The Beneficiary - Part 5
I said, ‘Okay, that’s it! I’m going to lay down a ground rule. Rule Number One is this: Choose. Make your choice, Steven or Stephanie, but stick to it. But commit, whichever you choose.’
There was silence after that, and quietly he said, ‘I’ve chosen.’ His voice was soft. ‘I already knew. I mean, I already made my choice, and I told you already. I want to be a girl. I want to be your niece. You said, ‘no shame’. I’m sorry; I do have …this thing between my legs, but …no shame. I’m committing. I’m a girl. I’m Stephanie.’
The Beneficiary, by Karin Bishop
Selected entries from the Journal of Donna Everton
After I finished my huge entry in last night’s journal, I lay in bed thinking about everything, and how he’d said, ‘this thing between my legs’ and I realized that had to be part of the problem with his own acceptance. This morning I went to the internet materials Debbie had assembled and then some recommended websites so I had an idea how to proceed there. Then it was shower and dress-for-success time, and I was running late. I passed Mr. Haynes, the tutor, making a left turn on Frederick but I didn’t honk or wave or anything. Steve had brought his grades up to Haynes’ satisfaction and been pronounced ready for school next year. And that made me think about the paperwork to get Stephanie enrolled but with Steven’s new-and-improved grades, and paperwork made me think about my meeting with Len at City Hall.
We discussed the zoning hassle–an environmental initiative from townsfolk wasn’t sitting well with lake folks and some of them had asked me to speak on their behalf. Then we got onto other topics and he introduced me to a couple of old fellows and by early afternoon, I had solid leads on the service clubs in the area maybe having regular functions at my inn.
I was about to drive home when I suddenly remembered that Steve had, basically, no clothes. At this point I wasn’t going to produce his boy clothes so I went to the storage unit, removed the Steve boxes and dropped them off at Goodwill. It felt curiously liberating to do that. Next, I went to the big new Target out on the Interstate. Being a local small business owner, I felt like a traitor not patronizing the other local small businesses, but I needed the variety and anonymity of Target.
It surprised me how excited I was at the prospect of shopping for a teen girl! I had to remember to get a measuring tape on Steve but right now I had my own clothes that he’d worn to guide me. And everything still had to be loose while he healed so tight fit was not an issue. Except maybe for the tops …the way he filled out the t-shirts he’d been wearing was cautionary! After much thinking and going back-and-forth, I settled on a couple of capris as well as several of the loose pajama pants that girls wore, brightly colored and with cute patterns. The heck with heather gray! So I added a pink hoodie. And with a further ‘what the heck’, I picked up a single denim miniskirt. I got several three-packs of white camisoles, A-cup bras (just guessing, here) and colorful panties. I bought several nightgowns and one pair of sateen pajamas in lavender. Furry, backless slippers, black and white ballet flats–using the flats of mine he’d worn as a guide and these were stretchy, anyway–and a pair of girl’s sandals that looked like they’d tie securely.
Getting the sandals made me think of toenail polish so I went to Cosmetics and said I was getting some stuff for my niece when she visited–not too much of a lie–and what were the most popular cosmetics? I left with two sampler kits of makeup and nail polish, great for experimenting! Then I thought of hair supplies and got some scrunchies, hair bands, brushes, and a barrette assortment. Hand mirror. Hair dryer. Then I sprang for a genuine makeup mirror like I’d always wanted, with a light around it. Shampoo, conditioner, body talc, girls’ deodorant …anything else?
Standing in line the second time–I did two trips at different registers so I didn’t look too conspicuous–and idly looking at magazines, I checked out, loaded up, and drove all of a hundred yards to the new Barnes Noble superstore. I bought one of every teen-girl magazine I could find, and was really proud of myself for thinking to pull out all the ‘blow-ins’ that magazines have. I use them for bookmarks, usually, but I took one of each magazine because they were subscription forms.
I was heading home and had another brainstorm. I swung off my route and went to the county library. My account was still good from the days when Mark and I were reading a lot, and I threw myself on the mercy of the librarian, who was a stranger. I told her my fourteen-year-old niece was coming to visit and I had zero fourteen-year-old girl materials to entertain her. She recommended several books, most of which were already checked out, and several DVDs, most of which were in, by luck. I checked out the legal maximum and then headed home.
And there was the box, sitting by the front entryway with the day’s mail stacked on it. Tim had signed for it and carried it in for me.
I decided to put the box in my office and not think of it until after I’d deluged Steve with my acquisitions. The box looked unopened so the money should still be there, I figured, and if it was gone there was little I could do about it–but I’d hate to lose the medication. Today’s shopping madness had been paid for by the stack I’d removed from the box’s contents, and knowing it had barely put a dent in the stack, I felt a whole lot better when I went in to find Steve. He wasn’t in his room so I quickly moved all the items there.
He was in the tiny living room part of my living quarters, idly going through the TiVo channels. He wore his scrub pant bottoms and a lime green tank top that I’d forgotten I’d had. His hair was brushed straight back and then up into a high ponytail. He smiled when he saw me and then blushed.
‘I’m sorry; after our talk it kind of looks like I haven’t committed.’ I asked what he meant, and he sheepishly grinned, ‘Girl from the waist up, boy from the waist down!’
I laughed and said, ‘How about girl from the waist up, injured girl from the waist down?’
He laughed, too, a happy silvery sound, and said that was better. I told him I didn’t fault him on anything he wore because he didn’t have anything. I made sure to say that ‘Steven’s clothes’ were lost with the house and contents being sold, even though he’d said he didn’t want anything. He shrugged.
I said, ‘As soon as Carla thinks you can stand it, all the crutching around, you and I are going shopping.’
He said, ‘Okay,’ but without much enthusiasm one way or another.
‘No, you don’t get it,’ I smiled. ‘Shopping …you know, like what girls do?’ and his face lit up and he said that would be wonderful. Then I said, ‘But you are going to need some things to tide you over until Carla clears you.’ He nodded. I casually said, ‘So I picked up a few odds and ends for you today; dropped ‘em off in your room.’
He thanked me and asked if there was anything I needed him to do. I actually had an answer and told him to start researching the best digital camera that fit the minimum he would require for shots for the website. I said it’d be a tax deduction for the inn, but not to go overboard. He told me the camera he’d used was close to $1000 with lenses, case, and tax; I asked would any $500 cameras match it? He said he’d start investigating.
I didn’t push him going into his room; I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it. I went to see how the evening prep work was going; everything was chugging along. I saw Tim in the distance, looking out over the lake and smoking a pipe; his daily ritual when work was done, if the weather allowed. On the other hand, I remember rainy days when he was out there in a sou’wester, as well! I went up to thank Tim for signing for the box–telling him it was some of Debbie’s memorabilia–and then thanked him for the camera and said that I think I might buy one for the inn to keep.
He nodded and then said, ‘Girl.’
Brilliantly, I said, ‘What?’
And Tim said, ‘Girl. Pretty convinced of it, too.’
Oh, he meant … ‘Steffi?’ I asked and he nodded. I said, ‘Wait a minute; do you mean you’re pretty convinced of it or she’s pretty convinced of it?’
He thought for a moment and turned and grinned. ‘Both!’
Just at that moment I heard a slight commotion and saw a very happy girl crutching towards me. She still wore the lime tank top but had colorful yellow patterned PJ bottoms, black flats, and the pink hoodie. ‘Couldn’t lose her in a blizzard,’ Tim commented under his breath. She came up as fast as the crutches would allow and right into my arms, almost knocking me over. ‘Thank you-thank you-thank you! God, Andonna! Thank you!’
Tim said, ‘Andonna?’ and I said, ‘Her childhood name for me, Aunt Donna,’ and he looked at me strangely. She was hugging me and said, ‘I know none of this matches, but I was trying things on and I just had to thank you!’ I kissed the top of her head and said, ‘Careful, honey. It can be treacherous out here. I’ll be in to see you in a moment.’ She squeezed me tight and headed back to the inn.
‘A-yup. Girl’, Tim grinned, nodding his head once with finality.
When I entered Steffi’s room, I said, ‘You have got to learn some color sense!’ and she laughed. I have to think of her as ‘her’ and ‘she’ because that’s what she is. She put down the booklet she was reading, hugged me again and looked perfectly natural, and more-color-coordinated, in a light blue camisole and dark blue patterned pajama bottoms. There was a bit of ruching at the bodice of the camisole and her breasts filled it nicely. I immediately apologized for my ‘color sense’ crack and she said she realized it had been a horrible outfit but she just so wanted to thank me, for the clothes, and the magazines, and the DVDs and the makeup and she was overwhelmed. She went on and on about how I shouldn’t spend the money on her; she knew it was tight and had to be devoted to the inn, and all sorts of nice things like that. I told her to relax; her mother had set some money aside for her and I’d spent it on her.
I asked if she’d tried everything on; whatever didn’t fit I’d exchange. On the way to her room I’d grabbed some items from my room so I put them to use: A scale, a measuring tape, and a notepad. I had Steffi stand on the scale and balance while I removed the crutches momentarily, then returned them and noted the weight, and then got all the measuring tape numbers. I didn’t know or remember at the time how ‘normal’ they were for a fourteen-year-old girl, but they seemed right in the zone.
She shyly pulled down the top of her bottoms to show me that she was wearing the yellow panties from the three-pack. I smiled and said, ‘I actually have some advice for you on dealing with your …with …’ and she waved a hand and asked, ‘My boy-bit?’ I nodded and she grinned. ‘Actually, I just call it the ‘bit’. And I think I know the advice because I was surfing the internet today, after class.’ I was glad she’d put that in. ‘And you read about ‘tucking’?’ I asked and she nodded. ‘Tucked away …for good!’
However, there were two items she hadn’t tried on, the skirt and a bra. I knew I’d have to tackle them with her, so when she was seated next to me on her bed, I said how pretty she was, and the camisole straps looked so delicate against her shoulders …but she really had to start wearing bras. She hung her head, blushing, and I said, ‘Hey! That’s a good thing! Every girl wants to hear that!’ She said, ‘I know, and I promised to not worry about seeming a sissy, but …you know …’
I’d guessed right on the bra pack, according to her measurements, so I hugged her and opened the three-pack, picking a burgundy bra–they were also yellow and lavender–telling her that the bra straps would be visible with the camisole straps, and I knew that girls were allowed to show their straps now and often wore contrasting colors. She nodded; she knew the fashion.
I said, ‘This is a wonderful, sweet, almost sacred moment between a mother and her daughter. Your mother …can’t be here, so I’m honored to be able to share this with you, my pretty niece.’ It was the exact right thing to say and put her in the right frame of mind.
Solemnly, her eyes huge, she pulled the camisole over her head, her breasts springing free. They had a little jiggle now–more than time to start a bra!–and were very nicely shaped. I still remember how mortified I was when mine came in like little cones …but they evened out, of course. Steffi and I locked eyes and I smiled and handed her the bra; she put her arms through the straps and I went behind her and did the clasp, then I turned to her front again, keeping our eyes together, and I slowly reached in and cupped her breast and plumped it properly in the cup. Her eyes widened slightly when my fingers touched her skin, but as her breasts settled, she smiled. Then I pulled here and there and tightened the straps slightly, placed my hands on both shoulders and pulled her to me. I kissed her forehead lightly and then hugged her. Her breasts felt significantly larger and firmer than our last hug!
Steffi experimented with the feel of the bra, turning this way and that and putting her arms up. Then, still wearing only the bra and PJ bottoms, she stood and moved again in place, and then tried crutching a few feet and then back to the bed where she picked up the camisole. She moved to the full-length mirror in the corner and studied her reflection in the bra, and then put on the camisole and studied herself again. She smiled and nodded once and came back to the bed.
‘I don’t believe it,’ she said, as if examining the statement. ‘I look …like a girl …’
I chuckled and said, ‘Yes, and a very pretty one, too!’ and she giggled slightly, out of nerves. I figured she was at her most vulnerable and most susceptible, so I held up the skirt. ‘The next step,’ I said.
She frowned. ‘I don’t know if I’m ready …’ and I blustered, ‘You can say that to the woman who just fondled your boobs?’ and she burst out laughing and then nodded, biting her lip.
She rolled her hips and dropped the PJ bottoms and I almost gasped at how cute she looked in the bikini panties. There was absolutely no trace of ‘boy-bits’; she was well and truly tucked away. Plus, she had hips, and I remembered that her pelvis had been broken and I’d wondered how it would affect her figure. Positively, it looks like.
I handed her the skirt and helped her step into it, and guided her fingers to the zip in back. She smoothed out the front with her palms, gave a nervous giggle, and said, ‘Well?’ She saw my face and sat down quickly, saying, ‘I’ll change …’ and I shook myself out of my shock and said, ‘Why? No! What are you talking about?’ and Steffi was on the verge of tears when she said, ‘Your expression …’
What a fool I am! She’s so vulnerable and I’ve got to get better control of my facial expressions! I waved my hands. ‘No, no, no!’ I protested, and apologized that she’d misunderstood. I told her why I’d been so shocked. The doctors had been brilliant, doing microsurgeries to repair the broken legs and left almost no evidence. I could see little half-inch groups of sutures here and there but I know they’re the self-dissolving kind. With the right lotion and judicious tanning time, they should be nearly invisible. I had been stunned because her legs were beautiful–she was beautiful!–and she had looked so much like my beloved little sister in the way she’d stood in that skirt …
We were both crying when we hugged that time, and it took us a bit to get it together. Then she crutched over to the mirror and turned this way and that, studying herself.
In a very small voice, she said, ‘Do I really look like Mom did?’
Quietly, I nodded and said, ‘Very much so. You might even be a little cuter. She was kind of a beanpole there for awhile.’
‘I look like Mom …’ she breathed to herself.
I realized that it pleased her tremendously, and maybe made up a little for not being able to apologize to her.
To lighten things up, I teased, ‘Well? Ready to admit that you’re a babe?’
She turned back to me, blushing with shy happiness and said, ‘Do I really look okay?’ and I assured her she looked better than okay, but now it was lesson time.
The first thing I did was give her Skirt-Wearing 101: Keeping her knees together, smoothing it behind her when she sat, smoothing it out in front when she stood, keeping her knees together, how to get into and out of car seats and deep couches, and keeping her knees together.
Then I decided, what the heck, and removed my blouse, exposing my plain-Jane white bra that I’d worn under my business suit. I removed it and rubbed where it felt good, explaining that wearing a bra could be painful after a long day. Then I showed her how to put on a bra, turning my back so she could see how I held my hands to do the clasp. Then I removed it, and showed her the around-your-waist-backwards style of quickly doing it, showing how I cupped my breasts into place. I also showed her the bend-at-the-waist-to-let-things-hang-properly position. And that was about it. I told her that on our first shopping spree we’d see the bra fitter first. She had no idea there was such a person, and I grinned and told her in a deep voice, ‘You have much to learn, Young Skywalker. Young Miss Skywalker.’ And we burst into laughter.
Then my pager went off. I had to see to something in the restaurant so I dressed quickly and left my happy niece. We’d had some very late arrivals to check into a cabin–car trouble on the way to the lake–and my crew was already shutting down the kitchen, so I bribed Don with an extra Saturday off and he got things ready. I gave the couple menus to select a late supper so it would be prepared while I got them checked into their cabin. They’d paid for the smallest one but I gave them the option of the larger, nicer and more expensive one for no extra charge, but it’s the farthest walk from the restaurant because of its privacy. They looked at each other and smiled tiredly and accepted. I told them I’d come get them when dinner was ready.
Then I had an idea and grabbed Tina just as she was pulling on a coat and asked if she’d mind taking a dinner tray to Steffi? Her face tightened a little and I thought she was still uncertain about Steffi but she said she would if I called Darryl ‘to see if I could keep her a little longer’. I readily agreed and she rolled her eyes. ‘God, I feel like I’m thirteen and have to check in with Mom or the Principal!’ she said, so to lighten her mood, I said, ‘If you feel like you’re thirteen, that’s cool, because Steffi’s fourteen!’ and she smiled and went to see Don. I made the call and Darryl sounded a little drunk and said, ‘What about my dinner?’ and I said I’d send something home with Tina, how was that? What a jerk, I thought as I hung up, and placed the order with Don, who waggled his head like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah; now what?’
I got the couple to their cabin and then went back to the kitchen and selected a wine for the dinner, on the house. What the hell, I thought. Of course, then I realized that this couple’s lateness was costing me one day of Don, a cabin upgrade, and a Riesling. At this rate I’d have happy customers all the way to the poor house. Then I remembered I still had that box on my desk …
The couple squared away and Bonnie taking care of them and the shut-down after, I went back to my office but on the way I heard girlish giggles from Steffi’s room. I knocked and went in and they sat on the bed with the nail polish sampler open. Tina was doing Steffi’s toes.
‘Look, Andonna!’ Steffi cried happily, holding up her splayed fingers and wiggling them. They were a deep burgundy. Matches the bra, I thought.
Tina turned to me, brush halted mid-air and said, ‘It’s okay, isn’t it?’ I said sure and told her to stop by the warmer on the way out to pick up a dinner for Darryl and it soured her expression. She nodded and bent back down to finish Steffi’s toes.
Steffi picked up on the mood change and said, ‘God, I’ve gotten you in trouble, haven’t I? I’m sorry!’ and I said no, it was my fault because I’d asked Tina, and Tina never took her head up but grumbled no, it was her fault because she’d married a prick. I told her that she hadn’t married a prick; she’d married the star quarterback and she said, ‘Yeah, but all the football padding hid a prick.’ Then she realized how it had sounded and looked quickly at Steffi and said, ‘I mean …’ and all three of us burst out laughing and the sour moment passed. And had somehow become a delightful girl moment.
While Steffi admired her nail polish, Tina said, ‘I can’t believe a girl your age doesn’t have pierced ears! God, honey; how can you stand clip-ons?’ I jumped in and said that my sister’s husband had had some strange ideas and not allowing Steffi to pierce her ears was one of them. And after he was gone, my sister just hadn’t followed through, yet …Tina said that she could do it. I was thinking of a needle and potato, but she said, to my surprise, that she was learning cosmetology and had a piercing-gun and a lot of other stuff besides.
I said it would be wonderful if she wanted to, and then had a thought. ‘Do you need anybody to …practice on? Makeup or hair and things? Because …’ and I looked meaningfully at Steffi, who got it, and bounced up and down. ‘Please, Tina? You want to practice on me? That’d be great! Please?’ Tina looked doubtful and said, ‘But Darryl wants me to come right home …’
Damn that …prick, I thought! On the spot, I said, ‘How about this? If I …reassign you from time to time to care for my invalid niece–at least that’s what I’ll tell Darryl–and that you not only stay on the clock but I’ll throw in a bonus to compensate for lost tips?’ She blinked and said, ‘But I don’t make much on tips …’ I grinned and said, ‘So much the better! I’ll tell Darryl that I’m compensating for the tips that you and I know have been pretty scarce. So you bring home the same amount of money each week. But anything above that amount, you keep for mad money for yourself!’
Tina looked from me to Steffi and back to me, her smile bursting out as she put it all together. ‘Really? You mean it?’ I said I did and the deal was settled. She’s going to bring supplies tomorrow and start leaving them in her car so Darryl doesn’t see her cosmetology things go in and out of the house. And I said I’d pay for everything she used on Steffi, of course.
I left the girls alone for a bit and felt wonderful about how things were turning out. The wonderful feeling lasted until I was back in my office and saw the bundle of CDs. They were the ones that Debbie had custom-ordered. I read and re-read the documentation and stared at the ceiling. If I’d understood correctly, everything up to now was not gender- or sex-specific. Some anger management, good study habits and prioritizing and that sort of thing. Nothing about being feminine–that was the next set.
Yet Steffi was feminine–the very proof were the girlish giggles from Steffi and Tina down the hall. It was jarring to even think ‘Steve’ anymore. And even Tim–and I consider Tim the pinnacle of prudence and insight–pronounced Steffi a girl.
I was wiggling the stack of CDs in the air as I thought. If my sister’s purpose in taking the drastic action with Steve was to gentle him, job done. Ditto if it was to make him considerate and polite. The medication and the CDs accomplished that. I’d complied with my sister’s wishes, even though I thought it was wrong at the outset.
That bothered me; it was one thing to continue her program, her project, and figure out that I felt wrong about doing so. It was quite another to feel wrong about it right from the start, but to go ahead anyway. Sure, I talked myself into ‘she must have known what she was doing’. I talked myself into ‘she’s a mother, she’s a nurse, she knows best’. I talked myself into ‘don’t upset the apple cart’. And a teeny, tiny bit of myself also thought anything would be easier to deal with than the sullen jerk that arrived.
I will always feel guilty about that teeny, tiny, very selfish part–on top of the whole moral quagmire I put myself in, with that first pill and that first push of ‘Play’.
But as to my sister’s plan to feminize her son–proven by the custom CDs I was fanning myself with–I kinda sorta have to also say, ‘job done’. Steven is gone. The boy is gone. I have a niece named Steffi now–Stephanie, I’m pretty sure, for good now–and so there’s no need to go on with these CDs. The way I’d written ‘orange’ that first test still scares me. Perhaps Debbie had the custom set made if there was no gentling in Steven by this point. Well, I was tired feeling guilty about the whole thing. I’ll gladly trade that guilt for the guilt I feel at how much I love this niece of mine!
I collected the first set of CDs, the ones already played, and rubber-banded them together in a separate stack from the customized ones. Then I wrapped a big band around both CD stacks and put the whole damned thing in my bottom desk drawer and locked it. I’m not going to use any of them, unless I see a drastic alteration in Steffi, like sleep problems, anger, whatever.
But I’m not going to discontinue the medication. I don’t know anything about hormones, but I do know that any medication taken as long as Steve and now Steffi has, is systemic now, and if suddenly removed, things could go out of whack. Come to think of it–I don’t really know exactly how long ago Steve started them! So Steffi’s system really has to be analyzed by a doctor. I’m going to try to find a specialist and get Steffi there and confess the whole thing–the meds, I mean; I’m still too freaked and guilty about the CDs–and we’ll see what the doctor wants to do about the meds.
In the meantime, I’m going to work as hard as I can to help my niece be the girl that she seems to be becoming–a happy, productive person with a bright future. And she’s so darned sweet!
I went back to check up on the girls; Tina left a little after that, and after the girls hugged, I hugged Steffi when she emerged from her bathroom in a new nightie, her face shining clean and moisturized. I gave her a sleep braid and recommended we get her to a hair salon right after the bra fitter, and as I turned out the light, I thought about how extremely far she’d come in just one day. It was like an actress working for twenty years to become ‘an overnight success’. I was so proud of her.
And right after I finish this incredibly long entry, I’m going to watch the moon’s reflection on the lake for a bit, and think about Steffi and the new life I want to share with her.
Her. My niece. Definitely!
End of Part 5
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