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Jade Box - Mums the Word
By Genni Smith
Cassie finally managed to convince her brother that she was okay. A little dehydrated maybe and very hung over. She sat in stunned mazement as Patrick fussed over her, made her sit at the kitchen table and got her a coffee and a sandwich. Then, when he was sure Cassie wasnt about to faint again Patrick went out to mow the large back lawn.
Cassie sat wondering why Patrick was mowing her lawn at all. As Rick it was one of only two chores that Claire made sure he did, that and take the trash out so she wondered why she needed help to do it now. Still, not being one to look a gift horse in the mouth she tried to breathe deeply and relax a little. It wasnt easy. Not only has she somehow changed genders overnight but also now she was the mother of two children and a single one at that. Perhaps the thing that bamboozled her the most was the change in her little brother. It was like she used to live with the evil twin and now, for some reason known to no one, she had found an alternative universe where she got the good twin. He had a job, he didnt touch drugs, he had a girlfriend that he managed to hold on to for over 5 years and from what he said to her the whole family liked his girlfriend and that was new in it self. The most amazing fact to Cassie was the fact that he genuinely cared about his sister and was a devoted uncle. "How did Alicia go in her gymnastics carnival?" He asked as they sat over a cup of coffee.
"Ah great." Cassie had replied.
"And Lachie? Did he kick a goal in his soccer game last week?"
"Ah ha, two," She said taking a guess.
While Patrick was out mowing her lawn Cassie took the time to have a better look at the house she guessed she now owned, or was paying the mortgage for. It was a lot bigger than her bachelor pad town house had been and it was a lot cleaner than her old place, even before the Evil Patrick had trashed it. A look at an electricity bill that was stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet told her it was in a suburb in the North East of Adelaide called Modbury. About 45 minutes drive from her old West Lakes address. She also noted that her last name appeared to be Taylor.
She made a quick tour of the whole house. There were three bedrooms, the master, (or was that mistress?) bedroom was not overly feminine but there were no outward signs of masculinity there. No male clothes, at least none that wouldnt fit her much smaller frame, no aftershave or any other of the male odds and sods that only until the day before filled her old room. The large wardrobe was full of womens clothes but Cassie got the impression there was more wardrobe than clothes, as if some one else used to share the space. Moving on she gave a quick glance at an en suite bathroom that again showed no sign of a male occupant.
There was a large lounge room replete with TV, video, CD system and a whole lot of CDs Rick would never listen to. Further along on the grand tour was a split-level room where it appeared the children, her children she reminded herself, played with a myriad of toys or sat and watch television. Lastly she came across two smaller bedrooms, one where she had woken a little earlier that had to be Lachlans room and another decorated in pink and white that was almost overflowing with dolls and stuffed animal toys. "Alicias bedroom." Cassie said to herself, still surprised at the sound of her voice.
In the hallway she stopped to look at the photographs hung proudly on the wall and she took each one in like she used to take in a crime scene, storing all sorts of information away for later use.
The two photos that caught her attention the most were taken around 10 or 11 years apart. The first showed her dressed in a voluminous white gown standing next to a much taller squared jaw man in a tuxedo. She couldnt put a finger on it but for some reason she took an instant dislike to the man.
The other photograph looked very new, judging by the face shed seen in the mirror that morning and it portrayed a posed family setting. Cassie looked at her new self first and was surprised at how well she scrubbed up. Age seemed to show on Cassie a lot more than it did on Rick but then she put it down to the two children who sat either side of her in the picture. Both were fairly well dressed, the boy, Lachie appeared around 10 years old and a very mischievous grin took her attention straight away. "That kid is gonna be trouble." She whistled. The little girl to her left in the photo was a real cutie and as ashamed as Cassie was to admit it she could see a resemblance to herself. Alicia had a mass of long blonde hair and the dimples lit up the whole photo. "She will be a real heartbreaker." The woman said, and then wondered if she herself had broken many male hearts.
The grand tour over she ventured out into the backyard and found Patrick pretty much finishing up. "You okay?" She asked surreptitiously eyeing his height to hers. Patrick was just on six feet tall in the old mark, a height Rick beat by a lazy four inches. Now Cassie guessed she was more like 54" or there about and standing next to her little brother she felt tiny.
"Sure, I could murder a beer though." Pat glanced up at the sky and sheepishly added, "even if the sun isnt quite over the yardarm."
"Its not even 10 am yet." Cassie said. "Bugger it, Ill see if I have any and I might just join you."
"You dont drink beer."
"Patrick, theres been a change around here mate." She smiled.
Later on that afternoon Cassie sat at her kitchen table that was literally covered in paperwork. Shed managed to get rid of Pat after a couple of beers and then reluctantly went to the bathroom; it was either go and put up with sitting down and wiping or peeing herself where she stood. Next came an old favourite cure for a hang over, a long, hot shower. Only this time it took on a whole new level of niceness. At first she thought the water in the new place was harder as it rained down upon her back but as she turned to soak her front a very feminine squeal emanated from her lips. "Holy fuck," she giggled. "No wonder Claire liked me playing with her fun bags. This is incredible!" And then she introduced her new supple body to a herbal body wash.
40 minute later she emerged from the shower glowing pink even though she had only lingered on her new private parts for a just little longer than was necessary to wash it. Next came what was rapidly becoming a new found past time. She stood for a long time, at least 10 minutes, in front of the mirror and contorted her face in as many ways as she possibly could to see if her reflection would match her. It always did.
For a tough ex-cop looking in the mirror and seeing a petite, pretty, blonde woman staring back was definitely a novelty. Then she dropped the large bath towel and stared at her naked body. If it was a car, she thought as she stared, Id have to advertise is as sporty but can use a little body work. Her vision passed first over her face but as Rick shed always found a woman with wet hair looked totally different to when it dried. Now as she looked she could see that the old Cassie, as she already tended to refer to the life shed taken over, must style her hair to draw attention away from a square face shape. She moved on and took in her eyes, large blue eyes that a man could easily lose himself in. Her nose wasnt a great feature but it didnt seem to matter because her smile more than made up for it. She noticed with a little bit of concern that worry lines were already appearing at the corners of her eyes and mouth. "Bloody kids."
Her gaze drifted down and for the first time she really saw her neck. Something that as a man was only ever noticed when he hadnt had time to shave now took on a beauty of its own. Cassie had a long slender neck that melted away to quite impossibly small shoulders with deep hollows at the collarbone. I bet she looks stunning in a strapless dress, she thought absently as she looked at the breasts that she guessed would do most of the work in holding up said dress. Judging the size of her breasts wasnt all that easy. Rick usually judged them by the handful but now she was seeing breasts from an angle shed never before experienced but her hands were a lot smaller too. They looked big to her, a little saggy, but big. Looks like she I breast fed both Lachlan and Alicia. Cassie thought as she tried to come to terms with that idea. Breastfeeding was such an alien thing to any man and in Rick Conlons mind the last thing a womans breasts were used for was the actual reason for them being there.
She looked down a little further and noted that even though she was slim there was a definite paunch if that was the word for it, around her lower torso, about where her waist used to be. Faint but noticeable stretch marks were evident around that area too. She had womanly hips, child bearing kips she guessed you could call them and her thighs were a little fatter than they probably should be and from the little she could see when she turned sideways they were lightly dimpled with cellulite. The last thing that she looked at was her "Map of Tasmania", that small neat triangle of blonde pubic hair that so resembled the southernmost state in Australia. "How the hell did two kids managed to get out of that tiny looking thing?" She asked out loud. "Bugger that for a joke, how did any man find their way in there in the first bloody place?"
Cassie would never know what it was but she acquainted it with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that shed seen many times on her job as a policeman. There were so many times in her career where shed been called out to a house to tell some one that a loved one was dead and they seemed to take the announcement in their stride.
She remembered the very first such call shed made with Mick Buller to tell a lady, Valerie Collins was her name, that her 23 year old son had died in a motorcycle accident. Her attitude had Rick Conlon stumped. Mrs. Collins took the news as if theyd just told her that theyd found her stolen car. She nodded, walked back into the house, offered both men a cup of tea and a scone. When Buller told her, as diplomatically as possible, that she was needed to identify the body she simply nodded, stood up and left the room for a while then came back with a jacket on and a handbag. Conlon was amazed to see shed taken the time to apply some lipstick.
It was only when they escorted her to the morgue that Buller and the younger policeman had a chance to talk. "Ive heard about dysfunctional families Bull but this bird takes the cake."
"Dont you believe it son," Buller responded with a knowing shake of his head. "It hasnt hit her yet but when she sees her son smashed up on the slab it will and by God it will hit her hard."
"But weve told her that her kids dead."
"Yeah but she is holding out hope its all some terrible mistake and its some one elses son in there." Just then they entered the morgue with Val Collins and the coroner, Conlon had to move at double time to catch her as she stumbled. The screams of that mother in mourning still filled his dreams now and then and she often wondered how Mrs. Collins was managing.
Cassie was the same now. For some reason she realised that shed been treating it all like some whacked out vacation from her old self or a continuation of the high from the evil Patricks marijuana. This was real. She was now a woman and would be for the foreseeable future. There were two children who expected her to be their mum and whats more, they deserved to have their mum. She needed to work out who exactly she was, where she was, what her financial situation was and how she was going to feed and clothe Lachlan and Alicia, let alone herself.
"Time to get your shit together." She told her reflection.
So there she was, following the paper trail like so many days and nights as a Detective. Her whole life was laid out before her and not all of it made sense. First rule of police investigation was work out what you could of the 6 basic questions.
Who was obvious, it was she.
What? A gender change.
Where? "Buggered if I know," She said. "Was the crime scene here in the new joint or over at Westlakes in my old unit?"
When? Overnight. Somewhere between getting stoned and waking up.
Why? That one had her stumped. She decided to go back to it.
How? Another one she couldnt answer and somewhere in the back of her mind she wondered if she ever would.
Moving to the paper work she found all of the usual identification. There was a birth certificate for her, same date, same parents, same place of birth. The name on it was now Cassandra Louise Conlon and in the box for gender an F stood in place of an M.
She also found a wedding certificate for herself and a Michael Robert Taylor, a divorce decree for the two of them and birth certificates for Lachlan David Taylor now aged 10 years and 3 months and one for Alicia Ann Taylor aged 6 and a half years.
All of the bank accounts she could find told her that she was paying off the house on her own now and she had a little nest egg of just over $3,000 that she guessed was rainy day money. Apart from a regular pay check and small amount of government child allowance money the only other income she received was from the ex-husband in child support. A small diary she found in a handbag told her that it was his weekend with the kids.
There was one problem though. When she found a teledex, the vast majority of names there were just first names and some times there was two people with the same Christian name. Like one Liz under C and another one under S. She was stunned to see that there wasnt a Claire in there at all, much less one under Claire under P for Perry but after thinking about it there wouldnt be. Rick had met Claire at an awards night for his football team. Cassie guessed that she never played football. All at once it hit her that if Rick never met Claire there could not be a Molly. Before she knew what hit her Cassie Taylor was crying and she suddenly had a tiny idea what Val Collins felt on that night all those years ago when Rick and Buller turned up and announced her son was dead.
One she started to cry it was like opening the floodgates and all of this grief seemed to flood her system. Grief for Molly. Grief for Claire. Grief for Mrs. Collins. Grief for her self and more importantly grief for Rick Conlon and his lost life and masculinity.
It took a monumental effort and probably near three quarters of an hour before she regained control of herself. She didnt like the fact that shed just broken down but in retrospect it was long overdue. All of the terrible things shed seen as a cop, her break up with Claire, the shooting and losing Molly on top of all that was the straw that broke the camels back.
Cassie would never admit it but after pulling herself together again she felt relief roll over her like a wave. She hit the phones to get more information and dialled the number in the teledex marked Work
"Hello, James Elliot Centre, Eddie Rowe speaking. How can I help you?" A young male voice asked.
Cassie was thrown for a loop, shed known the James Elliot Centre for many a year. It was the biggest rehabilitation centre in South Australia for Brain injuries and Conlon had been there many times for his job, both as a uniformed cop and a detective. "Err Hello," she finally managed. "Can I speak to Cassie Taylor please?" Silently she hoped she didnt know the guy on the phone and more importantly that he didnt recognize her voice.
The man took a second or two to reply. "Im sorry, Ms. Taylor isnt working today. Shell be in again at 10 am on Monday morning. You can leave a message with me if youd like."
"No, thats okay thanks. Actually I should have done this yesterday and my boss will kill me if he finds out. Ive got some paperwork that she needs and I might lose my job if she doesnt get them back to me Monday afternoon. Ill drop them in there if thats okay."
"Sure, no sweat love. Drop them in here at the office and Ill make sure she gets them." Eddie said trying to pile on the charm.
"Well I better make sure it gets to her." Cassie said, a little breathier than she needed to. "Can you tell me what her job title is?"
"Ms. Taylor is our social workers."
Cassie hung up without responding. "Thats just great" She spat. "Not only am I a chick but I m a bloody do gooder chick."
Then there was a knock on the door.
"What do you want?" She yelled as she threw the door open.
There were two people standing there, a tall boy who looked around 15 or 16 years old and a girl around Cassies height. The boy had brown hair and an easy grin while the girl was lighter in colouring, her long blonde hair spilled down her back and even though she looked more serious than the boy Cassie could see she was quite pretty. "What?" She said still a little loudly.
"Looks like the old girl has got another victim." The girl said after giving Cassie a cursory glance.
"Youll have to excuse her," the boy gestured towards the girl. "She thinks that tact is something you use to pin a poster to a wall."
"And he," the girl reported as quick as a flash, "thinks that his nostrils are only there to keep his fingers warm."
Cassie just shook her head and went to close the door. "Thanks for the floorshow kids but whatever youre selling I dont want."
The boy stuck his foot in the door. "Have you been to Hong Kong recently?"
"How the hell do you know that?" Cassie asked.
"Youve got that look about you." The girl shrugged.
"Like you fell into a barrel of nipples and came out only sucking your thumb."
The girl rolled her eyes and then leaned over and whacked the kid on the head. "And you say I dont know about tact."
The boy made out like he was going to punch the girl but obviously thought better of it. "Listen," he said to Cassie. "It might be easier if we can come in."
Cassie wanted to kick them off her property and tell them never to come back but there was something about them that stopped her. They knew about Hong Kong when all of the paperwork couldnt point to it and even her own brother seemed to be under the Impression that she hadnt left the country since she became Mrs. Taylor 12 years ago. Slowly she moved out of the way of the door and motioned them in.
Without thinking Cassie pointed them to a two seater sofa and then sat with her legs spread apart on an armchair and seemed to slump with a posture more at home in a front bar of the local pub than around a table with the rest of the women.
"Oh yeah. She definitely got you." The kid said and then turned to the girl. "Well at least that explains the e-mail."
The girl nodded.
Cassie decided that she better at least appear in control. "Excuse me if I sound rude," she said. "But who the hell are you and what the fuck are you both on about?"
"Hell, Im sorry. My name is Stuart Denton and this is my sister Jade." The boy, Stuart, stuck his hand out.
Cassie reluctantly shook it. "Cassie Taylor." She replied realising it was the first time she had introduced herself with her new name.
Jade leaned over and gently placed her hand on Cassies shoulder. "And who did you use to be?" She asked softly.
"You know?" Cassie gasped, her smaller hand rushing to her mouth. The news was a huge relief to her in one sense because she was no longer alone but it was also a little embarrassing, as Rick Conlon inside of her hated others seeing him in this weaker frame.
"Lets just say I know the signs." Stuart grinned. In fact he knew pretty much as soon as he set eyes on her. It was the hair mainly; pretty well every woman or girl Stuart knew wouldnt walk around with hair that wasnt brushed. The confused look on her face also helped him know but in the end his hunch was confirmed by her angry attitude. "You didnt answer the question."
"Rick Rick Conlon."
The sister looked at her brother who looked right on back at her. "Under the circumstances wed better you Cassie."
"Call me whatever the hell you want as long as you can explain whats going on."
"Shit. How long is a piece of string?" Stuart said rhetorically. "Its kind of complicated."
"Listen kid, I woke up with tits this morning in a house Id never seen before, I have I job I wouldnt know the first thing about and to top it all off I discovered that I am a mother to two children. Dont talk to me about complicated."
"Okay, okay. Calm down a little. I dont know everything but I can take an educated guess."
"You ended up in Hong Kong and stumbled across a little old lady selling Jade Boxes right?"
"That was a present for a friends fifteenth wedding anniversary. He and I picked it together."
"You opened it?" Jade asked the obvious question.
"Ah ha. Why?"
" Jeez Cassie, do we have to draw you a diagram here." Stuart groaned.
"The box did this to me?" The woman asked. "That pissy little piece of Jade?"
"Well technically the box was the only the instrument, the tool if you will. Put it this way, if you were going hunting Id aim for Mamma Chow."
Just when Cassie didnt think she could be any more amazed this hits just came on coming. "That nice little old Asian woman? Why? Why would she do this to me?"
"Well, seeing as how I got an e-mail from her with this address on it Id say its not a punishment."
"It sure as hell feels like it is."
"Some jilted woman didnt ask her to do it." Jade translated. "What we cant work out is why she needed us to come over here. Doesnt some one else know?"
"Was your friend alone with Mamma Chow at all?"
Cassie turned her head to face Stuart again before shaking her head, tendrils of blonde hair shifting with the movement. "No."
"And you werent told?"
"Yeah, the Chinese woman told me but I thought Id open the box for a laugh."
"Sorry," Jade shrugged guiltily. "Stupid question."
Cassie ignored her and then asked her brother, "What has any of this got to do with anything?"
"There are rules with the box, two that I know of. The first is that only the people who know the purpose of the box will know you as Rick and anyone else will think that Cassie has always been around "
"You say you got an e-mail from this woman? Thats good right? I can e-mail her and get her to sort this all out."
Stuart rolled his eyes just a little and shook his head. "Thats the second rule. She cant change you back even if she wanted to. Anyway, theres something you need to know from the start and that is never underestimate Mamma Chow. My computer wasnt even switched when I went back to bed, let alone connected to the net."
"So I am screwed?"
"Not if you keep your knees together," Jade smiled.
"What we cant work out is why she got us involved." Stuart said after throwing a dirty look at his sister.
"How do you know Mamma Chow?"
"Thats a long story." The boy sighed.
"He opened a box seven months ago." Jade blurted.
"You were a girl?"
Stuart went bright red and he stumbled over his words. "Not originally. No."
"You should have seen him Cassie. He became quite the little clothes horse."
"As opposed to her whos just horse faced." Stuart shot back.
"Are you two always this bad?"
Jade shook her head. "Sorry," she said grinning sheepishly. "Actually this is pretty tame for us."
"How does your mother cope with two fighting kids?"
"I dont know Cassie but you might need to take lessons from her soon. Maybe you can tell us a little about yourself and how you came to open the box and we can go from there."
Cassie didnt really want to tell them anything but she knew that their help would be vital if she was to have any hope of maintaining the charade that a tough ex-cop is actually pretty, single working mother of two. She bit her lip and then launched into her story.
© 2002 by Genni Smith. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, compilation design) may printed for personal use only. No portion of these documents may be stored electronically, distributed electronically, or otherwise made available without express written consent of the copyright holder.