User:JonBuck/Subject to Change
Author: Jon Buck
Subject to Change
Aaron Richards held the bra by one of the shoulder straps. The cups and straps were light gray, with the top edges trimmed in pink lace. The lingerie was, in his opinion, cute. "What I can't figure out is how this ended up in my laundry," he told his friend and co-worker on his cell phone. "At first I thought it was one of Cindy's old bras she'd left behind. The way I'd just stuffed my suitcase I wasn't paying attention to what was going in it."
"Management didn't give you much time, did they Aaron?" Bernie said. He cleared his throat and did his best guttural impression of their very own Pointy-Haired Boss. "'The company needs to send two people to this conference, Richards! Patty called in sick, so you're elected. Have fun in Vegas.'" The man snorted. "Didn't Cindy move out months ago?"
Aaron shrugged. "I have no idea why I didn't notice it. Maybe the hotel laundry service mixed up my wash with... wait a second." He looked through the pile of neatly-folded polo shirts, most of which had the company's avian logo on it: Crane Concrete. "I think I'm missing some clothes." He picked up a red shirt. It was definitely smaller, and the fabric looked different. Stretchy, like the tops Cindy used to wear. But that couldn't be right. "And at least one shrunk in the wash. I'll have to complain at the front desk."
"Do that." His tone of voice became more relaxed. "Now, where you want to eat tonight, bud? Have you been to Vegas? In all the hurry you didn't mention."
"No, never. Got any suggestions?"
"There's actually a great place right across the street from your hotel. You looked too tired to visit the Strip tonight."
"To tell the truth, outside of CSI, I'm really not interested in all that flash and dash. See you in a few, Bernie." Aaron closed his cell phone and picked up the bra again. Holding it by the shoulder straps, he admired the cut. There'd be lots and lots of cleavage on the woman wearing this, with the proper top. What did Cindy call it? A demi bra? He shrugged and decided to take it down to the front desk with him.
As evidence. Or something.
Aaron scratched an itch on his chest as he took the elevator down to the lobby. Folding his arms across his chest, hiding the bra in the crook of his arm, he shivered. The temperature felt like it had dropped ten degrees.
The Lakes Hotel had an omnipresent odor of fresh paint. He had seen a couple of maintenance workers on his floor earlier, working with rollers to lay on the shades of tropical green. Underneath, the walls were apparently wallpapered with pink and red hearts. The hotel had obviously been remodeled recently. There were still signs of the previous theme everywhere. Heart-shapes that still came through layers of plaster and paint. The couches in the lobby and breakfast area were all loveseats, and they hadn't bothered to replace the wainscoting in the hallways either. Valentine's Day on steroids.
Bernie was staying in a hotel nearby, but it would be some time before he'd arrive on foot. The portly middle-aged man was ten years his senior, but the two men had struck up a friendship in the Outside Sales department. Only a few years out of graduate school himself, Aaron thought of him as half mentor, half big brother. While waiting for him, Aaron approached the front desk, feeling a little flushed. The three hotel staff--two women and one man, all in their early twenties--weren't terribly busy. In fact, there was another man in front of Aaron holding a woman's tee shirt. "Look, if your laundry service can't keep simple things like this sorted out, I'll take my business elsewhere," the irate man said.
The pretty brunette behind the desk just smiled mysteriously and took the offending garment. "I'll take it and send it to the right room. I'm sure she'll be along shortly to collect it, though. Have a good evening, sir."
Aaron approached the front desk, about to voice the very same complaint, when the front of his shoe caught the bottom of his pant leg, pitching him forwards, wheeling his arms to keep his balance. The bra, of course, fell on the carpet for all to see.
Getting up, his khaki slacks threatened to slip off his waist. Blushing furiously, he picked up the bra and put it on the front desk. "I've got a laundry problem, too. I found this, and some of my shirts have shrunk."
The young women behind the counter smirked at one another. "Keep it. Honestly, I don't think she'll mind."
"But that's... it's..." Aaron stammered, holding the lingerie in confusion. His chest still itched, as if he'd rolled in poison oak. "Stealing?"
The females looked at each other, and the young man gave them a little nod. Together, they came out from behind the desk and stood to either side. "Sir, you don't look very good. Why don't you come in back with us?"
"No, I'm okay." Aaron felt lightheaded, but shook his head. This would pass, but if he was getting sick, their PHB would get angry.
"Any second now." the taller brunette said expectantly, folding her arms under her breasts. She'd brought the bra in with her, holding it with a hooked finger by one of the shoulder straps. "Three... two... one."
"What?" Aaron said, confused voice cracking up a whole octave, steadying himself by putting his hands on the counter. "Why the countdown?"
"Aaron! There you are," came Bernie's voice from behind. His friend gave him a slap on the back, almost pitching Aaron forward. "Whoops. Sorry there, buddy."
"It's okay, Bernie. Really," Aaron replied. But when he turned around, something was greatly amiss. He was maybe an inch shorter than Bernie, but now his eyes were barely level with the older man's shoulders. That would make him about five-foot-six.
"Have you lost weight?" Bernie said in a very uncertain tone.
"Um, yes?" Aaron stammered. "I suppose. Are you okay, Bernie?"
The iron-haired man looked profoundly confused, he seemed to have trouble just looking at Aaron. "I'm not sure, Rach--I mean, Aaron. Aaron. Yes."
Now Aaron felt something very physical. His scalp tingled, followed by his nipples, then his crotch. It slowly flowed downwards, like warm honey. Shoulders, ribcage, and pelvis gave a few pops of complaint before they too compressed themselves. His pants threatened to fall, so he grabbed them with shrunken hands that had lengthening fingernails. Looking down, he could see his widening hipbones pushing his legs apart. And a pair of women's panties with the same color scheme of the bra he'd just handed to the front desk staff. A mass of flax-colored hair surged over his narrowed shoulders.
"Great. Another blonde," one of the girls behind the counter said.
"So pay up, eh?" the man said. "One week's wages, Dana."
"But is she a natural blond? That's the bet, Jerry. That tone looks too light to be natural," the girl retorted. "We'll have to ask her when she's done."
For a moment it felt like his head was in a vice, then the squeezing sensation faded, replaced by the hissing of cloth over skin. The clothing that had been very loose now tightened against his developing hourglass curves.
His shirt remained red, but had become a body-hugging fabric with a notable dip. Exactly like what Cindy used to wear. His chest thrust forwards, erect, enlarged nipples forming peaks that bulged into the stretchy fabric. That's... those are. Breasts? Cleavage? Holy f...! That's my chest!
They filled out the deep v-shaped opening, the stretchy fabric pulling them together, revealing several inches of perfect cleavage. Further down, what was left of his male genitals were gently pulled upwards inside his body, leaving strange, sensitive folds of skin behind. What had been a pair of khaki shorts was now a pleated above-the-knee skirt. His tennis shoes were now a pair of high-heeled sandals. Flaxen tresses were draped over Aaron's shoulders, he felt pinching his earlobes, and as a final touch, the scene darkened as a pair of sunglasses simply appeared on his nose. White noise filled his mind.
"Rachel, if you're not up to it, we don't have to go out to dinner now," Bernie said. He blushed furiously, with a visible effort to keep his eyes off of him--or far more accurately, her. "Honestly, my wife is giving me enough trouble with you along on this business trip."
Somehow, a reply that seemed to make sense came out, instead of an outright scream. Rachel sighed, chest heaving. "I've told Mary repeatedly that I'm not the kind of chick who will go after a man twenty years older than me," she said. "It's bad enough half the staff in Sales think I'm some sort of skanky gold-digger."
"Then I'll see you tomorrow at the booth on the Conference floor?" the older man said.
"See you then, Bernie," she replied, folding her arms self-consciously.
"And Rachel, it's Vegas. Off the Strip it can be a very dangerous place. And even there, it's no place for a pretty young thing like you, wandering around by yourself. I'd offer to show you around myself, but if my wife found out I'd never hear the end of it."
She rolled her eyes and continued reading from a script written inside her head, all the while the masculine self that remained quite strong was less horrified than morbidly curious what she'd say next. "I know, Bernie, I know. You've been the perfect gentleman since we met. She does know you've worked for a cosmetics company for the past fifteen years, right? There's going to be pretty women hanging around the office." The blond shrugged. "I've only been with the company a few months, so what do I know?"
"Rachel Werner?" the man behind the counter said. "We're sorry about the laundry mix-up. We have some new staff still in training for our laundry service."
Rachel drummed her polished fingernails on the countertop and gave the trio an icy Look. "Yes. I'd like to talk about this little... mix... mix up..." She had to steady herself again, the three hotel staff looking at each other, either smirking or with raised eyebrows. Rachel's body surged... Aaron came flooding back.
The bar was part of the cabana next to one of the hotel's many pools. On the side opposite where Aaron sat was a place in the water where patrons could swim up, sit on a submerged stool, and sip various drinks--alcoholic and non--from real coconut-shell cups. It was late afternoon and the bar was barely half full. Out in the middle of the pool was a girl Aaron hadn't noticed before and--so he thought--a man had been only minutes ago, doing laps. She had a confused expression on her pretty face. Sitting beside the pool was a lifeguard, concerned enough that he dove in and came up beside her, then helped her out on the far side.
Jimmy Buffet endlessly played over the speakers. Predictably, the cabana was called "Margaritaville".
The bartender behind the counter was a cute short-haired black woman, lithe of body, and perhaps in her late twenties. She wore a uniform that befitted the hotel's theme. A bikini top with a tropical pattern, a flower-necklace, and a short skirt that had pockets. Her name was Elle, or so said her nametag. "Our specialty is Kahula Kahula, but we have a full bar menu. What can I get you?"
Aaron considered his choices, unable to get the hallucination of having breasts out of his mind. "Normally I don't drink, but I'll have a rum and Coke. Heavy on the Coke. No ice."
"Can I see your ID?" Elle asked. He fished his wallet out of his pocket and flipped it open. The bartender smirked, eyes sparkling. "Well, you do look over thirty. And that's a very pretty picture of you."
Aaron looked at himself again, then drank half the rum and Coke in a single gulp, letting the liquor burn on the way down. "I know I'm going to pay for this later." Then his mind caught up with what she had just said. "Pretty?"
"You don't look like a Rachel," she continued.
"Huh? What?" he replied, alarmed.
"Just kidding, sir. Just don't hit the hard stuff too much."
Aaron finished the rest of the cocktail and waited for the alcoholic buzz to set in. It had been a very vivid hallucination. And two more rum-and-Cokes couldn't shake it loose. Elle's section of the bar seemed centered around him, and he was the only one there. The young black woman was still watching him, as if she was waiting. "Thisis gonna sound kind of weird," he began, the rum having loosened his tongue. "But... but... but 'bout an hour ago I imagined I was a woman. Nicelooking as you. But white. Yeah. And it was so... so real. Must've been somethin' in those peanuts onna plane."
"Oh, I think you make a cute brunette. Blond really isn't your color, 'Rachel,'" the bartender quipped.
Aaron felt like he'd just been slapped in the face. "Huh?"
"Stranger things have happened," Elle said quickly, using a towel to dry a wet shot glass. "I mean, this is Vegas. I've seen crossdressers so good that you wouldn't imagine they were actually the opposite sex."
"Nono, this didn't feel like... like that. I had ti... breasts, and, you know, a cun... a va... geni... genitals. Everything you've got. You know."
Elle put her hand on her hip. "Not everything I got."
Aaron chuckled. "No, not everything my ebony beauty."
The bartender smiled at him, then sighed sadly. "Excuse me, Rachel, I have other customers."
"Don't call me... uh..." Aaron sputtered. Then he felt it again. Just like before.
Golden hair snaked down over his shoulders. His facial features were pushed around as if they were made of sculptor's clay, and the rest of his body followed suit. Except this time, instead of a snug top and skirt, a bikini replaced Aaron's masculine clothes. Rachel stared at herself muzzily as the alcohol seemed to evaporate from her bloodstream. The sensations left her stone cold sober as she cupped her breasts that were rapidly filling out a purple bikini top. "Oh... oh wow. I wasn't..."
"Brett, we got a live one here," Elle called to the cocktail waitress across the room.
It was too strange an experience to panic. But the view was something else. "It's real. I'm really a... Why do I remember growing up... female?"
"The Hotel doesn't like its guests panicking because they suddenly have boobs, that's why," Brett said. She was a short, curvy woman with dark curly hair and rather small breasts. Perky and cute in her own way. "Just go with the flow. If you want the skinny on all this, come to room 1034 'round eleven." She fished in her skirt pocket and handed Rachel a little slip. "This will get you into the employee residence floor. See you then!" She waved a little feminine wave and returned to serve the few patrons in the mostly-empty cabana.
Rachel stirred the piña colada she'd ordered but hadn't touched yet, pursing her lips. "Actually, I'd rather you tell me what you can right now. Honestly, I have no idea why I hadn't started screaming, or fainted, or panicked. I mean, what would a man do if he was suddenly turned into a chick like me?"
"To quote Steve Martin, stay at home all day and play with her breasts?" Elle said. At the far end of the bar, the lifeguard and the other bikini-clad girl came inside. She had a smile on her face, and fidgeted when she stood, bouncing on the balls of her feet. Her breasts bounced, holding the lifeguard entranced.
"Nice going, Gary!" Elle said. "Is she the one?"
"I think so, Elle," the tanned sun-bleached man replied. "Going to be a little rough for her to adjust, but I think she'll pull through. I've been a woman often enough myself, you know. She's a good Match."
The woman just blushed deeply. "I really don't know what to say. I was just swimming and suddenly I have... well... look at me." She was very pretty. Not quite supermodel in caliber, but definitely a head-turner with an olive-skinned Mediterranean look. "I didn't expect to get up this morning and... and..." she sputtered, trying to find the words. "Is it something in the water?"
"The Hotel does two big things to you when it changes your sex," Elle said. "One, it makes you the kind of girl--or guy--you wouldn't mind being. Otherwise gender dysphoria would set in and you'd never last. Two, it gives your new persona a history and memories to go with it. It feels like you're reading from a script, but frankly it helps. And it ties up a lot of tedious details. You don't need to learn how to use makeup, dress yourself, handle your period, etcetera. You're basically all woman, inside and out." Elle sighed. "Not that some folks just can't handle it, even with all those benefits."
"There was that guy who sued us last year," Brett said. "Frankly, he was just as stolid-looking as the woman he walked in as."
"But he did find a Match," Elle pointed out. "The same day. The same night for that matter."
"There's just no pleasing some guests," Brett said.
"Wait. Just, wait a second," Rachel said. "This means that there's some guy staying in the Hotel right now that this place thinks I'd... I'd what? Go out with? Marry?"
"Both," Elle said. "This place was built for newlyweds and honeymoons."
"So why didn't he end up a woman?" Rachel said, with some heat.
The black woman just shrugged. "It's Vegas, darling. It's a crap shoot. Besides, there's no actual guarantee that you do have a Match. The Hotel isn't perfect. It's just probable. You two still have to make the relationship work. If the Hotel's wrong and it doesn't work out, you can stay on as an employee until you do find one that fizzes, or you can leave. This isn't a prison."
"If you stay, you spend the next six months or so wondering if you'll wake up with a morning woody or stiff tits," the lifeguard said bluntly. "Hell, I've changed three times in one day. The Hotel is always shuffling staff around as they find their Matches."
Rachel put her hand on her forehead and shut her eyes. "You know, I didn't expect when I woke up this morning that I'd end up a straight woman this afternoon. What would happen if I walked out of here right now and checked into a different hotel?"
"Odds are you'd stay Rachel Werner. Honestly, are you really that upset?" Elle said. "One of the benefits is that everything supposed to feel fresh and new, even with the new personal history, the superimposed memories. I mean, come on! You've spent your entire life as a man until this point, now you can try a different set of chromosomes. If you want, go stare at yourself in the buff and say that you wouldn't want to be who and what you are now. Who knows, the Hotel may even listen."
Brett snorted. "Yeah, right."
"And just think. Somewhere in this place is a man you'd happily be Rachel with the rest of your life. That's not really a bad thing, sister. Remember that."
Rachel regarded the four skeptically. The lifeguard and the new woman were already giving each other playful little kisses, with a lot of giggling from the girl. To look at her, nobody would think she'd ever been a man. Rachel sighed. "I'm going for a swim. Maybe it'll make more sense if I think about it."
"Many have tried. Enjoy your swim, Rachel," Elle said. "The drink's on the house."
On the way up to her room, the Hotel had second--or possibly third--thoughts. The now-familiar tingling, the stretching flesh, the flattening breasts. She shut her eyes and didn't feel herself fade away so much as flooded with testosterone. The female memories almost vanished, leaving only ghosts behind. But the sensation of being Rachel was as strong as ever. Aaron was left standing in the elevator in his swimsuit, towel wrapped around his broadened shoulders. "Make up your mind!" he shouted at the building.
Then he noticed some improvements.
His growing paunch was gone, and though he didn't have a six pack, his physique was the best he'd had since high school. Perhaps even better. The Hotel had, for some reason, dropped the thirty extra pounds he'd carried around since college. So when the elevator doors opened, he dashed for his room. I am out of here!
Aaron didn't stop for his suitcase. He tossed on the first set of clothes he could get his hands on and hoped the Hotel didn't turn around and put his feminine side permanently in the driver's seat. While he had to admit that the brief time he'd been Rachel hadn't exactly been unenjoyable, the idea of bring a grandmother somehow lost some of its attraction now that he had his balls back. He fidgeted the ride down the elevator, checking to make sure there were no sign of breasts or anything else.
The trio at the front desk watched him run by as if they'd seen this many times before. As he got to the revolving door, he heard Dana call. "See you soon, Rachel!"
He stopped running after two blocks, not feeling very winded even in the early June desert heat. Deciding he was probably out of danger, he entered a Starbucks to consider his next move and ordered an iced green tea/lemonade. "It'll be just a few minutes, Miss," the barista said.
"What did you say?"
The teenager smacked herself on the head. "Sorry, sir. Forget my own head next. I'll get right on it. Name?"
Aaron paced impatiently, waiting for the drink to slake his thirst, folding his arms over his chest. The barista kept giving him sideways glances. Aaron looked down at himself just as he was finished. "Order up for... Rachel?"
He didn't stop running until he hit the end of the road, where there was a cul-de-sac. The entire dash was punctuated with a defiant bounce to his chest that faded the more distance he put between himself and the hotel. When he no longer felt a tingle on his chest. However, it had started to change his clothing. The polo shirt he'd tossed on had lost its collar, the neckline had started to plunge and the sleeves shrink. Now out of the Hotel's influence, everything was reverting to normal. The small breasts were already gone, and the collar was visually growing back.
Sighing with relief, he looked around him. "Where the hell am I?"
Turning around, he saw the Lakes Hotel about a mile away, with the Strip just a short distance beyond that. The Bellagio, Aladdin, the Luxor pyramid off to the left. It was getting towards sunset, and the lights were starting to sparkle. Maybe I should catch a cab, check in to another hotel. I'll get my things... somehow.
He patted himself down. Wallet? Check. Keys? Check. Cell phone? He fished it out of his pocket. One bar of battery power left. Maybe I can get Bernie to pick up my things. There has to be another room available in this city. Wasn't Bernie staying at the Hyatt Place I dashed past?
At the end of the cul-de-sac was the university campus. Aaron took one look at the huge, intimidating structure and tried to estimate how many cubic yards of concrete the place had taken to build. He smacked his temple again. Not a time to think about work. Hell... Why in God's name did that creepy Hotel think I had to be a woman to find love? Why hasn't that place been torn down?
Aaron gritted his teeth in anger. "I don't need to be a woman to meet my perfect match. I'll show whatever the hell is in there I can damn well make my own choices!"
Cindy's number was still on speed dial. Even though they'd broken up two months before he couldn't bring himself to delete it. I'm sure I can make it work this time... he thought, doubt gnawing at him. Aaron forced it away from him and pushed "dial".
"Oh, hello Aaron," Cindy said laconically. "I thought we were going to let things cool down for another month."
With all that had happened the past few hours, Aaron had completely forgotten that. Strike one. They had both found out the hard way that a relationship didn't necessarily work the same way once two people started living together. The woman had some weird, off-putting habits. She'd strung clothesline across the living room and dried her lingerie on it. Some men might have found that exciting, but since he had frequent parties, Bernie and his trio of other friends--who were rather more prudish than Aaron himself was--decided to meet elsewhere. Then there was the spotless kitchen. There couldn't be a spice jar out of place or she'd give him this ice-cold look and say "How am I supposed to find anything unless you put it back?"
Not that Aaron himself was free of his own quirks. He lived with more clutter around, considering it made a place look lived in rather than like he was expecting a real estate agent at any moment.
"I know, but I'm in Las Vegas right now, darling. For a business trip. I'll be here five days, over the weekend. You mentioned you wanted to stay at..." Damn. Which hotel did she mention? "The Bellagio. I think I can arrange that."
Cindy sighed heavily. Her tone of voice remained laconic, which was never a good sign. "It was the Luxor. But that really doesn't matter right now. Frankly, Aaron, it's just not going to work out. I know how you were when you were in college, Mr. One Night Stand. I say your eyes on Laura, remember? You were backsliding so fast I was the one getting burned! You know, I've reflected on our time together long enough. It's just not going to work out. I think we should see other people."
Aaron's heart was in his throat. He'd been dumped before, but none of his relationships had gone as far as the one with Cindy. He felt gut-punched. "Oh? You know, Cindy, I haven't seen anyone since we..."
"Bullshit. Have fun in Vegas, Aaron dear. I'm sure you'll find someone in that city that fits you better than me. At least for one night. Don't call me again." Click. Silence.
He stared at his phone in disbelief. "I haven't been dumped like that since college. Wait a second..." He still had the improved male physique from earlier. And he remembered, dimly, how the Hotel had given him memories of growing up Rachel. Had it messed with his life as Aaron similarly? It was much harder to tell. He remembered being popular with the girls and having a reputation for having a new girl each week in the frat house.
Frat house? Aaron scratched his head. Had he really belonged to a fraternity in college? Was that real? Or was the Hotel messing with him again?
Well, it was better than the female alternative. Wasn't... it?
Cindy was his first-ever attempt to find a girl to settle down with, and he'd failed miserably. Most of what he remembered now from being Rachel was physical. The way a woman's body moved. Aside from age (as Rachel he was almost a decade younger) and sex, it was very difficult to find major differences. Oh, there were some big ones that seemed to go with being female. Experiences that had no real male counterpart. And the idea that there was a Match for him... if only he was a woman. Okay, okay. If I'd had a body like this in high school and college I would have slept around. Have to admit. Maybe whatever's haunting that Hotel is trying to make a point.
Still, Aaron wasn't one to give up just yet and commit to being a mother. "Think I'll give Bernie a buzz. Maybe he knows a good place to pick up a girl in this town," he muttered. Married man or not, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Just as he pushed Bernie's number on speed dial, the Low Battery alarm started beeping. He had literally seconds before... it flashed and shut down. "Damn!"
It was getting dark. And going back the direction he came meant crossing into the Hotel's area of influence. But Bernie had warned him not to be outside in the dark in this town. Now he couldn't even call a cab, unless he found a payphone. In the distance, the rather stodgy sign atop the Lakes Hotel came alight. Palm trees and hula girls. Aaron sighed and scratched his beard. "Okay, okay. You got me. I'm coming back, at least for tonight. But man or woman, I'm going to pick myself. Okay?"
He felt the tingle start just as he reached the corner where Bernie's hotel was right across the street. It was a busy street, and Aaron looked around nervously. Nobody looked in his direction, or if they did, perhaps they already saw a woman standing there. And there was still over half a mile before he'd reach the Hotel proper.
Rachel would be back long before then.
It started in earnest as he crossed the street. But now he was expecting the change. Like before, he shrank first, but this time his clothes kept up. The hem of shirt and shorts fused together, the fabric fading into a uniform red, the same color as his shirt. Okay, what's happening here? he wondered. Moments later he had an answer as the legs of his now-red shorts merged together and lengthened to just above his knees, showing that his legs had become quite slender. By the time he was on the other side of the street, his shoes were already developing a heel.
As before, the neckline plunged, but the dress retained short sleeves. Aaron felt the strong Nevada wind pull on his hair, and the sculptor was at work on his face again. More, the artist quickly unmanned him again, tucking in down below, breasts swelling out once more. She felt the weight of earrings, a brown leather purse slung over her right shoulder, and the close support of a bra supporting her breasts over her shoulders.
Rachel was barely at the next corner before, once again, Aaron had simply become the inactive part of the equation that made them, more or less, the same person. His memories, his experience, were there. They were as real as the female counterparts she'd just reacquired, dovetailed neatly, seamlessly together. She looked up at the dancing hula girl on the Hotel's sign. "You haven't won, you know. Just because you gave me boobs doesn't mean I don't have free will. But I am taking the opportunity you're offering me," she said to it. "My choice."
It wasn't as if she had to learn to be a woman. Everything was already there. Being a woman wasn't unbearably different, it was just felt like a new experience. She pulled a lock of hair around front. "Okay, so it made me a brunette this time." Rachel took a deep breath, feeling her breasts rise within her bra, then considered what to do next.
With Bernie too skittish to have dinner with her, it was time to find somewhere for herself.
Diagonally across the street from the Hyatt Place, where Bernie was staying, was a Hard Rock Café. There was already a crowd outside, dressed both casually and in outlandishly sexy attire. That's just perfect. I look good. And... well... There was something, a gap in her memories waiting to be written in. Perhaps the Hotel had left part of her background blank. Whatever it had in mind she'd just have to cope with when it was necessary. "Time to make an impression."
The gap in Rachel's memories rapidly filled in the instant she set foot in the restaurant. She started looking for familiar faces, not that she expected any after being gone four years. But at least the restaurant hadn't changed much, aside from the flat panel TVs that now hung on the walls at regular intervals, with guitars, photos, posters, and almost every kind of rock memorabilia that a fan could ever want. The bar occupied the center, and the place wasn't all that busy yet. Resisting the urge to flirt, Rachel took a free seat and sat with a provocative posture, waiting for the bartender to notice. She had a lot of competition, but knew a few tricks.
Then a newly familiar face came out of the kitchen, carrying a tray of food. She gasped, almost tripping over herself and dropping everything. Like the pro she was, the waitress recovered with the grace of a dancer and served the patrons their meal before chatting with the shift manager for a moment, then coming to stand in front of Rachel.
The two young women embraced. "Heather! I can't believe you still work here!" Rachel said, delighted. "Are you still in school?"
Heather Muller had the kind of luscious figure that even Rachel couldn't hold a candle to. She wasn't thin, and she wasn't fat, landing somewhere in a happy medium that gave her breasts Hooters would have hired in an instant. She was about Rachel's height, and kept her hair barely shoulder-length. "In this economy? You betcha, babe. When did you get into town? I haven't heard from you in like a year. You still working at Crane?"
"Still, thank God. I wasn't laid off. Here for a trade show, actually. My first professional conference! It's so exciting," Rachel replied. During her single year at UNLV the Hotel had decided to insert, she had worked here part time. That year had almost ruined her college career entirely, and she didn't like to think about it much. In fact, since graduating she was working very hard to move away from it. With that thought in mind, she nervously checked for another face. A male one, this time. "Does Tom still work here? Please tell me he doesn't. Please?"
Her new-old friend opened and closed her mouth, unsure of what to say. But her expression and body language said far more. "Tom's moved up to management now. You know, you really did a number on him. My shift will be over in a half hour, maybe... Oh God."
Rachel stiffened, feeling a sensation like someone was giving her a hard, unfriendly look. "And he's right behind me, isn't he?"
Tom's voice was cold and restrained. "Rachel! Hi. Are you here to order some food or just to piss me off? Been a long time, hasn't it. Five years. Our kid would be in kindergarten about now, wouldn't he?" Tom Winters didn't look too well. His hair was too long and mussed, his glasses were dirty, and he had grease stains on his shirt. From his breath, he'd apparently taken up smoking. But he still had some of the handsome ruggedness that had attracted Rachel to begin with.
Rachel opened her mouth to speak, but words failed her for agonizing seconds. "This isn't the place to talk about this. How many times do I have to say I'm sorry?"
"Leaving UNLV was good for a start." With a humorless smile he ticked off each one on his fingers. "Once, for lying about being on the pill. Twice, for a three thousand dollar engagement ring. And three times, for changing your fucking mind and going to Planned Parenthood. You said you had a miscarriage!"
She didn't know if she should punch him, or start crying. "Do you think that was an easy choice for me? Do you have any idea what it's like to have that kind of procedure done on you? Jesus Christ! I changed my mind because frankly, I realized you weren't the one. And there was no way I could support a child on my own."
"Either order something, or get out of my restaurant." He glared at Heather. "And if I find out you invited her here, you're fired." Tom snapped the pencil he was holding in two and stormed off towards the kitchen.
Red-faced, Heather almost tore off her nametag, but stopped short. "If I didn't need this damn job so much I'd walk out right now. Rachel, I was going to suggest the Hofbräuhaus instead. There's actually someone I'd like you to meet over there. You'll like her, she's been all over the place. Ask for Nicole and say I sent you."
Outside the Hard Rock, the wind had picked up. It tore at Rachel's hair and dress, making it an effort not to get blown across the street. Rachel stumbled to the crossing signal and held on, choking back tears of frustration and regret. So much regret. She looked at the flashing Hotel sign. "Make me Aaron again. Oh God! Please!" When the Hotel obviously wasn't going to meet her demand, she carefully crossed the streets against the wind. The wind was blowing so hard that when she tried to open the door it remained stuck fast.
Someone helpfully pushed it open from inside. By then her hair was so wind-whipped all she could to was fish an elastic band out of her purse and threaded her hair through it. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," the balding man replied. The Hofbräuhaus was a gimmicky German-themed restaurant and beer hall, with long tables and a medieval arched ceiling. The waitresses wore very wenchy outfits that pushed up the wearer's breasts enough to make good cleavage out of an A-cup. Rachel remembered them as very uncomfortable, but she could only stand it for a few days before quitting.
"I'm looking for Nicole. Heather sent me."
"What? Are you looking for a job?"
"Heather's an old friend. She wanted me to meet her," Rachel said, finding a seat at the thinly populated bar. She set down her purse and took a makeup compact out to have a look at her face. Her eyes were red and puffy, and her mascara had run a little. "Have any sweet vermouth?"
"Martini and Rossi, miss. One glass?" the bartender said. "You're not driving, are you? Do you have an escort back to your hotel?"
"No, and no. I'm staying up at The Lakes. Short walk. I have someone... co-worker staying in the hotel next door."
The bartender looked at her skeptically, then turned towards the kitchen area. "Hey, Nikki! Heather sent someone over here she wants you to meet! Er..."
"Her name's Rachel Warner!" he shouted.
"I'm coming! Keep your lederhosen on, Frank! Jesus!" a strong feminine voice replied. The woman it belonged to was impressive to say the least. Taller than Rachel by several inches, she had a bronzed complexion that came from working long hours outdoors and sun-streaked dark hair. Her eyes were a startling green, and it was obvious that the wenches' dress didn't really need to generate extra cleavage. "Which one is Rachel?"
"That'd be me," Rachel replied, sniffling. "I've... I've just had a hell of a night. I'm not really looking or feeling my best right now."
Nicole's expression softened, and she smiled warmly. "If you're a friend of Heather's, you're a friend of mine..." She trailed off thoughtfully. "Wait, are you that Rachel Werner?"
"So, she's talked about me," Rachel said glumly, taking a sip of her drink. "If she's said anything good, I assure you, it's not true. I'm a stone cold bitch. I don't deserve any sympathy."
Nicole pursed her lips and looked at the man who had called her up. "Frank, the place is dead tonight. Can I take an extended dinner? My new friend and I need to get to know each other. Once she stops sulking like a fifteen year old." She said with a humorous glint in her eyes. "Come on, Shelley, you look famished. We'll eat in the break room." She looked at Frank, who nodded. "And no sausage. Just girl talk, you and me."
The restaurant's break room was a welcome change from the heavily German-themed building. Fairly large, up some stairs next to the kitchen. Nicole excused herself once Rachel took a seat in a hard plastic chair, wishing she hadn't worn a dress. The place was chilly, and there was a draft that reminded her that the life as a woman the Hotel had given her was supposed to be for her own benefit, so she could live comfortably as a woman. Even as Rachel, with all her many flaws.
Rachel remembered being Aaron. Going back to being a man would be an even trade at this point. For some reason the Hotel was doing its level best to make each version feel so alike that it wasn't supposed to matter what her sex happened to be.
Still waiting for Nicole, she finished her snifter of vermouth and let the alcohol calm her down. Rachel rested her chin in her hands and tried to remind herself that not long ago, that chin had been square and sporting a van dyke. Aaron--or rather, Rachel--had been very popular with the ladies as a man, herself. But a woman with his One Night Stand habits was called a slut.
Or a whore.
She squeezed her eyes shut and started crying. God, oh God, am I a slut. Tom, I'm sorry. I'm sorry! The Hotel had changed her into a woman, and gave Aaron the body he would've had if he'd been going to a gym for ten years. Both versions had been turned into the worst kind of people. The Hotel wants to find me a match, eh? Tits or not, I should just check out. I'm not worth the trouble.
Moments later Nicole swept in, carrying a tray with what looked like a giant yellow pancake. "German pancakes for the both of us. I thought you'd want some comfort food, and I can't think of anything better. Had to sweet talk the cook, though. But he's quick, and we've got a good oven." She smirked. "Besides, most of the food here makes it hard to keep a girlish figure." She put one hand on her hip and did a little bump-and-grind. She set the plates down so they could sit face to face, then had a seat herself. "This isn't going to be very private, but I only know what happened between you and Tom in broad strokes. If you want to fill in some details, I'm all ears."
Rachel pondered where to start, pulling her hair out of its makeshift ponytail and smoothing down the front of her dress. She spread her arms. "You're looking at the office skank at Crane Cosmetics. And it's not undeserved. Since you know about what I did to Tom Winters, you know I'm being honest with myself..."
She was an attentive listener. But brutally honest. After Rachel described how she'd dressed for her interview at Crane, she said "Yeah, you're a skank. But you're a repentant skank trying to change your ways. I think that the low point for you was that Frosh year at UNLV and you've been doing better ever since. You remind me of this French girl I met at a hostel in Milan. She was a cute thing and she knew it... Or was it Naples? Anyway, she loved toying with the guys in the hostel. If they already had girlfriends, why, that was even more fun. We women have a lot of power over men, you know. A bit of cleavage here, a flirt there."
The brunette stared at the bronzed woman. "You've been to Italy?"
"Italy, Hungary--Budapest is something else--Austria, Poland, Ireland, Great Britain... most of Europe, except Portugal, what's left of Yugoslavia, and the tiny nations like Andorra."
Rachel gave her a envious look. "I've never been anywhere outside the United States. I live in Seattle and I've never been to Canada. Have you been outside of Europe?"
"Two years in the Peace Corps in Uganda. After that fiasco I came back to the States and did some Habitat for Humanity. I'm the kind of woman built for construction work." She shrugged. "I think all that travel and hammering nails gave me a better education than going to college."
"So how did a sophisticated world traveler like you end up in a kitschy German restaurant in Las Vegas?"
"Stock market crashed wiped out most of my trust fund. I cashed out enough to pay for a decent college education. I know I said I got a better education roaming the streets of Budapest, but that doesn't count for much. I still have enough to pay for everything without student loans. And I figure, why not? College would be a grand adventure in itself."
At that moment someone else entered the room. It was Heather, who had pulled a tee shirt over her Hard Rock uniform. Nicole stood up immediately. "Heater!" She enveloped the shorter girl in a bear hug. Compared to the other girls, she was something of an Amazon. The kind of woman who would tell her husband "Come back with your shield, or on it." And in the hour they'd been talking, Rachel felt like she'd already known her for years. "She calls you 'Heater'?" Rachel said.
"One guess why," Heather replied, running her hands down her curvy sides. "Nikki's big on nicknames. I don't know where she picked it up."
"Wales, actually. Some of the people I met there had old Celtic names I couldn't pronounce. Shelley doesn't mind, do you?" Nicole said.
"Shelley's fine," Rachel said.
Nicole looked up at the wall clock and sighed. "You're here just in time, Heater. My lunch hour's up. I hate to cut our talk short, Shelley."
The trade show would last four days. There was no way Rachel was going to spend all her time there, though the company was rather strict when they sent employees on business trips. "I'll be here for a few more days, and I'm just up a The Lakes..."
The Amazon's eyes widened. "Oh, I've heard good things about that place. It used to be called The Honeymoon Hotel, way back when. People who stay there either end up with happy marriages or just Mr. Right." She hugged Rachel in a more sisterly way. "Nice meeting you. What's your cell number?"
They traded contact information, then Nicole had to return to work. It was dark outside now. Heather opened her purse and checked to make sure her pepper spray was in there. "I'll walk back to your hotel with you, Rachel. We'll catch up and then I'll just take a cab home. It's good to see you again."
"It's great seeing you, too." Though Rachel wondered if the Hotel would change its inscrutable mind again while she slept. Remembering what the lifeguard said, who knew if she'd wake up needing a bra or briefs tomorrow. Or even if she'd be the same woman. The first time she'd changed she was a blond. Now, light brunette.
Rachel found she'd acquired another recent memory. Two hours in a hair salon this afternoon to re-color her hair back to something close to its natural look, before she'd entered the Hard Rock. Well, life is full of surprises. She folded her arms under her breasts and looked up at the Hotel's sign. I can think of a few big ones right now.
"Penny for your thoughts, Shelley?" Heather said. "I haven't seen a look like that on your face since..."
"I know." Rachel wondered if the Hotel would let her ask something that might be out of character. "Heath--Heater, this is going to be a weird question. And I know it's been a while since we talked..."
They stopped under a streetlight about halfway to The Lakes. It was a hot, dry Nevada night. Both women were sweating. Rachel hugged her breasts. This wasn't on the script. The Hotel wasn't stopping the man she had been. "Would I have been a better person had I been a man instead?"
Heather's smile turned to confusion. "Uh..."
"I did say it was a weird question." Rachel laughed weakly.
The Hard Rock waitress opened and closed her mouth a few times. "Well, I... I honestly don't know. It's not something I ever thought about. I mean, there are movies where some guy is changed into a woman for some comeuppance. What was that one? 'Switch'?"
"I don't know. I've never seen that one," Rachel said. "Do you have a boyfriend right now?"
"Well... no. Just... frankly, Shelley, we've both dated a lot of guys. There's a lot of men out there who just want a one night stand and that's it. And when I think of who you'd be, if you were a man, uh... Well, I can't imagine you being the kind of guy who'd settle down."
Rachel knew that's what her answer would be, but she was crushed anyway. "I thought so, Heater. Thanks for being honest."
"Shelley, we're two of a kind. A pair of aces." She looked at her curvaceous figure, and her friend's and tried to lighten the somber mood. "Okay. A pair of twos. We know what effect we have on men. A flirty look or a whispered word turns them to jelly. I was almost as bad as you were. Remember?"
The former man started walking again. This was entirely off script now, but she could see the superimposed memories easily. "Oh, yes. We were total sluts, weren't we?"
"I'm twenty five, I'm not married, I've never kept a boyfriend more than a few weeks because I just use them up then toss them aside. But we can change, can't we? Maybe you should try and step outside yourself for a while. Take a breather. Be someone else."
There was something about Heather's voice. It had an echo to it, as if there was a second voice behind hers. Rachel's eyes widened, and she just nodded. They were very close to the hotel now, waiting to cross the last street. Across from them were two men in leather jackets, smoking under the white sodium light. Tough Guys, and out-of-towners by the look of them. Construction workers, perhaps? For all she knew they could be accountants. A lot of people came to Vegas to live some fantasies. The shorter Japanese guy, who had a spiked bracelet on his left arm, put his fingers to his lips and wolf-whistled. "Oh, momma! You're a hot one, ain't you?" He was doing his best Elvis impression, which wasn't much, really.
"Posers," Heather said, the echo gone. Then, loud enough so they could hear. "A look is all you're getting, gentlemen!"
"A look is all I need," the tall one said, taking a melodramatic drag from his cigarette, then breaking into a cough. Sure, he looked all big and tough, but Rachel didn't feel like she was in any danger from these two.
They didn't do any more than leer as Heather and Rachel as they walked past. The Japanese guy apparently decided to change his mind on slapping Rachel on the behind. But she still put an extra swing into her hips just to show she wasn't entirely uninterested. He was kind of cute.
"They really shouldn't be standing here," Heather said, looking up at the Hotel sign ten stories above them. "I don't know why, but..."
Rachel did know, but didn't want to say anything. The past twelve hours had been the strangest of her life. "Let me pay for your cab ride home. See you tomorrow? I'll be out of the trade show by three."
"Let's meet Nicole at six. We both have earlier shifts tomorrow anyway." The two women hugged each other. "Good night."
It was barely nine o'clock, and Rachel was still too wired to attempt sleep. She felt no imminent return to manhood. Heather's "step outside yourself" comment weighed on her. She decided to return to her room and change clothes. Do I even have anything that doesn't show these boobs off? she wondered.
The answer, when she unzipped one of the two medium-sized suitcases she'd brought, was a definitive no. She'd brought far more clothes with her than a five day trip needed, even for a normal woman. An outfit, and a pair of shoes, for every occasion. There wasn't even a pair of shorts. Skirts and dresses, all. "Okay, fine. Just fine. I'll wear..." Her fingers twitched towards a green tube top. "Oh, I have to wear this. It's too cute. And the denim miniskirt, and the strappy heels."
The Hotel changed things so I never was a man... Rachel thought as she applied makeup with an experienced, professional hand. But I still remember being one. It wasn't some sort of weird dream. And fundamentally, I'm just Aaron-with-tits. I guess having tits qualifies as being 'outside myself'. God, I'm such a chick now. It was perfectly in character for a girl like her to get a job at a cosmetics company. Old habits died hard, and by the time she was finished Rachel stared at her reflection in disappointment, then left the hotel room. I hope Elle is still working...
There was still a woman at the bar, but she had black, curly hair and a rather Italian look. Rachel walked through the crowd like a cat on the prowl, looking for potential prey, before stopping herself. The noise of the crowd, the Jimmy Buffet and Beach Boys playing on the overhead speakers, and enough women as good-looking as she was to make her an unremarkable member of the crowd.
"What can I get you, miss?" the bartender asked.
"Nothing with booze in it, if you please. Something chocolaty."
"I know just the thing. What room should I charge it to?"
The bartender took her time making it. The Sandbar, as it was called, was a wall away from the casino proper. This was a fold-away wall over what was apparently a dance floor. A raised area against the wall looked like a stage, perhaps for a band. The sound of clinking glasses, male and female voices mingling into a gentle background murmur to the counterpoint of the casino games going on beyond. The air was surprisingly clear of tobacco smoke.
Rachel sighed, making herself comfortable on the bar stool. So I guess there's a good reason why this place made me a woman. But either way, since it can change my body and my life so completely, why didn't it make me a better person in the process?
"Congratulations," Giana deadpanned. "You're hired."
The brunette turned to face her. "Excuse me? Hired?"
Sitting on the tray next to the tall chocolate malt was a nametag with the hotel's name and logo on it. Below, in a generic "island" font that looked like bamboo sticks tied together, was a name: Shelley Vaughn. Rachel picked it up. "What? This isn't me. My last name is..."
Giana shook her head, black curls rocking back and forth. "Probably a stage name, Shelley. Finish your drink and head to the Manager's office. Looks like the Hotel can't find anyone to match you. Welcome aboard."