09 of 16: First Date
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As Valentine’s Day approached, there were commemorations all over the world; it was the tenth anniversary of the Divergence. I hear that in Australia and New Zealand, Valentine’s Day is still a romantic holiday for lovers; they were on the night side of the planet when the Divergence happened, and didn’t have many fatal accidents. But in the Americas, western Europe and Africa, Valentine’s Day is a day of remembrance like Memorial Day.

So the city of Raleigh was having a big memorial ceremony on Valentine’s Day, and so was NC State. But there were scientific symposia going on, too; Duke, UNC and NC State all had a symposium on some aspect of the Divergence, and they scheduled them on different days in Valentine’s week so people could go to all of them if they wanted. I went with George and the science club to the one at UNC, which was about the sociological effects of the Divergence. One of the professors gave a talk on the amendments to the Voting Rights Act after the Divergence, and how after the next census they redrew the congressional district lines to match change-region boundaries as much as possible; the goal was to make sure as many neospecies as possible had a chance to have one of their number elected to Congress, though it was impossible to represent all of them at once since there were half again as many neospecies as there were seats in Congress, and some neospecies had less than half the population of the smallest congressional district. But what she’d discovered was that those districts formed around a low-population change-region, with pieces of two or more higher-population change-regions added to make up the numbers, tended to elect more moderate candidates, since a candidate had to appeal to people of multiple species to get elected.

Another professor talked about a study of hapax cliques in high schools — small groups of friends who were the only member of their species in the school. George and I both found that one really interesting, as it more or less matched our experiences in school. The presenter said that such cliques are more likely to form in small-town schools deep within a change-region than in bigger-city schools that are near a change-region boundary, which made sense. George’s high school was square in the middle of the Raleigh rabbit change-region, though it was still a lot more diverse than Thayer Central High.

The next day, there was a symposium on the biology and sociology of North Carolina neospecies at NC State. There was one on the gradual reversal of gender roles in Cary hyenas; apparently the younger you were at the Divergence, whichever sex you were, the more likely you were to think of women as dominant or more important. Their culture was in a transitional near-egalitarian state; in a couple more generations the professor thought it would be matriarchal. And Dr. Wilson, whom I’d had Biology from last semester, gave a talk on the patterns of sex changes among Raleigh rabbits. She posed a puzzle for us at the beginning of the talk:

“If you put a hundred Raleigh rabbit women on a desert island, and come back a year later, how many women and how many men will you find?”

Someone raised their hand and when she called on them, said: “About seventy women and thirty men.”

“But why and how?” Dr. Wilson asked. “If all hundred women are exposed to nothing but female pheromones, why don’t all hundred of them change into men? And why wouldn’t the hundred men, being exposed to nothing but male pheromones, all change back into women, and so forth?”

It seemed that some Raleigh rabbits had a predisposition to respond more easily to shifts in the pheromone mix they were exposed to, to be quicker to change sex when exposed to an imbalanced mix of pheromones. She showed us some graphs from a longitudinal study she and her colleagues had been working on since the Divergence; the number of times someone changed sex had a bimodal distribution. Out of 1204 adult subjects, 409 never changed sex, and 514 changed sex three or more times — thrice was the second-most common number of times that adults someone changed sex, after zero. 61% of the ones who changed sex exactly once were former men who changed in the first couple of months after the Divergence.

“Furthermore,” she said, “in looking at younger people who went through puberty after the Divergence, we’ve found a correlation between the age at which someone starts puberty and how likely they are to change sex later in life. Those who start puberty at age eleven or earlier are forty-one percent more likely to change sex within five years than those who don’t start puberty until age thirteen or later.”

I wondered how that applied to me. Would I be more likely to change sex later because I was developing so fast, or less likely because I started at a later age?

The next day was Valentine’s Day, and the scientific symposia gave way to memorial services. There was a small one early in the morning in the chapel, and a larger one later in the afternoon at the stadium. Radhika and I both went to the early service at the chapel; the chaplain asked everyone to name the people they remembered who’d died on Valentine’s Day, or shortly afterward because of their injuries. When it came our turn, Radhika named several people; I figured two of them were her aunt and uncle that Mr. Eames had mentioned at Thanksgiving, but I wasn’t sure who the others were. I named my parents: “Rod and Lynn Hampton.” A lot of people were crying by the end of the ceremony — not just me. I was too wrung out to go to the other memorial service later in the day; Rob told me later that they had different people each read out a section of a big list of names they’d compiled ahead of time. There were faculty, students and alumni who’d died on Valentine’s Day, plus family and friends of current faculty and students.


I’d started growing again once I returned to school, and over the next couple of months I reached my full growth: another two inches of height, slightly larger breasts (still B cup, but a different manufacturer’s notion of a B cup), and slightly wider hips. Most of my skirts still fit, but I had to replace some of my shirts and blouses. The oldest skirt that still fit me came to mid-calf, though it had been ankle-length when I bought it.

When I went two clinic visits in a row without any measurable change in my height, and only normal fluctuations in my weight, Dr. Mathers said I was about done. “Your breasts may continue to grow a little more,” she said, “but probably not much, and you’ll probably be stable like this for some years if you don’t change sex due to a different mix of pheromones.”

“Thanks,” I said, taking that in. “Um — could you prescribe me the right kind of birth control for our species?”

“Yes,” she said, and asked me what pharmacy I used. I hadn’t needed one since I arrived in Raleigh, so she just sent the prescription to the nearest pharmacy just off-campus. She went on to explain how to take the pills. “Be sure your partner uses protection as well. Sexually transmitted diseases are rarer since the Divergence, since everyone who had an infectious disease was cured when they were transformed, but they’re still around.”

I skipped World History to take the bus to the pharmacy, and took my first dose later that day. I told Amy and Radhika about it later on, at supper.

“So, are you going to go back to one of the boys who asked you out earlier, and tell him you’re ready now?” Radhika asked.

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Soon, maybe? But Dr. Mathers said I’d have to be on the, you know,” dropping my voice, “pills for a while before they’d take effect.”

“You don’t have to be ready for sex to be ready for dating.” In a lower voice, “Paul and I are not having sex, but we are having a lot of fun together.”

My face got hot, and I said: “You’re right. I wouldn’t want to have sex on the first date or two anyway, so I might as well start dating now, or pretty soon...” I looked around the dining hall thoughtfully.

After I finished eating, and bussed my tray, I walked over to where Larry and his girlfriend Bill were sitting. I’d seen them a couple of times since Halloween, at meetings of the science fiction and fantasy society, but I didn’t have any classes with them. “Hi,” I said. “Mind if I sit down?”

“Sure,” Larry said, “but we’re almost done.”

“That’s okay,” I said, sitting down and laying my cane across my lap. “Um... a few months ago you asked me if I wanted to have dinner with you, and I said I wasn’t ready to start dating yet...?”

“Yes?”

“Well... I’m ready now. If you still want to.”

Larry glanced at Bill, who gave him a barely perceptible nod. “We’d love to. Will you join us for dinner this Friday evening at Tupelo Honey Cafe?”

“Okay,” I said. “Where and when should we meet?”


Friday evening, after Calculus, I walked back to my dorm and took a shower, then changed into my nicest skirt and blouse. I didn’t have any nice shoes to go with them; the dress shoes Aunt Ellen had bought me before Christmas didn’t fit anymore, so I just put my tennis shoes back on and went down to the lobby to wait for Larry and Bill.

They arrived about fifteen or twenty minutes later. Larry was sharply dressed in a white button-up shirt and pressed white slacks, which contrasted strongly with his dark grey fur. Bill’s fur was lighter, and she wore a dark grey knee-length sleeveless dress. It had two little peepholes between her pairs of breasts, like the dress Sarah had bought back in September. Both of them wore shoes nicer than mine, and I wondered if maybe I should have tried to squeeze into that dress Aunt Ellen had bought me... but probably I’d outgrown it by now, and what I really wanted was to start wearing pants. It was only two days since Dr. Mathers had confirmed that I’d finished growing, though, and I hadn’t had time to buy more clothes yet.

“Are you ready?” Larry asked.

“Sure,” I said, leaning on my cane a little as I stood up. I walked with them out to Larry’s car, and he opened the front right door for me. Bill got in the back seat, and Larry in the other front seat.

“How have you been doing in the last few months?” Larry asked, after he told the car where to go. “I saw you at the January meeting, but didn’t get a chance to speak with you.”

“I’ve grown a lot more,” I said. “But it’s stopped now... the last couple of times I went to clinic, my height and weight hadn’t increased. And, um, let’s see: I went home to Nebraska for Christmas, to my aunt and uncle’s house, and saw both sets of grandparents too, and several friends from high school.”

“None of them are rabbits, right?” Bill asked.

“Right, I’m the only one in Hebron. Maybe the only one in Nebraska; I’ve never seen any in Lincoln or Omaha either. All my relatives and most of my friends are Lincoln bison, but one of my best friends is an Omaha sheepdog. What about you? I guess you saw your families at Christmas?”

“Yeah,” Larry said. “Bill’s family lives in Knightdale, and mine is in southeast Raleigh. She went to visit her family first, then came to my parents' house after Christmas.”

“Knightdale?” I asked, wondering why that sounded familiar, and then I remembered. “Do you know Rob Lewes or Sarah Pratt? They went to high school in Knightdale.”

“I knew a girl named Greg Lewes; maybe Rob is her sibling or cousin or something?” Bill speculated. “She had several younger siblings, but I don’t remember their names.”

“Yeah, Rob’s mentioned an older sister named Greg — she went to Emory. That’s her.”

When we got to the restaurant, Larry came around to the right side of the car and opened the door for me, though I already had it partly open, and offered me his arm. I didn’t take it right away; I put my cane on the ground and leaned on it as I stood up. When he saw that, Larry opened Bill’s door and helped her out, though she probably needed the help even less than me. Then I remembered seeing guys opening doors for girls in old movies, and I realized Larry wasn’t being condescending to me because I was handicapped, but... what was the word they used to use?... chivalrous, because I was a girl. When Bill took Larry’s left arm, I took his other arm, but didn’t lean on it. We walked into the restaurant, which had doors wide enough for all three of us to walk abreast.

A Chapel Hill trinoc waitress seated us — we sat around a square table, with me and Bill facing each other and Larry to my right. She gave us menus and took our drink orders, and I studied my menu for a while.

“Have you eaten here before?” I asked them.

“A couple of times,” Larry said. “The shrimp and grits is good.”

“I like their fried chicken salad,” Bill volunteered.

My appetite had fallen off sharply in the last few weeks as my growth slowed down and stopped, so when the waitress came back, I ordered the chicken salad, as did Bill.

“So,” I said. “Tell me some more about yourselves, maybe?”

“Let’s see,” Bill said. “Larry told you my family lives in Knightdale. We’ve lived there since before I was born, but my parents moved here to the city from a small town in western North Carolina. We were all safe at home on Valentine’s Day, thank God, and neither of my parents changed sex so they’re still together... I have two older siblings, and they’re both male right now, but Rick was a girl for several years. I’ve been a girl since I was thirteen, and I’m majoring in business; I think I’ll probably work for several years before going on to an MBA program.”

“I’ve always been a guy,” Larry said, “well, except for a couple of years being asexual after the Divergence. My family’s been in the Raleigh area for several generations, at least on my dad’s side; my mom’s parents died when she was in her early teens and she doesn’t know much about their background. I’m majoring in computer science. Bill and I met and started dating freshman year... we’ve talked, and decided we’re open to adding one or maybe two more girls.”

“Oh. Um, this is just the one date so far — I mean, I like both of you, but...”

“Sure, we want to get to know each other better before we commit to anything,” Bill said with a smile.

I smiled back, but couldn’t think of anything else to say for a few moments. Then I said: “So, you two were wearing Star Trek uniforms at the Halloween party... are you both really into it?”

“Bill is, more so than me,” Larry said. “I’ve watched a lot of episodes, but I’m not an expert like Bill.”

So we talked for a while about the latest attempt to reboot Star Trek and why it was such a disaster. (I said it was because it was still an alternate history that diverged from ours way before the Divergence; it’s hard to care about a future that can never happen. Bill thought it was bad casting, and Larry said we were both right.) That carried us through the waitress bringing our meals and us eating about half of them, by which point we had moved on to our favorite post-Divergence shows.

After a while Bill said she needed to visit the ladies' room, and she caught my eye when she said it in a way that made me think it was code for “Let’s talk without Larry around.” Come to think of it, I could stand to empty my bladder as well. We went into separate stalls first, but when we’d washed and dried our hands, Bill said: “So, how far do you want to go tonight?”

“I’m not ready to have sex yet,” I said, alarmed. “I mean, I just started on birth control a couple of days ago, and...”

“Don’t worry, we don’t want to do that yet either. Not with someone we’ve just started dating. I mean about kissing Larry or letting him touch your breasts, things like that.”

My nipples got hard thinking about that. I wondered what it would feel like, and I was on the verge of saying “yes, please,” but I chickened out. “Um, just kissing, I think? Maybe more next time.” I’d enjoyed the conversation during dinner and I was already pretty sure I wanted there to be a next time.

“Okay. Is French kissing okay?”

I was flummoxed, although I’d covered this in my research — months ago when it was a clinical question with no immediate relevance. Now I couldn’t seem to think straight. “Um, a little bit of tongue maybe? Or, no, maybe not just yet.” I hated myself right afterward for sounding wishy-washy, but Bill nodded.

“Okay, that’s fine. We’ll take it slow, okay? Is it all right if I hug you?”

“Sure,” I said, and we hugged before we went back to the table.

I don’t know how Bill told Larry what we’d decided — she didn’t say anything where I could hear her, and she and Larry weren’t alone together until after they’d escorted me back to my dorm. But after we went back to the campus, and got out of the car (Larry opening our doors for us again, though we didn’t need the help), Larry put one arm around my shoulder, and I thought for a moment: Bill didn’t get a chance to tell him what I wanted; he’s going to fondle my breasts or something... but then he pulled me a little closer to him and leaned over. I felt his ears brush mine and felt a little tingle up and down my spine; then his lips were on mine, just for a few moments, and then they weren’t.

“We had a wonderful time tonight, Joel. Let’s talk again tomorrow or the next day, shall we?”

“That would be good,” I said, and then: “Let’s do this again, okay?”

Larry glanced at Bill for a moment before he said: “Yes, let’s do that. We’ll talk tomorrow or Sunday about when and how. For now, let’s get you back to your dorm.”

He and Bill walked with me back to Alexander Hall, and even to the door of mine and Amy’s room. Larry kissed me again, and Bill gave me a hug; the kiss wasn’t as exciting the second time, but it wasn’t as bewildering either. I had the presence of mind to think about what it felt like and wonder if it would be better or worse if he put his tongue in my mouth. Maybe next time.

They started off down the hall, holding hands, as I got my keycard out and opened the door.

“So how did your big date go?” Amy asked.

“Pretty well, I think. We’re going to go out again, but we haven’t figured out exactly when yet.”

“So tell me about it!”

So I told her about all of it, pretty much — how Larry had opened the door for me and how I’d been resentful of the unnecessary help at first because I thought he was doing it because of my handicap, and then realized it was because I was a girl and just felt weird about it; how Bill had summoned me to the ladies' room to ask me how far I wanted to go, and how Larry seemed to know exactly what I’d told Bill even though she hadn’t said anything; and how I felt when Larry kissed me, both times.

“I bet they were using hand signals or something,” Amy said.

“I guess so. I wonder why I didn’t think of that.”

“You were probably confused by being kissed. I understand that can be pretty distracting for people of your species.”

“Yeah,” I said, not meeting her eyes.

“I’ve kissed a lot of people,” she went on, and I jerked my head slightly in surprise. “Since it’s not sexually exciting — nothing is, except being in bloom and getting pollinated — we do it all the time with friends and family, about as casually as other species hug or shake hands. But I expect it’s different for you.”

“Yeah... my Grandma Kritzer used to kiss me on the cheek, until I was about eleven or twelve, but then she stopped. I’ve never kissed anybody on the lips until now.” I paused, thoughtfully, and asked: “Do Athens magnolias put their tongues in each other’s mouths?”

“No! That sounds gross. Did he do that to you?”

“No; Bill asked if I wanted him to, and I said no, but maybe next time. I’ve read about it and it’s supposed to make the experience more intense but, yeah, it sounds kind of gross.”

“But then, so does sex.”

“Kind of.”

 

My tentative recommendation of the week is Turnabout by Thorne Smith, a 1931 body-swap novel.  I haven't re-read this in several years, so it's possible it doesn't hold up well, but I have fond memories of it and several of Smith's other fantasy novels (particularly The Night Life of the Gods and The Stray Lamb).   The link above is to a Project Gutenberg Australia HTML ebook version.

My 219,000-word short fiction collection, The Weight of Silence and Other Stories is available from Smashwords in epub format and Amazon in Kindle format. (Smashwords pays its authors 80% royalties, vs 70% or less at Amazon.)

You can find my other ebook novels and short fiction collection here:

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