De Rien

[Not sure what to say about this one. Written in a funk after the election. Obviously in the future, but not sure how far.  I have an alternate ending, too. But I will post that in a few days. Please let me know what you think.]

(c) Tara Moeller, 2016

Mia sucked in a breath when the needle pierced her arm. The nurse winced with her, drawing out blood into the attached tube.

“There, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” She smiled, her lips over-dimpling in fake reassurance. The nurse’s face was lopsided; Mia assumed her transition hadn’t gone well, and that is the reason for the disparity — and her job.

Smiling, Mia shook her head but pressed the little piece of gauze tight to the pinhole. “Of course, not.”

“Dr. Willikins will put these in for test and we should have the results by tomorrow.” The nurse shook the little tube, checking to make sure all the gunk in the bottom mixed with the fresh blood. “Are you taking the vitamins I gave you?”

Nodding, Mia stood, waiting impatiently while the nurse stuck a tiny plastic bandage over the gauze, patting it after until it stung. “Yes. Of course.”

“You need a refill?”

“No, I still have half a bottle.”

The nurse frowned, freezing mid shake of the tube. The rust brown of the natural iris peeked through the dark center of her royal blue eyes. “You should need a refill. You really need to take them every day.”

“I’ve been taking them.”

“Every day?”

Mia couldn’t offer a truthful yes, so she remained silent.

“Mia, the transition can be dangerous. If you don’t take your vitamins, like I didn’t, there can be horrible repercussions.”

Letting her gaze trace over the other woman, Mia noted more than just the lopsided features. The barest hint of freckles marred the otherwise porcelain protrusion of her cheeks, a faint notch jarred the smooth line of her jaw, the flesh that covered it drooping just a tad.

“Take a good look. It isn’t just in my face.” The nurse pivoted back to the metal cart, jamming the bloody tube into the tray for processing. “Remember, if it doesn’t turn out, your husband doesn’t have to keep you.”

Mia continued to stare, watching a single tear trace its way down her cheek. Damn. Had her husband refused her? Is that why she was here, working as a nurse in a world where women weren’t supposed to work?

The woman tuned back, sniffing hard but not bothering to remove the offending droplet. “Take the vitamins Mia. You don’t want to wind up like me.”

Stalking outside, Mia held her tongue, wanting to scream. She didn’t want to wind up like her nurse, but really, was autonomy so bad? So the woman didn’t have a husband? She had a job–and freedom.

So far, the results were exactly what Mia wanted–damn the vitamins that were supposed to help get her body ready for transition. But one day–far sooner than she would even want–the blood test would come back “A-OK” and she’d be eligible for transition and her husband–and his father and uncle and everybody else in the family–would be happy.

She rode the bus home. There was no need for her to have car since she couldn’t work, and so far, she had not been approved to bear a child. A small part of her wondered if it was because she had failed the blood test so many times. No sense propagating children that couldn’t make the transition.

Staring out the window, at the masculine cars parked along the street, all jutting angles and fat wheels, she thought about her mother. Did she look like her? She didn’t resemble her father, but genetics taught that she might look like a grandparent, and it had been a couple centuries since anyone knew what their maternal ancestors truly looked like. There were no photos of young girls in dark pigtails or young brides with dark curls piled high with a tiara and veil.

Women only had their photos taken after transition.

No one looked at her on the bus, met her stare or smiled in warm greeting. How could they tell she hadn’t had the surgery yet? Maybe her husband wanted a woman with a little pudge, plain hazel eyes and walnut hair a little frizzy, with a too-large nose and too thin lips.

But that was crazy. And everyone knew it.

When Dr. Willikins had brought out the big book of features, Tom had picked out blonde (though to be certain, some wanted gingers, and maybe he only picked it because it was the first option offered), and selected a little taller and little thinner, with a petite upturned nose and sulky lips. The doctor had smiled and said that was a pretty standard package, and what about breasts and hips and-

That is where Tom had cut him off. Just the package as it was would be fine.

The doctor had only sighed and reminded Tom that he couldn’t change his mind after transition. Oh, and what about eye color?

Tom hadn’t been picky about that, and had let her pick it out: green. Her natural hazel orbs had a lot of green in them; maybe they would still look like hers after.

That had been almost three years ago, and she still hadn’t been deemed physiologically ready for transition. She was certain the doctor was ready to give up, but Tom kept paying, so she kept going for the test.

The other women on the bus, mostly blonde with a single stark redhead sitting behind the elderly driver, were blue-eyed models with long silky hair and elegant cheekbones. Nary a freckle or pockmark in sight.

Mia took a breath and steeled herself for the dismount. She pulled the thin cord to signal she needed off and stood, tripping towards the door, just making it through the levered portals before the transport roared off down the street. At the end of the block, it stopped again, the ginger-haired beauty alighting in slow-motion while the bus waited for her to take the final step to the ground and traipse around the front.

Swallowing the bile that rose, Mia made her way down the street to the small townhouse she shared with her husband. He could afford larger, flashier–he was a doctor for God’s sake–but felt it was just enough until he had a wife to match. Instead, he spent his money of gold and silver trinkets, all on display in his home office on long shelves. They were all different, but all made of one or the other of the precious metals. Some were old, antiques even, while others were newer and gaudy.

She hated every one of them.

His car was big, though. He could fit a body in the trunk with spare parts needed to make them perfect. It was the same model, only a year older, as his boss’s auto. There was an image to project, even if his house wasn’t part of the picture.

Tired, Mia rubbed her eyes and unlocked the front door. It was time to get dinner in the oven. It was pot roast night, and she had the roast and vegetables all ready and waiting in the Dutch oven in the fridge, prepared ahead just in case there had been extra tests this time.

One day there would be. One day, Dr. Willikins would want to find out why her white blood cells were always too high and her red too low.

The phone rang, and she jumped. The screen showed [husband’s] work number and she debated answering. But if she didn’t, he’d worry and call Dr. Willikins.

“Hello.” She tried not to sound too depressed.

“Make it back home okay?” Tom’s voice was too loud over the line. It sounded shaky; maybe he was having a stressful day at the office. He was a pediatrician.

Mia was proud of that. The he was a doctor that helped children and she was the wife that took care of him. “Yeah. Almost got taken out by the bus, but otherwise, I’m safe.”

“Did they get your blood okay?”

“Yes.”

“Was it Dr. Willikins or his nurse?”

“The nurse.” Dr. Willikins hadn’t actually seen her for a couple of years now.

There was a pause. “Did she ask about your diet at all?”

Mia sighed. The nurse never asked her anything except the damn vitamins. Today was the most she’d ever spoken to her. “No.”

The soft sigh made Mia smile. She suspected her husband feared that Dr. Willikins would accuse him of doing something to her. Tom was a doctor and knew the risks more so than other husbands. But her not transitioning because of something he did would be devastating for his career.

“So, still no mention of vitamins or supplements?”

“No.” Mia eyes the large bottle of pills on the table. She hated lying to him; he was really quite nice and treated her well. Anything she wanted, he tried to get for her.

“You still take your pills, right? The ones I gave you?”

“Of course.” Him and his damn pills. He was as bad as the nurse and her vitamins. They were supposed to help her pass the blood test. “I have to go. I haven’t got the pot roast in yet and if I don’t get it in it won’t be ready on time. The Sylvesters are coming over tonight, right?”

The Sylvesters were a younger couple; he was another doctor, an obstetrician whose patients moved up to Tom’s practice once they were born. It was important to keep connections strong, especially when one moved up the chain. Without a referral from Dr. Sylvester, Tom could lose patients.

Another sigh. “Yes. They will be there at seven. I should be home by half past six.”

One thing you could count on with Tom, he was always home when he said he would be.

Dinner was hell. Oh, the pot roast and vegetables were perfectly cooked, and the wine Tom brought home even more so. The problem was the perfect Mrs. Sylvester, with her golden-red curls and violet eyes. Mia felt like a rag doll next to a porcelain figurine.

Tom was quiet after the meal, walking the Sylvesters to their most expensive car while Mia cleared the table. When he came back in, he stared at her, and Mia imagined the disappointment coursing through him at her plain hazel visage, far too short and squat for sex.

Crossing the room, he kissed her temple, his squeezing hug just a bit harder than usual, his hand lingering on her hip. “Remember to take your pill tomorrow.” He was on his way up to bed.

She checked on the ingredients she needed for breakfast. “I will.”

As expected, there was no sex, only quiet sleep–for a time.

The nightmare came, as always after the bloodletting. A face she didn’t recognize in the mirror, with lips that didn’t respond to her will to smile or speak, dead green eyes that stared but didn’t see. Hair so pale it was transparent.

Nothing of her was left.

Waking, she stilled her scream, muffling it with her pillow so he wouldn’t hear. He got so upset when she had those dreams.

At the tinkling of the alarm at six, Mia rose, exhausted, starting the coffee and French toast with fruit that was Tom’s favorite. She felt bad for him, stuck with her–a wife that couldn’t pass a simple blood test.

She kissed him at the door, smiling up, trying to outsmile her plainness. It seemed to work; his lips lingered a few seconds longer over hers before he pivoted and marched off to the driver’s side of his car. He waved before getting in and she waved back.

The bottles sat on the counter, taunting her with her failure. Opening the top, she shook a handful out, counting in her palm. Had she remembered to take one yesterday or the day before? She hated the tablets; they could stick in her throat, choking her with regret.

Taking two, she threw them down her throat, following them with a full cup of black coffee to make them go down all the way.

Half an hour later, the call came in.

“Hello.” Mia kept her tone upbeat.

“Well, looks like someone knows what I’m about to say.” The raspy voice of Dr. Willikins filled the earpiece.

“Oh?” This wasn’t good. She’d expected the call to come from the nurse, like it had every other month for the last couple of years.

“The test results are in, and they look pretty good. You red count is up and your white count is down. I’d like you to come back in two weeks for another test. I think you might finally pass and we can get your surgery on the schedule. The sooner the better, eh?”

Mia swallowed twice, finding words difficult.

“Mrs. Mason?”

“Yes.” She choked on the single syllable.

“Ah. Speechless I guess. Well, don’t worry, I’ll give your husband’s office a call and give him the good news myself. Let him know he should probably let you rest up starting now, just to make sure the numbers stay good.”

The doctor signed off after a bit more babbling about specific numbers and how different they were from last time and how much they would have to drop or rise in two weeks.

Mia listened, saying nothing, not even nodding automatically at his advice. The only thought running through her head was oh god ohgod ohgod what was she going to do now? What would she do when she no longer recognized her face in the mirror? She was supposed to come out taller; she’d need new clothes, but she wouldn’t know the size. She’d probably be thinner, too.

Could she still have children after the surgery? Most women didn’t, but was it by choice or necessity?

The dial tone echoed in her ear and she hung up the receiver, seeing her hand grasping it but not feeling the hand itself was attached.

Would it be like that after the surgery? Would her body feel like her own? Would she…

Shaking herself, she dragged in a long breath, scrubbing her hands over her still-familiar forehead, nose, cheekbones. She couldn’t do. She just couldn’t do it.

The phone rang again: her husband’s work number on the screen.

Mia backed away. She couldn’t bear to listen to his happy voice making plans for the transition, the move to a new house after it was over and she’d finished healing. Everyone got a new house after, with a big coming out party, where the husband presented his improved wife with a diamond or sapphire or emerald–or hell, all three in a single piece of wearable art.

How could she tell him?

She couldn’t.

The collection. Running to the study that was really a den, she stared at the glittering array of bits on the shelves. Snatching up a box, she dumped the old medical journals it held to go to recycle on the floor and pulled them off, raking them into the box like leaves in the fall. When that box was full, she searched for another.

Precious metals: a universal currency.

If she could just make it to the border; maybe she could buy her way out. Not every country forced women to transition. In some, small third-world cultures, it was even frowned upon.

Not finding a box, she grabbed a small suitcase and shoved clothes in, not caring if they matched or packed well. Who cared? She didn’t. If she did, she’d want the transition, wouldn’t she?

There was a shard of vanity, though. Her grandmother’s hair combs. They were antique brass with tiny rubies embedded in little curlicues to nestle in the gentle ringlets the older woman had been given. She tucked them into the case, safely wedging them in the folds of a sweater to keep them from being damaged.

She dropped the suitcase to the floor next to the box and stared at her haul. How could she get the boxes out of the house? Out of the suburbs and into the city where she could hop on a bus, or maybe even a train? Trains still made it across the border to Canada, didn’t they? Could she afford to wait for Tom to come home and steal his car after he went to bed?

Damn! She should have thought this through. He’d notice the collection gone from the walls and wonder what the hell she was up to. She’d have to put them back, taking just a few from the back–big ones worth money–that he wouldn’t notice missing.

Dragging the box back to the office, she replaced the ornaments, not really caring if they were in their regular order. She’d never seen him place them with any care; maybe they didn’t have an order. She paused over a couple, setting them on a table to take with her. They were heavier, so she hoped there was more metal in them, translating to a higher price when she sold it for cash.

She froze at the sound of tires on the pavement; a car in the drive. Peeking through the sheers, Mia gasped. He was home, the gleaming black hulk of automobile crowding the small parking space. He looked calm, even though he’d never come home from work early like this before.

Shouldn’t he look excited? His shoulders slouched in his jacket, his feet dragged along the ground as he rounded the car. He reached into the back seat, pulling out a bouquet of red roses and a box of chocolates; the package looked like it was from her favorite little shop. He usually only got them for her at Christmas and their anniversary.

Trotting back to the kitchen, breaths coming on short convoluted grasps, she grabbed the solitary suitcase and tossed it in the broom closet. he never went in there; he’d never see it and she could work on her plan.

She had two weeks to figure it out.

“Hey!” His smile split his face when he came in the house, arms stretched out, flowers in one hand, chocolates in the other. “How’s my girl?”

Mia laughed, though it sounded like someone was strangling her. “I’m great. After all, we got the good news today.”

His smile faded and he nodded, offering her the chocolates.

She took the box, unwrapping the fat ribbon, savoring the scent of sugared sweets that met her nose when the lid was removed. “Mmmm. Caramel centers, my favorite.”

Tom plucked one from the box, hovering it beneath her nose before popping it into her mouth.

Chewing and swallowing, Mia batted her lashes at him. If she was going to run away, never see him again, maybe she could make some good memories first.

He stared a moment before dipping his head to kiss her, his lips lingering over hers, his tongue sharing the remnant flavor of chocolate and caramel.

Pulling away, Mia sucked in a breath. She tried not to think about what they were celebrating, that he was happy and wanted her because in two weeks she’d likely be ready to transition to his vision of perfect.

Blinking at her from behind his wire-rimmed lenses, Tom traced a finger down her cheek. “What?”

“I didn’t get dinner on; I’m sorry.”

“S’okay. We can go out.”

Go out? They’d get back late and he’d be tired and they wouldn’t…

“Or we can order something in. Chinese?” He backed up, hand stretched toward the phone.

“That sounds wonderful.” Mia set the box of sweets on the table and took the roses, turning to take them to the sink. “You call and I’ll put these in water.”

Dinner was eaten while cuddled together on the sofa, watching rerun TV. Clean up was easy, and quick, and that meant that, for a change, neither was too tired when done.

Mia decided to be bold. Why not? What did she have to lose? She could argue that he was horrible for wanting the transition, but what could she expect from him? It was just the way society was now. She should count herself lucky that her husband only wanted what amounted to slight changes. She’d heard the stories of women so utterly changed that they went mad.

At the bottom on the stairs, the doors locked and the lights all off, Mia placed a hand on Tom’s stomach. It wasn’t a muscular stomach, but there was no protrusion of belly.

“What?” He frowned at her, standing one step down.

Stretching forward, Mia settled her lips on his, drawing out the kiss as long as she could When she pulled away, his followed and he leaned into her.

Success.

She backed up the stairs, him one step behind, lips touching the whole way. At the bedroom door, he took the lead, pulling her in behind him.

He hesitated at his shirt buttons, staring into her eyes.

Smiling, she undid his short, pushing it back of his shoulders, tugging on the bottom of his plain white undershirt. “I love you.”

He kissed her again, backing her to the bed, falling into the soft mattress with her. It was a night that mirrored their first time together, after the wedding, when he was only in university, filled with energy and youthful desire.

She wanted to remember it forever. Even if it wasn’t real.

 

Mia rose the next morning and made breakfast as she normally did. Tom came down, relaxed and smiling, and hugged her while she stirred the oatmeal at the stove.

He even whistled while he ate.

She never felt so guilty in all her life.

When Tom had left for work, Mia stood in the center of the kitchen, unmoving. The packed suitcase, the hair combs and a few of the larger gold trinkets tucked amidst her clothing, was still in the closet.

She still needed a plan.

Sitting at the table, the dirty bowls and mugs still at each place, she picked at her nails. How could she get out of the country? North to Canada would be a start. While there were women there that made the transition, it was not expected like it was here. hell, here, it was practically law.

What would happen to Tom if she left? Would he be able to divorce her from afar? Have their marriage annulled? Start again, maybe with a younger wife that fit closer to his ideal from the start.

It would be hard, that last possibility. Those young women were reserved for the men who fit that mould; the rich, the famous, the beautiful.

Mia stared at the jar of pills. Should she take one? Did it matter anymore? Even though she intended to be gone before the two weeks was up, should she still play the game?

But she was losing.

Standing, sucking in a giant breath that filled her lungs, she expanded her chest so that her bra straps dug in to her ribcage. The pain felt good, real. She could do this.

She left the table messy and marched to the study, pressing the button to boot the computer. Finding the bus line’s website was easy; finding a ticket North enough that she could make it across the border before anyone found out she’d left, was hard.

When the phone rang, she didn’t even bother glancing at the number, just picked up the receiver, more interested in the screen that the voice, and said “hello.”

“Mrs. Mason? This is Nurse Cummings. From Dr. Willikins office.”

The screen blurred and Mia blinked, focusing on the phone. “Yes?”

“The doctor told me about your latest results.”

“Yes?” Mia squinted at the screen, flipping between the bus schedule and a map of Maine. Was Calais close enough to the border? Ah–yes. It was on the border.

“You really should have been better at taking those vitamins. There’s nothing I can do for you now.”

“Huh? What?” Distracted, Mia tracked the mouse to the bottom corner, blanking the screen.

There was a long sigh down the phone line. “The vitamins. If you’d kept taking them like I told you, you never would have gotten good enough results for transition.”

“The vitamins?”

“Yes, the vitamins.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t think you were convicted enough.”

“What?” Mia tracked the mouse back up to the center, bringing the window that held the bus schedule back up. She clicked on the buy button for the ticket to Maine.

“Aren’t you listening?”

“I’m trying. But you never told me anything.” Anger sparked. What the hell? If the woman had told her what the vitamins were really doing, she would have taken them every day and once in between.

“Of course not. Do you know how much trouble I could get in if someone found out about those vitamins?” The nurse’s voice bit into Mia’s ear. “It’s not just my job that’s on the line. It’s my whole life.”

Mia needed a credit card number, but her card was in her purse, her purse upstairs in the bed room. The little countdown box was ticking down the time she had to purchase her ticket.

“Look. Fine. I’ll throw away the bottle, okay?”

“Not good enough. I need the bottle, now. And the vitamins inside it.”

Shit. “I’ll put it in the mail.”

“Not good enough.”

She had less than a minute to put her credit card number in. She slammed down the receiver and raced for the stairs, taking them two at a time, snatching up her purse from the dresser and nearly tumbling down the stairs in her rush.

Falling into the desk chair, card in hand, she tapped the numbers onto the keypad and hit enter.

She’d bought her ticket.

The phone rang, and angry jangle that made her shiver.

It was probably the nurse again. No way was she talking to that woman. Not now, not ever.

The bus would be leaving in two hours. She needed to get into the city and to the station before then.

Mia stuffed the card back in her purse, flinging the bag over her shoulder, knocking over the chair and scrambling to her feet. She needed to be gone, now, five minutes ago.

She grabbed the suitcase from the closet and the left-over grocery money from the cookie jar where she kept it for safe-keeping. It was only a ten-minute walk to the bus stop and the quick hop through the sliding doors before the bus lurched forward and she dropped her rider card and bumped her head picking it up.

Managing to swipe it despite the jerky ride, she stumbled to the first seat available and dropped into it. She didn’t need to worry that anyone would notice her with the suitcase, be able to describe her to anyone or remember where she got off the bus. No one ever looked at her enough.

She was in the city center within the half hour and jogging down the sidewalk toward the station. The day was sunny but breezy and her hair played around her face. She didn’t care. Again, she didn’t worry that anyone would notice her.

“Mia Mason.” She gasped out her whispered name at the attendant, sliding her ID across the counter and through the little Plexiglas slot to the attendant. “I purchased my ticket online.”

“Kinda quick.” The young man frowned.

“Family emergency. Trying to get home before my father dies in hospital.”

The frown dissipated. “Oh, sorry. Hope you get there in time.” He slid her ID and thick ticket back to her. “Platform 3. You have about 15 minutes before it loads.”

“Thanks.”

Mia tucked her ID in her purse and clutched the ticket in her hand. She was close, so close.

Platform 3 was at the end of the station, one of the smaller loading areas. Few people took the bus anymore, except for poor students and the elderly that outlived their retirement savings.

She waited with three other passengers, an odd couple that consisted of a wrinkled man and a woman who looked like her insides had shrunk inside her still-smooth skin and a young man with ear buds that ignored everything around him.

When the bus pulled in, the young man jumped to the head of the line and claimed the back seat, stretching out lengthwise. Mia let the older couple climb up the steps first, even steadying the woman when she stumbled at the top. the old man clutched her hand in the same way Mia clutched her ticket, but he wasn’t strong enough to keep her up

The couple settled in the front seats, winded and gasping, the man pale, the woman blinking teary eyed while she smiled her thanks to Mia.

Mia offered her ticket to the driver, who looked at her through narrowed eyes. “Maine?”

“My dad’s in the hospital. Going to visit before he passes away.”

The driver nodded and gestured for her to take a seat.

Mia sat somewhere in the middle, her suitcase locked in the compartment above her head

 

Calais was cold and almost deserted at midnight when the bus pulled into the station, Mia the only rider left on board. The couple and the young man had gotten off in Boston, making the driver complain about having to keep going for only Mia.

Mia sniffed and wailed about her dying father, and the driver shut up and put his foot to the pedal, not stopping until they made it to the small town on the border with New Brunswick a whole hour and a half ahead of schedule.

The driver didn’t even wait to see if she made it into the station before he’d backed up and parked and locked the bus for the night and scuffled off for wherever he got to sleep.

Shivering, Mia picked up her suitcase and wondered what to do now. She could see the other country, looking so much like where she stood now, across the lazy St. Croix river.

There was a stone bridge with barriers and lights on the other side. She started walking, her breath ending in puffs of frozen steam that chilled her cheeks. The wind picked up at the bridge, the river offering a through-way for the rush of winter air.

One foot ahead of the other, a steady beat toward freedom.

What if they shot her? Arrested her?

She stopped. Was it worth it? To die instead of live? To punish Tom for nothing more than doing what society expected of him?

Another step, then another, and she bumped into the first barrier, the bright beams of light blinding her.

“Halt!’

She hadn’t expected a guard. Not a real person with a weapon speaking to her. Maybe just an automatic rifle shearing bullets into her form.

Stopped, she teetered on her feet, one arm up to shield her eyes from the glare.

“What are you doing?”

“Running.”

“Looks more like walking.” A pause, then the voice sounded closer. “Do you know what time it is?”

“Just after midnight.” Mia swallowed. “Please. I just can’t transition.”

“Can’t or won’t?”

Damn, was this a transitioner? Someone who supported the American system and thought Canada should be more like its neighbor to the south? She’d heard there were some up here; she thought them to be mostly men with tight ties to the States in business that saw transitioning as a way to further their status in the other country. Status meant money and power, and they could then make it in America.

What if she answered “can’t”? Would it make a difference?

“Won’t”

“Huh.” Another pause, then the lights dimmed and a hand grabbed her arm, tugging. “Come with me.”

The inside of the station was warm and clean, the white tile floors glossy, the pale gray walls smudge-free. Mia was dumped in a red plastic chair and told to wait.

She waited. She couldn’t see anywhere to go.

A woman emerged from behind a door, her uniform on black trousers and white shirt with red trim pressed to knife pleats. She held out a mug of steaming liquid.

Mia accepted it, sniffing. Tea. “Thank you.”

De rien.” The woman pulled another plastic chair forward and spun it around, sitting on it backwards, resting her forearms along the back. “Running, huh?”

Mia nodded. The woman had two different colored eyes–one brown, one blue–and freckles. No way she’d been transitioned.

“Okay. There’s some paperwork for you to fill out. Anyone here who can vouch for you? Take you in?”

Shaking her head, Mia choked on a gulp of hot tea. She hadn’t thought of anything beyond making the border. She thought once she was on this side, everything would be okay.

“That makes it tougher, but not un-doable. Let’s get you legal at least. Got any money with you?”

Mia stood with the woman, the legs of her chair scraping the floor. “A little.”

“How much?” The woman cocked her head to the side, frowning.

Thinking of what she’d been able to grab from the cookie jar, Mia counted in her head: six twenties, a single hundred, a couple of tens, and who knew how many ones. “A little over 200 bucks.”

“American?”

Mia nodded.

The woman grinned and flapped a hand. “You’ll be fine until we can get you in a program. With the rate of exchange right now, that’s almost a thousand in Canadian funds.”

The paperwork was straightforward and easy to fill out. They really only needed to know who she was, where she was born, and when. Oh, and why she wanted to live in Canada and what she could offer work-wise.

For the first time in her life, she was happy that she’d gone to school. She had a degree in math, and though it was worthless in the States because she was female, from the way the customs agent’s face lit up when she saw it, it was not so unvalued here.

“Yes indeed, you’ll do fine.”

And she did. After a month she had a social insurance number and a job working in statistics at an insurance agency. It was a temporary job, though. She was scheduled for an exam and if she passed with a high enough score, she would get a job in finance.

But she missed Tom. She wrote him a letter, explaining what she’d done and why, and that she was sorry if he got in trouble because of her. She apologized for not taking his pills like she should have and explained about the vitamins the nurse had given her. She wrote that it wasn’t him; that she just wanted to be herself, the way she was born.

She even mailed it, knowing he would never send a letter in reply.

Work was hard; she didn’t quite make the cut for the finance job, but she made enough at the insurance agency that she could pay her rent and utilities and buy groceries. She rented close to where she worked so she didn’t need a car; she didn’t have a license to drive anyway.

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