and how she changed my life
by Louise Anne Smithson
We both got up at 7.00am the following morning and had breakfasted and were ready to leave the flat before 8.30am. It was bitterly cold outside and so I dressed in a thick blue jersey dress and a pair of calf-length leather boots, together with Suzanne’s winter coat. I put on my own makeup and styled the wig, whilst Suzanne was getting herself ready, but she did a quick check and suggested a couple of minor adjustments before we left.
‘I’m sure you’ll be ok today but remember to keep a check on your appearance if you pass a mirror, or when you go to the toilet, and if necessary refresh your make up,’ suggested Sue.
‘I’ll do my best to look nice and act nicely,’ I replied smiling.
‘Good! If you do as well as you did last weekend we should be fine,’ replied Suzanne.
We called a minicab from Suzanne’s usual company, which took us to Regent Street just as the major shops were opening their doors to customers. Once again I felt a little self-conscious to be out in public dressed as a woman, but this quickly wore off as I settled in to the role of Suzanne’s assistant and bag carrier. Nobody appeared to take a second look at me, indeed, it was Suzanne and her wheelchair which attracted far more attention, and by mid-morning I’d lost any sense of anxiety.
My first serious shopping trip with a woman friend proved to be a great learning experience for me. Suzanne had already done much of her Christmas shopping via the Internet, but there were several items she wanted to examine or perhaps try on to see if they suited and whether she’d be able to manage putting them on. She’d prepared a list of everything she wanted to buy, and knew exactly where to find them. She often needed my help however, either in helping her to try on clothes, offering a second opinion between alternatives or merely queuing to pay for the items that she’d selected. Once again I was asked to use Clare’s mysterious debit card in my name, which appeared to have been topped up during the previous week. I decided that if I was going to spend the weekend as a woman then I ought to buy myself another set of underclothes to wear the next day. Suzanne enthusiastically agreed and helped me to select them but also insisted that I should also pay for them using the magic debit card. I noted that money never seemed to be a particular problem for her.
The basket on Suzanne’s wheelchair quickly became filled and so I found that I was carrying a growing number of shopping bags and parcels as well. I was relieved when she suggested that we should have a break, and offered to buy us lunch at a cafeteria in one of the stores.
‘Can you see why it would have been difficult to arrange to meet your friend today,’ said Suzanne.
‘Yes, but there was no problem, the way things have worked out will be better for all concerned.’
‘I’m glad about that and am looking forward to meeting your colleague.’
Suzanne was clearly enjoying her first West End shopping trip in many months, and in any event was always fun to be around. However, by the middle of the afternoon both of us were feeling exhausted. I was therefore relieved when she announced at 4.00pm that she’d purchased everything she’d planned, and several other things as well. After a little delay we were able to hail a black cab to take us home. Once we were in her flat Suzanne was breathless and had a coughing fit, so that I was worried that she may have over-exerted herself. However, after a half hour or so she seemed to recover and I rang to organise a take-away meal to be delivered. That evening we set about re-examining our purchases and then stowing them away.
‘Thank you so much for your help today Clare, it has really meant a lot to me to be able to get everything ready for Christmas,’ said Suzanne as we were eating our evening meal.
‘That’s alright. I’d no idea that shopping could be so tiring, but it has also been good fun. If there’s anything else I can do to help you over the next few weeks, apart from next weekend, I’ll be happy to do so.’
Suzanne paused for a moment considering what to say next.
‘I was rather hoping you might be willing to spend a while staying with me over the Christmas holidays – You mentioned that you’ll be taking some time off work and so you wouldn’t need to keep changing back in to Tom.’
‘I shall be using up my remaining leave and so I’ll not need to go into work between 16th December and 2nd January,’ I replied. ‘I suppose I could come and stay for a few days during that period, if you want me to.’
‘What plans have you made for the Christmas holidays?’
‘Actually, I’ve no plans. I’d normally go and stay with my father, but he will be away this year. How about you, Suzanne, what are your plans?’
‘My two lady friends have invited me to spend Christmas day with them, but other than that, I’ve made no specific arrangements.’
There was a slight pause before she continued.
‘I was half hoping that my cousin Clare might consider spending some time
staying with me over the holiday period since we seem to get on together so well together. Maybe a even week or more?’
‘A week! with me living as Clare?’
‘Yes of course! I’ve plenty of food and drink and, as you know, there are now plenty of clothes for you to wear. Also it would be so much easier if we didn’t have to keep switching you back into Tom every few days. It would be a good way of your celebrating Christmas without spending too much money. Maybe we could go out to the theatre or cinema together as well, I’d pay!’
‘What about your existing arrangements with your friends?’
‘I’m sure that if I told Christine and Elaine that you were staying they would be more than happy for you to come along with me on Christmas day as well, but I’ll check that it’s alright. As far as I’m concerned you could stay for the whole two and a half weeks if you wanted to, I would appreciate the company, particularly over Christmas and New Year which can be rather depressing if you’re on your own.’
‘That’s very generous of you, Suzanne, but I’m not sure I could manage as Clare for such a long time, but perhaps I could stay for a few days over the holiday period. Let me think about it over the next week.’
‘Yes, of course, but I hope you’ll say yes.’
The following morning Suzanne and I had a leisurely breakfast together before proceeding to help each other to get ready to go out. As we were doing so, I began to notice that although she tried to hide the fact, Suzanne was beginning to have difficulty in performing certain basic personal tasks such as brushing her hair or getting herself dressed. If her condition were to deteriorate much further then she’d be in need of a carer to help her get up each morning and go to bed in the evening.
‘What are you planning to wear today Clare?’
‘It’s fairly cold outside and so I suppose that I could put on that blue dress again, it was fairly warm and seems to suit me, but today I think I’ll risk wearing some high-heeled court shoes rather than the boots.’
‘That will be fine but remember you’ll be walking round the shops in the afternoon, and so I suggest that you choose a pair that you find reasonably comfortable.’
‘May I borrow your dark red coat again Suzanne.’
‘Yes, of course! You’ll find a matching handbag in the cupboard and you’ll probably need a pair of gloves as well.’
Just before midday Suzanne telephoned for a minicab.
‘I can drop you at Holloway Road tube station, if you wish Clare; it’s then a simple journey in to Leicester Square.’
‘Thanks. What time should we come back here for tea?’
‘If you arrive at about five o’clock, that should give me enough time to get home and get myself organised.’
As I came up the stairs at Leicester Square tube station I could see Debbie waiting for me at the entrance on other side of the Charing Cross Road. Rather than go back down and under the subway, I crossed the road in front of her, as it wasn’t too busy with traffic. She didn’t look in my direction, being more concerned with looking for me among the passers-by on the pavement. As a result, she didn’t notice my approach until I opened my mouth to greet her.
‘Hello Debbie, are you looking for me?’
‘Hi Clare, I’m sorry not to have recognised you straight away, but I must say you look lovely this morning.’
‘Thanks,’ I answered, blushing a little at first and not knowing how to answer. ‘You always look nice.’
She smiled in acknowledgment.
‘Thank you, but remember it’s the first time I’ve seen Clare in the flesh – and I must say you look just as good as in those pictures.’
I blushed again, and didn’t know what to answer.
‘So what are we going to do this afternoon?’ asked Debbie.
‘I suggest that we find somewhere to have lunch together first of all, and then perhaps we could have a look around Chinatown. My friend Suzanne is expecting us back for tea at about 5.00pm.’
‘That sounds fine by me!’
We found a suitable restaurant and over our meal I answered many more of Debbie’s questions concerning how I’d spent my last three weekends and my longer-term plans regarding Clare, of which I confessed there were none.
‘You’re so convincing as a girl; you really must give our colleagues the opportunity of meeting Clare sometime. If you’re not willing to come into work one day then my flat-mates and I are planning a New Year’s party and I was intending to invite everyone from work. You could come as Clare rather than Tom. Both Karen and Helen will be there with their respective partners?’
‘I’m not sure about that Debbie, I still feel quite nervous about being out in public dressed like this – in fact this morning’s journey to meet you was the first occasion that I’d ventured out on my own other than quick trips to the supermarket.’
‘But you don’t appear to be at all nervous; you look and sound to me as if you were an attractive young woman. I’m sure that with a little more practice you would feel more confident.
‘That’s what my friend Suzanne says, in fact she’s asked me to stay with her, as Clare, over the holiday period, as my father is going to be out of the country.’
‘Are you going to accept her offer?’
‘I’m not sure what to do, even though I’ve had an interesting and pleasant time over the last few weekends; it would be a different matter to be a girl for a week or more at a stretch.
‘I don’t see why you shouldn’t have a good time? After all you appear to have enjoyed immersing yourself doing typically girlish things over the last few weeks.’
I didn’t reply, but blushed as I realised that she was probably right.
‘If your friend is willing to loan you the clothes to wear, you might consider accepting her offer,’ Debbie continued.
‘I’ll have to think about it over the next week or so,’ I replied continuing to blush.
With that our conversation moved on to other things.
After lunch we looked around the shops in Chinatown and then walked on to Regent Street, making one or two purchases along the way. Once again, it struck me that the people seemed to deal with me differently as a young woman than they would have done to Tom. Both the men and the women that I came across seemed to be friendlier and kinder, and I found myself thinking how much I’d enjoyed spending the last three weekends as Clare, and regretting the fact that I’d not be able to do the same next weekend. At one point, after I’d just finished flirting with a stall holder, who was trying to sell me a silk scarf, I caught Debbie looking at me and shaking her head.
‘What’s the matter?’ I asked.
‘I really cannot get used to how much you’ve changed, and it isn’t just in your appearance, but also your personality. Tom was alright, I suppose, although perhaps a little dull, whereas Clare is someone who is fun to be with.’
‘Are you sure it isn’t a question of other people changing in their reaction towards me?’
‘Probably it’s a bit of both, but there’s a definite improvement,’ she said smiling.
Soon afterwards we began to make our way back to Suzanne’s flat in Westbourne Park.
‘Suzanne, this is my friend Debbie from work,’ I said as we entered. ‘Debbie, this is Suzanne who’s been largely responsible for the creation of Clare.’
‘I think you’ve done a very good job, Suzanne. Clare is more fun to spend time with than Tom, and is also a lot better looking,’ said Debbie smiling as they shook hands.
‘I’m glad you think so too. However, any improvement is partly due to Clare’s efforts as well, she has worked hard on her presentation over the last three weekends.’
‘Yes and from the sound of it, she’s been enjoying herself in the process,’ added Debbie. ‘I’ve been trying to persuade her to come into work one day and introduce herself to our two colleagues.’
‘If I were due to be working on the last day before the Christmas holiday, I might consider doing so, as no-one expects any work to be done on that day, but if I were to come in on another day it would just be a distraction, and would probably not go down too well,’ I interposed.
‘I don’t think so; once the introductions were made you could just get on with Tom’s work,’ replied Debbie
As my two friends got to know one another I began to feel a little irritated at the way they seemed to be taking over my life and making assumptions or decisions about my future before I’d had a chance to weigh them in my own mind. I didn’t regret for one moment the events of the last few weekends but, on the other hand, I wanted to choose if and when they would continue. I didn’t say anything, however, as I’d enjoyed both of their company individually over the course of the weekend.
‘By the way Clare, I was discussing the arrangements for Christmas with Christine and Eleanor this morning and they’d both be very happy to have you join us at their house on Christmas day. So you’d be more than welcome to stay at my flat at any time over the Christmas and New Year period that you wish,’ said Suzanne
‘In that case Clare rather than Tom could also come to my New Year’s party, added Debbie.
‘Hang on a minute, both of you. I’m still not sure what I want to do over the Christmas holiday and need to sort out in my own mind whether I want to spend any more time as Clare,’ I said.
Suzanne looked a little disappointed with my reaction but realised it was probably better not to press the point at that moment.
‘Alright then, it is entirely up to you what you do over Christmas, as long as you promise to consider our suggestions’, she said.
‘But you’ve already admitted to me that you have had a good time during your last three weekends living as Clare’ added Debbie.
‘Alright, yes I admit that. I have had a good time and will give consideration to your suggestions over the next two weeks,’ I replied with just a hint of irritation.
At that point my companions changed the subject and we were all soon chatting happily together once again. Suzanne served up a simple tea and we continued chatting together on other matters until the early evening. Debbie and Suzanne seemed to get on well together, but they also treated me as one of themselves and we all took equal shares in the conversation, which I seemed to find much easier to do as Clare than I’d have done as Tom.
Eventually, at about 8.00pm, Debbie told us that she would have to leave to travel back to her home in south London.
‘I’ll walk to the underground station with you, if you like’ I said.
‘Alright then, and thanks for the tea Suzanne, it was nice to meet you,’ said Debbie as we left.
‘I hope we meet again sometime,’ replied Suzanne.
As her train approached Debbie turned to me.
‘Thanks for everything, Clare; I’ve had a most delightful day. I think you make a lovely young woman and I hope to see you again very soon.’
‘Yes, but in the meanwhile you’ll be seeing Tom again in the morning,’ I replied.
‘I realize that,’ she said as she kissed me on the cheek and boarded her train.
I was feeling rather subdued and thoughtful as I returned to Suzanne’s flat a quarter of an hour later.
‘I’d better get changed back to Tom now and return to my flat,’ I said soon after my arrival.
‘Alright but you would be welcome to stay here another night and change back early tomorrow morning, if you wish,’ said Suzanne.
‘No thanks, there would be too much to do first thing in the morning, and in spite of what Debbie thinks, I’ve no intention of going into work dressed as a woman.’
Both Karen and Helen were working in the office every day over the next week, and as Debbie had promised not to discuss the subject of Clare in front of them, there was hardly any opportunity for her to speak about the previous weekend or to enquire about my plans for Christmas. She merely offered a few words about how pleased she’d been to meet Clare and Suzanne and how impressed she’d been with the former, before changing the subject. I wasn’t too sorry about this as I wanted to sort out things in my own mind over the next few days. I also stopped experimenting with makeup each evening in my flat as I wanted to be sure there would be no give-away traces when I stayed with my father over the coming weekend. In any event, I’d left most of the stuff behind in Suzanne’s flat. The only concession I made to Clare was to retain the near invisible sleepers in my ears. My weekday evenings were rather spent in catching up with various domestic tasks that I’d neglected over the past few weekends and in doing some of my own Christmas shopping, as the coming weekend would be the last opportunity of seeing my father before he and his new lady friend left for their cruise.
I wondered whether I should telephone Suzanne during the week, but wanted to avoid answering any questions about my plans for the time being, and so, instead, I went out and bought a rather girly looking ‘Thank you’ card. Inside I wrote a message in Clare’s name thanking her for her hospitality over the last three weekends and saying how much I’d enjoyed them. I also added a postscript thanking her for the invitation for Christmas but saying that I’d need a little time for before deciding whether or not to accept. Finally, I promised that Tom would telephone her after returning from his trip home. I hoped that she would understand my need to be left alone to think things through. On Wednesday, I received a text message from Suzanne:
thx 4 card will await yr decish! speak 2 u next week,
luv Suzy xx.
P.S. u forgot 2 take wig clothes & makeup 4 more practice – will arrange 2 send em to u –’
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