In what was a typical peaceful block, there was one menace: 28 year old tomboy Samantha Jones, who didn't give a hoot about anything or anybody. On spring break from college the sounds of her skateboard headed down the sidewalk, everyone in the way were moving aside as fast as they could. Some climbed street lamps and others leapt into nearby stores. Those who couldn't make it were bowled over like a bunch of pins at the end of an ally. Those laying there looked up and saw Sam karate kick a garage can into the air; spilling the garbage on the street and at the same time landing on her board safely.
What was bad for the townsfolk was worse for their single father, Donald. Ever since his wife died of liver disease when the spunky girl was little, he tried to raise her as best he could. That way she could handle whatever the world would throw at her, but he had not counted on a rebellious streak in her. With the phone calls about what a terror she is both on the street and in the skate park, he was starting to wonder if she could really use a feminine touch. A bit of finishing around her rough edges.
"What am I going to do?" Donald thought as he collapsed on the couch and reached for the remote control. Turning on the television, he started to channel surf. "What the?" He said to himself as he chanced across a commercial for a student exchange program. There was a chance for the student to spend six months in another country studying the language and culture while the foreign student came to america. "Maybe this is what everyone needs. The town -- and I -- can get a rest from Sam Jones while maybe she could mature a little."
"What's up pop?" Samantha said as she skateboarded into the house; spun around on the back on the board, and grabbed a banana from the counter before heading out back. The dark skids she left on the linoleum only added to the crosshatch pattern already there.
"I think I know just the country to exchange with." Donald thought as he copied down the number from the television screen and began to call to arrange the student exchange. While he talked to them, and made plans, he could hear her scraping and sliding on the steps outside. It was surprisingly easy to get her signed up. "Sam, come in here!"
"Yes Pop, what's up?" Samantha asked as she hit the back yard ramp and flew into the house, bunching up the carpet at the entry.
"I think you need to broaden yourself, instead of spending all your time boarding." Donald said with an angry look. "I just arranged for you to enter the student exchange program. I want you to start packing to go to Japan, immediately. There's an opening there right now. You leave early tomorrow morning."
"But Pop," Sam protested. "They go to school longer there than here in America. The collage sorority houses in Japan wouldn't want me!" She whined.
"This isn't up to debate." Donald said with his arms crossed against his chest. "You are becoming a terror without a feminine influence. You'll do well to have a family with both a father and a mother. I even asked the exchange program to help you get a mother's guidance. So start packing!"
What seemed a short time later Samantha was alone on a plane, staring out at an endless ocean, flying from California over the Pacific Ocean. Long hours later, she was landing in Japan and going through customs. She felt strange, disoriented by the long trip as much as by the odd sounds and signs she could not begin to read. Finally, she spotted a hand-lettered card with her name; it was the Soto family meeting her just as Donald would be meeting with their daughter back home in California.
"Greetings, Samantha-san." Mr. Soto said as he bowed before the young hood. As Sam stood there in her torn tee shirt, ripped jeans and ratty sneakers, she stared at her host in his pressed suit and got a worried feeling inside. "I would like you to meet your temporary sisters for the exchange as well as someone I would like you to think of as your mother." He swept his hand backward to a trio of women standing silently in traditional dress. They seemed terribly quiet, or simply very polite to the newcomer.
Looking at the women in wooden platform tongs and kimonos, Sam gathered her pile of tattered stuff and followed behind them to a taxi cab. "Don't you have your own car?"
"Here in the city it's easier to use public transportation." Mr. Soto explained as they reached a comparatively huge building with a large fence and immaculately tended yard.
"Wow,. It's like a mansion." Samantha said in amazement as she clutched her skateboard.
"Not really, but I have done well with my chain of department stores and realistic mannequins." Her host said as her new mother took her by the hand. "My wife will show you to your bedroom so you can settle in. School is early for you tomorrow so you also better get a good night sleep tonight."
"Is it true that they were uniforms in school?" Samantha asked.
"You will find yours in your bedroom." Akane said as she took Sam upstairs to her daughter's bedroom. There she found the walls covered in rock group posters, a pink bedspread on a double bed and a sailor blouse and blue skirt hanging on a hook on the wall. "This is your uniform."
"That uniform has a skirt." Samantha's draw dropped in shock. "I hate skirts!"
"You need it for your stay here," Mrs. Soto said. "Your father said you were getting too wild and out of hand. He made a deal with the student exchange program and Mr. Soto to put some feminine influence into your life. Being our daughter is the best way."
"I'm not sure I'm going to like this," Sam said under her breath as the woman slid the door closed. "Everything's so… clean…"
Back in the states, Sara Soto had removed Sam's racecar wall paper and helped her host dad put up something more feminine. She had arrived at the airport in a traditional yukata robe over her day clothes, looking every inch the part of a lifesized oriental doll. He endured the stares as they found her two petite cases and drove to his home.
The Japanese student settled into a routine very quickly. Donald really enjoyed having the Japanese custom-trained girl fixing him breakfast for a change; something Sam was always too self centered - or lazy - to do. This new girl seemed happy to be helping out, and she had already taken on a full course load at school but declined the sororities so she could remain in her new home.
"I like the American clothes." Sara said in a tight blue tee shirt that showed off her C-cup cleavage and jeans that shaped her hips and trim figure well. With thongs displaying her painted toes, she waited respectfully until Donald began eating before she joined him.
For Sam it was one embarrassment after another as her new sister, Linn came up with the new name of 'Manami' for Sam's Japanese name. With her hair and make up done, in conservative style, Sam was soon dressed in the uniform she hated and getting set to walk with Linn to school. "Come on, you look lovely," She urged her american 'sister'. Sam felt ridiculous, but all the other girls were dressed exactly the same and nobody seemed to notice her. At least the other girls.
As Sam was introduced by her homeroom teacher as Manami, she soon found out how good looking her shaping brassiere and corset made her trim figure appear. She soon had all the boys begging to sit next to her and Samantha was getting embarrassed to be seen in public, prefering her grunge clothes from back home.
"Who would think you'd be more popular with the boys than me," Linn giggled as Sam tried to bury her make-up covered face in her text book. She never found a school day that seemed so long as that first one. Every time she even picked up a pencil with her polished fingers, she was reminded of her new identity.
When she got home, she changed out of the uniform and belted up the martial arts GI that she'd brought with her from the states. Going to the household gym, she practiced a few martial arts punches and kicks on a punching bag while trying to ignore the feminine appearance of her polished manicure and pedicure.
"Now, now." Akane said as she stepped barefoot into the gym wearing a long dress that reached her feet and an apron. "That's not how cultured young ladies behave in this household. Even if it is the 21st century, such fighting is for the men-folk. It's time for you and Linn to help me with dinner."
"You expect me to cook!" Samantha shouted.
"Cook and help me clean house afterward, Manami." Akane said as she referred to Sam by her new name. As Sam followed, she was instructed to change into a blue lace trimmed dress that nearly matched Linn's pink one along with some house slippers. "Since you're new at this we want you to have some protection for you feet if you drop a knife out of your hands. If you don't do as we say, we'll burn all your original clothes to force to cooperate." Akane said this last with a pale smile; was she kidding or not?
In the hallway were a series of family pictures, there were many females of all ages; the Soto family seemed to run towards girls. In one photo, Linn and Akane posed with a golden-haired girl who stood behind them, smiling broadly. Sam pointed to the girl and was about to ask Akane when the woman replied.
"That is prior exchange student, name Gretchen Scherr. She is gone, now. Hurry to make dinner please."
Sam was amazed at the speed and skill Linn used with the cutlery as she started to cut vegetables for the salad. It seemed like the type of speed he had seen martial artists in her favorite movies use. She began to wonder if with practice she could move that fast. She was determine not to be beaten in such matters by anyone. Linn did not seem to notice.
Her first Japanese-style meal looked terrible and tasted even worse. As time went on she improved her cooking skills and would serve making meals for her dad back home well. She even got to the point where she hated to remove her lingerie and wash her ordinary-seeming body. The feminine look had started to appeal to her senses. On her own, she started to go out to clubs in silky slip-dresses or hip-hugger capri pants like the others in he class did. Getting made up and primping was no longer a task, but a pleasure to the young woman. Her own father would not have recognized her transformation.
One weekend, after spending the early part of the night in a disco club with her new sister Linn, they found they had spent their cab money and were walking back to the subway station at the edge of the entertainment district. Even at this hour, the windows of the stores remained brightly lit and fancifully decorated. Samantha had been paying attention to the display figures posed within, admiring their lovely outfits, elegant hairstyles, and snobbish beauty. Suddenly, one of the faces caught her attention; she pulled on Linn's arm to beckon her back. "What?" Together they stared for seconds at a stunning mannequin in a silvery evening gown, the figure's blonde hair looking almost like spun gold in the brilliant halogen spotlights.
"Isn't that… Gretchen?" Sam ventured, trying to remember more about the photo.
"No, Manami, your thoughts are all mixed up tonight," Linn giggled. "Lets go along now, it's getting late." She turned and started walking for the subway once more.
"Wait! I'm sure of it, even if it sounds strange. This is one of your dad's places, right?" Samantha said, recognizing the stylized Kanji logo of the department store chain easily after months of practice. "Maybe she modeled for one of the mannequins before she went back to Germany…"
"Father never spoke of such a thing. Come along, sister, the night is growing old." Linn turned away so Sam could not see the tears welling up in her wide eyes as they continued along the empty sidewalk.
Near the end of the her time in the Student Exchange program, Mr. Soto took Samantha to his plant for a tour. He said sure that her father would be impressed to hear the details when she got home. As Sam walked over a greasy catwalk, she slipped in her platform shoes and fell over the railing. Mr. Soto and his girls screamed as she toppled directly into a vat of molten plastic. It was an accident, an unfortunate twist of fate, everyone present agreed. Linn seemed especially distraught by the loss of another sister.
Donald didn't know what the Japanese family would do to make his daughter more feminine. After he saw his temporary daughter onto the plane to go home, he found a letter waiting for him in the mailbox. He opened it, read the first sentences, and almost collapsed on the front porch. Inside, fortified by a straight scotch, he finished the tale.
An accident had happened and his daughter had fallen into some machinery that had taken her life, yet at the same time given Samantha an odd form of immortality. From now on, she would be on display in geisha clothes as Mr.Soto's newest mannequin. There was a final photo of her in the window, standing stiffly upright, her face painted in a very feminine way. He could almost imagine a smile on her rigid lips, but it was not the Samantha he had known. He thought of the skateboard-rider and started to sob.
Donald felt his heart break with the feeling of it being all his own fault for sending her away and not loving her for who she really was.