Crystal's StorySite


Petticoat Rewards

by Hebe Dotson


Part 1


"Dad!" Larry shouted. "Daa-aad! I don't feel good!" He was seven years old, and he wasn't really seriously ill, but he felt just slightly unwell -- the onset of a cold, perhaps, or an upset stomach -- and he had an urge for a little attention and sympathy.

He listened for a response. Silence.

"DAD!" he called again. There was still no response. His father had probably gone out again, he thought. He did that two or three times a week, slipping away after Larry had fallen asleep -- or after he thought the boy had gone to sleep. Larry had no idea where his father went. He'd leave his son alone in their apartment, but he was always back when Larry woke up in the morning.

By today's standards, one could argue that Larry was being abused by being left on his own at such a young age. Those temporary abandonments took place quite a few years ago, though, when standards were different; when no one really worried much about whether poor people conformed to standards. They were just expected to get by as best they could without intruding on the lives of the better off. In any event, Larry never felt abused. He wasn't beaten, he was clothed and sheltered, he was fed (though sometimes irregularly and never sumptuously), and he knew his father loved him. Each was all the other had, to the best of Larry's knowledge. The boy's mother was dead and he had no brothers or sisters. His father got him up every morning and got him ready for school, and he was always there when his son came home. Larry didn't know what his father did for a living, but that wasn't the kind of question that often crossed his seven-year-old mind.

One last call at full volume: "DAA-AAD!" This cry drew a startling response -- an angel! Well, not really, but she looked like an angel to Larry as she stood in his bedroom doorway, her blonde hair backlighted like a faint halo by the 25-watt bulb in the hallway behind her. Her soft voice was angelic, too.

"What's the matter, Larry?"

"I don't feel very good. Where's my dad?"

"He had to go out," she said. "He asked me to keep an eye on you. You don't feel good? What's wrong?"

"I don't know," he said.

She came into the room and put her hand on his forehead. "You don't have a fever," she said. "Do you have to go to the bathroom?"

"I think so."

"Well, go ahead." Larry ran down the hall, went to the bathroom, and returned to his room. She gave him a glass of water. He drank some of it and she tucked him in.

"Feeling any better?"

"I think so."

"That's good. Now try to go to sleep."

"Okay," he said…and he did.

When Larry got up the next morning, his father wanted to know if he was feeling all right. "I'm okay now," Larry told him. "Dad, who was that lady who came into my room last night?"

"She's just someone I know," he said. "A friend who lives nearby."

Larry had never seen her before, but he was just a little boy and it was a big neighborhood.


It was almost four years before Larry saw the mysterious woman again. He was eleven at the time, and once again he woke up in the dark of the night, somewhere around three o'clock in the morning. He wasn't the least bit ill this time, but he'd heard a sound that had been just loud enough to awaken him and he was feeling slightly spooked. It was the unmistakable sound of his apartment door closing. Was it his father, who rarely made enough noise to wake the boy when he came home -- or was it someone else?

Larry held his breath so he could hear better without anyone hearing him. Footsteps were coming down the hall. They didn't sound like his dad's feet -- they made a faint clicking sound. The steps paused outside his door. He pulled the blankets over his head and tried to compress himself down to nothing. There was a moment of dead silence, and then the footsteps resumed, continuing down the hall.

Curiosity won out over fear. Larry got out of bed, tiptoed quickly to the door, opened it a crack, and peered into the hall. He saw the back of an attractively dressed woman in high heels. She opened the door to his father's bedroom, flicked the light on, and slipped inside, closing the door behind her.

Larry watched his father's door, fascinated. A few moments later, it opened and the woman came out in her stocking feet with a cigarette between her lips. He could see her face now, and she looked oddly familiar to him. Where had he seen her before? As she padded across the hall and into the bathroom, the dim light caught her just right and he suddenly recognized her as the baby sitter who had appeared in his doorway four years earlier.

Ten minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom. She'd taken off her makeup and she was carrying her blonde hair in her hand. She was his dad.


Larry's father yawned, scratched his head with his free hand, and went back into his bedroom, leaving his son confused and curious. The boy closed his door and crawled into his bed. He lay there, unable to sleep, wondering about the unexpected events he'd just witnessed.

He thought about tonight's discoveries and he reviewed his memories of that night four years ago when he'd first seen his father dressed in women's clothing. There was another memory, very faint, flickering around on the edge of his consciousness. When he tried to focus on it, it faded away. Maybe it would come to him if he relaxed…

It was far back in his young lifetime, more than four years ago. He had perhaps been six, maybe only five. It was something that had happened here, in this apartment. Which room? The kitchen? His room? His dad's bedroom? Yes -- he was in his father's bedroom. He didn't go in there often. The door was usually closed, but this time it had been open. His dad wasn't around -- he'd gone to the neighborhood grocery -- and Larry's childish curiosity carried him over the threshold and into the room.

He looked around. There wasn't all that much to see -- a rumpled double bed, two bureaus, a chair, and two small closets, one closed and the other open. Larry had never seen that closet open before. He wandered over and looked in. It contained a woman's coat, several dresses, and some blouses and skirts, all on hangers. Four or five pairs of women's shoes lay on the closet floor.

He jumped, nearly leaping out of his skin, when a voice spoke behind him. "Are you looking for something?" his father asked. He didn't sound angry, but he didn't sound pleased either.

"No -- I was just looking around."

"Okay." He reached around the boy and closed the closet door. "You shouldn't be nosing around in my room," he said.

"I'm sorry, Dad. I didn't mean to snoop."

"That's all right. Just don't do it again."

"I won't. Uh…Dad?"


"Where did all those ladies' clothes come from?"

"They were your mother's. I guess I should have thrown them out, but I just haven't done it yet."


And that had been that. Larry was only six. His father's explanation satisfied him.


Explanations that satisfied a six-year-old weren't as satisfactory to an eleven-year-old -- especially since he'd actually seen his father dressed as a woman on two different occasions. The next morning, Larry confronted his dad.

"Dad, I…uh…I heard you come in last night."

"Oh? I'm sorry; I didn't think I made that much noise. I'll try to be more quiet next time."

"I looked out in the hall and saw you," the boy said. "You were…you were wearing a dress!"

"I was wearing a dress?" He laughed. "You must have been dreaming."

"No, I wasn't. I…"

"You were dreaming."

That was the end of the discussion, such as it was. Larry wondered if maybe he had been dreaming. His father sounded very sure of himself. Could he have dreamed about the closet, the baby sitter, and last night? He didn't think so. Not all three.


That night Larry made himself stay awake to see if he could catch his father on his way out of the apartment. He finally dropped off around midnight without hearing him go -- if he went. The next night was much the same. On the third night, however, the boy heard a faint sound around eleven -- the creaking of a floorboard in the hall. He leaped from his bed, hurried to his door, and stuck his head out just in time to see the front door close silently behind someone. He rushed down the hall, opened the door, and looked up and down the corridor, but there was no one to be seen.

Larry closed the apartment door and tiptoed down the hall to his dad's room. The door was closed and there was no light showing under it. He turned the doorknob slowly and carefully. The knob turned all right but the door wouldn't budge -- it was locked.

He was going to have to find a way to stay awake until his father came home. Adrenaline did the job for a while, but he soon found himself getting drowsy. He tried reading, but that made him drowsy too. He finally went into the kitchen. There, with the faint glow of the hall light as his only illumination, he began shuffling around the kitchen table, quietly so as not to disturb the people in the apartment below. To maintain some semblance of alertness, he kept count and reversed directions every tenth time he passed the chair at the head of the table. At 1:47, on his 917th circuit, his adrenaline kicked in strongly when he heard the hall floorboard creak again. He shrank back into the shadows, peeping out cautiously in time to see a silhouette move quietly past the doorway.

Larry moved quickly into the hall. He saw a woman -- the woman, he was sure of that. She was carrying her shoes in one hand while her other hand fumbled with the key to his father's bedroom door. "Dad!" he said loudly. "Am I dreaming again?"

His father turned to face him. "No, Larry," he said. "I'm afraid you're not dreaming this time."


Larry sat at the kitchen table, across from his dad. His father looked quite pretty in a rather flashy way, the boy thought. He hadn't ever examined the man's face that carefully before. Why should he? His father had always been there, instantly recognizable -- when had there ever been a need to scrutinize him for masculinity? Now that he was studying the man, it was apparent that his father had a rather delicate facial structure, much like a woman. He was heavily made up, with bright red lips and dark blue eyelids. Larry thought he'd probably look a lot better if he took off at least half of his makeup.

His father had explained that he was a crossdresser -- a man who felt compelled to dress in women's clothing whenever he could. He felt much better, much happier, when he could pretend to be a woman. He wasn't gay, he insisted, though the word didn't mean much to Larry, who was somewhat startled by his father's vehemence. The dress he was wearing, like most of the clothing in his second closet, really had belonged to Larry's mother -- but not the shoes; hers had been a size too small for him.

For the first time in the boy's life, his father was being apologetic to him. He hoped his son wouldn't think too badly of him, that he wasn't too disappointed with him. He really should have thrown out his wife's things, he said, but they reminded him so much of her that he just couldn't do it -- but he would now. He'd make it all up to Larry somehow. He'd show his son that he was a real man.

He went on and on. A lot of what he said went right over Larry's head. He didn't want his father to apologize to him; he didn't want to have to forgive the man for doing something that truly didn't bother him all that much. Besides, he was really, really tired. "Dad," he said finally, "I don't care what you wear or when you wear it. You're the same person in that dress as you are in pants, and I don't care if you wear dresses all the time if they make you feel better."

"You don't?" Larry could see the surprise on his dad's face. He was a little surprised himself by what he'd said.

"I really don't. Can I go back to bed now?"

"Of course you can." Larry's father walked to the boy's room with him, tucked him into bed, and kissed him lightly on the forehead. "Everything will be all right," he said as he closed the bedroom door behind him.


A few nights later, Larry's father made a momentous decision. If the boy truly didn't care if he dressed as a woman, he'd dress as a woman full-time. That was what he'd always wanted to do, so why not do it? Would Larry really accept him as a woman? He certainly didn't have to give the boy a choice, but he would. He'd let Mona, his alter ego, take over for a trial period -- three or four days, or maybe a week. If Larry took it all right, Mona would stay; if not, she'd revert to her occasional temporary appearances.

The next morning, much to Larry's surprise, Mona came into his bedroom to get him up for school. She was lightly made up, and she looked younger and prettier than she had the last time he saw her. He rubbed his eyes sleepily. "Dad? Is that you?"

Mona smiled at him. "Do I look like a dad? Why don't you try calling me Mom?"

Larry blinked. "You're not going to be Dad any more?"

"Not for a while -- maybe never. We'll see how it all works out. Now, get yourself up and ready for school. Breakfast will be on the table in fifteen minutes." She went out, closing the door behind her.

Larry had to be (and was) an adaptable boy. If his father wanted to be a woman, why not? Mona watched him carefully for the next few days. He seemed to be coping perfectly well with having a mother instead of a father. This made her happy. She could stay.

Actually, Larry liked living with Mona more than living with his father. His Dad had usually been gruff and taciturn. Mona was more cheerful and talkative; she explained things to him and often sought his opinion on such weighty matters as what to have for dinner or which program to watch on their ancient little black-and-white television set. She was a better cook, too.


Several outwardly uneventful months passed. Larry and his mother celebrated his twelfth birthday just before the end of the school year. Mona, who was becoming increasingly domestic, even baked a birthday cake for her son and found enough money for them to go to a movie. Despite her greater domesticity, however, she continued to slip out of the apartment two or three nights each week, always returning in the early hours of the morning.

Larry at twelve was not Larry at eleven. He was beginning to feel protective toward his mother and he worried about her nocturnal absences. He was also starting to wonder how she managed to support them.

At Mona's urging, Larry had taken on some of the masculine chores that his father had done in the past. One of these was the weekly transfer of the household trash from the kitchen to the curbside. This week, there had been too much for a single trip. The first load had been heavy; the second, secured in a plastic trash bag, was so light that he swung it around from hand to hand as he ran down the stairs. He was careless, and the bag caught on the end of an iron stair rail and split open. Several items of trash fell out of the bag.

Larry inspected the trash bag. It didn't seem to be all that badly damaged. He could stuff the fallen bits of trash back through the tear in the bag, and he could leave the bag lying on its side at the curb, with the hole facing up so nothing would fall out.

He picked up the refuse that had fallen from the bag. One item hardly seemed like trash. It was a man's wallet, expensive-looking and practically new. Even if his mother no longer needed it, it would fetch a few dollars in a second-hand shop. He opened the wallet. It contained no money, but it held several credit cards bearing a name he'd never heard and a driver's license with the same name and the photograph of a man he'd never seen. He slipped the wallet into his pocket, carried the trash bag out to the curb, and went back up to his apartment.

"Mom!" he said excitedly. "Look at this! I had an accident with the trash bag -- it's okay, nothing serious, but this fell out. I bet the guy who owns it will give me a big reward if I take it back to him."

Mona snatched the wallet from Larry's hand and looked at it. "Oh, my god," she said.

"I'll look him up in the phone book," Larry said.


"Why not, Mom? It's a real nice wallet and there's a driver's license and credit cards in it. I'm sure he'd give me ten or twenty bucks -- and we could use it, couldn't we?"

"No -- not unless you want to see me go to jail."

"Jail? What are you talking about, Mom?"

Mona sighed. "I'd hoped I'd never have to tell you this, Larry, but -- well, I won't beat around the bush. In plain English, I stole that wallet. I'm a crook -- a thief."

"A thief?" Larry couldn't believe what he'd just heard.

"Yes, a thief. I'm sure you've been wondering what I do when I go out late at night. Well, what I do is go from bar to bar looking for a man who's by himself and has had too much to drink. I can usually find one, though not always. When I do find one, I sit down with him and get him to drink more." She looked at her son's horrified face and edited her story slightly. She always led her men to think they could go home with her, but the boy didn't have to know that.

"A lot of the bartenders know me," Mona continued. "When the man I'm with is really falling-down drunk, the bartender tells him it's time to pay up and go. He pulls out his wallet, but he's usually so far gone that he just fumbles with his money -- he can't count or even figure out what the different bills are -- so I tell him I'll help him. I take his wallet and give the bartender enough to pay for the drinks plus about half of what's left. Then I pretend to put the rest of the money back in his wallet, but I really keep it for myself. I stick the wallet back in his pocket -- and then I go."

"The men let you do that?"

"Believe me, dear, they're too drunk to do anything about it. In the morning, they have no idea where they were, who they were with, or where their money went."

"That's awful!" Larry said. "But how about the wallet I found in the trash? You didn't give that one back."

"No -- the man who owned that one was pure trouble. He just kept drinking and drinking without getting drunk -- I don't know how he did it. When the bartender told him it was time to pay up, he paid without any difficulty. I could see there was a lot of money left, too -- fifties and hundreds; that guy was loaded -- but I decided to just forget about it and go home. When I stood up and said goodnight, he got up too and put his arm around me and said he was going with me. I said I had to go to the ladies' room first, and I hugged him and told him not to go away -- I'd be right back. Well, I went right out the back door and came home as fast as I could."

"I don't understand -- how did his wallet get here?"

"I picked his pocket when I hugged him," Mona said.


Larry was shocked. He'd never been more shocked in his entire twelve years of life. This comparative condition lasted about halfway through Mona's next few words, until Larry began to realize that he hadn't previously known what shocked was.

"I've been thinking," Mona said, "ever since I ran into that guy a couple of nights ago -- the one who owned the wallet you found. I was afraid I might be pushing my luck, rolling drunks. I tried to think of something a little less risky. And then it came to me -- something almost foolproof that we could do."

"We?" Larry whispered. Maybe Mona had something honest in mind, though "almost foolproof" made him think that she probably didn't.

"All we have to do is go to crowded places -- bus stations, department stores, subway stations, the airport, the railroad station, places like that. We spread it around -- we never go to the same place twice in less than a month. We're together but separated -- I'm off to the side or a little behind you -- and you pretend to faint. You just keel over. People will crowd around you, not knowing what to do. I'll push my way through the crowd, picking one or two pockets as I go. Then I'll yell, 'Let me through! She's my daughter! It's her low blood sugar again!' I'll wave some smelling salts under your nose, and you'll open your eyes. You'll look a little groggy, and I'll give you a piece of candy to raise your blood sugar level. Then I'll tell everyone that you're all right now, that you're always doing this to me, and I'll lead you away. I'll yell at you about watching your diet until we've gotten out of sight."

"Daughter?" Larry said feebly.

"Yes, of course, dear," Mona said. "A mother and her daughter are much more convincing than a mother and son or father and son. Besides, people will be sympathetic if they see a girl keel over. They'll assume she's fainted -- with a boy, their first thought would be drinking or drugs."

"But I'm not a girl, Dad!" Larry said. "I don't want to be a girl! I don't know how to be a girl! And I don't want to be a thief, either!"

"I'm sorry," Mona said, "but I don't want to go to jail. I need a new scam, and I think this one will work just fine. Stand over there by the fridge so I can get a good look at you."

Reluctantly, Larry stood up and shuffled over to the refrigerator. "Don't slouch," Mona said. "Stand up straight and look me in the eye. Let's see -- you're not very big -- you do take after your old Mom, don't you? You look sort of girlish, too. It's a good thing you haven't had a haircut for a couple of months. I think this will work, Laura."


"Laura. That's your name now, and that's what I'm going to call you from now on. And you're going to call me Mom, all the time, even when we're by ourselves at home -- don't you ever slip up and call me Dad like you did a minute ago."


"No buts, Laurie. This is going to work. Listen, now -- I'm going to go out and get some things for you. You stay right here -- I'll be back in a couple of hours. Okay? You understand me, dear?"

"Yes, Mom."

"Good girl. I'll be right back." Mona picked up her purse and swept out of the apartment. Larry went to his room and lay down on his bed. He couldn't believe all this. Tears flowed down his cheeks.


Mona, in addition to being an expert pickpocket and sleight-of-hand artist, was also an accomplished shoplifter. She returned to her apartment with a shopping bag full of clothing for her daughter, little of which had been purchased. She'd decided to dress Laura as a pre-pubescent girl of ten or eleven -- she was small enough, and the younger she looked, the more vulnerable and helpless she'd seem to be.

Mona found Laura in her bedroom, sleeping. She could see that the child had been crying, and she felt a momentary twinge of conscience. She reminded herself that she bore the responsibility for providing her daughter with food, clothing, and shelter; that this experience would be of incredibly great value to Laura; and that the scam was really going to work very well. Mona over Conscience, game, set, and match, 6-1, 6-0.

"Laurie! Wake up, dear -- I'm home."

Laura opened her eyes and rolled over. Mona was smiling happily at her and she tried to smile back, with limited success. "Go wash your face," Mona said, "and then come back here. I've got lots of nice things for you to try on."

A few minutes later, Laura found herself fully dressed in girls' clothing -- panties, a camisole, a slip, a dress, ankle socks, and low-heeled shoes. Mona was ecstatic. "You look so pretty, dear!" she exclaimed as she led Laura to the full-length mirror in her bedroom. "Much prettier than I did when I was your age." Laura was impressed in spite of herself. She had to admit that she looked much more girlish than she'd thought she would.

"But I look like such a little kid, Mom," she said. "The girls in my class at school look a lot older than this. I look like a little fifth-grader."

"That's fine," Mona said. "The younger you look, the better the scam will work. Come on; you've got two more dresses and another pair of shoes to try on."

The next dress was too small for Laura. Mona made a face and dropped it into the trashcan.

"Aren't you going to take it back and exchange it, Mom?"

"Don't be silly," Mona said.


The third dress was a little too large, but Laura would grow into it. The other shoes, like the second dress, were too small, but Mona had had to pay for them, so she put them back in their box to be exchanged. All in all, Mona was quite satisfied. "Now that we know your sizes, we'll go shopping for some more things tomorrow," she said. "And we'll have to do something with your hair."

"We're both going shopping?" Laura said.

"Yes. We've got enough so you can go out in public, but you need to have more of a wardrobe, unless you want to do laundry every day."

"But what if someone sees me?"

"Of course someone will see you," Mona said. "They'll look at you and see a little fifth-grade girl."

"I mean someone who knows me."

"They won't recognize you. Would you recognize you?"

Laura looked in the mirror. "Not from the neck down, but it's my same old Larry head."

"We'll take care of your Larry head tomorrow," Mona said. "Wash your hair in the morning. I'll work on it while it's still wet and make it look more feminine. Then we'll do something more with it while we're out."

"But why do we need to get more clothes for me? Can't I just wear my regular boys' clothes? Except when we're doing the…the scam?"

"Laurie, listen to me. No boys' clothes. You're a girl now, and you're going to look like one, all day every day. You can't be a part-time girl. If you're not always thinking of yourself as a girl, you could make a mistake at the wrong time and get us in real trouble. You can keep your jeans and your sneakers and one or two T-shirts, because girls wear them too, but everything else is going in the trash. In fact, we're going to take care of that right now. We're going to go through your closet and your bureau and throw out everything a girl wouldn't wear."

"What will I wear to school?" Laura asked. "I can't go to school in a dress -- the other boys would kill me."

"You won't be going back to school," Mona said. "You're twelve years old. You've had seven years of school. That's plenty."

Laura hadn't expected that. She was a fairly good student and generally enjoyed school, but she had been dreading the possibility of starting seventh grade as a girl.

The clothing cleanout didn't take long, since Larry had had an extremely limited wardrobe. When they were done, Mona prepared a light supper for them and then sent Laura off to bed. "Tomorrow will be a busy day, dear," she said.

"What am I going to sleep in, Mom? We threw away my pajamas."

"So we did," Mona said. "Well, there's one more thing in my shopping bag." She reached into the bag, took out a satin nightgown, removed the price tag, and gave the nightgown to Laurie. "A little expensive," she observed, "but you're worth it."

"Did you really pay for it, Mom?"

"No, dear -- but if I had, you really would have been worth it."


The next morning, Laura, with her hair still wet from her shampoo, reported to Mona for head modifications. Mona attacked Laura's hair with brushes, combs, scissors, and curlers. When she was done, she sent Laura -- her hair still rolled in curlers -- off to get dressed. When the girl returned, Mona used her blow dryer to finish drying Laura's hair. With that done, she removed the curlers, brushed her daughter's hair out, trimmed a little here and there, and pronounced herself satisfied. "Look in the mirror now, Laurie," she said. "I don't see Larry any more -- do you?"

Laura saw a young, pretty girl with a short but feminine hairstyle. "I've still got a Larry face," she said, "but the rest of me is okay."

"No one is going to think you're Larry, dear -- but there are a few little things we can do." Mona opened her jewelry box and took out a pair of clip-on earrings and a gold necklace. "These will help," she said, as she put the jewelry on her daughter. "One more thing." She rummaged through her cosmetics until she found a tube of pale pink lipstick. "You're too young for makeup," she said, "but just this once -- until you have a real professional hairdo…" She applied the lipstick to Laura's lips. "Now look again. Any Larry left?"

Laura inspected herself carefully. "No, Mom -- he's gone."


Laura felt apprehensive about leaving the apartment. "I can't go out dressed like this, Mom!" she said.

"Why not? I do," Mona replied. "Come on, now -- we've got a lot to do." She stepped out onto the sidewalk, and Laura timidly followed her. The girl was certain that everyone they passed could see that she was really a boy in a dress, but no one paid any discernible attention to her. Her self-confidence rose with each block that she and Mona walked, until…

"Mom!" Laura said, tugging at Mona's arm.


"That boy we just passed --"

"What about him?"

"He's in my class at school, and he looked right at me, and he just sort of ignored me," Laura said.

"He didn't recognize you, then."

"No. At least, I don't think he did. I just watched him out of the corner of my eye, and it looked as if he saw me but he didn't really see me."

"I'm not surprised," Mona said. "He's a seventh-grader and he's starting to check out the girls, but he saw you as a flat-chested little fifth-grader and didn't have any interest in you. Like I said, you don't have to worry about anyone recognizing you."

"I guess not, Mom." Laura felt much better.

Shopping was something of a whirlwind -- many stores, many purchases. To Laura's great relief, Mona didn't steal anything -- she paid for everything they decided they wanted. Mona was afraid that Laura's nervousness would give them away if she tried to shoplift anything and, besides, she was feeling flush -- the wallet she'd stolen a few nights earlier had contained an enormous amount of money. They bought dresses, skirts, blouses, socks, shoes, underwear, and a handbag for Laura, carried everything back to the apartment, and then went out again and bought more. Laura needed an entire wardrobe, and Mona needed a few things, too. She wanted them both to look well to do -- and therefore above suspicion -- when they began to operate the scam.

With clothing needs under control, they went to a beauty salon the next day to get Laura's hair cut professionally. It was too short to do much with, but the beautician suggested a pixie cut that even Laura thought was cute. Mona decided that a pixie cut would look good on her, too. "Anyone can tell you two are mother and daughter," the beautician said when she was done. Laura smiled shyly while Mona beamed with maternal pride.

Mother and daughter left the salon and strolled down the sidewalk, on the alert for more ways to spend Mona's illicit wealth (which had now dwindled well below the level at which "wealth" could be considered an accurate description). "Let's look in here," Mona said as she led Laura into a jewelry store. When they emerged, Laura -- despite her vehemently whispered objections -- was sporting tiny gold studs in her newly pierced ears. Mona had bought her an additional pair of small gold hoop earrings and was feeling cheered by the thought of being able to easily shoplift many of Laura's future Christmas and birthday gifts.


Laura's physical makeover was now complete, allowing Mona to focus her energy on her daughter's behavioral makeover. Day after day, she took the girl out on "field trips" along the city sidewalks and into stores, museums, and parks -- places where Laura could observe women and girls in some of their native habitats. She encouraged her daughter to listen to females talking; to critique female clothing, makeup, and hairdos; and to see how females walked, sat, and stood. She made Laura imitate the most graceful and feminine subjects of their observations.

Inevitably, Laura grew petulant. It happened one afternoon in an art museum. She couldn't understand why she had to repeatedly rise from her seat beside Mona, walk across the gallery, observe a painting from several angles, and return to her seat.

"Women are always on display," Mona told her. "We have to rehearse every little action over and over again to make certain we never do it wrong."

"Women never do anything wrong?"

"Of course they do, dear -- and one thing you'll need to learn is the feminine way to gloss over an error. The important thing, for us, is to be so feminine that no one will ever suspect that we're not female. Do you see that little girl on the bench across from us?"


"She's been watching you -- not staring, but out of the corners of her eyes. She's trying to learn from you. It's something all females do."

"Learning what to do, or what not to do?" Laura said with a smile.

"Probably both," Mona said.

"Maybe she's really a boy in girls' clothes."

"She might be."

"And she's trying to learn from me. Poor thing…"

In the evenings, back in the apartment, Mona drilled her daughter repeatedly on feminine speech patterns and inflections; on clothing selection; on walking, on sitting, on using her arms and hands as a girl would. Laura was an intelligent child and she learned quickly. Mona's criticisms, which flowed almost as rapidly as she could talk in the early stages of Laura's training, dwindled away to nothing in less than two weeks.


Mona now began her daughter's all-important scam training. She rehearsed Laura in how to simulate fainting; what expression to show on her face as she lay, apparently unconscious, on the ground; how to respond to smelling salts; how to rise carefully to her feet when Mona extended her hand to help her; and how to walk waveringly but rapidly as they departed from the crime scene. Laura again learned quickly if reluctantly, and Mona soon felt that her protégé was ready for prime time.

Mona took great maternal pride in Laura's accomplishments. Her love for the girl grew daily as she molded her daughter into a younger version of herself. Laura seemed to have lost her fear of being seen as a boy and now appeared to be completely assured in her femininity. As her mother's criticisms gave way to praise, Laura glowed with a loved child's happiness.

Without a doubt, Mona thought she was doing what was best for Laura. In her pride in her daughter, she forgot that she was really motivated by what was best for Mona. That forgotten motivation led her to approach a physician she knew, a man of dubious ethics who was easily enticed into prescribing medications without too much concern for their necessity. She obtained two prescriptions -- one for drugs to block the production of androgens and the other for estrogens. Before she left the doctor's office, she stole three of his prescription pads.

Mona's intention was to feminize Laura's body, but she decided that she too could benefit from the prescriptions. The androgen suppressors would prevent the child from undergoing male puberty and its attendant growth spurts -- they would be less effective in Mona's adult body, but they'd help. Mona instructed Laura to begin taking this medication daily "to prevent acne." The estrogens would cause Laura to develop as a female, but Mona didn't want that to happen right away -- the scam would work better if Laura appeared to be a pre-teen. She decided to refrain from sharing that medication for a few months.


"This will be like a final exam," Mona said, "except we'll go to jail if we flunk, so we've got to be sure we pass. I think we can do it -- do you?"

"Do we have to, Mom? I really don't want to."

"I didn't ask if you wanted to. I asked if you think you can do it, just the way we've practiced it."

"Yes, I think so."

"Okay, then -- here we go." They entered a department store and began to wander around together, occasionally pausing to inspect some item of merchandise. "Now, Laurie," Mona said softly. She stopped to look at a display while Laura continued down the aisle.

Mona circled around the display until her back was turned to her daughter. A few seconds later, she heard voices raised and saw people hurrying by her. She turned. A small crowd had gathered about thirty feet away. Mona hurried to the edge of the crowd and began to try to push her way through. "My daughter!" she said as she shoved a man aside, simultaneously extracting his wallet and dropping it into her shopping bag. "Let me through, please! That's my little girl!" Two more wallets landed in her bag before she broke through to see Laura lying motionless on the floor.

"It's just her low blood sugar!" Mona said. "I keep telling her and telling her, but… Could I have some room, please?" A few people stepped back, and Mona knelt down. She took some smelling salts from her purse and waved them under Laura's nose. The girl moaned and her eyelids fluttered open. She tried to push the smelling salts away.

Mona lifted her daughter into a sitting position. She took a small candy bar from her purse and unwrapped it. "Take this!" she commanded. The girl opened her mouth and Mona fed her the candy. "Are you feeling better?" she asked.

"I…I think so," Laura said weakly.

"Can you stand up now?"

"I…think I can."

Mona pulled Laura to her feet. The girl gave the few remaining bystanders an embarrassed smile. "I'm okay, Mom," she said.

"How many times do I have to tell you…"

"I'm sorry, Mom. I forgot."

"You forgot! What if I hadn't been here?" She took Laura's arm and led her out of the store, continuing to lecture the girl until they were outside. They then quickly crossed the sidewalk to a taxi rank and made their escape.


"Five hundred and seventeen dollars," Mona said. "Not bad. You did a good job, dear."

"Thanks, Mom," Laura muttered without raising her eyes from the magazine she was reading.


Laura was unhappy.

Her mother's scam was working very well, and Laura had become highly skilled in performing her role. Mona's praise gave her no real pleasure, however. She had an intense dislike of what she did, due in part to her innate honesty and in part to her fear of being caught and sent to a juvenile prison.

Initially, she had felt a great deal of sympathy for her victims. From the remarks she heard as she lay motionless on the floor (or sidewalk or subway platform), many of them seemed to be genuinely concerned about her. She imagined that the people whose pockets Mona picked were struggling to get along and could ill afford to lose their money. For weeks, she cried herself to sleep after every successful theft. Eventually, however, she forced herself to harden her heart. She still didn't like what she was doing, but she trained herself not to think about the people she and Mona victimized.

She was lonely. She had virtually no social interaction with anyone other than her mother. She missed going to school -- she hadn't had any real friends there, but she (or, rather, Larry) had had a number of acquaintances, and she'd enjoyed her classes. Now she had to stay in the apartment during school hours for fear of being picked up by the police for truancy. As she walked around her neighborhood on nice afternoons, she often saw former classmates, but they were now eighth graders and she, at thirteen, still appeared to be a little fifth-grade girl. No one ever recognized her or even gave her a curious stare. She forced herself to harden her heart in this area, too -- to make no overtures to others and to ignore any signs of friendliness that others might display. Any friend, after all, would be someone she might tell about herself, and this would put her in danger of revealing her criminal life to someone who might go to the authorities.

Interestingly enough, Laura had come to enjoy living as a girl. In the year or so that she'd been Laura, her appearance and mannerisms had become thoroughly feminine. She had (and knew she had) a pretty face and a slender, androgynous body, and she enjoyed being attractive. She had shoulder-length hair, she preferred dresses to jeans, and her favorite magazine was Seventeen. If she'd tried to be Larry, she would have been an outrageously effeminate boy.

Aside from her aversion to crime and her loneliness, her principal source of discontent was her body. She wanted to look her age; she wanted some curves below her pretty head. She was extremely jealous of Mona, whose breasts and hips had developed nicely over the past year. How had this happened? And why couldn't it happen to her? Mona gave her vague, evasive answers for several weeks until Laura finally went on strike. On three different occasions, she went out to work the scam with Mona, and each time she refused to faint. In response to Mona's questions, she simply said that the situation "just didn't feel right."

Mona finally got the message and told Laura about the second prescription. "It's wonderful, Laurie," she said. "You can see what it's done for me. And you can use it, too, when the time is right."

"And when will that be?"

"Soon, dear, soon. Just try to be patient."

Laura reluctantly agreed to be patient, for a little while, and her strike was over.


When Larry went away, Laura inherited his household chores, one of which was trash disposal. This task wasn't particularly onerous, but it did require her -- among other things -- to go around the apartment to empty the wastebaskets. About a month after her strike was broken, she found several discarded bras in Mona's wastebasket (Mona, thanks to her estrogen prescription, could no longer fit comfortably into her old B-cup bras and had been forced to steal some C-cups). This discovery put Laura into a funk. Instead of throwing the old bras away, she salvaged them and hid them in her room.

A few days later, when Mona went out to reconnoiter several potential scam sites, Laura begged off joining her, using the excuse that she wasn't feeling well. As soon as her mother left, Laura hurried into her room, retrieved one of the hidden bras, and put it on, padding it with wadded-up panties. Now, at last, she had something of a girlish figure.

All of her own dresses were much too childish for a young woman with a bosom. She went into Mona's room and searched through her closet. After considering several good possibilities, she selected a black cocktail dress that her mother had often worn in her drunk-rolling days. It was a little large for her but at last, after more than a year of living as a girl, she felt that she actually looked like a girl. She rummaged through Mona's dresser until she found a pair of pantyhose. Once she had these on, she stepped into a pair of her mother's high heels and lurched giddily to the full-length mirror. Wonderful! All she needed now was a little makeup. Snatching a plummy-red lipstick from the top of Mona's dresser, she applied it to her lips. Now she looked like a real young woman of no less than sixteen.

She spent the next hour roaming around the apartment, sitting in each of the chairs and inspecting herself in every reflecting surface she encountered. She felt happy for the first time in months.


Laura took advantage of Mona's subsequent absences to try on almost everything in her mother's closet to see what would fit her and what would look best on her. She found the breast forms that Mona no longer needed and moved them to her own room. She bought makeup and hairstyle magazines and spent many hours selecting various looks and practicing them with Mona's cosmetics and curlers. Fearful of depleting her mother's cosmetics, she began to buy her own when Mona sent her out on grocery shopping errands (another chore she'd inherited from Larry). She soon became quite proficient at making herself look any age between ten and twenty-one.

With makeup and hairstyling conquered and with Mona's closet thoroughly explored, boredom and dissatisfaction returned. Laura could make herself look her age or several years older, but she could only do it for her own amusement. It was no longer that amusing, but she aged herself whenever Mona was away because she could no longer bear to look ten or eleven. She couldn't share her accomplishments with Mona and she was nervous about leaving the apartment -- she knew she was pretty enough to attract males, and she also knew that she didn't know how to deal with them.

All dressed up, no place to go, nothing to read and nothing worth watching on television. Laura went to the refrigerator to get herself a Coke. There were none to be found -- no Cokes and no ginger ale. She slammed the refrigerator door angrily. Wait! What had she seen just as the door closed? She reopened it. No; no soft drinks -- she'd glimpsed Mona's beer. She started to close the door and paused. Why not? She looked old enough, she felt old enough, and her mother had plenty -- she'd never miss one little bottle.

Why did people drink this stuff, Laura wondered. It had such a bitter flavor. Still, her mother seemed to enjoy it. She'd sit there, perfectly happy, drinking her beer and smoking her cigarettes. Perhaps it was the combination of beer and cigarettes that grownups enjoyed. Laura looked around. Yes, her mother had left an open pack of cigarettes on the kitchen counter. She'd never miss one.

Laura took a cigarette from the pack, found a book of matches in a drawer, and returned to her seat at the kitchen table. She put the cigarette between her lips and lit a match. She knew, from observing her mother, that she had to hold the match near the end of the cigarette and suck in to draw the flame into the tobacco. It was a little difficult to judge just where the end was, but finally she tasted something unusual. She took the cigarette from her lips and blew a little puff of smoke from her mouth. Success!

Laura put her cigarette in the ashtray and drank another sip of beer. The flavor hadn't improved noticeably. Perhaps she needed a larger amount of smoke. She picked up the cigarette and took an unhealthy drag.

It took an enormous effort for Laura to get the cigarette into the ashtray before she succumbed to the coughing paroxysm that took over her body for what seemed like five or ten minutes. She nearly fell from her chair. She was choking and her eyes were watering. How could her mother smoke these things? And seemingly enjoy them?

When she finally got her coughing under control, she flushed her cigarette down the toilet and poured her beer into the sink. "Never again," she vowed. And yet, of course, if Mona could smoke, Laura knew that she could, too. It just took practice. A few days later, she tried again, avoiding large inhalations. That was better. Within a week, she had her throat and lungs conditioned to accept cigarette smoke, and she'd become accustomed to the taste of beer. With her breast forms, her mother's cocktail dresses and shoes, and her beer and cigarettes, she felt quite the grown-up young woman.


Laura realized she had to be careful. She could get away with stealing one or two bottles of beer when her mother had a plentiful supply, but not even one when the stock was low. She could take two or three cigarettes when a pack was at least half full, but not more than one when it was nearly empty -- and never the last one.

The solution, of course, was to buy her own supply. Mona kept a cache of grocery money in the kitchen table drawer, and Laura drew on these funds whenever she went grocery shopping. When the money got low, it was her responsibility to tell her mother, who would put more in the drawer. It was easier for Laura to appropriate money for her own purposes, as she had often done to acquire teenage glamour magazines, than it was to steal beer from the fridge.

Laura knew that kids weren't supposed to be able to buy beer and cigarettes -- her mother always took care of these purchases herself. Accordingly, she made herself up to look as old as she could, borrowed her mother's matching skirt and blazer, took ten dollars from the kitchen table drawer and went off to the grocery -- not the one where she usually shopped, but another two blocks farther away. She was a little nervous about going out on her own, but her cravings gave her courage.

Everything went well. She bought a six pack of Mona's usual beer, a pack of Mona's favorite brand of cigarettes, and a new hairstyle magazine. No one challenged her in the grocery store and no one accosted her on the street. When she got home, she hid her booty in her room (her plan was to substitute a warm beer from her room for each cold one she took from the fridge). Feeling a strong need to calm her nerves after her stressful expedition, she opened a beer and lit a cigarette. One bottle was enough -- two would make her a little tipsy, and Mona would be returning home in a couple of hours -- but she was fabulously cigarette-rich and she chain-smoked five of them with her beer.

This set a pattern. Every three or four days, she'd take a trip to the store for a six pack and cigarettes. It worked for her until the day she had to rush her preparations because she had only an hour before Mona was due home. In her haste, she skimped on her makeup and went to the nearer grocery and was shocked when the cashier said, "You've got to show me some ID, kid."

"Oh, this isn't for me," Laura said. "It's for my mom."

"I don't care if it's for the Pope. No ID, no beer and no butts."

"Uh -- I left my ID at home," Laura said. "My mom will be real mad. She probably won't shop here any more. Let me buy this and I'll bring my ID next time."

"Sorry about that, sweetie. I can't do it -- I could lose my job. Go home and get your ID and we'll be all set."

"Okay," Laura said. She had to run to get home in time to turn herself back into a ten-year-old for Mona. She consoled herself with the thought that she could "borrow" from her mom for a day or two.


Laura knew she should have some kind of identification if she wanted to keep out of trouble. She could normally make herself look eighteen or older, but if she happened to arouse someone's suspicion, it would be best to have an ID.

What could she use? What did her mom use? Mona didn't drive -- lots of people in the city didn't drive -- so she probably didn't have a driver's license. She waited for an opportunity to look through her mother's purse -- an opportunity that knocked the next morning while Mona was taking a shower. As Laura had surmised, Mona had no driver's license, but her wallet held a hand-lettered ID card with her mother's female name and address (which hardly seemed to constitute an official document). It also contained a laminated copy of something purporting to be Mona's birth certificate -- although, as Laura knew very well, her mother had been born neither female nor Mona. The date of birth was correct, and Mona's parents' names appeared on the certificate. They may have been as fabricated as Mona's name and sex were, but if they were real, this was the first time Laura had seen her paternal grandparents' names.

A birth certificate was probably about the best she could do, Laura thought. First she'd have to find Larry's birth certificate (if her mother even had it) and then see what she could do to alter it. After Mona left to get her hair done, Laura began to search the apartment.

She began her hunt in the most logical place -- her mother's bedroom. She had done that before while inventorying Mona's wardrobe, but she hadn't been interested in papers then. From her earlier searches, however, she knew there was a large manila envelope in the bottom dresser drawer, and she thought it would be the best place to begin. There was no birth certificate there, but she did make an interesting discovery -- two blank prescription pads and a photocopy of two filled-out prescriptions from the doctor whose name appeared on the blank forms. She took the photocopy to the kitchen and compared it to the two pill bottles there. One prescription clearly went with the tablets that she and Mona shared, while the other equally clearly was for the pills that only Mona was allowed to take, the ones that were feminizing her body. She knew her mother far too well -- obviously, Mona was forging the doctor's signature on the prescriptions to avoid having to pay him for office visits. "Like mother, like daughter," Laura murmured as she forged two copies of the estrogen prescription for herself and tucked them away, with two additional blank forms, in her bedroom.

Laura's search of Mona's room failed to turn up a copy of Larry's birth record. There was no place in the bathroom for papers and she knew everything that was in her own bedroom. That left the kitchen and the small coat closet in the hall. She checked the hall closet first and found a battered cardboard box buried under various odds and ends on the shelf. To her great satisfaction, this box contained Larry's documentation.

She looked at the certificate carefully. The entries were all typewritten, and she would need to make only three changes. "Laurence" would have to become "Laura" (the middle name was her birth mother's maiden name -- she'd keep that), the "Male" box would have to be cleared and an X entered in the "Female" box, and the date of birth would have to be pushed back eight years to make her twenty-one. There was no need to change her mother's name to "Mona" -- no one was going to check for that!

Laura was satisfied that she could alter the certificate easily with a photocopier and some careful cutting and pasting. At the first opportunity, she went to a drugstore two blocks away that had a photocopier for public use. She made two copies of the birth record for twenty cents and purchased a glue stick. Back in her apartment, keeping one copy as a base, she clipped the bits she needed from the other copy and painstakingly glued them in place. When she was done, she took the altered document back to the drugstore and copied it twice, reducing its size each time. The final product was about the size of a credit card and perfectly legible. She took it to a nearby photo shop where the clerk, a young man who went out of his way to be helpful, trimmed away the excess paper and laminated the certificate for fifty cents.

On her way home, Laura stopped at a grocery -- not the one at which she'd been carded -- and bought beer and two packs of cigarettes. She was prepared to show her new ID but it goes almost without saying that she wasn't asked for anything but money.


Laura wasn't sure how much the estrogen prescription would cost. Her mother had never sent her to the pharmacy, preferring to take care of prescriptions herself. For the next few weeks, Laura held back a few dollars from each grocery-shopping trip until she thought she had enough.

She took the forged prescription to a pharmacy two subway stops from home. After she gave it to the pharmacist, she watched him warily as he took a large jar of tablets from the shelf and began counting out the sixty-day supply specified on the prescription form. She was ready to run if he made a phone call or did anything else threatening, but he simply typed out a label and affixed it to a small vial, poured in the pills he'd just counted, and smiled at Laura when he told her the price. She had more than enough money with her, and she returned the pharmacist's smile as she paid him and took her purchase.

Once she was safely back in her apartment, Laura took one of her pills and hid the rest in her bureau. She looked at herself in the mirror, wondering how long it would be until her body was as voluptuous as her mother's. She smiled happily at her reflection. This was a big day in her life. She went into the kitchen, poured herself a glass of beer, and lit a cigarette. She lifted her glass in a silent toast to herself and drained nearly half of its contents. The beer was cold and tasted really good -- she laughed to herself, recalling her distaste when she'd first tried it. By the time she finished her cigarette, the glass was empty. She decided to have another beer. This was, after all, a day to be celebrated…


"Laura! Wake up, damn it!"

Someone was shaking her. Why did she feel so woozy? Why was her mother telling her to wake up? "Ohhhh," she groaned. "Is it time to get up for school, Mom?"

"Just wake up, damn it!" Mona said. She shook Laura again.

Laura forced her eyes open. Why did her mother look so angry?

"You could have burned the damn place down!" Mona said. "Look at that!" Laura tried to focus on whatever it was that Mona was pointing at. It looked like some kind of scar on the table.

"What are you talking about, Mom? That scar?"

"That's a scorch mark. When I came in, there was a half-burned cigarette there. If it had rolled onto the newspaper…" which was only inches from the burn "…you'd have gone up in smoke by now!"

Laura tried to stand up. Her head was spinning. "Oh, Mom! I feel so sick…"

"Well, don't puke all over my good dress! Go to the bathroom! Can you make it?"

"I think so." She succeeded in standing and lurched down the hall to the bathroom. A few minutes later, feeling slightly better, she looked at her reflection in the mirror. She looked awful, she thought -- her face was so pale, so pasty. She washed her face with cold water, removing most of her makeup in the process, and went back to the kitchen. Her mother seemed to have become somewhat calmer.

"I'm sorry, Mom," Laura said.

"I should hope so. When I think of what could have happened… Laurie, I'm really angry and I don't know where to begin. How long have you been drinking?"

"Only a few months, Mom -- since August." She looked at the four empty bottles on the table. "I can't believe I drank so much! I've never had more than two before."

"And smoking?"

"The same -- I started when I had my first beer. I thought it would make the beer taste better."

"And wearing my clothes and makeup?"

"A little longer," Laura said. "Since sometime in July."

"And why?"

"Oh, Mom -- I'm thirteen now, almost fourteen, and I got so tired of looking like a little kid and being stuck all the time in this apartment. So, one day I tried on some of your clothes and I looked so much better…"

"You found my plastic tits, too."

"Yes, I did. Mom, it's so awful to be a flat-chested thirteen-year-old."

"Tell me about it," Mona said. "So, why did you start drinking and smoking?"

"Well… Once I found out how to make myself look older, I decided I wanted to act as if I really were older, and I was feeling so lonely and bored, and I thought of how much you enjoy sitting here in the kitchen with a beer and a cigarette, and…"

"And it just went on from there," Mona said.

"That's right. I hope you're not too angry, Mom."

"I'm not overjoyed, but what can I say? I started smoking at eleven and drinking beer at twelve, and they didn't do me any harm. I started wearing my mother's clothes when I was six, and that didn't do me any harm, either. You're a chip off the old block, I guess, but running a year or two behind me."

"Then you don't mind?" Laura said.

"I didn't say that. I didn't have any responsibilities when I was your age, but you do. We depend on you for our income, and if you're too hung over to play your part right, we could both go to jail. One beer is all right, maybe two, but beyond that it's too risky."

"Couldn't we give up the scam?"

"Not now -- it's Christmas season, the easiest pickings of the year," Mona said. "Maybe in January. If we make enough money, we can go to Florida for a couple of weeks and see if we can think of a better way to earn a living. How does that sound?"

"That sounds good, Mom."

"Okay. Now, about the smoking. Do you realize that smokers stink?"


"Well, they do. Their clothes and hair just reek of smoke, and their breaths are awful," Mona said.

"I didn't know."

"Smokers don't notice tobacco stink, but other people do. Suppose someone bends down to check on you when you do your faint, and they smell tobacco smoke all over you, a ten-year-old girl. They'll be as suspicious as hell, or at least completely unsympathetic, which could be just as bad if there's any trouble."

"I understand," Laura said.

"I don't care if you smoke, but you've got to use some common sense. No smoking anywhere in the apartment except the kitchen -- that's to keep the stink away from our clothes -- and no smoking when you're wearing anything either one of us would wear on the job. Don't put anything smoky in the closet or in the bureau with other clothes. No smoking for 24 hours before we work the scam. On workdays, take a shower and use plenty of shampoo before we leave home, and use mouthwash, too. Got all that?"

"I think so."

"Have you been taking my beer and cigarettes? I don't think I've been buying more than usual."

"No; I've been buying my own."

"With my money," Mona said. "No; that's not right. It's our money -- you've earned your share of it. Have you been carded?"

"Once. I usually make myself look old enough, but one time I didn't."

"I'll get you an ID."

"I've got one," Laura said. "I made it myself." She retrieved her birth certificate from her purse and showed it to her mother.

"Pretty good," Mona said. "I can see there's absolutely nothing hidden away around this place -- nothing of mine, anyway. But a birth certificate isn't good enough. It says you're twenty-one all right, but how do you prove it's you? It could be anyone. You really need something with your picture on it."

"What can I get?"

"A college student ID, a driver's license. I need an ID too. Tell you what, we'll go out and get driver's licenses tomorrow. Pick out some clothes tonight, and make yourself look twenty-one when you get dressed."


"Don't worry; it's easy. I know a guy who can make them for us while we wait," Mona assured her.


"You're gorgeous, sweetheart," Mona said. "I really couldn't tell last night because your face was sort of greenish, but now I can see you're a very pretty girl."

Laura blushed happily. "Thanks, Mom -- I think there's a strong family resemblance."

"Such blarney. Are you ready? Shall we go off and find my driver's license guy?"

"Let's do it, Mom."

Ninety minutes later, the driver's license guy had been found, photos had been taken, and official-looking licenses had been exchanged for somewhat more money than the state charged for legitimate ones. Mona and Laura were back on the sidewalk with their new IDs tucked away in their purses. They strolled along in a leisurely manner, enjoying the holiday decorations, glancing into store windows, and occasionally going into a shop to get a better look at the merchandise. Mona was on her best behavior, stealing nothing.

"I'm getting hungry," Mona said. "Do you know it's 12:30? How about lunch -- there's a really nice restaurant just around the corner."

"Sounds good to me -- I'm getting hungry, too."

They rounded the corner and entered the restaurant. Apparently, everyone in the city had decided to eat there that day. "I'm sorry, ladies," the maitre d' said. "It will be about half an hour before I have a table ready. Can I put your name on the waiting list?"

"Yes, please," Mona said. "It's Medford."

"Thank you, Mrs. Medford. Would you care to wait in the lounge? I'll call you when your table is ready."

Mona and Laura went into the lounge, a small, dimly lighted, smoke-filled room. A waiter swept past them. "Sit anywhere, ladies. I'll be back to take your order in a minute."

Mona spotted a tiny empty table with two chairs and led Laura to it. They seated themselves. Laura had never been in a bar before and she looked around with great interest. "It's so smoky in here," she said.

"That's just what I was talking about last night," Mona said.

The waiter zipped up to their table. "Good afternoon, ladies. Would you like something to drink?"

"I'd like a glass of chardonnay," Mona said. "Do you want the same, Laura?"

"Ah, yes, please."

The waiter looked at Laura and then at Mona. "Is your…ah…sister…?"

"Yes, she is," Mona said. Laura had already opened her purse and taken out her new driver's license. The waiter looked at it quickly. "Thank you," he said. He returned it to her and hurried off.

"I prefer to drink wine in a nice restaurant," Mona said. "I think you'll like it." She opened her purse. "Oh, dear. I forgot my cigarettes. Did you bring yours?"

"Yes, Mom." Laura opened her purse and offered her pack to Mona. "I didn't think you'd want one after what you said to me last night."

Mona took a cigarette and returned the pack to Laura, who raised an eyebrow questioningly and then took one for herself. "In a place like this, you almost have to smoke in self defense," Mona said. "Do you have matches?"

The waiter reappeared, carrying a small tray with their wine. "Allow me, ladies," he said. He set their wineglasses before them, extracted a lighter from his pocket, and lit their cigarettes. The two women sat back and looked at each other.

"It seems so strange to see you smoking," Mona said.

"It seems very strange to be smoking in public," Laura replied.

Mona lifted her glass. "To crime!" she said.

Laura touched her glass to Mona's. "To the end of crime," she said. They sipped their wine. "I like this -- it tastes good," Laura said.

"To the end of crime," Mona repeated. "After the holidays!" They laughed. "You know, I really can't get over how pretty you are," Mona said. "You're simply gorgeous."

"Thanks, Mom."

"I certainly haven't done you any favors by keeping you looking like a ten-year-old. I'm glad you went behind my back. From now on, you can dress like a young lady, except when we're working."

"I don't want to dress this old all the time, Mom. I just want to look my age."

"And that's how I want you to look, darling. I've been wrong. I've been wrong about something else, too. Starting tomorrow, I'm going to share my other prescription with you."

"The estrogen?"

"Yes, dear."

"Uh…Mom? I have my own."

"You do? Since when?"

"Since yesterday. That's what I was sort of celebrating last night."

Mona stared incredulously at her daughter as she stubbed out her cigarette. "You're one jump ahead of me on everything, aren't you?"

"Don't be angry, Mom."

"I'm not angry, dear. I'm just amazed."

Laura drank a sip of her wine and finished her cigarette. "Would you like another cigarette, Mom?"

"Yes, I think I would. Do you have enough?"

"Oh, yes. Plenty." She passed the pack to Mona, who took out a cigarette and returned the pack to Laura. Laura lit a match and reached across the table to light Mona's cigarette. She started to blow the match out, then quickly extracted another cigarette from the pack and lit it. She inhaled deeply and extinguished the match with a cloud of smoke.

"My little girl," Mona said. "You're enjoying this, aren't you."

"Oh, yes. It's fun to do things like this with you."

"We really haven't done many mother-daughter things, have we? But I'll make it up to you after the holidays, Laurie."

"After the holidays…" Laura repeated dreamily.


Laura thought of Florida as she collapsed silently onto the filthy subway station platform. She and Mona would be there in just five days, and this was their next to last workday. She forced Florida from her mind -- she didn't want to start smiling as people gathered around her, and she certainly didn't want to compromise her concentration.

She could hear the footsteps and the voices as concerned and/or curious people surrounded her. Any moment now, she'd hear her mother's voice as she began to push her way through the crowd. There she was. "Let me through, please. That's…ow! Let go of me!"

Something was wrong, terribly wrong. The first man Mona had shoved as she tried to force her way through the crowd was a native of a European city where the divert-and-steal tactic was widely practiced by local thieves. His first impulse on being held up in a crowd was to reach for his hip pocket to check his wallet. His left hand encountered a wrist. He grabbed the wrist and whirled around. The hand connected to the wrist was clutching his wallet.

"Ow! Let go of me!" Mona shouted. She dropped the wallet, hoping her intended victim would let go of her to retrieve it. He didn't. Without releasing his grip on her wrist, he reached down and picked up his wallet with his free hand. Mona glared at him. She was a remarkably pretty woman, he thought, but that didn't matter -- his tastes ran to young men. "Thief!" he shouted. "Call the police!"

Laura knew she had to move quickly. She and Mona had planned for this contingency. She could sense the crowd moving away from her, surrounding the new spectacle. Mona and the man were still shouting at each other. The platform was beginning to vibrate as a train approached the station. She had to get on that train.

Laura opened her eyes warily. One person, an elderly woman, was still standing beside her. Laura moaned and sat up.

"Are you all right, dear?"

"Yes; I'm fine. Just stupid. It's low blood sugar." She pulled a candy bar from her coat pocket, unwrapped it, and began to eat it. "I'll be all right when I've eaten this," she said as she got to her feet.

"Are you sure you're all right?"

The train was pulling in. "Yes, thank you," Laura said. She brushed platform filth from her coat.

"You be careful, now." The woman turned to get closer to the new altercation. As soon as her back was turned, Laura hurried across the platform, reaching the train just as its door slid open. She boarded the train. It was going the wrong way, but that didn't matter. She got off at the next station, crossed the platform, and boarded a train going in the reverse direction.

The new train's first stop was the station in which Mona's pocket-picking attempt had failed. Laura hoped that the tide of passengers debarking from an earlier train had given her mother a chance to escape, but her hopes were dashed when she saw the knot of people still gathered on the platform. Two policemen had just arrived and were pushing their way through the onlookers. Laura moved to a seat on the far side of the train and turned her face away from the activity on the platform. She didn't want anyone in the crowd to see her.

The train pulled away from the platform. "I'm safe, but only for a little while," Laura thought. Suddenly overwhelmed by loneliness and fear, she felt tears begin to run down her cheeks. She had to recover her mental strength and resourcefulness. Taking a tissue from her purse, she dried her eyes. There was no time to cry now, but the next time she had the luxury of going to bed, she'd cry herself to sleep.


Laura knew that Mona had made one serious error: she'd had their real address recorded on their counterfeit driver's licenses. As she let herself into the apartment, she wondered if her mother had left her ID at home. If she had, Laura knew that she'd stall for hours before she'd tell the police where she lived. If she hadn't, the girl could count on no more than half an hour before the police arrived. Laura should have realized that the police wouldn't be all that excited about apprehending a petty criminal, but she had been conditioned to follow Mona's escape plan without thinking.

She hurried into her mother's bedroom, pulled a suitcase from the closet, threw it on the bed, and opened it. Mona had begun to pack summer clothes for their Florida trip. Laura took them out of the suitcase and tossed them into a corner. She ripped off her child-styled winter coat and tossed it into the corner, too.

Laura felt a desperate urge for a cigarette, but she didn't dare take the time. She wanted to change into older-girl clothing, too, but that would take too long. She took a minute, however, to exchange her Mary Janes and knee sox for pantyhose and two-inch pumps.

The first thing she had to do was get the emergency envelope from her mother's dresser. She knew it contained money and instructions. The only verbal instruction she had was to go to the railroad station -- she could read the rest of the getaway plan in the taxi.

She put the emergency envelope in her purse and added the grocery money from the kitchen drawer. Her driver's license, cigarettes, and the lighter Mona had given her for Christmas were on the kitchen table. She threw them into her purse. "I'd better take the pills with me," she said to herself. She took the prescription pill vials from the kitchen counter. That was all she needed from the kitchen. She went back into her mother's room and tossed the pills into the suitcase.

The pills reminded her of the prescription forms. She took them out of the dresser drawer and put them in the suitcase. That was everything she knew she wanted from her mother's room, so she moved the suitcase to her own room and laid it on the bed.

Mona had bought each of them a toiletry bag for the Florida trip. Laura got her toothbrush, toothpaste, and shampoo from the bathroom and put them in the bag. She put a lipstick, eye shadow, mascara, and her comb and hairbrush in her purse and then swept the rest of her cosmetics into the toiletry bag, zipped it shut, and tossed it into the suitcase.

Now for clothing. She scooped her underwear out of her dresser and dumped it into the suitcase. The breast forms. Her satin nightgown. No little kid's clothes, she decided. She had room for two dresses, three blouses, a skirt, pantyhose, two pairs of shoes. Her jewelry! She didn't have much, but her mother had given her a little jewelry bag. She put her earrings, necklaces, rings, and a bracelet in the jewelry bag and looked at her watch. She'd been in the apartment for twenty minutes, and she'd collected everything of her own that she wanted to take.

Laura hurried back into her mother's room. She selected a few pieces of Mona's jewelry and put them in her jewelry bag. There was just enough room left in her suitcase for one or two more pieces of clothing. She opened Mona's closet and grabbed a dress and a skirt that she liked. She spied Mona's old blonde wig on the closet shelf. It wouldn't take up much space, so she snatched it too. She ran back to her room, threw these last items into the suitcase, and closed it. It was really full and quite heavy, but she thought she could manage it.

She carried her suitcase into the hall and put on the new winter coat, suitable for a young woman, that her mother had bought for her. She turned off the lights, locked the door behind her, and automatically dropped the key into her handbag.


The taxi's ashtrays were overflowing, but Laura didn't mind. She could have a cigarette at last without having to worry about being chewed out by the driver. She opened her purse (how had she managed to put so much in it?) and extracted a cigarette and her lighter. She lit her cigarette, inhaled deeply, and settled back in her seat -- and began to tremble as she realized all she'd been through in the last ninety minutes. She took another deep drag, and that seemed to settle her nerves enough to end the trembling.

She removed the emergency envelope from her purse and opened it. It contained more money than she'd ever seen before -- several hundred dollars, at least. It also contained a note from her mother. Laura should go to Mona's mother's home, where she'd be welcomed. Mona had provided an address and telephone number -- Laura could get there by train.

Don't worry about me, Mona had written. I won't tell the police anything for at least 24 hours -- that should give you plenty of time to get out of town. They won't do much to me -- a few months in jail, and then I'll be able to come for you at my mother's house. And they won't come looking for you -- it's not worth the effort to them to try to track you down. So just be good and stay out of trouble and you'll be fine. Great advice, considering the source -- right? I love you, Laurie, and I'll come for you just as soon as I can.

Your Mom

Laura stubbed out her cigarette and returned the note to her purse. She estimated that she had enough time to make herself look older before she got to the railroad station. She wanted to avoid the appearance of being a child traveling alone -- even if that was what she really was. She expertly applied lipstick, eye shadow, and mascara (as expertly as she could in the frequently swerving taxi), adding several years to her apparent age. As long as she kept her coat on, she'd be taken for twenty or so.


At the railroad station, Laura found that the next train to her grandmother's town would leave in about three hours, at 10 p.m. She would reach her destination at 8:13 a.m. Alternatively, she could leave at nine the next morning, but she'd have to change trains and wouldn't arrive until 8:58 p.m. Laura didn't want to spend the night in the station or in a hotel. She chose to leave that night, and she decided to travel by coach rather than pay for a sleeping car berth.

Her next stop was the ladies' room, and there she learned that the station provided changing rooms for ladies, complete with showers and toilets, for a nominal fee. That was just what she needed. She rented one of the rooms, stuffed her little girl dress into a trashcan, and showered. Now, greatly refreshed, she put on panties and a bra and inserted her breast forms in the bra cups. How old should she look? About twenty-one, she decided. She put on her pantyhose, a slip and one of her new dresses and then stepped into her pumps. She used a dark red lipstick, mascara, eye shadow, and eyeliner to give herself a sophisticated appearance. Her look would do very nicely for that evening, she decided. She vowed never to pretend to be eleven again.

The station had several restaurants. Laura selected the one that appeared to be the nicest -- at least, its menu had the highest prices. She requested a table in the smoking section and ordered a glass of chardonnay for her pre-dinner drink (she would nurse it through dinner, she decided -- she needed to keep her wits about her until she was safe in her grandmother's house). She lit a cigarette, sipped her wine, and relaxed.

After dinner, Laura found a newsstand and bought two women's magazines and a paperback romance novel to read on the train (she would have preferred Seventeen but thought that might look too juvenile for her current persona). She went into the ladies' lounge for a last cigarette. Her train was called just as she finished it. She put her coat on, picked up her suitcase, and went off to find the platform.


The train was quite full -- many holiday travelers were returning to their homes. Laura's initial intention was to get a seat to herself, but there weren't any left. She could look in other cars, but then she became fearful. If she found a seat of her own, some man might decide to join her, and she had absolutely no experience in dealing with men. She looked around the car, and her eyes fell on a grandmotherly-looking lady who had an empty seat beside her.

"Excuse me, ma'am -- is this seat taken?"

The woman smiled warmly at her. "No," she said. "Please join me."

Laura returned her smile. She put her suitcase and coat on the overhead rack and sat down.

"You have such a lovely dress, dear."

"Thank you," Laura said. "I love it. My mom gave it to me for Christmas."

"Your mother must enjoy having a daughter who appreciates the things she gets for her. My girls always said I was a fuddy-duddy. They just wanted me to give them money so they could buy their own clothes."

"How many daughters do you have," Laura asked.

"Two -- and one son. They're all married with children of their own now. I have teenage granddaughters who think their mothers are fuddy-duddies."

Laura laughed. "It serves them right," she said. "Do they live around here?"

"My older daughter and her husband and daughter do. I came here to visit them for Christmas. My other children and their families live near me. Do you live here?"

"Yes. I'm on my way to visit my grandmother."

"I'm sure she's looking forward to seeing you."

"I hope so," Laura said.

"Any grandmother would look forward to seeing a pretty granddaughter like you."

"She's never seen me."

"Really? Well, I'm sure she's excited about your visit."

It was time for a white lie or two, Laura thought, before she told this stranger everything about herself. "Oh, I'm sure she is, too -- and I'm excited about meeting her. Oh, I think the train is starting to move."

Laura's new friend looked out the window. "Yes, it is. Ten seconds down and twelve hours to go."

"It's not quite that long for me. Only a little over ten hours."

"Quite long enough," the woman said. "Well, it will be nice to have your company most of the way."




© 2003 by Hebe Dotson. All Rights Reserved. These documents (including, without limitation, all articles, text, images, logos, and compilation design) may be 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.