Crystal's StorySite

We've met Matt, aka Tammy, and Paul, aka Carole—but who is this third sibling in skirts? This is the story of Tammy and Carole's campaign to get Mandy out of her jeans and into dresses… If you haven't read "Half-Brother" and "Half-Sisters Too," you should begin with them.


Sisters Three

by Hebe Dotson


When I walked in on Matt and Paul, they looked so cute -- and so scared -- that I wanted to just hug them. I had to remind myself that I was angry -- it was a struggle to keep the scowl on my face, but I somehow managed to do it. "All right, you two!" I yelled. "What did I say about staying out of my room?"

I'd had my suspicions for some time, ever since I'd caught them at the Recreation Center teen dance in March, with Paul wearing one of my dresses and calling himself Carole, and Matt in the role of "Carole's" date. I'd agreed not to tell Mom and Daddy, but I'd told Paul and Matt to stay out of my room. I hadn't actually seen them do anything since then, but they'd seemed more secretive than usual. Then, when I came home from BPHS Chorale practice one afternoon in early April, I noticed what looked like imprints from earring clips on Paul's ear lobes, so I had a feeling he was still dressing up, and my room was his most likely source of clothing.

There were other clues, too. Mom and Daddy each have their own Power Macs, but my brothers and I share an iMac -- it's kept in their room, but I have visiting rights, which annoys them no end. They think they're such computer hotshots, but I know something they don't -- that the browser records a history of Internet sites visited. You have to wipe it out manually if you don't want others to see where you've been. I wasn't really spying on them -- I was checking my own history, to find the link to a site I'd visited earlier, when I suddenly realized that at least one of my brothers had acquired a strong interest in sites having something to do with crossdressing.

This evidence was good enough to make me decide to surprise Paul and Matt. I waited a week after noticing Paul's imprinted ear lobes, until I had chorale practice again. Practice normally lasted for two hours, but I told Ms Loomis, the chorale director, that my tummy was a bit upset and left ninety minutes early. When I got home, I entered quietly through the back door and followed the sound of my brothers' perpetual space aliens game to the family room. There they were, as cute as a pair of buttons, wearing wigs, makeup, and earrings and sporting perky little bosoms. They were having a wonderful time zapping aliens until Matt noticed me standing there watching them. "Omigawd!" he said, nudging Paul and pointing in my direction, which cued my outburst.

They looked at me with wide eyes in pale, frightened faces. "Uh…we haven't been in your room, Mandy -- honest!" Paul said.

"Of course not," I said. "I kind of expected this of you, Paul, but not Matt too."

"Actually, I've been dressing up longer than Paul," Matt said. "But we really haven't been in your room."

"Then where did you get your makeup and earrings and clothes?" I demanded.

"It's all our own," Paul said. "The makeup is stuff you and Mom threw out. We rescued it from the trash. That's how we got our earrings and bras, too."

"We bought our wigs and tops on the Internet," Matt said.

I looked at them more carefully. The tops weren't any that I'd ever had, and they were wearing jeans and sneakers that I had to concede were probably their own.

"Honest?" I said.

"Honest," Paul replied. "We haven't been in your room since you told us to stay out."

"Except to empty the wastebasket," Matt said. "You're not going to turn us in, are you?"

I shook my head. "I don't know. I don't think crossdressing is a very healthy thing for you guys to be doing, and I probably should tell Mom."

"Oh, no -- don't do that, Mandy!" Paul said. "We're just having fun."

"We're not hurting anyone," Matt added. "No one even knows, except you."

"Please, Mandy," Paul said. "You told us if we minded our P's and Q's -- and we've left your stuff alone."

"All right, all right," I said. "I won't say anything for now -- but stay out of my room!"


Now that I'd discovered my brothers' secret, they stopped being secretive with me. When I got home from school, I could usually find them in the family room, two little space princesses in blue jeans, zapping aliens. I'd say hello to them and they'd grin at me; then they'd go back to their game and I'd go to my room and make a phone call or two or maybe do some homework. About half an hour before Mom and Daddy were due home, I'd hear the thunder of their feet on the stairs as they hurried to their room to reinstate their masculinity.

Then came an afternoon when I had no homework and didn't feel like making phone calls. I strolled into the family room, waved to my half-sisters, and sat down. I waited patiently until they noticed I was still there. They looked at each other, and then Princess Tammy turned the game off. "What's up, Mandy?" she said.

"Nothing," I said. "What's up with you guys?"

"Nothing," Princess Carole said. "We're just playing 'Space Zombies.'"

"Who's ahead?"

"Tammy," Carole said. "But not by much."

"Don't you ever get tired of this?" I asked.

"No," Tammy said. "Should we?"

"I would if I were you," I said. "Playing stupid computer games every afternoon."

"What else is there to do?" Carole said. "I mean, we can't go anywhere."

"Why not?" I asked.

Carole stared at me as if I were one of her maxi-disgusting space aliens. "That's a dumb question, Mandy," Tammy said.

"What's so dumb about it? Really."

"We don't look good enough to go out," Tammy said.

"Somebody would figure out who we were, right away," Carole added.

"You look okay to me," I said. "Kind of cute."

They grinned. "We are, aren't we?" Tammy said.

"The problem is the way we're dressed," Carole said.

"What's wrong with that?" I said. "I'm dressed the same way as you, and so are ninety percent of the girls I know."

"We have to be in the other ten percent," Carole said.

"What do you mean?" I asked.

"She means we need to be wearing dresses or skirts," Tammy said. "Then, when people look at us, they'll think 'girls.'"

"Even if they take a close look," Carole said.

"In jeans, people think 'boys' first and then change their minds after a second look," Tammy said. "After they look twice at us, they might think 'Matt and Paul wearing makeup.' That wouldn't be good."

"That's for sure," I agreed. "So why don't you wear dresses?"

"Because somebody won't let us," Carole said.

"It's not fair," Tammy added.

"What's not fair? That I don't want you wearing my clothes?"

"It's not fair that you have all those nice dresses and skirts, and we don't have any," Tammy said.

"But I'm a girl, and you guys aren't!" I said.

"That's what's not fair! You have all that stuff and you never wear it!" Carole said. "Mom keeps buying things for you, and you just put them in your closet and never wear them. We'd love to wear them, but you won't let us!"

I was taken aback by Carole's vehemence. "Umm…I see," I said. "Uh…doesn't it ever occur to you that maybe you're taking all this just a little too seriously?"

"No," Tammy said. "We've talked about it, and it's just fun to us. Like zapping space aliens, only better."

"It's the most fun thing we've ever done," Carole said.

"Especially when we went to Pizza Heaven and the dance at the Wreck," Tammy said.

"We want to do things like that again," Carole said.

"If you want dresses so badly, why don't you buy them?" I said. "They aren't all that expensive."

"They are if you're broke," Tammy said. "We thought we could get jobs, but we're too young. We shoveled a couple of sidewalks last winter and we're hoping to get some lawn mowing jobs this summer, but we don't have any money now."

"That's too bad," I said. "I was thinking I could rent some of my things to you, but if you don't have any money…"

"How much?" Tammy and Carole said simultaneously.

"How about a dollar a day, each?"

"That's five dollars a week, max," Carole said to Tammy. "We could do that out of our allowances."

"I don't know," Tammy said. "What do we get for our dollars?" she asked me.

"A dress, or a skirt and blouse," I said. "I'll pick out six or eight outfits you can rent and put them in a special place in my closet. There'll be a little box you can put your money in -- it'll be an honor system."

"How about shoes?" Tammy said.

"Sure -- I'll pick out three or four pairs you can use."

"Pantyhose?" Carole asked.

"No way; they're too easy to ruin. But if you'll pay for them, I'll pick up some cheap ones at the mall for you. Deal?"

Carole and Tammy exchanged glances. "Deal!" they said.

"Okay," I said. "Come on up to my room, and you can help me pick out some stuff you can wear." They were off like a couple of shots. I trailed along behind them, thinking about what I could do with an extra ten dollars a week -- five hundred dollars a year! Fantastic!


The next day, I came home to find two pretty teenage girls in the family room. Unlike the overwhelming majority of teenage girls I knew, these two were wearing dresses and heels. They looked quite elegant, I had to admit, with their hair and makeup just so. "My gosh," I said, "This must be a meeting of the Boulton Park Space Alien Obliteration Ladies' League -- or is it the June Cleaver Admiration Society?"

"That's us," Tammy said with a smile. "Either one. Want to join us? We'll let you be Aalienna."

"Gee, thanks," I said, "but I don't think so. You two are so well-dressed, I'd feel out of place."

Carole looked me over. "You don't have to, you know," she said.

"I don't have to what?"

"Feel out of place. You could put on a dress, too. There's a whole bunch of them upstairs, and you could take your choice, rent-free."

"Why would I want to do that?"

"So you could look as pretty as we do," Tammy said.

"I don't think you have the concept," I said. "Girls don't have to live in a perpetual fancy-dress party any more. We can dress for comfort most of the time now, and just get dressed up on special occasions."

Carole stood up and shook her hips to make her dress swirl around her legs. "I don't think there's anything more comfortable than a dress," she said.

I looked at her legs. "And pantyhose and heels?" I said.

"Well, they're not quite as comfortable," Carole said, "but they look so good. I just love to wear them."

"Same here," Tammy said. "They make my legs look really sexy."

That bothered me a little. "Are you trying to look sexy for some guy?" I asked.

Tammy looked shocked. "No way!" she said. "It's just for me. I like to look nice -- and sexy -- but you and Carole are the only ones who see me."

"Well, you do look nice -- very pretty, both of you," I said. That wasn't anything I'd ever expected to say to my brothers, but it was true.

"Go put on a dress, Mandy," Carole said. "Please? Then there'll be three of us."

"But I -- oh well; why not?" I said. I went up to my room and looked in my closet. I decided on a light blue sheath with a short skirt and a deeply scooped neckline. If they wanted sexy, I could do sexy. That meant a different bra -- this was beginning to be too much work, but I changed bras anyway and put the dress on. Next, with some lack of enthusiasm, I added pantyhose and my highest heels -- I'd have to be careful, because I hadn't worn them enough to master them. Lipstick, blush, a little eye shadow, and some nice dangly earrings, and I was back downstairs. Carole and Tammy were wrapped up in their game again, but they finally noticed me.

"Wow! You look great, Aalienna," Tammy said, and Carole nodded in agreement. "Here; sit down between us and we'll show you how to play."

As much as I hated to admit it, even to myself, "Space Zombies" was a lot of fun, and I soon found myself zapping away as wildly as my half-sisters. We lost all track of time, until…

"Omigawd!" Tammy said. "Did I just hear the garage door go up?"

"It's 5:30," Carole said. "They're home!" She and Tammy leaped to their feet and dashed up the stairs to their room.

I was all wrapped up in the game now and almost ready to pass through the Portal of Doom. Tammy and Carole had already gone through it, and I was right behind them. All I had to do was zap the three space zombies who were trying to block my passage. I had just eight seconds to accomplish this, and…

"Mandy?" Mom said.

"Hi, Mom!"

"You're playing Matt's space pirates game?"

"It's 'Space Zombies,' Mom. It's real fun."

"Where are the boys?"

"They're upstairs. I think they're doing homework."

"That's good," Mom said. As she started to leave the room, she did a wonderful double take. "You look so nice," she said, "but why are you all dressed up?"

"Uh…I'm playing Aalienna," I said. "She's the queen, and Matt and Paul said I had to dress up to play her."

"I see," Mom said. She shook her head as if she really didn't see and left the room. I returned my attention to the video screen. Oh, no! A whole squad of zombie soldiers had sneaked in while I was distracted, and they were all between me and the Portal. I really had my work cut out for me now…


After that experience, I decided I'd better avoid playing "Space Zombies" -- it was just too addictive. Besides, I didn't want to have to deal with my half-sisters' dress code. However, those considerations didn't keep me from wandering into the family room from time to time to watch Tammy and Carole.

A few days after my Aalienna experience, I walked in on the girls and saw they were wearing dresses I'd just added to the rental collection. They looked really cute and I told them so. I thought that would please them, and I was surprised by their reaction.

"Thanks, Mandy, I guess," Tammy said in a bored monotone that I'd heard from Matt more times than I cared to remember.

"Yeah, thanks," Carole said unenthusiastically. She snapped off three shots at a zombie, missing it each time, then shrugged disinterestedly as it disappeared behind some rocks.

"What's with you two?" I asked.

"We're bored," Tammy said.

"With 'Space Zombies'? Or with dressing up?"

"We're bored with dressing up and having nothing to do but play 'Space Zombies,'" Carole said. "We want to go out and have fun!"

"Well, the door's right over there," I said, "and Mom and Daddy won't be home for three more hours."

"We can't just walk out the door!" Tammy said.

"Why not?"

"It's broad daylight!" Carole said. "Someone might see us!"

"So? They won't recognize you."

"They might," Tammy said. "If any neighbors see us go out the door, they might figure out who we are."

"Yeah," Carole said. "They'd never guess it was you or any of your friends, in dresses."

I had a feeling I was being put down. "All right, you two little fashion plates," I said. "Don't get snotty, or I'll raise the rent on you."

"Sorry, Mandy," Carole said quickly. "We really do appreciate you letting us borrow your clothes. We'd just like to do something in them, but we're stuck here in the house."

"We had such fun at the dance," Tammy said. "We'd like to do that again, but…"

"The Rec Center has teen dances every Saturday night, don't they?" I said.

"Yes," Tammy said.

I smiled at them -- it was probably more of a smirk, to be honest. "I know something you don't know," I said. "I know what Daddy's giving Mom for Mother's Day."

"What does that have to do with anything?" Carole grumbled.

"He's giving her tickets to a Saturday night concert series. Six weeks. Starting this week."

"So?" Tammy said.

"So he'll be going with her, dummy. They'll eat out, so they'll be gone all evening for the next six Saturday nights."

"So we can go out, too!" Carole said.

"You got it, half-sis."


I'd thought Mom and Daddy's concert series was going to be my ticket to a few fun Saturday nights of my own, but wouldn't you know? The day after I told Tammy and Carole about the concerts, I broke up with Dave Hunt. That was okay; he was a loser, but no one else stepped up to fill the void. I was dateless on a Saturday night for the first time in months. As if that weren't bad enough, all my girlfriends had dates, so I was going to be home alone.

"Why don't you come to the Wreck with us?" Carole said. She was seated at my vanity, putting on her lipstick and looking very pretty in the skirt she and Tammy had given me for Christmas.

"Yes!" Tammy said. "That would be so fun!" She was standing in front of my mirror in her bra and panties, holding a dress in each hand and trying to decide which to wear.

"I think the green one's better for you, Tammy," I suggested. "No, I'm not going to the Wreck. You guys just want me to drive."

Tammy shimmied herself into the green dress and looked at herself in the mirror. She nodded in satisfaction and put the other dress back in the closet. "That's not so," she said. "We can all take the bus. We'll even pay your fare."

"No; I don't want to go. I'll just spend the evening at home."

"That's probably better," Carole said. "You wouldn't have much fun, anyway."

"What do you mean by that?"

"We'll probably be dancing every dance, and you'd be jealous," Carole said.

"Hey!" I said. "I'd be dancing at least as much as you."

"With your girlfriends, maybe," Carole said. "I mean with boys. They prefer girls who wear dresses, you know."

"What a load of crap!" I said. "I'll show you! I'll go to the Wreck dressed just as I am, and I'll dance more times with boys than either of you will!"

"Terrific!" Tammy said. "If you want to drive, we'll pay for the gas."

I had a feeling my buttons had been pushed, but I couldn't back out. "Okay, I'll drive. I want a buck apiece for gas."

"That's cheaper than the bus!" Carole said happily.


I'd forgotten that the dances at the Wreck were mostly for little kids and losers. None of my friends were there -- most of the kids were middle schoolers or freshmen, with a few sophomores. I did see several from my class and one or two seniors, but they were losers and I didn't want to have to deal with them, so I ended up hanging out with Tammy and Carole, listening to the music and killing time until I could insist on going home. And I didn't want to leave too early -- that wouldn't have been fair to my half-sisters, even if they had tricked me into coming -- so I decided to stick it out for a while.

There was a pretty large crowd, but the Rec Center was immense, and we found an unoccupied table with half a dozen chairs. We set down our burgers and soft drinks, put our handbags on one of the chairs, and sat back to await developments.

We didn't have to wait very long. I was surprised at the number of boys who asked Carole and Tammy to dance. Well, not too surprised, because they really did look cute. But no one asked me, except for one or two of the losers, and I just smiled at them and said I was sitting out the next few dances until my boyfriend arrived. Bo-o-o-o-ring!

Anyway, as I sat out yet another dance, I heard a female voice say, "Mandy?" I looked up to see Fiona Moore, one of Paul's classmates.

"Hi, Fiona."

"I told Derek I thought it was you," Fiona said. I looked past her to see Paul's buddy, Derek Peterson, hovering nearby.

"Hi, Mandy," Derek said. "Is Pablo here tonight?"

"No," I said. "He and Matt decided to stay home."

"Do you mind if we join you?" Fiona asked. She looked at the half-consumed burgers and drinks. "If you have room," she added. "We just got here, and most of the tables are taken now."

"Sure," I said. "There are only three of us here, so there's plenty of room."

Fiona and Derek sat down. "I thought I saw Paul's friend Tammy on the dance floor," Fiona said.

I knew Fiona had met Carole, but I didn't know she knew Tammy. "She and her sister Carole are both here," I said. "They came with me."

Derek looked interested. Fiona, who didn't notice Derek's ears pricking up, smiled at me. "Oh, good," she said. "It will be really nice to see them again."

As if on cue, Tammy and Carole returned to the table. They were hand in hand with a pair of boys and they looked flushed and happy. I'd seen the boys at school and I knew they were sophomores, but I didn't know their names. My half-sisters were delighted to see Fiona, and I noticed that Derek seemed quite pleased to see them – especially Carole. The girls exchanged hugs, excused themselves, and went off in the direction of the ladies' room, leaving me with their three escorts.

Now that was a thrill! I was trying to think how I could politely decline if I were asked to dance, but that was no problem: I wasn't asked. I was ever so much older than those poor little boys, and I must have intimidated them dreadfully. The sophomore duo shuffled about awkwardly for a minute or so and then took off, muttering something about maybe coming back later. Derek and I looked at each other, and he announced that he was going to get burgers and sodas for himself and Fiona. I promised to hold the table and he scurried away.

A few minutes later, the three girls returned, giggling merrily. They sat down and Derek reappeared, weaving his way through the dancers and somehow managing to carry two burgers and enough sodas for all of us. He and Fiona had just started on their burgers when the MC, DJ Mello, announced the beginning of a set of slow music. At that, the dance floor became seriously depopulated, but so did our table, and I realized that Derek and Fiona were out there on the dance floor, launching themselves into a waltz.

Carole and Tammy were still with me, and that appeared to give me the opportunity to undertake a small inquisition. Why were they holding hands with those sophomore boys? What had they been giggling about with Fiona? And why did Derek seem to have the hots for Carole? As I mentally framed my first question, I looked at Tammy and Carole and realized that their gazes were fixed upon something beyond me. I turned my head slightly and saw that Larry Bigelow and Brent O'Hara were approaching our table. They must have just arrived, because I certainly would have seen them if they'd been there earlier. They were both BPHS juniors and they were most definitely not losers. It looked as if I were about to be asked to dance.

"Hi, Mandy," Larry said. "Who are your cute friends? We haven't seen them around here before."

I resisted the impulse to do unto them as Aalienna would do unto a space zombie. "Um…Carole and Tammy," I said. "They're from Beaumont. They're spending the weekend with me."

"Carole and Tammy," Brent said. "It's nice to meet you. Would you like to dance?"

"Sure!" my half-sisters said in unison. Larry took Carole's hand and Brent took Tammy's, and they led the girls onto the dance floor. I didn't care; I didn't know the slow dances anyway. Can you say "sour grapes"? I certainly can.


What a delightful evening! I got to hold down the table while Carole, Tammy, and Fiona cavorted with Larry, Brent, and Derek. They switched partners frequently, and they all seemed to be having a wonderful time. As ten o'clock approached, I saw Carole whisper in Derek's ear. He nodded, and they left the dance floor and returned to the table.

"I'm worn out," Carole said to me with a happy smile. "I need to sit down for a few minutes."

"I'm fine," Derek announced. "Would you like to dance, Mandy?"

I'd become an object of pity. That was pathetic. I wanted to scream, and yet – they were just trying to be nice to me. "Thanks, Derek; I'd love to," I said. "But just one dance, because I have to get these two Cinderellas home."

Carole looked at her watch. "Oh, gosh," she said. "I didn't realize it was so late. Should we leave now?"

"Not yet," I said. "I'm going to have my dance with Derek, and then we'll have to go. Why don't you find Tammy and tell her we'll be leaving in five minutes?"


It was more like fifteen minutes before we got everyone organized, and I was beginning to get a little nervous. I'd tried to allow plenty of time to get home ahead of Daddy and Mom, but my window was getting ever smaller. It was the old cat-herding problem, and my six cats had six different agendas. After Carole and Tammy assured everyone that they'd be back again next week, Fiona hugged them and she and Derek returned to the dance floor. Larry and Brent wanted phone numbers, but Tammy told them their number was unlisted and their parents would kill them if they gave it out – a strategy they'd learned when Daddy used it on me.

At last, we were out the door and crossing the parking lot, with Larry and Brent tagging along behind. I thought they were going to try once more for phone numbers, but I was wrong. Brent opened the rear door of the car for Tammy and then swept her into his arms and planted a big kiss on her lips. I thought her eyes were going to pop right out of her head, but she recovered and kissed him back before ducking into the car. I turned to see Larry and Carole go through the same process before she slid into the front passenger seat. The girls rolled their windows down as I started the car and waved happily as we drove away, with shouts of "See you next week!" from all parties (myself excepted).

Which would be worse, I wondered – presenting Daddy with my very first speeding ticket or bringing his sons home to him in dresses? That was a real dilemma, and I didn't know the answer. Concentrating on my driving and violating the speed limit only slightly, I hurried home while my half-sisters nattered happily with each other. They tried to draw me into their discussion, but I was too preoccupied.

We were home! I turned into the driveway and punched the garage door control. The door rolled up and with a sense of great relief I saw that both spaces were empty. I pulled into Mom's space, turned off the engine, and lowered the door. "All right, you two!" I said. "Get up to your room and into your pajamas – and clean every bit of that paint off your faces!"

Tammy and Carole sauntered into the house, still chattering, while I followed impatiently. They stopped in the kitchen to discuss one of the evening's highlights. "Damn it all to hell!" I screamed in a most unladylike way. They turned to stare at me with looks of horror on their faces. "Do you know what Daddy will do to me if he catches us like this?" I shouted. "Do you know what he'll do to you?" I could feel tears beginning to fill my eyes.

"Mandy! What's the matter?" Carole said. I sat down at the kitchen table and began to sob.


I remember Carole leading me up the stairs. "Go to bed," she said. "Tammy's writing a note to Mom and Dad to let them know we're all here, and then we're going to get cleaned up and go to bed. We'll talk to you in the morning."

At breakfast we got to hear all about Daddy and Mom's musical evening. It seemed that each concert was going to be different from the others. Last night had been jazz, and next week's concert would feature a string quartet playing chamber music. They'd had a wonderful time, and they were looking forward to the rest of the series.

We gave them a greatly sanitized account of our evening at the Wreck. We'd had fun, too, we assured them, with lots of dancing. Paul and Matt talked enthusiastically about going again next week; I was noncommittal.

Eventually, my brothers and I were able to find a quiet spot on the back porch, where we were able to rehash last night's events. "Why were you crying, Mandy?" Paul asked.

"Partly because I felt so much pressure," I said. "I had to get you guys home and cleaned up before the 'rents got back, and I just couldn't seem to get you moving."

"We're sorry," Matt said. "We got kind of hyper, I guess."

"I'd have to agree with that," I said. "Also, I guess I was disappointed because you two hyperoids were having so much fun while I was just watching everybody's handbags."

"Why didn't you dance more?" Paul said. "One of us would have stayed at the table and watched our stuff."

"Because nobody asked me!" I said. I could feel the tears brimming again, and I wiped my eyes with my fingers.

"That's not true," Matt said. "A lot of guys asked you, but you turned them all down."

"They were all little kids or losers," I said. "Then when some decent guys my age came along, they wanted to dance with you two!"

"Didn't we warn you?" Matt said.

"What do you mean?"

"We told you that you should get dressed up," Paul said.

I could feel myself starting to get angry. "I don't need advice on being a girl from a couple of bratty boys," I snapped.

"It's the same advice as Mom gives you, but you don't listen to her, either," Matt said.

I sat there with my mouth hanging open. "I hate to admit it," I said, "but you're right."

"Boys like to dance and flirt with pretty girls," Paul said. "That's just the way it is. You're certainly pretty enough, but you don't package yourself very well."

"We're not all that pretty," Matt added, "but we try harder with clothes and makeup. And it works! We danced almost every dance last night."

"So next Saturday night, you need to dress up too," Paul said.

"I don't think there'll be a next Saturday night for me," I muttered.

"Yes, there will," Matt said. "Just put yourself in the capable hands of Miss Tammy…"

"…and Miss Carole," Paul said.

"…and you'll be just fine," Matt concluded.

I had to smile; their good humor was infectious. "You just don't want to ride the bus," I said.

"Well, that's part of it," Paul said.

"But really, you're our sister and we want you to have fun, too," Matt said.

"Well…" I said. "Why don't we go to my room after school tomorrow, and you can show me what you have in mind. But no promises!"


By the time I pulled into the Rec Center parking lot Saturday evening, Carole and Tammy were literally bouncing on their seats. "There's a parking space!" Carole said, pointing ahead and to the left. "Take it, quick, before someone else gets it."

We got the space and parked the car, and three fine young females emerged from it. I was in awe of Miss Tammy's makeup skills – she must have read everything on the Internet about makeup, and she had an instinctive knowledge about what would work (and what wouldn't) for each of us. I had never in my life looked so pretty – and yet, nothing was overdone.

Miss Carole had demonstrated equally impressive skills in wardrobe selection and accessorizing. By the time those two were done working me over Monday afternoon, I felt as if I'd have to be chained to a two-ton slab of concrete to keep me from going to the Wreck. The only thing wrong with me was my hair, but Miss Tammy sent me off to Mom's salon Saturday morning with a photo she'd downloaded from the Internet and instructions to get my hair styled just like the picture. Mom was amazed when I came home with my new do, but I had to tell her (Miss Tammy insisted) that it had been my idea and that I'd chosen the style.

And then, of course, Carole and Tammy did it all over again Saturday evening after Daddy and Mom left for their dinner and concert date. Yes, we were three luscious ladies when we walked into the Wreck.

"Now listen," I said just before we entered. "If your two boyfriends show up again this week, be careful. They're pretty smooth. Just don't let them get you off by yourselves anywhere. And make them keep their hands off you."

"Don't worry, Grammy," Carole said. "We'll be careful. Remember, now: you have to dance, too."

"Not with these little kids," I said, observing the milling throng of eighth graders and freshmen.

"Yes, with them," Carole said. "You don't have to marry them or anything – just dance and have fun until your Prince Charming shows up."

We went on in. Tammy and Carole wanted to find Fiona and Derek, so we looked for them first. They'd found an eight-person table near the dance floor and had so far held it against all comers. They were relieved to see us – five could keep the table much better than two could.

Then the Boywatch began. We spotted the two sophomores from last week pretty quickly, but they'd latched onto other girls and they stayed away from us. No Brent and no Larry, though. My half-sisters seemed disappointed at first, but a steady stream of boys began flowing by our table to look us over. It wasn't long before two broke out of the pack and asked Carole and Tammy to dance. Then a third boy, a pimply freshman, asked me. I told him I was waiting for my boyfriend, but Carole and Tammy shook their heads disapprovingly. "But he won't be here for a few more minutes," I told Mr. Zits, "so I'll be glad to dance with you." It was fun, too. He was a good dancer. I discarded my preconceptions and accepted all invitations after that.

At nine o'clock, DJ Mello took a short break and a thirtyish guy in a suit took the microphone. "Hi, gang," he said. "I'm Ron Hayes. I'm the manager of the mighty Wreck, and I want to remind you one more time that we're having our Teen Talent Night in just three weeks. First prize is a five hundred dollar gift card to spend at Kaltendorf's in the Bee-Pee Mall. Remember, now – you have to be a resident of Boulton Park and a student at a Boulton Park school to enter – and we will check! There's no entry fee, but this is the last night to sign up. We'll have tryouts starting a week from Monday, and the big show will be right here, three weeks from tonight. See me in the back if you want to sign up – and now, let's have some more great music!" He handed the microphone back to DJ Mello, who flicked a switch to bring up the title track from the last D'Eon Quince CD.


"That is so cool," Carole said. "I want to enter." We were back at our table, taking a breather, while the indefatigable Derek and Fiona danced on.

"Me too," Tammy said. "Just think what we could do with all that money."

"I hate to be a wet blanket," I said, "but…"

"But what?" Tammy said.

"You and Carole don't go to school in Boulton Park. You live in Beaumont, remember."

"That is so not fair," Carole said.

"But Paul and Matt live in Boulton Park," Tammy said. "They can enter."

"Do you want to tell Mr. Hayes that you're really boys and you want to sign up?" I asked. "You'll have to do it tonight – tomorrow's too late."

"Uh…no," Tammy said.

"All that money," Carole moaned. "We'd have had a good chance, too – we both sing pretty well."

"We all three sing pretty well," I said. "How about entering as a trio?"

"How are we going to do that?" Tammy asked.

"I'll enter for all three of us," I said. "I'll tell Mr. Hayes that my brothers aren't here tonight, but they asked me to sign up for them. I'll use your real names and schools and we'll be all set."

My half-sisters thought that was a great idea, so I went off to track down Mr. Hayes and get our names on the list. Since a few other people had the same idea, it took a little while to get us signed up. When I finally got back to the table, Carole was holding court with a pair of freshman boys, while everyone else was dancing. She smiled at me and went off to the dance floor with a boy on each arm. I don't think they all three danced together, but who knows?


"Omigawd! This is going to be so much fun!" Tammy said. We were almost home with, miraculously, a few minutes to spare.

"It sure is!" I said. I was psyched. I'd had a really good time at the dance, even if Prince Charming had been a no-show again.

"And Fiona's going to accompany us," Carole said. "She signed up three weeks ago. She was going to just play a piano solo, but she thinks it would be a lot better to perform with us, especially since none of us plays an instrument."

"Whoops!" I said.

"Is something wrong?" Tammy asked.

"Maybe," I said. "Since I had to sign you up as Matt and Paul, I thought we'd perform that way. But Fiona thinks you're girls, so…"

"So we'd have to perform as girls?" Carole said.

"I think so," I said. "And since we don't have a piano, we're going to have to practice at Fiona's house."

"That means a lot more dressing up," Tammy said. "And we may have to deal with Fiona's mom."

"We could just tell Fiona we want to sing unaccompanied," I said.

"But we don't, do we?" Carole said. "I think we'd be a lot better with an accompanist. Especially with Fiona."

"Yeah!" Tammy agreed.

I thought for a minute. "Okay," I said. "Let's try doing this as a girl group. Then, if we make it through the tryouts without getting caught…"

"We can do it," Carole said, and Tammy nodded her agreement.


We had a quick meeting Sunday afternoon. The first thing we had to do was find out what we sounded like as a trio, and we couldn't do that with Mom and Daddy around – they'd know something was up. We decided to get together as soon as we all got home from school the next day.

The whole Teen Talent Night thing was clearly going to be a challenge for us – rehearsals, homework, dressing up (and back down), chorale (for me), and dodging Mom and Daddy. Paul and Matt made the greatest sacrifice – they agreed to give up their video games until after the competition. Fortunately for all of us, Talent Night would be over before our final exams began.

Our Monday afternoon singing session was a pleasant surprise. Without any previous practice, we actually sounded quite good together. Moreover, we managed to reach a quick agreement on the five songs we wanted to learn.

Paul and Matt's voices hadn't changed yet; we were all three sopranos. I didn't say anything, but I felt that we'd made a good decision to try out as a girl group. Since my half-sisters were going to sound like girls, they really should look like girls.

When we were done, we looked at each other and grinned. "I'm going to call Fiona," I said. They both nodded their approval, so I picked up the phone and dialed. Fiona was pleased to hear that we'd decided to go ahead with the competition, and we agreed to meet at her house after school on Tuesday.


I drove Tammy and Carole to Fiona's house the next afternoon – it wasn't all that far, but practicing time was scarce and we needed to waste as little of it as possible. We'd decided to wear tees, jeans, and sneakers, as that would make it easier for my half-sisters to change back to half-brothers in the car while I drove us home. The girls wore their wigs, clip-on earrings, and light makeup – pink lipstick and just a touch of eye shadow – while I exercised my womanly right to be cosmetics-free.

Fiona's mom greeted us at the door when we arrived. She seemed truly happy to see us and quite pleased to have Fiona joining us in a talent competition. As far as I could tell, she took Carole and Tammy at face value.

Our first practice went really well. Fiona added a lot to our little group – not the least of which was keeping us together and on the right notes. She also set up her dad's camcorder to tape us as we practiced so we could see how we looked and sounded. We were a little rough at first, but we quickly became more polished, and we felt quite pleased with ourselves by the end of the first week of practice.

We couldn't get even a little complacent, though. The tryouts for Teen Talent Night were looming just ahead.


Saturday night was now traditional: Daddy and Mom left for their concert, and Carole, Tammy, and I got ready to dance. We looked gorgeous! If any Prince Charmings showed up, they'd find us irresistible.

When we entered the Wreck, Tammy and Carole set off in search of Fiona and Derek, while I looked for the Talent Night tryout schedule, which (I'd been told when I signed us up) would be posted this evening. Eventually, I found a small crowd gathered around a bulletin board near the snack bar. To my amazement, there were nearly sixty acts on the list. Tryouts would begin Monday afternoon and end on Friday. Since we were one of the last groups to sign up, we wouldn't have our tryout until 4:20 Friday afternoon. That was good – we'd have four more days for practicing – but it was bad too, because we might not get home from the tryouts before Mom and Daddy came home from work. Oh, well; we'd figure out what to do.

I went off in search of my gang, so I could give them our schedule information. I found them eventually, or some of them – Tammy and Fiona, chatting with three boys I didn't know. "Where's Carole?" I asked.

"Dancing with Derek," Fiona said before returning her attention to the three boys.

A few minutes later, Carole and Derek returned, hand in hand. Derek was smiling, but Carole seemed perturbed. Pulling her hand free, she snatched up her handbag. "I have to go to the girls' room," she announced. "Come with me, Mandy?" It was really a demand, not a request. I grabbed my handbag and trailed along behind her.

The ladies' room was jammed and noisy, with a long line of girls waiting to use the stalls. "Do you have to go or do you want to talk?" I asked.

"I want to talk."

"Then let's go outside – it's too noisy here." I led the way to the parking lot, where we found a quiet area. "Is something the matter?"

"It's Derek," Carole said. "He's hitting on me."

I stifled a laugh. "What's he doing?" I asked.

"He wants me to go to a movie with him."

"And you don't want to?"

"Of course I don't want to!" she snarled.

"Have you reminded him that you live in Beaumont and he doesn't have a driver's license?"

"He says he has a friend with a car, and he wants me to fix his buddy up with Tammy!"

"Oh, my," I said. "What did you tell him?"

"I said I'd have to talk to Tammy," Carole said. "He made me so angry, Mandy! I don't want to date any boy, least of all Derek. He's Paul's best friend – it would be too weird! And he's going to just dump Fiona, and she's my friend! I don't know what to do."

"You've done all right so far," I said. "Look, what you've got to do is latch onto some other guy and dance all night with him. Fiona and Tammy were talking with three boys when you and Derek came back to the table. Just smile and bat your eyes at one of them."

"Do you think that will work, or will it just make things worse?"

"I don't know, but I think it's worth trying," I said. "We'd better get back to the others. If you have a problem, let me know, and I'll say we have to go home now."

We made another brief visit to the girls' room to touch up our lipstick and then returned to our table. Derek had disappeared, and Fiona and Tammy were now chatting with four boys – Larry Bigelow, Brent O'Hara, and two of their (and my) classmates, Mark Taylor and Zack Mason. Not a loser in the lot! Larry's eyes lit up when he saw Carole, and she smiled back at him.

"We're sorry we missed you last week," Larry said. "Mark's car broke down and we couldn't get it going."

"We looked for you," Carole said. "Fortunately, there were plenty of other dudes to dance with."

"But none as cool as us," Brent said.

"No; none as cool as you guys," she agreed.

"Well, let's not waste time," Larry said to his friends. "If we don't dance with these pretty girls, some other guys are going to run off with them." And a minute later, we were all out on the dance floor – Carole with Larry, Tammy with Brent, Fiona with Mark, and me with Zack.


Another great evening at the Wreck! I was so glad I'd agreed to be made over by Miss Tammy and Miss Carole. So much fun! Fiona was with us as we drove away. Derek had disappeared, and she'd asked me to take her home. We'd been escorted to our car by the four dudes, nicely but soundly kissed goodnight, and sent upon our way.

I was getting a little concerned about the time, so I decided to drop Tammy and Carole off before taking Fiona home. I opened the garage door, verified that Mom and Daddy were still out, and sent my half-sisters into the house through the garage.

A few minutes later, I pulled up at Fiona's door. "Thanks so much for the ride, Mandy," she said.

"Any time."

"It's so nice of you to have Carole and Tammy stay with you every weekend. It must be pretty boring for them out there in Beaumont."

"That's what they tell me."

Fiona smiled at me. "It's too bad my cousin Jason couldn't meet them. He thinks Beaumont's boring, too."

"We'll have to try to get them together," I said vaguely.

Fiona smiled at me again. "I know about the competition rules," she said. "I know that Carole and Tammy have to go to school in Boulton Park. But that's not a problem, is it?"

I looked at her. "What are you getting at, Fiona?"

"I know Carole and Tammy are really Paul and Matt."

Whoops! We'd blown our cover. I tried to stay cool. "You're joking," I said.

"No, I'm not. You wouldn't have gone through all this effort if Carole and Tammy weren't eligible for the competition. And you wouldn't have strung me along – you'd have told me to stick to my piano solo plan."

I didn't see any sense in bluffing. "I guess you've caught us, Fiona. What are you going to do?"

"Nothing. I think this is all so much fun. They're so cute! And I have to laugh every time I think of Derek getting the hots for Carole."

"Derek's hot for Carole?"

"Of course he is. He's always talking about her. It made me angry at first, but since I've figured things out, it's just so funny!"

"How long have you known?"

"Oh, ages," Fiona said. "I was just a little suspicious the night I met Carole for the first time – at the Wreck, the night D'Eon Quince performed. I'd already met Tammy with Paul as her date, and now I was meeting her sister Carole, with Matt as her date. It just seemed sort of unusual. Then, when I saw you two weeks ago with Carole and Tammy but no Paul or Matt, I got more suspicious. So I looked at them a little more closely and mentally took off their wigs and makeup, and then I knew for sure."

"What can I say? Are you sure it's all right with you?" I asked.

"Of course it's all right. The only thing is, I'd hate for us to get disqualified now. I guess they should keep on practicing as Carole and Tammy, so my mom won't go bananas – but if they want to go to the tryouts as Paul and Matt, that's fine with me."


When we discussed the evening's events, Paul and Matt seemed most interested by the apparent split between Fiona and Derek. I had the impression that they were each more than a little interested in Fiona. They both thought it hilarious that Derek had a thing for Carole.

But of course they didn't want to go to the tryouts as Paul and Matt. "We're not members of the group – Tammy and Carole are!" Matt exclaimed when I told them what Fiona had said.

"I know," I sighed, "but it might make things a little easier if you guys went to the tryout instead of…"

"I'm with Matt," Paul said. "I wouldn't feel right without my dress and my wig and my makeup. We look good and we sound pretty good with Carole and Tammy, but…"

"We might not make it beyond the tryouts with me and Paul," Matt said.

"I guess I have to agree," I said. "Carole and Tammy definitely have something in their personalities that you guys don't have. We probably shouldn't change things now."


Ron Hayes ran a really tight ship. At 4:20 on the dot, we were summoned to the Wreck's stage. "Which one is Mandy?" he asked.

I raised my hand. "I am," I said.

"Okay, Mandy. We have 58 acts competing for twelve slots. We've already seen 54 of them. You're going to have eight minutes to do your thing – no more than that, because we have three more acts to see before five o'clock. If you're still performing at the eight-minute mark, I'll blow my whistle and you'll stop and go backstage. If you don't stop, you'll be disqualified. Your eight minutes starts – now! Good luck."

Fiona hurried to the piano while I huddled with Tammy and Carole. "Okay, let's do our best," I said. I signaled to Fiona, she played the introductory bar to our first number, and we began to sing. I think we were all nervous – I know I was – but we were quickly swept up by the music. We finished the first song, stopped for a five-second break, and I nodded to Fiona to begin the second piece. When we finished that, Fiona raised her eyebrows to ask if I wanted to do our third song. I shook my head; I didn't think we'd be able to get more than halfway through it before Mr. Hayes blew his whistle. We shared a quick group hug and walked quickly offstage, passing the next act on their way to the stage.

"What do you think?" Fiona asked.

"I don't know," I said. "I thought we…" I broke off as Mr. Hayes followed us backstage. He spoke quickly to his backstage assistants, a man and a woman who'd checked us in on arrival and told us where to go and what to do. Then he walked back on stage and began his little speech to the next group.

The man and woman walked over to us. "You sounded quite good from here," the woman said with a friendly smile. "I'm Sally Andrews, and this is Mike Duval. We're helping Mr. Hayes."

"Ron says there's a problem," Mr. Duval said. "You signed up as two girls and two boys, but now you seem to be four girls."

"We know the four who signed up are enrolled in the city schools," Ms Andrews said. "But we don't know about the two new girls."

"Uh…I'm a boy. I'm Matt Green," Matt said. "And this is my brother Paul."

"You certainly don't look like boys," Ms Andrews said.

"I'm their sister," I said. "They're boys all right. They've been driving me up the wall for years."

"I'm afraid we're going to have to verify your genders," Mr. Duval said to Matt and Paul.

"How will you do that?" Paul asked.

"I'll take you to Mr. Hayes' office. It's completely private. I'll ask you to disrobe there. If you're boys, you'll be all right. If you're girls, you'll be disqualified from the competition. If you decide not to let me examine you, I'll have to disqualify you."

"If you prefer, I can do the examination," Ms Andrews said.

"We'll go with you," Matt said to Mr. Duval.

Mr. Duval led Paul and Matt away, and Ms Andrews motioned Fiona and me to some chairs. She sat down with us. "You really did sound very good," she said. "Probably good enough to make the cut. If Ron didn't think that, he wouldn't have bothered to check out your brothers."

Paul and Matt returned with Mr. Duval in less than two minutes. All three were smiling. "They're boys," Mr. Duval said.

"Good," Ms Andrews said. "Here's the deal. The judges will pick the twelve finalists this evening, after the tryouts are over. If your group is selected, someone will call you between ten and noon tomorrow morning. Are you going to be home then, Mandy?"

"Yes – definitely!"

"Good. If you don't hear from us by noon, you'll know you didn't make the cut. But, just between us girls, I think you'll be in. Good luck!"


Each time the phone rang the next morning, I nearly jumped out of my skin. After I'd raced to the phone three times, coming in second each time, Mom smiled at me. "You must be expecting a call," she said. "New boy friend?"

I smiled back. "Maybe," I said.

"Well, why don't I just let you answer the phone until he calls."

"Okay." I took the next four calls – it was an unusually busy morning, of course, until I finally heard a woman's voice say, "Amanda Green?"


"This is Sally Andrews from the Recreation Center. I'm happy to tell you that your group is one of the twelve Teen Talent Night finalists."

"That's wonderful!"

"We'll send you a letter with the details. I think you'll do well. Congratulations!"

"Thank you! Thank you so much!" I said. I hurried off to share the news with Paul and Matt. We decided that we needed to get new dresses – something that would make us look like a group – for the performance, and this evening would be our best opportunity. Then I called Fiona. She agreed that we needed to get distinctive dresses, and asked if she could go shopping with us – and to the Wreck afterward, if it wasn't too late. She certainly wasn't going to go with Derek, not even if he called to ask her!


That evening, as soon as Daddy and Mom left for their dinner and concert, Tammy and Carole and I got ourselves ready for a hard night of shopping and dancing. With a great deal of giggling, we selected our dancing outfits and put them in a big garment bag – we'd change later at Fiona's if we decided to go to the Wreck. Then, dressing quickly in skirts, blouses, flats, and minimal makeup, we drove off to pick up Fiona.

On the way to the Boulton Park Mall, we counted up our money. Carole had $27, Tammy had $41, I had $133 (including my income from clothing rentals), and Fiona had $50 – a total of $251. That would have to be enough, we thought.

Our first stop was Kaltendorf's. Much of their stuff was expensive, but Kaltendorf's Bargain Basement (on the third floor) usually had some pretty cool, reasonably affordable things. Carole and Tammy were in heaven – this was only their first and second time, respectively, shopping for girls' clothes and trying things on. As for me, I was in shock – was I actually going to buy myself a dress? Fortunately, Fiona was there to keep the rest of us under control.

I had only a vague idea of what we needed to "look like a group," and Tammy and Carole were useless – they liked everything. "You're the Green sisters," Fiona said. "I think we should all get green dresses." Okay, that seemed like a good suggestion. "From the Juniors department," she continued. "They have the coolest stuff." That sounded good, too. "Not identical dresses, though. That would be too much. We want four in the same general style – I think mini-dresses would be good – but different necklines or sleeves or whatever," she concluded.

We found a saleslady in the Juniors department and Fiona repeated her specifications. The saleslady was unfazed. She led us around the department, pulling green mini-dresses in our sizes off the racks and handing them to us. When we each had three dresses, she sent us into the dressing rooms to try them on.

Carole, Tammy, and I wore the same size, while Fiona was two sizes smaller. We each quickly settled on a favorite – a dress that one of the others was wearing. The saleslady was able to find Fiona's favorite in her size, and we put on our choices on to see how we looked as a group.

We lined up for the saleslady's inspection. We weren't all quite the same shade of green, but we didn't clash. "Oh, you girls look so pretty," she said in her salesladyish way. "And so cute, too – the proverbial four peas in a pod." We squinched ourselves together in front of a mirror and decided she was right. These were the dresses, and we were cute!

Sticker shock time. The prices ranged from $39.95 to $59.95 – a total of $211.79 with tax. That was more than we expected, and it was going to put a terrible dent in our funds. We put our heads together. Did we want to choose less expensive dresses? Or did we want to try another store? Or did we want to go dancing? The saleslady offered us a ten percent group discount, and Fiona whipped out a $200 gift card that she'd received for Christmas. "You can pay me back after we win the prize," she said.

Kaltendorf's shoe department was known to be expensive, but there was a SaveMor shoe store near the other end of the mall, and we decided to try our luck there. We found four identical pairs of two-inch pumps, in our sizes and in an acceptable shade of green, at $12.99 per pair. Adding in a couple of pairs of pantyhose each, we escaped for $80.


We were in a great mood as we made our way back to Fiona's. We had everything we needed for our performance, and we had more than enough money for the dance. We decided to change clothes and go on to the Wreck.

"I've thought of a name for our group," Tammy said.

"Something better than 'The Green Sisters'?" I said.

"Much better."

"Not 'Mandy, Matt, Fiona, and Paul'?" Carole said.

"Yuck! No, better than that," Tammy said. "Actually, I thought of two names. When the saleslady said we looked like four peas in a pod, I thought of 'GreenPeas.' But then I thought, no, we might have to lie down on top of a North Korean missile, so I came up with something better – 'pPod'!"

"Peapod?" Fiona said. "That's cute."

"It's spelled like iPod with a p. It's a 21st-century peapod."

"I like it," I said. We all liked it, and "pPod" was born.


We got to the Wreck so late that the ticket booth had closed shop, and we walked right in without paying. It was a short night for us, only an hour before we had to leave, but it was fun. We spotted the four dudes, but they were all dancing with other girls, so we sat down at a rear table to await developments.

The first development was a tap on my shoulder. It was Zack, asking me to dance. "We thought you chicks weren't coming tonight," Zack said as he led me to the floor, "so we tried to make do with what was available."

"But they weren't as cool as us, were they?"

"Not even close." We danced by Larry, who was with a sophomore girl I knew. Zack caught his eye and pointed to me. Larry's face lit up. "Carole?" he mouthed. Zack nodded and pointed toward our table. In quick succession, we danced by Mark and Brent, giving them the same message. Within ten minutes, all four of us chicks were dancing with our dudes.

So it was another fun night. Our departure was just a little bit later than the previous week and the goodnight kisses were just a little bit longer, so I was just a little bit heavier on the gas pedal. Fortunately, BP's finest were fighting crime elsewhere in the city, and I was able to drop Carole and Tammy off before Mom and Daddy arrived. I quickly took Fiona back to her house and then got myself home.

As I let myself in through the kitchen door, I heard the garage door opening behind me – and there were my two ditzy half-sisters at the foot of the stairs, still nattering about Larry and Brent. "They're here!" I hissed as I pushed them up the stairs. I didn't need to say anything more – they were off like a pair of rockets. I grabbed a piece of paper and a pen and looked as if I were just sitting down to write a note when the door opened and the 'rents entered. Whew!

Mom was so amazed to see me in a dress that she almost forgot to ask about Paul and Matt. Boy, if only she could have seen them in their dresses…


The next day, I finally managed to get Paul and Matt alone for a few minutes. "What's all this smooching with the dudes?" I asked them. "You seem to be enjoying it."

"That wasn't us," Paul said.

"That was Tammy and Carole," Matt said. "Anyway, it doesn't mean anything."

"It's just fun," Paul said. "Besides, you should talk. You were smooching away with Zack last night, and you seemed to be having fun yourself."

"But I'm a girl!" I said. "And you're…"

"We're girls, too," Matt said. "At least, we were last night."

"You know those guys," Paul said. "We'd need a couple of baseball bats to keep them away."

"It's not as if we're going to marry them or anything," Matt said. "It's just fun."

"Okay, okay!" I said. "I get the message. It's fun. But just don't let it get to be too much fun."


We had five more afternoons to practice our performance, and we made the most of our time. We polished and polished until we were sure we could sing our five songs in our sleep. On Tuesday, we picked the three songs we'd do Saturday night. We planned to segue from song to song, so we could fit all three into our allocated time. Practice, practice, practice, timing each run-through until we were sure we were spot-on. And we picked a fourth song, just in case we had to do an encore, and we practiced that one, too.


And then it was Saturday night again: Showtime at the Wreck. Mom and Daddy left for dinner and the fifth of their six concerts, and as soon as we saw them turn the corner, we hurried to our bedrooms to put on our undies and (in some cases) padding. Then we threw on tops and jeans, leaped into the car, and took off for Fiona's house.

Oh, what exquisite chaos! Fiona and I dressed in her room while Carole and Tammy dressed in the guest room. I kept Fiona's mom too occupied to check on Carole and Tammy. When we were dressed, Mrs. Moore, who'd had theatrical experience, oversaw our makeup application – it needed to be much heavier than usual so we wouldn't look washed out in the spotlights. At last, we were ready, and Mrs. Moore was beside herself as she marveled at how glamorous we looked.

Into the car again, and off to the Wreck – we had to be there at 7:30 for the 8:30 show, and we made it with ten minutes to spare. Parking was plentiful, as the audience hadn't begun to arrive. We checked the performance list posted backstage and found that we'd been selected to go on ninth, at about 9:20. With all that accomplished, we had nothing to do but sit around for nearly two hours, getting progressively more nervous every minute. The Wreck had provided snacks, but none of us felt like eating.

The first hour was pretty boring, but things got better when the show began and we could hear the other performers. Almost every act was a rock band. One or two were pretty bad, we thought, but most were good and some were excellent. We began to suspect that we were unlikely to win even the second runner-up spot, let alone first prize. Oh, well – we'd pay our debt to Fiona somehow.

Suddenly, time began to accelerate. The eighth act went on stage, and we were summoned to stand in the wings, ready to take the stage ourselves. Carole, Tammy, and I were each given a hand-held microphone (Fiona's piano was already miked), and then the audience was cheering and applauding, Act 8 was leaving stage right, and we were entering stage left.

"Ladies and gentlemen!" Mr. Hayes said. "Please welcome…pPod!"

The audience chuckled (we'd anticipated that – we were very green!) and applauded politely as Fiona took her seat at the piano and my half-sisters and I lined up near the front of the stage. I flicked on my microphone. "Good evening!" I said. "I'm Mandy!" Hooray! The mike worked!

"I'm Tammy!"

"I'm Carole!"

"I'm Fiona!" Wonderful – all the mikes worked!

"And we're pPod!" we all said together. Fiona played an introductory bar, and we were off. We opened with an up-tempo Dixie Chicks cover, moved into a Lennon Sisters ballad that we'd found in Daddy's oldies collection, and finished with one of Daddy's truly moldy golden oldies – a cover of the Andrews Sisters' rousing "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree." Thank goodness for all the practice – we didn't have to think; we just had to perform to the best of our ability.

Our voices faded into silence. Carole and Tammy snapped off their mikes. I shouted, "Thank you!" into mine before turning it off. As we exited stage right, the audience erupted in cheers and applause. Backstage, we fell into each other's arms. "Maybe we have a chance," Fiona said.

The next half hour was a blur as the last three acts performed. The middle one was awful – probably a bad case of nerves. The last one was very good, and the audience loved it. Then Mr. Hayes took the stage. "Ladies and gentlemen!" he said. "Wasn't that a great show?"

The audience cheered. "I think it was the best we've ever had," Mr. Hayes said. "So many terrific performers! Now, I'm sure you don't want to listen to me. You want to know the winners. As usual, we have a panel of judges and we have an applause meter. The judges' scores count for half and audience reaction counts for the other half. My assistants, Sally Andrews and Mike Duval, are checking the scorecards, and we'll have our winners in a few seconds. Ah, I see we have our winners now!" he said as Ms Andrews walked out on stage with a sheet of paper.

"As you know, our prizes are provided by Kaltendorf's Department Store." There was a round of applause. "Okay, our second runner-up, winning a $100 gift card, is…Jerry's Gang!" Jerry's Gang was a rock band and its members were all seniors at BPHS. Jerry and his gang exchanged high fives and went out onto the stage to collect their prize.

"The first runner-up prize, a $250 gift card from Kaltendorf's, goes to…" We crossed our fingers and closed our eyes. "Pitchfork!" Pitchfork was a country-western group – four junior boy musicians and a peppy sophomore girl vocalist. They'd been last to perform, and I thought they were very good.

"Well, we tried," Fiona said as Pitchfork hurried onto the stage.

"And now," Mr. Hayes said. "First prize, a $500 gift card from Kaltendorf's, goes to four very talented young people – pPod!"

We'd won! I couldn't believe it – and apparently, neither could Fiona, Carole, and Tammy. We just stood there staring at each other until Mr. Hayes once again shouted "pPod" and deafening applause began. We pulled ourselves together and walked out onto the stage, as the applause grew louder. Mr. Hayes gave me our prize and asked us if we'd like to play an encore. Of course we would!

Fiona took her place at the piano and Carole, Tammy, and I lined up at the front of the stage. Mr. Duval handed us our microphones. We made sure they were live, and I turned and nodded to Fiona. She played a few notes and we launched into D'Eon Quince's first and greatest hit, "Are You Really My Girl? (Or Are You a Boy?)" – faithful to the original, except that we were sopranos instead of falsettos.

I didn't think the audience was ever going to let us go, but Mr. Hayes finally took a microphone and said, "Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen! See you again at Teen Talent Night next year!"


But that wasn't the end. As we stood on the stage, hugging each other, Ms Loomis, the BPHS chorale director, came up from the audience. "Congratulations, Mandy. You girls were just wonderful!"

"Thank you, Ms Loomis."

"I was one of the judges this year. We split on the other groups, but pPod was our unanimous choice."

"Oh, thank you," I said.

"Now I know Fiona already. I've heard her perform several times, and the high school music department is looking forward to her arrival in another year. But who are these two other girls? They have such glorious voices – how have we missed getting them into the Chorale?"

"Well, Carole is one of Fiona's classmates, so she's still a year away from Bee-Pee High," I said. "But Tammy will be a sophomore next year. Perhaps we can work on her."

"Oh, yes – we must," Ms Loomis said. "Oh, I see that your parents are here, so I mustn't monopolize you. Congratulations again!" She hurried away.

Parents? Oh, dear! Where were they? There was Fiona's mom, congratulating her and Carole and Tammy. And – oh, boy! – there were Mom and Daddy.

"Mandy!" Mom said. "You were wonderful! And so pretty! We're both so proud of you! But why didn't you tell us you were in the show?" She gave me a mighty hug.

"Well, uh…what are you doing here?"

"It's the concert of the week – the fifth in our series," Daddy said. "Didn't we tell you?" He had a broad smile on his face, and he hugged me, too.

"It's so nice that you have Fiona Moore in your group," Mom said. "She's such a nice girl, and so talented." She lowered her voice. "I think Paul's sweet on her. Are Matt and Paul here tonight? I didn't see them."

Hearing their names, Paul and Matt automatically turned towards Mom. With looks of alarm on their faces, they quickly turned back to Mrs. Moore – but not quickly enough.

"Paul! Matthew! Is that you?" Mom said.

"Uh…hi, Mom," Paul said.

"Hi, Dad," Matt added.


Surprise, surprise! Were Daddy and Mom angry? Not then – startled I guess, but not angry. All talking at once, but not necessarily saying the same thing, Matt and Paul and I tried to explain everything. The boys' voices hadn't changed yet. If they sounded like girls, we should do girl group songs – and if we did that, they should look like girls. It was nothing serious; there was nothing warped in their psyches. It was just fun. Fun. Fun!

"Well, I guess it's all right," Mom said. "You were so good! But…" She looked at Daddy.

"No problem for me," Daddy said.


But that wasn't the end, either. Just as things seemed to be settling down, four dudes marched onto the stage. Each carried a white rose, and each bestowed his rose, an enormous hug, and a huge congratulatory kiss upon his favorite member of pPod.




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