Friday, February 24, 2017

The McComber Switch - Chapter 73 Part 1 of 2 – Epilogue



The McComber Switch
By Karen Singer

Chapter 73 Part 1 of 2 – Epilogue
Twelve Years Later


‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Even though St. Nicholas wouldn’t be there.
No children were nestled all snug in their beds,
They’d all left the house, their own lives they led.
And Sue in her nightgown, Clint snuggled to her back,
Had just settled down for a long winter’s nap
When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter,
Clint sprang from the bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window he flew like a flash,
Tore open the shutters and threw up the sash.
The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
Gave a luster of midday to objects below.
When what to his wondering eyes should appear,
But a miniature car…that had crashed into his mailbox.

“Jaaaasmiinne!  You wrecked the mailbox…again!”
“Sorry Daddy,” Jasmine called back as she got out of the car and floundered around a bit in the still-falling snow.  “I couldn’t see the driveway!”
“So you had to hit the mailbox?”  He felt Susan pulling him back away from the open window.  “Damn!” he exclaimed.  “That girl has to be the worst driver on the planet!”
“Oh hush!” Susan chided as she took his place at the window.  “Tommy will fix it.”
“That’s just the point!  He shouldn’t have to!”
Susan leaned out the window.  “Hi Darling!  We thought you weren’t getting here until tomorrow!”
“We decided to come tonight instead, in case the snow got any worse!”
“How was Paris?”
“Great!” Jasmine called back.  “I can’t wait to tell you all about it.”
“Well hurry on in!” Susan yelled back, “I can’t wait to hear.”  She pulled back away from the window and closed it. 
“Damn girl,” Clint muttered as he put his pants on.  “And did you see how small that car is that she’s driving?  How the heck did she get it here in all this snow?  And all the way from the airport at Little Rock!”
“Oh hush,” Susan chided as she grabbed her robe and threw it on.  “At least they got here.  And you be nice to her boyfriend this time.  She loves him.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Clint replied.  “But how the heck am I supposed to like someone who’s never been hunting before?  And the last time he was here, when I offered to take him, he turned absolutely green!  Literally!  How do you trust a guy that doesn’t know the difference between a gun and…a baseball bat?”
“Don’t be silly,” Susan said as she breezed out of the bedroom and headed for the kitchen.  By the time she got to the door, Jasmine and her boyfriend were just climbing the steps.  She held the door wide and a moment later she was hugging her daughter.  When the hug ended she turned to the boyfriend.  “Come here Ronald,” she said.  “You can get a hug too.”  She hugged the man that her daughter was intending on marrying…eventually. 
Clint finally reached the kitchen and got a big hug from his daughter, then he shook Ron’s hand.  “You two got suitcases and stuff I’d guess,” Clint said.  “Let me help you get them into the house?”
“I’ll get them,” Ron replied.  He went out and Clint followed. 
Jasmine took a seat at the table while Susan got busy making coffee.  “I thought you were getting the kitchen redone,” Jasmine said as she looked around.
“We are,” Susan replied, “we just haven’t gotten there yet.”
A few minutes later, the bags had been deposited back in Jasmine’s old bedroom where her doll collection still resided, and everyone was sitting around the table with mugs of hot coffee.  “So how is New York?” Susan asked.  “As busy as ever?”
“Worse!” Jasmine said.  “You wouldn’t believe how much I hate living there.”
“You’re the one who wanted to move there,” Susan reminded her.  “And you’re more than welcome to move back here any time you want.”
“I have to live there,” Jasmine told her.  “That’s where the fashion industry is.”
“You can’t do your work from here?”
“Mom,” Jasmine replied, “don’t be ridiculous!”
Susan shook her head.  “So how was Paris?”
“Delightful!” Jasmine said with a smile.  “Busy, but really wonderful!”
“And how did your show go this time?”
“Pretty good,” Jasmine replied.  “I’m afraid I’m still playing second fiddle to the really big designers, but I think I’m moving up in the world.”
“You’re definitely moving up,” Ron threw in.  “I’ve told you that for the last few years.”
“I’m not at the top yet,” Jasmine replied.  “But I’m going to get there, one way or another!”
“Isn’t your sister still helping you?  Isn’t she still modeling in all your shows?”
“Jade?  Yeah.  She’s still doing every show I’ve got…mostly.  And she still doesn’t charge me a dime, which is really great.  But she’s so darn busy!  She still stay’s booked over a year in advance!”
“You’re lucky she does what she does for you!” Susan told her.
“You don’t have to tell me,” Jasmine agreed.  “I owe her.  I owe her my life!” 
“You may be being a bit overdramatic dear,” Susan told her. 
“No I’m not!  You know what happened.  She found me when I was nearly dead.  She killed that bear that would have killed and eaten me for sure.  I owe her for that, and I’ll owe her for it forever!”
“You make it sound like she holds it against you.”
“I know.  And I know she doesn’t.  But after that happened, well, everything really went so crazy, for both of us.”
“I know dear.  It was an awfully trying time for me too.  For a while there, I didn’t know if I had two girls, two boys, a boy and a girl, or which boy was which girl.”
Jasmine chuckled.  “Yeah.  Things were pretty wild back then. 
“What do you mean?” Ron asked.
“Ugh!” Jasmine grunted.  “I hate just thinking about it!”
“I know you know that Jasmine lived as a boy for a few years,” Susan said to Ron.
“Yeah.  She told me,” Ron replied.  “And it’s pretty much common knowledge all over the place.”
Susan nodded.  “Well, after Jasmine’s accident…”
“Except that I was Jimmy Joe back then,” Jasmine threw in.
“Right,” Susan replied.  “Anyway, after the accident…”  But Susan still couldn’t let out anything that might hint at the real reason Jimmy and Jasmine had switched places back then.  Not even after all this time.  “Um…  After the accident, Jas here, who was Jimmy Joe at the time, decided she wanted to go back to being a girl again.”  She couldn’t mention that Jasmine really didn’t want that, but that Jacob had come out and demanded that she change back – shortly after he had demanded that Jade go back to being Jimmy.  “And then that Hunting show came along,” Susan continued.
“Yeah, that pretty much changed everything,” Jasmine agreed.  “And as it turned out, the TV station wanted to see more of Jimmy Joe than anyone figured.”
“So you couldn’t go back to being a girl again,” Ron noted.
The real truth of the matter was something that Jasmine couldn’t tell him.  Not even considering that they were going to get married…eventually.  If she ever decided on picking a date.  She couldn’t tell him that Jacob had demanded that she become a girl again, so she had been stuck dressing like a girl whenever the TV people weren’t around, and then dressing as a boy again when they were.  But since she couldn’t tell him that, she quickly reached for the story she had spread so many years ago.  “Um…I tried to be a girl as much as I could when the TV people weren’t around…”
“And as much as I really wanted you to be a girl again, it turned out to be nothing but a horrible disaster!” Susan added.
“Tell me about it!” Jasmine agreed.  “I’m the one who was running around wearing girly stuff during all those times.  I tried, but I looked and felt totally ridiculous!”
Susan nodded.  “You really did, I’m afraid,” Susan agreed.
“She looked like a damn boy wearing girl’s clothes,” Clint added.  “Totally ridiculous!”
“Anyway,” Susan continued for Ron’s benefit, also not letting out the real truth.  “When they okayed the show for a second season, Jas here decided she’d rather just stay Jimmy Joe and she went back on the hormones again.”  What she didn’t say was that, when the show went into its second season, since they really did want to see so much of Jimmy Joe, that Jacob was pretty much forced to let Jasmine remain Jimmy Joe all the time – and especially since she did look so ridiculous dressed as a girl.  But again, it was only supposed to be until the show ended.
“And let me tell you, I was really much happier back then as a boy.  Much!” Jasmine added.
“Yeah,” Susan said.  “We were all glad.”  Again, what she didn’t say was that even though Jacob had decreed that when the show ended, Jimmy Joe would have to go back to being Jasmine again, everyone else in the family already knew it would never happen.
“So what made you decide to finally become a woman again?” Ron asked.
“Well, the show went on for a longer time than anyone thought it would.”
“I’ll say!” Clint added.  “Year after year!”
“It was only three years,” Susan corrected him.
“Seemed a lot longer,” Clint replied.
‘Hey!  That was a good show,” Jasmine told him.  “And they loved me!”
“Yeah,” Clint replied, “they loved you alright.  And I guess the show did a lot for the family.  As much trouble as it brought us, we also raked in a pile of money.  And that doesn’t come close to what it did for our regular business.”
“There were other good things that came out of it too,” Jasmine noted. 
“Yeah, Elliot for one thing.”
“No Dad.  Elliot told me that scout from the Olympic rifle team got his name from the first big video the family did.”
“Well, two Olympic games now, and a silver and bronze medal, ain’t exactly too bad,” Clint said.  “No matter what got Elliot on that team.”
“Yeah, he was always the best.  But how about Nichole?  She’s done really, really well.  And that was directly because of that show.”
“I’ll say,” Susan agreed.  “Marcy has two kids that have gone off and done far better than anyone ever expected.
“That’s for sure!” Jasmine agreed.  Nichole really made it to the big time.  Two platinum albums after that hunting show ended – back to back.  And look at her now.  She’s married to another big country star, they’ve got two adorable kids, a big house in Nashville, and she told me that she and her husband might be hosting next year’s country music awards on TV.”
“She is?” Susan exclaimed.  “Marcy didn’t mention anything about it to me.”
“She probably doesn’t know.  Nichole only told me in confidence last week.”
“You two were always so close,” Susan noted.
“Mostly,” Jasmine replied.  “All except those years when I was living completely as a boy.”
“True,” Susan replied.  “That was sad.”
Ron tried to bring the conversation back to where it had been.  “So you were a boy back then and you liked it.”
It took a moment for Jasmine to switch gears again.  “Yeah,” she said.  “To tell the truth, I was much happier as a boy back then and I wasn’t really planning on changing anything.  I was simply more comfortable that way than anything else.  But I guess it was…little things.  Little things that finally made me start to wonder about if maybe I should give up being a boy and go back to being a girl again.”
“What kind of little things?” Ron asked.
“Jasmine looked at him for a moment.  “To tell the truth, I’m not really sure.  I’ve never been really sure.   Maybe when Elliot got his first really serious girlfriend.  I think that might have started things.  That happened right before they cancelled the hunting show.”  She looked at her mother with an almost comical expression on her face.  “I used to be soooo hung up over Elliot.”
“He’s your cousin,” Susan said.
“And didn’t I know it!  Not to mention he never ever looked at me as a girl he might like anyway.  Ever!”  She turned her attention back to Ron.  “But it was about that time that things started to hit me.  And then when Ethan got married and his wife got pregnant right away, well, I think it was then that I realized that I had been born with a girl’s body, but I would never know what it’s like to have my own baby.  I guess that had a lot to do with it all.  So I guess thinking about all those things kind of led me in that direction.  And one day, I simply knew I really did want to be a girl again.  And it was time.”
“I can’t tell you how surprised the entire family was about that,” Susan told her.
“I know,” Jasmine replied.  “I think I was just as surprised. 
“And look at you now,” Ron said as he smiled at her.  “I’m very happy you made that decision!”
Jasmine smiled. “You’re so sweet.  But I’m not anything like I’d really like to be.  My hands and feet are still too big because of it, and you have no idea how long I had to work on my voice to get it to sound right.”
“I like you just the way you are,” Ron said, trying to appease her over the issues she had with her body.
“You better!” Jasmine replied.  “Or I’ll find some way to get back at you so you’ll never forget it!”
“Don’t threaten like that!” Susan said quickly.  “Every time you do, you go way overboard with things…and you know it!”
“I only do what I have to,” Jasmine replied.
“Don’t worry, I’ll always love you,” Ron said as he leaned over and gave her a quick kiss.
There was a brief lull in the conversation, and Jasmine had other things she wanted to talk about…only she preferred to talk about them with just her mother.  “Ron,” she said when no one said anything for a moment.  “Why don’t you go to bed now.  I’ll be along in a little while.  I want to talk to Mom for a few minutes first.”
Ron nodded.  “Sure,” he replied.  He got up, leaned over, and gave Jasmine another little kiss.  It wasn’t mentioned, but both Susan and Clint noticed again what they had noticed the first time they had met Ron.  He did everything Jasmine told him.  Always!  But then he worked for her and part of his job was to handle whatever things she wanted taken care of.
“More coffee?” Susan asked, knowing Jasmine wanted to talk.
“Sure,” Jasmine replied, pushing her mug over toward her mother.
When they were finally alone, Jasmine said, “I talked with Jade on the phone last night.  She told me you and Grandma made your usual pre-Christmas trip down there to see her.”
“Then you know she’ll be here tomorrow for Christmas dinner with the family.”
Jade nodded.  “It’s about time!  It’s been so many years since she’s done anything at all with the whole family. 
“Almost ten years,” Susan told her.
“Does Grandpa know she’ll be there?”
Susan nodded.  “Actually, it was his idea.”
Talking about it reminded Jasmine of all the trouble back then, back when that darn TV show started, and when things got even worse afterwards.  “Grandpa sure made life hell for Jade back then,” she noted.
Susan nodded.  “And the war between the two of them made life hell for all of us.  Staying a girl and modeling was the one and only thing I’ve ever seen your sister dig her heels in over.  The only thing!  Ever!”
“And of course, you all knew that she was so much happier as a girl than anything else.”
“Yeah, we knew, but your grandfather didn’t see it that way.  He never really has I think.  Despite what he had to keep saying publicly for the TV people, he completely blamed himself for Jade becoming a girl and was never happy about it at all.”
“Yeah,” Jasmine agreed.  “As far as I know, he never got over feeling responsible for it.  He’s always blamed himself.”
“I’m afraid he still does.”
 “He blamed himself,” Jasmine said, “but he took it out on Jade.  He made her dress like a boy for a while, no matter what she wanted.  Except that after a few months of being forced to be a boy…”
“Whenever she wasn’t needed for the TV stuff,” Susan reminded her.
“Yeah.  That was the only time he let her be…herself.  But after a while of it, Jade just refused to dress as a boy anymore – anytime!  And she didn’t care who didn’t like it.  She wasn’t going back to being a boy again and that was that!  And Grandpa got pretty darn furious at her.”
“Yeah, that’s when things went from really bad to worse.”
“Yeah, I remember.  I saw some of those yelling matches they had, and I saw how she cried every time her bottom got blistered for talking back to him the way she did.”
“It was…pretty awful,” Susan agreed.
Jasmine shook her head.  “I’ll never forget that one summer when things got so bad with him demanding that she become a boy again, and she wouldn’t, that you and dad were out hunting for someplace else for us to live.  That was downright scary!”
Susan nodded.  “Things were…really bad back then.  We had to get you two away from it.  And we ourselves wanted away from it all.  We had picked out a house down near your Uncle Jack’s store, and we were about to put a down payment on it, when your Grandmother found out and started her own little war with your grandfather.  She started insisting that Jacob stop being so adamant about things, and…well, after most of the family pleaded with us to stay here, we decided we would stick it out for a while more and see how things went.”
“But Grandpa never really liked it.”
Susan shook her head.  “No.  Never.  We stayed here, and Jade and your Grandpa wound up avoiding each other at all costs.  And whenever a big holiday came up and the family got together, there was nothing but a feeling of absolute animosity between the two.  Things were so bad it nearly tore the family apart.”
“And that was when Jade started refusing to go to any of the family get-togethers.”
“And she hasn’t been to one since.  Ten years now.”
“But despite how bad things were with Grandpa, you still backed Jade all the way.  You still did everything you could for her.  You even let her stay on the hormones the whole time.  Even during those few months when I wasn’t on them.”
Susan looked at her for a moment before replying.  “We knew it had gone too far with her, even before that TV show came out.  As your Grandma always said, Jade was lost from the time your cousins adopted her into their little gang.”
Jasmine smiled remembering all the girls so long ago.  “The Four Musketeers.”
“Yes,” Susan confirmed.  “But it had gone on too long, and Jade had changed too much.  And then when she discovered she actually liked the modeling, well, something inside of her seemed to change in an awfully big way.  And, well, your dad and I knew she was happier than she had ever been, so we had your Uncle Brian keep her on the hormones.”
“And you even carted her down to that modeling school in Little Rock for a while.”
Susan rolled her eyes.  “Yeah, that was a pain.  It was so far away we wound up renting a place to stay for a few months.  Fortunately, the school only lasted a little while, but all those fashion shows all over the place were the biggest pain to get to.”
“And Jade was pretty much a star right from the start,” Jasmine said. 
Susan nodded.  “Your sister had been all over the TV for one reason after another, and then after that first little fashion show you girls put on with your Home Ec class, she was broadcast all over the place again, modeling that one dress you had designed back then.  And I think the news media pretty much decided then and there that she was destined to be a model.”
“And they didn’t even know that the Bertram Agency had already signed her up…right after that silly little show!”
“No.  They didn’t,” Susan replied.  “But all the agency had to do was to mention that Jade would be among the models for their next show, and I’m afraid Jade’s career was launched.”
“Huh!  It sure was!”  Do you know how much money she makes now?  How much she’s always made?”
“I know it’s a lot.”
“A lot is an understatement.  I’ve got my own design business, and I’m doing pretty darn well.  But even I fly coach class whenever I get on an airplane.  “She never flies anything but first class, and she does it so often that everyone in almost every airport in the world knows who she is.”
“She’s famous.  Her pictures are all over the magazines and TV,” Susan countered.  “And if you want to fly first class, why don’t you?  You were rich from all that TV money, even before the hunting show came out.  And then you piled up even more money.  We all did!”
“Yeah, but I don’t want to touch that money.  And I’m getting there with my business.  Slowly but surely, I’m getting there.”
“Actually Jas, I think you’re getting there pretty darn quickly.  You’re only twenty-four.  And don’t forget, your name was already showing up in the fashion world right after that first school fashion show you did.
“Yeah.  I owe Gloria Bertram for that.  And later, she really helped me launch my career.  And…I guess I am making pretty good money now.  I can at least afford my apartment in New York and a place for my business too.  And at New York prices, that’s saying something!”
Susan smiled.  “So I understand.  But from what you’ve told me about it, your places both sound…um…a little on the small side.”
“Tiny!” 
“Well, no.  Just…small.
“Mom, it is small.  But not nearly as bad as a lot of places in New York.  And the building I live in is pretty nice, and the apartment itself is great.  It’s everything I could ask for…in New York.”  She shook her head.  “It’s a lot nicer than that place that Jade has!”
“Jade?  Are you kidding?  You’ve seen how nice her place is.  It’s beautiful!”
“Yeah.  It’s beautiful alright…inside…where she lives!  But the rest…”
“Well, she wanted that business.”
“So she had to go and buy the ugliest building in Little Rock?”
“It’s not that bad.  Besides, it’s only fifteen minutes from the airport.”
“Mom, it’s a big square cinder block building.  And the area around it looks more like a junk yard!”
“But her apartment upstairs from her business is beautiful.”
“Jasmine nodded.  Yeah, it really is.  It’s just all the rest that looks like trash.”  She smiled.  “I still can’t believe how big her closet is though!”
“Enormous!”
“Yeah, it takes up half her house!  And it’s actually divided up into separate rooms!  Do you know she’s got one room just for her gowns?  And don’t even get me started on her shoe room.  I could live there and never come out!”
Susan smiled.  “You and many other women in the world.”
“But it’s that stupid fix-it business she has that takes up the entire downstairs.  It’s…ugly!”
Susan shrugged.  “I guess that’s the way businesses like that seem to get.  I understand she does a pretty good business there though.”
“Ha!  Good business is right.  Have you ever seen the way things get there when everyone knows she’s in town and her shop will be open?”
“What do you mean?”
“People line up left and right to bring their stuff in for her to fix.  Four wheelers, all kinds of ATVs, lawn mowers, and any other junk they want her to fix.”
“Oh, it’s not quite like that.”
“Are you kidding?  Have you ever seen her when she’s working that fix-it stuff?”
“No.  Not really.”
“Mom, she wears these skin tight jumpsuits all the time, and absolutely stupidly high heels.  And then she flips that long thick luscious hair of hers all around when she’s working.  It’s practically pornographic!  She tells me that a lot of the guys who come in, break their stuff purposely, just so they can watch her fixing it!”
Susan looked at Jasmine skeptically, but somehow believing it.  “Well, knowing your sister like I do, I guess I believe it.  Who would have ever believed she’d be like that after the way she was when you two first started switching things all around.”
“Huh!” Jasmine grunted.  “She’s got a body to die for and she knows it.  Of course she exercises two hours every single morning and she doesn’t eat a damn thing all day to keep it that way.  She once told me that one of the best things about that fix-it business she’s got, is that it keeps her from thinking about food and eating.”
“She’s always been good at fixing things,” Susan noted.
“Yeah.  Everyone always said she was.”
“She was good at it long before you two switched things around.  Like your father always said, she simply always had the knack.”
“Yeah,” Jasmine agreed.  “I remember.  Even back when we were little kids.  Back before Reverend…what was his name?”
“Cosinger.”
“Yeah, back before he kept us out of church that Easter and started all the ruckus.  Whatever became of him, do you know?  Didn’t he leave about the time they started filming the hunting show?”
Susan nodded.  “Nobody’s mentioned him in a long time now.  Last I heard, he was still up at some big church in Saint Louis.
Jasmine nodded and took another sip of her coffee before speaking again.  “So Grandpa knows Jade’s going to be there tomorrow?”
“Yeah.  Like I said, it was actually his idea.”
“All I can say, is it’s about time!  But what brought this on?  Even Grandma has never able to solve the differences between him and Jade.  And I know how hard she tried…for years!”
“Um…I’m not totally sure, but I think some of it may have been the new still Jade built for your Grandfather and then gave it to him for his birthday.”
“Jade saw Grandpa?  For his birthday?  And she built him a new still?”
“Well, actually, Jade built the thing and gave it to him, but she never saw him.  She carted the thing up here and then Jed and Ethan installed it.  Don’t ask me where the thing is though, because as far as I know, Jed and Ethan are still the only ones in the family, other than your grandfather, who know where it’s at.”
“And Jade,” Jasmine said.  “Jade was there a few times.”
Susan shook her head.  “Jade knows the general area it’s in, but even she says she could never find it again if she tried.”
“So Jade made Grandpa a new still for his birthday.  Even after all the…difficulties between them.”
Susan nodded.  “From what I hear, he needed a new one.  Even now, McComber Moonshine is our biggest seller down in the gift shop.  And if we had a license to sell it on more than a limited basis, then I have no doubt your Grandpa would happy as a lark doing nothing but making the darn stuff all the time.”
Jasmine smiled.  “Yeah, even I like it.  I always have.”
Jasmine took another sip of her coffee before she changed the subject.  “Um…Mom.  I talked with Olivia yesterday too.  Did you know her husband left her a few days ago?”
“Jane told me,” Susan replied.  “It’s so sad.  And right before Christmas too.  And they just had another baby not six months ago.  Jane said that Olivia’s supposed to be there tomorrow, but I haven’t heard that she ever got here.”
“Mom, I talked to Olivia yesterday when I talked to Jade.  She’s down there with her right now.”
“She went to Little Rock?”
“You know that the first place Olivia always runs when she’s got problems is to Jade.  Those two have always had a thing for each other since they were kids.”
Just thinking about that made Susan more glad than ever that Jade had gotten her big operation a few years ago.  “Well, I guess with all this snow, she has a better chance of getting here with Jade than any other way. 
“Mom, Olivia said she’s leaving California.  She’s moving back to Arkansas.”
“Oh!  Jane didn’t tell me that.  I’m sure the family will be thrilled to build her a house on the new street along with the others.”
Jasmine shook her head.  “Mom, I think she’s wanting to stay with Jade.  Live right there with her.”
That was a much more troubling thought for Susan.  “That’s…strange.”
Jasmine shrugged.  “Like I said, Olivia always runs to Jade when she’s got problems.”  What Jasmine didn’t say though, was that she was pretty sure the two had slept together a number of times over the years…even before Jade had gotten her operation.  But then, the rumor mills in the industry had it that Jade had slept with a lot of people, men and women both.  And Jasmine didn’t doubt those rumors for a minute!

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The McComber Switch - Chapter 72 Part 3 of 3



The McComber Switch
By Karen Singer

Chapter 72 Part 3 of 3 – The McComber Switch
May 8 - 11


The conversation in the truck was somewhat sparse as they drove home.  And Jimmy Joe refused to say a single word.  Susan had already filled Clint in on both Jimmy’s little break in the fashion industry, as well as Jade’s big break into the world of modeling. 
“It’s because of that TV show,” Clint had said.  “All because of that damn TV show.  We should have never done it!”
Susan still agreed.
Once home, Susan and Jade carried all their things into the house, minus the dress that Gloria Bertram had given them a check for once Jade had gotten changed.  Jimmy Joe had been nowhere in sight.  Clint and Tommy headed for the family room to watch TV and relax after the long day.  Jimmy Joe disappeared into his room and closed the door.
A short while later, Susan and Jade were in the kitchen beginning to make dinner for the family.  Jimmy Joe walked through, but refused to even look at anyone.
“Jimmy?” Susan said as he headed directly for the back door and refused to even turn around and acknowledge her.  She shook her head as Jimmy hurried out and the door swung shut behind him.  “What’s gotten into him?” Susan muttered.
A few minutes later, a sound outside caught Jade’s attention.  She looked out the window to see Jimmy Joe riding one of the four wheeler’s out of the garage.  “Mom,” she said.  “Jimmy Joe’s taking off on one of the four wheelers.”
Susan hurried to the window and then to the door.  “Jimmy!” she yelled.  But Jimmy had already disappeared into the woods.  That boy better be home by dinner!

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Jimmy Joe was angry.  More angry than he’d ever been.  Jade had stolen his dream – the one dream he had harbored all his life, especially back when he was still a girl, which was something that just then he knew he had always intended to be once again…eventually.  But now Jade had found a way to get back at him for everything he had ever done to her.  For everything!  And because of that, Jimmy Joe was mad. 
How could she?  How could she do that to him?  She was getting everything his dream had ever been, while he got nothing!  Nothing at all!  How could she? 
So he had gone out to the shed and grabbed his rifle, jumped on the nearest four wheeler and taken off into the woods.  Hunting.  It was the only good thing in his life anymore.  Hunting…and the woods. 
He wasn’t fully conscious of it until he found himself making the turns to get there.  It wasn’t until he was mostly there that he realized where he wanted to go.  And just then, the waterfall sounded like the perfect place.  He had always loved it there.  Always!  It was a special place.  A beautiful place.  And just then, he needed someplace like it.
The ground was still a bit muddy from the big storm the night before, but it wasn’t anything that gave the four wheeler any pause at all.  Especially not at the speed he was travelling, which whenever possible was pretty much as fast as the machine was capable of going.  There were a lot of branches that had come down with the storm that he had to go over, but that only made the trip somewhat fun. 
The area opening up into the waterfall finally came into sight.  Only then did Jimmy Joe start to slow down.  Only then did he put the brakes on.  But he was too late.  He suddenly felt a big lurch as his machine went over another large branch that the storm had brought down.  The lurch threw the machine off balance and off track, and a big rock finished the job.  The big four wheeler tipped and went over the edge, rolling over and throwing him off as it started tumbling down the hillside toward the water below.  As Jimmy hit the ground, the machine quickly rolled over top of him, breaking his right leg and injuring his left arm.  And the force from the falling machine as it tumbled past him, drove his unprotected head right into a rock. 
Jimmy Joe didn’t hurt at all from his serious bleeding injuries.  He was unconscious.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

“Where is that boy?” Susan complained as she stood in the backyard and called yet again.  “Jimmy!”  But of course there was no answer.  Dinner was over and he had never shown up.  And if he didn’t get back soon, it would be dark before he got back.
“Forget it, Sue,” Clint finally said as he started walking across the back yard.  “I’m going out to look for him.”  He turned to Jade.  “You said you saw he had his gun?”
Jade nodded.  “Yeah.”
“Okay,” Clint said, already figuring the most likely places back that direction that Jimmy would go to hunt.
“Wait!” Sue called after him.  “I’m going with you!” 
“Damn boy forgot his helmet again,” Clint noted as grabbed his own helmet and handed Susan’s to her.   Nothing more was said about it as he climbed onto his big four wheeler and Susan climbed up with him, wrapping her arms around his strong body.  A moment later, they were off down the trial into the woods.
Jade stared after them while Tommy turned and went back into the house.  Her “brother” was mad, and she had a pretty good idea as to why that might be…even though Jimmy Joe wouldn’t actually say anything to anyone about it.  But she knew.  She figured she was the only one who knew of the dream that Jimmy Joe had always harbored.
Not knowing what else to do, she finally turned to go back into the house.  It was only then that it hit her.  She knew where Jimmy Joe was going to go.  It was the only place that made sense.  Yes, Jimmy Joe had taken his gun, but she was absolutely sure that Jimmy had headed for the waterfall.  Somewhat sure anyway.  It was her best bet.  But would her mother and father know that?  Probably not.  It wasn’t supposed to be a good place for hunting.  But it was a beautiful place just to go and visit.
Since she was so sure that she knew, and not knowing if her mother and father would know, Jade ran to the shed.  A quick check showed what she had already seen.  Jimmy Joe had taken his gun, but his helmet was still there.  Jade grabbed her own helmet and climbed onto the last remaining four wheeler.  A moment later, she too was disappearing into the woods.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

It was the sharp aching pain in his head that brought Jimmy Joe back to consciousness, but the moment consciousness arrived, the excruciating pain from his broken leg and his badly bruised arm seemed to make the pain in his head explode into something monstrous.  He tried to roll over, and that was when he realized there was something major wrong with his leg.  Despite the pain in his head, he managed to lift it enough to look.  Part of his leg below his knee was going the wrong direction.  The fear suddenly hit him full force.  And when he brought his hand up to his battered head and it came away full of blood, he knew he was in even worse trouble. 
He couldn’t stand let alone walk.  He didn’t even think he could crawl.  His leg was not just broken, but twisted in the wrong direction.  His arm hurt to the point where he wasn’t sure he could even move it.  He figured it was most likely broken too.  And worst of all, his head was hurt and bleeding.  He was in trouble.  Big, big trouble.  And he knew that the scent of his blood in the air could draw animals that could kill him in seconds.  He tried to look around for his rifle, but he didn’t see it.  Trouble!  Big trouble.  And he was scared to death. 
As the desperate reality of his situation fully descended, he cried.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

“Jimmy Joe!” Clint yelled as loudly as he could again.  “Jimmy Joe!” 
He and Susan listened, but there was still no answer, still no clue as to where Jimmy Joe was hunting. 
“We’ll keep going,” Clint said.  “Maybe he’s up a little further north.  Hunting’s better that way anyway.”

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

Jade raced as fast as she dared along the muddy path.  There were a lot more branches on the path then she remembered, and all too often she had to slow down to get over them, but on she went.  With her heart racing, she continued ahead, hoping against hope that she knew where Jimmy Joe had gone. 
The area for the waterfall came in sight and she slowed down.  She almost missed seeing the big branch that had fallen, but she was already going slow enough that it was only another bump in the road.  The problem though, was that it looked like she was wrong.  Jimmy Joe’s four wheeler wasn’t there.  There was nothing there.  She had made the trip for nothing. 
She pulled to a stop at the top of the hill anyway and called, “Jimmy Joe!  Jimmy Joe!”  But as she was calling, her eyes came to rest on the shape of the four wheeler lying its side at the bottom of the hill.  “Jimmy Joe!” she called again, her heart now racing with fear. 
And then she spotted him.  Halfway down the hill and just lying there.  “Jimmy Joe!” she called again.
“Jade?” the weak reply finally came back. 
Jade was off of her machine as fast as she could and scrambling precariously down the hill toward her brother.  She was there fast.  The sight of all the blood around his head scared her to death, but the sight of the odd angle his leg was bent made her sick.  “Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy.  What have you done?” she said, her voice full of the anguish that now had tears streaming down her face.
“Jade…” Jimmy managed to get out through his pain.  “You don’t know how glad I am to…”
The noise from across the waterfall on the other hillside was both startling and frightening.  Dozens of big razorback hogs suddenly came bolting out from the trees on that side and ran as fast as they could toward the water at the bottom, and straight in their direction on the other side.  And a moment later, Jimmy Joe let out a scream that would have done Olivia proud.
“Where’s your gun!” Jade yelled, scared to death now as he desperately searched the ground around them.  He finally spotted it about six feet further back up the hill.  He scrambled to grab it, turned around, and was already raising it to firing position, when the huge black shape on the other side of the water suddenly stopped and started sniffing the air, smelling the blood that would lead the big bear straight to them. 
The bear growled angrily as the razorbacks started crossing the water and the first of them were already climbing the hillside on the other side.  The bear took off after the hogs, in the same direction as the blood smell, which was also the same direction that led straight at Jimmy Joe and Jade.
Barely aiming, Jade fired.  Then working the bolt as fast as she could, she prayed that Jimmy had loaded more than one bullet in the gun.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

“Jimmy Joe!” Clint yelled once again.  Then he stopped to listen.  Still nothing.  But just before he started his engine again, he heard a shot. 
“Clint!” Susan said quickly.
“I heard it,” Clint replied.  He turned his head, trying to figure out what direction the shot had come from.  But suddenly there was a second shot.  And very quickly after that, a third!  And then the shots stopped altogether.  They listened for a few moments, but there were no more.
“The waterfall,” Clint said as he started his engine again.  “He’s got to be there.”

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

Jade sat crying, holding Jimmy Joe’s hand.  She was scared.  She didn’t care about the animals she had killed, she only cared about her brother.  She was sure he was dying.  “I’ve got to get help,” she cried.  “I’ve got to find Mom and Dad.”  She tried to let go of Jimmy’s hand, but Jimmy was holding on too tightly. 
“Don’t go!  Don’t leave me,” Jimmy pleaded.
“I’ve got to,” Jade argued.  “We need help!”
“Don’t leave me!” Jimmy pleaded again, holding Jade’s hand for dear life.
“Jimmy.  I have to.  I have to.  I’m sorry.  But we need help.  You need help.”
“You saved me,” Jimmy said.  “You already saved me.”
“No.  All I did was shoot the bear.”
“And the hogs,” Jimmy said.   “I saw you do it.  You didn’t even miss.  You saved me!”
“But what good will it do if we don’t get help.  Jimmy, like it or not, I’ve got to try to find Mom and Dad.”
“Don’t leave me,” Jimmy pleaded one more time as Jade pulled her hand out of his. 
Jade turned and scrambled back up the hill toward her four wheeler.  But just as she got to it, she heard the sound of another engine.  She turned to look up the path and soon saw her father and mother rushing in their direction.  She raised her arms and began waving them.  “Dad! Mom!  We’re here!”
Jade was shaking by the time Clint brought his four wheeler to a stop.  She was already pointing down the hillside.  “He’s there.  He’s down there!” he told them even before Clint could turn his engine off.  The engine went silent and Jade added.  “He’s hurt bad.  Real bad!”
Clint couldn’t get off his machine with Susan so close behind him, but Susan jumped off as quickly as she could.  By the time Clint managed to get off, Susan was already at the top of the hill looking down.  And he heard her scream.  Running past her, he raced down the hill toward the child that was now one of his sons.  “Jimmy!” he called as he half slid down the hillside.  “Jimmy!”
“Dad!” Jimmy weakly called back. 
Clint was quick to assess the damage to Jimmy.  Quickly, he reached into his pocket and pulled out his cell phone.  It was only seconds before Janet answered and Clint started telling her about how bad Jimmy was hurt…while Janet raced to find her husband.
It was nearly dark by the time Clint lifted Jimmy’s body and carried it up the hill.  He placed Jimmy carefully on the back of the cart that Brian had brought in.  He himself sat on the back of the cart with Jimmy so he wouldn’t fall off during the trip back and hurt himself worse.  Susan rode in the twin seat cart with Brian while Janet remained behind.  She would drive Clint’s four wheeler back to the house with Jade.  But there were plenty of options for transportation available.  Most of the four wheelers in the family were clogging the path at the top of the hill, as was most of the family. 
As Jade watched the cart holding her brother and her parents making its way between all the vehicles, she felt someone’s arm reaching around her and grabbing her shoulders.  She looked up to see her Aunt Janet holding her.
“You okay?” Janet asked.
“I don’t know,” Jade replied.
Janet only nodded, gathered Jade fully into her arms, and hugged her tight.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

The county hospital was maddeningly slow, even with Doctor McComber there to make things go faster.  X-rays were taken of Jimmy’s leg, arm, and head.  Stiches were needed to the cut on Jimmy’s head and the diagnosis of a mild concussion was reached.  It was decided that nothing at all needed to be done for her arm.  But a specialist was called in to handle resetting her leg. 
It was late at night by the time they all headed home.  Jimmy’s head was wrapped tightly in bandages, his arm was supported by a sling, and a large heavy cast held his leg straight so it wouldn’t bend.  Susan sat in the truck’s back seat, holding Jimmy’s head while he laid in her lap.  His broken leg was supported as much as possible by the back seat in the tight confines of the truck.  His bare foot hung out over the edge.  Susan was greatly relieved that Jimmy was going to be just fine, but that didn’t mean that she still wasn’t trying to keep from crying. 
“Mom,” Jimmy said.  “She saved me.”
“I know,” Susan whispered, her voice was too emotional to let her do more than that.
“She saved me,” Jimmy said again.  “She shot that bear.  Took him down with just one shot.  Then she shot those first two pigs too.  The rest scattered in other directions.  She saved me.”
“Shh…” Susan whispered.  “I know.”
“Mom,” Jimmy said.  “We’ve got to find some way…”
Susan wasn’t sure that she even wanted to know what was worrying Jimmy now, but when he didn’t continue, she found herself asking.  “Some way to do what?”
“So that Jade…if she wants…can be a boy again.  If it means that I don’t hunt anymore, then that’s fine.  I promise I won’t.  If Jade wants to be a boy, then I’ll quit, right now.  Forever.  I promise.  She saved me, Mom.  She found me when I thought I was going to die.  And she saved me.”
Susan held him, and cried. 
In the front seat, Clint’s mind was troubled too.  His…son…or daughter…whichever…had just promised to quit hunting.  Finally!  But it sounded like it would only be if Jade decided she wanted to be a boy again.  And that was the part that worried him the most now.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

It was early the next morning by the time Jacob and Jed were able to get back to the waterfall.  Carefully they both parked at the top of the hill and made their way down toward the bottom.  They stopped halfway between the dead animals and where Jimmy Joe had lain hurt for so long.  They carefully looked around at everything, their practiced sight telling them more than most people would ever learn just looking at a situation like that.
There had been three shots.  And now there were three dead animals.  Two razorback hogs, and one big male black bear.  Bears can sometimes be difficult to kill, especially with only one shot. 
“I want that boy…taken out of skirts immediately!” Jacob said.  “I don’t care what his sister wants.  But I want him out of them damn dresses right now.  I think he’s more than proved himself here.”
Jed nodded.  “Without a doubt!  But you know that even if they stop the hormones now, that Jade’s going to be stuck as Jade for quite a while.”
“I don’t give a damn.  I want him back to being a boy, right now.  Cut his hair and give him some proper clothes to wear. And to hell with the hormones or what anyone else thinks.  He’s proved himself, and a whole lot more!”
Jed said nothing.  He would pass his father’s order along just as Jacob wanted.  But he had a lot of misgivings over it now.

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

It was late Monday afternoon when Jacob’s phone rang.  As usual, he ignored it and let his wife Rose answer the thing.  But a few moments later, Rose was there in his office. 
“It’s for you,” Rose told him.
“Who?” Jacob asked.
“That guy from CBS that was here to let us preview the show.”
“The one who told us that that paper we signed wasn’t worth a damn as far as what we wanted?”
Rose only nodded and left him alone.
“Oh hell!” Jacob swore as he picked up his phone.  “Hello?”
“Mr. McComber?” Lyle Montgomery said as he heard Jacob answer.
“Yeah?  What now?” Jacob asked somewhat angrily.
“The staff here has been kicking this idea around since we finished filming down there.  And we’d like to see what you think about it.”
“Idea?  What idea?”
“We want to do a weekly hunting show from your land.  But this one would be different than any of the others on TV.”
“A TV show?  Different?  In what way?”
“We want to bring in a celebrity to feature for each hunt.”
“That don’t sound so different,” Jacob replied.
“We’d like to feature all of the men in your family as guides for the different shows and hunts.”
“By all the men, then I’m assuming that the one you really want is Jimmy Joe.  Am I right?”
“Well, we’d like him to be there in most of the shows, yes, absolutely.  But not as the hunting guide. We want the pros to handle that part.”
“Okay.  That still don’t sound all that different to me,” Jacob told him.
“Well, what we’re thinking about is that, you’ve got a lot of women in your family that are awfully good cooks…so my people tell me.  For the last ten minutes of the show, we want to do a cooking segment for whatever animals they happen to shoot.”
“And let me guess,” Jacob added.  “You want to feature Jade in the middle of it all.”
“Um…well, of course we’d like to see her in some of the shows too, but we were really thinking of showing off the skills of some of the wives in your family during that part instead.  And we’d also like to see a lot of those girls…the Musketeers…we’d like to see them doing things each time too.  Maybe setting the tables or something.  But we’d especially like for that one girl, Nichole?  We’d like to have her singing something during those cooking sections.  And what we’d really like is for once in a while to have Jade sing along with her too.”
Jacob considered it all.  “Sounds interesting,” he said, “but I’m not sure about this at all.  This is something that’s going to involve the entire family, and they’ve all got to have a say in it.”  He didn’t want to add that he had already ordered that Jade be turned back into a boy and he was about to decree that Jimmy Joe had to go back to being Jasmine as well.  
“That’s fine,” Lyle told him.  “In fact, if you’re getting the family together to discuss it.  I can come down there with a few of my staff and discuss it with them, in case they might have any questions about anything.  And I have no doubt that some of your family may have some pretty good ideas as well.  Just let me know as soon as possible what you want.  Over the thirteen shows we’d like to do for the first season…”
“Thirteen!”
“That’s the usual number of shows for a season.”
“Yeah.  Okay.  Go on.”
“Jacob, over that season, your family could stand to make a lot of money from this.  An awful lot.”
“We don’t care much about the money.  That’s why we didn’t care about the amount you put in that contract for the show you just put on the TV.”
“Jacob,” Lyle said, suddenly realizing something.  “Do you have any idea how much money the station now owes you for that special we shot?”
“I have no idea, and I don’t really care that much.”
“Jacob, I saw the figures.  The advertising dollars alone were enormous!  Jacob I’m pretty sure the check you should be receiving fairly soon, will be for almost four and a half million dollars.”
Jacob blinked, not sure he had heard right.  “Did you say million?”
“Four and a half.  Almost.”

--- §§§§§§§§§§ ---

Jade was in complete turmoil.  She had heard yesterday that her grandpa had pretty much ordered that she go back to being a boy…like it or not!  Her father had looked hopefully at her, her mother too.  She had stared at them unbelievingly, and then ran.  She hadn’t known what else to do.  She ran out of the house, only to have her father running after her.  “Don’t you dare run into the woods!” he had yelled.  She had turned around and ran back to her bedroom instead.  She had spent most of the night curled up on her bed, hugging Cleopatra for dear life. 
And now today, school was over with and she was again sitting in her Uncle Brian’s office waiting to see him.  But this time, Jimmy Joe wasn’t there.  Only her mother and father. 
She was still a she…for now.  But she didn’t know how much longer they would let her stay a girl.  And nobody seemed to want to talk about it.  Grandpa had decreed it.  And what Grandpa said, was law.
The door opened and Brian walked in with his now familiar basket containing everything he would need.  “Well, it’s taken us an awfully long time to get here,” Brian said happily.  “But we’ve finally made it.”
“Finally!” Clint agreed.  Susan said nothing. 
Brian turned to Jade.  “Up on the table, Jade…I mean Jimmy…well I guess you’re still Jade for now.”
Wordlessly, Jade moved toward the exam table.  “Do I need to get undressed again first?” she asked.
“No.  Not today.  I’m just giving you a simple shot today to start counteracting those hormone implants in your system right now.  Normally, I guess we’d just let those hormones stay and do nothing about it.  Let them finish dissolving and then not put anymore back in you.  Today, all I’m going to give you is a simple little shot of testosterone to kind of counteract some of what those implants are doing and jumpstart the process.  Okay?”
Jade said nothing to that.
“Up on the table and we’ll get this over with real quick and easy.”
Jade climbed up on the table.  She watched as her Uncle Brian got the medicine out.  She watched as he opened and prepared a fresh needle.  And she watched as he turned to her to give her the shot.
“Uncle Brian,” Jade said.
“Yes?”
“What if…”
“What if, what?” Brian asked as he held the hypodermic needle up and flicked it with his finger to make sure there was no air in it.
“What if I don’t want to be a boy again?”
Brian looked at Jade, then over at Clint and Susan.  He took a deep breath, then very softly he said.  “Then I think we’ve got a problem.  A big one!  But it’s not one we haven’t already considered.”