a novel with eight voices
by Louise Anne Smithson
Josie – sister of Jenny (Sunday 21st August 2011)
I was a little disappointed early yesterday morning that Mum didn’t ring me to wish me a happy birthday, but I supposed that I’d already had my present from her, and no doubt there would be a card in the post. Denise and Karen had both bought me a nice card and some skin care products, but Mrs Crawford seemed to have forgotten all about her offer to get me a birthday cake probably with all the commotion of organising her dinner party. Then, when the post did eventually arrive mid-morning, I was again disappointed to find that the only birthday card from Crawley was one from my sister. I was still pretty sore with Jenny, but she did seem to be making an effort to make amends. Normally she would have gone out of her way to find me a rude card, but this one was quite the opposite, and the wording (which she’d underlined) said that she was proud to have me as her sister, which I suppose was quite nice (if she really meant it). Perhaps it is now time for us to make up? Jenny’s card also contained a ‘Boots Gift Voucher’ so I would be able to buy myself some more cosmetics once I got back to Crawley (she wasn’t to know that there was no branch of the chemists in Llangollen.) Yet there was still no word from Mum. I even tried ringing her at home but got no answer, and she never answers her mobile phone when she’s driving. I therefore assumed that she’d been called away somewhere in connection with her work.
Consequently, l threw myself into the preparations for Mrs Crawford’s dinner party in order to overcome the slight sense of anti-climax that I felt. This turned out to be a lot of fun. Denise had never so much as peeled a potato before and so needed quite a lot of guidance from both Karen and myself, but she was willing to learn, and we had a lot of laughs together in the kitchen. The only thing that slightly irritated me was that Karen would keep stopping whatever she was doing to send and receive text messages from her sister. (My sister and I are currently incommunicado apart from the birthday card that is.)
By about six o’clock everything was prepared and either quietly cooking in the oven or else sitting in the refrigerator covered in cling film, waiting to be served to the guests when they arrived. The table was laid and so I suggested to the others that perhaps we three might get changed so that I could put on my new dress when we went out for our pizza meal, but for once they seemed determined that we should go as we were. Thus, about six thirty, we made our way in to town, only to be recalled a ten minutes later by Mrs Crawford since Denise had forgotten to take her purse. It was then that I discovered that I’d been the victim of an elaborate scheme involving everyone who knew me as Josie.
As soon as the welcomes were over, and I’d gotten over my surprise at seeing everyone once again, Mrs Crawford sent us away to get changed. Fortunately I’d washed my hair, de-fuzzed my arms and legs, checked that my boobs were still on securely and fixed my nails the night before, so I only needed to put on a new pair of tights and Jenny helped me to put on my new dress. I then sat at the dressing table where I began to put on some makeup whilst she brushed my hair and started pinning it up into a style. At first we didn’t say much to one another, but then I decided that it was probably up to me to break the awkward silence between us.
‘Thank you for the birthday card and the voucher,’ I said.
‘You’re welcome,’ she replied, then after a few seconds she added, ‘I like your dress, it suits you.’
‘Thank you, Denise and her mother got it for me.’
A few more seconds of silence ensued before Jenny let out a sigh.
‘I’m sorry, Josie. It was a horrible thing for me to say. I’ve felt guilty about it ever since. I would have told you before now, but you’ve been refusing to answer my calls.’
‘So now you don’t mind having a ‘freak’ for a brother?’ I said in a sarcastic voice.
‘Please don’t use that word – only fools use that word – and I admit that I have been a fool. Of course things are going to be difficult, for us both, once you get back to Crawley, especially so for you. However, I’m sure we can face it together. I would far rather have you as my sister than lose your friendship altogether.’
I turned to look her in the eyes. They seemed to be sincere.
‘Thank you,’ I said, touching her hand.
‘So am I forgiven?’
‘I guess so.’
She leaned forward and kissed me on the cheek; the first time I remember her doing that in years.
‘But that doesn’t mean to say that I’m not going to criticise your dress sense,’ she added. ‘That lipstick you are putting on doesn’t look right with the colour of your dress. Here, try this one,’ she said handing me one from out of her handbag.
She was right. I still had a lot to learn about being a girl.
We had a wonderful meal. The food was good (I should know I helped to cook it); the company was good, and I felt good about myself, dressed as I was among so many elegant ladies. Then, to cap it all, at the end of the meal, Denise’s mother appeared with my birthday cake and fifteen candles, and everyone sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ I was so happy that I started to cry.
‘Whatever is the matter, Josie?’ asked Mum.
‘You’ve all been so kind to me, and I feel so happy, but I cannot go back to being Joe, now. I can’t go back to being a boy again, and having to pretend that I’m something I’m not. I know things will be difficult when I get home and that people will laugh at me and abuse me in the village and at school, but I cannot go back to being Joe, not even for a day.’
Mum, who was sitting next to me, took my hand.
‘I know, dear. I’ve made an appointment for us to see a psychologist and specialist in gender issues. I’m also going to put our house on the market and we’ll be moving to the other side of town where nobody knows us. I’ve been to talk to the headmistress of the local secondary school there and she would be willing to admit you as a girl whilst you are undergoing your transition, so no-one else needs to know.’
‘But what about Jenny?’ I asked.
‘Jenny will continue at her present school, with her friends. It will mean a longer journey into school each day for her, but she’s willing to do so for your sake. I’m not saying that it is going to be easy for you, but at least you will be able to start afresh both at home and at school. I’m afraid that you won’t have any friends in your new school, to begin with, but you won’t have to deal with the harassment either.’
‘You will have some girlfriends outside of school though,’ said Karen. ‘Since we talked you into becoming Josie in the first place, the least we can do is to help you through your transition.’
‘In fact you’re welcome to stay with me and the twins for the remainder of the Summer holidays whilst your mother begins the necessary arrangements,’ said Jean.
‘Thank you everybody, you have all been very kind,’ I said.
‘Kindness doesn’t come into it, I’m hoping that you will be able to continue helping me with my automation,’ replied Jean.
Mrs Crawford had been whispering to Denise as this conversation was going on. She now began to speak.
‘Josie, I’ve been talking to your mother, and perhaps you could come and stay with us for a while once we get back to Crawley, until she is able to sell your existing house and buy another. That way you would never need to go back to your former home. I have to drive Denise in to her school each day, and it would be no great problem for me to take you on to yours afterwards. I would have to tell the full story to my husband, but between us, Denise and I should be able to talk him round, and we’ll have two weeks for him to get used to the idea before we see you again. In fact, he commented to me only yesterday that we had two very nice and sensible young ladies staying and what a good example they both were to Denise.’
Denise stuck her tongue out at me when she heard this, but I could see that she wasn’t unhappy with the idea.
‘What do you think, Mum?’ I asked.
‘Well it would certainly simplify matters all round if you didn’t have to come back to Rusper dressed as Josie.’
‘We would still be able to see you every weekend until we move house,’ added Jenny.
‘In that case, thank you very much for the offer, Mrs Crawford and also for this lovely dress.
‘You can stop calling me Mrs Crawford, Alice will do fine.’
‘There are a few more things that I’m going to need for Josie’s wardrobe, but I do still have some savings left.’
‘In that case we’ll all take you shopping for them as soon as we get back to Crawley, won’t we girls,’ said Sue, looking at Karen and Jenny, who both nodded.
‘Don’t spend it all as I’ll also want to take you shopping as well, when I get home,’ said Denise.
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