on her face. The witch had refined features, no doubt because of her magic, and a stunning figure from head to toe. She surveyed his pictures. "I like that one." She pointed at a close-up photo of a single dewdrop on a cup-shaped leaf. "The light and detail is just stunning."

"Wish my agent agreed with you, um...?"

"Ilene Reynolds, traveling Botanical Arcanist," she said, tapping her chest. "Is there something wrong with your pictures? What could it possibly be?"

Jim introduced himself, then went on. "Wish I knew, Miss Reynolds. My boss is a very stubborn woman, but she's actually got some ideas of how to get out of the funk I've been in. Demographics! She and I have shopped these around for weeks but I haven't gotten any offers. Usually she can find some magazines, at least. Even obscure ones can pay pretty well."

The pretty woman sat down across from him, on the other side of the photo spread. She carefully picked each one up, making sure not to get fingerprints on the emulsion. Her nails were short, and polished a shade between red and pink. Besides the leaf, there were photos of landscapes (Mt. Rainier, the Grand Canyon), some wildlife, architecture, and lots of sailboats. She seemed particularly drawn to a photo of a huge anchor being pulled in by a cargo ship. "Stunning. I can't see why you're having so much trouble, Mr. Lambert. But I don't know your business very well."

"Call me Jim, if you like. I don't know, either. Demographics, she says," he said. He took a few of magazines out of his bags and opened to some paces his agent had marked. The important point were that these two colleagues--more friends than simply someone in the same profession--were actually selling, where he was not. He showed the witch a spread in "Gryphon Fancy", a magazine devoted to breeding them down to housecat size. "See, look here. This is Caroline Hardy. She has a knack for dog shows, cat shows, that sort of thing."

The woman in the green dress nodded. "Expensive pets, those. I know someone trying to make a new type out of mice and house sparrows."

Next were a couple of single photos by Anton Strauss. One was in a calendar, a photo of a couple of anthropomorphics, more towards the animal end than the policewoman was. A stag chasing a doe. The second was of a female elf wearing a rather mundane pantsuit, standing in the chaotic visible mana flows near the curtain in Mt. Lassen National Enchanted Park. This one had ended up on the cover of The Economist. She was quite the entrepreneur in cross-curtain trade. It was dangerous for a human to get that close to the curtain, but he was a risk-taker. Reckless, in Jim's opinion.

"I honestly don't know what I'm doing wrong. I've asked both of them to help me out, but poor Caroline just threw her hands up and said I was hopeless, and Robert just smiles and says it's a trade secret. It's frustrating as hell and I can barely put food on the table. They're selling, and I'm not. It's that simple."

Ilene bit her lower lip thoughtfully, then looked through the portfolio again. "I'll let you know if I come up with anything before your flight leaves, Jim. Deal?"

Jim brightened. "Sure. I'm not going to be able to pay my bills if this goes on much longer." Then he yawned. "Afraid I'm going on hour thirty-six without sleep, though. Can't concentrate worth a damn right now. I'm going to wander back towards my gate. I'm way over at C39..."

"And you walked all the way over here?" the witch said. "You are bored, if you were willing to go through security again, twice."

Jim shrugged and smiled what he hoped was a charming way. "I don't have anything else to do. Is this your gate?"

"Well, it was my gate, until a few minutes ago. I have no idea where I'm going to be off to now! You wouldn't believe the trouble my profession is in these days. Everything's in flux. I mean, that's what mana really is. Raw change. Negative entropy. But I rarely even see the inside of my house these days..."

Jim let her go on and on for a while, too tired to try and get a word in edgewise. When she finally paused, he groped for something to say. Some response. "Well, there has to be a way to spend more time at home, right? Maybe you could..."

Ilene's expression hardened in a disturbingly familiar way. Martha and Caroline both gave him the same frosty "you don't get it" expression every other meeting these days. "No offense, but I'm not really asking for help at the moment. I just needed to vent, and you seemed receptive. Was I wrong about that?"

Fatigue made the alarm bells in Jim's head less urgent than they should be. "Nnnno... it's just..."

Her expression softened again. "Thanks for listening, Jim. I'll still let you know if I think of anything. I could use a walk, anyway. Good night." She got up and returned to her seat nearer the gate.

Keeping his expression carefully neutral, Jim gathered up his things and headed for his gate.

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Everything felt distant, from the padded vinyl against Jim's cheek after he had slowly fallen over, to the strange sensations from his body's outer provinces, like waking up from a general anesthetic. Delirious, he felt both lighter and heavier, as the rest of his body sent a tingling sensation, as if every nerve had fallen asleep and was just waking up again, but all twisted and out of place. As if his flesh had become wet clay for a while, then forcefully reshaped by a supernatural sculptor. The granola bar that he dimly suspected had caused this sat three-quarters eaten on the floor in front of him.

Then he was lifted up and shaken, and a familiar voice from down a long tube called his name. "Jim? Jim! Oh God... it's Bloom, it has to be. Hold on, man! I'll be right back..." He was gently let down again, only to get an impossibly saggy sensation on his chest. Dreamily, he forced his unresponsive neck muscles to get working again.

Ilene returned an unknown amount of time later. Seconds, minutes, hours, Jim couldn't guess. Years had passed in an instant. But the paralysis was actually starting to fade. Once more he was propped up as Ilene sat down beside him and wrapped one arm around his shoulders. Jim found his voice. "What... what happened? What's... wrong with... why am I..."

That didn't sound right at all. Now a little more awake, Jim tried clearing his throat, raising his hand in front of his mouth. Or was it his hand? It had to be Ilene's, but there was no nail polish. He flexed his fingers, the feminine digits moved in kind. The mental fog began to clear. Feeling a pressure around his chest, Jim looked down.

"Hold on, Jim. Don't panic," Ilene said in a soothing voice, hugging him tight. "Don't panic. Yes, they're yours. But you look perfectly fine."

Jim looked at his chest, then at her chest. Back and forth. It was like a triple-shot of espresso at four in the morning. His polo shirt was stretched tautly around and over... over... He wiggled his shoulders, only to have them both wiggle in kind. Numbly, he reached up to feel one of the peaks that was sending a rough, scratchy sensation. He pinched it. "Owwww!" he hissed.

The pain finally coalesced the distinct sensations from outlying regions into an alarming whole. There was nothing down there. His hips were too wide, his waist too small, and the sight below could only be what breasts looked and felt like, from the inside. Even his hair felt long and heavy. His body felt hot and sticky, with every nerve ending furiously sending a flood of signals into his overwhelmed cerebrum. Every soft bulge, every curve, and everywhere Ilene touched, screamed difference. If this was reality, and those breasts were real, and that inverted sensation below wasn't just bad acid... She looked up at Ilene's glowing eyes. "I'm... I'm a woman? Why am I a... a woman?" She blinked in confusion. Under this onslaught thinking hard was a luxury. "Wait, am I supposed to be..?"

The witch sounded very sympathetic. "No, Jim, you're not. That's just the Bloom talking. In all likelihood it won't be for long. Just hold tight. Here comes the airport police with the A-EMTs."

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No dream could have hands that cold, Jim decided. "Doctor, did you chill your hands over an air conditioning vent before you started today?" the newly female photographer asked, trying to sound upset, but worried she was coming across as merely bitchy.

"The type of Bloom you ingested leaves the body very sensitive post-transformation, Miss Lambert. Your brain is still being remapped to new nerve endings, so you're going to feel the dissonance for some time. You may even feel a phantom penis. It's only partly a result of your sex change," the curly-haired man replied. "You're fortunate that you didn't consume more than half of that second granola bar. That one was treated with a psychoactive curse that could have essentially killed you."

"That's new to me," Jim said, awkwardly folding her arms as the doctor finished with the stethoscope. "I felt almost normal before you made me swallow that nasty potion. Now I'm back to feeling things no man should know firsthand. How do women deal with this?"

"Well, you may have to get used to it anyway, in the short term," he said. "Here's my diagnosis as a Medical Arcanist and Doctor. If your friend hadn't arrived when she did your most pressing worry would probably be what color nail polish to wear. Mentally you're fine, there's only a few residuals. Nothing to worry about. In fact, you may get used to your body faster. From your reactions, you still feel like you."

"Yes, I'm still myself. If I was a brunette woman," Jim grumbled, fidgeting uncomfortably on the hard infirmary bed in the half-open hospital gown. She still couldn't quite believe this was happening. It happened to other people, sure. But to her... him? Whatever. She still felt very confused. She knew she wasn't supposed to be female, but nevertheless thought of herself as a she. At least for now it was less mind-bending than it could be. She could hardly deny her own breasts, much less the rest. "What I'd like to know is why I'm still a brunette woman?"

"You consumed all of the other granola bar. It won't take the generic counter-potions we use. And frankly, you're fortunate that you ate that one first. Otherwise you'd feel like a woman trapped in a man's body and we would've had no choice but to 'correct' your gender dysphoria. But since it happened the other way around, this physical curse is firmly entangled in your system. We can't undo it willy-nilly, we have to send off specific test results to some specialists and get a counter-curse made. I'm afraid we'll have to send you home this way, Miss Lambert."

"I wish you wouldn't use 'Miss'. I really don't plan on being one for long," Jim reproved, drumming her fingers on the exam bed. She'd spent over an hour giving them a statement. A mortifying hour in front of a pair of female detectives who couldn't stop snickering. Jim had remained stiffly formal through the whole interview. But the physical exam was worse. "What else should I know about myself?"

"Physically, you're a twenty year old woman, and quite healthy enough to travel. If you want to leave Houston, we can probably send you home on the next plane to wherever you're going."

Jim slid off the exam table, and realized she was a good four inches shorter than the doctor. "Please! No offense, Doctor, but I never want to see Houston again."

He pocketed his stethoscope. "Let me call a nurse in to help you with your clothing, then. You'll need something that fits on the flight home. I'll send her in."

The bra took some time. Jim learned just what those bra measurements actually meant by going through a half dozen before she finally found one that fit. The nurse showed her how to adjust the straps. "Now, how does that feel?" the kindly woman said. "Don't be embarrassed, dear. This is hardly the first time I've seen something like this. Overdosed Bloom addicts get stuck all the time. And they panic, too. You're taking this very well, dear."

"I don't even want to know what that means, frankly," Jim said. She grasped her breasts and jiggled them. "Look, I'm not supposed to have these things, and I doubt I will for very long. So I don't care what you put me in. I just want to go home, okay?" Home. Familiar surroundings. And sleep. Jim felt like she could sleep for two days. A pair of panties, shorts, sneakers, and tee shirt later, she headed for the infirmary door with paperwork in slender hand.

"Hey, wait!" Ilene called from one of the waiting room chairs. She dropped her magazine and leapt up to meet her before she reached the door. "Don't rush out so fast. Done already?"

"I'm going home," Jim said with uncharacteristic petulance. "I'm not dealing with this well. I've been groped in places I didn't have twelve hours ago."

"Where is home, if I may ask?"

"Bellevue, Washington. I just... ugh." Jim's emotions were all crowding in all at once, threatening to make her break down right in front of total strangers. Fatigue and hormone shock, as the doctor called it. All that estrogen. She choked them back. "I want to go home."

The witch's green eyes lit up. "Really? I'm heading home myself. Decided to take your advice. Olympia."

That was about seventy miles out of Jim's way, but that they were in the same state was a blessing. "Are we on the same flight? Continental, ten a.m. or so?"

"No, but I don't mind switching. I don't feel right, leaving you alone anyway. Let's get you through security."

"Hold on, Miss Lambert. We have an escort for you," the nurse called.

Their escort turned out to be the same faun cop who had flippantly disregarded her concerns the night before. Jim felt like gloating at the half deer-woman, but with the unhappy look on the cop's face, she knew she'd be lucky to get through the next ten minutes without some kind of defensive rant. Someone had replaced one of the granola bars in that vending machine with a package spiked with Tiresias Bloom pollen. Someone who could have "killed" Jim in mind, if not in body. No curse is perfect, and there could have been some small part of her watching in horror as the new persona took over.

It was one thing just to be a woman, and another to be made into a Paris Hilton personality clone.

"I'll buy my ticket and meet you at the gate, Jim," Ilene said. "Just hold tight."

"Not a word out of you," the cop said. "Not a single word."

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The airport thronged with people now. Jim sat, hunched over, in a chair between two very large men tapping away on their laptops who cast sideways glances at her chest. She kept her arms folded over her breasts for as long as it was comfortable, but there was a compression that made them sore after a while. The bra wasn't helping, the way the straps dug into her shoulders. To say nothing of the experience of just walking to the gate from the infirmary. They had spoken with the airline, and was with the pre-board group. That was still at least a half hour away.

Then four hours on an airliner.

And a half hour home. Maybe, assuming she hit the traffic right through downtown.

Jim looked at the faces of the people around her. Most were absorbed in whatever they were doing. Talking on their cell phones, tapping away on laptops, completely oblivious to the fact that the girl in front of them hadn't been, a few short hours ago. For a moment Jim felt like shouting. Screaming "I'm a man!" to the world at large. Sanity prevailed.

"There you are!" It was Ilene again, waving excitedly. "Come on, Jenny. I've found some better seats."

Jenny? So I'm Jenny now? She gathered her now-heavier bags and followed the witch to the two seats she'd claimed nearer the gate. It was quieter over there, and a few burned out lights gave them a little privacy. The twelve year old girl putting nail polish on was the only bad point. The sharp chemical odor was just that irritating; and it was the kind of polish that changed color randomly, making the young girl's fingers look like they were flashing in mesmerizing patterns. Elfish import, no doubt.

"Look, don't call me that," Jim muttered. "I'm not going to be this way long enough to need it."

"I have to call you something out in public. You're making waves enough with a figure like that. Or haven't you noticed? Whoever made that curse made you thoroughly attractive. You're not overly busty and you're not one of those waifs you see on magazine covers. What do you think so far?"

"What do I think about what?" Jim said, feigning ignorance.

"About..." Ilene gestured at her chest, and her hips. She seemed genuinely curious, beaming at Jim, eyes alight with encouragement. Obviously doing her best to feel welcome. "This. All this. You're experiencing being female firsthand for the first time. You're one of the girls. Another woman, just like me. You're like a filly just out of the gate on her first race. So what's your first impression?"

The new woman sighed and folded her arms again, squishing her breasts. She wondered just what Ilene was fishing for. Jim didn't feel like playing any games with her new hormones. "Look, I'm just not in the mood, okay. Once we're on the plane we can talk about it. I really don't want to talk about this in public." I'm just not very good with words anyway.

"I'm way back in Coach, though. It was the only ticket I could get." She leaned closer. "I'm trying to make this an enjoyable experience for you. You may only be a woman a few days and I think you'll benefit from the change in perspective. Female hormones, a female brain, and if I know my Bloom pollen, you'll end up acting like one of us anyway without even thinking about it. So, what do you think so far?" What does it feel like? Focus on the physical if you like." Her eyes literally sparkled and she cupped her own breasts. "I have a Cone of Silence spell in my purse. Nobody's going to overhear us."

Jim's expression flattened. Whether Ilene was right or not simply didn't matter. The curse would be gone in a few days at most. "This is about my photos, somehow, isn't it?"

She chuckled. "I figured out what you were missing. People. You have a lot of photos of things, and places. Landscapes and architecture. But where are the people? Those other two photographers had people all over the place."

"Sorry, but I'm just not in the mood. If you really want to know, nothing feels right," Jim said tersely. "If you really want my first impression about this, I feel like I'm just... just..." Jim struggled to find the words. "Tits and ass. There I said it. So leave me alone."

Jim thought of the last quarter mile down the corridor. And the fact that no matter how she moved her arms, they always brushed against her breasts. The way her hips rolled around the unexplored cleft that replaced penis and scrotum. It was one thing to read magazine articles about men who did this for fun. And in some psychotherapy circles it was a popular treatment, for married couples and singles alike. Mostly it was just Not Talked About in polite society.

She sighed and rested her head in her hands. How could something like this happen? What did I do to deserve it? Who could do such a thing to a total stranger? A malicious prankster, or something more sinister? It defied reason. Someone wanted to watch their victims squirm. Until the counter-curse was finished, Jim's life would be even more a shambles than it was now. Though for the life of her she didn't think it'd impact her photographic skills. But it was going to be much harder to focus on selling photos when she hadn't even looked at herself in a mirror yet.

Jim wasn't going to drink very much until she got in her front door. There were a few bottles of Captain Morgan rum.

Her self-appointed escort wisely didn't press the issue.

"Continental Flight 462 will now begin pre-boarding at Gate C38," the PA system announced.

"Well, that's me," Jim said, rising to her feet. "See you on the plane?"

"If there's an empty seat near me, maybe. I doubt there's anything free in First Class, Jenny. See you in Seattle."

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The shock of the landing gear on the runway bounced Jim's breasts hard enough to wake her out of an unexpectedly sound sleep. For a frantic few moments, as the thrust-reversers cut in and the plane sharply decelerated, she forgot where--and especially what--she was. It wasn't just the bounce of her breasts, it was the yank on her head from her hair stuck between her back and the seat, which had been bound into a ponytail that reached to the bottom of her shoulder blades. A rude awakening.

And worse.

Jim's bladder wasn't going to stay full forever.

Being in seat 1A meant she was the first off the plane. Leaving Ilene behind because she had no choice, she did a quick-walk up the jetway and headed straight for the nearest restroom, dodging other travelers as she went. Unfortunately Ilene was way in the back of the plane. Just how they were going to find one another again, Jim didn't know.

As it happened, there was a lineup for an open stall in the women's restroom, and Ilene came in behind her, pushing past the other waiting women to head for the wash basins. She stopped in front of her. "Are you going to be okay with this, Jenny?"

That name again. "I'm... a grown woman," she replied. "Like I have a choice."

The witch just gave her a look. Good luck, it said. A crowded women's restroom in a busy airport was hardly the best place to see one's new private parts. Despite being the proper sex for it, Jim felt like an intruder here. Her mismatched outfit and lack of a purse set her apart from the others. So when a stall finally opened, Jim shut the door and tried to act natural.

But the habits of a lifetime no longer applied. Even the simplest bodily function had become alien. A frightening unknown.

Jim's outfit consisted of items left at the airport by previous passengers. It'd taken twenty minutes to find something that fit. The plain gray bra and panties were new, of course. But whoever had owned the brown tee shirt she wore now had stretched it out. Jim's shirt had breasts as much as she did. But at least the fit was loose. Unfortunately she hadn't been so lucky with her shorts. They were magic-fit, self adjusting garments that managed to be comfortable while at the same time were so tight they looked painted on. She'd kept her legs crossed the whole flight, worrying about camel toe. I should've picked that skirt.

Her throat felt dry. She took a deep breath. Okay, just calm down. You'll be doing this for a while, so just get it done. Over half of humanity does it this way.

She wondered if every man, the first time they were physically female, had a reaction to their new bodies like this. This wasn't something she'd even remotely been curious about. But here she was, and there her penis wasn't. It wasn't as if she'd never seen a woman's crotch naked before. But never from this angle, and certainly not with a pair of boobs in the way. Shorts and panties on the floor, she sat down and spread her legs a little. And...

"Are you okay?" a woman asked her as she came out of the stall. Haunted is what the new woman felt. It must have shown on her face. "You were in there a while, Miss. Did I hear a gasp?"

"I'm fine, really. Just... perfectly fem... fine. See?" Jim bounced on the balls of her feet. "It's all there. Thanks for caring!" Jim fled.

Ilene was outside the restroom, waiting for her. She came up and gave Jim a little hug. Despite the weird squashed-boobs sensation, Jim found she actually needed it. "I don't know how much longer I can do this, Ilene. This anatomy of yours is driving me up the wall."

"Cut yourself some slack, girl. You haven't been one of us twenty-four hours yet." She hugged a little more tightly, like a sister comforting her sibling. Jim found herself relaxing. "There, now you're not so tense. Let's go find our bags. Did you drive to the airport or take a shuttle?"

"The way things have been going for me lately I park way out in the outlying lots. The cheap seats," Jim said, putting her camera bag back over her already-aching shoulder.

"You were pretty much dead away when I looked in on you on the plane. Are you rested enough to drive? I don't have my car here with me."

"Let me get some coffee and I'll be right as rain." Jim paused. "'Right as rain'? Geez, last time I heard that phrase was at my mother's for Christmas. My sister uses it all the time." She looked at the witch sideways. "Are you asking me for a ride home?"

"I'll pay for the gas, no problem," Ilene said. "Frankly, as woman to neo-woman, I don't think you should be alone right now. In my line of work I've seen what happens to people like you when they do try and go it alone. Humans are social creatures, we females even moreso. I can't think of a better use for my time right now than showing a new girl the ropes. Even if you're cured tomorrow, I want you to come away from this in a positive light and not a body horror."

"You sound like you read that in a book somewhere," Jim said dryly. "What do you do for a living?"

Ilene laughed. "I did, frankly. As for my job, I invented a way to channel mana for commercially grown magically-charged herbs. It's a lot like hydroponics, since they have so many medicinal uses. It's very profitable. Unfortunately a deal fell through, which is why I decided to come home. I've been away for three months now, at least.

"Even Tiresias Bloom has its legal uses, and it still needs human hands to cultivate it. Believe me when I say that no matter how many precautions employees take, that stuff gets in. It's a very fine powder. I know a couple greenhouses that just supply wardrobes for both genders as an employee perk. But you always get somebody who can't handle being changed. And I don't want that to happen to you, Jim.

"I swear you're going to have a good time. I'll do my level best to make you feel right at home. Just one of the girls, right?"

"Um..." She didn't know if she should be embarrassed by Ilene's obvious sincerity, happy for the emotional support, or both. She could only think of one thing. "Call me Jenny if you want, Ilene. If you want to make me feel like a woman for the duration, I... er..." Jim came to a decision. What harm could it do? "It'll be fun. I mean, if I'm me again tomorrow, I might as well enjoy being 'Jennifer' between now and then. You can call me that, or Jenny, or Jen, or whatever."

Ilene hugged her again. The witch had a delightful smile. "Now you're talking, Jenny! Let's get our bags."

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Neatly-organized camera equipment covered every surface inside Jenny's apartment. One table had a display of antiques, including an old Kodak box camera that still worked, and an assortment of early mana-flashes that didn't need the silver powder or single-use bulbs they used in those days. The air smelled stale, with overtones of the chemicals used for film developing, and she realized she'd left the apartment closed. "Give me a few minutes, Ilene. I think I left a loose cap on the fixer."

Jennifer flicked the air conditioning on high, turned on several fans, and opened each window all the way. Ilene had three large suitcases. Combined with the photographic equipment there hadn't been any more room in the Toyota 4-Runner.

"You still work with film?" Ilene asked. She looked around at the photo-covered walls, a few of which carried various awards. Nothing national, the witch noticed. But regional. And more than a few magazine covers: Sunset, Westways, even AARP.

"You can get all sorts of neat magical effects with the right kind of treated paper that digital just can't do yet," Jenny explained. She pulled on her bra straps. They were digging into her shoulders even more, and the elastic had begun to chafe around her chest. "If you don't mind, Ilene, I'm going to get a good look at myself in the buff. It's been two days since I showered, and I feel, well... icky."

"If I can use it after you, sure. Just remember I'm always here to give advice. And they're your own boobs. Try not to ogle yourself too much, okay?" She smiled wryly, knowingly. She turned more serious. "And if you have a handmirror, get a good look at yourself down there. A real good look. Once you change back, it'll be invaluable on your next one-night stand."

Jenny smirked. "I'll take your word for it. I just want to get clean."

Closing the bathroom door behind her, Jenny reflected that the place really felt like a bachelor pad. She pulled off her tee shirt, draping it over the towel rack since it was the only thing she owned that fit right now, then slipped the bra straps down over her shoulders. She'd worn it long enough that the elastic had dug red welts into her fair skin. Off, damn you! She reached back and released the hooks. The bra fell to the floor. "Aaaah..."

Her breasts dangled freely as she reached down to pick it up off the floor and hang it next to the shirt. Naturally, the first thing she had to do was get a good look at herself in the mirror.

She'd been described as "thoroughly attractive" by Ilene. The description fit. Her face had retained several family features--in the shape of her nose, lips, and eyes--as if all the masculine cues had been evaporated out, creating a creepy, distilled femaleness out of Jim's old face. But to see the resemblance to Jim you had to know where to look. Jenny cupped her cheeks, and felt a downy coat of hair. Her eyes had remained blue, though were now a lighter shade. It really was a beautiful face and figure. It was hard to accept as her own. "What do I sound like?" she said to Ilene. "Not like an airhead?"

"You sound like you as a girl. I'm tempted to compare it to celebrities, but honestly, you'd have a good singing voice if you trained up," Ilene said. "What do you think? Wiggled your shoulders yet? You know you want to, Jen. Jiggle those boobs! Every new girl I've known in your position has. It's one of the clichés that happens to be absolutely true. They're right at hand, so to speak."

Shorts off, panties followed. They joined the shirt and bra on the towel rack. She was an attractive woman, but not exceptionally so. Not perfect--at least, she was someone prankster's idea of a perfect woman. Her breasts were larger than she would've liked; she examined them, both in first person, and in the mirror from the side and front. They really were marvelous, with a perky rounded shape, positively glowing with health. As a man she would've considered them her best feature. She still did. The lingering effects of the mental half of the curse were irrelevant. Jenny still felt like herself--or rather, still felt like Jim in a female body. Now, all by herself. Almost.

"Any questions?" Ilene said. "You can ask me anything. Anything at all. No matter how intimate."

"Um... Not.. not right now, but I'll let you know." Jenny's voice quavered a little. There was actually a gap between her thighs when she stood up straight. And right in the middle under the brunette triangle of pubic hair, the cleft. She knew all the technical terms for what was down there, and was hardly a virgin--at least, as a man. Now the tables were turned, and it was all there, unhidden by cloth. She cupped her breasts, ran her hands down her curves, then down over her behind with one hand, while the other remained on her mons.

Cautiously, carefully, she explored her labia. No dream could simulate those sensations. They were warm, very sensitive folds of moist skin down there protecting her vagina. Obviously being a woman wasn't just breasts and curves. There was a lot more to it. In important ways, having tits was just an accessible sideshow. It wasn't really an arousing sensation, no more than a man who held his penis daily to take a piss. Just indescribably weird. Almost... compellingly so. It was the one completely new sensation Jennifer could think of since that woman in Vegas, almost ten years ago. " Holysh..."

Did she have a hand mirror? If not, it was time to buy one. It wasn't like being a man, where you literally handled it several times a day. And right now, Jenny's imagination was all too hyperactive. She angled herself in front of the mirror, leaning against the wall, trying to see herself down there. Not the most attractive pose. But with a little effort, she separated the lips just wide enough to see into herself and stare for about ten seconds. She let go and slid down the bathroom wall, thunderstruck. Her mind felt tangled in knots. She knew what magic was capable of. But aside from her photographic equipment, tried to avoid things like this. It was an abstract no longer. It's there. It's all there. I have a cu... I'm really a woman. "Holy... Mother of God!"

"'Mother' indeed. That body is all yours, my girl," the witch said. Her voice dripped with expectation. "Yours to toy with. For all you know you're a woman for a day, or less. What to do with yourself? I wonder what I would do in your place. Hmmm. I'd be so curious I'd just have to play with it until I was satisfied."

"All I'm going to do is take a shower, Ilene. Honestly," Jenny sputtered. Even after all that she didn't feel like a pervert, felt no real shame poking around down there. Maybe it was Ilene's constant pushing, but she felt like her reflection belonged to her. Not a relative, not any girl she'd dated in the past. It was her own. That, by itself, made the weirdness bearable. Even desirable.

The witch laughed. "If you say so. See you in thirty minutes, Jenny dear. I'm going for a walk so you have some privacy."

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"I'm not wearing a dress," Jenny protested weakly. Her skin was still pruney from the predictably lengthy shower. Ilene had returned about ten minutes after cold water had forced Jenny to leave it. The only thing that marred the experience was her wet, clammy hair she didn't know what to do with. "What's wrong with these clothes?"

"You can't wear that damp shirt without a bra. I'm sure you figured that out," the witch said. She didn't press the issue, or ask what Jenny had done. Her only comment had been that she looked very clean now. She had done a towel-wrap for her hair to dry it out. "Honestly, I think you'll fit my bra tops. Then I guess you should check your answering machine. Don't you have a cell phone?"

"The battery died yesterday and I didn't have a spare with me," Jenny said. The blinking "15" was an unwelcome intrusion. But she still had to put food on the table, boobs or no boobs. "What's a bra top?"

"It'll be easier just to show you. It's a nice dress. I can't think of a better thing to wear than a dress, especially with your figure. And you said you wanted to feel girly, right?"

"No, I said I felt that way after my shower. It's... it's different. I can't really put it to words yet." Jenny pursed her lips. She'd given up on the bra, and the damp shirt felt chilly and all-too revealing. She sighed, then smiled, blushing a little at the idea. She stifled her laughter at the image of just wearing something so body-hugging. The fact that she had a body that fit it was even more absurd. "Okay, okay, fine. I'll flounce around in a dress for a few hours. Why the hell not? I never do anything halfway! But let me get some messages first. My agent has to be going nuts. I wasn't exactly clear with that Blackberry message I sent at four in the morning."

The first three were telemarketers. The next four were from the Houston Airport police, asking her to call for an update and a further statement. Four of the remaining eight were medical in nature, and the balance were from Houston newspapers wanting an interview. The doctors wanted her to visit the local Medical Arcanist to get the curse examined more closely so a counter could be created, as quickly as possible. She heartily agreed with that, dutifully copying down each phone number. It was already after six o'clock, though. No doubt it'd have to wait until tomorrow at the earliest. The last message was a very confused Martha.

"Um... Jim? Why aren't you picking up your cell phone? I'm afraid I have some bad news, so call me back as soon as possible. I also want you to explain just what in God's name that email of yours was about. I honestly couldn't make head nor tail of it. Something about a girl? Meeting a girl? Pictures of a girl? Call me, Jim."

"That sounded ominous. I'd better call those doctors," Jenny said. "I've had a great time, but maybe it's time for Jenny to say goodbye."

"So soon?" Ilene said. She chuckled. "No, go ahead. If we can get you fixed up before you have to see your agent, so much the better. I've seen what an unexpected change like this can do to a person's social and family life. It's not pretty, most of the time."

"Fucked up, I'll bet," Jenny said unthinkingly. She shut her eyes and groaned. "Just forget I said that."

"I'll just have a look at those pictures while you take care of things." She wandered over to Jenny's Wall of Prints that covered everything from Junior High though her more recent regional award-winners--up to 2003.

Thankfully the local Medical Arcanist's office was used to cases like this. The receptionist didn't comment as Jenny introduced herself as "James Lambert". "We've received your paperwork from Houston, Mister Lambert. But the earliest I can get you with a specialist is this Friday. I know it means you'll be a woman almost a week, but it's the best I can do. If you're not coping, I suggest going to the ER or checking into a mental health facility. I'm really sorry. But it's not the end of the world."

Jenny tugged her damp shirt away from her breasts. She wasn't sure if she should demand treatment, or think of it as an extended vacation from real life. "I'm fine. Perfectly fine. I have a friend here giving me emotional support. A female friend."

The woman on the other end had a tired voice, roughened from smoking. "The infirmary in Houston only gave us about eighty percent of what we need for a proper curse diagnosis. Counter-curses are serious business. If we don't do it just right, a botched attempt could make matters worse. There's always risk involved with mixing magics. Frankly--and I say this from experience as a Bloom victim--suck it up and enjoy the boobs. If you want my advice."

"Well, I didn't ask for it!" Jenny fumed. "Thanks anyway. Be there on Friday." She hung up carefully. "That's the most unprofessional thing I've ever heard! Who in God's name tells someone they should just..."

"Sounded like some kind of boilerplate to me. Something she tells everyone. Probably saves the insurance company money," Ilene opined. "So, Friday at the earliest, just for an exam? That's outrageous! And how long will it take them to make a counter? Are you going to be female for a couple weeks? Longer?"

Jenny sat down on her couch and pulled her knees up to her chest. "I'm sure I'll survive. I've started thinking of this as an extended vacation. This is so far out of the ordinary... I can't even." The brunette photographer blushed. "Anyway.

"It's my agent that I'm more worried about. If I don't sell some pictures like, now, I won't make the rent next month unless I start taking steps. Like selling my antiques." She gave her boobs a squeeze, then folded her arms beneath them. "This is just another complication. Granted, it's a hell of a complication. But it's out of my control, and I have no choice but to cope. I'd better call Martha."

"Try another email first?" Ilene suggested, sitting down next to her and putting one hand on Jenny's knee. "I don't think she'd believe it if you just called her out of the blue as you are. Once you're done we can get some dinner somewhere, and you probably need groceries." She looked at the blue dress she still held. "I'll find something different for you to wear for that meeting. But we'll need to do some shopping while we're out. You'll need bras and panties for a week, at least, and a pair of shoes. Otherwise you can borrow anything you want of mine. It'll fit. It's that magic 'contour cloth' like those shorts. It's going to fit pretty snug around those breasts of yours, but it'll be comfy."

The photographer smiled, patting Ilene's supporting hand. This is the strangest friendship I've ever had. But I like her. It's like we've known each other for years. "I'm a visual artist, Ilene. I'm horrible with words. It's going to take some time to write. I have no idea how, temporary or not, I'm going to break this to Martha."

"I'm sure you'll think of something, Jenny. Anything else?"

She blushed. "I think I'll wear that dress after all. If I'm going to be visiting your 'country', I might as well dress like a woman. I just feel silly doing it."

Ilene chuckled. "You're comparing changing sex to becoming another nationality? Tell me again you're not good with words, Jenny dear. By the time I'm done with you, you'll have gone native. Now, let me show you how to put it on."

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Even doing everyday things felt different. I've been in this grocery store hundreds of times. Hundreds! I know most of the staff by name. But she wasn't going to give anything away. After withdrawing cash from the ATM next door, Jenny and Ilene wandered through the grocery store, mostly buying perishables. Ilene had been a little shocked at the kitchen. "Where did you get all those spices?" she had asked. "Do you use them?"

"Of course. They're not for show," Jenny had replied as she'd pulled on the dress that morning before the trip to Target. The stretchy, magic fabric had reshaped itself, leaving little to the imagination for onlookers. This was a garment intended to titillate men and irritate other women. And it was short enough to send chilly air where it didn't belong. "I'm not your average guy who can't cook. There's this great store in Seattle. I'll give you the address."

For everything else, there was a Safeway down the street. Underclothes had been purchased at the local Target rather than the mall. While there she had replaced Ilene's borrowed dress with something that didn't send a draft up her crotch. Now she wore a pastel green polo shirt and a pair of khaki shorts that were very similar to her normal attire. The outfit managed to feel quite feminine without getting leers she just wasn't ready for.

Ilene yawned. "Are you okay?" Jenny asked. "Did you get any sleep last night?"

"I've been burning mana to keep going, frankly. Once we're done here I'm going to take a shower and crash on your couch, if you don't mind," the witch replied. "I'm sorry the dress didn't work out. Too much, too soon."

Jenny picked a gallon of milk up off the shelf. It was much heavier now. Moving around made her breasts flex and move, nudged by arms and shoulder movements. It was going to be a long time before she got used to them, if she ever did. "I don't think I'm ready for skirts or dresses. I'll need a few more days. Or longer." Inside the purse Ilene had bought her, Jenny's Blackberry started ringing. She'd found a spare battery in the charger. Grimacing, she unzipped the mostly-empty denim bag. It was Martha's distinctive ring.

"You going to answer? Why would she be calling you again?"

"I don't know, but..." So much for breaking it to her easily. Jenny hit answer. "Hello? Um... this is..."

Silence greeted her. Martha didn't speak for agonizing seconds. "I reread that message you sent... I'm in my office right now, and I expect to see you within an hour. We have a lot to discuss, Jim. It's about your future with me, among other things." There was a sound a lot like stifled laughter. The middle-aged woman had to fight to keep it down. "See you then, o... okay?" As she hung up, Jenny heard a bark of laughter.

"She thinks this is funny?" the female photographer said, aghast. "This isn't funny!"

The green-eyed witch stifled a yawn. "What else did she say?"

"I need to go see her now. I can leave you at my apartment while I go over there," Jenny said.

Ilene shook her head. "I'm going to support my new friend. Let's get checked out and bring the stuff back to your place. How far away is your agent?"

Jenny shook her head and put the milk back, grunting a little moving the heavy bottle. "We don't have the time. Let's just leave everything here. I have a feeling that my future manhood is at stake now, as well as my career. This is going to suck."

Anxiety tied Jenny's stomach in knots through the entire drive. Martha's office was in downtown Seattle, near the Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront. It was an early summer Sunday evening, the sun going down over Puget Sound. Martha lived all the way in Marysville, over fifty miles to the north. She never came in on Sundays. It was the one day per week she was supposed to be unreachable.

She parked on the street and adjusted her bra. Again. It was brand new, the kind that came in a box that bragged "eighteen hours of comfort!" Maybe after a few washes and playing with the shoulder straps for a couple hours. They were always too loose or two tight. But at least the band around her chest didn't chafe so much. Girly, girly, girly. Right now, I'd rather not feel like this at all. It's just a distraction. My career is looking really bad as it is. This isn't going to be good news.

Yawning, Ilene was starting to fade. "Do we have time to stop for some coffee?"

"She normally has a pot going. Gourmet stuff. It's her fault I developed a taste for it," Jenny explained. Pausing in front of the door, she pulled nervously on the hem of her shirt as they approached the entrance, stretching it over her breasts. "How can I face anyone I know like this? I feel like I should disappear until this is over. She's going to laugh and laugh." Jennifer sighed and steeled herself. "She's on the sixth floor."

"I'm falling asleep on my feet, but I'm right behind you. All the way," Ilene said. "Just one of the girls, right?"

The lights in Martha's office were the only ones on. Even the corridor that led there had only a few lit. There were no security guards around. Jenny gathered that some of the people who worked here kept odd hours anyway. Martha was successful enough for full-spectrum mage lights. They worked wonders during the long, rainy Seattle winters that went from October to May. And the smell of coffee drifted out of the open door.

And she was there waiting for them, watching Jenny and Ilene carefully as they approached. Martha was a well-kept, middle-aged woman who wore round glasses, curly hair, and typically wore clothing with circle patterns on it. She was a full-figured woman, all curves and no angles. And she was desperately trying not to laugh.

"Um... hello, Martha," Jenny said. "I've had a hell of a day."

The woman stifled a laugh, then forcefully tightened her expression when she saw Ilene scowling. "So, who's this?"

"This is Ilene. I met her in Houston. She's from Olympia and she's helping me through this mess," Jenny replied tartly.

"Come on in, both of you. Boy oh boy, I never thought you were a Bridget, Jim."

"A what?" Jenny said. She unzipped her purse and pulled out the police report. They had very briefly stopped at her apartment for it. "Look, I don't even know what that is. But let's be clear about this. A crime's been committed against me and I'm stuck this way for I don't know how long. Read this."

"I'll read fast. Meanwhile, help yourself to some Gold Coast. It's a particularly good roast this week," Martha said.

The waiting room furnishings were a decade out of style, but sturdy and comfortable. The receptionist's desk looked more disorganized than usual. Martha had taken to using temps lately since she didn't pay quite enough to keep anyone longer than a few months. The office was in a perpetual state of reorganization. A single photograph of Jenny's--her last award winner five years ago--graced the wall. She watched as Ilene poured a half dozen crèmes into her cup, before adding coffee. "I can't drink it any other way," she said. "What do you think she's going to do?"

"It's probably about those photos I sent of that Gadgeteer convention in Nashville. Rube Goldberg devices powered by mana batteries. You've never seen so many physics-defying gadgets in one place! One took a page out of a Tom and Jerry cartoon--except it turned one of the inventors into a mouse." Jenny laughed. That one had made for a good photo. One she hoped would sell. "She got better."

Ilene's eyes were almost dim enough to see her irises now. She laughed weakly. "I'm sorry, Jenny. I'm starting to lose it. The coffee isn't helping."

"Did she just call you 'Jenny'?" Martha said. The mirth had gone from her face, replaced by a mixture of sympathy and apology.

"She picked the name, Martha. Honestly," Jenny said.

"No, it's probably a good idea, to be honest. Since nobody else is here, I'll just get started."

Her agent's expression turned grim. "Nothing sold from your last batch. Nothing. All I have for you right now are some royalty checks from your pre-2004 period. And it's only a few hundred dollars."

It took a few seconds for that to sink in. "Nothing? Nothing at all? What's wrong with me?" She folded her arms and hunched over, sick to her stomach. Everything, everything, had abruptly started to collapse around her. No photos selling, no rent, no food on the table, no health insurance... and without that, no counter-curse. She started crying, and didn't know if it was the hormones or not.

While she cried herself out and Ilene gave her comforting hug, Martha went back into her office. She brought the police report back out with her, and a slim portfolio bag. Then she brought the receptionist's chair around to sit in front of Jenny and Irene. "You've been through a lot the past week or so. After reading the report I'm sorry I called you a Bridget. I knew it wasn't like you."

"What does that mean, anyway?"

"Would you believe I see a lot of men who use Bloom for fun?" Martha explained. "After a while they start thinking of themselves as hot stuff in female form, so they want to do some modeling. I'd say about half of them are so bad at really being a woman it's obvious to anyone who pays attention. They don't fool anyone. It's the other group, who pull it off almost perfectly, that this applies to.

"A lot of those recreational women actually end up dating guys, who understandably think they're real. So when they find out that the hot babe they've been going out with is actually a man five days a week--and they inevitably do--we say those 'girls' 'Dropped a Bridget on Him.' It's a real shock, like a ton of bricks. Get it?"

"Not really," Jenny said. She gestured at herself. "I didn't choose this, but I am trying to make the best of it. If I can't sell anything..."

"I'm happy to hear you have a good attitude about it." Martha put the portfolio on Jenny's lap. "I put this together before I came in tonight. These are selections from your work from the past six years or so. Look at them sequentially, tell me what you see."

This was some kind of test, Jenny was certain of that. This would decide if she left this room with an agent, or without one.

"I'm hoping you'll finally see what I've been hinting at all these months," Martha explained. "Maybe having a woman's body--and mind, and some experiences--will help you see it. A change of perspective, which you've desperately needed anyway. We both know you've been stuck in a rut for years now."

"That's the most unsubtle thing you've ever said to me, Martha," Jenny replied. "I'm not that hopeless, am I? I haven't even been female twenty four hours."

The older woman leaned forward. "I'm telling you, don't look at these like James Lambert. Maybe this crime is a blessing in disguise. The Lord works in mysterious ways, my dear. Look at them like Jenny instead of Jim, a fresh pair of eyes. I'm not saying you have to discard everything you know about photography. But for a few minutes, step outside yourself and just absorb the subtleties of light, color, and shadow. It should be easy for you right now, considering your circumstances. Compare them to Anton and Caroline's latest, too. Then tell me what's missing."

Ilene dozed off in the time it took Jenny to go through the portfolio twice. A dozen of her best--or rather, this guy named Jim's best. If she was really going to step outside herself, she needed something else to divorce herself from that guy. Okay, if she really wants me to think of myself as a woman on this... say hello to Jennifer Sutton. A lot of artists used pseudonyms. She was going to go one better, and use the proper body to boot.

James Lambert wasn't very good with words, having never developed those skills. He struggled with them constantly, preferring more visual mediums. So as Jennifer Sutton went through the portfolio for a third time, she tried to outdo him. Weren't female minds supposed to be more interconnected than a man's? It was time to take advantage of that. She started with the first one.

The first few were vibrant, colorful, full of action. Compelling moments frozen in time. A speedboat race from a helicopter, catching just the right second of triumph when the winner launched through the air over the finish line. Another of one of the many waterfalls on the slopes of Mount Rainier, as it violently flowed over the edge, swollen with spring meltwater. The third was another race, this time with sailboats. It wasn't even a famous race, just one off Mercer Island from a few years back. But the light, the water, and the way the small boats seemed to be moving against one another, was near-perfect. He'd even managed to capture the intense concentration on the sailors' faces.

From 2004 onwards, they changed. Less and less action. The vitality waned, the colors became flat and lifeless. Photos of landscapes, of plant life, and a few sporting events. As if the photographer had ceased looking for that perfect moment and was content just to click the shutter. Sterile, empty. And there was something else important missing. Something Ilene had pointed out the night before, not twenty four hours ago. Jenny got angry at herself--at the man who had taken the pictures. As suggested, she looked at her friends' work. She hadn't seen either of them in weeks. They were off on their own excursions. Just how am I going to break this to them, anyway. 'Hi there, Caroline! It's me, Jim! Why don't we go shopping?' She shut her eyes and shook her head. Don't get distracted, girl.

All the subtle and not-so-subtle hints for a year fell into place. She looked at Martha. "Where all the people? I... he was really good at taking pictures of things, up until a few years ago. But on top of the sterility, there's no people."

"Now you see." she said triumphantly. "I knew you would. You're a smart girl, Jenny."

Maybe she's right. Maybe it did it take a pair of tits and a vagina to get me to see this. Why? I was being a dense, stupid man! Unfortunately those same tits didn't magically improve her skills. "What happens now? To our relationship, I mean."

"I'm going to give you another chance," Martha said. "Just one. Otherwise I'll have to let you go. I need you to put together a new portfolio. Do you want more advice?" Jenny nodded. "I realize that body of yours is the result of a curse, but we can turn this into a windfall blessing. If you can give me something good in a couple of weeks I can put Jenny Whoever out there as an up-and-coming freelance photographer. You look like you're still in college, but that's okay."

"Call me Jennifer Sutton," she said. Sutton was her mother's maiden name. It felt right. "What happens when I change back?"

"What makes you think you have to? Frankly, I think you should stay this way as long as possible, to get the full benefits, then only change back if it starts feeling dull. You can just as easily keep publishing as James Lambert, woman or not. It just doesn't matter. It's a two way street in this business. I have plenty of clients who use opposite gender pen names even without the Bloom. Makes their stuff more saleable in some markets.

"All that's really important here is that you've started learning from your--or rather, Jim's--mistakes. I can think of a dozen less drastic ways we could've accomplished the same thing, but here you are now, a woman just like me. You have to play the hand we're dealt in life instead of pine for a full house." She extended her hand. "Happy to meet you, Jennifer Sutton. We're off to a good start."

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Once they were back at her apartment, Ilene slumped off to sleep on the couch, not bothering to undress. She was dead away before taking five breaths. Moving quietly, but not feeling at all tired because of sleeping almost the whole way on the plane, Jennifer retreated to her bedroom. She shut her door, locking it, then stripped out of her new clothes. She figured the best way to get used to her body was to look at it and use it. Her bedroom was small, and smelled oddly masculine, but it was still large enough to do what she had in mind. Maybe I should read something to pass the time.

The bookshelves here had a limited library. Mostly obscure volumes on photographic history, with a few works of fiction with photographers as the main character. She had a small collection of Jimmy Olsen comic books, and a lot of Spider-Man moldering somewhere in storage. She picked one at random off the shelf and settled in atop her bed covers, laying flat on her back. She normally used this position to read and relax before bed, though without the nudity. Resting the spine of the paperback between her breasts, it gave her an excuse not to take her eyes off them.

The hours passed by, and she actually read very little. Every few pages she'd put the book down to sit up, or roll to either side, or on her belly just to see how each position felt, experimenting with various movements from head to toe. Laying flat on her stomach without propping herself up on her elbows left her breasts uncomfortably squashed; while on her back made them sag to either side, turning the narrow cleavage into a broad, u-shaped valley with the darker splash of her areolas and her nipples as mountainous peaks. That position gave her a direct view of her lower torso, where "no-penis!" sensations still screamed at her, and she usually followed up on it with a labial touch.

She couldn't deny it was fun, in its own naughty way. It was part of the package. Her own soft, shapely flesh. Yet it was possible to overdo it. She gave herself a careful squeeze. I'll see these boobs and everything else every day. I'm going to be a woman a long time.

Long time? No... more than that. Much more. In order to rejuvenate her career as a photographer, she'd have to reinvent everything about her professional life from the ground up and basically start from scratch. Everything. The questions had become: Was her physical gender more important than her art? Was her situation as James so hopeless after all that she had to give up his life and look at a female face in the mirror every morning? I've been a woman less than a day, and I can't put a price on what I've gained already. Why the hell not? I'm Jennifer from here forward. Sutton will just be a stage name. I'm still a Lambert. Explaining this to Mom, Dad, and Sis isn't going to be easy.

There was Anton and Caroline, too. She couldn't leave them out of the loop for very long, either. She valued their advice and company too much. Though her relationship with them would undoubtedly change. Hopefully not for the worse.

She wasn't going to chuck it all in the toilet and leave James Lambert behind as if he was some worthless, empty shell. That felt like a cop-out. More like running away from her problems rather than turning to face them. Granted, becoming a pretty young thing wouldn't be a bed of roses either. Roses have thorns. But in a way she couldn't explain, this just felt like the right path to take. Even if the counter-curse was easy and had a low risk of side effects, the benefits of this bite of Eve's Apple was far too compelling. I'm still *myself* where it counts. But I'm not going to let my past limit me either. I'm not the man... the person I was just last night. This is going to work!

There were a lot of things that were going to change. She never did anything halfway. If she was going to be Jennifer Sutton, she wasn't going to be James Lambert with breasts. She wasn't going to be a tomboy. Even if it meant adopting stereotypically female ways of thinking, and their approach to life. In those ways it was very like moving to another country, with its own distinct culture. Not that I'm going to assimilate completely. I'm still my own woman.

The first step was accepting her body. She folded her arms under her saggy breasts and hugged them gently, and actually started to doze off, just as Ilene knocked on the door. Jennifer saw that the clock was just coming up on three a.m.. "Happy Birthday, Jennifer," the witch said, half-yawning. She still sounded absolutely exhausted. "Or are you asleep?"

"I'm awake, Ilene. Give me a minute." Jennifer took the bathrobe off its hook on the back of the bedroom door and wrapped it around her torso. It was far too large. She was a good three inches shorter and forty pounds lighter now. The terry cloth tickled her sensitive skin, making her nipples tingle and stiffen. She was forced to keep the top loose enough to keep that from happening. The robe dragged on the floor. The brunette photographer opened the door to see a baggy-eyed witch. "You're up? And why 'Happy Birthday'?"

Ilene walked inside and sat down on the edge of the bed. She still looked like she needed a lot more sleep. "I set an internal alarm clock. It's been twenty four hours since you changed." Her eyes glimmered a little. "I wasn't really sleeping at your agent's. I heard everything she said. From the look on your face on the way back here, you're seriously thinking of staying in my 'country' for good. Am I wrong?"

"Um... I've already decided," the photographer said. "I'm Jennifer for keeps. I'll adapt. Not that I think it'll be a cake walk, but it's worth it. I can be a woman. Rather, I am a woman."

The sleepy witch nodded slowly. "Oh, I'm sure you can, and you undoubtedly are, and I'll support that decision. But I also don't want you to commit to 'emigrating' to my 'country' without knowing some very important facts. Or rather, feeling them firsthand. You have to know what you're getting yourself into, if you're going to be a Jennifer instead of a James. Lay down on the bed." She patted the covers next to her.

"This is going to involve magic, isn't it?"

Ilene nodded. "Don't worry. It'll just be a really good illusion. So keep calm and don't panic at anything you feel."

She smirked as Jennifer did as she was asked, then kept her arms around her breasts as if they were a treasured badge of her newly accepted womanhood. "I see you found something you like," the witch said. "Two somethings. Of course, you know what those breasts are actually for, don't you? They're functional, not just for show." She placed her warm hand on Jennifer's belly. "This is from my last period."

"Period? Oh..." Jennifer barely got a word in before the knot of pain in her belly. She almost doubled over. "Is... is that what I think it is?"

"Well, think about it. The uterus is the strongest muscle in the human body. It's like getting a charley horse in your gut. That was a bad one, admittedly. But I wanted you to know what it felt like," Ilene said. "I'm not trying to torture you. It's just something you'll have to face month-to-month. And menses are just gross."

"I can do that," Jennifer insisted determinedly. "I'm just one of the girls. What else do you want me to experience?"

Ilene's hand glowed, then flashed, her eyes sending out a blinding light. And then...

Her breasts were even bigger now. But it wasn't they that made her stare. It was her distended belly, and a very heavy feeling indeed. And from the insider, a little jerk. Something she realized was actually a kick as the baby in her womb jostled around, using her kidneys as punching bags. "Please tell me this isn't real."

"Just an illusion--of a sort. It's an Empathy Belly spell some high schools use on teenaged kids. There's even a version for men so husbands know what their wives are going through. How does that make you feel? You're about eight months along. And it's the one big thing men just can't do, but you can now. It'll last about an hour, so think hard whether this is something you really want. You're female. You get to make babies instead of sperm. Your body won't belong to you for nine months, then there's the nursing."

Pregnant Jennifer slowly levered herself up, gravid belly protruding from her robe while her sore breasts sagged over it. Ilene offered her hand to help her stand up, which she gratefully took. "Of course, that'd mean I had sex with some man," she pondered, the idea no longer an abstract one. She didn't care that her breasts were exposed, feeling very comfortable with Ilene. She opened her bedroom door and waddled around her living room. Illusion or not, it sparked off an incredibly strong desire to experience it for real. "Did this curse make me a straight girl? I mean, that'd be a real change. I really want to experience both sides."

"Most of them do, as I understand it," the witch said. "But don't be surprised if you're bi. About a quarter end up that way. Don't be afraid to experiment with dating, either. You'll have very different ideas about Mr. Right compared to us born-females."

The faux-baby kicked again. Jennifer re-tied the robe around herself. "I'm going to need a lot more time on that one. Ooof! Settle down in there." Despite the discomfort, it felt delightful. Like nothing else.

"I'm going back to sleep. If you still want to be 'one of the girls' when I wake up, then we'll go right off the deep end. I mean full immersion. And I won't pull punches, Jenny dear. Start thinking about which you want to use: tampons or pads. Good night."

Jennifer hugged Ilene affectionately, though not without difficulty in her current bloated condition, and wished her friend and mentor good night as well. The next hour of simulated pregnancy erased what few doubts remained. If anything, it made her decision all the more justified. Looking at her gravid self in the bathroom mirror, all the remaining testosterone in her system felt flushed out without remorse. Even with magical help, no man could do this. PMS was a price worth paying. She wondered if she had a masculine bone left in her body now.

Tomorrow she would cancel the exam, refuse treatment, and see what she needed to do to make Jennifer Lambert a legal reality to match the physical one.

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The men's clothes were the first thing to go. Button collar shirts, polos, shoes, slacks and jeans. None if it fit any more and would be of no further use to an attractive young woman.

Ilene was merciless on Jennifer's old wardrobe, energetically throwing shirts and pants alike into garbage bags for donation while the Jennifer played phone tag with doctors, the Houston Police, and various government agencies to get the ball rolling on her identity change. No, she wasn't going to bother with a counter-curse. Yes, she does still want whoever did this to get caught and punished. No, she wasn't some kind of Bridget. By the time Jennifer finished with the third round of calls, Ilene had cleaned out the entire dresser and half the closet. She didn't touch the boxes of mementos. Jennifer looked askance at the witch, who wore a serviceable pair of jeans and a rather attractive white camisole.

"I won't toss anything that seems to have meaning for you. You didn't say you were chucking everything out," Ilene said, sweaty from her efforts.

Jenny sat at her desk, one leg crossed over the other. An hour ago Ilene had shown her how to properly shave them. Her skin tingled as she rubbed her calves with the soft soles of her feet. "I appreciate that. But I've been looking at my finances. I can't afford a whole new wardrobe right now. I need to focus on earning enough money to pay the rent. Life doesn't stop because I grew a pair of ovaries, and I'm not exactly on vacation," Jennifer said ruefully.

"It's a working vacation, then. Don't you worry about clothes. I'll buy you anything you want. Just think about your new portfolio. Speaking of that, here's something I found on the closet floor." She pulled a Victoria's Secret catalog out of her back pocket. It was an old one, and much thumbed-through. "You're missing people. What techniques did the photographers use on these women? Remember, those outfits will fit you now. What appeals to you most as a woman?"

Jennifer thumbed through the pages with a different eye. The catalog had appealed to the old self because it was both available for free, and had a lot of beautiful women in it. It was at least three years old. Most of the garments were probably not even sold any more. But she still tried to imagine wearing them. "Well, let me think about that. I have a whole thirty hours of womanhood behind me now." And she was back in the clothes she'd bought at Target. Minimum, she needed seven more days of shirts and shorts, some cold weather jackets, and shoes.

And maybe, just maybe, a single dress. Something modest, unlike yesterday's cleavage show. She pointed at a brunette woman on the catalog page that had a similar figure to her own. It was what a polo shirt would look like if it was increased to dress length, stopping at the knees. It had short sleeves and a belt around the waistline. The model was shown sauntering towards the camera, hips askew enough to demonstrate how the garment flattered her curves. "I think I'd like that one."

"Good! Because the next thing on today's list is the mall. Consider this shopping spree my welcome gift to you."

The new woman didn't know if she should be flattered, or frightened. "I'll grab my camera bag."

"And your purse. Don't forget your purse."

She picked that up as well, and slung it over the opposite shoulder. "Are you going to change clothes?"

Ilene shook her head. "Why? I feel fine in this."

"No bra?"

Again, the witch shook her head. "To tell the truth, I hate them passionately. I blame my über-hippie mother for that. But I'm also a witch, so I have some control over my body. I keep myself nice and firm, but prefer a little bounce. It got your attention, didn't it?"

For a moment--just a moment--Jennifer thought of doing the same. But for all Ilene's intent on making her go "full immersion", she wasn't pushing her to do anything she didn't want to. She had a feeling that today's shopping trip would end up with at least one dress, but everything else would be khakis and polos. The way this polo shirt fit it might as well be a low-cut tank top. It was a surprising find in Target. And though it lacked stereotypically feminine cues like lace or ruffles, she liked the way it looked on her. It was just a simple green polo.

"Hmm. Hold on a minute," Ilene said. She picked up her makeup bag. "Before we go, do you want to give anything here a try? I don't have a lot that works with your complexion. You're a little darker-skinned than I am. How about some nail polish?"

Ilene wasn't going to force her, but wasn't adverse to making suggestions. Jennifer thought about it, then set her purse and camera bag down again and wiggled her fingers. "Lead on, MacDuff."

The polish smelled worse than some of the chemicals she used to develop film. But it was a nice shade of red. Jennifer liked it so much she had to take her shoes off and paint her toenails, too. Then she got a little carried away. Next came the lipstick, a half hour of fussing with her hair, and even more experimenting with the makeup the witch did have. By the time they were finished it was already past lunchtime and both women were getting hungry. So when Jennifer took a final look at herself in the mirror, she decided that was more than enough.

"I'll add makeup to the list of things I'm buying you today. You look like a silent movie actress in my foundation." She uncapped some removal cream. "Far too pale."

"If you say so, Ilene. God, this is going to take a lot of practice." She shut her eyes as her friend removed all the caked-on application. "Let's get some lunch first. Maybe I can start by taking pictures of people eating. If the owner likes them, maybe he'd like some free publicity photos."

"Why wouldn't you try selling them?" Ilene asked.

"Jennifer Sutton is just starting out in the business. I'm just seeing of I can get my knack back, period. I don't even know if the estrogen will do the trick yet." Jennifer sighed. She'd taken the biggest risk in her life for uncertain gain. But she was committed now. No going back. You couldn't pick your sex when you were born, and in a sense it really was her Birthday today. Except this really was a choice. There's born-again Christians, can there be born-again women? What a mind-bending concept, but for her it worked.

"Second thoughts again?"

"No, but I'm under a lot of pressure. I need at least a dozen good photos to give Martha by the end of July. And..." She looked at the antiques on her shelves: cameras, flashes, and even a lens or two. She'd been getting to this point anyway, even before the gender switch. They weren't exceedingly rare but would pay the rent for a few months. Time for some sacrifices. A girl's gotta eat. "When we get back, I have more stuff to do before I can relax."

They were about to go out the door when Jenny heard the distinctive ring of Skype on her computer. Not realizing it'd been on, she grimaced and considered letting it go. There was only a small number of people it could be: Family, Martha, Anton, or Caroline. "I'd better get that."

The call timed out before Jenny could get back to her PC, but the caller tried again. Jenny's fingers twitched on the mouse. She decided to hit the Instant Message button instead of picking up the call.

Hey, pick up, Carol typed. How did that Gadgeteer convention go? Did you sell anything?

Jennifer hesitated. The name on the screen was still "Jimmy L", at least. Honestly, you just caught me on the way out the door.

Oh, well. Martha phoned and said I should contact you. Said something happened to you at your layover. In Houston. Called it a "blessing in disguise." She said I could help you, somehow.

The new woman swallowed, and hesitated to respond, wringing her hands. "What should I say, Ilene?"

"It's up to you if you want to tell her right now, Jenny," the botanical arcanist said. "She's a friend, isn't she? Better sooner than later, in my opinion."

Jimmy? Still there? Carol typed.

Still here. How much did Martha tell you?

Something about girl trouble?

Jennifer sighed. That sounded like Martha's sense of humor, alright. I think it's best if start voice chat. But I will say this much. I had to get rid of all of my old clothes today because they don't fit any more. She clicked the green button that would dial Caroline at the other end.

The other photographer picked up almost right away. "Girl trouble? Why'd you have to throw out your clothes?"

Before she spoke, she pasted in the URL of the news story on the Houston Chronicle web site. "Well, it just doesn't fit any more. That's why. It's been an interesting couple days, Caroline." She wondered how her voice sounded. "So you could say yes, I'm having girl trouble."

The other woman's face appeared in a video window. She was in her late 20s, a couple years younger than Jennifer. She wore a pair of glasses that were projected from a metallic band on the bridge of her nose. The mana-lenses hovered in midair in front of her earthy brown eyes. Her hair was dark, short, wavy, and slightly unkempt. "Well, are you going to turn on your webcam? I want to see the face to match that dulcet voice of yours, Jimmy."

"Um... call me Jennifer, or Jenny. And I'm really not..."

"Shy? Oh, I guess you would be. I've met a lot of Bloomers in my line of work; dog shows are full of them, but you're the first friend of mine I've ever had it happen to. Come on, Jenny. I won't be able to see you for at least a few weeks! You know I've wanted to help you get out of the rut you're in."

Jennifer looked up at Ilene, who smiled encouragingly. She pushed "Start Video." Her own face appeared on the lower left hand side, so she could see how she looked to the person on the other end.

Caroline gaped, putting her hand to her mouth. She was genuinely shocked, not choking back laughter. "Oh my God. Is that lipstick? Eye shadow? You're not wasting any time, are you?"

"I have help, Caroline." She motioned for Ilene to come into view. "This is Ilene. My 'big sister' helping me through this. We met in Houston, actually."

"I live in Olympia, so I was coming home anyway. Also, I run a sort of halfway house for Bloomers like Jenny, here."

Raising her eyebrows, Jennifer turned. "Oh, do you? Why didn't you say so earlier?"

"It wasn't important until now. Anyway, we can talk about that later. Nice meeting you, Caroline." She put her hand on Jennifer's shoulder. "Jenny and I were going on a shopping spree. We do have a lot of clothes to replace. I did her makeup."

"I wanted to look like a native," Jennifer added sheepishly.

"Native?" Caroline shrugged. "I have to go. I'm in Baltimore covering a dog show. Some wag is trying to combine a schnauzer and a raven. I'll be in touch." She motioned to disconnect, but looked up again. "Jim--Jenny, you really do look great. Once I get home, we'll hook up and do some girly things. See you in a couple weeks. But we'll Skype as much as we can until then, right?"

Jennifer laughed nervously. "Will do, girlfriend. See you later." They hung up. She sighed deeply. "That went well."

"Better than I expected," Ilene said. "I don't want to burst your bubble, but she might've been trying to appear more comfortable than she really is. If you think it's hard for you to absorb, friends and family looking in from the outside often have more trouble."

"Let's get out of here. I need some retail therapy."

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The next five days kept Jennifer on her toes. Getting her identity changed was a bureaucratic nightmare that left little time to do anything else, including keep in contact with Caroline, or even think about how to tell Anton. Worse, she was normally too emotionally and physically exhausted by the end of the day to go anywhere and look for any photos of opportunity. The sheer amount of paperwork needed to make Jennifer Lambert a real person and link her to James's social security card, driver's license, credit cards, bank accounts, even the bills she paid from month to month, was mind-boggling. It required a half dozen notarized affidavits, more statements from the Houston police, the doctor who had treated her at the airport, and certification from a Psychological Arcanist that she was of sound mind and body, uninfluenced by the psychoactive curse.

"Yes, I really decided I want to stay a woman! No, I wasn't a transsexual before! It's my own choice!" she'd said on numerous occasions, to the notary in particular. It became a mantra. At first, an embarrassing one that felt much worse when saying it to other women. Most of the men seemed more inclined to ask her out on a date. And one did! He was politely turned down.

Between this and selling as many of her antiques as she could on eBay, she needed a vacation from her vacation from herself. It had her so wound up that Thursday night Ilene had cast a sleep spell on her so she could get a full night's rest. The spell was a good one.

Waking to sore, squashed breasts was something else.

Hissing with the dull throb, Jennifer rolled over in bed while the grogginess slowly passed. By the clock it was almost ten, more than an hour than she normally slept. Throwing off the covers, she exposed herself to the relatively chilly air in her bedroom to wake her up more. As a man she'd slept in just a pair of briefs. As a woman, she did the same in a pair of boy shorts panties. Hugging her breasts, she sighed contentedly. "Well, good morning you two. Day six."

Up and out of bed, she put on her robe and waved at Ilene and did her morning routine in the bathroom. Business taken care of, back to the bedroom to consider what to wear for the day.

There were few changes to the bedroom itself as yet. The most obvious sign that a woman lived here now were the half dozen dresses that hung in the closet. There were blouses, two jackets, three long skirts, hip-hugging slacks, and three pairs of shoes, including a practice pair with three-inch heels. She was still moving forward cautiously. The styles were mostly conservative, mostly similar to her male wardrobe. Plain bras, panties, and socks. But there were a couple things that made her blush just thinking about them.

When they'd walked into Kohl's, she'd taken some time to really look at the two parts of the store. Styles on the male side, especially pants, were all in shades of khaki. Muted greens, dark blues, and a few reds. In contrast, the female side was a riot of colors and styles. Ruffled, flounced, trimmed, ruched, and more. Far more variety than had been available to her as Jim. Then there was the matter of matching colors, what patterns looked good on her. For now, simple was the order of the day. Though amazingly hard to find.

Jennifer opened her lingerie drawer. On the left, all her new bras, still mostly unworn. Down the middle, panties, all the same "boy short" style in white. On the right, a small burst of color and lace. Three matching sets of bras and panties that was about as far into the feminine as she felt like going. Pink lace, pastel blue satin, and a burgundy strapless. She was more curious about how that last one actually worked than anything else.

Every day she wanted to try something new that reminded her she wasn't a man any more. So today, she put the "royal teal heather" polo dress on the bed. There was a whole new language to describe a range of colors that men were never concerned about. Drafty, but cute.

She wasn't going to take a shower this morning, having taken a long one the night before. She changed panties, then picked up the dress. Unlike the one she had worn that first day, this one went on over the head, like a shirt. She put her arms through the short sleeves and pulled the stretchy garment over her bare chest. Following Ilene's example, there would be no bra today. The fabric tickled, but was thick enough to mostly hide her nipples. She smoothed the front down, adjusted the belt, and buttoned up the neck. She stood in front of her new dresser mirror, running a brush through her hair before binding it secure and neat with a blue barrette. There! I feel like walking out the door right now.

Woman or not, some days there was no reason to spend an hour just preening. Today, the dress and the barrette were enough. She left her bedroom with a bounce in her step.

"Breakfast?" Ilene said, whisking eggs and flour in a bowl. "Nice choice, there. Understatement is very effective on you. Make sure you keep your legs together when you sit."

"Thanks, I will," Jennifer said. She sat in front of her computer, and frowned. There was still no reply from Anton. His Alaskan wildlife excursion was going longer than he'd said it would, which wasn't unusual for him. He was probably chasing yetis. But given the circumstances Jenny was getting anxious about how he'd take the news. In contrast, Caroline had taken it upon herself to send link after link to web sites and organizations that supported the incurably transgendered like Jennifer. For now, Ilene and Caroline were all the support she needed.

On the brighter side, three auctions had ended overnight, it was time to see who the winners were. The antique flashes were getting better prices than she'd hoped. Three of the four had more than met the reserve. The last one would need re-posting with a lower one. She sent congratulatory messages to the winners, two of whom had already sent payment. "Looks like we need to go to the mailbox store again."

"Another notary? Or is it your auctions?" The witch poured the batter into a metal pan. "How'd you do?"

"Very well! I've bought myself two months or so. It'll be tight, but doable." I'm going to have to find a part time job, though. Just for a financial cushion.

"Look, I've told you that if you need money, I have more than I know what to do with," the witch said. "Or do you want me to just help fill your closet?"

Jennifer smiled thanks. "Honestly, I'm doing fine. I'm still self-sufficient for now. I'll ask for help if things get really rough."

The witch nodded. "Okay. Now, what were your plans for today? If you don't have any, I have a suggestion."

Jennifer went to check her bank account, after transferring the money from PayPal. "Yes! The name changes went through! I'm officially Jennifer, Ilene. The bank and the government both say so now." She paused. "Oh. What'd you have in mind?"

"Congratulations. Anyway, I think it's time I went home. I got a call from one of my girls this morning. The only one. It's just Gloria at the house right now. I think she needs some help with my garden, and I have about three months worth of mail to go through."

"Sounds great to me. I'd love to see this halfway house of yours. Should I pack my suitcase?"

Ilene nodded. "We'll be staying at least a few days. I'm sure you'll find a lot of subjects for your portfolio around the capital. Let's get some food in us first."

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I have to update my equipment, Jennifer thought, rubbing her arms. The front of her dress was damp and clingy with sweat from carrying out her heavy equipment boxes, and her arms themselves felt like wet noodles. Lighter, for one thing. She still used film for almost half her photography. If she was going south for a few days it paid--literally--to be prepared. Two SLRs (one film, one digital), and a medium-format camera with a film and digital backing and its tripod joined the suitcase and Ilene's things.

The 4-Runner was full again. There was still mud caked on the wheel wells from her last foray into Mt. Rainier National Park. There was always something to take photos of in the Cascades. If it hadn't been for Ilene's suitcases, camping equipment would've taken up the space instead. Considering the rather physically weaker state of her new body it would be months before she could take long treks like that again. Assuming she needed or wanted to.

"That's a familiar contemplative expression," the green-eyed witch said. "I see you doing that a lot these days." She smirked. "You look like you're staring at your breasts, though. You might want to look somewhere else while in public."

"I kind of am. Frankly, I like looking at them. I like the way they feel," Jennifer replied, shrugging. And my hips aren't bad, either. She tugged on the front of her dress, letting the air conditioning cool her off. Being smaller meant changes in temperature affected her more. She was already feeling chilly. She put the SUV in reverse and pulled out of the parking space in front of her apartment. Her neighbors were an incurious lot. Perhaps they thought she was Jim's new girlfriend, but none cared enough to ask. The only people who had to be informed were the apartment managers. They had raised eyebrows, but that was it.

Ilene was smirking. Jennifer sighed. "I like my breasts. Is that wrong? Does that make me a perv or something?"

"I know I said 'full immersion', Jenny dear, but there's no need to wallow in estrogen either," the witch said. "A little narcissism about your new self is healthy, though. I'm glad you like them. They have a very healthy shape." She raised an eyebrow. "Next time at least wear a camisole underneath, though. I do."

Jennifer's shoulders fell as she pulled out into traffic. "Oh. I don't have any of those."

She pulled down the front of her shirt and revealed she had one on now. "I have drawers full at home. I hate bras, but I love these. You're a little bigger than I am, but they'll fit. You can even wear them by themselves if you're feeling immodest."

She pulled into the parking lot at the mailbox store closest to home. Going in here felt like a mistake. The notary worked here, and the rest of the staff had known her very well as Jim. She'd often used their services to receive expensive photography equipment while off in far-flung places like Boston, Tampa, or even London a couple times. "Are you sure you want to send them off here?" Ilene asked. "Why don't we try somewhere nobody knows you?"

"I have my reasons," Jennifer said tersely, getting out of the driver's seat. "I've never had a damaged package with these guys. This flash is worth two thousand dollars, and I don't want a bad rating on eBay."

"Just making sure. No reason to torture yourself," Ilene said. "I'll come in with you."

It wasn't as if she'd shut herself up in her apartment for almost a week. Far from it. Between the mall trips and the seemingly endless bureaucratic runaround, Jennifer had been interacting with people as a woman frequently enough. Most of them admittedly didn't know her from before, so her former gender was an abstract thing for them. Not so for Darcy and Donna in the mailbox store. They were a mother-daughter team and the store's sole employees except during Christmas season.

"Hello... Miss Lambert," Donna said. The grudging way the older woman addressed her had made getting the notaries frustrating at best. "What do you need this time?"

The photographer picked a shipping form out of the rack. "I need these things in separate boxes. Double bubble wrapped. They're irreplaceable."

Her daughter, who was a few years younger than Jenny's actual age, looked at the items. "You're kidding! It took you how long to find these? Six months?"

"Sacrifices, Darcy. A new wardrobe is expensive," Jennifer said. Darcy had done five of the six notaries. "And I'm still not selling anything new just now."

"If you need clothes, I can give you..." she looked at her mother. The plump woman was giving her a hard look. "Come on, Mom. It's Jimbo. Or Jenny, rather. We should help her out. She's sacrificed her manhood for her art! That's real dedication for you." She smiled at the new woman in the blue dress. "It's going to work out in the end, Jenny. You're one of us."

Donna was anything but a soft-spoken woman. "Bullshit! It ain't Jim. I don't know who that is, but it isn't him," Donna opined, giving Jennifer a hard, doubting look. "No man I know would trade his vitals for a... a... blue dress! And if it is Jim, he ain't a real woman. He's just play-acting for God knows what perverted lesbian fantasy." She glared at Ilene, who gave as good as she got. Donna actually took a couple steps back under her withering glare.

Jennifer frowned. The sour old woman thought of her as an intruder, while her twenty five year-old daughter was the polar opposite. "You know what? I don't give a tinker's dick what you think, Donna. Give me my things back, Darcy. I'll take my business elsewhere."

Darcy mouthed an apology, obviously hoping she'd change her mind later. And Ilene said nothing, knowing an I-told-you-so would go over like a lead balloon. On the way south conversation turned to other topics.

They talked about clothing through most of the drive. There was always something new, and nothing Ilene didn't know. Women had so many more choices than men did, but they also had more difficulty finding something that fit, since an 8 from one company might be more like a 10 from another. It wasn't just in what she knew, it was like she could anticipate Jennifer's questions. The new woman couldn't be sure if it was clairvoyance, or just experience. After deciding that Jennifer would get her ears pierced tomorrow, there was a lull in the conversation. They were passing through Tacoma when Ilene broke the ice again.

"You're about to meet one of my girls, her name is Gloria," she said. "She's... well, she's like you. A Bloom victim. Different circumstances, but when I found her a year ago she was a very... oh what's a good word? Maladjusted?"

"As good as any."

"She's about forty. Looks thirty, but that's the Bloom. She got a super-powerful dose. I'm not going to tell you everything, that'll be up to her. But the last I left her she was on an even keel. I hope she hasn't hidden anything from me. Just stay behind me when we arrive."

"You could have said something before we left," Jennifer said darkly.

"Oh, you're in no danger from her," Ilene reassured. "She's just got more body issues than you do, even after a eighteen months. So... don't obsess over your boobs too much." She pursed her lips. "You're also going to hear me call her 'Major' a lot. She was in the Marines before... well, before. Just getting her to the point where she chose a female name took ages. Um... take the Nisqually exit. I'm actually nearer Yelm than Olympia."

"Really? I thought you lived in the city," Jennifer said.

"My main sales office is in the city. But as I said, I'm a Botanical Arcanist. The experiments I work with has to be done in a rural setting. It's not exactly a working farm. It's just me and Gloria right now. Magic resists mass production, you know. About the only thing we can get from the Unseen World are mana batteries, a few cosmetics, and a golem or two."

That wasn't exactly true any more. There were ever-greater numbers of mass-produced items that ran on magic. It was just that until someone invented the mana battery ten years ago, outside of the National Enchanted Forests, there just wasn't enough ambient magic to run them reliably. All a mage (or Arcanist, or whatever) really needed to do was make one item and run a mass-duplication spell. From there, "factories" in the Unseen World could churn them out at a pace only limited by the chaotic energy near the more ordered areas on that immediate side of the Curtain. They weren't nearly as good as consumer electronics manufacturers yet, but in another ten years mana- and electric-powered merchandise would be competing neck-and-neck.

"I still need to send these things off, though. Just point me to the nearest UPS Store, then we'll head to your place," Jennifer said.

This time the employees treated her like just another woman. And that was exactly what she wanted.

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The "Major" was an Amazon, a shade over six feet tall, and reminded Jennifer of Wonder Woman. She had perfect Greek proportions, which meant that her breasts were quite large. Though it seemed like she worked outside, her skin was like alabaster, as if she had been carved from it. She moved fluidly, at least when she obviously wasn't thinking about it. When she tried to control herself and walk more like a man, that fluid motion became broken and uncertain.

Ilene embraced her like a sister. "Major! You've grown out your hair! And it's more than a butch cut. That's a huge step."

The Major ran her fingers through her rich black hair. It was the fullest and best-looking hair Jennifer had ever seen and was as long as her own. The tall woman blushed furiously. "Figured that after the price I paid, it wasn't worth being bald any more. I hope you like it, 'cause I used one of those magic home kits for women. Grew it out and styled it in one go. Yeah, it's a big step. I wanted to see how... how I looked. Um. How I looked if I... um..." For a few moments, she looked as confident as Jennifer herself felt about her own new womanhood. Then the Major's fragile self-confidence abruptly evaporated, the glow of success fading into doubt and self-hate. "Um, who's this?" she said, nodding at Jennifer. "Adding another Bloomer to your collection?"

How could she tell? Jennifer wondered, waving a little feminine wave at the Amazon. There was something about her face, though. Her expression that mixed hope and despair at the same time. There was a lot of history written on that deceptively youthful appearance. The photographer found herself wondering what she'd look like in a different, more feminine outfit, instead of the camouflage pants and loose tee shirt she currently wore. But on a body like hers, almost anything could look feminine.

"Meet Jennifer Sutton," Ilene said. "Yes, she's a Bloomer. But she's a local, so she'll only be here a few days."

The tall woman opened her mouth, as if she was going to correct Ilene of something. She fixed Jennifer with an expression like a drill sergeant. Her hips swayed provocatively as she tried to swagger around her. "She's new and wearing a dress? You got to her quick, Ilene. I doubt she'll need your help adjusting very much. And what's with the camera?"

"It's what I do," Jennifer said, extending her hand. "Good to meet you, Major."

The Major took it, and gave her hand a hard squeeze. It was a strong hand. But there was an obvious strain behind her eyes. A shyness, and more. "Photographer, eh? Well, keep that thing away from me."

Damn. There was just something about her. If I could just... This was the first person she actually wanted to take photos of. There was something about her that made her feel like a good subject. Assuming she could break through that shell of hers. Something that Ilene had been working on for a year at least.

The Amazon visibly fought back against the doubt, and seemingly won a victory. "Um... you girls don't have to call me 'Major' all the time. Gloria will do. It's sort of... well... more appropriate." Not a small victory, it seemed. "Let's go inside. I hope I haven't made the place too disorganized while you've been away."

Ilene said nothing, and the two women followed Gloria into the green ranch-style farmhouse. The inside was also various shades of green, with brown carpet. It was like living inside a leaf, with veins branching off into bedrooms. Whoever had owned this house before the witch had had a very large family. There were five bedrooms. One door had warning signs on it, obviously Ilene's magic workroom. The door was obviously mage-locked. The blocky handle had a glowing mana battery in it. "Pardon me, girls. I need to check on things in here, then we'll check on that garden." She laid her fingers on the lock, muttered something under her breath, and went inside.

This left Jennifer alone with Gloria the Amazon. The photographer felt she needed to fill the silence with something. "You really do have wonderful hair, um, Gloria."

The black-haired woman had a bitter laugh. "This hair got me a Section Eight, Miss Sutton. This hair!" She grabbed a hold of it and gave it a hard yank. It probably hurt. Her wild eyes fixed the shorter woman with an almost hypnotic expression. Pure pain and anguish. "This hair. God, I was such an moron! Stupid! Macho! Moron!"

Uh oh. Jennifer, you idiot! she swore to herself.

But the Major stopped herself. It was a strange thing to watch. As if Gloria knew she was starting down a road she'd been on many times before. So she just... stopped. All the pain was visibly stuffed down into some corner of her mind. "I'm not doing that again. I'm sorry, Miss Sutton. I get carried away with my own problems all too easily. I'll tell you the whole sordid story later, if you'd like to turn an ear to it."

Jennifer put her hand on Gloria's near arm, trying to be supportive of a sister Bloomer. "You're coping. Trust me, you're coping." She belongs in a mental hospital, not a farmstead. Yet Jennifer still tried to project that they were in a sisterhood. That if Gloria needed support, she would give it. "And so far, so am I. Can you take me on a tour while our mentrix checks on her lab? And please, call me Jenny."

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The weather was unusually clear for Washington, even in July. On Sunday morning Jennifer rose from her borrowed bed, tugging on the borrowed lace-trimmed nightie she'd decided to experiment with. Ilene did have a dresser full of them, often with matching panties. She'd picked a half dozen the night before and added them to her suitcase. Another interesting step away from masculinity.

Mount Rainier was visible through the bedroom window, with only a little haze obscuring the snow-covered upper slopes. Jennifer had been up those slopes many times, all the way up to Camp Muir, though not the peak itself. In ten years she'd been in and around the Cascades, from Mount Lassen in California to Mount Baker to the north, and less well-known peaks in between. Now she felt like she had to turn away from them for a while. There weren't many people on mountainsides, and there were only so many pictures she could take of rocks and trees any more. Besides, if Jennifer Sutton was going to build a portfolio, it had to be very different from Jim Lambert's. It was time to look at urban life instead.

She took her shower first, and this time her hair needed washing. If there was anything she disliked about long hair it was the weight of it when wet, and the time it took to dry it. After a week her body felt a few hints of normal. She didn't linger over her breasts and labia so much in the shower. In fact, she'd begun to wonder when her first period would arrive. Jennifer hadn't had an opportunity to discuss the issue with Ilene yet. The witch's work had practically consumed her the moment she'd walked in the door.

This morning it was back to the polo-and-shorts basics. This time a red polo shirt and darker khakis. Today, she decided to leave the top two buttons undone. She cupped her breasts and tucked in the shirt to stretch it tautly around them, though she was wearing a bra today. Okay girls, let's see what kind of reaction that gets when out and about.

Maybe tomorrow... something more daring. Partly to prove to herself that she could, and partly to show Ilene she didn't fear showing off her figure. In fact, I'll go buy it myself today. It'll be a surprise for Ilene.

Somehow, getting up the nerve to walk into Victoria's Secret all by herself and buy something off the rack felt like a rite of passage. After spending a few hours with "Major Gloria" Jennifer wanted to do as many of those as she could think of. The faster she could say she'd done it, the more she could focus on the important things, like making a living doing something she loved more than being a man.

There were a lot of female photographers. Aside from Caroline, she knew several by acquaintance. Some of them weren't even human any more, having encountered things in high-mana areas. Given the risks of the profession, they probably wouldn't react too strongly to Jennifer's new status. But perhaps it was best if Jim took a sabbatical for a few years.

Gloria was the only one in the house's large kitchen, frying bacon. "Oh, you're up. Ilene's already out the door. Went to her office in town."

"On a Sunday?" Jennifer said.

"She's really dedicated to her work. Hungry? Or would you rather have something more girly for breakfast? There's some cream cheese pastries in the bread box."

The Major watched the brunette photographer as she took one out and ate it. The bacon sizzled, spattered, and started to burn. "Sonofabitch!" she swore, taking the blackened food out of the ancient frying pan. "You know, with the vibes I got from you yesterday I'm surprised you even own a pair of shorts. How long have you been a woman?"

What to tell her? Lie, no. "A week. But I doubt how I got this body is anything like how you got yours."

Gloria snorted. "You have a family? No, don't answer that. If you did you'd be going all to pieces." She patted her chest between her breasts with the flat of her palm. "Me? Wife and three kids. Career military. All gone to hell. Been almost two years now." She made like she was going to throw the cooking fork across the room, but stopped herself. "But I'm getting better. I finally got the hair. No thanks to a Godddamn snake oil..."

"Um..." Jennifer didn't know what to say. She felt like listening was the right thing to do, but at the same time wanted to avoid making this Amazon upset. "You don't have to tell me your life story."

"Why the hell not? Ilene collects Bloomers like you and me, and we women like to listen to each other's problems, don't we? I've seen four or five come through this house since I got here a year ago. They stay a couple months. Arrive here a complete mess, and leave as nearly perfect feminine flowers. She's got her hooks in you already. I'm just a hell of a difficult case. And I'm smart enough to know it."

Bloomers often couldn't be corrected with surgery, magical or mundane. Mastectomies healed, voices returned to their lilting female qualities, and even injected hormones was converted into their opposite numbers within minutes. There were counter-curses, and depending on dosage and subspecies, all victims generally needed was pollen from the opposite-gender version of the flower to make things right again. Most of the time. She must have gotten a megadose, Jennifer thought. What was she trying to cure? Male pattern baldness?

From the evidence, the answer pointed to yes.

"Well... I'm going into Olympia today. There's a Farmer's Market I want to wander through and see what... who's photogenic," Jennifer said, changing the subject. What she really wanted was to take photos of the formerly male Marine.

"I need to come with you, if I could," Gloria said, picking over the ruins of her bacon. She poured milk over hot oatmeal. "I have some errands to run, and I don't like being out in public by myself. Ilene said you and I should spend some time together."

"That sounds like her," Jennifer said, taking the last bite of pastry. The Major was wearing a white V-neck shirt with an American flag on it and a pair of jeans. For someone who professed be uncomfortable as a woman, that outfit left little to the imagination. The way the flag print curved over her breasts, specifically. Jennifer decided it was best not to say anything. At least she was wearing a bra. "We'll go in twenty minutes."

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The dome of the State Capitol was usually visible in this part of town. Gloria rolled her window down and leaned out, getting some attention from the men on the street. "What are you looking for?" Jennifer asked.

"There's this tiny shop I've been looking for ages for. Their number isn't listed and they've got no web site. Supposedly they're really good at curse-breaking. They move around a lot. Kinda paranoid. There was a rumor they were on Fifth, but I dunno."

"Hoping they'll break yours?" Jennifer said.

"Maybe. But at my dosage, not bloody likely. The jerkass who spiked that hair-growth potion used ten times what it normally takes to change a man. I still got so much Bloom in me I probably shouldn't be having sex... er..." she blushed. "Not that I could ever do that anyway."

The photographer nodded, trying to keep her expression neutral.

"So, a week," the former Marine continued. "One week as a woman. One week with breasts, and a cunt. One. Freaking. Week. All soaked in estrogen up to the top of your pretty head." She paused, smiling her knowing little smile. "You're in for a nasty shock soon."

"I know, I know. My period's coming up at some point." She turned another corner, looking in vain for someplace to park so she wouldn't have to hear what she knew was coming.

Gloria's eyes glimmered evilly. "My, what a good time you'll have. Let's see. First, it feels like your insides have turned all hot and gooey." She began, ticking off each point on her long fingers. "It oozes out of you like some bloody glacier. Black and chunky and..."

"Okay, I get it!" Jennifer exclaimed, feeling a little nauseated.

"And tampons? Oooh, you'll love those. You can feel them, sticking up inside you. And if you don't use the applicator right, ouch! You know what it feels like to get kicked in the balls? This is worse."

"Enough, okay! Jesus!" A parking space opened and Jennifer darted into it, barely fitting the SUV next to the meter in front of two huge Chevy trucks. "You have a cell phone?"

Gloria pulled it out of her pocket, still smiling. Happy she'd squicked Jennifer. "Right here. Give me yours and we can keep abreast of when the other is done. But don't call for at lest two hours, hear?"

"Har har."

Gloria's expression softened, just a little, as she opened her door. But her tone of voice turned mocking as she took the small duffel bag--or large purse, Jennifer wasn't sure--she'd brought with her out of the back seat. "Just treating you to a harsh fact of life as a woman, Jenny. I have to get used to it, and so do you. Toodles!" She strode off down the street in her broken swagger, fighting her hips every step of the way.

"I don't think you have gotten used to it, you bitch," Jennifer muttered to herself. Bitch-in-denial, that's what she was. Jennifer didn't think Gloria was having PMS. She was just so wound up in self hate it'd become a personal religion. But there seemed to be some cracks now, if Ilene was right about the woman's hair. And the way she dressed today was hardly masculine. What was she after, exactly? The paranoid curse-breakers felt like a paper-thin excuse to come into town, even for her.

After feeding the parking meter as high as it would go, Jennifer opened the back of the 4-Runner and considered what equipment to take. She couldn’t carry as much as before, so she reluctantly decided to go without a film camera on this first go-around. Digital would have to do. And to give herself as much flexibility as possible, a mana-powered omniflash. She slung the camera around her neck, the small bag over her shoulder with her purse, and waded into the crowded Olympia streets.

Time to see if female eyes were an improvement over the old models.

This wasn't her first time in Olympia. The city had a scenic waterfront, with the Olympic Mountains visible in the haze today, and boats of all types were one of her favorite subjects. Harbor Days were her favorite, with all sorts of unique small ships and tugboats. There was a little tugboat called the Sand Man docked in Percival Landing. She'd never earned enough to own her own sailboat. And with her being knocked back down to entry-level now, it would be a long time coming.

Not that I had that much money saved as Jim anyway, she thought ruefully. Her declining fortunes had pretty much eaten away those savings to the bone. But now wasn't the time to focus on things. People! She needed to learn how to read emotions better, find just that right moment. But... how would a female photographer go about her work? Having the right parts didn't automatically confer those skills at all. I'll have to wing it.

The Farmer's Market was much like thousands of others around the nation, and she'd visited some on occasion to pick up knick-knacks or gifts for family or girlfriend. But since this was the Pacific Northwest, it was in a covered wooden building to protect shoppers from the rain. It was a fairly new structure, with warm reddish wooden support beams criss-cross the ceiling above. The new woman tried starting with faces, the people who were doing the selling instead of the things they were selling. She lifted her camera and tried to let hew new body guide ten years of experience in the field.

Click... click... click. Digital cameras still discomfited, without the whirr of the film advance how could she be sure that the CCD was actually ready for the next photo? After a dozen photos she tweaked the F-stop, wanting a shallower depth of field. A woman and her young daughter looking at a hanging plant were captured. Next, a stall that sold hats. The proprietors were very gracious, and their smiling faces joined the rest. She was so focused on her work she barely felt someone putting their hand on her ass. "What, hey!"

But whoever had done it had already vanished into the crowd.

Otherwise, nobody really leered at her. Nobody seemed to think she was out of the ordinary. She was hardly the pettiest girl in the building anyway. In the hot summer weather there were busty girls in tank tops and miniskirts, often being escorted by young men with crew cuts and the fashionable animated tattoos on their arms. One caught Jennifer's eye in particular--some rock guitarist doing an endless riff.

Maybe it was the way she carried herself, it was hard to know. She was a professional and people knew it when they saw it. But she was also short. Jim had been about five foot ten. Jennifer was about four inches shorter, and maybe a shade over 130 pounds. The crowd could push her around with ease. Okay, it's getting too thick in here. And hot enough to make her sweat. Damn it. I forgot my sunscreen. If she was going to spend the next few hours outside, she had enough bare skin to burn. And she needed a hat that fit.

She put away her camera and decided to do a little shopping.

Jennifer found a stall that sold--in big letters--"Organically-Grown Cotton" clothing. They also sold hats, and she was drawn to a straw hat with a relatively wide brim. It had some red and yellow daisies. Okay, so it's no fedora. And it's the most outrageously feminine thing I've ever seen. It'll do.

"Are you sure you wouldn't like this one instead, Miss? I think its more your style, if I can be so bold," the twentysomething male salesman said. The one he held was simpler, with a wide green band around the base of the dome, and a chin strap. The band had darker green palm trees on it. "What do you think?"

She took it from him and tried it on in front of the mirror. It wasn't as estrogen-charged as the other one, but it was better. "How much?"

"Thirty dollars, Miss. Tax included." His brown eyes swept over her, from head to toe, hovering over her chest. This was the effect Jennifer had been hoping for earlier. What was it like to be the object of attraction? She really wondered if she'd overdone it.

"I'll take it. Can I buy some sunscreen somewhere around here?"

"Turn left, sixth stall on the right. Will that be cash, check, or charge?"

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Whatever Gloria was doing it had already been three hours without a call back that the Amazon was finished with whatever she was actually doing. Jennifer didn't want to pry--women could be gossipy when they really wanted to be. I'm... not going to be that kind of girl.

There weren't a lot of non-humans in Olympia except the odd elf. The city and much of western Washington state sat in a veritable "mana desert" which made it hard for anything that needed magic to live well. Centaurs and anthros could only spend a few hours here before they started getting sick. The anthros in particular would start losing intelligence without mana to sustain a human mind in an animal head. I think I need to study human faces before I can get furry ones, she thought. Most of them lived in the Unseen World anyway.

At a café near where her 4-Runner was parked, Jennifer sipped coffee and looked over the fifty-seven photos she'd taken inside the Farmer's Market on an LCD screen she connected to the camera. Half of them she discarded outright, but didn't delete all of them--she knew from experience that Martha had somewhat different tastes. There was a single one she liked--the hat salesman proudly holding one of his wares. In fact, the hat Jennifer now wore. I need something more to go with this hat.

A dress with some kind of floral pattern. She wasn't sure what color... she'd have to ask Ilene for advice. But she was starting to warm to the idea of skirts and dresses. But at the moment she was wishing she'd picked something with long sleeves and a pair of slacks instead. Rubbing on sunscreen while the men in the café looked on felt pretty awkward. Several obviously wanted to help, but they also had girlfriends with them. Jennifer ignored their scowls and surrounded herself with an aroma of sunscreen.

Time to hit the streets again.

Jennifer gravitated to the Percival Landing waterfront this time, strolling towards a popular fountain where children often played. It was a large fountain, intended for it. It shot up little globules of water into the air in a sequence of patterns. Today was in the mid-80s, and the hat did help keep her cooler. Though after a while the photographer realized she felt a little silly wearing it. Swallowing her pride, she crossed the street to the fountain and asked the parents if she could take pictures. Maybe it was her face, or maybe it was because she was another woman, but they agreed. "I'm afraid I don't have a business card to give you," she told them. "I'm just getting started in this profession."

"Well, I don't mind," the first mom said. "My children love mugging for the camera."

So Jennifer spent the next fifteen minutes trying to stay out of the spray, and the giggling four year old girl who seemed intent on slapping her on the butt. "Come on, you..." she kidded. Before she knew it, the memory card was full, and she was starting to lose the good light anyway. Okay, maybe some boats this time. Then I'll see if Gloria is finished with whatever she's doing.

It was almost early evening now, and there were couples out walking on the pier. Jennifer switched to a telephoto lens and tried to get some what she hoped would be romantic moments. In the distance there was a woman with honey blond hair, walking next to a handsome man in a dress jacket and tie. They looked like a pair of supermodels. Probably some businessman out with his wife. She zoomed in as they paused at the corner of the pier. Then almost dropped the camera. "No! That's... no..."

The hair was blond, but nobody else had hair like that Jennifer knew of. And there was no mistaking that hawkishly beautiful face. But what she was wearing made Jennifer gape. A black tank top with a very deep v-neck, the neck's edges connected with several rhinestone strands that sparkled in the westering sunlight, with about ninety percent of her cleavage visible. She wore a denim miniskirt, and most shocking of all, high heels. She walked on them with no problems at all. And his hand was on her ass. "That can't be right. There's just no way!" the photographer stammered.

Then they kissed. It was really an amazing moment, full of warmth and tenderness. She almost didn't click the shutter, but after having the camera click a sequence, decided it was enough. They started talking, watching the dockside activity.

She had to confirm this. First, she backed up so that she was too far to be seen without a telephoto lens. With her free hand she dialed Gloria's phone number. As it started ringing, she looked through the viewfinder from behind the fountain across the street. It started ringing.

The woman reached for her purse. Jennifer almost dropped her camera. "What?" an irritated voice on the other end said. "I'm in the middle of something."

"Um... I'm about finished here, Gloria. I don't mind making dinner when we get back to Ilene's place, but we can eat out here if you want," Jennifer said.

"'Scuse me a moment, I need to..." Gloria said, embarrassed before covering the microphone. Jennifer thought she heard a man's voice reply, muffled. "Give me an hour, okay? I've walked all over this town and I think I'm on a wild goose chase, but I've found some other things I need. Can you meet me at the spice shop? It's over at 5th and Washington."

"Okay, Gloria. Meet you there." Jennifer flipped her phone closed. What... the... hell? She had no idea what to make of what she'd just seen. But it was going to take all her willpower not to blurt it to Ilene, or to Gloria herself.

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There was some shopping to do before they returned home, and Jennifer didn't mind dragging Gloria--whose hair was back to the old color and style--along. When she told her that she intended to buy a dress to go with her new hat, the Amazon burst out laughing. "So, when're you going to trade this SUV in for a Volkswagen New Beetle? Or maybe a teeny RAV4? If you're going to be such a shameless chick, you need a chick car."

Jennifer ignored her empty mocking, and decided to go one further. It took almost an hour of finding something right, but when she came out of the fitting room she got the expected reaction. Gloria just stared appraisingly. "You do know that the only thing holding that dress up are your boobs, right?"

It was a double-layer tube top dress with a built-in bra, with green on the top layer and turquoise underneath, visible below the skirt's hem. The brunette just smiled and adjusted the bodice, making sure it wasn't sliding anywhere. There was a tie around the waist to prevent wardrobe malfunction. Yes, she felt awkward and more exposed than she was comfortable with. But she was as much interested in what Gloria would say, and felt like taking some risks. She loudly professed her hatred of being a woman, yet out of Ilene's eye acted very differently. Magically changing hair length, color and style was very easy these days, and had displaced wigs and hair salons alike.

Jennifer folded her arms under her boobs and shrugged, smiling at her reflection. "Hey, I like my breasts. They're one--well, two--of the things I'm really enjoying about this little change in my life. I want to show them off a little." And I want to borrow that top I saw you wearing.

"You're crazy, you know that? Next you'll be naming them." Gloria scoffed, hands on her hips. But when Jennifer had come out of the fitting room she'd caught a glimpse of her looking through some of the racier tank tops.

"A pretty woman like myself should be confident to show off her figure." The photographer put a little steel into her voice and put her hat back on. "It's a poke in the eye to whoever did this to me. So I think I'll wear this out and let 'em bounce. Let's get something to eat."

In the back of her mind, Jennifer worried she was just being a female stereotype. But if she was going to find her own way they seemed a good starting point. The nuances would have to come with day-to-day experience. But for the present, simply being female made the world seem refreshed. I just hope Martha likes this group of photos.

When they got home, Ilene was there. She gushed over Jenny's choice of wardrobe, hugging her enthusiastically at first, then she seemed concerned. "You know, you're moving very quickly on this. When I thought this was only going to be temporary for you, Jenny dear, I would've said it was great. But I've seen Bloomers like you before. Don't wade in so deep you feel over your head. You don't have to completely drown your old self in estrogen and perfume."

Gloria held her purse/duffel bag close. In the other hand she held a bag from the spice shop. She put that on the counter and started removing little plastic bags of herbs. Some had a sigil on them that identified them as mildly magical. The bags were rather full. Ilene looked at them and frowned a little. "I do grow some of those in my herb garden here, you know."

"You locked yourself in your lab so fast I couldn't get a word in," Gloria said. She was back in her American flag tee shirt and snug jeans. "Did you check your channelers? I'm not sure what happened, but the herbs are looking pretty mundane right now. Have been for months. And my cramps are acting up something fierce right now, so I couldn't wait." She put a hand on her belly and smiled wearily at Jennifer. "Sorry about ragging on you earlier. I'm a bitch before my period unless I get my herbal teas. I got enough for you, too. Clears the cramps and the bitchiness right up."

"Um... thanks?" Jennifer said. I think. Damn, that woman is hard to read! "What's this about channelers?" she said, changing the subject.

"Do you realize just how many human civilizations were born around proper irrigation of crops?" Ilene said. "Some of the ancients figured out how to channel magic as well. Roman aqueducts in particular, since cities are most often sited where reality is more stable. But magic is just too useful, you know? Those Romans had a lot of our modern conveniences run on magic. When the Unseen World started to subside in the second century, that was that."

"Nobody's figured out how they did it," Jennifer said. "I thought..."

"Every time the Unseen World comes back, magic operates a little differently. That's why we've ended up with furries and wizards popping up. I've had to modify the Roman sigils so they work again. So now I can grow some pretty strong medicinal herbs, even in a dry spot like Puget Sound. Otherwise I'd have to set up shop near Rainier. You could say I'm more a magic engineer than a Botanical Arcanist."

"I see, I think," Jennifer said. "But magic's never been my thing. I'll leave that to the Arcanists. Now if you don't mind, I'm going to change clothes and send these pictures off to my agent."

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Ilene had fixed a light dinner. She was no vegetarian, and served pork chops glazed in a teriyaki-sesame sauce that was heavenly. The aroma as they'd baked had been mouthwatering. Gloria made her PMS tea, which smelled a little bitter, but didn't detract from the witch's cooking. By the time they were finished, Jennifer's new clothes were out of the dryer and it was almost nine o'clock.

The witch tilted her head, stirring some iced tea with a spoon. "Can I make a suggestion, Jenny?"


"I know it's only been a week, but how would you feel about meeting some other Bloomers? In a social sphere? There aren't a whole lot of you in any given area, but we have a sort of mutual support network. There will be quite a few Bridgets there. You'd be amazed at how many men like 'playing girl', even if it's only once in their lives. It's a bar called Eve's Apple, and it's in Tacoma. It's owned by a Bloomer."

"Who else would use a silly name like that for a bar?" Gloria said dryly.

Jennifer looked at the Amazon's hands. There were still signs of hastily-removed nail polish. It was the same type that girl had used in the airport, so it glowed a little even in this mana-desert. "I'm not sure."

"You could go as you are, or wear that new dress you bought. Granted, you'd be showing a lot of boob, but I guarantee that even in that you won't cause a stir. You'd be surprised at the Bridgets who go for the slutty look their very first and only time out. I swear three quarters of them never try Bloom again in their lives. Being a woman is just too much for them." Ilene chuckled. "It's a casual place anyway. No need to dress to the nines."

Gloria wagged her finger at Ilene. "Before you say anything, there's no way in hell I'll ever set foot in that place. No matter how many times you offer."

If she wasn't going to bother, then Jennifer was going to do the opposite. "Sure, why not? I'll get my dress on."

"Don't worry about makeup or anything else, okay? I'll be ready in twenty minutes."

The bar was about a half hour away from Nisqually. Now that the dress had been washed once, it was more comfortable. But Jennifer kept checking to ensure it wouldn't slide off. Ilene gave her a sideways look. "We're getting close. There's some people I need to meet here, but if you're not comfortable..."

"I just spent half the day in a crowd, by myself," Jennifer pointed out. "I felt perfectly comfortable interacting with people this way. It was really no big deal."

"Because you were interacting with them as a professional, and not really as a woman. At least, you probably weren't thinking in those terms. You don't have a camera in your purse, do you?" Ilene said.

"No. And I feel naked without one."

"Good. But as I was saying, now you're facing the world with that figure, and with that voice. There are expectations. But at this place, people won't mind if you have a faux pas. This is the kind of place where you learn what those are. So enjoy yourself. You can really explore your limits here. Just how feminine do you want to be?"

"Good question," Jennifer admitted. "I know I really enjoyed that Empathy Belly spell. It felt... well... right. It felt right."

"It has that effect on a lot of Bloomers like you. It's basically a sensory recording taken from a pregnant woman. Your body probably produced some motherly hormones in response." Ilene turned a corner and then Jennifer finally saw the place.

Eve's Apple looked like a combination of a bar and a nightclub. It had a gaudy green neon sign and a flashing red apple between the two words. It wasn't a huge sign, but there was something just so obvious about what this place was supposed to be. There were gays bars, and then there were Bloomer bars, though there was generally some overlap between the two. This one looked busy, but not crowded. There were still a few parking spaces.

A quarter of the parking area, lit by an orange sodium light, was an interesting juxtaposition of Harley-style cruisers, Honda and Suzuki crotch rockets, and a good number of Vespas and other scooters. The scene made Jennifer's photographer instincts itch. Everything was arranged just so and the monochromatic sodium light, with some green and reddish tint from the sign above, looked compelling. But she'd been true to her word and had no camera.

Two men standing outside the front doors could have graced a Chippendales calendar. They wore tight muscle shirts with a green leaves pattern and brown jeans. This somehow made them look like a pair of great, strong oaks standing guard. One of them nodded at Ilene as she approached. "Hey there, Ilene! It's pretty quiet tonight. Happy to see you. Who's this?" the one on the left said.

"Jerry, Jenny. Jenny, Jerry," the green-eyes witch said. "She's been with us for a week."

"And you've already got her in a dress," Jerry said. They were both very handsome men. But the respectful way they looked at her took the edge off her discomfort. They didn't leer. And Jennifer suspected that these to men probably had been women. "Don't worry, Miss. You look fine. Have a good time." He opened the door for them.

If the sign was gaudy, the décor inside was over the top "Garden of Eden". The waitresses wore leafy bikinis and the waiters similarly-styled briefs. Eye candy for both sexes. There was a dance floor to the left, with a slow dance currently playing. As Jennifer's eyes readjusted she noticed she really didn't stand out in this crowd. There was a busty woman in a pink taffeta dress resembling a bridesmaid's gown. Next to her, a mountain of a man in a tuxedo. They were like a living Ken and Barbie. This was no doubt intentional.

Ilene tugged on Jennifer's elbow. "Don't bother with them. Swappers, the lot of them. We can get pretty cliquish sometimes. Just look at her face. Looks like she's in some pain. I doubt she'll be on the female side ever again. Boobs that size are murder."

As for the rest, there were oaken snakes entwined around the columns with apples in their tails, as if offering them to the patrons. Jennifer didn't know what to make of it all. The symbolism here was a blunt instrument. Most of the women here were probably men in their normal lives. Apple equaled Knowledge Man Was Not Meant to Know. Starting with sitting down to piss and working the way up from there, Jennifer thought, folding her arms self-consciously. I'm still not really used to these things.

Were the men looking at her really men? Just how common was it for women to go the other way?

The redheaded barkeep waved Ilene over. "You made it! Is this Jennifer?"

"Angela Ginnis, Jennifer Sutton. Go easy on her, Ang. She's a little skittish here," Ilene said.

"We all are the first time. Permanent?" the barkeep asked.

"By choice," Jennifer said, unsure how much information to give. "My career..."

"You don't need to tell me any details," Angela said, quickly interrupting her. "Just have fun and be as girly or butch as you want to be. But there are a few ground rules here.

"One, only about half the people you see here are generally Bloomers, and only a few of them permanent switchers like yourself. It pays to act as if everyone is the opposite gender in real life, but not always. We also get the plain curious, and others who actually want to date switchers."

"Two, no means no. If someone harasses you, the bouncers will see and take care of it.

"Three, there is no such thing as a faux pas here. If you're confused or even embarrassed about something, most of the clientele here will be nurse you through the social niceties of your new sex. If you need help with your period, or how to deal with men, how to interact with other women, makeup tips, anything, that's what we're here for." She took a few pins the shape of an apple out from behind the counter, each the size of a nickel. There were several colors. "Now, this is optional if you want to be more obvious about what you want out of your time here."

The red was for the "girls", green for the "men". And if you wanted everyone to know that you were a permanent switcher, a golden apple. "Completely optional. Some people aren't comfortable hiding the truth from others, for some reason. I don't understand why."

Jennifer looked at the golden apple, uncertain whether she should pin it on or not.

"It also means that you want some help adapting," Ilene added. "Transitions like this are never easy. You're a woman in body, but the rest takes learning. I try to help my girls as much as I can, but I'm sometimes gone for months."

She almost didn't pin it on. But here, at least, Jennifer wanted people to know. She smiled and put it right at the top of her dress, between her breasts. Angela smirked. "Predictable."

"Are my new girls here yet?" Ilene asked.

The barkeep shook her head. "No. Not yet. Give them a little more time."

From her seat on a bar stool, Jennifer could see the entire night club, even in the semidarkness. The mostly-empty dance floor occupied the majority of the space, with tables around it. Most were occupied, and there were definitely several obvious cliques. The most obvious recreational Bloom users were all dressed in costume. In addition to the bridesmaid, there was the Southern Belle, the French Maid, the Cheerleader, and a number of other stock female stereotypes. They were joined by the Groom, the Jock, a Bruce Willis lookalike Action Hero, and even someone wearing a superhero outfit, probably of his own design. There were obvious couples, but the rest were trying their best to have a good time despite the rearrangement of their anatomy.

Directly opposite the bar was a stage, probably for live bands. It was empty tonight, but the tables in front looked like normal clientele for places like this. Most were in casual outfits, though there were many people on dates, with both normal and same-sex couples alike. Jennifer spotted a few red and green apples scattered among them, and one or two golden apples.

The side nearest the door were the merely curious. Jennifer doubted very many of them were Bloomers in any way, shape, or form. They obviously wanted to be close enough to the door if they didn't feel comfortable. From the way they were dressed a good number of them were first-time Bloomers. This was most obvious among the women, with mismatched, ill-fitting clothing. But Jennifer found she could tell which of the men were one by the way they sat, trying to habitually cross one leg over the other and finding something in their way.

Last, nearest the bar, were the regulars. Most of them wore pins, and most of those were golden apples like herself.

Though there was a woman who actually had both a red and a green apple pinned to the left strap of her slinky Little Black Dress. She was sitting at the bar, tossing down a shot of bourbon or two. She looked like she'd been crying. What does that mean? the photographer thought.

"So, Jenny, do you have a new driver's license yet?" Angela asked. "I'm not going to serve you anything alcoholic, but for future reference."

"I do. The DMV was pretty quick about it. And I don't feel like drinking anyway, but I'll take a regular Coke," she replied. Ilene stood near the bar, watching the front door for whoever she was waiting for. Two girls entered about a minute later, followed by a third. The first two carried themselves much like Gloria did when she tried to fight her hips. Both wore clothes you could find in a Target or Wal-Mart. The short-haired blond was the scared one, while the average brunette seemed more composed, even determined. Her hand hovered over her slender belly.

Ilene obviously knew the third woman and waved them over. The third woman carried herself well, if a little stiffly, as if she had military training. "Ilene, I have your new charges," she said, handing her a sheaf of paperwork. "Shall we retire to talk privately?"

The witch rose and gave the officious woman a friendly hug. "Yes, let's. I want to make sure these girls know what they're getting into." She looked at Jennifer. "I'll be at least an hour, Jenny dear. If you get too uncomfortable just let Ang know and she'll find you somewhere to be by yourself. If things go well these girls will be coming home with us. If you want to leave the house tomorrow, just say so. It's not like you live very far, right?"

It was after midnight before the four of them returned to Ilene's car and drove home. The mood inside for the first fifteen minutes was somber, tense. Nobody said a word. The new girls didn't have much, just a suitcase apiece.

It was the brunette who spoke first. She seemed a little green in the oncoming lights of the traffic, once they left the freeway. "Please tell me you have a good potion for morning sickness, Miss Reynolds. I'm going to need it."

"As much as you need, Katie," the witch reassured. "We're almost there."

Ilene had introduced them all before getting into the car. Katie Peterson, three months pregnant with a child she and her husband-cum-wife had switched genders for in order "to share the burden of childbearing"--with Katie going first. Her husband had left her just a month ago after meeting another woman and running off with her somewhere. "Thinking with his dick," the pregnant woman had said sourly. "I should've known he couldn't handle himself as a man. But I'm going to bear my child. And I'm going learn to be a good mother."

The other girl hadn't volunteered any details beyond her name, Victoria. She was a very quiet soprano and didn't seem to like the sound of her own voice. She didn't have an overly ripe figure. In fact, her breasts were smallish compared to the other Bloomers. She was maybe five-foot-four, with a very petite build, with almost elfin features. Brunette Katie's were more angular and somewhat masculine by comparison. She wore her hair shoulder-length.

Of the two, Jennifer liked Katie the most. She shared a similar determination to adapt to her newly-chosen gender that she herself did. But how to approach her? Just... start talking? It's been ages since I made any new friends. Ilene certainly counted among them. But with Anton still in limbo and Caroline sticking with Skype, she didn't know anyone who knew her in-person as she was now.

Her family was another matter entirely. Just what the hell was she going to say to them?

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The next morning, Katie was eating waffles, pausing between each bite, and looking a little green. Still tired, Jennifer hadn't bothered with a robe and was only in her nightie and panties. The scent of freshly-brewed coffee wafted through the house, down the hallway, and tickled the brunette's nose. She found she could almost ignore the bounce of her unsupported breasts this morning. One strap of the nightie had slipped off her shoulder. Jennifer folded one arm under her boobs and used the other to pour herself a cup.

The pregnant woman was sipping hot herbal tea with a strong minty smell. She wore a long red night shirt that showed her slightly distended belly. "Morning, Jennifer," she said. "Ilene told me a little about you. I hope you don't mind. That's a hell of a change to make for the sake of your career." From her tone of voice, and her smile, that was a compliment.

Jennifer gestured at the shorter woman's belly. "I think you made a few more sacrifices than I did. I'm sorry to hear about your husband."

Katie snorted. "You know, in hindsight I knew he couldn't handle it. The type of Bloom we took gave us both very active libidos. We... er... how can I put this delicately? Screw it. We fucked like bunnies for months after until one of those pregnancy tests came up blue. I can't say it wasn't unenjoyable. It felt incredible, really." She got this dreamy look on her face, but that turned to bitterness. "Then two things happened that put my life in the shitter.

"First, the bastard left me for some Femme Fatale hussy with a better figure than me. Vanished without a trace! Then someone at work blabbed that we got our Bloom through less than legal means, and I got fired. Only got community service and a few months probation, though. But that still leaves me with a child to support and knowing very little about being female, even though I've been one for half the year already. Thank God for Ilene, you know? You?"

Jennifer gave her a condensed version of her career issues, what happened in the airport in Houston, the meeting with Martha that had laid everything out so starkly, and the resulting choice to live with the curse as-is. She even described how she felt with the Empathy Belly spell. "I kind of envy you. I'm not ready to date or have sex with man. But that hour was just... wow."

Katie smiled. "I'm going to have this baby. No ifs, ands, or buts. I'm scared, yes. But... Well, honor demands that I do this right. Even if I have to throw out everything about the man I was. It's like moving to another country, you know? If you move to Mexico, you become Mexican."

"I think it's more like changing species," Gloria added from the hallway. Her face was red, with sunken eyes and a puffy redness around them. "Can you grab me a mug, Jenny? I feel pretty dead right now."

"Have you been crying?" the photographer asked, aghast. Just what could have happened to make her do that? PMS? It looked like she'd been at it all night, and she'd drank deeply of her curative teas. Something bad must have happened last night while they were gone.

Gloria's puffy eyes widened and she stood up straight. "Me? Crying? Why would I be doing that?" she protested. She hadn't apparently noticed Katie yet, who had stopped mid-bite. "I'm perfectly fine. I... just didn't sleep well. He... I..." the Amazon stammered.

Victoria stopped the whole conversation in its tracks. She was lurching down the hall, naked, seemingly unaware of anything around her. She certainly didn't notice the other three women in the kitchen as she walked over to the refrigerator and started rummaging around inside. "Where are the bananas?" she mumbled to herself in her soft voice. "Where are the stupid bananas?"

"What is she? Drunk?" Jennifer asked. "I didn't smell any booze on her last night."

The Amazon's expression flicked from sadness to recognition. She gently took Victoria by her elbow. The young woman looked up at her in confusion. "I'll handle this one. Someone go wake Ilene, unless she's up already. Otherwise, check the greenhouse. She needs to know about this."

Victoria allowed herself to be led back down the hall to her bedroom, Gloria pushing gently on her shoulders. The black-haired woman smartly grabbed a banana off the counter before they went. "I'll go find Ilene," Jennifer said. Nightie be damned. There isn't another house for a quarter mile at least.

"That girl is Tiffany Twisted. I'll go look in on them, myself," Katie said.

She found Ilene in the greenhouse attached a short distance from the house. It was surrounded by marble markets a little larger than a tombstone, set in no obvious pattern she could determine. Uneasy about actually going inside, Jennifer opened the door and was hit by a wall of warm, humid air that smelled strongly of mint and sage. "Ilene! Victoria needs some help! Now!" she shouted.

The witch rushed by Jennifer inhumanly fast and almost knocked the photographer on her ass. She was inside and down the hallway before she had even gone back inside. She looked down the hall to see Gloria and Katie both standing outside the petite woman's door. She felt like an intruder here. Um... I think I'll get a shower.

There were things to do today anyway. Important things, like calling Martha about the batch of photos she'd sent the night before. She had to return to her apartment and pick up more antiques to sell. There were boxes to go through, then she could go into Seattle proper to take more photos. She went towards her room to grab her towel, when Katie waved her over. "Come on! Don't be shy."

"If this is some sort of group hug..." Jennifer whispered.

"Just a couple minutes, Jenny. Just to know she has our support. She's only been like this for a couple of weeks. I guess Ilene's deciding if she needs to go to a mental hospital. Apparently the docs don't think so, but..." she shrugged. "I consider myself pretty well-adjusted. I just need monetary help. Are you going out today?"

The photographer nodded. "I have errands to run."

"And I don't have a car any more," the pregnant woman replied. "Can I bum a ride? I at least need to pick up some local job applications. Ilene's richer than Creosote, but I still want to support myself. You're not the only one who has to rebuild her career."

Jennifer chuckled. "Sure, if you don't mind being dragged around a hundred miles of freeway."

"I'm from Baltimore, actually. I wouldn't mind a tour of the area," Katie said.

Looking over her shoulder, Jennifer could see Ilene and Gloria both sitting on the bed, the Amazon looking rather haunted now. The sadness was still there, and Ilene had probably noticed. But Victoria needed the help now. The scene stuck in her mind. Ilene had thrown a robe over Victoria's shoulders. The petite girl was slowly eating her banana, the look on her face worlds away from reality. It was a surreal scene. Jennifer's shutter finger itched. God, I want my camera.

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Like any major city, finding parking in downtown Seattle on a Monday morning was a bear. The 4Runner wasn't the largest SUV on the market, but it wasn't the most nimble vehicle either. "See anything on your side, Katie?"

"Nothing yet," Katie replied, scanning the right side of the street intently. "Is that the Space Needle?"

"Our very own tourist trap," Jennifer quipped, making a left hand turn about three blocks from Martha's office.

"Where's Pike's Place from here? I've done some reading about that one." She rubbed her hands together in anticipation. "Shopping! Ilene gave me some spending money."

"I'm actually getting sick of shopping," Jennifer said, making another left turn.

"Really?" From her surprised tone of voice it was as if Katie thought her new friend was tired of breathing.

"There's actually too much variety, you know..." A parking space opened up a short distance away. Jennifer Lambert expertly made a U-turn and backed right into the space. "Yes! Only a quarter mile from Martha's office. Hope you don't mind the walk, Katie."

"Exercise is good for the womb. At least, I'm going to do as much walking as I can before I waddle around like a seal." She patted her belly.

Jennifer sighed and looked at the semi-professional outfit she had chosen. Gray pencil skirt and short-sleeve belted jacket, and a white blouse underneath. That part she felt she could handle. What was experimental were the itchy nylon stockings. She remembered her mother always complaining about runs, so was being very careful. And they itched. The urge to scratch was overwhelming. "I hope I didn't overdress."

"You look fine. Very comfortably feminine," Katie reassured as she got out of the passenger side. Katie herself wore a snug blue V-neck tee shirt, denim shorts, and sneakers. Her breasts bobbled gently as she walked. No bra for her today. But the way she'd described the soreness from the pregnancy, the female photographer hardly blamed her.

Carrying her immature portfolio over her right shoulder, Jennifer walked with her new friend towards her agent's office.

It was good summer weather. The overcast had cleared off early, promising a warm day to come. With a week as a woman behind her, Jennifer tried to feel confident, but couldn't erase all the self doubt. "I must be crazy. Absolutely insane. Every time I look in the mirror and seeing this woman looking back is just crazy. I can't believe I'm following through with this right now."

Katie chuckled. "Cunt crazy? I've only known you for twelve hours or so and I haven't seen any of that."

"I honestly don't even know what that means," Jennifer said primly.

Her smile grew feral. "Tell you about it later."

Jennifer wanted to ask her what it meant right now, but stopped before opening her mouth when they turned up the hill towards the office building. A twenty year old Jeep Grand Wagoneer, caked with mud from all 50 states, the entirety of Canada, all the way down to Panama. Or so the owner liked to claim, since he never washed it. The vehicle had almost a million miles on it, had gone through four engines, dozens of sets of tires, brakes, suspensions, and everything else that could be replaced. The only reason why the body hadn't rusted out fifteen years ago was that its owner had placed some rather powerful anti-corrosion spells on it.

"Oh, Lord," Jennifer said. That's Anton's. He's back from... oh, shit.

"Something wrong? What did I say?"

"It's not you, Katie. It's... a friend of mine is here." She gestured at the mud-caked SUV. "That's his. I've helped him work on it after his excursions. He's back from Alaska."

Katie knelt down to look at the hardened mud strata. "This old thing? Looks pretty beat up."

"So did the Millennium Falcon," Jennifer pointed out. She grasped her purse tightly. "Well, shit. He's my oldest friend and I have to face him sooner or later. I already told him via email, but I doubt he's read it yet."

"Maybe he has."

Jennifer laughed ruefully. "Then it won't be any easier. I'm at a complete blank to how he'll react. His best friend is a chick now, you know."

"Then introduce yourself as Jennifer Whatever. That stage name you're using. He can figure it out later. We females are all about subtlety, you know."

But I sent him a... oh.

He came out of the coffee shop on the ground floor of Martha's office building, chowing down on a chocolate-filled croissant like a starving man, slurping iced green tea-lemonade between bites. Anton Strauss was of middling height, dark-haired, and had the kind of beard that grew so fast it looked full in two days. His features, on the few occasions he'd been beardless since Jennifer had known him, were nothing particularly handsome, or ugly. It was that beard that defined him. With it, he was a modern Grizzly Adams. And spent nearly as much time in the wilderness as that mountain man.

From the stunned look on his face mid-bite, he recognized Jennifer when he saw her. The quick screenshot she'd sent from her webcam had obviously gotten through. She started to tremble with anxiety as a slow grin appeared on Anton's face.

They had met in 1998, when Jim was starting his career and Anton had several years of experience behind him. With the 90s fad of "X-Treme!" sports, Anton had followed along. Someone had to jump out of airplanes with the skysurfers and take their photos. He was always willing to go a little farther than Jim to get the Perfect Shot. But he also lost interest easily, changing from extreme sports, to portraiture, advertising, and most recently, wildlife and furfolk in and out of Enchanted areas.

Jennifer Lambert nee Sutton opened her mouth to speak. But Anton broke the ice first. He nearly dropped his food on the sidewalk. "That... is really hardcore, um, Jennifer. I was really starting to worry that you'd never get your mojo back, friend-o-mine. So, are the tits working? Getting those creative juices flowing again?"

Well, I expected a comment about the breasts from him. But... The shock of seeing his longtime friend in the new flesh wore off quickly, replaced by admiration, and maybe a little envy. She put her hand on one hip. "I sure hope so, Tony. But I don't expect results this fast. I'm still getting acclimated to all this... weirdness."

"Here to see Martha?" he asked. "You got all gussied up, too."

"Just trying to act like a native," Jennifer said. The look in Anton's brown eyes was strangely familiar. As if a thought had occurred to him that he'd somehow missed all these years. Similar to the expression when he was about to change his professional focus. "I'm going to be late, Tony. Martha's going to pronounce sentence on my first batch of pics since I changed."

"G'dluck, Jenny. Can I call you Jenny?" He nodded at Katie, who was looking at the wedding band on his finger in disappointment. Anton had a wife of almost twenty years and three kids. "Who's your friend?"

"Katie, this is Anton Strauss. Uh, Tony, if you're not busy would you mind showing her around the area a little? She's new to the state."

"But not as new to being female as Jenny here," Katie added. She patted her belly. "And I'm preggers," she said proudly.

"I'm pretty free for most of the day," Anton said. "I'll hang around out here with your friend until you're finished upstairs. Good luck, eh?"

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"Of those you sent me there's only one that really has potential," Martha pronounced. There were thirty Jennifer had sent the night before. Massive RAW-format files that she had printed out on a very high-quality dye-sub printer. They were no different than a regular print in terms of detail. She could see two of her own favorites on the top. The hat salesman, and the young girl at the fountain. But neither was the one she chose.

It was Gloria and her boyfriend embracing on the pier at Percival Landing. The light, the kiss, the expression on their faces. As if the world around them simply didn't matter. "Can you find these two? This is the perfect start to your portfolio, Jenny. The rest I can take or leave. They're good, but none too special. Except for this one."

Jennifer swallowed. She'd forgotten that one was even in that batch. "Well, I'm not sure. They were just a... a... random couple."

Her agent chuckled. "You're a really bad liar, Jenny. Male or female. You know these two. What's keeping you from asking?"

The photographer scratched her head self-consciously. "It's really a complex situation, since..." Jennifer thought about this morning. What could possibly have made Gloria cry like that? Him? They looked too happy in that photo, as if a nuclear blast couldn't separate them. "Well, she's another Bloomer. And she's in this weird form of denial, you see? On one hand she mocks me for what I've chosen, on the other, I see her doing this. And she'd obviously cried herself to sleep last night. I really don't understand what's going on here, but she's a very conflicted personality. She's far more comfortable with herself than she wants us to think, for some reason..."

Martha set the photo down in front of her. "You're still thinking like a man. But it hasn't been that long, so that's to be expected. I've been reading up on Bloomers like you the past week. I want you to consider all that you've just told me, and feel your way through it. Call it woman's intuition if you want. But I've figured out what's going on there."

She thought hard. This is the first time Ilene's been home in three months. She said Gloria was on an 'even keel' before then. She finally grew her hair out. Obviously for this man. She's like...

Gloria was like her five year old nephew. For a long time he absolutely hated broccoli. Wouldn't even touch it. But then, when his mother wasn't looking, he'd obviously tried it and loved it. Being a stubborn child he'd only eat it when he thought the adults weren’t looking, and loudly proclaim (even stamping his feet) how much he hated broccoli and would never eat it. "Never ever never ever!"

"Well, this isn't healthy for her. I'll say that much," Jennifer said. Gloria had called and dumped him sometime after she and Ilene had left for the bar. Her room had been dark and silent when they'd returned home. Why was she so damned afraid Ilene would find out? "And it doesn't make any sense at all!"

"Jenny, honey, from my reading a switch from being a straight man to a straight woman is one of the most wrenching experiences anyone can have. I don't envy you there. I don't know anything else about this person, but maybe showing this to her would help her out."

"She'll think I'm doing it for selfish reasons," Jennifer pointed out.

"If it works, you both benefit. If not, then you'll find another picture to use. But I think this sets the tone for Jennifer Sutton's new portfolio. Keep focusing on people," Martha said. "Now I have another appointment in five minutes. Stay in touch."

Jennifer found Katie and Anton at Olympic Sculpture Park, across the street from Martha's office. The photographer wasn't a fan of Modern Art as a genre. Give me a Degas or even a Monet any day. The sculpture that graced this part of the waterfront, adjoining railroad tracks and Pier 70, was well laid-out. But filled with strange magically-twisted metal. Her friends sat on the grass, talking. Jennifer stayed far enough back not to interrupt their conversation, but close enough to overhear some details.

Katie had a book on pregnancy with her. "Listen to this. 'Early pregnancy symptoms like morning sickness, pregnancy back pain, darkening of areola, pregnancy constipation, excessive salivation, food cravings, frequent urination, headaches, increased sense of smell, lower abdominal cramps, tender or swollen breasts that during the initial weeks on conception made life difficult, have almost faded in the 12th week,'" she quoted. "Yeah, right! My boobs still feel tender and the rest of me just icky!"

"I have three kids," Anton said. "And my wife said that every pregnancy is different. Brenda, our oldest, made her nauseated for two trimesters. But Michael gave her no trouble at all." He smiled through his beard. "What's it like, really?"

"That sounds rough, Katie," said Jennifer, deciding to stop eavesdropping.

She waved the book around then levered herself up on her elbows. "This is just for women like me. Who started as men, I mean. There's a hell of a lot we don't know. Anyway, what's next?"

"Pike's Place, the Space Needle. I thought we'd see a few sights since you're new in town." She smiled at Anton. "Do you have time to come with us, Tony? I wouldn't mind you coming along."

"We fragile femmes could use a big, strong escort," Katie said, batting her eyes.

"Actually, I have a lot more questions I'd like to ask you two," Anton said, eyes alight. "If you don't mind. How do you like Seattle so far, Katie?"

"Already looks a hell of a lot better than Baltimore, let me tell you." She stood up and brushed herself off, returning her book to her purse. Katie had green eyes that drew you to them, even more than Ilene's. And they didn't even glow. There was pain in her expression she wasn't over yet. She looked at Jennifer's ever-present camera bag. "Hey, can I ask you a favor? Friend to friend? Woman to woman, for that matter." >> Jennifer hesitated only a little. "Sure, what did you have in mind?"

Katie patted her belly again. "I want a day-to-day record of this experience. I've tried to do it myself, but I'm not very handy with a camera." She started to blush.

"I could do that." She noticed her cheeks turning red. "But there was something else?"

"You may not want to say yes yet. So I'll ask you in the car, after we're done sightseeing. And eating. I'm a starving woman. Eating for two, you know."

It was the most enjoyable afternoon since before Jennifer's gender change, but it was impossible to forget that they were women at the same time. A pair of attractive young women at that, and though Katie had months more experience at it than Jennifer did, she had also been married and preoccupied with her husband. She met any male eyes with an icy look that even the most clueless got the hint: Back off!

Pike's Place was made for photos of a crowd. But today there was nothing and nobody today that struck Jennifer as particularly photogenic. The light was all wrong in the warren of shops under the Market. So Katie did some shopping instead, buying a pink "I {heart} Seattle" camisole. "It won't fit for much longer, but there's always after," she said.

"What about maternity clothes?"

Katie waggled her index finger at her friend. "That, my girl, is the other thing I had planned today. I hope you don't mind. Ilene gave me a couple hundred to get started with. And I need to find a local gynecologist for a prenatal checkup. You wouldn't believe all this stuff I have to do to make sure this baby comes out healthy."

The funny thing is she didn't sound like she was complaining. Quite the opposite. Normal apprehension aside, becoming a mother was an adventure to her. Something to embrace. It was infectious, and reinforced Jennifer's own resolve and self confidence she'd done the right thing. They had fish and chips for lunch at Ivar's, right down on the docks, watching the people go by. Most of them didn't even look their way. "When I first changed I thought everyone would stare at me. Well, leer at me," Katie said. "I mean, look at this body! It's incredible. I'm actually thirty-five, you know that?"

"Shapeshifting is a healing process," Jennifer said. "It's the biggest medical benefit I can think of. Werewolves don't get cancer. But I think they only use it in terminal cases, since small changes just don't work. Cancers, certain types of curses. I read in a Reader's Digest once about a woman cursed with such horrible PMS they had to change her into a man to suspend it. He can't ever change back or the curse will kill him."

"I'm not sure if I'm ever going back. I'm going to need to nurse for at least a couple years, and by then who knows what kind of person I'll be? Besides, being a man really blows. I'm glad there's expectations I don't have to deal with any more." She picked at the remains of her meal and her tone of voice grew more resentful and bitter. "Besides, it's harder for a single father in this world. Nobody thinks men are good enough to raise children on their own. It's still considered a woman's sphere and men are treated like intruders! And then there's this idiotic 'every man is a potential sexual predator' thing going on. Why..." Resentment had quickly turned to outrage.

"Whoa, there," Jennifer said. "Did I hit a nerve?"

"Do you think anyone would let you get near their children with that camera if you were a man?" Katie continued.

"Take a deep breath, calm down." Jennifer did so herself. This was not a topic she felt like going into. What is this? Venus envy?

The pregnant brunette smacked her forehead. "Sorry, sorry. Mood swing. Stupid hormones. What now?"

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"Don't tell me you're going shy on me now." Jennifer said as she attached the film unit to the back of the Leica medium-format camera. She'd turned her bedroom into a makeshift photo studio, putting up thick curtains to block out the afternoon sunlight. "Nobody can see in, if that's what you're worried about."

Katie had stripped down to her bra and panties. They were blue satin. "I've never undressed in front of another woman before," she said, pausing before removing her bra in front of the drop cloth.

"I can take your picture as you are, in your underthings," the photographer suggested. She had a great shape, but then Bloom tended to give most users an idealized version of femininity, usually from a combination of DNA and the person's mind. "It'd work just as well, honestly."

The pregnant former-man considered this, then unhooked the front-close bra. She grimaced a little as she handed it to Jennifer, who hung it up behind her. Her areolas were much darker than Jennifer's own, and she hissed in pain as they swung free, enlarged nipples standing on end. "Really, really sore right now. All the milk ducts are maturing, you know. I was a C-cup before I conceived. I'm a shade over a D now. And I'm not too happy with it. I'm a small-boobs sort of girl."

Jennifer smiled and nodded. She hadn't done anything like this since college, for a portraiture class she'd only gotten a C in. As Katie removed her panties as well it was all she could do to keep a professional air. But seeing her friend like this made her realize, quite firmly, she felt no sexual attraction to her whatsoever. "Stand right there, Katie. I need to move a couple light umbrellas, and we'll be done."

"You're using film?" she asked.

"Still the best, in my opinion. Um... here. Pose like this. First, hands on your hips, then around your belly..."

She ended up taking a dozen photos, from multiple angles. Once Katie got over her self doubt, she relaxed and posed more naturally. When Jennifer ran out of film it was time to stop. "You're done already?" she said, hands on her hips.

"I'm not doing anything racy, if that's what you're wondering," Jennifer said, a little defensively. "Frankly, you photograph really well. But I should tell you I got a C in the class I took for this."

"Ever thought of taking a photo of yourself?" She folded her arms under her breasts, supporting them gently, then smiled. "In the nude? Come on, you've known me less than a day and you've already gotten me out of my clothes," she jibed, batting her eyes.

"I'm a professional. I can do that on my own time."

Katie just gave her a Look. She didn't pick her clothes back up and just sat down on the bed. "You know, I've never been particularly body shy since I changed. A little blushing aside. I mean look at these tits! They're bigger than they were, you know. I've been reading about nursing, and I'm really looking forward to that part."

"I need a little more time..." Jennifer stammered.

"Bull! I've seen the natural way you walk. I've seen the way you admire your breasts. Come on, girl, strip! Set things up and I'll just click the shutter. Think of it as your first picture in your new birthday suit," Katie wheedled. "Come on. I point out again that I've known you less than a day and I'm sitting here naked on your bed."

And If I was still a man... Jennifer thought. But she could literally see everything. Katie wasn't even sitting with her legs together. It was impossible not to see her vulva. Well, I'm not. And I'm pretty damn sure I'm a straight girl. That figure doesn't turn me on at all. "Okay, okay. Just hold on and let me set up the camera again. But don't think for an instant that I don't feel a little weird about this."

"Weirdity loves company," Katie quipped, rocking back and forth. "I don't think that's even a word, but there you go."

Jennifer chuckled and carefully pulled her polo shirt over her head so she didn't muss her hair too much. Down went the Capri pants, revealing the very plain gray underthings. "Not exactly sexy. I do have some racier stuff, but this is comfy."

"I haven't found a bra yet that was quite right. And it's worse with the pregnancy." She cupped her swollen breasts. "Moo."

This time Jennifer laughed outright.

"Can I ask you another question?" Katie said, still rocking back and forth. She didn't wait for an answer. "What did it feel like? When you changed, I mean. It must still be fresh in your mind."

The photographer had just released her bra and dropped it on the bed. "To be honest, I was half asleep at the time." She looked thoughtful, grasping at straws. "It was like my body had turned to clay, I guess. As if I was being remolded, bit by bit. I vaguely remember watching these things," she cupped her breasts and jiggled them, "growing like a pair of... well..."

"Balloons?" Katie supplied. "Rising like the collision of two continents? Swelling like two supple, fleshy moons?"

"Moons?" Jennifer said. "Not melons?"

"Moons. It's a chest butt, when you come down to it." The pregnant woman giggled. "I look pretty similar coming and going, you know."

Jennifer laughed more loudly. Her panties were off now as well. But she felt like she was just talking to another girl in a gym locker room. There was nothing erotic about this experience at all. But at the same time it felt very elementally female. They had stripped themselves to their basic selves, and were sharing something intimate. "Okay, okay, I can see that. What about your change?"

"Well..." Katie paused. "Imagine, after taking the stuff... you feel like there's a woman inside you. I mean literally inside you, as if the man on the outside is just a shell. Imagine that shell starting to shrink around that shape as if made of plastic. I was well over two hundred pounds of accountant. I'm gaining weight with the pregnancy, but I'm still down almost a hundred. I was a large man.

"But I don't think this was the woman I was 'meant to be'," she continued, making quote signs with her fingers. "I was as straight as they come. Now, frankly, with my husband gone I can't get enough of the beefcake I saw on the streets back in the city. I'm just not ready for another relationship yet. At least until they find the bastard and I can finalize the divorce."

"Doesn't seem to bother you very much," Jennifer said, thinking of Gloria, and herself.

"Why the hell should it? I have the right hormones, the sexiest figure I could've asked for, and the will to use it. I realize that's mostly a result of the Bloom type I took, but I'm not going to sit and moan about it like some sulking teenager. I'm a grown woman and I think of myself that way. My so-called husband and I went at it nightly for three months. I know what it feels like to have sex and I enjoy it. Personally, I think you should try it as soon as you can. It's hands down the best part of being a woman.

"Tiresias was right, you know. Women get nine-tenths of the enjoyment out of sex. Seriously, go read the Kinsey studies. They used Bloom extensively with those."

It seemed that Katie was an encyclopedia of information about this topic. And considering her views about how men are treated, her enjoyment and total acceptance didn't surprise Jennifer in the least any more. Gloria's polar opposite. Where does this leave me? With only a little more than one week's experience, that's what. I'm just not ready to do that yet. I have my career to think about first. "Here, let me set the camera back up again. I'll let you know when to click the shutter. I hope this turns out."

Katie put her hand on her friend's shoulder. "It will. It will. Let's hurry, though. It's chilly in here."

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Stepping into the Motherhood store in the mall felt surreal. Katie gushed over the huge variety of styles and something called a "secret fit belly". Jennifer quickly felt like a pack mule as her enthusiastic friend gave her dresses, skirts, tops, shorts, and pants, until she had a couple armloads. Then she insisted on having her come into the fitting room with her to critique her choices as she dressed and undressed. "Oh, God. Nothing with flowers on it. What was I thinking? It'll look like a muumuu on me in a few months," she said fussily. "What do you think?"

"I don't really know anything about..."

"Says the busty chick in a tank top and a pleated linen skirt," Katie drawled. She was similarly dressed herself, with in a miniskirt instead. Together they were the objects of many men's desires. They could almost be sisters. "I like that top you chose. Red's your color. Trust me on that. You might want to try a denim pencil skirt instead, though. Now..."

Jennifer felt like she was joined to Katie at the hip. It felt like friendship, but qualitatively different in ways Jennifer couldn't define yet. How were friendships between women different? Should she research the topic, or just feel her way through? Men tended to share experiences. They went out and did things. What would it be like on this side?

"Feel like going to the bar tonight?" Katie asked on the way back. "I rather liked the Apple. And I'd like to try one of those little black dresses I found in one of Ilene's closets. I had one, but I had to sell it along with everything else to help pay the fines. And I'm still broke. Thank God for Ilene."

Though she'd only known Katie for a day, they already knew so much about each other it felt like years. Katie was unstoppably, unrepentantly, and stereotypically female, with a tsunami of advice for what Jennifer should wear. She explained it away by saying her husband's (or more properly, wife's) friends had taught her everything she knew, but even that couldn't account for it. Women liked to shop, but not like this. So Jennifer was glad when they left the mall with a half dozen bags, and with Katie's help picking it out, wearing a new outfit herself. She was exhausted, overwhelmed, and just wanted a little time to herself now, just to absorb it all.

Katie had other ideas. It was going to be an interesting night. She shrugged. "Sure, why not? But I'm going as I am. I'm showing enough boob in this outfit as it is."

"Hmmm," Katie said, leaning closer as they reached Jennifer's Toyota SUV. "We need to do one more thing. Only take a moment."

"What's that?" the photographer asked.

The other woman smiled and gave her earlobe a little pinch. "Earrings, my girl. You can go in that outfit, but some jewelry will do you well. Don't worry, it's totally painless."

When they finally arrived back at Irene's place she wore a pair earrings, small silver loops, and a few others. There didn't seem to be anyone else home at first. The house was dark and quiet. "So much for a grand entrance. Is this normal?" Katie asked.

"I don't know. Gloria should be here at least," Jennifer said, resisting the urge to pull on the dangling things in her ears. The magically-driven piercing machine had both created the hole and healed up the edges. But she could feel the distracting posts through her earlobes. "Check the greenhouse?"

"There's a note on the kitchen counter." Katie picked it up. "Funny, in this age of cell phones, eh? Let's see. 'Katie, Jenny. We've taken Victoria to get some help. She needs more help than I can give her right now. With any luck she'll be back in a day or two...'" Katie chuckled. "She's the eternal optimist. Looks like Gloria went with her."

"Maybe I should give her a call," Jennifer said, fishing in her purse. "Make sure everything's okay."

Katie shook her head. "I spent a few hours with Victoria before we met Ilene. She's... how to say it? We did talk a little bit about our changes. She was originally this huge construction worker who took some Bloom on a dare, and they gave her like ten times the normal dose. I don't understand how it works, but if you take more than a certain amount you simply can't be changed back. Some kind of mystical yin-yang balance sort of thing. Some people are immune to Bloom for the same reason."

It was nearly six. Jennifer felt like Atlas supporting the weight of the world. Since the moment Ilene had found her changed on the airport couch, she had been going full speed. Now everything started to unwind. She didn't want to any more about being a woman right now. She'd had zero time to absorb what she'd already been taught. All she wanted to do now was watch TV for a while, maybe read a book, and for once not think about her breasts. "Katie, I hate to say it, but I'm just not in a mood to go out tonight. It's been... well... I need some time to myself."

Katie hugged her friend amicably. "I understand, Jenny. Really, I do. Go rest as long as you like."

"I'm going home," Jennifer said. Quiet time. She really needed some quiet time in familiar surroundings. "See you in a couple days, maybe. I'll send you a scan of the photo I took of you."

"I'd love to see that new portfolio you're building, if you don't mind."

"Sure, Katie. See you Thursday."

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Jennifer gave up on trying to forget she was a woman shortly after returning to her apartment. After walking through the door she realized that the place smelled like a man lived here all by himself. There was work to do, but she resolved to let it wait. A couple days just vegetating on the couch were definitely called for, accompanied by a lot of navel gazing. If she could look past her breasts, of course.

This was simply impossible.

The next morning she awoke on her belly, feeling squashed and sore. The sheets felt scratchy and rough against her skin. Yet another thing that needed replacement. After a lengthy shower and leg shaving she put on her old robe, though it dragged on the carpet it remained comfortable, and relaxed in front of the TV. What mysteries of womanhood can I explore that won't take much effort? she thought. She changed the channel to Lifetime. The movie? "Love Notes."

Later, she got dressed and went to the supermarket and bought a few magazines. Cosmopolitan, Martha Stewart Living, Oprah, Vogue, and others. Just what was the appeal of all this stuff? What kind of advice did they give women about men? Sometimes it was hard not to laugh at the so-called "advice". "Men aren't like that," she muttered on numerous occasions. One columnist in Cosmo claimed to be a Bloomer herself, but Jennifer had her doubts.

She spent a lot of time with her top off and no bra, curled up on the couch with a book from the library, not thinking about much besides the plot in front of her, and the view. Navel gazing? Not really. Boob gazing. Nipple gazing, I suppose. I mean, look at these things. Every once in a while she'd give herself a little poke here, a prod there, a hand down her panties. What am I going to tell my family?

Wednesday night she composed an email to her mother once, twice, three times. Nine out of ten went back into the recycle bin, and when she reached something that might come across as accepting what Luck had given her and going with it for the sake of her career, she saved the draft and decided to sleep on it one more night. It was time to see the other girls in the morning. Time to take up her camera again, and see what Katie and the rest were doing.

What to wear this morning? she thought, standing in front of a still mostly-empty closet and looking through her suitcase. Skirts and dresses, skirts and dresses. Fine. Somehow she'd collected more of them over the past few days. Either Ilene or Katie was buying them for her, and she'd picked out one or two herself. They came with a bewildering number of names: squareneck babybdoll bra top, ruched squareneck bra top, stretch cotton rib Henley, and on and on. There were as many technical terms for women's clothing as there were for her camera equipment. She finally picked one. "Ruffle polo dress. I can't believe I bought this yesterday."

The skirts were ruffled from the hips down. And it was a rather short skirt. The front buttoned and had a collar like a regular polo shirt. It was navy blue. I'll try anything once. Katie's going to gush. But then, she usually does.

Part of her wanted to prove she could be as feminine as Katie. Today, she decided to give in to it and ignored the drafty sensation in her crotch that always accompanied a dress this short. Occupational hazard, she thought, putting on her earrings in the mirror. A little red lipstick, nail polish, a little bit of the makeup she knew how to do. And voila! You'd never know she was a man two weeks ago. She only did the bottom two buttons, leaving the tight dress to follow her curves flatteringly. She took a full ten minutes to brush out her hair. Was she developing some vanity about her new self? Probably. It seemed much better than the alternative. Today she wore a camisole instead of a bra. Then she posed in front of the mirror like one of the girls in the Victoria's Secret catalog. I'm no Victoria, and I'm no Gloria. I suppose this could still be bad for my mental health in some way, but I don't care.

But she still needed some serious business attire. After a few more antiques sold she'd have enough money to buy what she was missing. And over the next few days, she'd spend as much time as it took to finish filling out her portfolio.

Before leaving she called Ilene to let her know she was on the way. "Hey there, Jenny. I hope you've had a good time," she said. She sounded unhappy. And behind her came Gloria's sullen, mocking voice. The photographer couldn't make out the words, but they were making Ilene very upset. "Gloria's leaving."

"She's what?"

"Leaving! She says she's been here over a year and I haven't helped her one bit," Ilene continued. She was both upset and doubtful at the same time. "I don't know what's gotten her..." then came Katie's voice. Jennifer heard something about a photo that had set her off.

"Oh, shit," Jennifer said.

"What was that?" said Ilene.

"I'll be there as fast as I can, Ilene. Damn it!"

On the two-lane road to Ilene's, Jennifer saw a trio of headlights coming the other way. A Harley Davidson touring motorcycle thundered by, its exhaust making the machine's characteristic noise. There was a woman riding it, and her long black hair streamed behind her. And a middle finger flashed as Gloria went by, going at least twenty miles per hour over the speed limit. Jennifer gripped the steering wheel more tightly, swearing to herself. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Ilene's going to be furious with me!

Ilene, Victoria, and Katie were all outside when she drove up, talking to one another in heated tones. Katie was on the defensive. "I swear I didn't know that was her!" the pregnant woman insisted. "Jenny didn't tell me..."

"Where, there she is," Victoria said. "Maybe she can explain."

For a moment, Jennifer felt like driving away herself. But she knew doing so would ruin her friendship with Ilene, and possibly Katie as well. The petite blond Victoria she really didn't know yet, but she didn't want to ruin her chances of friendship with her, as she had with Gloria. Jennifer slid out of the driver's seat, walking awkwardly in her practice heels.

"For the love of God, why didn't you tell me about that photo you took?" Ilene said icily. Jennifer opened her mouth to speak, but the witch gestured for her to be silent. "Just so we're clear, I'm not really angry at you. You made a mistake, and that picture confirmed what I've suspected for months. I'm angry at myself for not pushing the issue when I got back. Being gone for three months I couldn't bring her into acceptance gradually."

"'She broke up with him," Jennifer said. "The man in the photo. That night we picked up the girls at the Apple."

"I still wish you'd told me. But I also don't keep someone from leaving, unless I think they're going to hurt themselves," Ilene said. "She already had the motorcycle license, so I bought her the Harley yesterday. The only thing we can do right now is wait it out and hope she comes back."

Victoria's face was the most animated Jennifer had seen yet. The petite young woman was walking barefoot in the dewy grass, wearing just a long nightshirt. Her breasts bobbed gently when she walked, nipples visible in the chilly morning air. She had a familiar apprehensive fascinated expression on her face. She kept giving her breasts a squeeze, as if she still couldn't believe they were hers.

"I think she's on the mend, for now," Ilene said, noticing she was looking at Victoria. "But the Pysch Arcanists had to give her a touch of the kind of psychoactive curse you almost got. Normally they don't like doing that, since there's always side effects. Gloria didn't qualify. Victoria can look at herself without going catatonic on us now. It's still going to be a rough adjustment, but she'll accept herself as a woman sooner."

"And her body won't drive her insane, either," Jennifer said. Her own mental curse had been removed. The speed she'd accepted her body was suspect in itself, but after seeing what had happened to Victoria, the photographer wasn't going to complain.

Her belly chose that moment to give her a familiar twinge. It was a far milder sensation than the uterine cramp Ilene had given her almost two weeks ago, but it couldn't be anything else. Another joined it, then another. Ilene must have sensed this, because her expression soften and she wrapped her arm over Jennifer's shoulders. "Well, I know that look. Here you go, Jenny dear. I think I need to demonstrate how to use a tampon. And let's get you some of Gloria's PMS tea. She has a gift when it comes to herbs..."

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Tea blunted the worst of it over the next couple days, but not all. Maybe her body was making up for thirty years of not having a uterus and ovaries, or maybe it as simply because it was her first, but Jennifer felt too miserable to even look at her camera. Katie loved the way her photos turned out and wanted more. So every morning while Jennifer stayed with Ilene, she took another picture of Katie. She was noticeably growing, if one compared the first photo from a few days ago to the last, a Sunday two weeks after Jennifer changed.

Feels like two years. She'd sent that email off to her family, and there still was no response from Mom or Sis. Jennifer kept her cell phone charged and by her side, in case either one of them called. Between the irritability, the sore breasts, and just about every other symptom. But the cramps were the worst. A strange clenching on the inside, a whorl of hot tension that never quite let go. And for the first time, she wished her breasts would just fall off from the heavy soreness.

Katie joined her on the couch, in a measure of misery herself. Jennifer was sitting on it lengthwise, with the soles of her feet not quite reaching the opposite side. A support bra gently sucked her breasts, otherwise she wore shorts and a loose polo shirt. The pregnant woman lifted her legs, then sat down so they were across her lap. She picked up the nail polish remover she'd brought with her and had set on the coffee table. "Hold still, Jenny. You need a refresh."

She didn't protest. "I feel gross. Absolutely, completely gross! It's like my whole body is taunting me. If my Mom calls now I'm going to embarrass myself by crying about it." She fumbled for her mug of lukewarm tea.

"You'll get used to it. I never got a chance to, but I had other things on my mind." She uncapped the bottle and picked up the cotton balls. The sharp reek of nail polish remover filled the room.

Jennifer had once played with nail polish as a very young boy. A five year old isn't very conscious of gender roles, and to her (him, rather) it'd just been another toy at the time. "This feel so... girly. Really, I can't describe it any other way. Men just don't have to deal with shit like this."

"You could always get that counter-curse," Katie pointed out. "Poof, you're a man again, and no worse off for this experience."

The photographer giggled, more from the tickling of the cotton than anything else. "I'd feel like I was cheating. Besides, if Mom and Sis can do it, so can I. This is just a rough patch."

"Well, Jenny girl, this is your menarche as a full-grown woman. It's different for girls. You're not producing hundreds of millions of sperm right now." She uncapped the new polish, it was the color of concord grapes. "Instead all this crap you're feeling, and the bloody flow you'll get in a day or two, are just because this month's ovum wasn't fertilized."

Jennifer groaned and leaned heavily against the arm of the couch, one elbow resting on the back. It was then there was a hesitant knock on the front door. Whoever was behind it was having second thoughts. Katie sprang to action before whoever was behind it could turn tail. It could be Gloria...

It wasn't her, but it was a face Jennifer recognized from the Apple. She'd seen this woman, wearing both a red and a green apple pin, crying over many empty shot glasses of bourbon. This bedraggled figure wore a tank top and jeans, and had the red-eyed look of someone who'd spent days sobbing. Her hair was shorter and unkempt, and in a masculine style, revealing a strangely familiar face. "Are... are you Ilene Reynolds?" she asked Katie. "I need help."

"No. She's in her workroom," the pregnant brunette replied. "I'll be right back. Come on in and have a seat." Katie rushed down the hall to find the witch, leaving Jennifer with wet toenails and half-painted fingernails. She smiled awkwardly at the newcomer.

"I saw you in the Apple last week," the woman said. Her voice deepened a little. She coughed to clear her throat, and it pitched up again. "Golden apple, right?"

Jennifer nodded. "I'm adjusting well."

"I can see that," she replied, looking at her with a raised eyebrow. There was a pause. "Gloria lived here, didn't she? Gloria Steiner?"

"Um... yes. How?" Jennifer stammered. Now she realized why the face looked familiar. It was a heavily feminized version of the man she had seen Gloria with.

"I've spent the past few days going through our correspondence. She left clues. It took some digging, but I found it." She sighed. "But she's gone, isn't she? I'm too late."

"Wait. You knew she was a Bloomer?" Jennifer said.

"Haven't you figured out what I am yet, sister?" the woman said heatedly. "Green and red apples. Do you really think there's only werewolves in this world?" She shut her eyes tightly, but it was clear she was too tired to pull off a full change. But her face became more angular, her breasts shrank by half, and she grew a few inches taller, before it almost comically sprang back into her female shape. But her voice stayed deeper at first. It was definitely a man's. "Goddamn it. I'm too tired for another shift. I'm a hermaphromorph!"

But her eyes were aflame with anger. Katie and Ilene arrived now, and she glared at them too with a ferocity that could peel paint. But there were tears in her eyes as well. "Well, hello there. Is somebody going to tell me what happened to Scott's girlfriend, or do I have to get really pissed?"

Then she broke down and started sobbing.

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I don't know how much more of this I can take. Jennifer thought, watching the sometimes-woman sip more soothing tea. All these women going to pieces around me. If my mother calls right now I'm just going to go nuts along with them. I didn't think I'd have to deal with people like this... I was just going to focus on my career. I can't take any more drama.

Her female name was Carrie. She went by Scott as a man. There were two kinds of hermaphromorphs, she said. The first type chose an androgynous name--Terri, Sam, Pat--and considered each form like a pair of pants. You could take it on or off easily, and you were still you. The other kind was more like herself. Carrie considered Scott a rather different personality than her own and referred to him by name. She'd been born female, but recently was more and more curious about being Scott. All hermaphromorphs were naturally bisexual.

"It took weeks to get Gloria to really open up to Scott," she said. "They'd been going out for over two months now, but two or three nights per week. She was upfront about being a Bloomer from day one." She rolled her brown eyes. "Well, of course she was. They met on a Bloomer forum. Scott was trolling for someone like her, frankly.

"I'm just damned confused why she suddenly broke things off. Cold feet just doesn't explain anything. Something spooked her badly and we want to know what it is!" Carrie fumed. But she still seemed hesitant, picking at the homemade waffles Katie had made her. "Did Scott let something about us--I mean, him and me--slip? I'm trying to think and coming up a total blank. She seemed stable."

"I was in Florida for three months," Ilene said. "Setting up some particularly complex manaducts. I didn't intend to be gone for that long. But she was still bald when I left."

"And when Scott met her," Carrie said. "It took him two months to get her to grow her hair out."

"Then you--sorry, he did something I failed to do," Ilene said with a sigh. "When I finally got home it seemed like she was backpedaling furiously."

"She did nothing but try and gross me out about my period when we went into Olympia," Jennifer added. At this point I don't think she was even lying about it. Ponderous, heavy, her breasts seemed to just hang there. "Then... well... I saw you two at Percival Landing. Er, she and Scott. Kissing. Through my camera," she stammered. "I'm a photographer."

Jennifer groaned inwardly. That had to be the most airheaded tone of voice she could have used, ever.

"Let me see that picture," Carrie said.

"It's in my room with the rest of your new portfolio," Katie said. "Be right back."

Jennifer swallowed nervously and tried to make herself smaller on the couch. At least her nailpolish was dry now. Carrie finished eating and sat down in the easy chair to Jennifer's left. "You weren't following her, were you?" she asked.

"No! She said she was going off to look for someone to break her curse. Honestly, I didn't intend..." Jennifer said, trying to hold back tears. "I was wandering around the Farmer's Market. I'm just trying to rebuild my career. And you two..." This time she did start crying. "You... you were so beautiful together. Er... she and Scott. Such a serene moment. The light was absolutely perfect. It's exactly the kind of thing I need to fill my portfolio. But it was totally by chance! I swear!" she wailed.

"Don't go all to pieces on me now," Carrie said, anger turning to surprised concern. She looked at Ilene. "How long has it been for her, anyway?"

"Two weeks. And she's deep into PMS right now," the witch informed, eyes glowing faintly. She looked drained, exhausted from the events of the past day or so.

"Two weeks and she's already playing with nail polish? That has to be some kind of record," Carrie said.

Katie chuckled knowingly from the hallway. "My husband was showing me how to do my nails two hours after we swapped." She placed a leather satchel down on the table in front of Carrie. "Do you mind if she looks through the whole thing, Jenny?"

Jennifer pulled her knees up against her chest. She felt like shit. "Go ahead. I don't care."

"Now she sounds like a sulking teenaged girl," Carrie said.

In response, Jennifer wanted to stick her tongue out at the blond woman. Instead she just tried to make herself into a ball of despair. Ilene poured her more tea and offered her the mug. "Drink this mix. That's the PMS talking. Don't let it win," she said. "You're a grown woman, aren't you? Act like one."

"That hardly ever works, according to the forum," Carrie said, opening the satchel. To Jennifer's surprise she didn't just toss everything over her shoulder to find what she was looking for. She paused, first at the nude photo of Katie, who started blushing, then Jennifer herself, who tried to curl up even more tightly. "You're both very cute. Ah, here..." her eyes widened.

There were three in a sequence. The middle one had the liplock, and the others the before and after. Martha had loved all three. Carrie sighed. Sadness and fresh tears welled up. "You were going to ask us if you could use this, right?"

Jennifer nodded. "I just had no idea how I was going to approach Gloria about it. As fragile as she is. But... I think I know what might have happened to you two. Hear me out a minute."

She described her nephew who "hated" broccoli, but it always seemed to mysteriously vanish off his plate anyway. And he certainly wasn't throwing it away, or feeding it to the dog. In fact, his mother often found more in the shopping cart than she'd originally put in. Jennifer's sister allowed the fiction to continue, at least until he couldn't deny it any more. "She's just like that," Jennifer said. She snorted. "Since I have the emotional maturity of a girl half my age right now, I guess I'm not surprised." She drained half the mug in one gulp, almost burning the roof of her mouth.

"Go easy on that," Ilene said. She combed her hair back with her fingernails. "I failed her. I really, truly failed her. And I have no idea where she's gone. She never opened up to me very much."

"You and I need to go talk," Carrie said. "Between us maybe we can figure out where she might have gone. And... um... I could also use some advice."

"You actually want my help for something?" said Ilene. "After I screwed up your girlfriend?"

"No. Yes. I mean, she doesn't know about me. Carrie, that is. She doesn't know I'm a herm... Now I'm just worried that she's not bi like she claimed and if we actually showed her this face..." She looked conflicted. "Look, I love Gloria very much, but I'm not going to give Scott all the time he wants. We do share one body, after all. He'd dropped a few hints, but... Help? Please?"

"Anything I can," Ilene said. "Let's go have lunch somewhere. In fact, there's that private room at the Apple that'll work perfectly."

That's it. I'm surrounded by weird people. I'm a milquetoast common Bloomer girl by comparison, Jennifer thought. In fact, the spiked granola bar was the most exciting thing that had ever happened to her. Damn if I'll ever let it go. I just hope my family doesn't go nuts.

Her Blackberry beeped. Incoming email message. She picked it out of her purse, expecting it was from Martha. It wasn't. It was her mother. And the reply was short, to the point. She'd be there on Tuesday afternoon and expected to be picked up at the airport. The photographer swallowed and started sweating. But at the very bottom was: I have a lot to teach my daughter.

She should have felt relief. But after the past hour, was simply unable to. Jennifer Lambert curled up into a ball of worry.

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On Tuesday morning the pain was all gone. The sore breasts, the cramps, the mood swings, and a night of sleeplessness reinforced by worries about her mother. She'd slept in the nude Monday night, under a pair of new flannel sheets that tickled her nipples, but were far better than the old ones. Her bedroom smelled like the ever-present developing chemicals, but now mixed with some potpourri Katie had bought in the gift shop on Monday. Jennifer sat up in bed, cupping her breasts in affirmation.

She'd sent a picture of herself, clothed of course, to her mother the night before. And they had talked, just for ten minutes or so. Just so she could hear what her voice sounded like now. Neither had said very much, saving the reaction for today. A big day.

Now she felt something inside. Something hot, gooey, and above all, a downward sensation. Down through her pelvic region. Down, down...

She sprang from her bed and opened her bedroom door, rushing around the corner into the apartment's single bathroom. Katie was already awake, making coffee and pancakes in the well-stocked kitchen. Once she brought Mom home there'd be chicken panini sandwiches for lunch and teriyaki salmon for dinner. But food was the last thing on her mind right now as she sprang into the shower and turned the water on.

Even before she entered she felt a hot slickness on her inner thighs. The water picked up a red tint as it flowed over her. It took a minute for it to heat up properly, leaving Jennifer to shiver a little, both from the cold and from fright. Once it warmed up she started to soap herself, naturally deciding to wash off... "Gyah!"

Her labia felt hot and sensitive. A splash of red landed on her thighs and was washed away. There were little black clots as well. Her frantic intellect tried to comfort her. It's just... the lining of my uterus sloughing off. Because I did... didn't conceive this month. That's all. That's all. Jennifer still yelped when another splatter joined it.

"Jenny, are you okay in there?" Katie asked.

"Would it be too cliché to say that I know I'm really a woman now?" she said.

"There's a box of tampons and one of pads under your bathroom sink," Katie said. Her tone of voice was a little flat, as if she wasn't sure what to say. It wasn't as if they hadn't discussed it over the last two days. After all, with PMS came menstruation. Like every other normal human female. And Mom will be here at two. We're going to have a lot to talk about. My God.

She's practiced with the tampons a couple times, and had reluctantly decided to try them first. Once she was out of the shower Jennifer cleaned herself off carefully, then took one out of the box. Once more, Gloria had been right. Do it wrong and it hurt. And even if she did it right, she could still feel the string against her labia. "Okay, um..."

It still felt like the instructions were in a foreign language. It was just a plastic tube with a wad of cottony material inside, and that silly string. Okay, assume The Posture. One leg up on the toilet seat, slide out inner tube, with free hand gently open the labia... push tube inside, then push again with index finger removing the... guh... and leaving the... Jennifer tried to keep herself from throwing up.

But she'd done something right this time. It hadn't hurt, just felt strange, and now that it was inside, all she felt was the string.

"You okay in there? Do I need to show you again?" Katie said.

"I'm fine. I've just... gained a whole new respect for women. And I am one now. Mother of God."

"Mother indeed. Welcome to the sisterhood. Now, are you going to take today's picture before we leave? And have you decided what to wear today? What about that red babydoll dress? You want to show your mother how comfortable you are."

That was a statement rather than a question. Getting dressed in the morning used to be so simple. "I'll go with one of my polos and... er... a skirt, I guess. That long denim one. It's simple." Jennifer folded her arms under her now-comfortable breasts and opened the bathroom door. She'd done enough photos of Katie now that neither was at all body shy around the other. The pregnant woman had her hand on her swelling belly, as usual. "You're still coming with me, aren't you?"

"Of course, my friend." Katie said, giving her a hug. "We have a few hours before we have to leave. Let's make sure things are perfect around here."

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Jennifer's mother was a well-preserved woman in her mid-sixtes, and ran a day care center in recent years. She kept her hair blond and full like most women did these days, with the mass-produced "style wands" Jennifer herself had decided to use this morning. Nothing particularly fancy, but she had given her hair a slightly lighter brunette tint, and shortened it a few inches. She sat in one of the waiting chairs next to the baggage claim, watching for her mother to come down the escalator.

"Calm down, Jenny. She'll recognize you," Katie reassured, looking up from the issue of Cosmo Jennifer had purchased earlier. She was getting as many good laughs out of it as the photographer had, but seemed to take other things worryingly seriously.

Jennifer's thought leapt into her throat as she saw Mom at the top of the escalator. "Oh God. There she is."

"Better go up and meet her, then. I'm right behind you," Katie reassured.

Her mother obviously saw her first, the way she was looking at her. So Jennifer stayed right where she was and allowed her to approach first. She stopped about three feet away, examining her new daughter from head to toe. The air between them felt like ice, momentarily. But then her skepticism was overcome and she embraced her. "No doubt about it. You're my child. You have the Lambert jaw, and your sister's nose."

Jennifer's legs turned to jelly. She had to struggle to keep from falling. "I'm sorry, Mom. I should have told you the day after. But..."

"You were preoccupied with your career, and this isn't really an easy thing to break to your family. I know," she said. She gave Jennifer a little kiss on the cheek. "As I said last night, I have a lot to teach my daughter. I have two suitcases with me. Some things of yours, and a gift or two I hope you'll like."

Jennifer started to cry a little, the tension all gone. "Mom... I..."

"Hush. Let's at least wait until we're in your car." She looked over Jennifer's shoulder. "This must be Katie."

"Katie Peterson. Happy to meet you, Mrs. Lambert," the pregnant woman said, extending her hand.

"Call me Rachel. Ah! There's the first bag. You know the one, Jennifer," her mother said, shaking it.

"I need to visit the restroom before we go," Jennifer said, more conscious of the tampon now. How long did they last? It'd been a few hours. Better change it out... "Something I need to take care of."

"Having your period already?" her Mother said.

Jennifer gaped. "How could you tell?"

"The disgusted expression on that pretty face of yours. Can you wait just a little longer? Or do you feel... full?" She looked at the moving baggage carousel behind her. "Oh, there they are! Try and wait 'til you get home."

The new woman shook her head. "I really need to do this now, Mom. Be right back..." she fled towards the Women's Restroom.

It took fifteen minutes and one failed try, but when she got out again she found Katie and her mother seated in the same area they'd been waiting before. She couldn't hear Katie over the crowd, but from the expression on her face she was likely going on about her favorite topic: The way men were treated these days. Her Mother smiled and nodded, smiled and nodded, unable to get a word in edgewise. She stood up and approached her daughter as if she was a life preserver. "You were in there quite a while, Jennifer. Do you have any questions?"

"Well, not here. Let's get back to my apartment now." Jennifer sighed. It's going to be a long week.

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"I blame Tim Allen and Home Improvement," Katie was saying as they wheeled the luggage to Jennifer's front door. The tall pines out front cast a stronger fragrance than usual today, and they shaded her front windows so that the apartment never got very hot. "Ever since that show premiered men have been portrayed as idiots in the media. When was the last time you saw a father in a real nurturing role that didn't also make him out to be a bumbling fool? Men aren't so much Ward Cleaver, or even Cliff Huxtable, as they are Homer Simpson! And do I have to mention the insulting farce that's SpikeTV?"

Jennifer ground her teeth. She liked Katie, but this was getting ridiculous since she'd found an apparent ready ear in Jennifer's mother. "No regrets leaving all that behind, then?" Rachel asked.

"Not a single one," Katie said, hand over her belly for emphasis. "I should feel the baby moving around in a few weeks. I'm really looking forward to it."

"I don't mean to burst your bubble, but you're in for a lot of unpleasant surprises," Rachel said.

"You mean vaginal discharge? Mood swings? Morning sickness? Strange food cravings? I'll take the bad with the good," Katie insisted, lifting the suitcase upstairs with some difficulty. "What's in here?"

"A few mementos is all," Rachel said, giving her daughter a significant look.

Childhood toys and pictures, probably. I doubt she wants me to forget I was her son. As if that would ever happen, thought Jennifer.

Once they were inside, her mother looked around the living room. "New curtains, dear? Flowers? And it smells like a Linda's Gifts in here. What is that? Patchouli and some kind of floral potpourri?" She saw the magazines sitting on the coffee table and raised her eyebrows. "Oh, now I see. Honestly, you're trying too hard, girls."

"Really? The flowers were my idea," Jennifer said.

"Otherwise, you haven't done very much with the place. I see the kitchen is as well-stocked as ever." Rachel chewed on her lower lip for a moment. "Katie, I need to have a mother-daughter talk with Jennifer. Do you mind taking a walk somewhere for a while? I'm not trying to throw you out, but..."

Katie shrugged. "I understand completely. I had a similar talk with my parents before my so-called 'husband' and I made the switch. I thought I saw a café down the street. I'll take my new laptop and work on my resume." She patted her belly. "Besides, walking is good for the baby. Later." She gathered her things and sauntered out the door.

Jennifer's mother pinched the bridge of her nose. "No offense, honey, but your friend is very... passionate."

"She's a handful," Jennifer said, nodding. But now alone with Mom, her anxiety returned and a silence grew between them. Her mother was looking at her as if she was a prize horse. "Um..."

Her mother abruptly hugged her, tight. She returned the embrace and they stood together for several minutes. "Oh God, Mom. I’m sorry, I'm sorry... I should've."

"Everything happens for a purpose," the old woman replied in a wavering voice, hugging more tightly. "Everything. You were my son for thirty years, now you're my daughter. I know you said that you chose to stay this way, but..."

"Mom, please..." Jennifer pled. This wasn't the first time she'd heard this kind of speech. "I don't believe..."

"I know you don't, daughter of mine. I know. But nevertheless, here you are. I've listened to your career problems for two years now. If this is what it takes to get it back on track, then I'll help any way I can." She let go and held her daughter at arms length, hands on her shoulders. "Now, you didn't have to wear a skirt on my account. And I liked your hair the style you had yesterday."

"The reverse wand is still usable," Jennifer stammered. I felt like a fairy princess using that thing.

"Well, no matter. Any word from the Houston Police since you came back?"

"No, they haven't gotten any new leads. He covered his tracks thoroughly," Jennifer said.

Rachel let go fully and sat down on the couch. In new vases were white roses and lilacs, bought from a local FTD. She picked up a copy of Style sitting among the others she had bought the week before. Her expression turned worried for the first time. "Your sister is beside herself. She's normally very open-minded, but with this... she's worried about how to explain things to her children. Uncle Jim is now Aunt Jenny. You do have a lot of your sister in you. But then, you resembled one another even when you were the opposite gender."

Jennifer sat down next to her, making sure to keep her legs together. The string on the latest tampon felt a little irritating. She cupped her downy cheeks. "I sure don't see a lot of the old me in this face, Mom."

Rachel laid a supporting hand on her daughter's forearm. "Trust me, I do. And your sister will also. But David is five and Teresa is three, so it's going to shake them up a little. Don't worry, we'll figure something out. Plan on seeing them this Christmas, though."

Swallowing nervously, Jennifer nodded agreement. She felt like changing the subject. "So, are you going to help me redecorate? This place still has 'bachelor' all over it."

"If I helped out too much it'd look like an old woman lived here. I think you'll find your own tastes, but I'm always available if you really want my advice." She stood up and went over to the heavier suitcase, unzipping it. Inside was a wooden box, about the size of a computer keyboard. It wasn't anything fancy, it looked like it'd been made by hand out of scrap wood. It was darkened with age. "This is the first gift I have for you. It belonged to your great-great-grandfather on my side of the family. He died in 1945 or so. This wasn't found in his effects until the Fifties."

There had obviously once been a lock on it. There were still pry-marks from whatever had been used to remove the clasp. Inside were several slim volumes and a yellowed envelope. Charles Milton Pryor was written on the box. "Diaries?" Jennifer said.

"There was some jewelry, once. But our family had fallen on hard times in the mid-Fifties, so we were looking for just about anything we could pawn off." Rachel shifted uncomfortably, obviously still feeling guilty about it. "He kept these journals for twenty or so years of his life, and couldn't bear to get rid of them, despite what's inside. I've bookmarked the relevant passages. You need to read them."

"Now?" She opened the diary. "Should I really be reading this?" Her mother just gave her a look that said yes, she should. Jennifer shrugged and started reading.

August 29, 1898. I am alone. Father finally succumbed to consumption, and was laid to rest in a pine box. It was all the money we had left and I had to bury him properly next to Mother. What next? What now?

September 8, 1898. This is not a world for a fifteen year old orphan girl. I've tried to find work as a seamstress, but the Godforsaken factories in these parts will kill you. I simply abhor working in them. Men with less education than me make far greater money. I doubt the Suffragettes will make any timely progress... There has to be a way. A girl can't go it alone in this world. It's so much easier for a man.

"There's a gap," Jennifer said. The handwriting was neat and precise, easy to read. "That's all that was in this book? It's barely half full."

"Look at the name, honey. Christine O'Reilly," her mother pointed out.

"Right, right. Now I get it," she replied, picking up the next diary. This one was on cheap, yellowed crumbling paper that needed very careful handling. If there were others before this one, they were long since gone brittle and crumbled into dust. Jennifer was very, very careful not to cause more damage. The handwriting here wasn't as good. Men often lacked fine motor control.

April 8, 1901. Years ago a silly young girl, who shall remain nameless, wrote that it must be easier for a man. This is sheer madness, and I know that from experience now. It took me this long to regain enough of my wits to put pen to paper again. I will only say that the powder was hard to find. I needed to contact an elf, or a dwarf, or whatever they call themselves. There's certainly no going back, so I've been making the best of it. I was made manager at Brooks Bros. today...

"My great-great started as a woman?" Jennifer said.

"I never met him, but from what your grandmother told me you'd never know it. He died moderately wealthy and was a local leader in the Women's Rights movement," Rachel said. "Look in the envelope."

There were two birth certificates inside. One for Christine O'Reilly, born 1883. The other, a very good forgery, Charles Milton Pryor, the same year. "A fifteen year old girl did this?"

"Bloom was much harder to find in those days, too. There was less than half the magic around then as now. It was actually more common in those days for single women to become men, since it was much easier to leave your past behind and there were so many more career options. Orphan girls like your great-great in particular."

"Um... okay. So this runs in the family?"

"Yes, more or less. There are other things I want to tell you, but this will do for now. For the rest of today I just want to spend some time with my daughter." The older woman still had this haunted, guilty expression. There were important things still unsaid. But after this revelation, they could wait.

Jennifer smiled, carefully replacing the diary in the box and closing the top. "What did you have in mind?"

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Over the next few days Jennifer divided her time between her mother and her career, returning to Pike's Place, looking for distinctive faces. There had to be more moments like the one she had caught between Scott and Gloria. Not necessarily romantic ones, but still special. The little girl at the fountain had almost been there. Over the next two days, Martha rejected nineteen out of twenty of the photos she emailed. But there were enough now that Jennifer had "a good start, but not enough. Keep trying," Martha had emailed back. Of those she had chosen, a woman feeding pigeons.

The light had been good for that one, Jennifer knew.

"I'd go hiking up the mountain, but I don't think this body's up to it," she confided to her mother on Thursday night. "Yeah, I'm fit. I have a nice figure. But this isn't exactly the body of a rugged outdoorswoman."

"We can at least head up to Paradise," Rachel said. "I haven't been to Mt. Rainier in years, since we stayed at that lodge."

"It's the same old mountain. I've been there dozens of times," Jennifer said. It was distinct among national parks in that it only had a moderate level of background mana, which only a few shared. Though it was high enough that there were small communities of nonhumans within the Park. "I'll have to bring the film stock if we did go. This is climbing season... maybe I can use a telephoto and get some of the climbers..."

"Do you have warm clothes that fit? There's still snow up there, even at this time of year, if I remember right."

"It won't be that cold, Mom."

Rachel tugged on her daughter's shirtsleeve. "But you're smaller now, remember?"

"I know, I know. But in some ways it's nice, despite being shorter, too. I can actually fit in Coach seats on airplanes, the bath is nice and large." Jennifer smiled. "But I'm pretty sick of shopping."

"Humor me? We have some catching up to do. Besides, we should get you some nice professional attire first. Let's save the mountain for tomorrow and take care of the rest of your needs today. After what I've seen, there are things you simply don't know and I should be the one to teach you."

The young brunette woman wasn't sure if that was a good thing, or a bad thing. Jennifer smiled and folded her arms under her breasts. "Yes, Mom."

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Most National Parks, even those without enough magic in them to officially be called "Enchanted", were staffed by non-humans like centaurs, sphinxes, spirit-animals, and furries. Rainier National Park had enough mana for them to live somewhat comfortably. It was fluid enough in these parts that any magic used up would be replaced fairly quickly, unlike in city cores where it flowed like treacle in December. Mana was funny. The more concentrated it was, the more fluid it became.

The bay centauress ranger recognized the 4-Runner, and clopped a forehoof. "You know, Jim, I knew you'd get caught sometime. We've found Bloom growing in the Tatoosh Range."

"Must be a hardy type," Jennifer said. "And it's Jenny now."

"Okay, Jenny. They're the raunchy type, actually. The male and female phases are quite obvious, if you know what I mean." She flicked her equine ears suggestively. "But not enough mana for the pollen to affect physical shape. At least, so far."

"I bet some hikers are getting some nasty surprises," Jennifer said, smirking.

"Things get much worse and we'll have to apply for Enchanted status. Have a good time, Jenny."

The atmosphere inside the SUV changed as she pulled away from the Park entrance. Since going through downtown Seattle they'd been chatting about some stereotypically feminine things. Jennifer felt like she was in some kind of boot camp. Her mother was relentless, determined to make up for the past thirty years, but equally determined that her daughter not forget her past as her son. She was trying to highlight the differences between what she and her sister had experienced. But a cold tension now replaced that oddly lighthearted what-if chatter.

Not sure how to break the ice, Jennifer pulled into the parking area next to Christine Falls, a small, scenic waterfall about fifteen minutes inside the Park. She drummed her polished fingernails on the steering wheel. "Okay, Mom, what is it? Is it my nephew and niece?"

She looked at the dashboard, then shook her head. "What are we going to tell your father?"

Jennifer stiffened. Her parents had divorced when she was quite young. "We're not going to tell him. I haven't spoken to him in five years, and I'm not going to start now."

"Okay... okay..." Rachel said, still not looking at her. "Well..."

There were always motorcycles going up and down the winding road to Paradise. Crotch rockets and cruisers. The route was a challenge for any rider, with all the sharp turns and increasing altitude. Jennifer happened to be looking in the rear view mirror when one went by, going more slowly than she expected. There was no mistaking that flowing black hair. "Gloria?"

"Who? You mean, that woman who left Ilene's in a huff?"

"That was Gloria! I'm sure of it!" Jennifer exclaimed. Did she see me? Oh, I hope not! She fished her Blackberry out of her purse before she remembered there'd be no service here. "She's probably going up towards Paradise. Maybe I should drive back and call Ilene."

"What do you think she could do?"

"Call Scott, or Carrie, or whoever she is right now. I'm shocked Gloria didn't leave the state, at least," said Jennifer, backing out of the parking space. "There goes the afternoon."

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When she called Ilene, the witch put her on hold as she called Carrie/Scott. She was on hold about three minutes. "Scott's way up in Everett. He works at Boeing--they both do--and it's going to be hours before he can get here," Ilene said. "Do you think she's staying at the Lodge? Or will she just go up and down the mountain?"

"I don't know. Should we risk driving up to check? She may not have even stopped in Paradise. There's more than one way out of the park, though she'd have to ride a long distance," Jennifer said.

"Go ahead. If you end up running into her, at least try and talk. I don't think she'd run away from you. I hope," Ilene said.

She'll just punch me out, Jennifer thought. "We'd better get going, then."

"Good luck."

Jennifer explained the situation in more detail to her mother as they drove back up the mountain. Rachel came to the same conclusion as her daughter without her even mentioning it. Gloria was just like David and broccoli. "What will you do if you find her?" her mother asked.

"Use the payphone and call Ilene back. Chances are slim that she stopped in Paradise anyway. It's a busy time of year... though today seems oddly quiet. Maybe we'll actually find parking."

There was still snow over five thousand feet. Jennifer breathed the familiar air deeply. For her whole life she'd been torn between the mountains and the sea. She wanted a sailboat, at least a sloop that had enough of a belowdecks cabin for multi-day trips. But aside from a few sailing lessons and a boat rental or two, that dream was now put off several years. Her other obsession was mountains, and these Washington had in abundance. Mount Baker, Rainier, St. Helens, and other, little-known peaks like the Tatoosh Range and Mount Si, near Snoqualmie Falls. She avoided the Plains like the plague, preferring the rolling Appalachians, or the Ozarks, to any flatland.

Her mother looked surprised to see all the snow. It was the second week of July and the ground was still covered with icy, dripping, dirty snow. All the way up there were still tiny meltwater waterfalls. The thinner air felt clear and crisp. There were few clouds today, and the Nisqually Valley a picturesque descent towards the west. "Well, here we are," Jennifer said, looking for a parking space. She found one right between to an older blue Tercel wagon and a huge Ford SUV that made her 4Runner look tiny.

Motorcycles had heir own parking area. Jennifer and her mother gathered their things and headed towards the Paradise Inn. Gloria's Harley-Davidson Cruiser was wedged in a parking space between two more SUVs who each took up more than a single parking space apiece. "How much time do you want to spend looking for her?" her mother asked.

"Let's just try the obvious places first. The Inn and the Visitors Center. I doubt she's gone mountain climbing, especially with all this snow still around," said Jennifer.

The Inn had the rustic look one would expect on a mountain like this one. The lobby had visible roof support beams and columns of roughly-hewn logs. To the left were couches, and near the windows a series of picnic-style benches with a view of the mountain. Gloria sat on one of these, gazing up at Rainier's peak, chewing on her lower lip. She had lipstick on, and wore a wine-colored camisole top trimmed with white lace. She must have changed clothes, because she was also in a pleated knee-length skirt, full makeup, earrings, and a silver chain necklace. As if she'd dressed for a date. Must've spent some time primping after she arrived. What's she trying to do? Pick up guys? Jennifer thought. Didn't want to look like a biker chick?

Gloria looked her way before Jennifer and her mother could duck out of line of sight. The Amazon just looked at her, expressionless, then shrugged. "Well, don't just stand there looking pretty, Jennifer. Come on. I'm not going to bite. Who's that?"

Not knowing what else to say, Jennifer said, "Gloria Steiner, meet my mother, Rachel Lambert."

"Happy to meet you, Gloria. My daughter's told me about you," her mother said.

"And I bet you're happy to have a daughter now, if you didn't have one before," Gloria said bitterly. "Come, sit down. I think I have an explanation or two to make."

She looked defeated, Jennifer reflected. No... not defeated. Indecisive. All dressed up, 5,500 feet up a dormant volcano with snow on the ground outside, and nowhere to go. She tried smiling and sat down on the bench across the table. "Well, we women like to talk, don't we?" Jennifer said.

To her surprise, Gloria actually chuckled. She played with the silver bracelets on her right wrist. They looked quite expensive. "I got all the way to Montana on my hog before I realized just what a damn fool bitch I was being. I... I... I got this crazy idea in my head that I could arrive on the hog at my wife and kids' place in Michigan, dressed all butch, and things would be fine again." Jennifer expected tears, but it seemed like she was finished crying. "I can't go back to that. My ex told me that once I stabilized I might be granted visitation rights, but..."

"We could find someplace more private," Rachel suggested.

Gloria shrugged. "At this point, I don't care." She gave Jennifer a measuring look. "That picture you took? It was... really good. But when I saw it I had to go. God, what a mess. The Captain who did this to me is doing ten to fifteen in prison, you know." She cupped her breasts. "I visited him, once. Pulled my top up and jiggled them in his face across the glass. The MPs took me right out again, of course. That was just before I went into the mental hospital.

"You know, with the Bloom dosage he put in that bottle of beer, I think he wanted to make me some kind of sex slave. Though there was that time he called me 'bitch' to my face before that. Got him for insubordination, but he got back at me."

"Sounds like a real piece of work," Jennifer said.

The Amazon pulled on the top of her camisole and looked at her cleavage. "And these are mine. All mine. You like your breasts too, don't you? I think I do, finally. That is, I admit that I do. Wish I had that top from the picture with me... Scott gave it to me, actually." She lowered her eyes, embarrassed. But it might have been the first time she'd ever admitted to having a boyfriend to anyone.

"Frankly, Gloria, I'd like to see how it looks on me," Jennifer said, trying to lighten the mood.

Gloria smiled and gestured at Jennifer's rather plain yellow shirt. "You stopped by Cabela's on your way up, didn't you? They have that huge new store in Lacey. Nice boots."

"My old hiking gear didn't fit, obviously," Jennifer said. "I came up to take pictures of the climbers with a telephoto. Perfect day for it."

"Scott would love those photos you took of us. You weren't following me, were you? No, of course not..." Gloria said, gesturing dismissively. She looked at her pink-polished nails. They weren't very long. "I spent half an hour getting into this outfit, you know. Then I had a hard look at myself in the mirror and decided... I like it. I like the way I look in it. Bloom gives you a youthful appearance and it cured my heart problems even regular magic couldn’t help."

"What do you plan to do now, Gloria? Where do you go from here?" Jennifer asked.

The former Marine looked over at the payphone down the hall. "I was planning to call Scott. Tell him I'm here. I've dreamed about him the past couple nights, sleeping in motels. Romantic dreams. Um... erotic ones, too. He knows... I mean... he and I... we've actually..."

"You don't have to spill everything, Gloria," Jennifer said. "Whatever you decide, I'll support. But I'll be honest with you. I went down and called Ilene. She knows you're up here, and so does... Scott. But he's hours north of here. Why don't you call him? Tell him how you really feel? You're a grown wom... person."

"Woman, you can say it," Gloria said. "I'm a woman, and I'm going to be one for the rest of my life. They even took scans of my brain, magically and mundanely, and proved that I'm pretty damned female in the way my brain works. I still find wife attractive, though. So I don't think even ten times the Bloom made me a straight woman. I still feel squicky looking at myself in the mirror and getting a little turn-on." She shivered.

Jennifer's mother raised her eyebrows. "Well, I've certainly learned more than I expected here. But I'm glad you've come to terms with yourself. After how long?"

"Two years, Mrs. Lambert. I'm sorry if that's too much information," Gloria said. "I should've known you'd do that." She actually looked relieved. Even happy. She stood up and waited next to the table. "I'm going to call him right now. Then I'm going to see if there's any rooms available for tonight..."

It seemed like all Gloria had needed was someone to talk to, but surrounded by strangers in the Inn, there hadn't been anyone until Jennifer had walked in. "Happy I could help."

"A 'tell me your feelings' gabfest if there ever was one," Gloria replied with a chuckle. "But it worked, so I can't exactly complain. I want some nice, big prints of those photos... and you can use them in your portfolio. I'm sure I can get Scott to agree to that. Somehow." She wiggled her hips, doing a little bump and grind, and smiled like a Bond girl. "I'll think of something."

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