Connections, by Karin Bishop
Chapter 16: The Mall
Clothes. Oh, my God. Since I could wear many of Linda’s things, we didn’t need to buy a whole closet full, but it felt like we did. In a whirlwind, we zoomed through some of the finer stores getting tops, skirts, shorts, slacks, dresses, and accessories. Marilyn paid a store to arrange to bring it all to the car, and then we broke for a late lunch, almost supper, at a restaurant atop the best department store. I was wearing a shiny blue blouse and black skirt from the last boutique, and had rings, a bracelet, and a new necklace I was gently fingering.
I also was fingering—with awe—the gold studs in my newly-pierced ears. It had been so simple, and so quick, and so right and I was feeling that the ear piercing had contributed the most to my sense of rightness as a girl. I was aware that many males had both ears pierced and it didn’t make them any less male, but for me it was a definite line drawn between then—Michael, and now—Melanie. And the earring sets we’d added were so cute!
Marilyn ordered salads and tea for us, and said, “Now for the hard parts.”
My mouth hit the floor. “You’re kidding?”
“Nope. No kidding. Everything we’ve done has been fun; the next parts can be fun but very trying. Lingerie and shoes. And at least one purse.”
“Marilyn, please, you’ve spent so much already. I’m overwhelmed.”
“Good. I want you to be overwhelmed; it’ll help get it through that pretty head of yours that you’re a girl. And stop worrying about expense, okay?”
“Yes, but ...” I couldn’t imagine how much she’d spent already.
“Look, to put it into perspective, everything we’ve spent so far amounts to less than a day’s income. And everything is with your mother’s blessing, by the way. Your mother may not wear these kinds of clothes, but she now knows that girls do—and you do now—and so don’t worry about whether she likes anything or not. She will like them on you, okay?”
I wondered what she could be talking about ‘less than a day’s income’—income for who? Perhaps Marilyn had done the marry-rich-and-bury-richer thing so much she had no grasp of regular folks’ incomes. But now was not the time to bring it up. “Okay,” I agreed. “It all takes some getting used to …”
“I understand, honey. And our next stop may take you even more getting used to!”
So, of course Marilyn took me to Victoria’s Secret; I had to keep walking and not show any fear. I tried several bras, teddies, camisoles, and then Marilyn swooped in, purchased everything she liked, and included panties, tap sets, and sleep sets! I saw what she meant about lingerie being ‘trying’—besides the obvious joke about trying things on—because a lot of the magic was gone; I just wanted to get my things and get out of the store. But I felt a warm glow thinking about wearing some of them ...
In a very high-end store we found a light brown, butter-soft purse for me, and walking through Penney’s Marilyn recommended a more casual purse that was on sale. Finally it was time for shoes. I’d been wearing the sandals all day because they were so easy to take off. Marilyn said my feet were as ‘swelled’ as they could be, so anything that fit now would be quite comfortable when my feet were fresh. We went to a really nice shoe store and I was given some anklets to wear. As in other stores, it seemed like I tried on half their inventory, and as in other stores, Marilyn bought an amazing quantity. In fact, she once again paid the shoe store to send someone with the bags to our car. Once we were at the car, everything delivered and stored, the valet paid off, I realized I was absolutely exhausted.
By now I’d learned to not keep thanking Marilyn, so we wasted no time on that. Instead, she told me about ways to interact with people as a girl, some of the ‘social dynamics’ that she’d mentioned earlier. I learned a lot just on the car ride, but was getting sleepy. When we got home, we had several trips to get all the bags into Linda’s—I mean, my room. Marilyn told me not to worry about putting anything away; we’d do that tomorrow. She hugged me and told me to take another bubble bath. I needed no urging, and the only difference between tonight’s bath and last night’s was that now I wore nail polish. I absolutely loved seeing my painted toes poking out of the water! Truth be told, I felt much more feminine than I had last night, as well.
I reluctantly got out, but the exhaustion and bubbles had done their work. I was ready to be poured into bed. I was just straightening out my nightie when Marilyn appeared at my door with a tray holding a glass of warm milk and some pills.
“Here, honey, try these. But don’t get spoiled; I won’t always be waiting on you hand and foot!” she laughed.
“I appreciate it, though, especially tonight. If I was in the bath any longer, I’d have melted and drowned!”
I wondered what the pills were, and she noticed my look.
“We’ve filled your prescription, and now that the Melanie cat is out of the Michael bag, your doctor’s changed your dosage from one a day. So every night and every morning, you’ll take these. Two to start tonight, then one at a time.”
I didn’t mind; as long as I was going to be allowed to continue as a girl, I certainly wanted to speed things up. But I had a question.
“Marilyn ...what am I going to do here?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, at home I’d ...” I stopped, realizing that I had no clue what I’d be doing. I’d still be Michael, probably, hiding in my room, wearing Mom’s straitlaced jumpers and never daring to dream that I could look and feel as pretty as I did now.
I’d still be stuck in Celia’s manhole—and I hadn’t noticed the awful pun involved!
She smiled and patted my knee. “That’s all right, honey, I think I understand. Well, tell you what. Get a good night’s sleep and we’ll have a lazy Sunday. Carol will be coming home, and so you two girls will get acquainted—oh, don’t make such a face! Carol knows about you and said she’ll be glad to have an ‘almost sister’ that’s closer to her own age.” She sighed. “It wasn’t easy on Carol, with Linda so much older.”
“I’m ...glad that she knows, but I’ll still be nervous.”
“I understand, honey, but if only you could see yourself, truly see yourself ...you are a very pretty girl, now, so put any thoughts of having been a boy right out of your head.”
“Good girl. Anyway, we’ll probably go out to celebrate having two girls living here again, and that’ll be a special time to dress up. Then we can talk on Monday.”
“Yes, talk. Melanie, as your godmother, it’s my responsibility to see to your happiness. The first part is obviously what we’ve been doing—setting Melanie free. So we’ll see what’s in store for Melanie this summer; your Mom and I have some ideas that we’ll all hash over.”
“My mother’s coming here on Monday?”
“Of course! After all, we’ll be planning your life, and that’s what mothers of daughters do!”
Chapter 17: Lounging By The Pool
Sunday was lazy. I found a pair of silky pajamas in lavender, and they just flowed around me when I walked. Unfortunately, I almost slid out of the first leather chair I sat on! It led to a girlish giggling fit that I did not ‘clam up’, as Marilyn said I had been doing. For breakfast I had a piece of melon and toast, cleaned up, and then went in search of Marilyn. I found her in a room off the dining room that I had missed in my tour last night.
Marilyn had a very classy, Chinese robe kind of thing, and was working on a pot of tea while she read the paper. I was interested to note that she didn’t flip through the paper; she really concentrated on each page, and occasionally jotted on a notepad.
“Morning, Melanie,” Marilyn said without looking up. She finished her note and looked at me and smiled. “That’s pretty on you. God, I wish I’d looked like you when I was your age.”
What could I do? I blushed.
She chuckled, and spoke as if addressing the room. “God, she even blushes prettily.”
“Marilyn, please, I ...it makes me feel weird.”
“Hmm. Weird, how? Because I want to weed out any false modesty.”
“Weird ...like ...”
Marilyn put her pen down and looked at me seriously. “I know it’s early, but maybe we should talk about it.”
I nodded; I was a little uncomfortable with how everything was going so quickly. I kept waiting for it to suddenly end, or for me to cross a line that I didn’t know existed, or to piss off Marilyn somehow. I wanted to get my position clear. And, I guess the best way was to talk about how I felt.
“You’re right, because I feel like I’m hanging in space.” I gave a small laugh. “And I’m getting dizzy. When you say things like I’m pretty, well ...the thing is, I’ve got thirteen years of being an unhappy, funny-looking sort-of boy. If you only knew how many nights I prayed for God to change me into a girl or kill me in the morning ...” It was a bitter memory and she frowned, disturbed. I passed over that. “And then ...everything’s moving so fast; I’m way beyond any dream or fantasy I could have. I was so grateful that Mom let me wear that jumper, that anything else was beyond imagining.”
Marilyn chuckled. “About that jumper ...honey, I’m going to tell a tale out of school.”
“I’m going to tell you something about your mother. Do you know why you had that frumpy jumper to wear?”
“I just figured that, you know, Mom being so conservative and all ...”
Marilyn threw her head back and laughed. “Of course that’s what you’d think! Well, she is conservative, and you know why. No, no; it was more complex than that—just like your mother.”
She took a sip of tea. “I’m going to speak very frankly and openly, which is what grownups say before we talk about sex. Okay?”
“Both your mom and I have long known about you—about the Melanie in you—but we had to be sure about you, and to let you be sure, yourself. We had to know that you weren’t just a transvestite, wanting to wear women’s clothing but still a heterosexual male. Or if you were a gay male that treated dressing up like a lark; the slang is ‘queen’.”
“I know the terms, but I don’t ...these are things I don’t think about ...”
I know I was blushing again, but it was true—I hadn’t gotten around to thinking about sex in any form with any person. I just wanted to be a girl, to be allowed to go through the world as a girl.
Marilyn asked if I wanted some tea; I nodded, and she reached behind her and got another cup from the sideboard, poured for me, and motioned to the sugar and milk. It was still quite hot, so I took a cautious sip as Marilyn resumed.
“By only putting you in that jumper, but allowing you to relax and act like a girl—maybe I should say, to relax into the girl you really are—we could tell if you were only in it for the clothes. Like any girl, your fashion sense was outraged that you only wore that one jumper, but it quickly became obvious that it unlocked the real you. When you wore it, it was a symbol to you that you could be Melanie, even in that dowdy jumper.” She chuckled and shook her head. “And boy, Melanie sure came out with a vengeance! That night I found you in the kitchen? You were already so naturally feminine that for a split second I thought that Michael had a girlfriend over—and I even knew what was going on!”
“But ...Mom never said you knew all along...”
“Of course she didn’t; the important thing was for you to discover yourself …yourself. We couldn’t push you into being a girl, although we’d wanted to for years; you had to come to the realization all by yourself. Do you remember what I said to your mother Friday night? About committing all the way? So now, no false modesty. No holding back. The three of us know that you’re a girl—regardless of what your birth records say—so my job, as your godmother, is to let you blossom. And, due to your mother’s nature, it would be too difficult for her to handle. So I get the fun part! But, sweetheart, we both knew you were a girl; be clear on that. If it seems like things are moving fast, you’ve missed thirteen years of girlhood, sweetheart, so we need to catch you up!”
She smiled at my stunned expression.
Mom knew? All along, Mom knew? But her reactions to the lipstick, and my few pieces of clothing …that had been genuine. I began realizing that things were more complex than I knew, and I had had much to think about. But it was obvious that living with Marilyn was essential for both my mother and me.
Back to my original question, I asked , “But what am I going to do?”
“I think I know what you mean. Okay, here’s what’s blocked out for your summer. There isn’t going to be any ‘is she or isn’t she’ nonsense. First, admit that you’re a girl and happier as a girl.”
“I thought …” Her face said she was waiting for my response. I grinned. “Okay. I’m a girl, I’m happier as a girl, and I can’t imagine wanting to be a boy. And it’s all been wonderful, and it just feels so right!”
She gave me a huge, warm smile. “Exactly. So we start from there. We will be meeting with your doctor later in the week, and I suspect there will be several visits. In the meantime, however, we will work on getting you up to speed, as men like to say. To make you into the girl you would have been. And I’m going to teach you so much about being female, your head will swim, but I guarantee you’ll love it!” She paused. “Except for maybe the bikini wax.” She laughed.
I laughed with her, but was wondering, ‘bikini wax’? Really? Naw, she’s got to be kidding.
Marilyn said, “Do you know the song from The Flower Drum Song, ‘I Enjoy Being A Girl’? I want that to be your motto. And as for the summer, there will be plenty of normal girl’s activities for you. I’d like to enroll you in a dance class, and maybe some other classes if you’re interested.” She tilted her head. “That sound okay to you?”
“That sounds great, but ...um ...what kind of dance class?”
“Well, probably a jazz/hip-hop thing to start; that might be fun for you. And it’s how all your classmates will dance. But of course, you should have a cotillion class.”
“Cotillion?” I gasped.
“Of course! Every young lady should ...well, okay, suffer through a cotillion class so she can conduct herself correctly in polite society.”
“Uh, yeah, but where would I use it?”
She gave me a strange, knowing look. “Sometimes it’s just better to be prepared, honey. Anyway, are there any art classes you’d like to take?”
“I’ve always kind of liked photography.”
“Excellent choice; I know just the place for it. We’ll have a more detailed talk with your mother tomorrow, block out time slots for everything, that sort of thing. But I don’t want you to think that it’s going to be nothing but classes. You’ll get in lots of swimming, biking. We’ll probably take a trip or two. So all in all, it should be a fun summer.”
It all sounded wonderful, no matter how I was dressed, but thinking about the summer, I suddenly got depressed and I guess my face fell.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
“I’m sure it will be a great summer, but ...it’s like a summer fantasy. Fall rolls around, and it all ends.”
She gave me a stern look and slowly, spacing out her words, she said, “Not ...necessarily. That all depends on you. If you commit, 100%, to what I’m doing with you, I think Fall will take care of itself.”
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of that, but there was one thing I wanted to say. “Marilyn, thank you again for all of this—and I know you told me to stop thanking you all the time—but there’s one thing I need to say. If there are any jobs I can do for you, any chores, cleaning, whatever, please tell me. I want to pay you back for your kindness and the terrible expense.”
“Well, thank you, Melanie, but don’t worry about the expense. As for the chores ...I have a woman that comes in for the household duties, but there may be some things where I can use your help. Now, any other questions?”
“Just one, actually, but it’s way off the subject. If you don’t mind my asking, what kind of notes were you taking? I’ve never seen anybody go over the Sunday paper so intensely.”
Marilyn laughed. “You mean, you’re not really clear what I do.”
“Well, you live very well, but I thought it was from ...you know, um …getting divorced?” I said in a tiny voice, embarrassed to bring it up.
She nodded. “Yes, that’s what most people think. And I rather encourage that belief; it works to my advantage sometimes. Actually, very little at all came from divorces; with the exception of contribution to my daughters’ college funds by their fathers, I took nothing from my ex-husbands.” She thought for a moment. “Melanie, this is one of the things I want you to learn as a girl. Women are not powerless, contrary to what a lot of people—mostly men—think. It’s a different sort of power, and has more subtleties than the brute power of men. And one of the most powerful things a woman can do is to not need a man.” She grinned. “It un-nerves ‘em.”
“Okay ...so, are you just naturally rich?”
I’d always loved Marilyn’s full, deep laugh; it sounded like she was laughing with the world. She threw her head back and gave me a full-throated guffaw.
“Naturally rich? I don’t think anyone’s naturally rich. Some might argue that people that inherit wealth are naturally rich, but it has nothing to do with nature. You can be naturally clumsy, or naturally beautiful—which I think you tend toward—or naturally left-handed, whatever. But inheriting wealth is just being born into it. The proof is, they can lose it overnight, and some never get it back.”
Marilyn was silent for a moment, pursing her lips. “I’m ...naturally an entrepreneur. This is difficult to put into words ...I sense currents in the world. You know how in school you study ‘Current Events’? Well, when I was your age, I took it to mean ‘current’ like a river or ocean current. Also like electrical current, pulsing through miles of wires. Suddenly, little isolated bits of news seemed to fit together in unexpected ways. They may connect directly, or just be links, but it’s a linked chain of causality …Like I said, it’s hard to explain.”
She opened the newspaper and pointed to articles on two different pages. “Okay, here’s an example. There’s some trouble in Rwanda—there’s always trouble in Rwanda—and then over here, a biochem company announced a new solvent. Okay, see what I mean?”
I saw the articles as she pointed them out on various pages, and nodded, still puzzled.
Marilyn chuckled. “I’ve got the advantage of knowing other information, but it’s a matter of seeing connections that aren’t immediately apparent. Just from these separate news items I will draw a conclusion that I provide to a client, who will pay me a consulting fee. And the funny part is, I don’t consult in the usual manner. I just sort of ...put a certain bee in a certain bonnet, get the right word to the right ear ...sort of.”
“I think I understand, a little. I read something awhile ago, from Samuel Johnson. You know, of the English Dictionary? He said, ‘There’s two kinds of knowledge; knowing a thing, and knowing where to find out about a thing’. Or words to that effect.”
That earned me a big hug from Marilyn. “Exactly, my dear! And quoting Johnson in the morning; delightful! I’m proud of you. You’re the first person that understands. Even Carol has trouble with it sometime. ‘Mother, all you do is make a couple of phone calls.’ That’s exactly what I do. Of course, now it’s encrypted e-mail, usually.”
The newspaper took on a whole new interest to me now, for several reasons. I thought it would be fun to try to find connections. But I also studied the Fashion section.
When the tea was gone, I cleared our cups and things, and then asked Marilyn how I should dress. It was a warm day, so she suggested I try one of Linda’s swimsuits and lay out by the pool for a few hours. That sounded deliciously lazy, and I went upstairs to see what was in my drawer. Linda had two one-piece suits that were called ‘maillot’, I think, and lots of tops and bottoms. I automatically reached for a one-piece, thinking to cover up, and then remembered my promise to Marilyn to enjoy being a girl. So I pulled out several tops and bottoms that had colors or patterns I liked, and laid them on the bed. There was a variety of bottoms, boy-cut, bikini, even a thong (no way!); the tops had all sorts of strap arrangements, cups, support, and so on. Whew!
I tried on several, and settled on one that was royal blue with white piping, high cut on the hips, and had straps on the side of the cups. I discovered that it was a kind of Wonderbra top, which I could certainly use. My breasts were little more than wishes at this point, but I was just the tiniest bit fleshy—and with the top I actually had cleavage! Knowing how Marilyn thought, I reasoned that anything that made me feel good about myself should be worn. I took off my choice, put all the other suits away, and put sunblock all over my body, then put the suit on. Hair ...what to do? I found a great big alligator clip so I pulled it back, twisted and up and clipped, grabbed a towel and was ready to go.
I stopped by the kitchen for a bottle of water and Marilyn appeared in a smashing two-piece, more modestly cut, that accented her curves.
“You didn’t think I was going to let you have all the fun in the sun, did you?” she asked innocently.
I laughed, Marilyn picked up a bundle of magazines and her towel, and we went out.
Let’s face it; there’s something great about just laying in the sun, doing nothing. We both had sunglasses, so Marilyn handed me a couple of magazines, Seventeen and CosmoGirl, telling me to start doing my homework. Thumbing through the magazines, watching the sweat form on my skin, seeing the polish on my toenails, feeling the top ...I thought everything could end right now and I’d die happy. I guess Marilyn had talked herself out earlier, because we had minimal conversation beyond a comment here and there.
I noticed she’d stopped reading, removed her glasses, and was laying back, so I finished the article I was reading—on ways to flirt—and followed her example. The only comment from her was, “When you turn over onto your tummy, don’t forget to undo your bra strap. That way you won’t have a tan line showing when you wear something cut low.”
When it came time to turn over (my front felt like a pepperoni), I did as she said, wondering about wearing something cut low in back. And, wondering about the flirting article I’d read ...
Finally, I couldn’t stand the heat any more, redid my strap and got up and plunged into the pool. I’d never before felt the strange pull on my top when I dove; I’d never realized that I would have to contend with breasts in the water from now on. I stroked around, feeling like a sleek seal, and then slithered out and back on my lounge chair.
Marilyn was standing and walked to a shower nozzle that I hadn’t seen, tucked in some palm fronds.
“You might want to rinse off after the pool. I rinse before and after.”
I apologized for not rinsing first, because I didn’t know about the shower. She walked, dripping, and did a little hop into a noiseless dive in the pool. My godmother had so many skills, I knew that one of the best things I could do was follow her lead. I rinsed and went to lay down. She emerged from the pool as quietly as she entered, rinsed, and toweled off.
“I’m going to bathe and relax.”
Relax? I thought, what has she been doing? I followed her in and went to my own bathroom and took a shower, using some of the body wash I’d seen last night. Cucumber clean, I wrapped myself in a terrycloth robe and sat on the bed, brushing my hair, marveling at how I’d landed in the lap of luxury. I felt a bit guilty, thinking of Mom at home alone, so on a whim I called her. I told her I missed her and was getting along great with Marilyn. She reminded me that I’d be seeing her tomorrow, and then asked what was troubling me.
“How’d you know something’s troubling me?”
I loved hearing her soft laughter. “Mother’s intuition. What is it, sweetheart?”
I didn’t really know where to start. “Mom, I ...I feel like I’m in a fairy tale. Everything is so wonderful here.”
“Hmm ...sounds terrible.”
“Mother! I mean, it’s not mine, ours, you know? I feel like I don’t truly belong, either as a girl or living here.”
“I think I understand. Well, honey, all I can say is that you do belong. To both. You are a girl, despite your previous thirteen years. And regardless of, um ...certain parts of your anatomy. Do you understand?”
“Yes, but ...”
“And Marilyn is your godmother, dear, and do you know what that means?”
“No, Mom. I mean, yes, I know what a godmother is, but you obviously mean something more.”
“In the event anything ever happened to me, Marilyn would become your legal guardian—that’s how much I love and trust her. And that’s in addition to the usual godmother’s duties of spoiling her goddaughter.” Mom laughed. “So you do belong, living here or living there, because she’s family.”
I felt better, knowing what she told me, and knowing I’d see her tomorrow. I told her I loved her and we hung up.
Chapter 18: Meeting Carol
I went down to the kitchen for a glass of juice, and Marilyn passed the doorway and stuck her head in.
“You might want to get casually dressed. Just comfortable, right? Carol will be back in about half an hour.”
Panic time, so soon after the warm buzz I got from Mom. I went back upstairs and decided on a denim skirt and a camp shirt with a pattern that reminded me of Monet’s ‘Water Lilies’, sandals, and after putting on some gold jewelry I spritzed myself with some new Clinique body spray that smelled fresh and clean. Oh God, makeup! I didn’t have time to do much, or do it twice, so I quickly put on some mascara, a little blush, and a slick of lipstick.
Running downstairs, I felt thrown together. Clean, but not fully sure of how I looked. Marilyn smiled approvingly, though, and asked me if I knew anything about a new singer on MTV. I told her what I knew, and suddenly there was a commotion at the door and Carol burst in, backwards, tugging a duffel bag and waving to a car pulling away.
She shouted that she was home, using a voice to fill the house, and hunched her shoulders and giggled when she turned around and saw that we were right there. She hugged her mother and turned to me. Her forehead wrinkled and she tilted her head, a habit of her mother’s.
I nodded, too nervous to say anything.
Marilyn said, “Carol, this is Melanie.”
“Oh, my God, you look incredible! Mom, you’re not kidding me, are you? She’s ...omigod!” she gushed, staring, then suddenly smiled and threw her arms wide. “Hi, Melanie!” she said cheerfully.
Impulsively, I took a step to her and we hugged. Like sisters, I hoped.
“Oh, my God!” she said again, looking from me to Marilyn. “You’re ...come on, you two, this can’t be ...”
“Oh, but it can be, Carol. I told you that you wouldn’t believe it until you saw her. And I’m here to testify, she’s wonderful.”
I blushed, and Carol hugged me again. Even with our age difference, I’d always liked her, and now I liked her so much more. Marilyn led us into a family room, and they sat on a couch and I sat on the chair opposite. I studied Carol with new eyes, and was stunned by how attractive she was. She had dark golden hair with red highlights, straight past her shoulders, held back by sunglasses on her head. Her tan was rich and golden, and her green eyes even had gold flecks that seemed to catch the afternoon sunlight. She wore khaki shorts and a purple tank top over high, firm breasts. Of course, she was slim and trim with a really cute figure, and I thought she was everything I’d want to be in a girl. Looking at her, I felt like a hairy boy in a skirt.
Carol gave us a quick rundown of her weekend, but kept interrupting herself to ask me a question or two, until her mother told her to go unpack, change, and we’d go out to dinner. I helped Carol by carrying her duffel bag to her room. She thanked me and shook her head while looking at me.
“I’m just having trouble believing it. Mentally, I know that you’re ...that you used to be Michael. But my eyes see a cute girl who looks and talks and moves too naturally feminine to have ever been a boy. Wow.”
“Yeah, wow,” I said, embarrassed. “Imagine it from my side.”
Her eyes widened. “Wow!” She shook her head, grinning. “We’ve got a lot to talk about, girl.” She turned to unzipping her duffel.
“I’ll just ...go see if your mom needs anything.” I turned to go.
“You don’t have to go, Melanie. Let me just throw this stuff in the hamper,” she said with an armful of the duffel’s contents.
Carol asked some simple questions, like when did I get there, what did I do yesterday and today, and so on. I knew that the harder, more embarrassing questions would come later. She was telling me about a boy she’d met—named Eric—when she tossed the duffel to the ground. She reached up and peeled off the tank top, revealing a black bra. She unsnapped the back and was letting the bra drop off her shoulders. I caught a glimpse of darned-near perfect breasts, when I spun away, muttering, “I’ll go help your Mom” and started for the door.
Then I heard her giggle.
“I completely forgot ...look, Melanie, I just did what I’d do with any other girl. Girls change clothes in front of one another, you know, and I just ...forgot about ...well, you know.”
I realized she was more embarrassed than I was. “It’s okay, Carol, I’m flattered, actually. I mean, you know who I am—or who I was—and for you to treat me like any other girl really means a lot to me.” I smiled to put her at her ease. “But I really should see if your mom needs anything. She’s been so good to me that I want to help her any way I can.”
Carol chuckled. “I understand. Okay, well, I’m going to grab a quick shower and I’ll be down in twenty minutes.”
I went down and Marilyn was looking at a Time magazine. I asked her, “Not just newspapers, right?”
She knew exactly what I meant. “There’s a lag time between an event and a magazine’s reporting, but sometimes you can pick up something in the expanded coverage. Newspapers are more up-to-the-minute, and a lot of things depend on moving quickly. I’ve got several on-line news services, besides things like BBC and Reuters, and they update hourly, sometimes sooner.”
We talked a little more, and before I knew it, Carol came bouncing into the room, wearing a wrap-around skirt with a blue tropical pattern, a burgundy top with spaghetti straps, and looking like a million bucks. Which, of course, her mother was probably worth.
Marilyn threw out restaurant names, until we settled on a Mexican place. I realized that Carol was dressed perfectly for it. Hmm ...was that chance, did she know where she was going to go, or what? I had a lot to learn from these women ...
We slid into the Mercedes, and I liked the fact that the car was filled with femininity. I reveled in it. I covertly studied Carol’s mannerisms, wanting to be like her. I realized that she was ‘comfortable in her skin’, and a very feminine skin it was, too. Her gestures were graceful and fluid, not exaggerated, and so I could relax and be as girlish as I wanted.
At the restaurant, we parked and were seated after a short wait. Following the hostess, I sensed men and boys looking at us—and realized that some were actually looking at me. I just loved the attention, sat in the booth, sweeping my skirt under me, and we gave our drink order to our waiter, and I began shaking.
“What’s wrong?” Carol asked.
Marilyn, worried, gasped, “Melanie ...?”
My shaking stopped. “I’m sorry; I just ...it all suddenly was very real and I stopped being Michael.”
Carol said, “I know I just got here, but it looked to me like you stopped being Michael long ago.”
I smiled at her, gratefully. “Thanks for that. Well, there’s still this little left-over bit that always seems there, in the back, judging.”
Marilyn said, “Ah ...well, remember what we talked about last night?”
Carol looked from her mother to me and back again. “Anybody want to clue me in?”
Marilyn looked at me, and I took the lead. “She told me I should fully commit to being Melanie, to just forget about having ever been Michael.”
Carol said, “Well, I’ve known Michael off and on for about thirteen years, and I haven’t seen him today.”
I smiled at her. “Thanks again, but he was there in the back of my head, all quiet and neatly stashed away, until we got here. I made it from the car, through the wait and walk to the table, and everything felt perfectly normal for Melanie. There wasn’t a ghost of Michael, until I ...”
Marilyn slowly said, “Oh ...I think I know. The attention?”
My godmother certainly knew me. I nodded. “It was so ...nice.”
Carol’s eyes widened as it dawned on her. “Who was it? The waiter or the cute guy in that blue shirt?”
She meant the guy with his family, in a booth we’d passed. In a small voice, cheeks flaming, I said, “Blue shirt.”
Marilyn smiled, reached out and put her hand over mine, and I thought I saw a tear in her eyes. “Oh, sweetheart ...”
Carol sat back. “Wow,” was all she said.
I looked at her. “Yeah. Wow.”
Our waiter arrived with our drinks, iced tea all around. I realized that Carol was right; he was also cute. We gave our food orders, and after he left we clinked glasses.
“To Melanie!” Carol said.
“Um ...” I said.
“Melanie, would you prefer a different toast?” Marilyn asked.
“Carol, thanks for the toast, but it feels like bragging to toast myself ...”
Marilyn said, “How about, ‘to girlhood’?”
“Sounds great!” I said, enthusiastically.
“I’ll drink to that!” Carol grinned, and we clinked.
We had small talk after that; Carol wanted to know what her mom was up to, and was amazed that I sort of understood the process. Marilyn gently asked about boys, and I kept quiet about Eric, earning a grateful look from Carol. Carol asked about my plans, and I told her we’d meet with Mom tomorrow to figure things out.
The food arrived and was delicious, and we were contentedly quiet on the way home. We headed to our rooms, tired and comfortable. Before Carol entered her room, she turned.
“Melanie? Want to come to my room for a minute?”
“Let’s get changed and washed up first.”
I went in my room and undressed, putting things in the hamper, and put on a white short-sleeved nightie. I pulled my hair back in a loose braid, washed and moisturized my face, brushed my teeth and went down the hall to Carol’s room. She was wearing a lilac camisole and tap pant set, and had a ribbon tying her hair back. She was fresh-scrubbed and beautiful even without her makeup.
She stared as I walked in. “Sorry!” she giggled. “You just look so …normal!”
“It’s what I want to be,” I said, uncertain.
She smiled warmly. “Melanie, I just ...this might sound sort of snobby of me, but ...I want to say, welcome to the family.”
I smiled. “Thank you. It’s a wonderful family.”
She giggled. “I think so, but I’m hardly objective about it.” She paused and looked at me sheepishly. “I just hope ...we can be friends. No ...”
The warm and fuzzy feeling I got was popped like a balloon. My mouth opened but I had nothing to say.
Carol waved her hand back and forth in front of her. “No, no, no; I said that wrong. I said, I hope we can be friends, but that wasn’t really what I meant.” There was a quiet pause, and she went on in a small voice, “I hope we can be more than friends. I hope we can be ...sisters.”
I got a huge rush of happiness and took a big breath. “Oh, God, Carol, that would be fantastic! But I could never ...Linda ...”
Carol laughed. “Linda’s still my sister, dummy! So now I’ve got two sisters; that’s allowed, right?”
I hugged her.
“And, Melanie ...Linda and I have …you don’t know this, do you? We have different fathers so we’re half-sisters. But I still love her completely! But we also are five years apart, so we didn’t do much together. And despite loving each other, there were times when she couldn’t be bothered with a little sister. But you and I are less than four years apart, so I hope ...” she trailed off.
“I hope we can be sisters and friends!” I said. We hugged again, and I told her I’d see her in the morning. I got as far as the door when Carol spoke.
“And Melanie ...?”
I turned to see her grinning wickedly.
“The guy in the blue shirt was cute!”
Chapter 19: Monday Meeting with Mom
The next morning, I was having a bagel when Marilyn came in, telling me good morning, Carol was sleeping in, and that Mom would be over at ten. I immediately clenched.
To Marilyn’s raised eyebrow, I said, “Suddenly it seemed like I’ve been in a delicious dream and just woke up.”
Marilyn tut-tutted. “Nonsense, dear; your mother is very aware of your situation. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”
“But she hasn’t seen me ...like this ...”
Marilyn got her serious tone of voice. “No, she hasn’t, but she’s always dreamed of seeing you like this. Haven’t you figured it out yet? You’re becoming the girl that you, your mother and I know you should have been. It’s not your fault—or hers, either—that she felt the job was too much for her to handle. And that’s where I come in,” she grinned.
“I know,” I said, “but I can’t help feeling that all of this is my fault—”
She cut me off, being very serious. “Be very clear on that—it’s not your fault. It’s not your fault what you were born as, no more than it would be your fault if you had six fingers. Or a cleft palate or had Downs Syndrome.” She said this last part very slowly, keeping her eyes on mine to make sure I understood. “Fault doesn’t enter into it. Blame doesn’t enter into it.” She really got serious. “Sin doesn’t enter into it. Do you understand?”
I nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”
She nodded her approval of my response. “In fact, the only sin would be not correcting the situation, if it can be done. Every human is born illiterate; it’s insane to say that that is the natural situation of mankind, so we should never learn to read. The real sin would be in not teaching someone to read. Right?”
I understood her points. “It’s like ...okay. Some people are born with poor eyesight. It’s proper that we provide them with glasses, to allow them to function better in life. That’s what you mean?”
She smiled broadly. “Exactly! You are quick!” Then, in her serious voice and looking directly into my eyes, she said, “So Melanie was born with a penis. The sin would be to force Melanie to live her life as a miserable male, pretending to be what she is not. The proper thing would be to allow Melanie to fully become Melanie. And that is what your mother and I are doing. Is that clear?”
I was ahead of her. I smiled and said, “Crystal,” thinking of the movie A Few Good Men.
Marilyn rolled her eyes. “For God’s sake, don’t you dare pick Jack Nicholson or Tom Cruise as your role model!”
We both laughed, and I relaxed. I cleaned our breakfast clutter, and asked Marilyn how dressy I should get. To my surprise, she said it was casual, just like yesterday.
I went to my room and decided to get just a little better dressed than yesterday, so I found a black skirt with a slit, and a thin raspberry sweater with three-quarter length sleeves. I decided to wear panty hose, too, and found a pair with just a hint of smoky color. They looked great with black pumps, but I settled on some low-heeled black Mary Janes. Brushed hair, makeup, cologne, and right on time, the front door chimed.
Marilyn had answered the door and was hugging Mom when I came down the stairs. Mom’s jaw dropped; if I didn’t have Marilyn’s reassurance that Mom approved, I would have panicked.
Mom’s hands went to her mouth. “Oh, my God! You’re beautiful! Oh, Marilyn, she’s beautiful!”
Marilyn beamed. “I know!” She sounded proud. “Told ya so!”
Mom came to me, arms out. “Oh, honey, let me look at you. Oh, Melanie, I’m so ...you’re so beautiful!”
We reached each other just as the tears came.
“Oh, Mom, I’m so glad to see you!” I cried as I hugged her.
“Melanie, my pretty, pretty little girl,” Mom cried as she kissed the top of my head.
We stood like that for a moment, then Mom held me at arm’s length and looked me up and down. She nodded. “Yep. Every inch a lady!”
I held up a finger. “Every other inch a lady!” and we both laughed. It was a reference to a show-biz biography, but also acknowledged the fact that I wasn’t completely female ...yet.
It was amazing how …positive my mother was, seeing me dressed like this. I knew for an absolute fact that had I emerged from my room in these clothes, she would have balked at every item. Maybe not the sweater, but the stockings would have been deemed ‘too mature’, the skirt too short, and I knew that pierced ears bothered her. But my magazine presentation, seeing how girls really dressed—and Marilyn’s prodding—was sinking in, perhaps, and she would be more tolerant of clothing styles.
From her confession at home, and from what I was learning about Marilyn, I realized that even though I’d left my mother a short time ago, she was making progress already, moving into the present. I figured that having me away from her allowed her to reevaluate her life and her views. Marilyn had said that Mom knew, or was pretty sure, that I was transgendered, but hadn’t been able to face it or deal with it. Perhaps it was the transition that bothered her the most, and now that I was appearing before her as a fait accompli, maybe it was easier for her to accept me.
All of this went through my head in a flash as Mom put her arm over my shoulder and we went into the drawing room with Marilyn, got tea, got settled, and then got down to particulars.
Marilyn had brochures and a calendar ready, and we discussed dance and photography classes, vacation times, and finally hammered out a summer schedule for me. Carol came down midway through, hugged both moms, and then went to make a phone call. I wondered if she was calling Eric.
Our scheduling discussion continued, until I noticed we were starting to go past Labor Day.
“Uh ...time out.” They looked at me; I pointed to the calendar. “You just said, ‘and by mid-September’...but I’ll be back in school?” A sour taste came to my mouth. “And please don’t tell me I ever have to go back to being Michael!”
Both ladies appeared startled, glanced at each other, and seemed at a loss for words. This surprised me more than anything so far. Finally, Marilyn spoke.
“Whatever gave you that idea?”
Mom looked at her folded hands, then at me, and said, quietly, “Perhaps we got carried away with all the fun in planning. This is about you, after all, not us. We—” She looked at Marilyn and back to me. “I know that ...Michael’s gone. And I think you’re …holding back, a little, worried about what I might think.”
Marilyn said, “I agree. We both know Michael’s gone.” She leaned forward. “But that doesn’t mean anything; what do you think?”
The two women I loved most were staring at me, but I was sure of my answer.
“Michael’s not gone,” I said quietly, and noticed their stricken faces, but I had to say this in my own way. “I have to explain. Michael’s not gone; he’s a part of me—thirteen years’ worth. But Michael’s not my future. Melanie is my future.”
I could see them relax. Mom’s hand went to her chest in relief. Marilyn nodded. I went on.
“Mom, I do not wish to spend another minute of my life pretending to be Michael. Even the last week of school was weird. I will spend the rest of my life as Melanie, as a girl ...as me,” I said, putting my hand on my own chest. “But I know that you and I shared thirteen years as mother and son, and although I never really felt like a son, that’s the way things were. We did things together, and loved and laughed together, and have memories together …I don’t want you to think I want to wipe that out, to take that history away from you.”
Mom’s lips trembled slightly. “Thank you, dear. I think I understand what you mean now.”
I nodded. “We can’t pretend our thirteen years never existed, but in time they’ll fade like all memories, and have less and less control over us.” I thought of something. “There is one thing, though, that I have to watch out for; I have Michael’s memories, and sometimes ...unfortunately ...Michael’s responses.” I was thinking of the ‘Michael in me’ getting freaked last night when I responded to the guy in the blue shirt. “But I will learn to ignore Michael’s automatic responses, and become 100% girl.”
Mom leaned over and hugged me; I saw her tears before I heard her sob.
Marilyn said, “Uh ...Melanie, it might be wiser to not ignore Michael’s responses.”
Mom turned to her. “Why on Earth ...?”
Marilyn said, “People respond differently to different stimuli ...”
It wasn’t what she’d wanted to say, and she stopped herself before going further. I think I understood, though.
“Do you mean, for instance, if I were to meet somebody and a Michael response says ‘he’s a jerk!’, that I should listen to it?”
Marilyn looked relieved. “Exactly!” She let out a whoosh of air. “I wasn’t starting to say it at all right, but you zeroed in on exactly what I meant.” Her eyes narrowed, assessing me. “Just like understanding the links.” She nodded her head at me, in pride.
“Links?” Mom asked. “Oh, you mean how you link little bits of data?”
“Precisely,” Marilyn said.
Mom looked at me, eyebrows raised. “She understood it?”
I was so glad to hear her say ‘she’ as if it were the most natural thing. “Well, sort of,” I said, not wanting to brag.
“Oh, she understood it, all right. Right out of the chute, she got it. Why do you think I always called her ‘hot stuff’?”
“You called Michael ‘hot stuff’,” I said dourly.
Marilyn cocked an eyebrow. “Oh? Was it only Michael that had a brain?”
I frowned. “You know what I mean …”
Marilyn and Mom exchanged looks before Marilyn said, “It is my godchild that has a brain, that has a prodigious intellect. And personally, I consider that my godchild has always been a girl named Melanie.”
Mom added, “Mistakenly identified as a boy named Michael.”
I looked at her with wonder. It was staggering that Mom accepted me like that. It was possible that she’d had more time to fully assimilate the doctors’ reports, and accept their verdict. Plus, it was obvious that she and Marilyn had been talking, and now I was seeing the result of much deep thought. It was equal parts wonderful and baffling that my mother seemed to be proud of, well …her pretty daughter.
Finally, I nodded. “I’m sorry. I always kind of wondered if ‘hot stuff’ was a ….joke on me or something. Because I was so obviously not ‘hot stuff’!” I shrugged. “That was then, this is now.”
Marilyn nodded. “And now we’ll put Melanie’s prodigious intellect to use.”
Mom turned to look at Marilyn.“And she truly understands what you do?”
Marilyn nodded. “I haven’t told her the structure, but she grasped the concept right away. In fact, she’s already helping.” Marilyn grinned at me.
Mom said, “She is?”
I said, “I am?”
Marilyn nodded. “When I asked you about that MTV guy, how sure are you about what you told me?”
I remembered and said, “100% sure. MTV reported it, but so did CNN.”
Marilyn smiled. “Then part of that commission should be yours.”
Mom was dumbfounded, as was I. “Commission?”
Marilyn nodded again. “You just helped me set a soybean price for Brazil ...well, as soon as I transmit the data. Hold on,” she said, and went to her office.
Mom turned to me, and took the opportunity to have an instant mother-daughter chat. “I’m glad she’s slipped out for a moment. I want to tell you, one-on-one, that I am so very proud of you and how pretty you are!”
I blushed. “Aw, Mom ...”
“Don’t get a swelled head, honey, but no false modesty, either.” Her face tightened. “No false anything. I’ve had …” She sighed. “I’ve had some time to think, and long talks with Marilyn, and I’ve realized how very, very wrong I was about so many things—no!” She held a hand up, stopping my protest.
I nodded, to let her speak.
She pursed her lips. “I know this is a tremendous transition for you, but it’s a transition for me, as well. When I told you about your grandparents …well, when Marilyn told you; I lacked the courage …”
Squeezing her hand, I said, “Mom, it’s alright. I’m so sorry that you had to go through that; I could tell how much it hurt. And, God, how much it must have hurt to have lived it …” I swallowed. “It’s presumptive of me, I know, but I learned so much from you, about you, and things just make more sense now.”
Mom nodded. “Marilyn has that way with her. Seeing a problem—even as I was denying that a problem existed—and working to fix it. And in such a way that all parties benefit. I was finally able to, well, to start coming to grips with my past. And to come to grips with how completely out of touch I was!” She chuckled and shook her head. “I truly thought that the clothes that I bought for you were proper. Marilyn knew better, and told me that night, but said that we should use them as a test.”
“She told me about that. I had no idea, but I was just so glad to be able to be myself that it didn’t matter what I wore.”
“Oh, I know it bothered you. And that was Marilyn’s point, and combined with my own lack of knowledge, it was quite obvious that you had to come live with her. We’d already discussed it and I’d already decided before we approached you. So you may feel like it’s a dream, or fairy tale, but it’s really the combination of a loving but misguided mother and a loving and wise godmother.”
I swallowed the lump in my throat, deeply moved, and nodded.
Mom said, “And I’ve been learning a bit about today’s styles, and in view of what I’ve learned, I can categorically state that you are pretty. Yet I sense that you’re still reluctant to make that statement about yourself, and it’s due to modesty. Certainly you must know how attractive you are?”
I said, “It hasn’t really sunk in. I mean, I’m still dazed that I’m wearing a skirt. And dazed that you’re accepting me dressed like this.”
She nodded. “Yes, it must be quite a shock. And I admit, my initial reaction was to …to censor. The very first thought in my head was how pretty the girl I saw was—absolutely true!—but the very next thought was that the skirt was too short, you’re too young to wear hosiery, and so on. Then I damped down …that part of me, my old way of thinking, in light of what you’d shown me. Those magazine articles and newspaper ads were a revelation, and I have been opening my eyes to people around me, to girls your age, and you were absolutely correct as to how they dress. And as to how you are dressed; absolutely correct.”
“Thank you, Mother,” I said, humbled.
Mom smiled, “But you move and talk and carry yourself so naturally ...” She looked directly into my eyes. “Honey, I must ask; are you sure?”
I knew what she meant. I nodded and squeezed her hand. “Surer than anything I’ve been sure about in my entire life. Heck, this is my entire life I’m talking about!” I swiveled on the couch so I could face her squarely. “Mother, I want to be a girl. I mean; I want to be completely female. I want breasts and hips and ...and everything. I don’t know where I’ll get the money, but I will do it! It’ll take more pills and surgery; it’ll hurt and I’ll be miserable for a time. But I will be Melanie, physically! Outside to match my inside!”
My mother looked at me with new eyes, bit her lower lip, and nodded. “Yes, you will; I am absolutely sure of that. Oh, and don’t worry about the money,” she added in an offhand way. “Just ...go with what we’re doing, alright?”
“Because we all three want the same thing. We all have the same goal. You—” she tapped me on the shoulder. “—will be Melanie.” Then she chuckled. “My goodness; you already are!”
End of Part 6
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