A young orphan tracks down his long lost twin sister on the day of her wedding to a rich man. Gosh, I hope she doesn't have something sinister planned.
It's a horrible thing never to know where you came from. Not to know who your parents were, not to know what city you were born in, not to know your own birthday. If you've had any sort of childhood whatsoever, then I envy you.
As you may have guessed, I was born an orphan. Dropped off at some Atlanta welfare society. No name, no past. 'Infant Doe.' Malnourished. About two months old. Traces of heroin in my system.
Things went downhill from there. Orphanages are less like 'Boys' Town' and more like 'Oliver Twist.' I won't bore you with accounts of the abuse and neglect. I was thirteen when I finally escaped for good.
Life on the streets. What can I say? You did what you did to survive. You stole. You robbed. You fought and struggled and looked over your shoulder. You crept among alleys like a rat. You developed a sixth sense. You learned to do anything, ANYTHING, to survive. I guess that's why I allowed it to happen.
I was hard and bitter, big shock, huh? I hated those people I'd see driving their big fancy cars, going home to their rich wives, sleeping in their warm beds. Hated them! But I envied them.
It's the orphan's dream. The family. Someone who cared for you. Someone who wanted you. Someone who loved you. I guess I never gave up hope that someday, somewhere, I'd have a real family.
I was working as a stevedore in Miami at the time. I guess I was around nineteen. I met this old merchant marine, we became fairly close. I wouldn't say friends, when you come from where I do, you don't make friends. A friend is just someone who hasn't turned on you yet.
Anyway, we're having beers one night. And we get to talking. He's been around, seen a few things. We come to the subject of families. I, of course, have nothing to say. But then he tells me something which changes my life.
I had always assumed that adoption records were private. You give up your son, no strings, never have to hear from him again. But I was wrong.
Turns out, you can access your family history for medical reasons. Makes sense, you never know if you're going to need a kidney or something.
It was a hopeless fantasy, I knew. Even the next day, as I caught a northbound semi to Atlanta, I had convinced myself that I was just moving on. But I couldn't help fantasizing...
About a middle-aged couple who had never stopped regretting the son they gave up years ago. Or perhaps an uncle, some wise older guy who would take me under his wing and help me get my life together. What if I had surviving grandparents? Or brothers and sisters?
It was stupid. On the off chance they still had my records, and they actually had my family name somewhere, and I could actually contact family members, would they actually want to see me? A penniless, homeless teenager? No, of course not. But sometimes, you have to follow your gut.
I pretended that I didn't care when I told the social workers who I was. I gave them a sob story about needed to contact my family about my health. I expected the worst.
I struck gold. My mother had left records when she dropped me off! I did have a past. I eagerly glommed on to the folder they dug up for me.
It was all depressing. My mother had been a prostitute. A junkie. Though the file didn't say it, I was sure she was long dead. But that wasn't the most interesting thing.
I had a twin sister! A twin sister! I nearly kissed the middle-aged woman who was assisting me. We had been separated after birth, the logic being it was easier to get single children adopted than a set, so to speak.
It hadn't worked. I lived in the orphanage before running away. My sister, according to her file, was in an out of foster homes until her teenage years. They lost contact after that.
The file listed her name as Andrea. I grinned at whatever civil servant had named us, way back when. Andrea and Andrew. Real original.
There was no clue as how to contact her.
"Um, ma'am," I started, not really sure how to go about this.
"How could I go about contacting my sister?"
"I'm afraid you can't. If you bring a note from a legitimate doctor citing need for familial contact for health reasons, we can contact her anonymously."
I felt wretched. To be told I had family, and then told I could never contact her!
It must have shown on my face. I didn't need a transplant, and I'm sure my sister would have just as little clue about our family medical history as I did. I must have evoked sympathy from the social worker, because as I was leaving, she pressed something into my hand. It was a note.
'Andrea Jones. 1701 Robert E. Lee Dr, Savannah, GA. 555-1361.'
Paydirt! I blessed the woman for breaking the law to help me! Now I could talk to my real family! Only an orphan can know what a special thing that is.
I panhandled all afternoon to buy a phone card. I couldn't very well call her collect, could I? I couldn't remember the last time I had been so nervous. In all my years on the streets, nothing had scared me as much as the thought that I might be rejected by my own sister.
"Hello?" said a husky female voice.
"Hello. Is this...Andrea Jones?"
"You were delivered to The Savannah Children's Home in November, nineteen years ago?"
"Who is this? What do you want?" She seemed upset.
"You don't know me. Listen, there's no other way for me to say this. I'm Andy, your twin brother."
There was a long, long pause. I think I would have died had she hung up. Finally, she spoke, her voice barely a whisper.
"They mentioned something once about a brother. I never knew how to...are you in town?"
"I could be there tomorrow."
"Oh God, please come! Oh God, you don't know how much I need to talk to you right now!" She gave me the address of a Savannah restaurant. I told her I'd be there the next day.
I guess my nervousness showed. The salesman I thumbed a ride with seemed on the verge of putting me out of his car. I suppose I seemed like someone who was running from something. Only after I told him why I was so agitated did he calm down.
I arrived twenty minutes after I had agreed to meet her, and still I couldn't bring myself to enter the establishment. Here I was, homeless, bedraggled, and scruffy. How could I just go and present myself to my only family member? What would she think?
But I had to do it. I had to meet her. Even if she told me she didn't want anything to do with me, well, it would be worth it to see her. I had to see her. Besides, hadn't she told me she really wanted to talk to me?
I entered. This was a high-class place, and I instantly felt out of my element. I wondered why Andrea, who's upbringing hadn't been much easier than mine, would choose such an expensive joint.
I knew her right away when I saw her. There was no doubt in my mind that we were related. There was no doubt that we were twins.
Like me, she had short, blonde hair. Like me, she had blue eyes, and just the slightest hint of an overbite. Like me, she was just under six feet tall. Like me, she was slender and wiry.
She was very pretty, in a tomboy sort of way. Athletic and slightly buxom. She was wearing what looked like and expensive dress, though she seemed she'd look better in jeans and a T-shirt.
"Andy?" She stood up and hugged me. It took a lot of willpower not to cry. A hug from my sister. A hug from family.
She sat down and I took a seat opposite her. My sister! My own flesh and blood.
"I don't know where to begin," I babbled.
"Why don't you tell me about yourself."
"Well, I ran away from the orphanage when I was young. I've been doing odd jobs and such since then."
"Where are you living?"
"I'm, um, sort of on the move at the moment." I really tried to play down the true state of things. I didn't want her to think that my finding her and my poverty were related. The last thing I was going to do was sponge off of her. "So tell me about you."
"Well, I was kicked out of the home when I turned eighteen. I did a bit of modeling. Last year I met a guy, Duke Greyson, and we're getting married!"
"Married? That's great!" A brother-in-law too! Would I actually do something this Thanksgiving?
"Yeah," she said. Somehow she lacked the enthusiasm I showed, but I didn't feel it was my place to mention it. Besides, it was probably my imagination.
"What's he like?"
"He's a millionaire. Owns Greyson industries. For once, I'm going to live in style!" See sounded enthusiastic about that at least. "We're travelling around the world for our honeymoon."
Andrea was doing great. I thought about the rich man I'd soon be related to. I'd have to make a really good impression. An industry leader could get me a job, any sort of job. A real job that I'd keep for once. Maybe even I could get an advance on my paycheck and rent an apartment somewhere. Have some stability in my life. Get off the streets.
"So when's the big day?"
"Day after tomorrow."
"Really? That's great!"
"I guess. So can you come?"
"Can I come? Uh..." I wanted to come more than anything, but the truth was I had nothing to wear to a wedding and no money to buy anything.
Andrea sensed my dilemma. "Don't worry about clothes. Just show up a few hours early. Show this at the door..." Andrea handed me a business card, which advertised her services as a model. "I'll have someone there to get you ready."
"You will? I mean, I don't want to put anyone to any trouble."
"Don't worry, Duke's paying for it all." That didn't reassure me. I didn't like to take charity. I had begged before, but only when I was very desperate. Of course, I flat out stole on numerous occasions, so I wasn't one to get on a moral high horse.
"So where will the wedding be?"
"On Duke's yacht at the marina." She wrote the address on the back of the card.
"When will I get to meet Duke?"
"At the reception. I'm sorry it can't be sooner, but we're both really busy with the wedding plans. In fact, I have to get going now."
I was disappointed. I had hoped we'd have more time to catch up.
"I'm sorry to see you go so soon."
"Don't worry. Once I get back from my honeymoon, we'll get together for the weekend or something. Here..." she passed me a bill, "go ahead and get some food, and see you at the wedding." She kissed my cheek and got up and left.
I ordered a Coke (I was still thinking like a hobo, not willing to blow my money in an expensive restaurant) and pondered. It was so great to see Andrea. But I felt slightly uneasy as well. Why didn't see seem as happy as a new bride should be? The wedding didn't seem to thrill her at all. And why couldn't I meet Duke? I mean, I know it was her wedding and all, but wasn't a long-lost twin brother something? She couldn't have me over for dinner or anything?
I was being paranoid and rude. I barely knew her, and already I'm psychoanalyzing her. And an unexpected family member was a big thing. I couldn't expect her to make me part of her family right off. I was lucky she was including me in the wedding.
I stuck the bill in the leather folder the waiter brought me without looking at it. He shot me a snooty look. I figured out why when he brought my change. I had just paid for a soda with a fifty-dollar bill.
Two days later I stood at the gate to the marina. The night before a church-sponsored homeless shelter had provided me with a shower, shave and a set of, if not new, clean clothes. I was determined not to be an embarrassment to my new family.
I had never seen so many Porches, Mercedes, and Ferraris on the same lot. For a second I wondered if there was a good chop shop in the area, and instantly resented myself for it. 'Try to act like a normal person,' I told myself.
I snuck around the gate at the entrance and looked for Duke's boat. I walked by it several times before I realized it wasn't a small island.
There are boats and then there are boats. My concept of boat had more to do with the barges and steamers I used to unload. I had pictured Duke's boat like a large sailboat, something big enough for about twenty people. But this...this was bigger than Omaha.
I found out later the boat, Greyson II, boasted five luxury suites, a gym, a sauna, a banquet hall, plus engines, servants quarters, and kitchens. Duke was rich in the same sense that the Pacific Ocean was wet. A mere millionaire couldn't afford a hulk like that. He had to have at least a cool billion.
Maybe I should just leave. I couldn't picture Andrea telling her wealthy fiancée "Guess what honey? My long lost, homeless brother will be joining us for the wedding!" I didn't belong here. I'd just call her again when she got back...
No. I had to go through with it. Who cared if I was the embarrassing family member? At least I would be part of a family. I marched towards the gangway.
The wedding wasn't for a while still, but hordes of catering staff, laborers, and decorators swarmed to and from the boat. I was about to wander aboard when a lumbering security guard stopped me.
"Do you have business here?"
"Um, I'm Andrea Jones's brother."
"She don't have a brother."
"No, seriously. We sent to separate orphanages when we were babies. She didn't know about me until the other day. Look, she told me to show this." I held up the business card Andrea had given me.
The guard barely looked at it. "I don't know what your scam is, pal, but you'd better beat it."
"But it's the truth."
"Scram, or I call the cops."
I didn't know what to do. I could maybe take this guy, but what would be the point? That would impress Andrea, me brawling my way into her wedding. I didn't know how to contact her. Why hadn't she warned anyone about me?
At that moment, my guardian angel appeared. She came in the form of a forty-something woman with a clipboard. She was dressed in a suit and had a no-nonsense business air about her. Still, despite her severe clothes and the age difference, she was quite cute. Tall, curvy, and very well proportioned.
"Lars!" she barked at the human door. "It's OK. I'll take care of it."
Lars snapped to attention. "Yes ma'am!"
The woman took me by the arm and led me aboard. "I'm Nikki Lewis, Ms. Jones's personal assistant. I'm terribly sorry about the mix up. Ms. Jones wanted to give you a chance to change before she introduced you around."
I appreciated that. When I met Andrea's high society friends, I would at least be dressed nice. I kept nervously glancing around, amazed at the ritzy surroundings.
"Nervous?" asked Nikki.
"No. Well, yes. I slept at the men's shelter last night. I feel out of my depth."
Nikki stopped. She looked me in the eye and smiled. She had a real pretty smile. "Listen Andy. You're just as good as anyone here. Just stick your chest out, smile, and let everyone know that you don't have anything to be ashamed of."
"Thanks." Nikki sure was sweet. I hoped she be around during the reception. Maybe save a dance for me.
"At any rate, here we are." She pointed in an inauspicious door. "Just go right in."
I entered. It was a small cabin, just a bed, nightstand, closet, and a door to the bathroom. Probably a servant's quarters. Andrea was nowhere to be seen. I sat on the bed and waited.
She showed up about fifteen minutes later. "Andy!" she said with a smile. "I was afraid you weren't going to come!"
"Hey, I wouldn't miss my sister's wedding!" My sister's wedding. A family event.
"Can I fix you a drink?" she asked.
"Shouldn't I get dressed first?" I asked. I was still embarrassed about my charity clothes.
"Oh, the wedding's not for several hours. I'd really like to catch up with you." She pulled open a closet, revealing a small mini-bar. "What's your pleasure?"
I guessed Thunderbird wine would be in bad taste, so I asked for a gin and tonic, the classiest drink I knew. She poured me one.
"Now," she said, sitting down on the bed next to me, "I want you to tell me more about yourself."
I swigged my drink uncomfortably. What was there to say? When you have to home, you don't have a lot to say about yourself. I had no girlfriend, no hobbies, no collections, no job. I suddenly felt a little useless.
"There's not a whole lot to tell," I started, taking another swig. I didn't care for the drink, it tasted rather bitter.
"Oh, come on, you've had to have done something in the past couple of decades." She was smiling very sweetly.
"Oh, well, odd jobs, travel...aren't you drinking?"
"No, not before the big event. Don't you like your drink?" She looked hurt that I had set my gin aside. I took another gulp, even though it really tasted rank. It was almost making me sick.
"I've actually been to...been to..." I clutched my stomach. As a transient, having a low level case of the flu (or worse) was more or less a given, but something was really wrong. God, I wasn't coming down with something terrible now, was I?
I curled up on the bed, feeling horribly weak. I looked up at Andrea, but to my surprise she didn't look concerned. In fact, she was still smiling sweetly.
"Andrea?" I croaked. I could barely move.
"Don't worry, Andy. Just a little something I slipped in your drink. A chemist friend of mine whipped it up for me. It's a muscle paralyzer. Just a little something to keep you immobilized for a few hours."
I tried to ask her why, but I didn't have the strength. I couldn't move even a finger. Oh Christ, what the hell was my sister doing?
Andrea didn't seem to be in a hurry to explain things. She straightened my body out on the bed and grinned at me. "Yes, this will work out nicely." What will work out nicely?
Andrea opened another closet, and pulled out something in a large garment bag. I couldn't move my head to see clearly, there seemed to be more in the closet but I couldn't tell. Andrea moved into my line of vision and sat on the bed. Sipping her drink, she explained things.
"Andy, Andy, Andy. I'm almost sorry to do this to you. You see, I'm not really in love with Duke. I'm in love with his money. Ever since I left the orphanage, I've been trying to make it big. Find some rich schmuck who'll take care of me. Help me live the high life. When I met Duke, I knew he was just the sap to do it.
"My plan was to marry him, string him along for a few years, and then divorce him with a big 'ol alimony settlement. Mmmm, millions of dollars." Andrea leaned her head back and smiled, fantasizing. "But the more I thought about it, the less I liked it. I mean, Duke's an OK guy, I guess, but I really didn't feel like sleeping with him every night. But, there was no way out of it. If I wanted his money, I had to be his sex toy."
Andrea smiled in a very unsettling way. "And then I met you, dear brother. And all my problems were solved. You see, Duke, as a measure of good faith, put my name on his bank account, effective as soon as we are legally married. Now, if I were to run off with the money right after the wedding, he'd just have the marriage annulled. But when I met you, I figured out a way out."
I desperately willed my body to move. She was going to set me up! Make it look like I stole the money somehow, send me up the river while she spent Duke's money, free as a bird! What was she going to do, make it look like I killed her?
The answer, as it turned out, was much, much worse. "You see, Andy, once Duke marries me, I'll have free access to his money. But since I'll be on the honeymoon with him, I won't have a chance to withdraw anything. But what if someone else were to take my place? What if someone stood in for me as the bride, while I was emptying the bank accounts? By the time Duke realized he'd been duped, I'd be long gone."
No. She couldn't mean it. Surely, she didn't think I...
She must have read my thoughts. "Yes, you. You'll be the bride today. And when Duke realizes you're not me, I'll be halfway to Rio."
What made her think I'd go through with this insane plan? Why would I go through with a public wedding, just so my slut of a sister could rob the groom! I'd end up in jail when Duke found out!
Andrea apparently was unconcerned. "Well, if you're going to be pretty for your wedding day, let's get you fixed up." Then, unashamedly, and with no resistance on my part, she began to strip me.
"Hmmm...nice," she pondered. "You know, when you first called, I was afraid you'd be some huge hunk. But you're so scrawny, you'll make the perfect blushing bride!"
I wanted to scream. I wanted to slap her. But I felt like I was in a vice. I felt like I was in a straitjacket. And the most horrible thing was, being temporarily paralyzed wasn't the worst thing. I was going to be dressed as my sister! Soon, I was naked.
My head was propped up on my pillow so I could see what Andrea was doing to my body. She was lathering up my legs. Shaving cream spilled down all over the sheets, but she didn't seem to care. Why would she care? She'd steal from her fiancée, humiliate her brother, why would she care about who had to clean the sheets?
I knew what was coming. With a woman's razor, she shaved my legs. She nicked me a few times, but it didn't seem to bother her. She then began soaping up my armpits.
"Your arms are a bit muscular," she mused as she shaved me, "but I don't think anyone will notice. "There," she smiled as she wiped of the soap. "Clean and smooth. Here, let me get that chest hair."
I was never a hairy man, just a few strands around my nipples and under my navel, so that didn't take long to shave. She finished by plucking the few strands of facial hair I had.
She moved out of my line of vision and returned with a small cooler. Without ceremony, she dumped its contents onto my crotch. It was filled with crushed ice, which caused my testicles to shoot up into their recesses and my manhood to shrink uncontrollably. "I almost forgot to bring ice," Andrea quipped. "That might have been a problem."
As my balls were numbing, my sister pulled out another humiliating thing: a padded bra. "At first, I had decided to go with a gown that showed off a little cleavage. Thank God I didn't! Now I can give you a nice set of breasts without showing that they're fake."
As she forced me into the bra, I tried to speak. Why in the world would she think I would go through with this? The second I could move I would yank all these clothes off and tell everyone on the boat what she had done. I suddenly felt sorry for her fiancé, Duke. Poor guy, at least he'd know what a bullet he dodged when he found out. It would be embarrassing for both of us, but at least I wouldn't have to marry him.
Soon, I was in my bra. I looked like...well, a guy in a bra. I wondered what it would look like in a wedding gown. Aw, who cared? The gown would come off the second I could move.
Just when I thought I would die of cold, Andrea removed the ice from my crotch. Then she pulled something from out of my line of sight. "This is called a gaff," she said, showing me something like a woman's bikini bottom. "This will hide your manhood. Wouldn't want anything, um popping up, during the wedding." Lifting my deadened legs, she forced me into the garment. It was so tight I knew that it would be painful if I could still feel myself down there. I could still tell that my balls were retracted into my pelvis and that my penis had shrunken down to almost nothing.
So here I lay, helpless and miserable, in women's underwear. When Andrea began to press fake pink fingernails on my hands I wasn't even surprised. I wondered what would come next.
"Now," said Andrea, as if explaining something I'd actually care about, "I'll leave your hair and makeup for last. I guess we can go ahead and get you into your gown."
From what I could see of the gown, it looked big enough to cover a baseball diamond during a rain delay. Probably cost a fortune too. Not that I cared, I'd probably tear the thing to shreds as soon as I could move. It took Andrea a good hour to cram me into the damn thing, and she wasn't gentle. I was tossed around like a sack of potatoes. My head flopped this way and that, I was unable to see what she was doing. Once, my face wound up in a pillow and I could hardly breathe for a couple of minutes. I had never hit a woman in my life, but it was fast looking like my twin sister might be the first one.
"My shoes just won't fit you," she said. "Nothing to be done, the gown will cover your feet." She laughed. "The barefoot bride. At least you're not pregnant." Just calm down, Andrew. You'll be able to move soon enough. You'll be able to tell everyone what kind of a woman Andrea is.
I still had no idea what I looked like. One thing was for sure, I was a man who had never taken the slightest interest in personal appearance before. I was lucky if I got to shower several times a week. I don't know how Andrea thought she could pass me off as a debutante bride, but it sure as hell wasn't going to work.
Andrea left. I prayed that she wouldn't come back, but of course she did. She'd only humiliated me a little, now was the time for the coup de gras. I still couldn't get up, but I could hear her wheeling something. I soon realized it must have been a makeup table.
Without so much as a warning, Andrea straddled me, kneeing me in the groin and knocking my wind out. I was nearly blind with rage by this time. Oh, Andrea, how lucky you were I couldn't move. How very lucky.
Brushes, pencils, powder puffs, and lipstick tubes flew in and out of my line of site. I could only imagine what was happening. She was certainly using enough makeup, she even powdered my bare neck and shoulders. I figured I'd look like Bozo the Clown when she was done.
Finally, Andrea smiled her evil smile and nodded. "You'll pass." She looked at her watch. "Damn. I guess I won't have time to do your hair like I'd like. Sorry Andy, I know how special this day is going to be for you. I wanted it to be perfect for you."
I swore revenge. Even if I wound up in prison for this, even if it took me twenty years, I'd find her and make her pay for this. It was bad enough she was setting me up and humiliating me like this, bad enough I'd have to face people dressed like a woman, but to act like I'd enjoy this? Act like I wanted to look pretty as a bride? She was dead
Andrea began to clip the ends of my longish hair, and spray it with almost an entire bottle of hairspray. She wasn't even careful not to get any in my nose. I could tell she wasn't happy with the results, but I was even more unhappy.
Finally, Andrea leaned back to look at me. "Well...I guess you'll do. No one will be expecting anyone other than me, and with all the makeup, I don't think anyone will notice. Now remember..." Andrea was cleaning up the room, putting away the makeup, gathering up my clothes. "Stand up straight, try to keep your voice high, and don't kiss the groom too long. Tacky."
Andrea must have lost her mind! Forget about the humiliation of being a bride, did she honest think I wanted to help her get away with this scam? To rip off some poor guy? I sure wasn't going to the slammer for this hoax! Just what was she thinking?
Andrea had put everything away, stuffing all my things into a garbage bag. "I'll just toss these on the way out," she said, as if she were carrying trash, instead of practically everything I owned, including almost fifty dollars in cash. She turned to me. "Sorry about this, Andy. But when you showed up, everything worked out so well." She kissed my cheek. "I know you're furious, but give it a shot. Duke's a nice guy, you might enjoy being a rich wife." She winked at me, and moved out of my line of sight. I heard the door open and close. She was gone.
I don't know how long I lay there. Probably much shorter than it felt like. My nose itched. My legs hurt from not moving. My privates were no longer numb, they ached in their confined location. It's hard to describe how miserable I felt. Even the humiliation of my situation was forgotten amid the agony of not moving. Just what was this chemical that had paralyzed me? What is Andrea was wrong? What if I could never move again?
After an eternity, I had the sensation like you get when a limb falls asleep and then wakes up. I numb, tingling. My fingers began to wiggle, just a little. I could make soft, pained sounds from my throat. "C'mon," I thought. I had to get moving, had to get help before someone came to take me to the wedding.
After about half an hour, I could move my arms and legs some; my trunk was still stiff and immobile. "Soon," I thought. "Soon. Just a little more."
Weak as a baby, I finally managed to sit up. My head swam. It couldn't focus. While my mind desperately wanted to rip off my finery, wash my face, and find some clothes, all I could do was sit on the bed and try to steady myself. I thought I was going to be sick.
I attempted to stand up, but the voluminous gown prevented me. Taking a deep breath I clutched the hems of the skirt and managed to rise. I needed a drink of water. I thought of the bar where Andrea had fixed me a drink. Maybe I could find an unopened bottle of tonic or something.
It was then that I saw my reflection in a large mirror on the wall. And with a horrible sense of realization, I knew that at least part of my sister's plans had come true.
I certainly didn't look like a fashion queen, or a socialite, or a centerfold. I looked like a fourteen-year-old tomboy forced to model her sister's wedding gown. But it would take more imagination to think that I was a guy than to think that I was a girl.
The wedding gown was huge. The large quantities of silk and lace pretty much covered everything from my hips down. Even if I sported a ten-inch erection, it would hardly be noticeable under all that material. The gown had obviously been designed for someone much more slender, my torso strained at the confines of the narrow waist. And yet...the gown seems to mold my figure, rather than vice versa. People would be more likely to think I the reason for the tight fit was that I was pregnant, not that I was really a guy. Oh God, was I in trouble.
The gown tapered off just above the surprisingly realistic looking mounds on my chest. My bare shoulders showed off my tanned, freckled skin. I noticed that Andrea had slipped a necklace on me when I had been incapacitated. Oh God...
The face was the worst part. I had never had many opportunities to look in the mirror. I almost never needed to shave and it was just as easy to comb down my hair without looking at it. Whenever I did wash my face in front of some gas station mirror, all I'd see was a gawky, scrawny, teenage guy.
What I saw now was a awkward, slender, teenage girl. The hairspray had poofed my short hair out into something resembling a female 'do.' My cracked and chapped lips had become red and pouty. Highlights on my face made my sunken cheeks look high and effeminate. Mascara covered the circles under my eyes. If Andrea hadn't made me look like her, she had at least made me look kind of pretty.
But what did it matter? The makeup was coming off. The clothes were coming off. I staggered to the bathroom door, but it was locked. I tried to force the closet, hoping to find some cleanser in the makeup kit, but it was locked as well.
I had a sick feeling in my stomach. No water, no way to get off the makeup. What was worse, I realized, was that my sister had stolen all my clothes. The only thing to cover up with was the bed sheets, now soaking wet from the melted ice. I pictured myself, my face made up like a woman's, wearing nothing but a bed sheet toga, desperately trying to find my way off the ship. And once I reached land, what then?
Could I pretend to be Andrea and call for help? Ask for some cold cream and a set of sweats? No, that would only raise suspicion. Could I call for help through the door as myself, and ask for some water and a change of clothes? Pretend I had spilled something? That might work. There was only one problem. No one on board knew I was supposed to be there. No one but...
But Nikki! I thought of the pretty older woman and almost cried. She knew Andrea's brother was on board! If I could just pass myself off as Andrea for a few minutes, I could ask someone to send for Nikki. She was nice, I could explain what happened and she could rescue me.
Could I be brave enough to wander around the boat dressed like this? Did I have the courage? I thought back to a night running through a field outside Macon, security dogs hot on my tail. I thought of jumping a ten-foot fence in Nashville to escape from a drug dealer who realized I'd seen something I shouldn't have. I remembered a pimp pulling a knife on me behind a bar in Tulsa.
This was scarier. At least I knew what I was capable of in those situations. I knew I could handle myself. But pass myself as a bride? I had no idea what to do!
I checked myself in the mirror. Makeup still looked okay. What had Andrea said? Stand up straight and make my voice high. Remembering that I was supposed to be happy, I tried to wipe the look of terror off my face.
I tried the door. It was unlocked. I forced my face into a smile. 'Pretend this is the happiest day of your life,' I told myself. Just smile, stand up straight, and find Nikki.
I had no idea where to go in the labyrinthine vessel. Occasionally a crewmember would dash by and give me a smile. I was relieved that no one seemed suspicious.
After about ten minutes of wandering around, I knew I had to ask for directions. Stopping an important looking sailor, I asked him if he knew where Nikki was.
He blinked at me for a second, and I thought my voice had given away. "Nikki?" he asked. "Oh, you mean Ms. Lewis. Hold on, I'll page her." My cover was safe. Andrea had a bit of a husky voice, and I had been able to pull it off, at least for a couple of sentences.
The sailor spoke into his walkie-talkie. "Yes, Ms. Jones is trying to locate Ms. Lewis. Anyone know where she is? Okay. Great. I'll tell her."
He turned to me. "She's in the Blue Room. She says come right in."
The Blue Room? What the hell was that? "Um, I'm a little turned around here..."
"Oh, straight through that door, up the stairs, on your right." I quickly exited.
It didn't take me long to find the empty ballroom where Nikki was located. I had hoped to catch her alone, but I found her leaning on a table, talking and laughing with a man in a khaki uniform and sunglasses. Though he wore no sort of insignia, his sunburned, weather beaten face shouted 'pilot.'
"Ah, there's the blushing bride," he said, removing his sunglasses, and grasping my hand. I remembered at the last minute not to give him a firm handshake. "Are you nervous Andrea?"
And how! Obviously Andrea knew this guy, but I didn't have a clue. At least he didn't see anything odd.
Ignoring him, I turned to Nikki. "Nikki? Can I talk to you? Alone?"
Nikki was still looking at the pilot. "Huh? Sure. Trent, could you excuse us a moment?" Trent winked at Nikki and left. She stared after him distractedly. Obviously Nikki was having romantic thoughts. Finally she remembered me.
"Don't you look gorgeous!" she said with a lovely smile. "Maybe a bit too much makeup. Let me help." She took a powder puff from her purse and started dabbing at my face.
"No," I pulled away. "I have to talk to you. Listen," I looked around to make sure we were alone. "I can't go through with the wedding."
Nikki tilted her head and looked at me sympathetically. "You don't need to explain, honey. I already know."
"Of course. Don't worry, it's going to be okay."
I could have screamed with relief. If Nikki knew what was going on, I had nothing to worry about. She'd help me escape!
"Come this way," she pulled me into a side door, which lead into a narrow passage. Eventually we emerged in a small foyer. "Now wait here," she ordered me. "I'll be back in a moment."
Sitting down was impossible in the gown, so I stood studying myself in a large, decorative mirror, starting at every sound. It was odd looking at a female reflection. Not just because of the gender reversal. In my whole life I had never worn nice clothes, and here I was, decked out in a gown that probably cost a few grand. Quite frankly, I couldn't believe Andrea was willing to give up such a luxurious life. Well, once she went to prison, she'd wish she was merely poor again. I'd see to that.
After about fifteen minutes, Nikki returned. "Sorry about that. Now, let's talk."
Talk? About what? I had to escape!
"Now, Andrea," she continued, "I know how you feel. Ever girl is nervous on her wedding day."
No, no, no! I couldn't believe it! Nikki didn't know about my problems, she just thought I was Andrea, having pre-wedding jitters.
"No, Nikki," I protested, "it's something else. I have something horrible to tell you."
"Andrea," Nikki said softly, "whatever it is, it doesn't matter. You're starting a new life, your old life is over. Don't worry about it, it's part of your past. Forget it."
I was desperate. "I can't marry Duke!"
"Honey," to my surprise, Nikki kissed my cheek. "Someday you'll thank me for this." I felt her press something into my hands. Looking down, I realized it was a bouquet of flowers that had been sitting in a vase. While I was distracted, I heard Nikki say something into a radio. "Okay, now."
I looked up. In front of me a large set of double doors opened. Before I could see what was beyond, Nikki gave me a firm push. In order not to trip on my dress, I stepped forward quickly and heard the doors close and latch behind. I became horribly aware of my surroundings.
There must have been nearly five hundred people in folding chairs, sitting in the large stateroom. The moment I entered, they all rose. The streams of a very familiar march filled the room, sickening me to my stomach. Flashbulbs popped everywhere. At the end of a long red carpet, I was dimly aware of the smiling figure of a young man.
Nikki had set me up! She thought she was doing me a favor and had forced me out to the wedding! Oh God, what now?
Everyone in the room was staring at me expectantly. I wanted to scream to them all that this was all a terrible, terrible mistake. And I knew I couldn't. Here I was standing in front of hundreds of people. How could I tell them I was just a guy in drag? It would be too utterly humiliating, for myself and for Andrea's fiancé.
I then did the hardest thing I had ever did in all my life. I began to walk forward. More cameras snapped as nervously walked down the aisle. This was not happening. Oh, God, this was so not happening.
Then I caught sight of him. Duke. Andrea's fiancé. He looked to be about thirty. Handsome, in a GQ kind of way. Here was the billionaire. Bile rose in my stomach. This guy was the cause of all my trouble. If he'd actually taken the time to know my sister I wouldn't be in this mess. Probably never worked a day in his life.
I stopped next to him. Boy, did he look happy. Why shouldn't he? It was his wedding day after all. I tried my best to smile. I tried my best not to look miserable and scared. It was all I could do not to run away.
The minister began the ceremony. I tried not to cringe. I tried to look happy. I'm sure my smile was just a hideous, painted on clown grin, as I stood there and crushed my flowers. I'd never been in this much trouble. Now that I'd committed to the wedding, I couldn't escape until after the reception! I might even have to wait until I went to Duke's room that night! Oh...oh, I was in deep. Goddamn Andrea!
I was dimly aware of the minister speaking. My mind was elsewhere, planning my escape. Maybe I could jump overboard, ditch the clothes, and hide out until I could get something new to wear. Maybe I could exchange clothes with someone on board. Was there a laundry room on the ship?
The minister cleared his throat and Duke was looking at me with an intense, worried expression. I was on. "I do," I managed to cough out. There was a smattering of laughter from the audience.
"Then, by the power vested in my by the state of Georgia, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Before I knew what was happening, Duke's lips met mine in a chaste, closed mouth, wedding kiss. I was too stunned to close my eyes. Then, as his lips fell away and I strained with myself not to wipe my lips, the worst thought of that horrible day hit me. I was married. Married to another man. I was a bride. I was---a wife.
I was screwed.
"Okay, Duke, put your hand on her shoulder and smile." We stood in front of the photographer in another forced pose and grinned for the thousandth time. I had managed to walk, hand in hand with the groom, down the aisle without falling. I had hoped, prayed, begged God that Duke and I would go off alone. Go somewhere we could talk, where I could warn him, tell him of the horrible mistake he had made. Tell him what Andrea had done to us.
Instead, Nikki had guided us to an empty portion of the deck, where a photographer took picture after picture, with the ocean in the background. It was almost too much. As I posed with Duke, with his best man, with his father, it was all I could do not to dive overboard. The only thing that kept me from screaming the truth was knowing that being exposed as a man-bride would be far more humiliating than playing wife for a day. At least there was no one from Andrea's family there who could recognize me.
"You look really nice," whispered my---my husband.
"Thank you," I answered flatly. While everyone tells the bride she's beautiful, I feared that people actually meant it today.
"Okay," said the photographer. "Now let’s get the couple kissing."
While I was able to conceal my disgust at partaking in a homosexual kiss during the wedding, I couldn't do it again.
"I need to sit down," I blurted, remembering just in time to keep my voice shrill. Without waiting for an answer, I slumped on a bench.
Nikki came over and handed me a glass of water. "Andrea, honey, I know you're nervous, but you have to pull yourself together. You have such a sour look on your face."
Making sure only Nikki was in my line of sight, I leaned in to her. "Bitch," I mouthed.
Nikki looked startled, then stood up. "All right, everyone. The bride's a bit pooped and the guests are waiting. Let's head on over to the reception."
My stomach knotted. I had hoped that there would be no reception, but of course there would be. Duke Greyson was rich, and he wasn't about to elope. The reception, I was sure, would be huge.
"Darling, shall we?" Duke touched my bare arm. For the first time that day, I got a good, undistracted look at him. He had black hair, and eyes so brown they appeared black as well. White, white teeth, and just a hint of five o'clock shadow. His face was handsome, unlined, and carefree.
I grabbed his arm. "Duke," I whispered. "We have to talk."
He looked concerned. I was glad he wasn't the type of guy to dismiss his new wife's concerns outright. "Let's have a seat," he said.
Some of Duke's family was milling around, and the photographer was smoking. "Not here," I said. "Let's go somewhere private."
"There'll be time enough for that on the honeymoon!" came a laughing voice. I wanted to spit. It was Nikki. "Come on, let's get over to the forward deck. You've got guests waiting."
Duke tried to protest, but was hustled along by Nikki. Before I knew it, we were headed toward the front of the ship, where a huge dance floor and buffet table were sat up. Hundreds of guests sat around the linen covered tables.
"We'll sneak off as soon as we can," Duke whispered to me.
As we came to the reception, a twelve-piece band began playing a romantic pop song. The guests stood and applauded.
Flashbulbs began to pop. I was horrified to notice several of the photographers wore press identification badges for newspapers and less reputable tabloids. The media were covering the wedding! How was I supposed to escape, if the whole world knew Duke Greyson had married me?
We were ushered to the head table. The waitstaff began serving dinner, rare roast beef, chicken, or fish. I was a bit annoyed to be served a vegetarian entrée, but it didn't matter. I had no appetite.
Duke seemed concerned at my lethargy and kept patting my hand. I couldn't help but notice how soft his hand felt compared to my rough one. I pulled my hand away. I'm sure I didn't look like a happy bride.
I cringed when the MC announced the first dance. I allowed Duke to take my hand and lead me to the dance floor. As he put his arm around my waist I noticed how much taller he was than me.
"I thought you were going to wear heels," he said with a smile.
I shrugged and took his other hand. He led me around the dance floor, accompanied by the orchestral music and more flashbulbs.
I gritted my teeth in agony, I didn't care how the pictures turned out. When Andrea kidnapped me, it had never once occurred to me that her crazy plan would actually work! And yet, here I was, newly married, dancing with my husband in front of nearly a thousand people, and no one suspected a thing. I was living a nightmare.
"Andrea," Duke whispered. "What's wrong, love?"
I couldn't tell him here. Not in front of all those reporters. Much as I hated it, I'd have to wait until the reception was over. "Just a headache," I said. Then I smiled at him. In a few hours, his world would come crashing down. At least for now, he could think he had a wife who loved him.
I guess my little smile gave him encouragement, because he proceeded to mash his lips to mine. Not like the simple alter kiss either. He held his hand to the back of my head, and gently but forcefully shoved his tongue into my mouth. I was too stunned to resist. Later, when I looked at our wedding pictures, I had to laugh at the open-eyed look of shock on my face.
When more couples joined us on the dance floor, Duke sensed my discomfort and led me back to my seat. I managed to stay there until the toasts and speeches. It was interesting to hear Duke's family talk about me as if I were the real Andrea. Of course, none of them seemed to know her any better than I did. I got the impression their engagement hadn't lasted all that long.
Suddenly, I found the microphone in my hand. It was my turn. I wanted to give a short, dismissive speech, but held my tongue. There was no reason to be cruel. This wasn't Duke's fault.
"Duke--" I stammered. "I'm not good with words. I--I just want to say-- you're a wonderful man. I want you to know that. No matter what happens, remember--remember that I love you. Never forget that. I love you."
It was hard for me to say the romantic words, insincere as they were. Duke, however, seemed genuinely touched, and kissed my cheek as his took the mike. Guests clapped.
"Andrea, my love--you've made me so happy. I can't believe I haven't even known you a year."
You should've tried to know her a little longer, I thought.
"I'm not that great with words either--" some audience members laughed. Maybe he was good with words and was being modest. I certainly wouldn't know.
"I love you darling. All I have is yours. I promise to spend my life making you happy."
Don't promise what you can't do, Duke.
As everyone cheered, Duke kissed me on the forehead. He then turned to the guests.
"I want to think everyone for coming to celebrate with us today. Thank you for your presents, your well wishes and your love. We'll see you when we get back from our round the world honeymoon cruise!"
Oh crap. He wasn't planning on leaving tonight, was he? The horrifying thought caused me to look like a lobotomy patient during the cutting of the huge cake.
The rest of the evening didn't go any better. I was forced to make small talk with people I didn't know (but who knew Andrea), dance with Duke's father, and generally pretend I wasn't miserable. This went on for hours. Duke finally took my hand at one in the morning.
"What do you say we get out of here?"
I nodded, gratefully. Even if I wasn't playing bride, I would have left the party hours ago. I couldn't stand those pompous rich bastards, with their fancy food and their fake class. I was glad I'd be gone soon.
Duke and I reentered the ship under a hail of rice. I didn't have time to talk to him, we always seemed to be surrounded by sailors, staff, or other crew members. Finally, we walked down an ornate hall towards a pair of carved oaken doors. Door opened them, revealing a luxuriously appointed suite. The honeymoon suite.
"Duke--" I had to tell him, and I had to tell him right then!
"Hold on--" without warning, Duke swept me up in his arms, carried me across the room, and deposited me on the brass bed. As I set up, I could hear him close and lock the bedroom doors.
Things had to stop and they had to stop right there. I certainly didn't want Duke to get started on his wedding night duties!
"Duke!" I stood up.
"What is it, my love?" he asked, kicking off his shoes.
"Duke, stop. We have to talk." I edged away.
"Talk? On our wedding night?" Duke loosen his tie. "Can we do this later?"
"Trust me, we need to discuss something right this second."
Duke sighed and walked over to the nightstand. He removed a bottle of champagne from an ice bucket and began removing the cork. "So talk."
"Duke--there's no way to tell you this..."
The cork shot from the bottle with a bang. "Tell me what?"
For the first time since the horrible day began I felt more sorry for Duke than for myself. How do you tell a man his bride is a guy? That you're the guy? "Duke, there's something you don't know about me. Something terrible."
Duke was filling two champagne glasses. "Have you been married before?"
"Is there someone else?" He handed me my glass. I'd never tasted champagne before so I took a sip. Actually, I downed the glass in one gulp.
"There's no one else, Duke. It's much worse than that." Duke refilled my glass.
"Then what is it? Whatever it is, it won't make a difference to me, Andrea."
"Duke, will you listen to me?"
Duke wasn't listening. He placed his hands on my bare shoulders. "Could it be," he paused. "That you're not really Andrea?"
The sensual expression that had been on Duke's face was replaced by one of intense seriousness and concern.
"C'mon, whoever you are." Duke's voice wasn't angry, it was hurt. "Do you think I wouldn't recognize my own fiancée? Your nose is different. Your voice is different. The freckles on your shoulders are different. You're close, but you're not Andrea."
I collapsed on the bed in relief. "So why didn't you say something before?"
"I couldn't during the ceremony. Andrea's your sister, right? You're the orphan she was talking about."
"Duke, all I came for was a wedding. Andrea drugged me and made me up like her. I didn't come to until just before the ceremony. Ask Nikki, she'll tell you how I tried to get away."
Duke seemed far away. "They said she couldn't be trusted. I said she was different. I thought she loved me."
"Duke, she's going to steal your money. She knows that her name's on your accounts now. She said something about Rio. You need to put a block on your cash."
Duke shook his head. "I lied to her about that. I wasn't going to put her name on anything until after the honeymoon."
"I'm sorry, man. All I wanted to do was meet my sister. I didn't want any of this shit."
Duke sat on the other side of the bed, facing away from me, occasionally taking a drink straight from the champagne bottle.
"Everyone said Andrea was a gold digger. Everyone said she was just in this for the cash. I thought I saw something no one else did."
"It's not your fault. She fooled us both. I thought I had found a sister, instead she slips something into my drink and leaves me in her place." While I was pleased he wasn't freaked out about my gender, I wanted to get back to the issue at hand. Mainly, finding me some clothes and getting me the hell off the ship.
The man I'd just sworn to stand by, for better or for worse, was only half listening. "Yeah. Both of us--um, what's your name?"
Duke's head shot up and I was horrified to see a look of unbridled fury across his handsome features. "What!" he almost screamed.
"What's your problem?" I stood up and back away.
In a heartbeat, Duke pounced at me. Grabbing the front of my dress, he yanked, tearing the expensive garment and exposing my flat chest and tiny nipples.
"You faggot! You're not Andrea's sister! You're--you're her brother!"
So that's why he'd been so calm. He knew I wasn't Andrea, but he had no idea I was a man.
"Duke, listen to me--"
Duke's hand shot up and decked me across the face, sending me to the floor. "You sick queer! Everyone in the world saw you! Saw us!" He grabbed me by the arm and yanked me to my feet. "Do you realize what you've done?"
I tried to sputter out that I was as embarrassed as he was, probably a lot more so, but I couldn't get the words out. Only when I saw his hand go up to strike me again, I knew I had to take control of the situation.
With the experience of a dozen brawls behind me, I placed a well-directed jab right where it hurts (no, not there, on the bridge of his nose). This caused him to stagger back. As he recovered and tried to lunge again, I snatched up the champagne bottle and broke it nicely across a dresser. The jagged shard in my hand stopped his advance.
"Now listen here," I said, very calmly. "I know you're humiliated and hurt. You're betrayed. But so am I. I'm no fag, I never wanted to be your wife, and whatever embarrassment you went through today, I went through it twice."
Duke was kneeling on the floor, clutching his bloody nose. He tried to say something, but I stopped him. "I know you're a big shot. I know the world watches every time you take a shit. And I know what would happen if anyone found out what happened here tonight. But I don't want anyone to know any more than you do. So here's the plan.
"Get me some clothes. Say they're for you; they'll be a little big, but that's okay. I'll stay the night here, I'll sleep on that couch. In the morning, Nikki or someone can sneak me out. Tell the media you got an annulment. Tell them Andrea was a gold digging whore. Tell them anything. You and me, we never met."
Duke didn't say anything for a long time. Finally, he stood up. "Wait here," he said, and was gone.
As soon as he left, I ripped off the gown and kicked it into a heap on the floor. The bra, the gaff, and the fake fingernails soon followed. Poking around in a closet, I found a bathrobe with the monogram 'DG.' Perfect. Not only was I anxious to get back to looking like a man, I didn't want Duke to be reminded of me as a bride. That would be dangerous for us both.
I found the suite's bathroom and stared at my reflection. My makeup was a bit smeared, my hair was a sticky heap of hairspray, and a small bruise was developing under my eye where Duke had punched me. I no longer looked like a bride, I looked like a drag queen who'd been in a bar fight.
I plunged my whole head into a basin of hot water and attempted to remove my makeup and straighten my hair. It helped a little, but it would really take cream, soap and a lot of shampoo, and I didn't want to be in the shower when Duke came back.
He returned all too soon, and he wasn't alone. Nikki, carrying a small sack, followed him. I was pleased to see her face was red and pained looking; she'd been crying. Good. It was her fault I was in this mess. I know she didn't know what was going on, but if she'd just listened to me when I tried to protest the wedding, we'd all be a lot happier.
Duke surveyed the shattered remains of his honeymoon: the cast-off gown, the broken glass, the shivering man-bride. I could see him tense, then settle.
"Have a seat," he gestured Nikki and I to large armchairs. "We have a lot to talk about. First of all, just who are you, and how did you end up here? No lies."
It didn't take long to explain, about the orphanage, traveling to Savannah, Andrea drugging me. It all seemed so ridiculous. As I explained, Nikki passed me her sack. Glancing inside, I found a pair of blue jeans and a man's shirt, along with shoes and underwear.
"Nikki, do you believe what this--this person is saying?" said Duke, when I was done.
Nikki nodded, not looking at me. "He came here all excited about meeting everyone. He made a big fuss when security wouldn't let him it. He wouldn't have done that if he were planning something."
"I see." Duke got up and began pacing. "Well, thanks to my slut of an ex-fiancée, we're screwed."
"Why are we screwed?" I asked. "Just get a divorce. No one's the wiser."
He shook his head. "You don't know what it's like to be in the public eye. If I get a divorce after one day, they're going to want to know why. They'll know there's dirt to be found, and they'll find it. How'd you like what happened tonight to be all over next week's headlines?"
The thought sickened me. Just when I thought the worst was over, he throws this at me. And he was right! I saw how the media jackals go after celebs who screw up. Damn, they'd love this.
"So what do we do?"
"Andrew--" it seemed hard for him to call me by my male name. "There is an option. I don't like it, neither will you, but it's the only way."
My stomach gurgled. "What?" I whispered.
"Andrea and I were scheduled to go on a round the world honeymoon trip. We'd spend most of the time on the boat, and only go to shore occasionally."
I suddenly knew what he was about to suggest, but he got it out before I could protest. "If you were to stay on board and pose as my wife during those few trips ashore--"
"Just a few times a month. In a year, we could file for divorce..."
"And no one will be the wiser. A year-long marriage isn't that odd, and we'll be old news by then anyway."
I jumped up. "No! That's final. Good Lord, a day as a woman was bad enough, and you want me to spend an entire year? I'm out of here." I grabbed the bag of clothes and started to leave.
"You're not going anywhere." Duke's voice was firm.
"Is that a threat?"
"That's a fact. We've already set sail. We'll reach Miami tomorrow night, until then, I want you to consider some things."
Huffily, I sat back down.
"First of all," began Duke, "if you leave in Florida, you'll be found out. They'll track you down. You think the those tabloid jerks can't find out about Andrea's brother? You'll be a drag queen all your life-- Andrew.
"Secondly, you won't have to do a lot. Just be seen with me in public. I don't care if you're cool to me, that will make our eventual divorce look more natural. Just pose for the cameras."
I rolled my eyes. Did he really think I'd even consider this?
"Thirdly," he continued, "for your services, I'm willing to pay you one million dollars."
The figure didn't register for some time. I was dimly aware of Duke asking Nikki to serve as a lookout, so the crew wouldn't know he hadn't spent the night in this cabin. By the time I looked up, I was alone.
A million dollars?
I awoke from a series of frantic, surreal dreams and for a few moments I didn't know where I was. It was only when I saw Nikki sitting next to my bed that I remembered.
"What do you want?" I snarled.
Nikki was looking at the floor. "I brought you some breakfast." She gestured to a small cart, where a covered dish, a carafe of orange juice, and a bowl of fruit were laid out.
Making sure I was still in my boxers, I walked over to the spread. Under the cover was a warm plate of steak and eggs. For a guy who considered a meal at Hardee's splurging, it was a bit much. There was even a fresh rose in a vase on the cart.
As I poured down a third glass of OJ, I felt Nikki's hands drape my shoulders. "This is all my fault," she said. It was a simple statement of fact.
Last night I would have yelled out her, shoved her away. Today, I sat quietly. Her smooth, painted hands felt good on my bare shoulders.
I turned to her. "Nikki--I guess you're not to blame. We both know the one to blame."
Nikki began to rub my shoulders. "I shouldn't have tricked you. I thought you just had cold feet."
Something about that struck me as funny and I laughed. "Don't beat yourself up."
She let go of my shoulders and fluffed out her long, blonde hair. "So, have you given any thought to Duke's proposal?"
"To act life a wife? As if!"
"Andrew," she picked up an orange wedge from my plate and nibbled it. "I know what you must think. But listen.
"You're obviously very poor. Don't you ever dream of a better life? A home of your own, a big one? Don't you have any dreams you've wanted to follow but couldn't? Don't you wish you could be someone important?"
"Like Duke's wife?"
"I don't mean like that. I mean after a year. When you become a millionaire. You haven't had an easy life, I can tell that." She laid her hands on my cheeks. The feel of the older woman's soft palms on my cheeks brought an unwanted, though not unexpected, physical response and I pulled away.
Nikki continued. "You could buy a house. Start a business. Go back to school. Anything you wanted."
"And sacrifice a year of my life in dresses?"
"Andrew." Nikki's tired, grey eyes held mine. "Haven't you ever did anything humiliating to survive?"
"Where do you eat?"
"I can buy food. And, there's charity--"
"Have you ever eaten out of the trash?" I hung my head. Not often, but I'd had to go that route a few times.
"Where do you get your clothes? Goodwill? Do you sleep in a bed at night, or an alley?"
I began to pace. "Okay, I'm a bum! You happy? I'm a worthless, no good, stinking bum!"
Nikki followed me across the room. "That's not what I'm saying. But wouldn't you like to eat the richest, most expensive food you've ever tasted, every night for a year? Enjoy the best entertainment, the most exclusive resorts, meet famous people, basically be on a fabulous vacation for a year?"
"A vacation? Dressed like--"
"How? In the most expensive, fashionable clothes?"
"So? Would you rather go back to your rags?"
"It's not that--"
"Then what? For the next year you'll live a life of luxury. You'll be wined and dined and see exciting places for free. Doesn't that sound like fun?"
"For you maybe. You'd do great as a pretty wife. Not me."
Nikki seemed genuinely touched. "Maybe someday. But Andrew, tell me, can't you try it for a while? Duke and Andrea were supposed to go to a party in Miami. Could you give it a shot for one night?"
I wanted to say no, but I stumbled. Everything was so confusing. I needed more time to think things through.
"There's no way I could pass myself off as a woman at a party."
"You did a pretty good job at your wedding."
"That was different. I didn't have to say anything there. How can I survive talking to people?"
"I teach you everything I know about being a fancy woman. If you don't think you can do it, we'll stop."
I sat back down and picked at the eggs. "Nikki, why are you so obsessed with me doing this?"
Nikki didn't answer for a while. "I've worked for Duke a long time. He's been good to me, no not that way! Stop looking so smug. He's just really done me some good turns, got me out of some jams. I really owe him."
"You really owe me too."
Nikki touched my shoulder. "I do. If you really go through with this, I'll be by your side every second. I'll make this as painless for you as possible. In the mean time, eat up. I'll be back in an hour to help you pick out a dress."
She was out the door before I could protest.
An hour later, there was a knock at the door. Nikki came in, pulling a large rack of clothes covered in garment bags.
"Why so many?" I whined.
Nikki sat on the bed, panting. "We have to find the most flattering outfits for you. Ones that make you look the best, ones that won't give you away.
I groaned. "Okay, what am I supposed to do?"
"Get undressed. Put these on." She tossed me a package of bland cotton panties.
I suddenly felt embarrassed. "Um, Nikki, that's not going to cover much."
"You don't have anything I haven't seen. But if you're really worried, try on that rubber thing your sister put on you."
In the bathroom, I struggled into the sex-hiding device. It was still agony, but I supposed I had better get used to it for the party. I slid the panties on over it and went out to show my friend.
"Hmm," Nikki eyeballed me critically. "Wow, Andrew, you're so skinny! Not skinny, but slender! What's your secret?"
Nikki's face fell. "I'm sorry, that was rude of me."
"Well, whatever the reason, you have the right frame for this. And you're not hairy. Good. Now sit down, relax, and let me try a few things."
For the next half-hour, Nikki cooed over me like a newborn baby. First, she applied a depilatory to my armpits and face. "This'll last a few days and keep you from growing any shadow."
Next, she plucked my eyebrows. I complained but she insisted that if I chose not to continue this after Miami, there would be plenty of time for them to grow back. By the time she was finished, two delicate arches remained above my eyes.
Nikki talked as she worked. "Andrew, I'm going to do everything I can to make you delicate and feminine, and I know that's the last thing you want to hear. I know you didn't want to be in this situation, but neither did Duke. I have to ask you to swallow your pride and just go with it. Remember, when all this is over, no one will ever talk about this."
Nikki measured me, my height, waist, chest, stomach, and arms. "Most of these dresses are mine," said Nikki. "We're both blondes, so the color should be right. You're taller and thinner than me, so I'll have to do some alterations. Now let's get you dressed. Here's a nice little number."
The 'nice little number' was a sleeveless, backless gown, black and sequined. "No way!" I gasped.
"C'mon, give it a shot. Just step into the skirt here."
"It barely comes down to the middle of my thigh!"
"It's very chic."
"I don't want to be chic!"
Nikki smirked at me. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, yeah, I know."
Nikki was busy stirring a small tub of some sort of cream. "Before you pull it up, let me try this." She then rubbed a small layer of the stuff over my bare nipples and surrounding area.
I giggled. "Hey, what gives?"
"It's a sort of cement. Don't worry, it comes right off with alcohol."
"I guess I know what you're going to cement there."
Nikki smiled and pulled out two foam rubber falsies. "You're a C-cup, girl!" She carefully affixed them to my chest, where the bonding agent held them tight.
"Will this work?" I asked dubiously.
"It should. That's a powerful cement. Without alcohol, your skin would come off sooner than those girls. Now let's tie you up." She lifted the front of the dress and tied it around my neck. My front now bulged out with very feminine curves, while my naked arms, shoulders, and back stood out whitely against the black material. Nikki walked around me, as if inspecting a used car.
"Hmmm...no. You can't pull it off."
"Oh, it's not that. It's just that I think you're going to need a girdle. That won't do with a backless dress."
"Thank God," I gasped. "Show a little less flesh."
Nikki wagged a finger at me. "Au contraire, mon cheri. You have simply beautiful arms and shoulders. We should show off your lovely features."
I began to get angry. "Nikki, that's not funny."
"I'm not trying to be funny. I'm trying to make you look like a woman. Don't get so defensive when I say you're pretty, because you are."
I held my tongue as I undressed. Nikki was busy sifting through her clothes. "Aha! I think we have a winner here."
The limousine's AC did little to block the humid Miami night. I took a swig of bottled water and tried not to sweat. On the seat next to me, Nikki talked on a cell phone, looking cute in her conservative, though strangely sexy, grey skirt and white blouse. Her long blonde hair was tied in a ponytail and she wore horn-rimmed glasses.
I knew that in the front seat, behind the security partition, sat Duke. I hadn't really seen him since our wedding night. I glimpsed him briefly as I debarked the ship in Florida and was hustled into the limo. Now I sat, boiling and uncomfortable, ready to make my debutante debut.
"Okay, talk to you later," said Nikki, and hung up. "Andy, you've got to relax. It won't be that bad."
"Won't be that bad? Look at me!" The dress Nikki had picked out for me was black and body hugging. It covered me from my shoulders to my knees, leaving my bare arms and legs for everyone to see. No one would suspect a girdle and a padded bra were the reasons for my hourglass figure.
"You look great to me. I wish I was as pretty as you."
"You are as pretty as me! Prettier! Why don't you be Duke's date tonight? Tell them I'm sick."
Nikki giggled. "I'm fifteen years older than Duke."
"You're prettier than me."
Nikki patted my leg. "Andy, honey, I know you don't want to do this, but trust me, it won't be that bad. You know, if you stop thinking how miserable you'll be, you may just enjoy yourself."
I rolled my eyes.
The chauffeur's voice came over the intercom. "We're just about there, ladies."
I glanced through the tinted window. We were arriving at a country club, where some rich guy was entertaining some other rich fools. I had washed dishes at an affair like this once. I was not looking forward to being a part of one, and I certainly did not want to do it playing the part of a blushing bride.
We pulled into the circle drive in front of the mammoth building. A young man in a white jacket ran to open the door for us. He gingerly took Nikki's hand and helped her out of the car. I exited from the opposite door before he could be polite.
Duke soon stood next to me in the sultry Florida air, as the limo drove off. He held out his arm. "Shall we?" He was awkward, as if escorting a friend's wife. Or another man.
I certainly did not want to walk in on his arm, but I was not used to the heels Nikki insisted that I wear. Leaning against my husband unsteadily, we walked through the huge double doors. Nikki followed close behind.
When I worked the country club gig I had seen little besides the kitchen and staff entrance. In spite of my determination to be bitter and unimpressed, the setting took my breath away. The ballroom was bigger than an aircraft hangar (or at least it seemed to me). Along one wall ran a buffet table, crammed with all manner of delicacy. At the end a uniformed bartender poured champagne. On a stage in the front of the room a piano player and a harpist filled the air with delicate strains.
All the men, like Duke, were wearing white tuxedos. The ladies were all wearing what I knew were expensive dresses. There was not an ugly person among them. Best plastic surgery money can buy.
I suddenly felt like hyperventilating. Not so much because of the drag act; Nikki assured me I looked fine. It was because I didn't know how to handle myself in high society. Nikki had coached me how to act like a woman, but I never thought to ask her how to act rich! Luckily, she was there with me. She could pull me out of a jam.
We were soon approached by an attractive couple in their fifties. "Duke, old buddy, great to see you," said the man, a pleasant looking guy with grey hair, a solid build, and a nice smile, complete with capped teeth.
Duke shook his hand. "Nice to see you Steve, Jessica. You've met Nikki. Allow me to present my wife, Mrs. Andrea Greyson. Andrea, this is Steve and Jessica Muldoon, old friends of the family."
"Charmed," I whispered, wondering if people really said that outside of TV shows.
Steve gently took my hand and placed it near his lips, though spared me the indignity of kissing it. Jessica placed her cheek to mine and made a kissing noise. I took a sly look at her. She had to have been at least fifty, though her firm breasts, unlined skin, and jet black hair seemed to indicate someone closer to thirty. Money truly could buy beauty.
"Well," said Jessica, "I'm so pleased to finally meet this mystery woman of yours. We've heard simply so much about her."
Steve clapped Duke on the back. "Duke, I've got some intriguing information about an investment opportunity you may be interested in. What do you say we go over to the bar and discuss it?"
I was about to protest, when Nikki stepped in. "Good idea. Jessica and I can introduce Andrea around." Duke kissed my cheek as I tried not to grimace. Then he was gone.
Jessica took me by the hand and led me over to a group of women. They were mostly younger, twenties and thirties. Just before we reached them, a server approached us and whispered something into Nikki's ear.
She frowned. "Um, Andrea, there's an emergency phone call for me. I have to take it."
"They can call back," I hissed through clenched teeth.
"Please, I'll only be a moment."
Jessica took my arm. "Nonsense. I'll make introductions." She practically hustled me to the cluster of young women.
"Girls," she clucked, "I'd like you to meet Andrea, Duke's new bride. Andrea--" she then rattled off the names of a dozen women, names like Brittany, Margot, and Cecelia.
I sputtered hello. The girls stared at me, as if they expected me to say something else. By that time I was so flustered, I couldn't even comment about the weather.
Finally, Jessica broke the silence. "So Andrea, is this your first time at the Palms?"
Jessica smiled an indulgent smile. "The Palms, dear. Have you ever been here before?"
Ah, that was the name of the country club. "No, it's my first time." My first time for a lot of things, wearing heels for instance.
Jessica smiled ingratiatingly. "Well dear, have you been to Miami?"
"Yes." I instantly regretted admitting it. How could I explain that Duke's young bride used to unload cargo ships here?
"Really?" She looked at me questioningly, as if I were lying. "And where did you stay? I enjoy the Ritz, myself."
"I stayed with friends." Couldn't she realize how uncomfortable I was? Why the third degree?
Jessica nodded. It might have just been my imagination, but she seemed to wink at another woman.
"And where else have you traveled to? Have you been to Paris? Greece? Courtney was just telling us how lovely it is this time of year." She indicated a platinum blonde who did nothing to pick up the strain of conversation.
"I haven't really traveled much," I mumbled. I wanted a drink.
"Well, I'm sure you've done loads of interesting thinks in your life. Duke's said so little about you. Your education, your family, your-- ahem, career." Several of the girls giggled at me.
It suddenly hit me. They weren't interested in Andrea, they wanted to humiliate her. Duke's white trash bride. The slutty little whore.
"Dear?" Jessica was asking. "Are you taking time off of school for your honeymoon? Where do you study?"
I suddenly felt like doing something I hadn't since I was a baby. I felt like crying. No one cries in an orphanage, it gets you nothing. Ditto on the streets. But as I stood there with my fake breasts and women's clothes, I wanted to bawl. These people wanted to degrade me. And I couldn't stop them.
Tears welled in my eyes. "I don't go to school." I looked around for Nikki, but couldn't see her.
Jessica cocked her head. "Why, darling, you look dreadful. Whatever is wrong?"
Just before the dam broke, just before I ran off tripping on my heels sobbing, something deep in my core shouted out. I had survived on the streets for years. I'd once nursed a knife wound with a package of Band Aids and a bottle of Jack. I'd gone days without eating. If that didn't make me cry, then this rich bitch sure as hell wouldn't.
I sniffled, then looked Jessica right in her Botox eyes. "Nothing's the matter. Nothing at all. Now let's see, you were asking about my past." I grabbed a flute of champagne from a passing waiter. "Well, I was born in an orphanage, miserable place, rats everywhere. Lived there till I was about twelve. Then I was in and out of foster care till I was sixteen." I fixed a hard grin on my face. Jessica was no longer smiling.
"I worked odd jobs after that. Waitressing, secretary, retail, you know, pay the bills."
Jessica tried to laugh, but it came off fake. A couple of the girls walked away from the crowd. I continued my tirade.
"I've never been to school, not even high school. I was born poor. And you know what, I guess all the money in the world can't buy me into your society. But--" I leaned in towards Jessica's face and whispered. "I love Duke, and apparently you're his friend, so I suggest you stop playing these fucking middle school games. You got that, you middle aged, crocodile-skinned horror?"
Jessica touched her palm to her chest and gasped. She then stormed off, followed by most of the crowd.
So, I'd blown it. Not half an hour into my first big wingding and I revert into trailer trash mode. So much for Duke's plan to make a lady out of me. I downed my drink in one gulp, then began to look around for Nikki, to inform her of the damage I'd done.
"You go, girl!" I was surprised to see a couple of the women from the group hadn't left. The girl who had spoken was black, about twenty years old, and extremely attractive. She was grinning at me.
"We've all been wanting to tell Jessica off for years. She's such an old windbag. Thank God someone had the guts."
"Well," I ducked my head, embarrassed, "it wasn't exactly a classy thing to do."
"Please, if I heard her tell me about 'you people' one more time, I'd break my heel off in her ass, pardon my French. My name's Mindy." I shook her delicate hand.
"I'm Jamie," said her companion. Jamie looked to be a teenager. Not bad looking, but rather overweight. Not grossly so, but enough to stand out in this crowd of anorexics.
"I'm Andrea," I introduced myself.
"Well Andrea," said Mindy, hands on hips, sizing me up. "What do you say we get out of here and have a real drink?"
I glanced around the ballroom. Couples were beginning pair off and dance.
"Lead the way."
Half an hour later the three of us were dangling our toes in the water of the empty country club pool, passing around a stolen bottle of wine, and exchanging life stories.
Mindy and Jamie impressed me. True, they had both been born into the blueblood society, but they didn't seem superficial at all. They did charity work, dated working class guys, took road trips to Vegas. Maybe it was because they never fit in with high society; Mindy because she was black, Jamie because she wasn't one of the 'beautiful people.'
"I know exactly how you feel," I told them, more than a little tipsy. "Ever since I married Duke, I feel like I'm living a lie, that I'm trying to be someone I'm not."
Mindy touched my shoulder. "Don't be like that. If you love Duke, then that's all that matters. Screw what anyone else thinks."
"You're lucky to have him," said Jamie. "He's a heck of a nice guy. God, what I wouldn't give for a nice guy--" She stared at the water. Mindy shot me a sad glance. Apparently Jamie's dating life wasn't going well.
"Ladies!" A middle-aged woman in a slinky dress appeared behind us. "I thought I might find you here. Everyone's dancing. C'mon!" My new friends got up to go.
"Do I have to?" I whispered to Mindy.
"I know you don't want to, but we really should."
So much for the reprieve. Back into the lion's den.
When we returned to the ballroom, everyone was twirling about the dance floor. A handsome guy in army dress blues took Mindy by the hand and led her off. Jamie smiled sadly and walked over to the buffet.
"May I?" It was Duke. He held out his hand.
"I can't dance. Especially not in these shoes."
"I can lead. C'mon, it won't be that bad."
Duke took one of my hands in his and placed the other around my waist. I did not enjoy how close I was getting to him. With surprising gentleness for a man, he began to move me across the floor. One-twothree, turn, one-two-three, turn--
"Andrea," whispered Duke, after some time. "I heard about what you said to Jessica."
Now two weeks ago I would have laughed in his face, and bragged about how I'd insulted his prissy friend. Today, I ducked my head.
"I'm sorry, Duke. She was making fun of me."
"I'm not sorry. I've been wanted to say that for years. I think everyone has. We're so used to her being queen bee that everyone takes her shit. It took an outsider to put her in her place."
I laughed. "Well--"
Duke looked around to make sure no one was in earshot. "How are you holding up?"
"Not too well. I keep wanting to scratch my balls." Duke pulled away from me, ever so slightly.
"I'm sorry, Duke, but what did you expect? Make a homeless guy into a classy wife? It sounds like a bad movie!"
"Would it help to say you're doing great? Everyone here's impressed."
"They are not."
"They are so. They think it's amusing I have such a--how did they describe you? A 'sassy' wife."
"Duke, if you'd called me sassy a month ago, I'd have broken your nose."
"You seem to have a penchant for that." We danced in silence for a while.
"Duke?" I asked a few minutes later. "Do me a favor."
"Ask Jamie to dance." I had seen her leaning against the wall, sadly picking at a sandwich on the table beside her.
"Because no one else will. It'd make her night."
He frowned. "I'm sure she's a nice girl--"
I deliberately ground my heel into his foot. "But she's too fat? Hey, at least she's really a woman. Do it."
Duke twirled me around suddenly, and passed me to an older fellow without a partner. I bit my lip. I had thought if Duke danced with Jamie, it would leave me free.
My new partner was a gentleman who kept his distance. He asked about my life, though in a much more interested, thoughtful way than Jessica had. I soon realized I'd have to compose some sort of history for Andrea, so as not to get my stories confused.
Across the dance floor I saw Duke and Jamie cutting a rug. Jamie was beaming. Before I knew it a younger man cut in on them. I don't think she sat down for the rest of the evening.
I was passed off to another guy, a boring young man named Todd who went on and on about sculling (whatever in heck that was). Nikki was dancing too. When the song ended, she quickly took my hand and we ducked into the lady's room.
It was the cleanest restroom I'd ever seen, though I wasn't sure if that was because ladies were cleaner than men, or because rich people were cleaner than poor. After a quick reconnaissance we realized we were alone.
"So how are you doing?" she asked.
"Fine, no thanks to you."
"Hey, I only left for two minutes. When I came back you were gone." She took out a compact and started to touch up my face. "So you've been making quite an impression."
"So you heard about my cattiness?"
"Yeah, but not just that. Everyone thinks you're impressive. Pretty, and spunky."
"Duke called me sassy. I'm not sure what's worse."
"Andy, you're doing great. After a little more practice--"
"Nikki, don't go there. Don't try to pressure me now, or we go home."
She nodded and finished touching me up.
"Andy? Andy honey, wake up. We're here."
I took a moment to get my bearings. Ah, I was in the back of the limo. I noticed with embarrassment that I had been sleeping on Nikki's shoulder.
Nikki opened the door and helped me get out. We were at the docks. Duke's yacht was along side of us, the gangplank lowered. Duke was nowhere in sight.
As I sleepily boarded the ship, I thought about the night. Telling Jessica off. Chatting with Mindy and Jamie. The food. The music. The dancing. Staying out until three, sipping champagne and laughing.
Who needs it? I thought. Who needs those rich punks, with their fake friendship and their purchased style? Not me.
I bid Nikki goodnight and slipped into my cabin. Gratefully I kicked off my heels and unstrapped myself from the corsets, the sex-hiding thing, and, with the help of some alcohol, the falsies. I washed my face, and finally looked like a man again.
As I crawled into bed, a funny thought hit me. Tonight was the first night in a long time where I hadn't worried about my food, about my safety about where to sleep. It wasn't worth acting like a girl, of course. But still, secretly, it was sort of nice.
The next morning I awoke to find Nikki seated at my bedside, beaming down at me. I started, then pulled the covers over my mostly naked frame.
"Don't you knock?"
"Hey, it's just us girls here."
"Don't start that."
"Sorry, honey. But you handled yourself really well last night."
I sat up and pulled on my robe. "Thank you, I guess. Um, did Duke mention anything?"
"Yes. He said you acted tolerably. Given the circumstances, it's high praise."
I had ducked into the bathroom and was brushing my teeth. "So what brings you by?"
"Andrew--it's time for you to make a decision."
I spat. "Does it have to be today?"
Nikki joined me in the bathroom. "Yes. Within the hour. We ship out and set sail for Spain. Duke needs to know if you're coming."
"Explain my choices again."
"It's simple. We drop you off in Miami with some clothes and a bit of cash. The press finds out Duke's fiancée is not on her honeymoon cruise, they start digging, put two and two together--you'd be the new tabloid sensation. The man bride. Or, you embark on a fabulous round the world cruise and end up a millionaire. Seems like an easy choice."
I was combing my hair. "Maybe if you didn't make it sound so easy, I'd take the offer more seriously."
"Maybe if you didn't make it sound so miserable, you'd have an easier time making up your mind. What's keeping you from grabbing this great opportunity? Your dignity?"
"I lost that long ago. I'm homeless, remember."
"You're got more dignity than most people I know. Say yes, Andrew."
"I can't do it, Nikki, I'm sorry."
"Then let me make you a counter proposal. It'll take us almost a month to cross the Atlantic. Let's spend that time with you in training. When we get to Spain, if you don't feel natural in your role as Andrea, then we call it quits. We'll throw in a flight back to the US."
I sized her up. "No BS? What's the catch?"
"You'll have to live as Andrea full time. No whining, no slacking off. C'mon, sweetie, let me make a woman out of you."
There was something charming in the way she said that, something that made me trust her.
"Okay. I'm in for the Atlantic run. But you have to do something for me. Something big."
"Be my friend."
"Of course! Why would that be a big favor?"
I looked down at the sink. "Because I've never had one."
When Nikki said that it would be a full time commitment, she wasn't kidding. Every morning at 8:00 she'd awaken me with a light breakfast. After I'd showered and cleaned up, Nikki and I would spend one to two hours on makeup and hair.
"Less is more," she kept telling me. "I know you think you'll need a lot to look like a woman, but trust me, just a bit of rouge and some eyeliner, and you'll look like the belle of the ball."
"Gee, thanks," I'd sarcastically complain.
"None of that, Andrea. You agreed to be a woman for the next two weeks, and real women don't whine about being pretty."
My hair was too short to do a lot with, but Nikki insisted we'd have more to work with by the time the two weeks were over. After I'd prettied myself up, Nikki would help me select my outfits for the day.
I say outfits, because society women never wear just one dress a day. You need special clothes for lounging, for exercising, for cocktails, for dinner, for dancing. Since I'd never really had a lot of clothes of my own, changing three or four times a day was a new and stressful experience. Nikki refused to relent until I could competently select an outfit for any occasion, and accessorize.
By this time it would be time for lunch. We'd never just grab a sandwich. Instead Nikki would serve me a formal luncheon, and give me pointers as to what spoon to use, how to sit, how to nibble at me food, how to make conversation. I once asked her why she never had the crew serve the food.
"Because, sweetie, we can't let them know what's going on. Only Duke and I know the true situation. If the wrong person found out--it could be bad."
The rest of the day was spent in deportment lessons. Walking (I must have walked around the deck of the ship a thousand times before we reached Europe), speaking (it was not hard to get my voice to match Andrea's husky one; Nikki coached me and had me sounding more feminine within three days), and dancing (Nikki led, and was quite adept at assuming the man's role). I was also forced to exercise (in a humiliating leotard) so that my unaccustomed three meals a day wouldn't give me an unladylike gut. All my workouts were cardiovascular, Nikki didn't want me to develop muscles.
The evenings were free, so long as I stayed in feminine persona. I took advantage of the time by watching DVD's, reading, or looking at the ocean. As for Duke, I almost never saw him.
After a day at sea Nikki cornered me in my room. "Trent is flying out tomorrow."
"Duke's helicopter pilot. He's bringing in some last-minute supplies."
"Anyway, it's the last contact with land until Europe. Is there anything you'd like him to bring?"
"Like anything. Special food, movies, clothes?"
There was an idea I'd been toying with. "Promise not to laugh?"
"Of course, honey."
"I'd like some textbooks. Some basic high school history, math and science."
Nikki's face asked the question she didn't dare ask. I answered.
"Because I've got about a fifth grade education. If I'm going to pass myself off as Duke's wife, I should at least have some basic knowledge."
"Education's a great thing. I'd be happy to help you."
When the helicopter landed the next day, it was our last contact with land until Spain. I was rather impressed with the landing. Trent, the pilot, personally brought me the textbooks I'd asked for, as well as an embarrassing selection of books for cross dressers. These were wrapped in brown paper, and I hoped Trent didn't know what they contained.
He seemed like a nice guy and I wanted to ask him about his job as a pilot, but as soon as he saw Nikki, that was it. After she signed for a couple of packages, the pair immediately disappeared below decks for several hours. It wasn't hard to guess what was going on. Several hours later Trent flew off.
The voyage sank into dull routine. I became quite the expert at dressing myself, applying makeup, and doing my hair. Nikki needed to help me less and less. After ten days on the sea she stopped coming to my room in the morning, trusting me to get ready on my own.
Looking like a girl was one thing, but acting like one was something else. While Nikki insisted I was doing fine, I was not so convinced. On the other hand, I was excited about my studies. Maybe I'd get a high school equivalency when I got back. Maybe I'd even think about college.
After the sixteenth day of our voyage, we were informed that we'd hit land in a day or so.
Nikki and I were playing tennis on the deck. I found I enjoyed the game, despite the fact that I'd lost three balls over the side already. Plus, we were decked out in matching white tennis sweaters and skirts.
I shouldered my racquet. "Decision time?"
"What's the schedule for Spain?"
"Formal dinner with a local magnate, then a tour of the countryside. You'll be there five days."
"And after that?"
"On to Greece. Leisurely pace, we'll sail around the islands for about a month."
"I guess I'll do Spain."
"It's a start. Can I tell you something, Andrea?"
"I've enjoyed having you along. Much more than your sister. You're fun to hang out with."
I giggled nervously. "So are you."
"Maybe you'll let me take you shopping some night when we hit land."
I almost answered sarcastically, but decided it would be cruel. "I'd like that."
That night, dressed in a bulky sweater and jeans, I stood on the railing, watching the moon over the ocean. What a weird month. In less than thirty days I'd gone from a homeless young man to a rich young bride. It was like an evil version of 'Pretty Woman.'
"Hello." I turned and looked. It was Duke. I hadn't seen him in over a week.
"You're looking well, Andrea."
"So are you." That was a lie. Lines creased Duke's face and his normally immaculate clothes seemed slovenly.
"Nikki tells me you'll be joining me in Spain."
"Yeah. Duke, I--"
"Andrea." Duke looked me in the eye for the first time since he realized I was a man. "Thank you. I never told you that. Thank you. You've really saved me."
"It's for the money, Duke, nothing more."
"I know. But I wish it didn't have to be this way. For either of us."
"Well, like Nikki says, maybe we should make the best of it."
Duke touched my face and for a horrible moment I thought he was going to kiss me. Instead he just looked at me.
"You look so much like your sister." He then turned and left, leaving me alone on deck.
Two weeks later I lay sunbathing on a semi-private Greek island. The Mediterranean sun had bronzed my body and further freckled my shoulders. The only movement I'd made in two hours was to flip over for an even tan. My chic one-piece swimsuit did a good job of covering my male parts, (especially the women's bathing trunks I wore). I'd never been this relaxed in all my life.
Spain, I had to admit, had been enjoyable. After docking across from Gilbralter, we left the ship and continued across land, meeting back up with the boat in Barcelona. To tell you the truth, I'd been happy to hit land. True, it meant become Andrea full time, but I was sick of the dull monotony of the ocean.
The first night we attended a party given by a local hidalgo (the Spanish equivalent of an English lord). This party was much less stressful than the one in Miami. No one spoke English as a first language, so no one forced conversation, other than polite introductions and small talk. I had to dance with several strange men, but there were much more gentlemanly than their Floridian equivalents. With the help of Nikki I was becoming a rather enthusiastic, if not talented, dancer.
For the next week and a half we toured the Spanish countryside. Duke was a considerate guide, keeping us away from major cities. Still, I was always amazed at how often we were photographed. Duke had been right, if I'd walked away from the ship after our wedding, the press would have found me out in two days.
During our time in Spain something strange happened between Duke and I. We became friends. It was stilted at first, both of us resenting the fact we had essentially become involved in a homosexual marriage. But after so much time alone together (no one ever wants to intrude themselves on a newlywed couple), we couldn't help but talk. And I discovered my new husband was a nice guy.
He did come from old money, but not as much as I'd expected. Most of his fortune he'd earned himself; apparently he'd made some shrewd investments with a trust fund, compounded by the invention of some simple but popular computer programs. I admired a man who made his own way.
Duke was also a fascinating man. He'd traveled a lot, had adventures, and was a fine storyteller. I found I could listen to him for hours. As for my own stories, he never asked, and I never told. No one wants to hear about his wife's days as a young man.
By the time we embarked for Greece, Duke and I were no longer awkward around each other. Still I'd return to my room at night with a feeling of emptiness. We were a sham; in less than a year I'd never see Duke again. It was for the best.
Another incident happened at an exclusive resort town on the coast. Nikki had dragged me to go shopping with her at an exclusive department store. Now, shopping for dresses did not excite me, not even with free access to Duke's credit cards. Still I knew it thrilled Nikki and it gave me pleasure to buy things for her.
Nikki was berating me for not buying anything when it happened.
"I don't see why you're being so difficult, Andrea. You have to dress like a woman, you might as well pick out something you like."
"There's nothing here I like," I said with a pout. Nikki had picked up some things for me, but aside from a couple of neat suitcases, I'd not made a single purchase.
"We're not leaving until you choose something."
I was about to whine when something caught my eye. It was a mannequin in a window display. It was decked out in a black dress with scarlet trim. The outfit had a very Latin feel to it; it was the kind of outfit a woman would wear while clacking castanets with a rose in her teeth.
"Do you like that?" asked Nikki, thrilled.
"Yes." I don't know why I said it. To this day, I don't know why the gown enthralled me so much. But I knew that this was the dress I wanted to buy.
Nikki took me by the hand, and in halting Spanish arranged for a private dressing room. She helped me disrobe and soon I was frocked.
"What do you think?"
"Oh, Andrea, you look darling. You'll need some heels to go with that, of course. And if you'd let me pierce your ears-"
"Now it's not like I enjoy this," I protested.
Nikki looked at me severely. "You know, you don't have to act macho around me. If you like the dress, just say so."
I looked at my reflection. The poofy sleeves, the plunging back, the frilly underskirt. "I'm a little blonde to pass for Spanish, but I don't look bad, do I?"
Nikki knew not to lay it on too thick. "When your hair grows a bit, you can wear it up. You'll look great."
I wore the outfit, heels and all, back to the ship. Duke didn't say anything when he saw me, but I knew he was watching me as I walked away.
And that's how, weeks later, I found myself basking on the shores of the Aegean Sea. Duke had rented a chic little bungalow, which we had all to ourselves (except for the caterers who brought our meal, the guy who cleaned the pool, and the twice-weekly cleaning woman). Duke didn't seem to mind sleeping in the tiny guest room.
Nikki rented a place down the shore and spent a lot of time with us. In fact, those two weeks in Greece were the first time I truly enjoyed myself since the wedding. The three of us would swim, play volleyball, and play in the sand. I began to enjoy the surf more and think less about my feminine tan lines. Our semi privacy allowed me to let my guard down, though not enough to lapse back to manhood.
One night Duke, Nikki and I were up late, eating popcorn and playing Monopoly at the kitchen table. We were laughing at a story Nikki was telling. And suddenly, without warning, I began crying.
I tried to hold it in. Honest I did. But the tears just started flowing.
"What's wrong, Andrea?" Nikki asked in horror.
"I'm sorry. It's just...it just hit me. You two are the only friends I've ever really had. You guys are like family. I've never had that."
Nikki, of course, started bawling and hugging me. Duke, on the other hand, got up and stood in the kitchen door. I assumed he was backing away from the emotional scene in disgust. When I heard him sniffle, however, I knew he too had been touched. I smiled at the memory.
The noonday sun beat down on me, and I knew I had to go back to the house before I burned. As I sat up, I noticed with bemusement that both my breasts were on the right side. It was hard to find a pair of falsies I could wear with my swimsuit; they often slipped about.
The beach was empty, and I tried to readjust myself. My booby only slid further down. Eventually I simply partially removed my swimsuit and falsies, reapplied everything, and suited back up.
Two days later the excrement hit the fan. I had gone out for a morning dip, only to return to find Duke and Nikki intently reading a newspaper. It was unusual for Nikki to come over this early, so I bent over the paper.
It wasn't a newspaper, really. It was a tabloid magazine. I couldn't read the Greek headline, but the picture on the cover was clear. Me, on the beach. With my top pulled down. And my flat, male chest exposed to the world.
My hands shot to my mouth in horror. "Oh God," I wailed. "Duke, I didn't know!"
Duke irritably shook his head. "This is a private beach. I should have known those jackals from the press might sneak a photographer in."
I clutched at my longish hair. "What are we going to do?"
Duke looked at me and seemed to age about twenty years. "We're screwed. There's nothing we can do."
I spent the next four hours alone in my room, sitting on the floor, my knees clasped under my chin. We were sunk. The wedding, the dresses, the trip across the Atlantic, pretending to be Andrea...one slip on my part and it was all wasted time. The worst part was, I had hurt Duke. No one knew who Andrew Jones was. But Duke...this was going to hurt a man who I'd become close to.
There was a knock at the door and Nikki came in, carrying two rum drinks. She offered me one.
"Better take it. You're going to need it."
I took a gulp. "How bad is it?"
"Some vulture out of Chicago took the picture. Sold it to the wire services. No one's had the nerve to say it, but the picture speaks for itself: Duke Greyson's wife is a man."
"We estimate that in less than a week they'll crack the story. All about you, your sister, everything. Except in their version, they'll act like you and Duke wanted this to happen. That you were lovers. Duke will be branded a homosexual, and you'll be the new tabloid darling: the boy bride."
A tear streamed down my cheek. I finished the drink and started on Nikki's. Nikki gently touched my cheek. "Andrea, there may be a way out."
My eyes flew open. "How? Anything!"
"Well, we could convince the media the picture was faked. No one would touch a false picture, it would open them to lawsuits."
I laughed. "Of course! We'll just get a picture of me, a little Photoshopping, and viola!"
Nikki shook her head. "It won't work like that. It has to be a picture they take."
"Then we're back where we started. Any picture will show I don't have breasts."
"Unless, of course, you do have breasts."
"What do you mean?" It suddenly occurred to me. "Oh, no!"
"There's an Israeli surgeon..."
"The procedure could be done in a day."
"So I could have breasts for the rest of my life? NO!"
"Calm down and listen. We'll leave for Israel tonight. Slip you into the hospital. Get you a boob job, maybe a butt implant. Give you a day to recover, cover your bruises with makeup, and parade you down a beach in something revealing. You get your picture taken, go back on the ship to recuperate, and when this is all over, you can have the implants removed."
"They can do that?"
"With a minimum of scarring. Duke is prepared to pay you handsomely."
I stood up. "This isn't about money. It's about my manhood. What's left of it. How am I supposed to deal with having a rack for a week?"
"Um, actually it would be for several months. Since we can't dodge the paparazzi, it would be best if you had noticeable cleavage for the next few months."
"This is not happening."
"And that's not all. You'll need to take female hormones."
"What! I don't think so!"
"It's not as bad as you think!"
"Not as bad? And you nuts, Nikki?"
"Just a slight dose. They'll smooth your skin, make your hair silkier, prevent body and facial hair, and that's about it."
"What about my cock?"
"It might shrink a little." Nikki noticed my horrified expression. "Temporarily. You'll also experience breast development, but that really won't matter. The point is, when you stop taking them, all effects will disappear within a month."
"Then are you willing to play male bride for the tabloids? They'll find you wherever you go."
"It beats playing real bride."
"You sure you want to do that to yourself?"
"Yes." I turned and faced the wall, trying to end this insane conversation. Nikki came behind me and placed her hands on my shoulders.
"Are you sure you're willing to do that to Duke?"
"Honey? It's okay. It's all over." Through the fog of the anesthesia, it took me a moment to remember where I was. It slowly came back. The speeding trip to Tel Aviv. Sneaking out of the hotel at night. The kindly surgeon.
Duke knelt next to my private hospital bed. "It's going to be okay. You sleep now."
"Did they do it?" I mumbled.
Duke smiled thinly and gestured to my chest. My bandaged chest. I now had breasts.
I slept for a solid day, then prepared for my unveiling. While my tummy tuck and butt implants would require several weeks of healing, my implants could be shown to the world. Clothes would cover the incisions at the bottoms, and makeup would cover the bruising.
I stood in front of a mirror, willing myself to remove the bandages. 'It won't be that bad,' I told myself. 'I'll probably be able to cover them with thick clothes. It's no big deal.' I took the pair of surgical scissors and snipped the bandages.
Nope, I was wrong. They were a big deal. Two big deals. Two big, floppy, curvy breasts. Battered and bruised, they still were impressive.
My head swam. I had tits, boobs, hooters, knockers, breasts! C cups! I'd need to wear a bra! I could wear a bikini top! I realized with horror that once the hormones kicked in, my genitals would be the only male bits left of me.
Finally I got up the nerve to touch them. Smooth, soft, squishy. They bumped against each other in a most intriguing way. The nipples were brown and hard, when I touched them they grew more erect. Though my appendages were still sore to the touch, the contact with my nipples gave me a warm, almost sexy feeling.
Nikki knocked at the door and entered at my command. "How you feeling, kid?"
"Like the biggest she-male in the Mid East."
"How about the prettiest girl I've seen today."
I shrugged, still examining myself. "Whatever."
"I brought some makeup and a change of clothes. Do you mind if we get started?"
The next day the yellow press ran pictures of me shopping in Tel Aviv with Duke. I was wearing a skimpy halter-top that let everyone see my perky new friends. Someone with a telephoto lens had gotten a good shot of my cleavage and deemed it genuine. The reporter who had shot the picture of me in Greece had been fired. A publicity agent of Duke's had forced all papers who'd ran the picture to print a retraction or face a lawsuit.
I learned this through occasional conversations with Nikki. For most of the next three weeks I laid in my stateroom and convalesced. Nikki played nursemaid while we steamed through the Suez Canal, across the Red Sea, and around the Arabian Peninsula.
Duke visited me every day. We'd sit and talk, sometimes for hours. At first I was embarrassed about the reason for my becoming an invalid. But Duke never brought it up. Instead we just talked about whatever was on our mind. And I realized I truly liked this man. Not only was he was one of my few friends, he was becoming my best friend.
We steamed into the Indian Ocean exactly three months after we set sail. That was also the day the last of my bandages came off. That night, alone in my cabin and dressed only in panties, I looked at myself in the mirror, and compared myself to the man I'd been on the other side of the world.
My scraggly, matted hair was now long and silky. My unkempt face now knew treatments from daily moisturizers. I never went out without at least a little mascara and rouge. The odd thing was, I no longer wore makeup to keep myself from being noticed. I wore it TO be noticed. My ears were now pierced and my eyebrows plucked.
My arms and legs had lost all traces of muscles. The calluses on my hands had vanished; whether the results of my leisurely lifestyle or the female hormones, I couldn't tell.
After almost a month of being breasted, I still couldn't get used to the darn things. They blocked my view when I put on my shoes, they interfered with my tennis swing, and made most of my clothes too tight. It was painful not to wear a bra. The nipples, thanks to the hormones, became very sensitive. Playing with them in the shower became a guilty pleasure.
My newly flat stomach was source of both embarrassment and pride. I knew all I had to do was just eat extra deserts and I'd lose my cute belly. But for some reason I put myself on a strict diet. I didn't want to get a man's gut. Not yet.
Finally I removed my panties. My butt lift had given me a perky rear end, I no longer needed padding. As for my penis...well, it was still there. My daily dose of estrogen hadn't caused it to disappear, but it did seem a little smaller, a little softer.
I needed some fresh air, so I pulled back on my panties, as well as a long skirt and a pair of heels. I couldn't find a top I liked, so I slipped on my bikini top and walked above decks.
The few sailors I met smiled deferentially at me. I noted with annoyance that their eyes wandered towards my chest. I made my way to the railing and stared at the silent moonlit night. It was warm and humid with the smell of salt heavy in the air. I began to sweat.
I felt his presence before I heard him. Duke stood next to me, watching the sea. For ten minutes we stood there, silently.
"You look beautiful." Whenever Duke had complimented me before, he did it jocularly, as if he didn't want to be taken completely seriously. Now, he seemed dead earnest.
"Thank you, Duke."
"I mean that. Don't take this the wrong way, but you've become a lovely woman."
"That's the idea, I suppose." I paused. "Duke, can I ask you a personal question? You don't have to answer if you don't want to."
"You've done so much for me. Ask me anything."
"When I first met you, I had you pegged for just a mindless, rich asshole. Someone who was only interested, who only COULD be interested, in a woman's looks. But now that I know you, well, you're a pretty amazing guy. You're smart, funny, sophisticated..."
My hand was on the railing. Duke gently placed his heavy hand on mine. I didn't resist. I continued with my question.
"So why did you want to marry my sister? I've been over it in my head, I just can't imagine what you saw in her."
Duke sighed and released my hand. "I wish I knew, Andy. I guess I'd dated debutantes and society girls all my life. When I met your sister at a party I thought she was real. I thought she was interesting and fun. Love makes you blind I guess. I figured she'd teach me to have more fun, I'd teach her to fit into the high society she loved. Stupid."
"It's not stupid." I placed my hand on his. "Kind of romantic."
"That's why I feel like such a sucker. I almost wish..."
"Wish what, Duke?"
"It's silly." His shirt was soaked with sweat in the humid night.
"I've enjoyed being with you. I wish that you were Andrea. I mean, I wish that you were a woman. I mean..."
I squeezed his hand. "You mean that we get along so well, that it's almost easy to pretend that we're not pretending."
Duke clasped my hand. With his other hand, he touched my cheek. For a long time we stared into each other's eyes. When he kissed me, I let him.
"Nikki! Nikki! Wake up!" I was pounding at her cabin door. I had to talk to her.
"What's up?" she asked sleepily when she opened the door, her bathrobe pulled loosely around her.
"I have to talk to you."
She led me into her cabin, where I began to pace nervously and unsteadily on my heels.
"Nikki...Duke kissed me."
Nikki rubbed her eyes groggily. "He's kissed you before. What's the big deal?"
"I mean, we were alone. And I let him kiss me."
"I guess if he took you by surprise..."
I sighed. I pulled on one of Nikki's tops over my almost bare torso. "Well, I kissed back. We kissed."
Nikki smirked for a second, which she instantly hid. "You two have been playing the newlyweds for a quarter of a year. You just got caught up in things."
"Yeah. That's it. Sorry to have bothered you." I turned to go.
"Andy? Is there something else?"
"It's just that that was the first time I've ever kissed anyone. It's a little weird."
"You mean it's the first time you've kissed a man."
"No, the first time I kissed anyone. I always assumed I'd kiss a girl first."
Nikki was looking at me in a strange way. Eventually she picked up the phone and called the galley. "Could you bring us some tea? Thank you." She then turned back to me.
"Andy, how old are you?"
"And you've never kissed anyone?"
"I was homeless. There's no chance to..." But then I stopped. Living on the streets meant you didn't date...but there was still a chance for romance. There were married homeless couples. Discrete liaisons in alleys and abandoned cars. There was sex.
I thought back to poor desperate women who needed warmth. Runaways, punks, the borderline crazy, who'd approached me, asking to be held. Hooker acquaintances who'd offered freebies. Even women with homes who implied I could share their bed for a night. Why had I never accepted?
"Andy? What are you thinking about?"
"I'm trying to think of the last time I've ever thought about a sexy woman." Even in city parks, where the muscular women jogged in their athletic bras and co-eds sunbathed in bikinis...I never really looked. I always chalked it up to being too poor for romance. Could there have been another reason?
I thought of the burly men who I used to work with. How I'd occasionally catch myself watching their brawny, bare backs. The closeness of the homeless shelter, the smell of unwashed male bodies...men. The way Duke held me when we danced.
"Nikki..." I said with a shiver in my voice. "You don't suppose I could be...I mean, I never thought I might be a ..."
"Shh. It doesn't matter. It's not something you have to decide overnight. Just remember, if it is true, you have nothing to be ashamed of."
There was a knock on the door and the steward entered with our tea. I ducked into the bathroom as my thoughts raged. Me? A queer? It would explain a few things.
When I heard the door close, I returned to the cabin. "But even if I were...that way...that doesn't explain everything. Look at me!" I tore open my shirt, showing Nikki the torso of a young lady. "I've become a woman! That's not part of being gay! Oh God, how did I let this happen?" I started to cry.
Nikki sat me down and put her arms around me. I sobbed on her shoulders. "Andy, maybe you've made some mistakes. Maybe you haven't. But listen to me. When I was your age, and that was longer ago that you think, I made some big mistakes. BIG mistakes. But if you go through life regretting everything in your past, you'll never have a future."
"So what should I do? Avoid Duke? Divorce him like I planned?"
Nikki poured me some tea. "You don't have to decide that now. You don't have to decide that for three of four months, when we get back to Georgia."
"Wait...that's only six or seven months at sea. I thought we were going to be gone a year."
Nikki sipped her tea. "Well, we skipped quite a few stops. Duke had originally planned a lot more alone time with you. Well, with your sister."
The next day, as I was dining alone on deck, I felt something slip around my neck. Duke's lucky he had lulled me into a sense of security. If he'd tried that two months ago, I'd have cracked his ribs before I'd realized what was happening.
I looked down at the pearl necklace my husband had slipped around my neck.
"Oh, Duke, it's gorgeous," I gushed unselfconsciously. "Thank you!"
Duke leaned in to peck my cheek, but stopped himself. Instead he sat next to me. "I bet you thought I forgot today was a special day."
"Special day?" It wasn't our anniversary.
"You know..." He had a twinkle in his eye, but for the life of me, I couldn't imagine what he was talking about. He wasn't thinking of a special day for Andrea, was he?
"C'mon, Andy. It's your twentieth birthday!"
Duke cocked an eyebrow. "You honestly didn't remember?"
"Duke, I've never celebrated a birthday in my life. This is the first birthday present I've ever gotten." I started to get choked up. Perhaps it was the effects of the hormones.
"Oh, Andy. I ought to give you nineteen more presents to make up for it."
My tears were flowing now. "Believe me, this is enough." I fought for control and blew my nose. "Duke, about last night."
"Yes?" He was guarded.
"I'm not saying it was right, or wrong, but I'm very confused right now."
"I understand. I'm sorry..."
"Don't apologize," I said severely. "Listen. I know you expected a little more alone time on your honeymoon, and I haven't given you that."
"But not fair to you. I don't suppose there are any beaches or anything near here? You know, maybe take some time...to get to know each other?" I wasn't sure what I was implying. But I did know that it was time for Duke and I to stop playing games.
For the first time since our wedding, Duke smiled an wide, untroubled grin. "There's the Seychelles Islands. Not much of a resort, but they are beautiful. Would you like a little shore leave? Just you and I, and Nikki?"
"Nikki can have her own vacation."
The Seychelles are a tiny chain of islands in the Indian Ocean. Located far from American and European money, they've never been a big tourist destination. But when we landed, we realized this was a great thing.
The people, who are mostly black and speak an odd mix of European, African, and Indian languages, were friendly and fun loving. They were not obsequious, like natives of a resort area. They treated us like strangers visiting a small town; anxious for us to have a good time and spend money, but not constantly at our backs. Duke and I were unmolested at the hotel, in restaurants, on the beach. Nikki stayed at a separate hotel, miles away.
It's not easy to shed critical elements of your personality. But as the long, hot, tropical days dragged on, my mental defenses began to crumble. Defense so big and ingrained that I never knew they existed. And as the defenses fell, a new Andy emerged. One who may have been brand new, or possibly who had been there all along.
I let Duke rub sunscreen on my back. I rubbed it on his brawny shoulders in return. I let him hold my hand as we walked down the dusty streets, though there was not a photographer in sight. I let him pin a flower in my hair. We danced at a local bar. We swam together, and I let him dry me off. And, on occasion, his lips would touch mine, and I didn't pull away.
The hotel was awkward. We'd impulsively ordered a room with a single bed, but I soon realized what that implied. Duke, however, was a perfect gentleman. He allowed me to change clothes in the bathroom, and at night, he slept on the sofa.
And then, one night, the dam broke. We'd both been drinking. We had run down the beach, barefoot, laughing in the moonlight. I was wearing a long dress, and it tripped me up. Duke reached down to help me up, but I tipsily yanked him down on top of me. And then we stopped laughing.
Soon his tongue was in my mouth. Three months of a celibate honeymoon had caught up with him. His hands ran down my bare shoulders, pawed at my body.
I struggled away. "I have sand in my dress. I need a shower."
Duke let out a long, frustrated sigh. "Okay."
"Perhaps...perhaps you'd like to join me. Wash my back."
I was standing alone in the shower. The water was hot, and the room was completely steamed up. The water cascaded down on me, on my sunburned shoulders, my bare breasts, my hard nipples. I was wearing a pair of swim trunks. If I were going to play wife, it would do well not to have my penis showing.
I heard duke enter. I heard the bathroom radio go on, and then saw the lights turn down. Duke pulled aside the shower curtain and joined me. He wore not a stitch, and his throbbing erection...well, you could have hung a bath towel or five from it.
"Andy..." He reached out to grab me by the shoulders, but I stopped him with a bare palm to his burly chest. I placed a bar of soap in his hand.
"Get my back please. Then my front. If you do a good job, I'll wash you."
Hours later I lay on our bed, bare chested, sore, and exhausted. And contented. Duke lay snoring next to me, his arm thrown possessively over my stomach.
I couldn't sleep. Had we done the right thing? Time would tell. Was I sorry? Not on your life.
We boarded the ship a week later, skipping and laughing and holding hands. As Duke went off to talk to the captain, Nikki cornered me.
"Keep in mind you're supposed to get divorced after all this. You can't let the cameras catching you being a happy couple."
I giggled. "Well, who's to say we have to get divorced?"
I expected Nikki to look happy, but she only frowned. "That wasn't part of your plan."
"Of course not. And I haven't decided to do anything beyond this trip. But, like you said, this life can be enjoyable. It's started to grow on me."
Nikki smiled an uncomfortable smile. "I think I did my job too well."
"Then you should be proud." I put my arm around her. "I'm happy. For the first time in my life, I'm actually happy. I owe it all to you."
"Please don't thank me."
"Of course I have you to thank! If you hadn't helped me, I never would have...shall we say...discovered certain thing about myself."
Nikki wouldn't make eye contact. She must have felt embarrassed.
"I'll tell you another thing," I told her. "Meeting Duke wasn't the only good thing about this trip. I have a sister now."
"No honey, you."
Nikki's eyes opened wide. "Don't call me that! I mean, I'm old enough to be your mother."
"Who cares? You've been a more than a friend. You're my family. I'd be proud to call you my sister."
The tearful hugging I had expected didn't materialize. Instead Nikki glowered. "Don't call me that. Don't ever call me that." She ran off.
I didn't know what to make of Nikki's rudeness, but I decided she'd explain on her own time. Instead I unpacked and went to find Duke.
When I reached the door of his office, I heard raised voices. No, not raised voices. Screaming. Duke screaming. The door flew open, and out rushed Nikki. She had the most frightened, despairing look I'd ever seen on her face. With a sad backward glance, she walked away. Duke sneered after her and slammed his door.
I caught up with her in cabin.
"Nikki, what was that all about?"
Nikki was pulling a suitcase out of her closet. "Go away."
"Don't tell me that. Not after all we've been through. Talk to me."
Nikki looked at me and I was shocked by the despair on her face. "I betrayed you and Duke."
An icy chill went through me. "What do you mean, Nikki?" I thought of the pictures taken of me in Greece. Nikki couldn't have arranged that, could she?
"Andy, I'm a false friend. I..." Nikki seemed to be in agony. "I helped your sister, Andrea."
My hands clutched the back of a chair. "With what?" I whispered.
"Everything. Meeting Duke. How to act so he'd fall for her. Finding out about you. Arranging for you to find out about her." Nikki lowered her head. "Providing the drugs that knocked you out before the wedding."
There was nothing for me to say. My best friend, the woman who I'd called sister, was a traitor. "You're not my sister, Nikki. You're dead to me, and I wish I wasn't speaking metaphorically." I turned to go.
"Can't I explain?"
"What? That you sold out Duke and I? How much did she give you?"
"Nothing. It wasn't for money."
"What then? Publicity? Drugs?" I was trying to be cruel.
"She blackmailed me, Andy."
I snorted. "Right."
"I'm serious. She knows a secret about me. Andy, don't you think it's strange that I know so much about cross dressing?"
"I never really thought about it."
"Andy, fifteen years ago, I was a guy named Nick."
Stunned, I looked Nikki over. The height, the wide hands...well, it took a lot of imagination, but just maybe...Nikki? A guy? An ex-guy?
My mind raced with questions. However, the only thing I could come up with was to ask if her boyfriend, the pilot Trent, knew.
"He knows. He's okay with it."
I was still trying to get my mind around all this. To me, Nikki had been all woman. I couldn't believe that she had started out life like I had: as a guy!
She continued speaking. "After my sex change, I started working for Duke. My life had been hell as a man, and suddenly I had become the girl of my dreams. For over a decade I was in heaven. Then, one day, your sister approached me. Threatens to tell the world unless I help her land Duke."
I stopped pitying Nikki and started pitying myself again. "So what? The world might care that Duke's wife is a guy, but would they really care about his publicist? That's page ten news. Duke would have helped you anyway."
"Duke would have done anything for me. It's not the fact I was once a man that I was hiding. There was something else."
"Growing up as a man was miserable. I thought about suicide constantly. And since I didn't have a rich man to pay for everything, I couldn't afford the surgery."
"So I stole over $30,000 from the company I worked for and disappeared. Took on a new identity. Andrea threatened to tell them, to go to the law."
"Duke might have helped you."
"Maybe. Maybe not. But Andy, I committed those crimes as Nick. They could send me to a men's prison. Do you have any idea what would happen to me there?"
"So you just decided to ruin two other people's lives?" I tried to sound hateful, but failed.
"My only excuse is I never thought Andrea's plan would work. Every step of the way I thought something would go wrong. But things went so beautifully. It just never occurred to either of us how far Duke would go to cover things up. And then you two started acting like you were enjoying yourselves, so I didn't say anything. And then you called me your sister...the nicest thing anyone's ever said to me...and I went to Duke and told him everything."
Without a word, without looking back, I left the cabin.
I found Duke in what was left of his office. His desk was overturned, his expensive computer lay smashed on the floor, and all decorations had been ripped off the wall. When he saw me he punched the bulkhead.
"Don't do that. You'll break your knuckles."
I had never seen such rage on the face of anyone who wasn't on PCP. "I guess you know what that whore did to me. Did to us."
I uprighted Duke's chair and sat him down. Placing my hands on his shoulders, I began to rub. After a few minutes I could feel the tenseness begin to drain. It was if he were deflating like a beach ball.
Duke was staring at a picture that lay beneath a crushed picture frame on his desk. It was a group shot at one of his company' functions. In the middle stood Duke and Nikki, two good friends.
"I can't believe what that bitch did. But she'll pay for it. I'm going to dump her on the most desolate, uninhabited rock this side of Australia. She can rot there. Or blow some merchant marine crew to take her back home. Cocksucking shemale. If she ever makes it back to the US I'll make damn sure she never works again. I'll make sure everyone knows she's a guy."
I brushed off a space on the desk and sat across from him. "Are you finished?"
"Good. Now here's what you're really going to do. You'll drop Nikki off at the next island with an airport. You'll see that she gets a flight back to the US. You can demote her, or put her on a leave of absence, or whatever, but you won't fire her. At least not until you've had a month or so to calm down."
Duke looked at me like I had grown another head. "How can you suggest that? She turned you into a woman!"
"Is that such a bad thing?"
Duke smiled in spite of himself. "Not from where I'm sitting."
"She hurt us both, Duke. I don't forgive her. I don't think I ever will. But she panicked. She thought she might go to prison. Is that what you want for her?"
Duke pouted. I kissed him.
Two days later we dropped Nikki off at the British naval base at Diego Garcia. She flew home the next day, to begin a year as assistant to the VP of one of Duke's subsidiaries. This was a much less glamorous job, and paid about half of what she previously made.
Later that week Nikki's old employer received an unexpected letter from an attorney. It stated that the funds stolen by Nick would be repaid with interest from an anonymous source. In turn the company had to drop all charges regarding the theft.
Nikki's revelation drove Duke and I closer together. The fact that the one other person we trusted had been dishonest, well, we realized if we were going to get through this mess, we'd have to do it on our own.
Instead of relying on Nikki for a travel itinerary, Duke decided on our travel arrangements by himself. Instead up sailing north to Japan, as we'd originally intended, we headed south.
Instead of relying on Nikki for fashion and woman's advice, I relied on myself. I found that with experience, and the help of Duke's very expensive satellite Internet hookup, I could make intelligent decisions regarding my clothes, my makeup, and my hair. The hormones continued to give me more and more curves. Waking up with breasts ceased to startle me, and slipping on a bra was just another part of my day. My penis began to whither and I could no longer get an erection. With the use of a sex-hiding device I could wear modest bikini bottoms. Duke kept teasing me that the surgeon who'd given me breasts could make me over below the waist, too.
Physically, things changed as well. Duke now no longer had to sneak out of our honeymoon cabin at night. I won't deny it; nights were a little frightening for me at first. But Duke was gentle and understanding. As the weeks went by, he'd slowly broaden my horizons. With simple things, like a bottle of chocolate syrup, or an ice cube, or a silk scarf, he'd allow me to experience feelings I'd never known existed.
Duke stopped calling me Andrea, saying it reminded him too much of my sister. He called me 'Andi,' spelled with an 'I.'
Neither of us mentioned what would happen when we returned to the US. For months we'd been planning a divorce. But is that what we wanted? At least, right away? I was too terrified to broach the topic.
Three weeks after we left Nikki, we made an unscheduled stop at Darwin, in northern Australia. Of all our ports of call I think I liked this one the best. The ocean was beautiful, the beaches white, and the weather gorgeous.
Duke said we could spend as much time as we wanted alone, but I was beginning to know him better than anyone. He longed for society, for friends, for company. When I suggested we go out on the town, he was excited.
A local bigwig was throwing a charity ball, and Duke bought two tickets for the equivalent of $1,000 US. I wore a sleeveless, backless dress that showed of my increasingly freckled chest. I put my hair up and wore the beautiful birthday necklace Duke had given me. Some pumps and a new purse completed my image.
As I stared at myself in the mirror, I saw Duke slip in behind me. He kissed my neck, then stood with his hands on my bare shoulders.
"You've changed, Andi. Since our first night out in Miami, you've changed."
I smirked at him, thrusting my boobs in his direction.
"Well, I don't just mean that. You're so much more confident. So much more..."
"Happy. Am I right?"
I dabbed on some perfume. "In Miami, I was a guy in drag. Now, for all intents and purposes, I'm a woman."
Duke looked at me for a long moment. He took my hand. "Let's go."
The dance was okay, so far as those things went. Duke and I danced, we drank, and I chatted with people. Duke was right, I was much more confident. If someone mentioned some aspect of high society that I didn't understand, then I asked about it.
If someone had a problem with me, I just ignored them. And when a mining engineer teased me about the infamous Greek picture, I laughed.
When things began to close down, Duke said he had a surprise for me. His surprise turned out to be an all terrain vehicle that he'd borrowed. Within an hour we were driving through the unpopulated desert of the (almost) outback. There were blankets in the back. An hour later, after we dressed again, we watched the sunrise over the desert.
Sitting in the driver's seat, Duke took my hand.
"Andi. I've been thinking."
"We'll be back home before you know it."
"Yes." I sighed.
"I know I said we should get divorced when we return..."
I was suddenly very alert. My God...what was he suggesting?
"Andi, I've grown very fond of you. Not as a stand-in for your sister, either. Of you, yourself."
"Duke, I've grown very fond of you." My stomach filled with butterflies. He was about to suggest I extend my time as a wife...or make it permanent.
"Andi...this is so hard to say..."
I looked into his earnest eyes. "Just say it, honey."
"Andi...when we get back to the States..."
I touched his cheek. "Yes?"
"I'll give you another million dollars for six more months as my wife."
My world died there. Even Nikki's betrayal didn't hurt that much. After all we'd done...all we'd been through...I was still just another business proposition. Instead of asking for my heart, he was trying to buy my body.
"Duke, take me home."
I was so hurt by Duke that I didn't leave my cabin for several days. I wished I could talk to Nikki. Didn't he understand that we were beyond money now? Didn't he know that if I decided to stay with him, to give up on Andrew forever, that it would be because of my feelings?
After four days I had to get some fresh air. At midnight I slipped off all my clothes and put on a bathrobe. I didn't even need any padding underneath. Duke had robbed me of everything but my penis. He'd turned me into a woman. A woman he thought he could buy.
I paced the deck, stopping to lean against the rail where he'd first kissed me. How could I have actually thought he cared about me? How could I have thought he loved me?
I ignored him. There was nothing he could say that I wanted to hear.
"Andi?" He stood next to me. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the miserable look on his face. He was so dejected I almost took his hand before catching myself.
"Andi, do you ever wish you could turn back time?"
"Yes," I spat. "Like about a year."
There was a silence. "Do you really mean that?"
"Give me a hundred bucks and I'll take it back," I said snidely.
Duke grabbed both my hands and pulled me towards him. "Andi, I'm sorry!"
"For what? Treating me like a whore? I shouldn't blame you, this whole arrangement was about money from the beginning."
Duke released me. "It stopped being about money a long time ago."
I allowed myself to look at my husband. "Then why did you try to buy me?"
"Because I'm a dick."
I couldn't agree with that. "No you're not. Which is not to say you can't BE a dick at times."
"Ever since I became rich, dating became a financial thing. Every woman who's ever gone out with me did it because of my money, at least in part."
"Not every woman."
Duke looked even more ashamed. "Ever since I found what your sister did, I guess I thought it was too much to have a woman really, truly love me."
"But you did have it, Duke. No amount of money could have made me change my body like this. I did it...I guess I did it all to make you happy."
"Andi..." Duke tried to hold me.
"Forget it. I'm not for sale." I walked away.
"Andi!" Duke screamed.
"I love you! I love you so much. I love you more than any woman I've known. I love who you've become. I don't want to live without you."
If I walked away then, it truly would have been the end. I could have gotten a divorce, changed back into a man, and gotten on with my life. Instead, I turned.
"I love you too, Duke. God help me, I love you."
"Can you forgive me?"
It's a cruel woman who reminds her man of his mistakes. "Forgive you for what?"
"Andi, I have another proposal for you."
"Will you act like my wife when we get back for no money at all?"
I smiled. "Duke, I'm not exactly acting anymore."
"Then do we really have to get a divorce? Can't we just see where all this leads?"
"Do you really want to be married to a man?" I asked, embarrassed.
"No. I want to be married to you, Andi!"
"Then of course I accept." Duke leaned in to kiss me. "On a few conditions."
Duke seemed a little surprised. "Like what?"
"I want to go back to school. I want to study social work and get a job helping the poor."
Duke looked perplexed. "But you won't have to work."
"Yes I will. We can't do this unless we're equals. I can't play the bored housewife."
Duke chuckled. "You couldn't, could you?"
"This can't be about money. Keep the million dollars."
"Are you sure, you certainly earned..."
I covered his mouth. "Don't say it. Don't you dare think of what I did as work."
He then covered my mouth with his. And as I took him into my bed...into OUR bed that night, I realized I finally was where I belonged. I fell asleep that night thinking of our future. Education. A home. A husband. A family.
A week later Andrea reentered our lives and shattered our happiness.
Duke's yacht, of course, was set up with every conceivable luxury. The thing that had impressed me the most was the computer setup. Before all this started I'd never so much as played a video game. The first mate, however, was a bit of a computer expert, and was happy to give me lessons. Satellite Internet access is by no means cheap, but Duke could afford it. I had even signed up for some online classes, and as we steamed towards Hawaii, I finally earned my GED.
It was about this time Duke paid off the right people and managed to get me a passport in the name of Andi Greyson, female. It seemed that my future as a woman was all mapped out. The day before we hit Honolulu, as I scanned the website a Georgia University, I felt nothing could stop us.
"Ma'am?" It was the first mate, sticking his head into the computer room.
"You have a phone call from the United States. You can pick up in here."
That was odd. Who could be calling me? I hoped it wasn't someone who knew the original Andrea. With trepidation, I picked up the phone.
"Andi?" came an upset voice.
"Nikki?" Why should she be calling? I certainly didn't feel very warmly towards the woman who'd helped Shanghai me.
"Andi, don't hang up. I have to talk to you."
"Whatever it is, it can wait until I get back." I decided to play coy. "I'm on my honeymoon, after all."
"Andi, don't joke." Something in her voice told me I needed to listen.
"What is it?"
"It's your sister. I've had Trent keep tabs on her. Apparently, as long as you're playing her part, she can't get her hands on any of Duke's money."
"Good. She certainly doesn't deserve it."
"Listen to me. You sister's in Hawaii. She's going to meet with Duke. Unless he takes her back and dumps you off somewhere, she'll go to the press. She's going to spill everything, Andi."
Within a minute I was in Duke's office, telling him everything.
"Duke, what are we going to do?"
Duke had listened to my whole story without changing his expression. When I was finished, he picked up a pencil from his desk and snapped it.
"Guess I'll go talk to her, Andi."
"I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to stay on board while we're in Hawaii. We can't risk anyone seeing you in two places. I'll make it up to you."
"Now if you'll excuse me, I'll have to take care of some business before we hit land." Almost brusquely, Duke ushered me out of his office.
We landed in the 50th state sometime before dawn. I had intended to talk to Duke before he left, to find out what he intended to do. I was crushed when I found out that Duke had gone ashore before I'd even woken up.
I spent a miserable day alone in my cabin. What was he going to do? One word to the press and we were sunk. Everyone would know I was a man. Everyone would know the Greek pictures were real. We'd be a tabloid sensation. Duke would be ruined, humiliated for the rest of his life.
As the day wore on, my nervousness became agony. Where was he? What we doing? I thought back to how he had almost married my sister. Despite his denials, he had to have had some feelings for her. What if he still did. What if...what if he remembered those feelings? What if he decided he'd rather have a real woman than her shemale replacement? Oh God.
I was in a full-blown panic. Why would he even want me? I was nobody. I wasn't even really a woman. Andrea was supposed to be his wife. What use was I?
Duke didn't come home that night or the next. At the beginning of the third I packed my things. I'd reach some sort of settlement with Duke. He'd set me up somewhere, let me go to school, while he got on with his life. His married life. With his wife, Andrea. And all I could do was to be the woman who truly loved him.
Duke came aboard that afternoon and slipped a lei around my neck. "Why the long face, Andi?"
"Duke, don't make this any harder. Go to her." I felt like I was driving a knife into my own breast. "I won't stop you."
Duke seemed genuinely confused. "Go to who?"
Duke laughed. "You goof!" He grabbed me and hugged me. "I just spent two days getting rid of her. Why would I go back to her?"
"Because she's really your wife."
"Nope. You're the one who said 'I do.' I'm holding you to that." Duke tried to pull back but I held him.
"Duke, she's really a woman. Don't you want that?"
He touched my cheek. "You're really a woman. Don't you ever think otherwise."
I pressed my face into my husband's chest and had a good cry. "You really choose me?"
"There was no choice about it."
Finally I pulled away. "So what did you say to her?"
Duke sat down. "Well, she was her old self. Thought we could just go back to the way things were."
"What did you do?"
"I told her that she was to stay away from us forever."
I was confused. "Why would she agree to that?"
"Because I know a thing or two about her. Like her involvement in a rather spectacular armed car robbery last year. Or her days as a drug mule across the Mexican border. She's beaten. She'll keep her mouth shut."
I laughed. "But she won't disappear. We have the same name, sort of."
"How many Andrea Joneses do you think there are? Coincidence."
"But we look the same."
"Have you taken a look in the mirror lately?"
I looked. Even sitting there in my pajamas without makeup, there was no denying the woman I'd become. I was every inch a female.
"What am I supposed to be seeing?"
"My wife, that's what you see. Andrea was pretty, but she's not like you. You're regal. That has nothing to do with hormones or surgery, or makeup. You're nothing like her anymore."
I kissed him. "Thank you."
"Andi, are you happy?"
"Then so am I." He kissed my cheek, then my shoulder. He began to slide his hand under my pajama top.
"Hang on, Duke. How long have we been gone?"
"Over eight months."
"It seems like eight years. Or eight days."
Duke rubbed my neck. "I know what you mean."
"Duke, can just go home?"
Duke seemed pleased. "You really want to?"
"We're not trying to fool anyone anymore. I want to get out with my life. I want us to get on with our lives."
"Then let's. We'll sail on to Los Angeles, then fly back. The ship can make it without us."
And so our adventure drew to a close. Nearly nine months after I found myself forced to play the bride, we sailed into San Francisco Bay. Duke held me as we floated under the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset.
"So is everything set?" I asked my husband.
"Yes. We'll spend the night here, then sail for Los Angeles tomorrow and fly home. The captain will take the boat through the Panama Canal and be back in Georgia in a couple of weeks."
"Good. I'm excited about seeing our house for the first time."
"I think you'll like it, Andi. You know, this is your last chance to back out. You move in with me, I'm never letting you go."
I bit him on the ear. "Well, I'm not backing out. But there is one last thing I'd like to do..."
That night, at a quiet Unitarian chapel, Duke and Andi got married for real. It wasn't a real ceremony as we hadn't applied for a marriage license, but I had to let Duke know I truly wanted to be his wife.
There's very little left to tell. Nikki met us in Los Angeles, sobbing and laughing at the same time. I couldn't stay mad at her, especially when I noticed the engagement ring on her finger. When she asked me to be her maid of honor, I accepted. It's what you do for a sister.
Nikki eventually drug Duke away to take care of the business he'd been neglecting on his trip, so I hung out at a seaside bar and waited. I was quite annoyed when a balding middle aged man sat at my table, uninvited.
"May I help you?"
The guy grinned, an insincere gap toothed smile. "You've helped me enough, thank you?"
I wanted to get up and leave, but something about this guy made me uneasy.
"Do I know you?"
"I'm Cravin C. Woodward."
The name meant nothing to me, and I told him so.
"I'm a photographer. I think you remember a certain picture I took of you."
It clicked into place. This was the son of a bitch who had taken the picture of me in Greece. The man who'd forced me to get breast implants. The man who'd nearly ruined everything.
No good could come from talking to him. As I stood up, he laid something on the table. A thick manila folder.
Cravin ordered a beer as I read the contents with panic. There was a copy of my medical records from Israel, when I got the breast implants. There were some other grainy pictures of me topless in Greece. Another shot of me in Miami, where my padding had slipped into view for a second. And finally, a copy of my birth certificate, listing me as 'male.'
"Your sister sends her regards," said the photographer, with an evil grin.
"Name your price. Anything. Duke will pay it."
"There's no price. Your breast implants got me fired. They think I faked that photo. Thanks to these documents, I can prove to the world that you're a man."
"A million dollars!"
"I wouldn't take ten million."
"Then what do you want?" I think if he'd asked for a pound of flesh I would have given it to him.
"I want another drink."
I motioned for a waiter to fill him up.
"Okay Cravin. What do you want?"
He swigged his beer. "Another drink I told you." To my shock, he got up to leave, without taking his evidence.
"But...I don't understand."
He sat back down grinning, a little more sincere. "For twenty years, I've been a vulture. I've preyed off human misery. I ruined reputations, caused scandals, and wrecked lives. For the past few months, as I planned my revenge, I've had to work at the city desk at an Illinois paper you've never heard of. And you know what? For the first time in two decades, I can look myself in the mirror in the morning.
"I can destroy you, Mrs. Greyson, but for once in my life, that wouldn't make me happy. I'm going to stop this shit."
I blinked. "I don't know what to say."
"Well, I'm still a reporter. I'm dying to know the truth. Strictly off the record, what's your story?"
"How do I know you won't print it?"
"If I was going to out you, I would have done it a month ago. And I wouldn't have asked for your side. Trust me Mrs. Greyson, this is just about my own curiosity. And if it's none of my business, I can respect that."
I ordered a rum and Coke for myself. "Okay, Cravin. It all started about nine months ago..."
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