This is the last of four interrelated recollections by a man in the late summer of life, recalling the events of some unusual summers, and the members of the female persuasion who made them so unusual and worth remembering.
My Summer In Remembrance
It was near the end of summer in 2006 on a resort island in the Pacific Northwest. The weather was cloudy but warm, a nice break from the week long rains. Most people would enjoy the respite before the next storm system slammed into us. But for me it’s just the end of a really bad week and it would take more than a sunny day to cheer me up.
I’d taken advantage of the break in the weather to seek out solace in a secret clearing with a single hidden entrance. I had climbed atop my favorite rock and looked around the clearing. It’s a magical place that had brought me joy and unusual adventures when I was a lad of eleven as well as now in the late summer of my life. If ever I needed this place to work its magic, it was now. For you see, I’m dying and there’s not much I can do about it.
A couple of days prior, I had received the test results from a follow up to a long overdo physical. The doctor had noticed something in the results from the first batch of tests and ordered new ones including a brain scan. It was in his office that I received the bad news. He started off by reassuring me that I didn’t have cancer, but I was dead anyway. Of course he didn’t put it that way, but he might just as well have. At that point I slipped into a daze as he proceeded to explain just what was wrong and what my options were.
The doctor had said something about the lymphatic system, benign tumors, and migration to the brain. Treatment consisted of brain surgery to remove tumors that could be and reduce those that couldn’t and regularly being pumped full of chemical poisons. That would give me a couple to a few years more than I currently had. The bottom line would be the same.
Once back home, I reflected on what my real options were. At a cost that would wipe out all of my savings and investments, I would get a few extra years at best, about half of which would be spent in hospitals. That would leave my family with nothing, while making a couple of doctors and their families rather well off. I didn’t need all my years as a stockbroker to see that that was a horrendously bad investment. I decided to take what I had and leave the extra years to someone else. Old investment adage: always leave something on the table.
My wife wasn’t thrilled with my decision and tried to hide her inner pain behind a typically British stiff upper lip posture. But I could see through it. After all, we’ve been together for too long to not know what the other is really feeling. We’ve been through the good and the occasionally bad, it’s been one heck of a ride, and I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
It’s a ride that began on a cruse ship during the summer following my graduation from college. I was on a fact finding trip to Europe prior to my starting a career as a stockbroker. Barbara was returning from a holiday in the States to her home outside London. We were from very different worlds, culturally and socially, but somehow we hit it off and ended up spending almost my entire trip together. She, along with her best friend, tempted, coerced, and challenged me into some adventures that were definitely not of the usual kind. To say that I should have been scared off would be putting it mildly, but I wasn’t. Instead, I was drawn more and more to her. She had a charm and mystique about her that had a grip on me and had no intentions of letting go (and still hasn’t).
After returning home, I immediately started plotting ways of getting back to London to see her. But first I had to secure my job and income; after all, it takes money to fly across the Atlantic. This proved to be easier than I would have thought thanks to an information network I had setup with newly formed friends in three of Europe’s major stock exchanges. Word of my ability to be in on breaking events before anyone else spread fast and my list of clients as well as my reputation with the brokerage grew quickly. I was making money, but unlike the majority of those in the profession, I was keeping it, not spending it. No sports cars or boats, nor mini mansions as I was saving for something far more desirable: Barbara.
At first, I would utilize three and four day weekends to visit Barbara in England. I would come into work with a carry-on bag already packed and as soon as the market closed for the long weekend, I was out the door and headed for the airport. As my addiction to Barbara grew, I started to call in sick on the occasional Friday or Monday between holidays. I doubt that my employer bought that I was sick on those occasions, but since I was bringing a fair amount of money into the firm, nothing was said. To insure that nothing would be said, I kept my “illness” in check as best I could.
When we were able to get together, we did the things that young lovers usually do, and one that I doubt many knew took place. That being the book discussion and costume party at Lord W____’s manor. These were always mentally stimulating and lavish affairs, not to mention the chance to dress in period clothing, both male and female, depending on the luck of the draw.
On the occasions that I drew a female role, Barbara would do my makeup, if it could be called that. The range of make up exhibited by other male guests having to portray a female character was from none to something just short of clownish depending on the tastes of the man and his spouse and the spirit of the party. There was no attempt to make anyone pass as a woman. Barbara would apply just enough to soften the rough male edges I was finally developing. I wouldn’t look silly but could still fit in and have a good time.
There was one party that ended up bringing my relationship with Barbara into focus. The invitation announced that the book under scrutiny would be C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower classic Flying Colours. I was very familiar with the book having read the entire Hornblower series over and over and over as a young teenage boy. There was one character in the book, along with the ending, that caused me to suspect that His Lordship was up to something.
Barbara had known Lord W____ for many years and had become one of His Lordship’s favorite guests. He also seemed to be quite interested in Barbara’s relationship with me. It didn’t matter if there was something a foot or not, I saw a possible opportunity to do something with Barbara that wasn’t likely to come again and prepared for it.
The party was to be on a Saturday in the summer of ’73, so I decided to fly to London Friday morning after watching the market opening. At that time, I was starting my second year with the firm and had accumulated enough vacation time to request Friday off as a vacation day. No more having to fake illness.
The trip via plane and train to a station near Barbara’s where she would pick me up, was as uneventful as usual. The car ride from the station to Lord W____’s manor was as, shall I say, exhilarating as usual. One would think that by then I would have been used to Barbara’s driving on England’s country roads, something she preferred to the motorway.
At the manor the routine was the same as on previous occasions. Brentwood, Lord W____’s butler, greeted us, took our bags, and showed us to our usual room. Once all the guests arrived, He distributed the costumes according to the draw. I opened the box containing my costume and was greeted by a name tag on which was written in a very elegant calligraphy, Captain Horatio Hornblower. The name tag in Barbara’s box read, Lady Barbara Wellesley. My suspicions were confirmed. Luck of the draw? Not bloody likely, at least not this time. I proceeded to change into my costume without saying anything about my suspicions to Barbara. While she was busy with her makeup, I retrieved an item from my bag and slipped it into a left side pocket of my costume.
Before we joined the others, Barbara wanted to apply some makeup to my face. I protested but she explained that it wasn’t to soften my features but accentuate them, and give me the weathered look of a British naval captain. When she was satisfied with her work, she commented on how dashing I looked and with a grand courtesy, said she would be honored if I were to escort her to the ball room. I removed my bicorn hat with a flourish, deeply bowed to her and proclaimed that the honor would be mine. We laughed a bit, then joined arms and exited the room.
As we entered the ballroom, Lord W____, dressed as a common British sailor, came scurrying up to us taking my hat and offering to bring us drink. I was startled until I noticed his name tag read, Seamen Brown, Coxswain. Brown was also Captain Hornblower’s aid. It was going to be an interesting night.
Maybe awkward would have been a better descriptor. My new look was drawing every woman, both real and portrayed, to come flirt with me. Barbara was becoming visibly jealous and I suspect was beginning to regret having embellished my looks. Brown was practicality hanging on my coat tails, I assumed to keep me out of trouble. Fortunately the flirting didn’t last long, and the evening moved into the more usual storyline and character discussions.
At the usual time, we were called to dinner. As the meal progressed I started to get far more attention then usual from the women characters. Even though it was done in a jokingly manner, I wasn’t used to it and became a little embarrassed. Barbara, having given up trying to fight it, joined in. She got in a good one drawing a few chuckles from those around us. That didn’t bother me half as much as her gloating over it. She was sitting across and down from me near the end of the table, sporting that annoying Cheshire cat’s grin. I was never happier then when everyone tired of their fun and moved on to a new target. But my relief was short lived as soon there after, the dessert course came, signaling that my aforementioned opportunity was rapidly approaching.
I was too nervous to do more than pick at my dessert. I fortified myself by drinking down the glass of black current cordial that accompanied the dessert. It was show time. I picked up the dessert spoon and began gently tapping on the side of the crystal wine glass. Everyone stopped what they were doing and looked in my direction.
"My apologies for interrupting your evening, but there’s something I would like to say, and I fear if I wait any longer I may end up not saying it at all."
I rose from the table and moved down and around to Barbara. I stopped before her and bowed with all the Old World grace I could muster.
"Lady Barbara, you have captivated me from the moment I first laid eyes on you on board the ship we sailed together on some time ago. Since then, you have introduced and even coerced me into some thrilling and some, shall I say, awkward adventures. I do not regret for a moment having partaken in any of them, nor do I wish for the adventures with you to stop. To that end there is something I very much long to ask of you."
As I descended to one knee I pulled a small box from my left pocket and opened it.
"Lady Barbara L____, will you do me the supreme honor of marrying me and becoming my wife?"
At first Barbara thought I was just taking the book discussion beyond the end of the book but then it dawned on her that I had used her last name and not that of her character. She realized that this was for real and blurted out a loud yes. She leaned forward and threw her arms around me, almost causing me to fall over backwards. I managed to save myself and stood up with Barbara embracing and kissing me. His Lordship rose from the table and led everyone in a rousing British cheer ending with several rounds of huzzah. It was an emotional experience but I didn’t dwell on it as I still had one last act to perform, the ring.
One would think that being a woman of means Barbara would have some rather expensive pieces of jewelry, but in truth it was just the opposite. She had a few nice pieces but they were small and conservative. I was quite happy as it meant that I didn’t have to spend what I could afford (and then some, most likely) on a large impressive stone, but instead invest in a one-of-a-kind set of rings for both of us. To that end I had made a hasty trip to the artist district in New York City to have an artist I had worked with before, design and fabricate interlocking engagement and wedding rings for Barbara and a matching wedding band for me. She knew a hobbyist gem cutter who had fashioned a most unusual set of matched white and yellow diamonds and took me to see him.
Unusual wasn’t the right word for it. The individual stones were strangely shaped and didn’t seem appropriate for a wedding ring. It was when they were together in a certain pattern that the real shape became apparent. At a distance it looked like a bi-color rectangular diamond, but up close one could see that it was several small stones forming a loose faceted lover’s knot. It was ingenious and perfect for Barbara. They were also a bit pricey but affordable, and I sprang for it.
The artist designed the settings so that the design would only be apparent when the two rings were together. She designed my ring in gold and white gold that also featured a lover’s knot, smaller in size and shape, and upon close inspection, looking like individual pieces the same as the diamond set. She gave the project priority status and expressed mailed the rings to me before I had to leave for London.
Once Barbara had finished kissing me, she finally noticed that I was still holding the open box with the three rings. She stared at the rings with her eyes and mouth open. She covered her mouth with her right hand but instead of presenting her left hand to me, she seized the box and began moving around the table so that all could see the assembled set. Many came up to me after dinner to genuinely inquire as to where I had found such an unusual and exquisite set of rings.
When Barbara had shown it to the last person she looked back at me. I gave her a stern and impatient look. She slinked back to me looking like a naughty little girl, and proud of it. I took back the box, removed the engagement ring, and then closed the box as I slipped it back into my pocket. I took her left hand and slipped the ring onto her ring finger. Our engagement was official. More kissing, more cheers, and this time champagne. The servants had wheeled in a cart with a case of a very good vintage champagne that had obviously been on ice all evening long. Our host had indeed set us up hoping I would seize the moment, and I hadn’t disappointed him. Lord W____ approached us ready to shake my hand.
"Splendid, absolutely splendid. Well done Thomas, well done. You maybe an American but I defy anyone to say that you do not have the blood of an English gentleman."
"Thank you my lord, but the credit belongs to the authors of the books I’ve read for all of your parties I’ve been privileged to attend. It is from their words that I have drawn inspiration. I can only hope to be on the same cricket field as they."
"Very well put Thomas, but I think your being overly modest. No matter, congratulations to you my good man, you are getting one of England’s finest. And my dear Barbara, congratulations as well, I could not be more proud, and to think that I have been so privileged to have witnessed this moment in your life."
"Thank you my lord, I am most happy to be able to share this moment with you and so many friends. I could not wish for a better setting, and I wonder, do I detect your hand in this moment? Or perhaps Tom has talked you into this all too perfect setting."
Lord W____ didn’t answer. Instead, he just chuckled a bit then raised his glass in a toast, leaving Barbara to wonder. She looked at me, but I wasn’t about to tell her (and still haven’t). She kissed his Lordship on the cheek and resigned herself to possibly never knowing the truth, although I suspect she didn’t really want to know.
Winning over his Lordship was easy; Barbara’s family was going to take some doing. We of course announced our engagement to Barbara’s family prior to my returning home. Enthused is not a word I would use to describe their reaction. I was definitely not what they had wanted for their youngest daughter. Still, compared to the majority of men Barbara had dated prior to me, I came off looking pretty good, according to her sister anyway. It was still going to take a lot of work before being fully accepted into the family. By comparison, my family was going to be a breeze, even though they didn’t even know I was involved with Barbara. The tough part would be how and when to tell them.
A possible opportunity would come near the end of that summer when my family held its annual family reunion. That particular year it was to be at my parent’s home in the Pacific Northwest. I debated myself over inviting Barbara as she would be exposed to the vast majority of the clan all at once. I felt it might be a strain on her, but Barbara viewed it as a rare chance to experience Middle American culture and felt it was as good a time as any to announce our engagement. I gave in and agreed with her. Now I just had to get time off from the brokerage.
I returned home via the red eye Sunday night. Monday morning I dragged myself into work and hunted up my boss to ask for some vacation time at the end of summer. He wasn’t inclined to grant it on such short notice, until I explained that it was so that I could introduce my family to my fiancée. He quickly reversed himself and congratulated me, said I could schedule what ever vacation time I needed. With that out of the way I just had to wait a couple of weeks, and of course, make one little phone call.
That night I phoned home and informed Mom that I would attend the reunion and that I was bringing a female guest. She was very happy and anxious to see me, a little too anxious. I wondered if she had figured out what I was up to and came to the conclusion that she probably had, considering that I’ve never really been able to put one over on her. All was in place.
The intervening days dragged by but eventually passed. Barbara was to take an early morning flight to New York City a couple of days before the reunion. The reason was two fold, first it would allow her to adjust to the time difference in stages. Second, it would give me a chance to show her some of the Big Apple’s hidden gems unknown by the vast majority of tourists. I meet her at the airport and escorted her to the hotel where she had reserved a room. After she settled in, we took off on an explore of the surrounding area until the afternoon.
I wanted to take Barbara to some place special for a late lunch, a little café off the beaten path that a young woman had taken me to on my first trip to New York. Outside it was a small unassuming place known only to a select group. Inside it had an old beatnik and jazz atmosphere, filled with local musicians and their fans. Music would spontaneously popup from anywhere at anytime, and on this particular day, the joint was really jumpin’. We found a small vacant table off to the side, sat down and ordered lunch. Barbara was quickly swept up by the music and in no time was bobbing and swaying to the beat. This was something uniquely American that she had not experienced before and was determined to enjoy every last nuance.
It continued to get better and better as some of the more widely known names put in an appearance and started up a jam session. Barbara was having the time of her life, and I was glad to be along for the ride. It was perfect and I felt that nothing could spoil the moment. But as some wise and long dead Chinese guy has probably already said, "For every yin there is an equal and opposite yang". For me, that yang came in the form of a very familiar voice emanating from a very cute young woman, the very one who had introduced me to the cafe a few years prior.
"Tom! I can’t believe it. Imagine running into you, after all these years, and in here of all places."
"Tia, um, this is an unexpected surprise. Wow, um, it’s good to see again."
"You don’t sound too happy to see me. Perhaps you think I will create an awkward situation for you with your friend here."
"Friend, oh right, Tia I’d like you to meet Barbara, my um, fiancée. Barbara this is Tia, the young woman I have alluded to in past stories."
"Fiancée, wow, congrats. So, Tom has actually mentioned me to you."
"Thank you, and yes, I have heard quite a lot about you, although it appears that Tom seems to have left out a rather obvious detail."
The tone in Barbara's voice indicated that she had taken a jealous disliking to Tia. Tia's response and tone said that a cat fight was a brewing.
"There might be something else he hasn’t told you about, but it’s probably better if you don’t know."
"If you are referring to his training in the bedroom or on the runway, I am fully aware of both, and I must thank you for the former."
"Tom, you told her about Tommie? That’s wasn’t a wise thing to do."
"Actually, I didn’t, it was Barbara’s friend who discovered the connection. Not to worry, they are both sworn to secrecy."
"Not entirely Tom, you do remember that there is still the small matter of Jane’s and my price for silence."
"Oh Tom, what have you gotten yourself into? Barbara, I’m curious as to how your friend discovered Tom’s little secret, but I think it best if we move to some place more private first, say, my apartment?"
"I think that’s a good idea. Shall we go Tom?"
Like I had a choice. We left the cafe and walked to Tia’s apartment. On the way, both Barbara and Tia retracted their claws, a result of each knowing something about my "secret life" the other didn't and wanting to know just what the other did. We arrived at Tia’s apartment building and proceeded along a very familiar path to her apartment. But there the familiarity ended. Upon entering her apartment we were greeted by a stark white and chrome interior.
"This is quite a change from the last time I was here."
"Yeah, well, I’m working a lot more than I was back then and am constantly surrounded by wild, bold, colors and patterns so much that I needed a sanctuary where I could escape it all. This may seem like an opposite extreme, but is actually very calming for me. Come on in and have a seat. So, Barbara, It looks like we can swap stories about Tom’s secret life."
Tia began by filling Barbara in on most, but thankfully, not all of the sorted little details that I kind of left out of the tales I beguiled her with. Barbara reciprocated by telling of Jane’s discovery. She started with Jane’s suspicions of having seen me before when we visited her in Paris. She then followed with the discovery of the source of Jane’s suspicions in Jane’s London flat. She ended with my being forced to prove it all by way of a subsequent private modeling session. Judging by Tia reaction I was in for some teasing.
"Why Tom, have you been practicing your modeling skills? And to think I believed you when you said that it was a one time thing and only because you needed the money. Hey, we should pay Miss T a visit; she just might have some work for you."
"No thanks, I make an adequate living as a stockbroker as it is."
"I wonder if that is what you really want. With all the dress up you’ve been doing, it sounds to me that you are taking my suggestion of becoming a female impersonator to heart. Wouldn’t you say so Barbara?"
"Actually, he was offered just such a job at the dance school, but turned it down. As I recall, he tried to put up a stern protest, but just between us girls, I wasn’t buying it."
"Et tu, Barbara? And I thought you and Jane weren’t going to tell anyone about the dance school."
"Why not? You admitted to having had fun. Besides its no big deal, it’s a British thing as you pointed out once before."
"As I recall, that crack got me into trouble."
"Trouble you enjoyed and, I might add, still enjoy."
"Barbara, I can’t believed you got Tom to dance the can-can, and in front of an audience too. I would have loved to have seen that."
Tia turned toward me and let loose with some hoots and hollers, a loud wolf whistle, and an 'ooh baby'. Barbara enjoyed a good laugh. I stared at Tia then leaned in intending to give her my Daffy Duck impression, calling her disssspicable (complete with spit) but Barbara warned her off. I turned to Barbara and called her a spoilsport. She just looked at me sporting that damnable Cheshire cat's grin. I leaned towards her, but she fended me off and turned to Tia.
"Actually Tia, you can get a glimpse of it. Jane had a photo taken of the three of us posing on stage. I would be most happy to send you a copy. He makes a rather cute woman you know, at least back then."
"I'd love it, thank you Barbara. And I've got just the place to hang it. It's just around that corner next to something that I think will spark memories of Tom’s visits here."
I did not like the sound of that. Curiosity compelled me to investigate but Barbara beat me to it. She sprang up from the couch and practically raced around the corner. She stepped back from the wall in question with a look of surprise. She brought both hands together and up to her mouth. Then she turned and came at me with a big smile, trying to keep from laughing. I no longer needed to see what it was as there was only one thing that would cause Barbara to react as she had. I stopped and started to back away, but Barbara would have none of that. She took me by the wrist and dragged me around the corner.
It was as I had feared, "it" being an advertising poster that has caused me trouble on two continents. While I stared at that cursed poster, Barbara moved over to Tia and the two of them started to whisper. Thoughts of "No good from this, shall come." ran through my mind. They turned and started toward me, each sporting that cursed, damnable, Cheshire cat's grin.
"As I recall, the last time we saw this placard, you were to pay a penalty of sorts with a girl's night out, but it had to be put on hold due to time constraints."
"Come on Barbara, surely the statute of limitations has run out by now."
"No such luck I’m afraid."
"Well, I don’t see where you have any leverage to use against me this time."
"Your mistaken, for you see the alternative from back then is still in effect as well."
"You don’t mean . . ."
"I do indeed. Jane would be free to tell her Tommie obsessed sister all about the real Tommie Girl, and since we will undoubtedly run into Judy now and again, well, I shall leave the consequences to your imagination."
"So, it's come down to blackmail, has it?"
"Blackmail is such an ugly word, but essentially correct, yes. Now Tia has assured me that she can transform you into Tommie. Since it's going to take some time to do so, I’m going on a bit of an explore."
"You’re going to leave me alone with a stunningly cute young woman with whom I’ve spent a fair amount of sack time with in the past?"
"I say, what…? Oh I see. Yes, I suppose I am, but then again, I doubt if the two of you will have any time for that sort of thing."
Of course I wouldn’t dream of engaging Tia in "that sort of thing" and Barbara knew it. I was also feeling pretty smug about being transformed into Tommie. I was no longer as fair of face as I had been a few years back and I had also added a fair amount of mass as well. And, while Tia might be able to make me up as an older, less anorexic version of Tommie, there was no way I could fit into her clothes as I had in the past. If anything, Tia had gotten thinner over the last few years. I stood a better chance of fitting into Barbara’s things except all of her clothing was way too conservative for the Tommie look. Yep, Tommie was just not going to happen. Tia, not knowing that her efforts were going to be wasted, proceeded to lead me to her bedroom where she got to work.
Makeup was first and it went pretty much the same as on past sessions with Tia except she seemed to apply the base layer a little heavier this time. It also took a lot longer to achieve the effect Tia was trying to capture. It went different with my hair. Barbara liked my hair on the long side while the brokerage required that I keep it trimmed to a more normal length. I was constantly adjusting its length in an attempt to please both. Since I was going to be spending time with Barbara, I had allowed my hair to be on the long side. Tia looked it over and reached for the scissors.
After some trimming, a liberal application of hair gel, and some further styling, Tia pointed me to the mirror. The transformation was even more startling than anything before. The rough male edges I had finally developed had been reduced to a hint of boyishness. My hair was short and very feminine with only a slight boyish style. The sides had a flowing, curved look. The back came straight down ending in a little flip curl just above the collar line. The front had the Tommie signature look. It swept across the forehead but this time it wasn’t flat against it, but slightly angled out into space, looking like the turned down visor of a cap. There was no mistaking Tommie, but she was no longer a teen. She had become a young woman and she was hot.
Barbara had timed her return almost perfectly. I was still fixated with the mirror when the doorbell rang. Tia left me to let Barbara in, with me following a short time later. I entered the living room as Barbara was reaching into a fancy shopping bag. A chill ran up my spine. This was something I hadn’t counted on. Barbara had sized up the situation and had gone shopping ... for Tommie.
From the bag she pulled out a bright purple dress suit that had a silver metallic sheen. The jacket was short in the bolero style, with the sleeves coming just short of the wrists. The neckline had a wide turned down collar. The right side of the jacket over lapped the left and fastened with a single large button just under the left collar, and inline with the left side of the neck, through the middle of the right collar. The edge of the right side swept down across the body to the right side just above the waist. The left side was a mirror image with most of it hidden under the right side. The collar, jacket edges and the end of the sleeves were edged with silver piping.
The upper half of the dress was a square neck sheath with princess seams. The skirt portion was short and really flared. It had the same style overlap as the jacket with the hem mirroring the jacket edges and hem, and of course edged with the same piping. It was both youthful and cutting edge, yet it had an air of sophistication. Tommie couldn’t wait to try it on and strut her stuff, but it looked like she would have to fight Tia for it first. As Tia inspected the outfit, Barbara turned toward me. She stared at me, not believing her eyes. She was so fixed on me that she almost didn’t hear Tia.
"Wow, Barbara, I wouldn’t have thought that place to carry anything as classy looking as this."
"I’m sorry, what, oh yes. Well actually, they didn’t exactly. After purchasing it, I took it to a tailor shop that hadn’t closed yet. I was quite successful in persuading them to slightly alter the cut of the jacket and skirt overlap, and had the piping added as well, all while I waited."
"You’ve got to let me try it on. Hey, how about a modeling contest? We’ll each take turns modeling it for the other two."
"Let’s keep it between you and Tom. I’m just not up to either one of your skill levels."
"No no, it’s got to be all three of us. Besides, if I can teach Tom enough in the short time before an in-house review, I can teach you. Come on, it’ll be fun."
"Oh, all right, but you go first."
Tia snatched up the outfit and headed for her bedroom. Her experience as a professional model was very apparent as she emerged from the bedroom in just minutes. She could possibly change outfits faster than a NASCAR pit crew could change all four tires on a race car. She had also accessorized the outfit. Tia had left the jacket unbuttoned reveling that the dress was a couple of sizes to big for her. To compensate, she had tied a long silver print scarf around her waist, giving a slight baggy look to the dress. A cab drivers cap and a pair of sneakers fit in with the rough casual look.
The outfit was okay, but neither Barbara nor I felt that it really worked. Tia put her skills to work and managed to sell it enough for me to suggest to Barbara that her friend Jane would like it. She neither agreed nor disagreed. At any rate it was her turn and she followed Tia into the bedroom.
It was some time before Tia emerged from the bedroom and she was wearing a new outfit. She had on a tight red miniskirt with a side slit almost to the waist. This was topped by a black silk, Chinese style top with a red dragon wrapped around it. It had a Mandarin collar, and was tight, form fitting, and overlapped the upper half of the skirt. She was dressed for a night out, and I knew what that meant for me.
Barbara came out soon after modeling the dress suit. She had the stately poise of a woman of her social status superimposed over the strutting walk of a model. It was a dynamite combination. The shortness of the dress didn’t seem to cause her much discomfort; indeed, she seemed to be embracing the idea of breaking out of her conservative social mold. Tia and I let loose a barrage of whistles and applause.
Barbara ate it up and tried to up the ante by attempting the exaggerated crossover step I had tried to teach her once before. She did a fair job, clearly she had been practicing. But as before, it degenerated into silliness and laughter. She came to me, took me by the hand, and led me to the bedroom picking up the shopping bag on the way. It was my turn.
Barbara stripped off the dress suit while I removed my clothes. From the bag, she produced panties, silver stockings, shoes, and a silver pocketbook. She had thought of everything. While Barbara slipped into her street clothes, I started to get dressed as Tommie. I found that I didn’t need any assistance, even with the back zipper of the dress. I was getting used to donning feminine attire. Barbara looked me over and nodded her approval. She left the bedroom to join Tia and I got ready for my entrance.
But first I had to get one more look in the mirror. I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. The total look was amazing and that outfit was, well, let’s just say that for the second time in my life I was wearing something feminine that I didn’t want to take off anytime soon. I could have stood there a lot longer but Tommie didn’t want to. She had once again come out of retirement and wanted to greet the world.
Tommie came out in full runway strut, pushing everything to the limit and with attitude. Tia was speechless. She just couldn’t believe that her student had exceeded her training. Tia, beaming with pride, turned to Barbara.
"I taught him that."
"Yes, I know, and I must say you did a splendid job of it."
"He seems to be enjoying himself and that outfit you created is perfect for the Tommie look."
"And you have done well turning him into a stunning young woman. I am of the opinion that we simply must show off our work."
"Oh, I agree, and I know just the club."
Tia whispered something to Barbara who nodded her head in agreement. Barbara turned to me.
"Right, shall we be off then Tommie?"
I didn’t need to be asked a second time. I wanted to go. I wanted to see if I could still fool people into thinking I was a girl. One little detail had been forgotten, but it didn’t matter as Tommie was in control and she wanted to have some fun. We left the apartment and made our way down to the street where a cab was hailed. We climbed in and Tia gave the cabby our destination.
It was about a half hour ride into the more upscale part of the city. Evening was taking over and the city was coming alive under bright lights. Tommie was becoming a little less sure of her self. We turned onto a busy street lined with upscale clubs and restaurants. The cab pulled up to the curb in the middle of it all. There were people everywhere, lots of people. Anxiety was taking hold, and I wondered if I could leave the relative safety of the cab. Actually, there wasn’t much choice as I had gotten in last and Tia and Barbara more or less forced me from the cab, that is, after I got stuck with the cab fare.
We paused for a moment and surveyed the club. It seemed to be made mostly of glass and bright lights. There were tables outside as well as inside with the glass walls making the two areas look like one. It was filled with young people, too many for my comfort. Anxiety now had a full grip on me. I was quickly convincing myself that I couldn't do it. But there was no turning back. Barbara and Tia ushered me through the doors.
Inside, I looked for a table in some out of the way corner. Then I spotted a couple of young women who looked familiar. They were models and I was remembering them from a fashion premier Tommie had been part of. Looking over the room, I spotted others that had the look of professional models, both male and female. Just then, a young woman spotted me from across the room and made a beeline for me.
"Oh my gosh! It's you! You're really her! Hey, everybody, It's TOMMIE GIRL!"
Instant panic. I backed towards the door only to find it blocked by Barbara and Tia. I turned my head looking at each in turn and found that both of them had big smiles on their faces. I had been set up and there was nothing I could do but face the onslaught and pray my secret wouldn't be exposed. But I had little to fear, as the Tommie Girl line wasn’t all that well known having come from a small fashion house. Still, there were enough fans to surround me and each was eager to tell me how much they had loved the clothes and look. That was good as it meant that I didn't have to do any talking, the one thing that I had forgotten about before starting the adventure. I was going to have to avoid conversation as I didn't think I could pull off a female voice.
I noticed that each young woman was sporting their version of the Tommie look and a few were even wearing actual clothes from the line. Of course Tommie's current look was given close scrutiny and received rave reviews. I have no doubt that the following day would see many of them trying to copy Tommie's new look. Someone produced a cartridge type camera and all of Tommie’s fans wanted their picture taken with her. I struck various poses, all based on the Tommie look and attitude. Barbara and Tia just had to get a picture with me and I had no doubt that a copy would end up in Judy’s hands.
The photo shoot went well, until a young man approached me wanting a picture with me. I was about to strike a pose next to him when he put his arm around my waist and forcefully pulled me to him. That I had not expected.
I was about to push myself away from him, when a familiar feeling swept over me. It was a felling I had last experienced in Paris when an amorous waiter propositioned me while I was dressed and made up as a Can-Can dancer. I turned toward him and pressed my upper body against his side. I ran my right hand up his back to the top of his near shoulder. I ran my left hand up the front of his chest and placed it on the far side of his face. I raise my lower left leg behind me, then turning my head to the camera. I gave my signature look and tried to add a bit of sultriness.
After the photo, the young man thanked me, and then tried to sneak a kiss! I started to play along, but then pushed him away, wagging no-no with my finger and head. I reinforced things by placing my left hand on my hip then pushed my hip toward him. With my nose high in the air, I turned away from him. The crowd teased and laughed at him. But I had the feeling that as I had in the past, I had gone too far. Other young men now wanted their picture taken with me. Fortunately, they all behaved themselves and there were no further incidents.
Things could have easily turned ugly as there were a couple of large strong looking men watching us. It was enough to make Barbara uneasy, and she decided that it was time to put an end to Tommie’s fun. On one hand, Tommie was having the time of her life and wanted to continue. On the other hand, the threat of exposure was a constant worry and I welcomed being rescued. Excuses were made for me and the three of us moved off to a vacant table in the back. I felt that I had to admonish them for their treacherous doings, dragging me to a club frequented by models and their fans. But it came out halfhearted, and I doubt if either of them took me seriously.
The evening continued with little incident. We had a light dinner and drinks. After which Tia moved off to socialize with people she knew. Outside of a few fans, Tommie was pretty much unknown, which suited me just fine. Still, now and then, a young woman would stop by and strike up a brief conversation. I gave a female voice my best shot and I guess I did alright as it didn’t seem to arouse any suspicions.
That gave me some new found confidence and Barbara and I hit the dance floor. A young man sort of joined us and I found myself dancing more with him than Barbara. Tommie asserted her self once again and got in a couple more dances with other young men during the evening. Tommie was having fun, but I managed to keep her under enough control to keep her out of trouble.
Eventually we called it a night and returned to Tia’s apartment where Tommie was forced back into retirement with Barbara’s help. She trimmed my hair so as to be less feminine, and did a good job of it, but I would still need to visit a barber before leaving New York as Mom liked my hair on the short side. We bid Tia a goodnight and headed back to the hotel.
We spent the next day and night exploring more of New York. Barbara was amazed at just how much had been hidden from her as a tourist. She especially liked the varied street food venders. We returned to the hotel after midnight, but somehow managed to get enough sleep to be able to get up for our morning flight to Seattle and the reunion at my parents house.
The family reunion went a lot better than I had expected. Mom had been the first to greet us and her eyes went straight to Barbara’s ring finger. She had indeed figured out what we were up to, although the ring’s strange shape caused her to pause and wonder. It didn’t matter as Mom had taken an instant liking to Barbara and spirited her away to introduce her to the rest of the family.
Barbara’s charm quickly won over the entire clan and it seemed that each member had a favorite (and usually embarrassing) story about my childhood that they wanted to regale her with. She had some good laughs at my expense. The stories finally ran out just as all gathered for the big feast.
It was when dinner was coming to an end that we sprang our engagement on the assembled family. Mom was the only one who wasn’t surprised and led everyone in welcoming Barbara into the family. At Barbara’s insistence I had brought the box with the remaining rings. I pulled it from my pocket and gave it to Barbara. She took off her engagement ring and put it back with the wedding ring. Then, as she had done at Lord W____’s, she showed the assembled set to all. She returned and handed the box back to me. I removed the engagement ring and put it on her finger for the second time. We embraced and kissed to a chorus of cheers and applause, and a couple of tears of joy from Mom.
Everyone wanted to know when and where the wedding would take place. We didn’t exactly have an answer for them. Setting a date was a bit of a problem as there was still the matter of Barbara’s family. Neither of us really felt we could get married until I was fully accepted by her family. We would just have to wait until that day came, no matter how long that would take. But for once, fate was on my side.
It was on one of my previous trip to London that Barbara had introduced me to the family financial manager, Simon S____, seeing as how we were in pretty much the same business. Simon and I struck a friendship and I made it a point to visit him and talk shop on each occasion that I was in London. It was a friendship that was about to get me in good with Barbara’s family.
It was about four months after our engagement that a seemingly minor political conflict spread through Eastern Europe. It didn’t look like it would have much of an impact on the obvious market sectors and that was confirmed by my connections at the Frankfurt exchange about an hour before the European markets closed. What wasn’t foreseen was its impact on an apparently unrelated sector; one that Barbara’s family had a goodly amount invested in. There wasn’t time to analyze why, I had to warn Simon before the real impact hit the London exchange.
Simon was able to take defensive action on his client’s accounts with very little loss, just before the London exchange closed. He gave a full account to Barbara’s family. From that day on, I was no longer just a stockbroker, but a man with worldly connections, adding a new level of power to the family. The last barrier had been breached. I was accepted into the family and we quickly set the wedding date. It would be in the summer of ’74.
Barbara’s parents wanted her to honor tradition and get married in the family chapel. She agreed as long as we could keep the wedding small. That suited me just fine, as the logistics of getting just the immediate family together, transported to London, affordably housed, and suitably entertained until the wedding promised to be more than I could handle. But handle it I did, with a lot of help from Mom.
The preparations and events leading up to the wedding went as the vast majority of weddings do. There were the usual last minute problems and chaos. While most of it is thankfully a blur, there were two events that have remained clear in my mind.
The first was Barbara’s bridal shower, hosted by Jane at her London flat. I escorted the womenfolk from my side of the family to Jane’s flat using a couple of taxis. I led them up and into Jane’s flat with me intending to stay only as long as it took to say hi to Jane. The flat was crowded and while I looked around for Jane, Mom spotted Barbara in the kitchen entrance and moved towards her. But she didn’t make it. When she got to the wall next to the kitchen, she stopped and stared at it. A cold chill ran up my spine. The poster, that cursed poster, I had forgotten all about it. Mom knew about Tommie Girl, having penetrated the disguise on her own, back before I even knew of the existence of a Tommie Girl ad. We had had an, interesting, conversation about it; during which I had a time of it trying to convince her that it was just a job and nothing more. It was one conversation that I did not want to repeat with other family members or with Barbara’s family and friends.
As Mom looked at the wall, a smile appeared on her face. Then she turned toward the kitchen and engaged Barbara in conversation. Barbara laughed a little, and then playfully struck some sexy poses that had a familiar look to them, echoed by Jane further back in the kitchen. Curiosity took control, compelling me to examine the wall. I maneuvered around the crowded flat until I could see the wall without being seen from the kitchen.
What was hanging on the wall wasn’t the Tommie poster. But any relief was quickly overruled by a new wave of dread. The poster had been replaced by a large blowup of the can-can photo. I was in the process of working myself into a new panic when it dawned on me that Mom hadn’t turned to look at me, but had instead turned to Barbara. She hadn’t made the connection. For the first time in my life, I (with a lot of help from Jane) had put one past her.
I must have been strutting around like the proverbial roster in a hen house, feeling oh so proud of myself. Fortunately it quickly dawned on me that if Mom were to come out of the kitchen and spot me in such a state, she would figure out the real identity of the third woman in the photo. I adapted a low profile and slinked out of the flat.
The other event of note was, of course, Barbara coming down the aisle looking incredible in a vintage Victorian era wedding gown. It had been in her family for many generations and had been worn by most of the women on her mother’s side of the family. It was so elaborate, so ornate that it would take too many pages to describe. It shouted Old World elegance from the high buttoned collar of the lace upper bodice, down past the extensive bead work to the cinched waist, to the end of the very long lace flower covered train. In short take everything one has ever seen or desired in a Victorian wedding gown, combine it all into one dress, and one would have the beginnings of Barbara’s gown.
After the wedding, Barbara of course moved to the US, keeping her London house as a vacation and holiday house. She adapted quickly to life here and had no trouble making friends. One such friend happened to be involved in a community theatrical group and sponsored her membership. Barbara’s theatrical experience in London was recognized as a great asset to the group and she was unanimously accepted.
With Barbara as producer, the group enjoyed a new wave of success. Her abilities as a producer and actress did not go unnoticed. Soon, she was being approached to handle production of plays by theatrical groups in surrounding communities. I was proud of Barbara and gave her my full support even though it sometimes meant that we would have to be apart for awhile. What I didn’t know was that one play would end up launching me on my most intense adventure, but that was several years off.
In the mean time we got to work on our family. Our first born was a girl and she clearly took after Barbara. I insisted on naming her Samantha. Barbara was curious as to why, but I gave her only what I thought I could get away with, keeping an air of mystery. She wasn’t totally satisfied and I knew that I would pay for it, just not that day. Our second child, a boy, followed a couple of years later. He had many of my features and some from Barbara’s side of the family. Barbara chose the name of Tristan and it was her turn to play the mystery game. Over the years, neither of us has completely reveled the full reason for our choice in names and it’s probably for the best.
The kids proved to be a handful as they grew up. Barbara was amazing, she not only took care of the kids (with some help from me in the evening and weekends), she still found time for her theatrical passion. The kids also developed a thirst to explore and our summer vacations became more oriented to the kids needs than ours. The summer of ’83 gave us a chance to satisfy both their needs and ours.
That year, the family reunion was to be at my aunt and uncle’s farm in the Midwest. They wanted us to arrive a month early so the kids could fully experience being on the farm and Barbara and I could make a romantic side trip without the kids. It sounded good, but our plans got thrown for a loop when Barbara was asked to help out producing a rather different kind of play in a small city a couple hundred miles from us.
She fell in love with the play’s concept and wanted to do it. That meant that we couldn’t visit my aunt and uncle early, and might miss the reunion if the play ran more than a week. I called my aunt and let her know the change in plans. She, however, had an idea.
She suggested that we send the children to them just before work on the play started. That way they could spend most of the summer on the farm playing and working with their cousins, and we could devote our attention on the play and some on ourselves. Barbara liked the idea and we accepted the offer.
With help from the theatrical group, we found something similar to a boarding house where we could book a room on a weekly basis. A spinster great aunt of mine, who lived in a community that was on the way to the airport, enthusiastically volunteered to fly back to the farm with the "little dears" as she put it. With all arrangements made, we set forth on what would become yet another unusual summer adventure.
We saw my aunt and the kids off at the airport, and then drove on to our own destination. I took it easy and arrived late in the afternoon. The boarding house was a charming place with a feel like it was stuck in a different, simpler time. We settled in, and then joined the few other guests in a communal homemade dinner and some interesting conversation.
The next day we set off for the theater. We arrived backstage and were let in. What greeted us was the strangest assemblage of people I have ever witnessed. There were street performers who must have materialized out of some Twilight Zone Gong Show, including a couple of oddly dressed musicians with even odder instruments that one more or less wore. There was even royalty in the form of a man who proudly proclaimed to be the King of North America, and a woman who professed to be the Queen of Saturn complete with a hooded, caped, metallic cloth costume with a huge wide collar resembling the rings of Saturn. Rounding things off were several people who led totally bizarre lives. I was beginning to wonder just what kind of play Barbara had gotten roped into.
The woman, who let us in, escorted us to a place to check in and meet those who were trying to put on the play. Everyone introduced themselves in turn, then handed us a copy of the script. Barbara couldn’t wait to dig into it. I had a problem with the title.
The play was titled "A look at some of the screwballs of New England." I felt it was insensitive to those who were putting their life on public display. So what if they didn’t fit in with the norm, they still deserved to be treated with respect. I sought out and engaged the plays creator in what soon grew into a heated discussion. A woman, who was one of the stranger members of the cast, came over and wedged herself between us. She looked up at me and tried to calm me down.
"It’s all right, we don’t mind a bit. The vast majority of people think we are crazy and a few think we should be locked away. But we’re not really crazy, it’s just that none of us liked the reality everyone else lives in, so each of us created one of his or her own liking and moved in. If no one wants to join any of us, it doesn’t matter. We may be alone but we are still generally happy all the time. Can anyone in the so called normal reality say the same?"
She had me there. And, I guess if they didn’t have a problem with the title, then I certainty shouldn’t. Her speech also got me to look at these people in a new light and one in particular. I will call him Brian.
By day Brian was a common working stiff. He looked just like everyone else around him. There was nothing about him that would cause anyone to pick him out from the crowd. But come night and that would change dramatically. As soon as he got to his downtown apartment from work he would begin transforming himself into someone I shall call Brandy.
Brian was more than a cross-dresser, he was a street performer. And he usually took to the street imitating some female celebrity, past or present. The vast majority of onlookers knew it was a female impersonator. That didn’t bother him a bit, it just added to his fun while he played at the gender he really wanted to be. He was proud of his ability to become Brandy and that presented a problem.
The purpose of the play was to give each performer their fifteen minutes of fame, literally. During their brief time on stage, they would show the rest of us who they were and what they were about. The format fit everyone except Brian. For him, it wasn’t so much as looking and acting as a woman, but the transformation into a woman that was important. It was a process that often took up to two hours to complete. It just didn’t fit into the play. Still, no one wanted to drop him from the play. I joined those trying to put on the play and sat down to try and figure out an alternative. That’s when an idea hit me.
"I may have an idea. What if instead of giving Brian a solid block of ten to fifteen minutes to show a two hour process, why not break it up into many smaller pieces to be inserted between each of the other performers. It would be like checking back with him from time to time to see how far along he has come."
"That’s fine except for one thing. Changing the background and props for each performer is enough of a problem. Having to double that is just not only physically challenging, but will stretch out the play to the point where the audience is going to get bored and may even walk out."
"Actually, it could help you with that problem. Brian’s scene can be created at one side of the stage and partitioned off from the rest of the stage. When the play is on Brian, just light his scene leaving the rest of the stage dark or behind curtains. Do the reverse when the play is on someone else. It also gives you free time to set the stage for the next performer while the attention is on Brian."
"But, what about the noise from the stage hands?"
"What about it? Brian’s scenes are all visual, not verbal. But if the sound is objectionable, then we can overplay with street sounds. I understand that his real room overlooks the streets he performs on."
"It’s brilliant and it could work."
"There’s one last idea. At the end of Brian’s last scene, we can have him exit his room onto the street and be joined by all of the other performers, each doing what ever it is they do."
"Perfect, I’ll get to work on the script changes."
"Wait you two, I’ve got one question. How does he apply makeup in the dark? I don’t know about him, but I need a bank of lights to apply my makeup."
"Simple Gale, he doesn’t. When he isn’t on, he slips off stage via a light trap to an adjacent makeup table and continues his work there. Then slips back on stage just before the lights switch to him."
"Okay, but how does he get off stage without knocking over anything or injuring himself?"
"We place glow in the dark tape in strategic places out of view of the audience but easy spotted by Brian."
"That could work. We’ll have to rebuild the stage scenery a bit, but I think it’s doable."
The changes were voted on and approved. Brian got to work on adapting his routine to fit the revised script. I became fascinated with what Brian was doing and somewhat envious. Each time I had been made-up as a girl or woman, it had been at the hands of someone else and I didn’t see what was happening. He was able to do it himself and he was more than just good at it. It was mesmerizing, and I wanted to watch and learn, but I couldn’t just pull up a chair and stare. Engaging him in a conversation about how and why Brandy came about while he worked out his routine seemed to be the perfect excuse. It would prove to be useful in ways I could not have foreseen.
He would talk freely and at great lengths about Brandy, but would slam the door shut at the mere mention of Brian. He wasn’t even using his real names in the play. It was as if he wanted to keep Brian and Brandy complete strangers to each other, and didn’t want anyone to make the connection between the two. That I could relate to.
Our conversations came to an abrupt end when Brian failed to show up for a couple of rehearsals with no word as to why. He had been nursing a cold, but it hadn’t been sever enough to keep him home, although it hadn’t been getting any better. One of the group members took it upon herself to try and find him. She eventually located him at the local hospital, but couldn’t get any information over the phone. I volunteered to go to the hospital and see what was what.
At the hospital, after no small amount of effort, I located the ward Brian was in. He was weak and pale. When he realized I was standing beside him, he tried to raise his hand but had to let it fall back down. Clearly, he was in no condition to receive visitors. I passed word to the attending nurse that I wished to see the doctor if he was in the building. I pulled up a chair and sat down next to Brian to try and keep him company.
The doctor was in the building and upon receiving my message came to the ward. He motioned me to follow him to a place where we could talk in private. From him I learned that Brian had been admitted the previous evening with what was diagnosed as multiple viruses. It was something I hadn’t heard of before. The doctor explained that it was rare and usually found in patients with a weak or non existent immune system. Brian, it was discovered, had AIDS. The doctor said that his system was so weak that there was virtually no chance of recovery and all that could be done was to just keep him comfortable. Forget politics; forget morality; forget fair, this just plain wasn’t right.
I stormed from the hospital with anger welling up inside me. I had to walk it off before returning to the theater and let everyone else know what was happening. No one felt like working on the play for the rest of the day and the next. And when everyone did get back to work, there was a new problem waiting for them. What to do about Brian’s spot in the play?
None of the other performers wanted to drop Brian from the play. All felt his story should be told, even more so now. But the question was how to go about replacing him? Brian/Brandy was rather unique in that part of New England and he/she was the only cd. who wanted to be in the play. An actor would have to be brought in, but could one be found that had experience portraying a man becoming a woman? Barbara had an idea and approached me with it that evening back at our boarding house room.
"You know of course that there is only one man who can step in for Brian, you."
"Me? You’ve got to be kidding. There is no way I could do what he does in front of an audience."
"Why not? You’ve been studying him, so you know what to do. And look at what you have done, and in public I might add. You have been a convincing woman in both looks and action on more than one occasion."
"Yeah, but very few, if any, of those watching knew I wasn’t a woman. This audience is going to be watching me, the REAL me, change into a woman, which, by the way, I can’t do myself. That is more than I can handle. Besides, I’ve got a life to return to afterwards."
"Roxy, our makeup lady, can do the bulk of the work when your off stage, and can teach you what you need to know to portray Brian on stage. You can also be made up to look more like Brian before your first appearance on stage."
"This is one I have got to think about."
"Give it a go tomorrow, then think about it."
I knew there wasn’t any use in arguing with her, and I knew she was right. Still, it was a giant step and I just didn’t think that there was enough time to prepare for it. We retired for the night, but my mind was active with this new problem, and it was a long time before I could fall asleep.
The following morning came all to fast. Barbara had a time of it getting me out of bed. I headed for the bathroom and made with my morning routine, shaving extra close. Of course, come show time, I was going to have to do more than just beard removal. Completing my task, I got dressed and we headed to the playhouse.
Barbara sought out Roxy and filled her in on what "we" had come up with. Roxy liked the idea, a little too much if you ask me. She had me follow her to Brian’s on stage makeup table, and then had me take off my shirt. She picked up an ample fake breast that was on the table and indicated for me to do the same. I was shown how to apply the adhesive to the fake breast, and then how to position it on my chest. The adhesive worked fairly fast, but instead of moving on to my face, she began applying a thick makeup base to my chest, demonstrating how to blend the form into my surrounding chest.
While I worked on my chest, Roxy disappeared. She appeared a couple of minutes later carrying a few disks containing flesh colored power. She held the disks up to me and selected one. She had me take a large brush and rub it in the powder. Then she instructed me in how to lightly brush over the base makeup. The result was shocking. I had sprouted boobs. At that point the lights would be switched and I would be slipping off stage, so we moved to the off stage table.
Roxy started applying the base makeup to my face, then the powder over it, and finally the detail work. Every fifteen minutes we moved back on stage for a brief time where she instructed me in what to do next. Then it was back stage again and so on. The end result was the most surprising transformation yet, mostly because I had had a hand in doing it. I was thrilled beyond description. I no longer had to think about it, I was in and ready to start my "career" as a female impersonator. Tia's career "suggestion" back when I was first transformed into Tommie came rushing back to mind. Boy, if she could only have seen me then, but then again, if she had, I never would have heard the end of it.
In the short amount of time left before the play opened, I perfected my makeup technique, at least my small end of it. I was still a long ways from doing it all by myself. What I did know, was how to get dressed and how to strut my stuff. I was ready for the play to open and nothing was going to bring me down. But in life, things don’t always go the way we want. Two days before the play opened, we all got word that Brian had died during the night. There wasn’t a dry eye in the place. I felt like someone with a huge fist had landed a haymaker to my chest. Barbara turned to Paul, who was taking care of the printed mater for the play.
"I think we should add a line to the program indicating that this play is dedicated to the memory of Brandy."
"Yeah, we can do that. I’ll just go take care of that."
That seemed to stir everyone back into action. They had a new reason to be ready by opening night. I had work to do as well. Brian had chosen Marilyn Monroe as the celebrity he wanted to transform into. I would keep that choice and would try and portray her exactly as Brian had done in rehearsal. Brian was larger and taller than me which meant that the dress would have to be altered to fit me. I wasted no time in finding the wardrobe mistress. Soon I was standing before her in a white, full skirted halter dress in full view of anyone who came by, and it didn’t bother me a bit. By the next morning the alterations were complete.
Everyone was ready for opening night and there was an air of excitement back stage. We had a good turnout, roughly three quarters full. The play opened without a hitch and soon it was my turn. Roxy had done an excellent job in making me look like Brian, and it was just the thing needed to give me the confidence to override my anxiety and enter from stage left. The bright lights limited my view of the audience making things easier yet. I walked across the stage looking like any other working stiff to my room, opened the door and entered. I closed the door, walked over to the table, then stripped to just my panties. Yes, panties, Brian had a preference for wearing them all the time. I sat down at the table and began my transformation until the lights went out.
All went as rehearsed, no one had any problems. It was a seamless performance and the audience seemed to enjoy the show. Soon it was time for my last scene. When the lights came on I was making like I was applying the last touches to my makeup. Mimicking Brandy, I raised my hands a little more than breast high with the palms tilted up to my face, turning my head one way then the other to inspect "my" work. Rising from the chair, I then walked to where the dress was hanging adding some sass to my walk. This time, I didn’t have to worry about going to far as it was just what was needed to accurately portray Brandy.
I took the dress off the hanger and stepped into it with a little wiggling motion. I slipped the halter strap over my head, and then reached behind me to zip up the dress. Returning to the table, I took a bleached blond 50’s style wig from a wig stand off to the side of the table. I slipped it on to my head and gave it a couple of passes with a brush. I picked up a pair of long white gloves and slipped them on, then reached for a pair of white hi-heeled shoes that were on the floor next to the table. I gave a Marilyn type pose and blew a kiss to the mirror, and headed for the door.
Just before the door, I paused to put on one of the shoes. Reaching toward the door, I took hold of the doorknob and steadied myself in order to slip on the other shoe. I opened the door and exited onto the main part of the stage which had a background of a city street scene. The rest of the cast came out and we all intermingled for a bit before turning to the audience, joining hands, and bowing. We were well received.
After the show, we had a backstage party to celebrate our successful opening night. I attended as Brandy still dressed as Marilyn and freely intermingled, posing for pictures with anyone. It was a weird feeling being around so many people, all of whom knew who I was, but treated me as something I wasn’t.
The next night we were greeted by just half an audience, I was disappointed, but it didn’t seem to bother the rest of the cast. We were received just as well by that audience as the first. The third and forth nights were about the same. On the fifth night, the audience was so small that we barely broke even. The sixth night’s ticket sales were nearly nonexistent and it was decided to close the show.
It was known that the play would have limited appeal, but no one thought it would be that bad. I guess that either people just didn’t want to acknowledge that there are those among us who didn’t wish to fit in, or were too uncomfortable to be around them. Or may be they were just jealous, as the "screwballs" seemed to lead a much happier life then they did.
I felt sorry for the rest of the cast, but didn’t need to. They were quite happy with what they got. The world of normal had, for a brief moment, seen just who they were and in a way, took part in their enjoyment. Each one slipped back into his or her own little world and headed back for their little piece of New England. It was also time for Barbara and me to head for the Midwest to join the kids and visit family. All in all, it had been one of the most memorable summers that I have had.
Barbara and I enjoyed many more summer vacations, both here in the States, and in England and Europe. Usually with the kids, but occasionally without. There was one more fateful summer vacation that would set the stage for our future.
It happened near the end of summer in ‘86. I felt that Samantha and Tristan were old enough to fully experience the wonders of a certain resort island off the Pacific Northwest coast. It just happened that that summer the family reunion was to be at my parent’s house. It was perfect; we could head for the Pacific Northwest a week early and visit the island before joining the reunion. With our game plan set we packed our bags and headed for the airport.
We flew in to Seattle and rented a car at the airport. After a beautiful, leisurely drive, we arrived at a small coastal town. Access to the island was by car ferry and I found the queue at the end of the main road. I parked at the end of the line and turned off the engine. The boat wasn’t there but we didn’t have long to wait for its return, although it was long enough for the kids to get restless and start pestering me with questions, especially about why we were sitting in a parked car. I just told them to wait and see.
The kids started to settle down once they spotted the boat approaching the dock. They went completely silent as they watched vehicles being driven off the boat and pass us on the road. They stared in utter amazement as I fired up the car and, after paying the fare, drove onto the boat. Their enthusiasm couldn’t be contained in the car, so we got out and moved to the side of the boat up by the bow to watch the crossing. Samantha and Tristan couldn’t believe what was happening. They were having the time of their young lives, and the adventures were just beginning.
It took just over twenty minutes to make the crossing. As the boat docked, we returned to the car and made ready to off load. I drove off the boat and across town to a bed and breakfast we had booked for a week’s stay. We settled in then went out to explore the town. The real adventures would continue the following day.
During the next few days that followed, the kids had a ball as we visited all of the places I had explored on my first visit so many years before. All that is, except for one. That one I saved for last. There was just one day left before we had to leave for my parent’s home, and it was time to start the best adventure of all. Barbara packed a lunch with items we purchased the night before from the local farmers market, while I retrieved a pair of garden clippers from my luggage and rounded up the kids. We piled into the car and made the short drive out of town.
I pulled up just short of a muddy ditch just past a very familiar house. As I got out of the car, I looked across the road at a house that was barely recognizable. It was the house my parents had rented on my first visit. It was in horrible shape and clearly abandoned. Sadness swept over me and I turned away. Barbara noticed the sudden change in my mood and tried to inquire as to why. I just smiled and said I would tell her later. Forcing myself into a more joyous mood, I retrieved the picnic bag from the trunk. I rallied the troops and led them down a narrow path along side the ditch.
We came to, what for me, was a very familiar creek and made our way upstream to a point where there were a few large rocks in the water. Suddenly, I broke into a run, and then jumped onto a rock in the stream. I crossed by leaping from rock to rock and scampered up the far bank. The kids caught on and quickly followed with Barbara following at a more cautious pace. Without pausing, I dashed into a narrow and twisted trail through the bushes. In places it was too overgrown to pass without getting tore up. The clippers I was packing took care of that.
The path ended at a wall of trees and bushes. The kids looked at me with a puzzled look, but before they could complain, I pointed down at what looked like a large rabbit hole. Tristan’s face lit up and he quickly dropped to his hands and knees. He disappeared into the hole with astonishing speed. Samantha wasn’t about to be out done by her brother and she dropped to the ground and disappeared just as quickly. Barbara gave me a look that said "you’ve got to be kidding". I passed the picnic bag to her, then pulled out the clippers and got to work enlarging the opening and passageway just enough for us to crawl in. I hadn’t even gotten fully inside before we could hear the kids screaming with delight and encouraging us to come join them.
The sight that greeted me upon entering was as spellbinding as the first time I had entered it. Barbara came up beside me, brushing herself off and was about to complain. But she didn’t. Instead, she just stared in wonder. She quickly realized why we crawled through the tight opening. Barbara wrapped her arms around mine, snuggled up to me, and asked:
"So, where’s the white rabbit?"
We walked around and watched the kids play and trample down the tall grass, eventually getting them to stop long enough to eat lunch. Sometime after lunch I got hold of Samantha and whispered something in her ear. She looked at a couple of large rocks under a tall tree and made a beeline for them. She quickly worked out the way to get on top of the largest and was jumping up to grab hold of an overhanging branch when Tristan spotted her. He ran to join his sister and in no time both were near the top of the tree enjoying the amazing view.
"Mom, Dad, you’ve got to come up here and see this."
"We will, but first you’ll have to come down as I don’t think there is enough room for all of us that high up."
"Aw okay, we’ll be down in awhile."
It was indeed awhile before the kids tired of the view and descended to resume their play. It was then our turn and I helped Barbara up the rocks and into the tree. The view that greeted us was the same one that had first greeted me. It was as if time had stood still. But of course it hadn’t and it was time for us to return to base and make ready for the mornings departure. We descended from our lofty perch, gathered up the kids and belongings, and headed back to the car.
With everyone and everything we had brought on board, I started up the car and made a u-turn to head back to town. The road was narrow and I ended up in the front yard of the abandoned house. Something on the ground caught my eye. It looked like an old sign that had been blown over, face down. Something welled up inside of me, compelling me to exit the car and run around to the sign. I flipped it over and stared at it. It read "For sale" and listed a phone number. I was hunting for a pen and paper when a woman across the street called out to me.
"Excuse me, if you’re interested in the house, I can call the owner for you. It shouldn’t take her more than ten minutes to come out here."
"Yes, I would like that. That’s very kind of you, thank you."
"Tom, what are you up to? What’s with you and this house?"
"Back when I was around the kids’ age my Mom and I spent the summer in this house with Dad visiting on the weekends. It was the second best summer of my life."
"What was first?"
"Why, the summer I met you, of course."
"Of course. You’re trying to butter me up so you can buy this house aren’t you?"
"Yes, yes I am."
"It’s in pretty bad condition."
"You’re right there, at least on the outside. Still, if the frame and roof are in good shape, then it shouldn’t take too much to turn it into a vacation house, if the price is right."
"The children do like it here, and I do have to admit that I like it here as well."
I smiled at Barbara, then kissed her and said something sweet and sappy. Samantha and Tristan let forth a chorus of "ewwww". Soon after the owner drove up and after an exchange of introductions, proceeded to show us the inside of the house.
The inside was like something out of an old mystery movie. The furniture that was still in the house, was covered with sheets and everything had a thick layer of dust. Cobwebs were in every room and hallway. Clearly it had been a long time since anyone had lived in it.
The house turned out to be in good condition on the inside. The roof was another matter. There were enough bad spots to make replacing the entire roof a wise choice. The kitchen and bathrooms needed to be modernized and the plumbing would likely need to be replaced. Of course, doing all that, it would make sense to bring the wiring up to code as well. I suspected that the outer walls didn’t have any insulation in them. That would be easy to fix once the dilapidated outer siding was removed. I was starting to add up the costs when the owner made us an offer.
"With the islands economy down for so long, this place isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. You’re the only ones to look at the place in years. So, I’ll tell ya what. I’ll sell ya the house for the value of the land, but on one condition, ya must restore the house back to the way it looked in better times."
Barbara and I looked at each other and replied together.
We followed the owner back to town and signed the papers. Of course that night Barbara and I lay in bed trying to convince each other that we had made the right decision and that all would turn out well. I figured that Dad would be able to advise us as to how to handle the renovation. After all, he had been through it before. He might even offer to oversee the project for us, since we lived on the other side of the country, and indeed that was the case. Dad’s offer took a lot of worry off our shoulders, although I still had to make a couple of cross-country flights to stay on top of things.
During the time it took to renovate our vacation house, the environment at the brokerage I worked for changed, and not for the better. Management was pushing churning of clients accounts. They instructed their brokers to con their clients into buying stock in companies that weren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Then after a few weeks, advise these same clients to sell these stagnant stocks for a new set of going nowhere stocks, and so on. This generated a lot of commissions for the firm.
But this wasn’t enough for management. They became involved with a shady investment group in hype and dump schemes. The investment group would slowly acquire a couple million shares of a small, thinly traded company with a "gee wiz" technology for small change per share. Then they would tout this technology as something that would save mankind or the environment from this or that. They would then pay brokerages to alert their clients to this "breaking technology" creating a buying frenzy which would cause the stock’s price to explode. The investment group would sell into the frenzy pocketing profits that bordered on the unimaginable. Those who bought the stock would find that there weren’t any more buyers to push the price higher and would try to get out. This would cause the price to plummet sticking a lot of naive investors with huge losses and a near worthless stock.
Today’s internet trading has virtually (but not totally) eliminated the scam with brokerages. But beware, the scam appears to be alive and well and has moved to financial newsletter promos. A note for those who receive these mailings, the warning signs are in the required small print disclaimer. If it contains phrases like "to increase awareness in the featured company" or "paid advertisement by third party (or featured company)" or "is a shareholder in featured company holding x million shares that can be traded at any time" or anything remotely resembling that, then it could very well be a hype and dump scheme. Don’t chance it; just put the advertisement in the shredder.
I wasn’t about to expose my clients to these schemes, after all, I worked hard to earn their trust and wasn’t about to jeopardize that. Management took the position that those who didn’t comply would no longer have a job. I considered jumping to a competing firm, taking my clients with me. But it didn’t take long to realize that corruption was rapidly spreading through the investment business. It sickened me and I found myself wanting to get as far away from the business as I could. It was time to retire. I warned my clients to what was happening and said goodbye to them. Then I told my employer where to put their new policy and where they could go afterwards.
Of course, a quick appraisal of my position in life was then in order. Retirement at a relative young age wouldn’t be a problem as I had savings and investments that would see us to the end of my days. The renovations to our house in the northwest would soon be completed. Our current house was in a desirable neighborhood and would sell quickly, so getting far away from the industry wouldn’t be a problem either. Barbara proved to be very supportive and proud of my decision.
She seemed to be happy about moving across the country even though it meant being farther from England. She said that it would be a better place to raise the children. She would be proven to be right. Tristan and Samantha were torn between having to leave their friends, and living in an island wonderland. In the end, the island’s promised adventures won out and they agreed to the move. We sold our house, put our worldly possessions in the care of a moving company, and headed for the Pacific Northwest.
The kids quickly adapted to our new home. New friends were made and they all set about exploring every square inch of the island. Samantha became spellbound by the wonders of the tidal zone. She quickly realigned her school classes and studies. Tristan was more interested in the island’s interior, particularly the many creeks and streams. He was never happier then when he would hike up a waterway to its source, taking note of how it interacted with the natural environment, farm lands, and towns. Like his sister, he realigned his school classes and studies.
I also had an exploration of sorts of my own in the first couple of years on the island. I wanted to find out what happened to a childhood friend, a young girl named Sam. She had discovered and introduced me to the hidden clearing. She had also set me off on what would become a series of unusual summertime adventures. A search of public records and interviews with people who might have known Sam and her mom yielded virtually nothing. They had moved to the mainland but no one knew where. I did do some searching in mainland cities and towns close to the coastline when the opportunity presented itself. It was always a long shot that never came in.
My efforts didn’t go unnoticed by Barbara. I explained it away as just looking for a childhood playmate without going into details. Fortunately I realized early on that the search was futile and didn’t let it become an obsession. After a couple of years I dropped the search completely. Still, there was one last possibility. The special clearing might work its magic and draw Sam back to the island for a visit. It hasn’t yet, it might still happen, but now it doesn’t look like I’ll be around to see it if it does.
As the years rolled by, Samantha’s and Tristan’s passions for nature grew and has carried both of them through many years of college and post grad studies. Of course the islands educational system could only take them so far. To continue their studies the kids had to attend college, and that meant leaving the island. They quickly adapted to being on their own and never really returned home. During the couple of summers that each did come home, it felt more like they were just visiting. Our kids had grown up.
Samantha is fast becoming a recognized name in the field of tidal zone exploration and protection. She now works for a university research group with various on going marine projects. It was there that she found that special someone and after a year of dating and occasionally working together, they married. They wasted no time starting on a family of their own.
Tristan has become an environmental engineer and works as a consultant to natural resource development companies who care about what they do to the environment. He found his wife to be at a small, but growing, mining company with operations scattered throughout the Southwest and Mexico. She is mostly of Original Native American heritage and possesses a stately beauty that has captivated Tristan. She has an even greater passion for the environment than he. They married within a year of meeting and about a year latter, got to work on their family.
Grandchildren, has anything better ever been invented? Barbara and I don’t think so and we have always looked forward to a summer with a house filled with boisterous, happy children that couldn’t seem to stand still long enough for us to see how much they’ve grown. With us and their parents, they explored all the wonders the island had to offer, save one that was always kept for last and at just the right time. The secret clearing, it has never ceased to captivate and hopefully never will.
As I look around this wondrous clearing, the adventures that I experienced here and elsewhere come flooding back to mind. All too soon they will be lost forever. There was something I felt I had to do, but I didn’t exactly know why, after all, my adventures are not exactly normal. To that end I had added a few extra items to a lunch bag before coming to the clearing. I knew it was going to take a while, and there were going to be long periods when I wouldn’t be able to work. Heck, I may not even be able to finish, but I had to try. And it was time. I reached into the bag and withdrew a comp book and a pen. I shifted to a more comfortable position on the rock, opened the book and with pen in hand began to write. The title was easy:
It was a summer vacation filled with adventure, discovery, and wonder. The time was the late 1950’s. The place was a resort island in the Pacific Northwest . . .
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