Short Fiction & Book Excerpts

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The brilliant cosmologist and holographer Dr. Jack Martins discovered a way to create a spherical hologram. These holograms are so lifelike and vivid that those who see them cannot distinguish the hologram from actual reality.

The Holographic Principle states that all of our three-dimensional reality can be described on the two-dimensional boundary of a sphere. Jack's holograms and papers proved that reality itself may simply be a holographic projection, that the light recorded by our telescopes comes not from faraway stars, but a holographic illusion. Jack proposed that the universe wasn't 13.5 billion light years in diameter, but only 4.618 light years, and that the rest of the galaxy (and the universe) was just an illusion. This holographic boundary was called the Martins Sphere. A probe was sent out by the military to the barrier. It disappeared. A second probe was sent; it too disappeared. Finally, a manned mission was sent, led by Captain Katrina Antropov and a crew of scientists. The excerpt begins as the ship, affectionately named the Cheesy Poof 2 by its crew, approaches the theoretical end of the universe:


T’Munga Watanabe snorted in disgust. All looked normal through the clear composite material of the control room windows. Instruments indicated their position as almost 0.253 light years past the Alpha Centauri system relative to Sol. The ship inched along now, very close to the so‑called Martins Sphere barrier. There were no anomalies.

The Cheesy Poof 2 was shaped like an elongated cylinder and had three sections. The forward compartment contained the command chair occupied by the captain. The engineering and navigation sections were along one wall, and the scientific stations along the other wall. Katrina Antropov insisted that their view of space be unhindered as they approached the barrier, so all of the transparencies were open.

The second section contained cramped living quarters for each crew member and an exercise room. Gravity was maintained at earth normal but inactive muscles soon atrophied. Regs required each crew member to spend one hour in each 24 hour ‘day’ working out. This directive was ruthlessly enforced by the captain.

The back of the ship held the cargo bay.

“This is ridiculous,” T’Munga Watanabe said, “but I wouldn’t miss it for anything.”

Rad Greenberg resisted the temptation to run through the same arguments again with his rival and colleague. “We’ll see.”

“Fifteen minutes till impact,” Katrina announced. She gazed at a small holovid which showed the calculated view of Real Space, a tiny bubble 4.618 light years in radius from Sol.

T'Munga looked up, irritated. “Impact? With what?”

“Don’t start,” Greenberg said.  Watanabe fired up to respond.

“Calm down mates,” Clarke said. His words calmed the tall, muscular Japanese–American with the afro. T'Munga did not respond to Rad's taunt.

Katrina Antropov sat in the captain’s chair in front of the control console.  “Sixty seconds,” she intoned. Was there something out there? A shimmering of some kind, indicating the mythical holographic boundary and the end of Real Space? Katrina looked once more, seeing nothing unusual. T'Munga was right! But then she remembered what had happened to Cheesy‑Poof 1 and its predecessor. They were now approaching the exact same coordinates where the probes had disappeared.

“Full stop,” she ordered.

The ship now stood in space approximately ten miles in front of the supposed barrier and as motionless as possible relative to it. The coordinates of the earlier probe’s disappearance had been calculated as closely as possible but allowances must be made for error.

"Karl, launch the first probe."

One of the small rocket probes, filled with instrumentation, proceeded slowly out of the ship’s side.

As the probe moved forward Antropov moved the ship, always keeping at least 1,000 feet of distance between it and the probe. After fifteen minutes Watanabe began to laugh mockingly. “Look at us. We’re like a bunch of scared school kids afraid of the dark.” Rad Greenberg was irritated but the excitement he felt was beginning to turn sour within him. He began to feel that he had been wrong all along.

Nigel moved next to T'Munga and laughed with him. Soon the crew was laughing and releasing the tension that was within each of them.

No one noticed that the little probe had disappeared.

Antropov looked up and shrieked involuntarily. "T'Munga,  full stop." She was disgusted with herself. At the very moment when she should have been paying close attention she had allowed herself to lapse into laziness. It was an unconscionable dereliction of duty and she would mention it in her captain’s log.

“Karl, where is that probe?” Katrina said.

Svenson scrambled to his station. “It’s gone!”

“What do you mean it’s gone?” T'Munga stepped to the little man's console and took a look for himself. “Shit on a stick.”

Behind him Rad Greenberg smiled smugly.

"One precious probe wasted because of my carelessness," Katrina muttered. There were now five left in the cargo bay. The probe had sent back its telemetry to the ship's data banks but there was simply no substitute for human observation. “Launch another probe Karl,” she commanded.

The probe began moving slowly forward. This time all hands kept their eyes peeled. T'Munga walked forward, just behind the captain’s chair, and stood staring. After two minutes of tension everyone relaxed. Nothing was happening. Then the little probe gradually disappeared. First its nose vanished. Then, like James Earl Jones exiting the Field of Dreams, it was no more.

T'Munga stared in disbelief. Nigel and Karl, supposedly manning the data input stations, stood with mouths agape. Katrina slammed her palms down on the navigation console.

“Report!” she barked, a little too loudly.

Svenson glanced at the readouts in disbelief. He said nothing.

“Karl!” Katrina said. “Report!”

Svenson recovered. “Captain! I said nothing because there is nothing to report.”

T'Munga strode across the cabin and looked at the display. “I don’t believe it. Captain, the probe sent back … absolutely nothing. All instruments read null.”

“Null? Explain.” Antropov was a non‑scientist dealing with academic types. She sometimes found their behavior incomprehensible. One thing she was sure of. The biggest space mission in earth’s history would not be a failure. Not under her command.

T'Munga turned and faced Katrina. “Our instruments have shown that the … holographic barrier, or whatever it is, is precisely 103.67 feet in front of us. Beyond that, instrumentation detects ... not nothing, but an utter absence of anything.”

“That’s correct captain,” Svenson affirmed. “It seems that what’s out there is not out there at all. I mean it’s not an emptiness but a complete nothingness. No space, no time, an utter lack of anything.”

“Null space,” T'Munga explained.

“So what does it mean?” Katrina asked.

“It means,” Rad blurted, “that the universe as we know it is just an illusion.”

From The End of the Universe

A Short Story

Once upon a time a man and a woman fell in love. We’ll call them Bob and Judy. Ten years into their marriage they had a nice house, and three daughters. Gradually, Judy began to lose interest in her husband, although she still loved him. She began to have feelings for women. Over the next three years, Judy’s feelings for women became so strong that she could no longer tolerate living with her husband. She wasn’t interested in men anymore.

This led to a divorce which was as amicable as possible, although Bob felt bewildered and angry. The former husband and wife shared custody of the children.

Judy found a girlfriend. They both lived in Becca’s house and shared the mortgage payment. The husband never remarried because he still loved his wife, but that was over now. The three daughters were shuttled between the two parents. The older daughter began to have feelings for girls, just like her mother.

Judy felt bad about the divorce because Bob didn’t want it and the family would be disrupted, but she felt great about her relationship with her girlfriend. She thought the children were doing pretty well.

Bob, on the other hand, began to feel more and more bitter.

“I can’t help how I feel,” Judy told him one day when she came over to their old house to pick up the children. “It’s better this way. You wouldn’t want to live with someone you don’t love.”

“I still love you.”

“I love you too, but not in the way you want.”

The conversation went round and round like it usually did. Bob complained that a person doesn’t suddenly switch genders, and Judy asserted that yes, it happens, and that they were a perfect example.

“Find another woman to love,” Judy said. “There’s plenty of fish in the sea.”

“I only want one fish,” Bob replied.

Judy was getting fed up, which she usually did when talking to Bob. She felt bad about their breakup, but Bob couldn’t seem to let her go. Every time she went over to pick up the kids he took her on an emotional rollercoaster. “I’ve moved on Bob. You should too.”

Judy took her daughters back to her house. Her oldest, Mandy, was fascinated by the relationship between the two women. Moira, the middle child, was disgusted by the relationship and wanted mom and dad to get back together. Mary, the youngest, didn’t care whether mom was gay or not. She just wanted to stay in one place and not get shifted around every month to a different place.

 “It’s stupid,” Mary said after they got home and sat around the kitchen table. “Mandy can live here with you and Becca. Why can’t me and Moira stay with dad?”

“Because the terms of the divorce stipulate that both of us get to have all three of you,” Judy said. “That’s one thing your father and I both agree on. We love you so much we want all three of you, not just one or two.”

At that moment Becca walked in the door. “Hi kids! How are you?”

Mandy replied cheerfully. “Hi Becca! Did you get that new position?”

“Don’t know yet; it’s my first interview.”

Mary was bored and began to yawn. Moira folded her arms and looked stubborn and angry.

Becca looked at Judy. Moira had been more and more resistant to them lately. “Let’s have this out once and for all.”

Judy got out a batch of cookies and passed them around the table.

“I don’t want to stay here anymore,” Moira, who was 15, said. “I’m not comfortable listening to you two having sex. Our bedroom is right next to yours. It’s disgusting.”

Becca looked at Judy, alarmed. “I’m sorry Moira. I didn’t realize we were making so much noise.”

“Well, you are. I’m not gay and I will never be gay. If you and Becca want to go at it, do it somewhere else.”

This angered Mandy, who was 16. “I think it’s wonderful. Being gay is a part of society. More and more people are doing it. Get used to it.”

“What do you think Mary?” Judy asked.

Mary, who was 14, said, “I couldn’t care less whether you two want to fuck men or women, but I think your obsession with gender and sex is ridiculous. You make a big deal out of being gay, as if it made you special people or something. You’re not any more special than anyone else. You’re just two women who like to fuck each other. Get over yourselves.”

Moira cheered this silently.

Judy sighed. She recognized the opinions of Bob in this statement. He was getting more and more bitter and she couldn’t understand it. Moreover, Mary was beginning to swear just like her father.

“Keep quiet Mary,” Mandy said. “You’re rude and insulting, just like dad.”

This fired up Mary, who had quite a temper when roused. “At least dad kept his marriage vow! He isn’t immature, starting a family and then abandoning everyone.”

Mandy snorted. “Start thinking for yourself! That’s right out of dad’s mouth.”

Mary stiffened. “And it happens to be my opinion. You’re a hypocrite, accusing me of being like dad. Aren’t you just a mouthpiece for mom and Becca here? When did you suddenly become gay?”

Mandy rose from the table. “I’ll slap you bitch, if you say that again.”

“Enough!” Moira said. “I think we can all see this isn’t working any more. You and dad work something out. This is the last month I stay in this house. I’ll not come over here unless I choose to.”

“And I won’t go back over to dad’s,” Mandy said. “He’s a whiner and a bigot.”

“What’s your position Mary?” Becca asked, trying to calm emotions.

“I don’t mind the arrangements. I like to see both of you. But if I’m going to stay here I want that spare bed in the basement.”

Judy winced. “All right. I’ll talk to Bob before our next scheduled move.”

Judy went over to see Bob the next day after work and explained the situation. Nothing got resolved, except they agreed that Bob should have all three kids over for a day and a night on the first of next month.

“I want to talk to them without you around,” Bob said.

Judy sighed. “Mandy says she doesn’t want to come over here anymore.”

Bob shrugged. “It’s only for one day.”

Judy was resigned. “OK, but she might not be in a good mood.”

“I’ll risk it. Just get her over here.”

Life went on. At the beginning of the month Judy took Mandy, Moira, and Mary to see Bob. Mandy complained the entire way.

“Oh shut up Mandy,” Moira said. “You only have to stay for one night.”

“It’ll be one night too many.”

When they arrived at Bob’s, he was standing outside the door. Moira ran out of the car and threw herself into her father’s arms. Mandy looked disgusted and Mary shook her head. She just wanted this resolved for all time. Or until she was old enough to get a place of her own.

That night Bob ordered pizza (Mandy’s favorite food) and the four sat around the kitchen table, eating.

Bob turned to Mandy. “What makes women suddenly stop liking men?”

“You’re asking me?” Mandy said. “I’m only 16.”

“And you used to read teen mags and like boys,” Moira said to her. “So it’s a good question. I want to know too.”

All eyes were on Mandy now. “I don’t know...I like girls better than boys now I guess.”

“But what caused you to change your mind?” Bob asked. He always spoke to his children as if they were adults. That’s the one thing Mandy liked about dad.

“It’s not a mental thing. You don’t turn it on and off. It’s emotional. I can’t explain it.”

“Dad’s still trying to figure out why mom left him for a woman,” Moira said.

“Yeah, but mainly it’s that when Judy left it broke up our family,” Bob said. “I thought I was marrying a responsible adult. I could understand it if she didn’t love me anymore. But I know she does. How do you decide you can’t stand men after thirteen years of marriage? We had three children together! I always treated her with respect.”

Mandy frowned. This was true; dad didn’t cheat even though toward the end they argued constantly. “People change.”

“Not like that,” Bob said. “When you’re 16 you have questions about your sexuality. That’s normal, Mandy. Not when you’re 40.”

“Mom told me once it came on gradually,” Mary said. “She got more interested in women and less interested in men. Then she just couldn’t have sex with you anymore.”

“It’s not about sex for me, Mary. Well, maybe a little,” he admitted. “After your mom left I was with other women during the months you kids weren’t here.”

This was news to Mandy. “I thought you were just whiny, dad. You mean you’ve seen other women?”

“Occasionally, but it wasn’t satisfying. Sex without love is sterile. I’m a one-woman man, Mandy, to my detriment. That’s why I’m asking you. Is sex so important that it causes love to die, and break up a family?”

“I guess it is,” Moira said. “For some people.” She looked accusingly at Mandy.

“Don’t blame me!”

“I’ll ask mom when I see her,” Mary said.

“What will we do about you, Mandy?” Bob asked. “If you don’t want to stay here you don’t have to.”

“I thought you said you loved us so much you wanted all three of us.”

“I do, but I’m not a damn dictator.”

“I’d prefer to stay with mom and Becca,” Mandy said.

Moira and Mary decided to stay with their father.

“Dad, you have to let go of mom,” Mandy said. “It’s over, you know it’s over.”

“Fuck.” Bob shook his head sadly, a look of resignation on his face. “I suppose you’re right Mandy.”

“You can love more than one person,” she said.

Bob was startled by this peroration. “Can you?”

“Sure!” Mandy liked it that dad didn’t say, ‘How could a 16-year-old kid know that?’ “It happens a lot.”

Mary wanted to say, ‘in movies and novels,’ but she didn’t. For once she agreed with her older sister on something. “Maybe Mandy’s right dad.”

Both girls saw their father pondering this. Moira and Mary nodded to Mandy with a look that said, ‘good job.’  Mandy was inordinately pleased with this approval from her normally idiotic sisters. She felt like a successful marriage counselor.

Mary was still troubled by the question of love and sex. Did mom really leave dad just because of sexual attraction? She kept telling them she still loved dad, so it must be that. She went to sleep that night determined to ask mom in the morning.

After the kids were in bed Bob called Judy. “Come over and get Mandy in the morning,” he said. “She’s going back to you.”

When Judy came over on Monday morning before work Mary confronted her mom. “Is sex so important that it causes love to die?”

Judy was nonplussed. “Honey, it’s six thirty in the morning. I’m not ready for that question now.”

Mary was adamant. “All right, I’m coming with Mandy. When you come home after work you’d better have an answer for me.”

Judy looked accusingly at Bob. “This is your doing.”

Moira stamped her foot. “It isn’t, mom. I’m with Mary. If you still love dad, then the only reason you’re apart is because of sex.”

Judy smiled wearily. “It’s a lot more complicated than that dear.”

“OK,” Mary said. “We’ll all come home today with you. Moira and I will stay home after school. We’ll talk during dinner.”

Mary nodded to Moira. Mandy sighed. “All right.”

Bob was about to object that it was his turn to have the kids, but he could see the flame in Mary’s eyes. His youngest daughter was a powerful personality. She would be a CEO or a commander in the military. There was no arguing with her. “OK,” he grumbled.

“Stop whining dad,” Mandy said.

Judy looked at her phone. She had to be at work by 7 so the kids had to ride the bus to school. “I just have time to take you three to the stop if we leave now. I don’t want to be late for work.”

All three daughters trooped out of the house. Bob felt that a part of him left with his wife and daughters. His eyes began to tear up. Maybe Mandy is right, he thought. Maybe I am a whiner.

Judy worked as an office manager in a local construction firm. During the day she wondered what she would tell Mary tonight. She knew her daughter wouldn’t let her slide. Was sex really that important to her? Was that really why she left Bob? Is sex more important than love? Did she really love Becca? One thing was for sure: Bob liked sex and she didn’t want that with him anymore. It was probably as simple as that.

When Judy got home from work all three girls were at the kitchen table. Today was leftovers day. Judy and Mandy microwaved their food, Moira and Mary dished up the remnants of a Caesar’s salad.

When everyone was seated, Judy decided to jump right in. “I left Bob because your father wanted sex a lot. I didn’t want his hands on me anymore. Did that kill my love for him? Probably.”

Mandy nodded her agreement. Moira and Mary pondered this. “I can see that,” Moira said. “But do you really love Becca?”

Judy thanked God Becca wasn’t here. After several moments she said, “I’m a lot more comfortable living with Becca than your father, even if...there isn’t a strong love. I like Becca a lot and she likes me. We’re happy. That’s all you can ask from life.”

Mary seemed satisfied with this answer and Judy breathed a sigh of relief. If Mary got stubborn she could cause a lot of tension.

“But what if you change your mind again?” Moira asked. “You seemed happy to marry dad and screw him for ten years. You had three children. You were almost 40 when you made the switch. So what if it happens again?”

Mary was amazed that her sister had asked the tough question. Usually it was her who had to do it. Even Mandy seemed interested in the question.

Judy was startled; she didn’t have a ready answer. She thought out loud. “I started to change about seven years into the marriage, after you all had been born. It was a feeling, a sexual reorientation I guess. I didn’t ask for it, it just happened.”

“You never had those feelings before you married dad?” Mandy asked.

“No, I don’t think so. I just...followed convention. I just skated along. I never looked at myself until I was committed to a marriage that was supposed to last my entire life.”

Judy realized that was she said was true. Marrying Bob must have made her feel trapped somehow. She had always thought that marriage was what you were supposed to do. “I wanted to have children,” she said. “Please don’t think that any of you were ‘accidental.’ I was overjoyed to give birth and to have daughters. Bob wanted sons, but...I always wanted daughters.”

 Again Judy had a realization. “I never asked myself why I didn’t want sons. Perhaps that feeling was something I never looked at. If we had had sons, maybe the marriage wouldn’t have lasted as long as it did.”

The girls were conflicted about this, especially Mary.

“So then I wouldn’t have been born.”

“Oh sweetheart, don’t feel like that. I think God blessed us with daughters. It was supposed to happen.”

Mandy was fascinated. She didn’t worry about not being born because she was the first. “So mom, having daughters made you feel more comfortable. You were surrounded by females and were able to stay in the marriage.”

Judy brightened. The girls could see that their mom wasn’t giving rehearsed answers. She was having realizations.

“When did you start” Mary asked.

Judy frowned. “Well, it was about two years after you had all been born. Bob wanted to try for a son, but I knew I was done. That was the beginning of my...change.”

Moira was confused. “I don’t get it.”

Mandy was curious. “You’ve never had any attraction to the same sex, Moira?”

“Never. I like boys. I don’t get the whole gender thing and why people are so obsessed with it. I don’t get the trans thing either, it makes no sense to me. Why is this such a big problem in society now? Dad says it was never a big deal when he was growing up.”

“How about you, Mary?” Judy asked.

“I think the whole subject is incredibly boring. Who cares if you like girls or boys? Do your thing, but please shut up about it.”

“Do Becca and I talk about sex and gender that much?” Judy asked.

“More than I want to hear,” Mary said. “Like I said, it’s boring to me.”

“I like it,” Mandy said, giving Mary a pointed look.

Mary rolled her eyes and Moira laughed.

“OK, so what are we going to do?” Judy asked.

“I don’t want to go back to dad’s,” Mandy said. “I’ll stay here.”

“I’ll stay with dad,” Moira said.

“I’ll go back and forth,” Mary said, “as long as I can have the basement.”

Judy sighed. “I suspected it would come to this eventually when you three grew up. I’ll talk to Bob tonight. Since it’s his turn, I’ll drive Moira and Mary over there tomorrow before school.”

The girls were happy with this arrangement and went up to their rooms, but Judy felt uncomfortable with Moira’s question. What would happen if she fell out of the relationship with Becca? Would that spark another gender identity change, or would she just find another woman? Judy felt very nervous about this. She didn’t know why it happened the first time; what if it happened again?

Just then Becca walked in. “Hi sweetie!” she said to Judy, and gave her a kiss. Judy felt good about this, but was still troubled. “Becca,” she said, “do people change gender identities after they’ve already made the switch?”

Becca saw Judy’s troubled face and smiled. “No, I don’t think so. I mean, it could happen. In my experience, once you settle in to a gender identity you almost always stay there. Especially as you grow older. It feels more and more comfortable.”

Judy was happy to hear this. Becca was a psychologist and saw a lot of patients. After she and Becca made love that night though, Judy lay there thinking after Becca went to sleep. What if she was an outlier? She wouldn’t want to break up their family again. And she didn’t want to hurt Becca. She asked herself whether their relationship was fully satisfying. Was she settling with Becca, just as she had settled with Bob? Judy spent a troubled night trying to sort out her feelings. She didn’t get to sleep until past four.

The next morning a tired Judy drove Moira and Mary to Bob’s. He would take them to school this month.

Becca had been cheerful and didn’t seem to have a care in the world. She was looking forward to making love again that night. Judy knew other women who were in love with each other. Or at least they said they were. She also knew a few couples who pretended to be happy, but were questioning their relationship. But that happened to everyone.

As she went through the motions at work, answering phones and dealing with walk-ins, she wondered why she was having these feelings. She wondered what good it did to be introspective. Some people (like Becca) said it was a sign of high self-awareness. She wasn’t so sure. For her it meant struggling with feelings she’d rather not have. She was not only questioning herself, but Becca too! Maybe she needed to go into therapy. She’d talk to Becca about that tonight.

When Becca got home she wanted to go out to dinner. “Let’s go to Seva. I don’t feel like eating in.”


Becca was cheerful throughout the meal but she saw that Judy wasn’t into it.  “Did I say something?”

“No, not at all. I just wonder should I go into therapy.”

Becca was stunned. “Aren’t you happy?”

“Yes, but I’m worried it won’t last. I don’t want to fall out of love with you and go back to being the old Judy.”

Becca’s expression turned serious. “I see. I can give you the name of a good therapist I know. She’s dealt with these issues before.”

Judy could see that Becca was hurt. “I’m sorry Becca. It’s not you, it’s me.”

“I don’t want to lose you Judy. I’m really happy for the first time in years.”

This made Judy feel that she hadto be as cheerful and committed as Becca. But she didn’t feel that way. They finished eating and drove home. Both women felt that there was now a barrier between them. Judy felt guilty because she caused it.

When Bob drove Mary to Judy’s home at the end of the month, Judy saw that Mary was very cheerful. This made her feel inadequate somehow, for she and Becca and Mandy had been feeling down. “How’s it going Mary?”

“Great, mom. Dad took us both to the carnival two weekends ago. Last week we saw this really cool movie about fungus.”

Judy had heard about this film but had never seen it. Maybe she and Becca and Mandy could go; it might help them both get over their rough patch. “How are you and Moira getting along?”

“Fab mom. Dad hasn’t been whining much about you this month. I think our little talk a few weeks ago helped him let go of you a little more. He seems happier.”

For some reason Judy felt a pang of jealousy, and some irritation. Bob had always been good with the kids even though he swore a lot. Was he a better father than she was a mother? Oh my God, she thought. I’m going to call Becca’s therapist.

“Are you OK mom?”

Usually she would just say, “Oh yes I’m fine,” but today she didn’t want to. “I’m having a bit of a rough time, Mary.” She smiled wanly. “Hopefully I won’t whine too much.”

This made Mary laugh, and Judy’s depression lifted. You see, she told herself, I can still make people happy. “I need to get over myself.”

Her youngest smiled. “That’s a good idea mom. I think dad is finally starting to lighten up a little. It’s more fun over there now.”

Judy wondered how much fun it would be for Mary this month.

One day at work a customer came in, inquiring about a kitchen remodel. “Hi, I’m Judy Moreno. We’ve got several brochures we can look at.” Judy showed the brochures to the woman, who looked to be around 40, and wrote down the details of the job. “We can send an estimator to your house anytime you’d like,” Judy said.

“That would be great. I’m anxious to get going.”

Everything was arranged and the office was empty. The two women began to talk.

“Are you related to Bob Moreno, the school principal at Midland East?”

“Why yes! We used to be married.”

The woman smiled. “It didn’t work out for me either. But I did get some money from the bastard.”

Both women laughed. Judy was curious. “I don’t want to pry, but have you been out with Bob?”

“Not so you’d notice... Oh I get it. You’re that Judy.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Judy had to be polite but she was angry.

“I’m sorry. I guess I’m the one who’s prying. It’s just that Bob talks about you a lot. I think he still loves you.”

Judy didn’t think this degree of intimacy was appropriate in a construction office. “So you know my story.”

The woman nodded. "I'm Stephanie Burrows, by the way."

“Do you have children, Stephanie?” Judy asked.

“Two boys, 16 and 14.”

“I have three girls, 16, 15, and 14. Bob and I share them.” She looked carefully at the woman. “Don’t worry, Bob and I are over with.”

The woman brightened. “Thank you Judy! I don’t want to cause problems between you and your family.”

“Do you like Bob?”

“Yes I do. He’s steady, good looking, and he’s great at his job. I work at the high school too.”

This bothered Judy a little. She had never followed Bob’s work that closely. With three kids of her own and a job that could be hectic, she didn’t have time to worry about the children of other people or Bob’s work with them. She wondered how Bob had felt after coming home each day to a house full of girls after dealing with high school students all day. She knew Bob was a hands-on guy at the high school. “I’m sorry, I’m daydreaming. We’re all set for the estimate? The date and time is OK? The name of our estimator is Raheem Hassan. He’s the best in the business.”

“Perfect.” The woman walked out, Judy noticed, with an energetic bounce to her step. She could tell the woman was excited about her, her ex-husband. Why should that concern her? She was happy with Becca. As the company phone rang she wondered how much interest Bob had in Stephanie Burrows.

Moira was excited when dad brought Stephanie home. Mary was curious. Would she stay the night?

After the introductions, Bob smiled. Bob had lived with females for fifteen years; he knew his girls were wondering about the sleeping arrangement. “Don’t worry girls, we’re not fooling around here tonight. I wanted you to meet Stephanie, maybe talk a little.”

Moira inspected dad’s new girlfriend carefully. She felt somewhat protective of him. Stephanie was dressed casually but neatly in a nice blouse and slacks. She wore earrings but no other jewelry.

“Do I pass inspection?” Stephanie asked, smiling.

“So far,” Moira said.

“But the jury is still out.”

“That’s right,” Mary said.

“Your father and I are going to see a movie and have something to eat,” Stephanie said. “I’ll make sure to bring him home before midnight.”

Mary giggled but Moira nodded seriously. “That’s good.”

Stephanie smiled again. “You’ll be waiting up for us.”

Moira relaxed enough for a little smile. She liked that Stephanie wasn’t nervous or serious around her and her sister. “I will!” she said cheerfully.

Stephanie turned to Bob. “You’ve got great kids. My boys don’t care what I do as long as I let them stay out half the night.”

“You have boys?” Mary asked.

“Jim and Brad. Sixteen and 15. Both of them are sports crazy.”

Moira and Mary were interested. “Are they jocks?” Moira asked.

Stephanie laughed. “Well, Jim plays football and Brad is a hockey player. Both of them like physical contact.”

“Physical contact!” Mary said, wondering whether they were goofy looking or handsome. Dad glanced at her with a knowing look. Slightly embarrassed, Mary said, “They’re not nerds anyway, right?”

“Oh definitely not that.”

“Bring them over sometime,” Moira suggested.

Bob wasn’t comfortable with the direction of the conversation. “Maybe when you two are a little older.”

Moira and Mary looked at each other, rolling their eyes. “Dad is protective,” Moira said.

Stephanie’s eyes began to water.

“Sorry if I said anything bad,” Moira said.

“Oh no my dear. It’s ex-husband wasn’t close to my boys. It was part of the reason we divorced. I’m just a little envious that you three are so tight-knit.”

Moira laughed. “Wait until you see Mandy!”

Mary joined in the laughter. “Mom and Mandy are gay.”

“It was the reason mom divorced dad,” Moira added.

Stephanie looked a bit startled.

“Yeah, so our family isn’t the Waltons or anything,” Mary said.

“What movie are you seeing and where are you going to dinner?” Moira asked.

Stephanie smiled again, looking at Bob. “We’re going to the State to see a documentary about education in Europe. We haven’t decided where we’re eating.”

“Somewhere intimate,” Moira suggested. “White tablecloths, subdued lighting, candles on the table.”

Bob looked nonplussed. “Uh, well, maybe on a later date.”

Moira recognized that dad was thinking about mom again. She kicked herself for wrecking the mood when everything was going well. She saw how Stephanie didn’t pursue the topic and changed the subject. She liked that. The woman was sensitive to dad’s feelings.

Mary looked at her sister and they both nodded. “OK, you can go now,” Mary said.

Bob laughed, breaking the tension. “Thanks girls! We’ll see you before midnight.”

Three weeks later Stephanie brought her two sons over to meet Bob. Both boys didn’t want to be there until they saw Moira walk into the living room. Mary heard talking and came down the stairs from her upstairs bedroom and into the living room. She could feel the tension as she walked into the room. “Who are these two guys?” she asked Stephanie.

Bob started to laugh. It was just like Mary to plow through social awkwardness by saying something blunt.

Stephanie did the introductions. “Mary, Moira, this is Jim, my oldest, and Brad. Brad, Jim, that’s Moira standing in front of Mary.”

Mary could see that both boys were gaga over her sister. “You should have told me your boyfriend had a daughter,” Brad said. He was staring at Moira with frank admiration.

Jim looked bored. “OK, we’ve met them mom. Can we leave now?”

Mary laughed. “It’s just what I was thinking.”

This was said with such an air of sarcasm and humor that Jim turned his head toward Mary. He studied her. In Jim’s experience, this usually resulted in the girl flinching or being embarrassed. Mary stood there calmly, returning his gaze. Jim was impressed. “How old are you Mary?”

“Fourteen. Going on 15,” she added.

“That’s how it usually works, kid.”

“I’m not a kid!”

Bob saw that Jim had gotten to her.

“You’re only 16,” Mary said deprecatingly to Jim. She thought of a Sherlock Holmes episode she had seen with dad. “Hardly an age to inspire confidence.”

Bob watched as Jim’s face first registered bewilderment, then shock. Then he broke out in laughter. “Touche Mary!” he said with real admiration. “Well said!” Jim was now looking her over as boys will do to a girl they are checking out. 

Mary’s face reddened just a bit. Bob could tell she was nervous. Had his youngest finally met her match? But she was way too young for Jim. Or anyone else. “Enough of this.” He tried to tone down his feelings. “Maybe when you’re both a little older.”

Moira was amazed at her little sister, and a little jealous that the older boy had singled Mary out instead of her.

Brad saw this and said, “Don’t mind these children, Moira. Are you at Midland East Junior?”

Moira smiled shyly. “I am. How come I’ve never seen you before? We’re the same age.”

Brad ignored this. “You want to come to my game tomorrow night? I’m on the hockey team.”

“Midland East Junior doesn’t have a hockey team.”

“I play on the high school team,” Brad said. “Center.”

Moira’s eyes widened. “You must be good.”

Brad puffed himself up. “I’m real good. Got a special exemption to play on the high school team. Coach says I have elite speed.” Brad was in full brag mode now, and Moira giggled. He was trying to impress her. “You can impress me more by scoring a goal,” she said.

Brad stood up straighter. “I’ll do it! For you.”

Stephanie thought this little tableau had gone far enough. She made a chopping motion with her arm, a signal for her son to stifle it. She looked at Bob. “I’m driving him to the game tomorrow night. Do you want me to pick up Moira?”

Moira was thrilled. Stephanie was stepping up for her! Moira thought that dad could do a lot worse.


“Please dad!” Moira said. “Stephanie will be there to look after me.” She turned her head and looked at her father pleadingly.

“Oh all right.” He was a softie when it came to his kids. He didn’t want to deny them anything. But Moira was only 15...

Stephanie saw his hesitation. “Don’t worry Bob. I’ll bring them home before midnight.”

This caused general laughter. Even Mary joined in. 

“Do you play sports?” Jim asked Mary. “I’ll come to one of your games.”

Mary was stupefied by this offer, and immensely flattered by the attention from the older boy. She didn’t know what to say.

“That’s OK kid,” Jim said. “Your dad is right. You’re too young.”

For the second time Mary reacted angrily. “I am not!”

Jim gave a knowing glance to Bob. “Sorry. She’s just a kid but there’s something about her I like.”

Bob smiled. Stephanie had raised her boys the right way.

Mary was very pleased by Jim’s remark. “I don’t play sports but I’d like to come to one of your games. You play football?”


Mary didn’t really like football but she was fascinated by Jim. She vowed to herself to study up on the game.

“OK, we’re done here,” Stephanie said, standing up from the sofa. “Time to go.”

As Stephanie, Jim, and Brad walked out the door Jim turned around. “Spring practice is here at the high school, next Tuesday.” The door shut.

Bob looked at his two daughters. “Did something just happen here? I don’t understand.”

Moira giggled. “I think Brad likes me.”

Mary looked slightly awed. “Wow, an older boy thinks I’m cool.”

Moira snorted. “He called you a kid three times. You are a kid.”

“You’re just jealous he likes me and not you.”

Moira smiled smugly. “Brad is my age. You’re too young for Jim. He’s in high school and probably has girls falling all over him.

Mary was much struck by this, in a bad way.

“Imagine!” Moira said, looking pointedly at Mary. “Quarterback of the high school team! Going out with the prettiest girls in school, and sleeping with some of them.”

Bob exploded. “Enough of that Moira!”

Moira ignored his anger. “We’re young women now dad. We’re interested in boys. Better get used to it.”

“Goddammit, if one of those assholes put their hands on you I’ll...”

Both girls began laughing. “Typical father,” Moira said to Mary. “Thinks we shouldn’t have sex until we’re 20.”

“What’s wrong with that?” Bob asked innocently.

Moira knew dad was trying to protect them. She threw herself into her father’s arms. “You’re a good dad,” she said. “I love you a lot.”

Bob’s eyes teared up. “I can’t tell you how much I love you, Moira and Mary. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to either of you.”

Mary spoke airily. “Don’t worry dad,” she said suggestively. “Stephanie can take care of us.”

Now what did that mean, Bob wondered after the girls had gone to their rooms.

Just before bed Mary studied herself in the mirror, thinking of Jim. Moira was a bitch; she wasn’t a kid anymore. She turned one way and the other, admiring herself. She was filling out quite nicely.

Judy came home from work a week later, tired. It had been a long day answering phones. She’d had to deal with an angry customer who thought his estimate was too high, and blamed it on her.  Men were beasts, every one of them. She went into the liquor cabinet and poured some bourbon into a glass. At that moment she heard the school bus grind to a halt in front of the stop at the corner. She drank the liquor and put the glass into the sink.

A couple minutes later Mandy walked into the kitchen. She could smell alcohol. “Hi mom. Is something wrong?”

“No, just a long day. A screaming jerk thought that I was personally responsible for a quote he didn’t like.”

“How come it’s always the men who are assholes?” Mandy asked.

Judy pounded the countertop with her fist in agreement. “It’s true, isn’t it?”

Mandy was thinking of her father. “I think it is. Women are sensitive and are more loving. When a woman goes bad it’s usually because of a man.”

Judy stared at her daughter. That was exactly right! She wondered what a society run by women would be like. Probably a much better one.

Tomorrow was the first of the month and Bob would drive Mary over for her monthly stay. Just then Judy’s phone rang.


“Hi Mary, what’s up?”

“Uh...I don’t think I’m coming over tomorrow. Jim is coming over for dinner.”

“Who’s Jim?”

“He’s Stephanie’s son. He likes me.”

Judy groaned. “How old is he?”


Judy hit the roof. “That’s Bob all over! That boy, whoever he is, is too old for you!”

“Calm down mom. Dad will be here the whole time, and Stephanie too.”

“Oh, it’s Stephanie now is it?”

Mary got angry. “What do you care? You like women. You had your chance with dad.”

“I don’t want my 14-year-old daughter going out with a guy in high school.” 

“I’m not going out with him, mom. He’s coming over for dinner. We’re going to talk.”

Judy realized she was getting mad at Mary, but it was Bob’s fault. “I’m sorry honey. I’ll talk with your father. And that Stephanie bitch.”

“She’s not a bitch. You have Becca and Mandy, dad has me and Moira. That’s how it worked out. Three and three.”

Judy realized her daughter was right. “What’s Moira doing?”

“She went to one of Brad’s hockey games last week. Said he skated like the wind. I think she likes him.”

Judy sighed. “I suppose Brad is Stephanie’s other son?”

“That’s right. He’s 15, she’s 15. Ask Mandy about it. We tell her everything.”

 Judy felt alarmed. “Why don’t you tell me?”

“Because you’re too busy with work and Becca.”

And her therapist, Becca thought.

“Love you mom!” The phone went dead.

At dinner Judy asked Mandy about her sisters. “What’s going on over there?”

Judy could see that Becca was interested.

“Oh, it’s just really boring boy-girl stuff. Moira likes Brad, Mary likes Jim. Both of them are jocks.”

Becca looked at Judy and they both laughed. “Same sex relationships are less complicated aren’t they?” Becca remarked.

Judy’s eyes widened. “They are! I’ve been worrying about us, Becca. But compared to Bob and me it’s nothing.”

Becca was delighted to hear this. She quoted one of the Sherlock Holmes episodes with Jeremy Brett that she and Judy liked to watch. “I am relieved to hear it, Ms. Williams.”

Judy smiled. She had changed her credit cards and her driver’s license and passport to her old name after the divorce. She looked over at Mandy. “How’s your love life?”

Mandy flushed. Sometimes mom (and Becca) could be too intrusive. “I don’t know...I kind of like this girl in my algebra class, but I don’t know how to approach her.”

“Very carefully,” Becca said.

Mandy perked up. Becca was a psychologist and knew about these things.

“Girls your age are still making up their minds,” Becca said.

Judy got up to go to the bathroom.

“But what do I say?”

“Just engage in casual conversation. Bring up the subject of boys and see what she says.”

“What do I do after?”

Becca smiled knowingly. “Don’t do anything more than that at first. See how the land lies. Then back off, talk about normal stuff.” Becca winked at her, and Mandy understood.

“You’re telling me how you did it with Judy.”

“You’re smart Mandy. I can give you a bit of free counseling.”

“I’d like that.”

Judy came back into the kitchen. She saw that her daughter and Becca had reached some kind of understanding. “What have you two been talking about?”

Becca winked. “Girl stuff.”

Judy was a little irritated and felt that lately she’d been left out of her daughters’ lives. First Moira and Mary with those two dolts of Stephanie’s, and now Mandy with Becca.

Becca smiled. “No worries, dear. Mandy and I love you very much.”

This made Judy feel better, but she still worried that she was putting up barriers to others. Work had been a bit rough lately, and her family was, even if unintentionally, shutting her out.

“Get over yourself mom,” Mandy said lightly.

This made Judy laugh and her inner tension went away.

Two weeks later Bob had Becca, Mandy, and Judy over for dinner. He cooked it himself.

“My, my, what’s this?” Judy said as she walked in and saw the table leaf had been put in, a fancy tablecloth on, and places settings for seven. “Did you ever cook for us once when we were married?”

Judy was waiting for Bob to blow up as he usually did when she criticized him, but Bob just smiled. “Never. But I’m turning over a new leaf.”

Judy and Mandy exchanged glances. This was certainly new behavior from Bob! Judy looked to see Stephanie’s reaction, but the woman’s face revealed nothing. “I’ll check on the roast,” Stephanie said, walking into the kitchen.

Judy couldn’t resist. “I get it – Stephanie cooked and is giving you the credit.”

She could tell she’d hit home with that one, but her ex stifled his irritation. “Nope. I did most of it.”

They sat down to dinner. Judy saw how Moira and Mary joked with Bob, and how he smiled at Stephanie. There was an easiness in their bantering and their interaction with each other. Judy, to her surprise, was pleased.  Maybe those sessions with Becca’s therapist were helping.

“Where are Brad and Jim?” Judy asked Stephanie. She almost said, ‘those two dolts of yours,’ but caught herself just in time.

“Brad’s at hockey practice. Jim is studying for a math test.”

Judy looked at Moira and Mary during this exchange. Moira smiled like a girl who had found someone suitable. Mary didn’t display any emotion when Jim’s name was mentioned. Thank God for that! She didn’t want that kid messing with her daughter...but she didn’t have much control over Mary’s life anymore. Mary was living full-time with her father now.

“How are you and Becca doing?” Bob asked her.

Judy was startled. When had he ever cared about her and Becca? “We’re doing fine. So is Mandy,” she said suggestively.

Bob turned to his daughter. Mandy didn’t know whether to tell him about her developing relationship with Sandy, but the vibes around the table were good. Thank God the two dolts...sons...weren’t here! Hesitantly at first, then with more confidence, Mandy explained how Becca had coached her how to approach Sandy, who had been very receptive. Judy saw Bob frowning when Mandy described her feelings for Sandy and how they were reciprocated. But he didn’t curse or say anything stupid. Judy looked at Stephanie. The woman seemed mildly amused, as if for her being gay was something for crazy people, but Stephanie said nothing. Judy was immensely proud as Mandy finished her story. The girl had confronted her family of straights and handled herself well.

“Are you happy Mandy?” Bob asked.

“Yes, very.”

Bob shook his head in amazement. “OK then, I’m happy for you. I don’t get it, but I want the best for you.”

“Are you happy Judy?” Bob asked his ex.

Judy realized that she was. “I am!” Becca smiled brilliantly at Judy.

“Then I’m happy for you too. And you, Becca.”

 Judy saw Becca’s eyes tear up. “Thank you Bob,” Becca said. “I can’t tell you how much that means to me.”

“I’ve been...insensitive at times, I’m sorry. Stephanie straightened me out.”

Judy was confused. “What would she know about it? She’s straight like you.”

“You’d be surprised, Judy. Tell them Steph.”

It turned out that Stephanie was a counselor at the high school. Not a trained psychologist like Becca, but she frequently had to deal with gender issues in her work.

Becca and Judy were surprised. They exchanged glances. “You learn something new every day,” Judy said. She felt a little guilty that she had never talked with Stephanie about her career, but she was learning in her therapy sessions how useless it was to beat herself up. As she looked around the table and saw how well Bob, Moira, and Mary were getting along, she felt much better about her husband and her two daughters. She was learning to let go of her irritation at Bob. It seemed that Bob was learning to let go of her as well. Maybe the two things were connected.

Bob looked at Moira and Mary. “Happiness is most important I think.”

“Are you happy Bob?” Judy asked.

“I am.” He looked lovingly at Moira and Mary, and exchanged smiles with Stephanie. “I’ve learned that happiness and love are quiet, not boisterous. It’s a feeling of serenity; a feeling that everything is right.” Bob looked at his ex. “You were right. I was a whiner about you!” This was said so cheerfully that it made everyone smile.

Mandy, Judy, and Becca exchanged smiles. Stephanie looked over at Bob and they both smiled. Moira reached across the table and grabbed her sister Mandy’s hand. Mary took the other hand.

“Good going, Mandy,” Moira said.

“Best of luck always,” Mary said.

Mandy was never so happy in all her life than at this moment. She tried a joke. “And I hope you two will be happy with those two dolts of yours.”

Judy and Becca were shocked at Mandy’s bluntness. But after a moment, Moira and Mary began to laugh.

“They are dolts,” Mary said. “They’re boys.” This brought on laughter from the entire table. Even Stephanie joined in.

“I learned how to do that from you Mary,” Mandy said, squeezing both her sisters’ hands. “It’s OK to express yourself.”

Bob smiled as he saw his women engaged with each other, and happy. It hadn’t worked out with Judy, but maybe he’d have better luck on the second try. They were off to a pretty good start.