Exitus Acta Probat - The Outcome Justifies the Deed

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Synopsis:

Dennis had worked diligently to achieve the best grades possible in college. All of his life it had been his dream and his parents’ dream that he would work for Universal Corporation. It is 2023, and he has an offer of employment in his hands from them. Has his dream come true, or is he entering into his worst nightmare?

Story:

Exitus Acta Probat
The Outcome Justifies the Deed
By Angela Rasch

I had waited patiently at our front door every day for a week.

“Just two letters today,” the postman said, and then he winked. “It’s here.”

The familiar Universal Corporation logo stood out on the envelope -- printed in the same color-shifting ink the U.S. Mint uses for its currency. As a sophomore in high school I had been happy for my country when the Universal America Act of 2015 had been passed into law. It had given Universal exclusive permission to use the technique and ink that changed their logo from copper to green when tilted.

“Universal doesn’t even have to pay us to haul their mail,” the postman said -- unnecessarily, as I knew all about Universal Corporations unique status.

He probably used his chatter to stall to watch me open the letter.

“Under the Universal America Act they get free postage. Their privileges are actually broader than those extended to congressional members in that there are no territorial limitations, no reporting provisions, and no annual dollar maximums.” He finally gave up waiting. “Good luck, Dennis. I hope your letter is good news.” He had been my T-ball coach years ago. I hadn’t been much good. Sports had never been my thing because I was smaller, and not as strong as the other boys.

The envelope felt heavy. My grandfather had worked for Universal in one of their product development labs; he had been on the team that created the massive filtration systems most seacoast towns used to make seawater drinkable. Both my father and mother applied for employment at UC, but had not been offered jobs. That didn’t stop my parents from being devoted. Our house and garage qualified as Universal shrines -- filled with dozens of their products. I had been born in a Universal hospital, had taken an active part in a Junior Universal Business Club, and had slept in a bed covered by Universal blankets. Universal or one of their restaurant chains either processed or distributed most of the food I ate.

I had an interview scheduled for that afternoon with Creed, Inc. -- my back-up. Creed, Inc. is a good company, doing things to improve the quality of life for everyone, but they simply weren’t Universal. I didn’t want to waste the Creed recruiter’s time, if Universal offered me employment. Yet, I didn’t want to be a crestfallen blob for my interview, if I had been turned down by Universal.

I’ll go to the Creed interview whether Universal offers employment or not. I thought. He had traveled all the way to Oaktown just to see me. If Universal offered a job he stood only one chance in a million of convincing me to go elsewhere. Creed’s letter had said my communication skills had scored quite high on their screening exam; and I might be just the person they need to work in their educational department. I had never thought about being an instructor, but the idea appealed to me.

Twelve percent of my college graduating class had been granted Universal interviews, about the same number that had been interviewed by them the previous year, before Universal had announced that in the future they would hire only males. That had been a red-letter day for Dennis Kasolkey, because it had doubled my chances of landing a job with them. Had any other corporation made such a decision, they would have been sued for sex discrimination. The Universal America Act had granted Universal Corporation immunity from discrimination and other employee-related-practices suits.

“Open it, Dennis.” Dad startled me. “Whatever is in that letter won’t change with waiting.”

I grinned.

“Read it out loud.” Dad was certain that I would get the job; he couldn’t conceive of my utter failure.

“Mom,” I called into the kitchen where she busily prepared a small lunch. “Do you want to hear what I got from Universal Corporation?”

She popped out of the kitchen wiping her hands on her apron.

I drew the single sheet of letterhead from the envelope and cautiously unfolded it. “Dear Dennis,” I read. “Please report to Universal Corporation University in Evanston, Illinois on Sunday, June 19th. Your formal indoctrination classes will begin on Monday at….”

***

“Be prepared and be honest.” — Frank Rooden

“I’m glad you decided to meet with me.” Jacob Strauss, the Creed, Inc. recruiter, sat across the table from me, waiting in anticipation of the steaks we had just ordered. “You need to be prudent in selecting your first employer.”

“Whoever I decide to work for will be my first -- and last -- employer.” I meant every word of that. Loyalty meant everything to me.

“At Creed, we spend a great deal of our resources making sure our employees have a high degree of job satisfaction. We think we owe that to our employees as part of their basic compensation package. We conduct an annual satisfaction inventory, and subsequently will move you to where you want to go, to do what you want to do. Do you want another Amstel?”

We had requested a table on the deck of a four-star restaurant looking out over Lake Mendota. The restaurant had gained a huge reputation for entrees I had never eaten and probably would never try. Our view included several of the classroom buildings for the University of Wisconsin. I had enjoyed my college years and would miss the sea of red who attended Badgers’ game.

“I’m nearly one hundred percent sure I will accept the offer from Universal Corporation,” I said, but I didn’t turn down another round of beer.

“I can understand that,” he said. “When I got my offer from Universal Corporation, I was so excited I called every one of my relatives.”

“You got an offer from Universal? Why are you working for Creed?”

He chuckled.

I rushed to cover my insensitivity. “I’m sorry, that didn’t come out right. It’s just that….”

“No one ever turns down Universal; is that what you think?”

I nodded.

“I can only speak for myself,” he said, with a smile. “In my case it was a relative I called who helped me make the right personal decision. He’s a stock analyst — my uncle — the one who told me I should go to work for Creed.”

“Really?”

He had a new-style jacket that I had seen worn on a late night TV talk show by a trendy movie star I didn’t like. “As you know, Universal is publicly traded.”

“My parents have a chunk of it in their retirement fund.”

“So do I,” Jacob said. He munched on a chicken wing appetizer, creating a pause in our conversation. “Great wings! I think almost everyone in America who owns stock outright or has a 401 (k) owns part of Universal Corporation. They should, but that doesn’t mean it’s a great place to work.”

“What’s wrong with it?” I said, not hiding my shock. Speaking negatively about Universal Corporation amounted to blasphemy.

He leaned toward me, but I sat back, not wanting to take part in a conspiracy. “I’m not supposed to say anything negative about a competitor, but there are some things you should consider.”

I thought about leaving. What right did he have to try to tarnish an American tradition? Universal Corporation had been a major reason the U.S. economy had remained strong through the worldwide depression that had ended six years ago.

“Are you aware of the five-year penalty clause in the standard Universal employment contract?” he asked.

“Their recruiter told me that if I quit within the first five years, I would have to reimburse them the money they had invested in me.”

“That’s right. Do you have any idea how much they will have invested in you by the end of the second year?”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “I’m going to stay with them for life.”

“Let’s talk hypothetically. I’ve spoken to people who have tried to quit after two years. They were presented with an estimated bill for $250,000. Taking a job with Universal is the same as having a five-year vow of obedience.”

He drained his second bottle, suggesting he might have a hollow leg. I decided to step up my drinking to let him know how we do it in Wisconsin.

Imagine, Universal’s ready to invest $250,000 to train me. My parents and I had been paying $20,000 a year for college and had a total debt of nearly $45,000 in college loans. $250,000 is a lot of money.

“You can’t get away from a debt to Universal,” he said. “By law, any money owed to them is considered a debt on the same level as taxes. Bankruptcy courts can’t even set aside that obligation. The Universal America Act of 2015 even allows them to go after your immediate family’s assets, if you owe Universal money. If Universal has to fire you for cause, you owe the money, just as if you had quit.”

“That means nothing to me,” I said. I had lost the fellowship I had felt for Jacob when we first met.

He nodded. “I knew it wouldn’t, but I felt an obligation to make sure you knew.”

“Okay.” His “obligation” didn’t exonerate him for his irreverence toward Universal.

“Dennis, you do realize Universal uses ‘The Book’ to guide their every decision, don’t you?”

“I don’t see anything wrong with that.” Frank Rooden had written “The Book.” As the founder of Universal Corporation he had used it to communicate his inspired word. The curriculum for my MBA had included a semester studying “The Book.” School children had to memorize entire passages from it. I thought again about the New York cut sirloin steak that I had ordered and decided I would remain just long enough to eat it.

“No,” he said. “I agree ‘The Book’ should be the watchword for every business; it’s just….” He leaned in again, and then looked around the room before continuing in almost a whisper. “It’s how you interpret ‘The Book’s’ meaning that makes the whole difference.”

I didn’t respond. How could you respond to a statement as deeply insidious as that? “The Book” had straightforward meaning. It leapt off the page into your mind. What on earth could he mean by “interpret”?

“Are you okay with a company that won’t hire women?”

I looked away. Mom had the same capabilities as Dad. Nope. I’m not going to go there. Universal had to have their reasons. They hadn’t explained themselves, but I would soon enough find out their true motives.

His face came even closer; he spoke so that I barely could hear him. “Sales are way down at Universal. Word has it they’re in financial difficulty. Their R&D has been ineffectual for quite some time. Many of their products have become inferior to their competition’s. The people in our labs say Universal has lost its spirit. The new guy at the top has vowed to stir things up. A friend of mine worked for him at SunCom Industries; my friend couldn’t stand him. It’s his way, or else.”

“Is he quick to fire his employees?” The moment I voiced my question I regretted having done it. Jacob had poisoned my mind already.

“Nope,” he said. “It would be better if he did fire them. He takes great pleasure in humiliating workers who don’t measure up to his standards. He likes to say that he eats their balls for lunch. When he’s done with them, they’re never the same.” He shook his head.

I had some rough teachers in college. My football coach in high school had wanted me to quit his team. I had been too small and couldn’t seem to add muscle mass no matter how many weights I lifted. He had done everything possible to humiliate me so that I would turn in my uniform. I’m not a quitter. I didn’t letter, but I lasted the entire season.

Ugh! Creed, Inc., through their unethical recruiting tactics, had just hardened my resolve to be their worst competitor.

After our steaks arrived very little more was said of any consequence. It would be the last supper I would eat with Jacob.

Just before we parted he said, “Universal once had Congress eating out of their hand. Their Congressional payroll was huge. Things have changed. All of us who compete against Universal have banded together to create a Political Action Committee to make sure Universal doesn’t have such a huge edge. Don’t be surprised in the future to see Congressional investigations that involve Universal.”

I don’t know if the heavy meal or the conversation disturbed me the most, but I didn’t sleep well that night. A few weeks later, I started at the Universal Corporation training school.

***

I reported to Universal’s campus in Evanston, just outside of Chicago. The education building would become familiar during the training process. Later, I would work in one of the other buildings on the same campus. Universal had fifteen similar campuses around the United States. They staggered the dates of the training classes on each campus, so their executives could make it to all the locations when they were needed.

The first six months of training involved a classroom environment mixed with real world experience. The corporation wanted us to hear first-hand from every top company executive. They also wanted us to work in every division of the company in enough different positions so that when it came time to slot us, we could take an active role in deciding where we could most add to Universal’s future success.

Most of the training schedule sounded awesome, a wonderful opportunity to examine up close and personal what went on within a vibrant company. Unfortunately, part of the structure seemed bogus.

On the first day they gave us a pin to wear. We had to wear the pin every day, everywhere we went. The pin monitor had used our college GPAs and other undisclosed criteria to rank the one hundred and forty men in our training class. When the class ended in six months we would be offered a list of jobs that fit our skills. We would select in progression according to our class rank. The pins announced our class rank to everyone, and I had a big 138 on my chest; two from the bottom. I looked around in vain to find the pair more expendable than me. Upon seeing their class rank, both of the candidates ranked lower than me had quit; as had three other “bottom-feeders.”

Universal had offered the bottom twenty-five a proposal that permitted us to quit immediately with no contractual dollar penalty. After the first day, the training cost would accrue and we would be held financially responsible. When they told us we could expect the training cost to be about three thousand dollars a day through the first six weeks; five more trainees accepted their offer -- and left. The memo that extended the offer had contained a Frank Rooden quote. “Do not mistake activity for achievement.”

We could improve our rankings by doing well on the daily exams; they covered what we learned in the classroom and the outside reading material. I was confident I could move up at least a couple of dozen spots.

“You are our first trainee class under the new regime.” The National Sales Director rocked from his toes to his heels as he talked at us. Most of what he said sounded mushy. “I’m pumped,” he kept saying. “The world is filled with opportunities and things are gaining momentum at Universal.” Universal Corporation apparently needed to reinvent itself; and I would be positioned to gain from that exciting process. “Our beloved company has strayed from its roots.” He went on to frequently quote the new CEO, whom he claimed to have a close and personal relationship with. His nose seemed to be coated with an unnamed brown substance. He stated Universal had just coined a new value proposition that stated it was the best company in the world, supplying the best products.

“We have taken a new direction at Universal and I’m ‘juiced’ by the opportunity. Frank Rooden was a man — not a woman. It’s important to acknowledge that we’re working in ‘his’ footprint, and not ‘hers.’ Women exist for us, in their deepest and original being. Women have an earnest intuition for goodness to contribute to the growth and protection of their men. This intuition is linked to women’s physical capacity to give life. When their minds are clouded by their futile efforts to understand business they lose their intuition.”

What he had said left me aghast. We went back to our dorm to crack the books. Whenever I tried to talk about the numbskulls who had lectured that day, the others shunned me. True to “The Book” they couldn’t be negative toward the company. “There is nothing stronger than gentleness.” - Frank Rooden. We trainees clearly had a duty to be meek, and there would be no communion of ideas between us.

When we came into the trainee auditorium the next morning the following quote was projected on the big screen.

“Success is the peace of mind that is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” — Frank Rooden

Just outside the auditorium Universal had constructed a huge pyramid; it had been made from a single row of three-foot cube granite blocks. It stood fifteen feet tall with each block having a slot for a five by thirty-inch placard. They had labeled the placards for the five blocks that formed the base. The pyramid of success had been built on a base of the five building blocks of industriousness, friendship, loyalty, cooperation, and enthusiasm. No room had been reserved for slackers who would poke fun at those who tried to give us the benefit of their wisdom.

The third day they administered a drug test and four trainees suffered immediate dismissal.

The trainee supervisor met us that following morning. “Yesterday four miscreants got a dose of reality. They lost the best job they could ever have, because they had put drugs into their bodies. All four had been smoking marijuana. Each of them will now have to find a way to pay Universal Corporation $32,468. That’s what we already had invested in them. The rest of you had better learn from their stupidity. The pin I had received in my morning packet said 127, but I still sat on the bottom looking up.

The blocks of self-control, alertness, initiative, and intentness made up the next step in the pyramid.

Two quotes on the screen met us that that morning:

“Ability is a poor man's wealth.” — Frank Rooden

“Adversity is the state in which man mostly easily becomes acquainted with himself, being especially free of admirers then.” — Frank Rooden

The Chief Financial Officer of the entire corporation spoke to us about some of the changes in Universal Corporation. “We have studied ‘The Book’ in order to get back to basics. As you all know ‘The Book’ records the faith that Frank Rooden’s employees placed in him. We noted that over six hundred passages from “The Book” spoke of a man or men. Can anyone tell me how many passages use the words women or woman?”

Number nine raised his hand. “None, sir; Mr. Rooden lived in another era. He spoke of all mankind as men, but the term ‘men’ included women as well.”

“What’s your name, number nine?” the CFO asked.

“Phil Toussaint, sir,” he answered proudly.

“Phil Toussaint, sir,” the CFO mocked him in a singsong voice. “What the fuck do you think we’re running here, boy? You’re number nine, which means that over one hundred of these sorry-ass girls are dumber than you, which I find hard to believe. Number nine, when it comes time for you to pick a division, don’t try to find your way into the financial sector. I don’t want you. Do you have any idea how dangerous it is to bring forth false interpretations of ‘The Book?’ ”

The CFO paced the stage as the room shrank around our eyes. He eyed each of us; and we all slumped down. “Who’s number one in here?”

We turned and looked at Hal. Hal had been a football player at Michigan State. He had run around and through my Badgers for over two hundred yards one terrible day at Camp Randall. He stood and faced down the CEO, who would have none of that.

“Cocky fuck, huh,” the CFO said.

Hal grinned. “Not cocky, sir; good.”

I had to admire how Hal held his ground.

“Let’s see how good.” The CFO sneered. “Why do you think our founder never used the word ‘women’?”

“Because he knew that women were put on this earth to help men. Because he knew men are the decision makers and women have the noble role of womanhood.”

“Thank you number one. I suspect you will go far in whichever division you chose, but you better make that financial; right number one?” The CFO laughed, smiled, and bestowed upon number one all the charm he could muster. “There has been a movement in this country to deny the difference between the sexes. Those people go as far as to minimize the obvious physical differences and ignore the cultural element of gender. Those weak-wrist ninnies call into question the family and its natural two-parent structure of mother and father. What they’re trying to do is to make homosexuality and heterosexuality equivalent. That’s not going to happen with me around.”

I could hardly believe my ears.

There was a sniff from Phil that sounded like a bomb in the deadly silent room. The CFO spun in his tracks and stared at Phil. “Are you a homosexual? If you’re a homosexual get the hell out of my sight. I realize that you homosexuals are mentally sick. ‘Disordered’ is what ‘those’ people call it; I call it ‘fucked up.’ I had heard rumors this class is filled with women.”

Guarded snickers came from throughout the room -- mixed with audible gasps.

“You fudge-packers are involved in a chosen, addictive behavior. The nice guys used to say you creeps have an objectively disordered sexual orientation. I say you’re a fucking fairy, and you had better get yourself out of my world. We’ll find out about you sooner or later, so you might as well quit and save yourself some money. If you leave today, you will owe our company $51,389. Tell you what you homo assholes, if you walk today I’ll make sure somebody kisses your ass on both cheeks on the way out the door and I will offer a one-time reduced debt of $25,000. However, to qualify you have to leave before four this afternoon.” He glared directly at nearly every one of the eight guys I didn’t care to bend over in front of in the shower. “Frank Rooden was a man; and he was no damn homo.”

Twelve more trainees left that afternoon.

The next week the trainee class buzzed. An article had been published in “The Wall Street Journal” that criticized Universal for its policies that contained and separated women, in what they termed as a negative gynaeceum. Such an article written about any other corporation would have been a mild rebuke, but to see anything disapproving written about Universal rocked the business world.

Heads will roll!

The next set of building blocks on our pyramid happened to be: good health, skill, and team spirit. When we walked in the next day my pin number had changed to 115.

The Chairman of the legal department greeted us with the usual quote.

“Be more concerned with your character than your reputation, because your character is what you really are, while your reputation is merely what others think you are.” — Frank Rooden

Someone had picked my all-time favorite Rooden maxim. I had lived my life according to that philosophy since the fifth grade.

“You trainees need to understand you’re in no position to analyze what’s right or wrong.” The legal beagle paced the aisles of the auditorium in order to get closer to us. “We have the resources in home office to drill down the data to reach conclusions that are best for the big picture. Over the last few decades, our company has been neglectful in centralizing authority. Our new CEO is fixing all that. He’s bringing the decision-making back into the home office so that we can all be on the same page. You girls will learn. There will be no more experimenting with the day-to-day operation. You are to do the job we ask of you, exactly the way we want it done. You are all employees, not independent contractors.”

He grinned before continuing. “You’re being well-compensated. From what I’ve seen there’s still hot and cold running pussy around here. I’ll bet you’ve all jumped a secretary or two. That’s what they’re for — we called them ‘peter dunkin’ in my trainee class.”

Most of the men around me laughed in the conspiratorial way men laugh at that kind of crap.

“Make no mistake about it; Universal is the one, true, American corporation. Outside of our doors nothing exists.”

I had never lost that belief.

“Women in our company have wrongly seen the CEO as a patriarchal abuser of power; in answer they have been seeking their own power. That process has led to opposition between men and women. That conflict has caused confusion regarding the human person and has had a lethal effect on the structure of the core family values.”

After the attorney wrapped up his speech, number one jumped to his feet and started to applaud. Not wanting to look like dumbshits, we all stood and applauded one of the worst speeches I had ever heard.

The weeks proceeded briskly, once we had gone through the early shakeout. Several times I moved a few steps up in the rankings, but never more than five from the bottom. I became use to the drill-sergeant bullshit from the speakers. They all called us fairies, girls, and women. The corporate culture appeared decidedly anti-women. Locker-room language became the norm, accompanied by crude jokes and lewd cartoons posted on our bulletin boards.

The next layer in our personal pyramid for success included poise and confidence.

They devoted a day to a battery of aptitude and intelligence tests. They also asked a huge number of questions that appeared to test our sexuality. I didn’t worry. I had always done okay on tests, and I certainly had no interest in men; at least, not that way. Those tests didn’t surprise me, as I knew that I had to undergo a baptism of sorts to become an employee of Universal.

On the last morning of class, we received a short presentation from the CEO himself. He started his speech by showing us the card that would go in the top block of the pyramid; it said “competitive greatness.”

“Your men have a wonderful opportunity ahead of you. I have followed the words of our founder to a “T” and have resurrected his true teachings. You’re the men of this company. In this world there are men and there are women. If you aren’t a man, you’re a woman. It’s that easy. Universal Corporation has no time for those who can’t pull their weight. You will find that if you don’t succeed you will be relegated to the role of a helper. My job is to help you succeed by fostering competitive greatness. When you select your jobs this afternoon, you will be slotted where we need you and where you have the best chance to succeed.”

His eyes roamed the room.

I got the feeling he wanted to cull the herd one more time.

“There was a time this corporation had the luxury of allowing women to work in key positions. The world has become too competitive for that foolishness. We need firm decision-makers to turn our company around. We are the best company in the world and will accept nothing but the best effort from all of you.”

His lofty goals seemed inspirational. I had joined Universal to be part of something huge and important. It still didn’t seem quite right not to hire woman, but I couldn’t concern myself with that situation. I had my own future to worry about.

“Universal is taking a leadership role in corporate America in preserving the dignity of women,” he said. “We’re opposed to those who have stood in the way of the authentic advancement of women. Feminists and gays have an agenda that is detrimental to womanhood.”

His words hurt my ears for a brief moment, but I had more important things on my mind.

I had ranked my preferences for job selection from the ten different job divisions. I had made legal my top choice; followed by internal education. I wanted to work on thorny issues in the quiet of a law library. They had stressed that no legal training would be needed. I had never been able to sell anyone anything and had basically ruled out marketing by making it my last choice.

We assembled in the commons area around four big screens. All of us had our tablets and followed the job selection process closely, as it went along. At the top of the company website they had posted another Frank Rooden quote.

“If you don’t have the time to do it right, when will you have the time to do it over?”

My personal screen showed forty-six jobs that the company had approved for me to fill. Unfortunately, I still wore a pin that said 115, last in the class.

As the afternoon went on, each person had three minutes to enter his final selection. If they didn’t get it done in that time, they would fall five positions and would have to wait for another opportunity to select. No one took more than two minutes. Each person yelled, “Yes!” and then pumped their fist when their selection locked in. The positions taken disappeared from the screens of those approved for that job. With ten to go, my choices had been reduced to seven. With five left there were only four jobs left on my screen. When it was my turn to select I had been left with no choice -- I would be going into marketing.

I appealed the process with the trainee supervisor.

“The company, in its infinite wisdom, has ordained you to be a salesman,’ he said. “Have faith that Universal knows what is best for your career.”

***

“Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.” — Frank Rooden

We had come to expect every memo, every letter from home office, and every e-mail would be headed by a Frank Rooden quote. Each quote had something to do with the content of what followed.

The e-mail I received on the second anniversary of my joining Universal Corporation left a clammy feeling in my empty stomach. It came from the VP of marketing.

“Mr. Dennis Kasolkey: You are currently at the bottom of the sales ranking for all of our marketing employees. Report to your supervisor at ten today for instructions.”

I had been working as hard as I could. I had even taken evening classes in salesmanship at the local college. Nothing seemed to work for me. My confidence and poise building blocks had been badly dented.

The Creed, Inc. recruiter, Jacob, had been right. Universal’s products no longer had better quality than our competitors. Given the price Universal stuck on them, their value had greatly diminished. Some of the staff in marketing could ignore that problem; I could not.

For example; the leading big box retailer approached our lawn care division about producing a walk-behind mower for under $500. They told us they wouldn’t carry any lawn mowers that sold for over $500 because they would sit in their stores too long. So we reduced the quality of our mower by changing plastic for metal and moving from a Briggs and Stratton engine to a Kawasaki.

We also changed the height control for the mower blade. In the past we hade placed height control mechanisms on each wheel. On a new “and improved” model we put height control mechanisms only on one side. Of course, this made for an uneven cut, but you can’t have everything. Worse yet, we continued to call the new model the JX-75, which confounded the purchaser. They thought they were getting Universal quality and obviously were not.

Jacob had been right about the sexist thing as well. Universal demoted and laid off woman as quickly as they could find men to fill their jobs. No woman at Universal had a position above a clerical function. The word had been passed down; they would receive no promotions.

I took the elevator to the seventeenth floor where Mr. Enchow had his office. Mr. Enchow and I didn’t understand one another. He prided himself on being big, ornery, and demanding -- everything I couldn’t be.

“When I got the directive from home office that I’m about to share with you, I thought it was a joke.” His head had to be twice as big as mine; his eyes looked like two piss holes in his snowy-white face. “I’ve been told in no uncertain terms that the directive isn’t a joke. It’s you that is the joke. I’ve also been informed that unless I can get the overall sales in my department in line, that I will be receiving similar punishment in the near future.”

“Punishment?” In answer he slammed a memo from the home office into my hands.

“Read it, prick.”

“Be most interested in finding the best way, not in having your own way.” — Frank Rooden

The memo that followed stated I deserved to be punished for my poor performance. It said real men succeed. If I didn’t succeed, it said, it followed logically that I must not be a real man. Instructions directed me to proceed immediately to the nearest women’s clothing store. I had to purchase six pink, silk panties in a size that would fit me. Until I had pulled my sales into a position at least ten off the bottom, I had to wear panties to work.

“This is insane,” I said. “It must be a hoax.”

“That’s what I thought, but I checked it out with Home Office and with some of my buddies in other offices. Similar messages have gone out to five other men.”

“I won’t do it. Fuck the home office morons who thought this one up.”

He cleared his throat. No one ever told home office to fuck off. It wasn’t done. “I’ve received a special memo this morning telling me to let you know that if you quit today you will owe Universal Corporation $267,849.”

“I’m not going to quit.” I stuck my jaw in his face.

“Then you’ll wear the panties?” he asked with surprise.

“Not a chance.”

“I’m directed to tell you that if you don’t wear the panties you will be fired for cause and will owe us $268,904.”

“It was a thousand dollars less a second ago.”

“The additional amount is for the legal work the corporation will have to do to process your termination.”

“You can’t fire me for not wearing panties. I’ll sue.”

“You’re an imbecile, Kasolkey. You can’t sue Universal Corporation.”

“We’ll see about that.” I went to my desk and called my personal attorney. He took down the information from me, laughing through most of it. He said he would get back to me with the wording for the memo I would have to send to my supervisor that would get me off the hook.

Ten minutes later he called back. “Dennis, I talked it over with two of the partners. Universal Corporation can demand whatever they want from you with no legal consequences.”

“That can’t be,” I said. “What about the constitution?”

“The Universal America Act has already been challenged and upheld all the way through the Supreme Court.”

I hung up and stared into space.

My phone rang. My supervisor’s voice poured into my ear like hot wax. “Home office has advised me to tell you that unless you are in my office in under an hour wearing pink, silk panties that I’m to serve you with written notice of termination and have security escort you from the building.”

I hung up, put on my jacket, and then walked the block to Bong’s, an exclusive ladies’ store. My face burned as I looked for a comfortable place in the store to rest my eyes. None existed. Everywhere I looked I saw a feminine reminder of why I had come there.

“Can I help you?” The sales clerk’s nametag said ‘Karyn.’

“I need some clothing for work.” I barely heard the words as they fell from my mouth.

“Excuse me?” An attractive young lady asked; she stood about my height.

“I need to buy six pairs of panties for work.”

“That’s an odd gift for the workplace, but what the heck. Do you know her size?”

“They’re not for a girl at work.”

“Please speak up. We’ve just opened our doors for the day. There’s no one in the store except for you and me and four women in the back who won’t hear you. Are they for your girlfriend?”

“I don’t have a girlfriend,” I said. Her face registered some disbelief, so I felt I had to explain. “I work so many hours that I don’t have the time for dating -- right now.”

“You don’t have the time for a girlfriend? You’re a cute guy; you should be making someone happy. I’ve got a friend who’s looking for a nice guy who would probably like a sweet-looking guy like you. I just got rid of my loser boyfriend and need some time to rest before I jump back in, or I’d make you mine.”

I grinned, welcoming her friendly suggestion.

Her smile contrasted pleasantly with the sour faces at Universal. “I’ve been thinking,” she added hesitantly, “maybe I’ll try a girlfriend this time, though.”

I nodded, not pleased by the added competition.

My heart pounded. Oh my, if I die, and it feels like I’m going to, my parents will end up paying my debt to Universal Corporation. I had to find a way to buy the damn things with the least amount of embarrassment to either of us. She seemed like she might be fun. “Just put six panties in a bag. I don’t really care about the size.” Damn, the memo said they have to fit!

“Do you want a gift receipt? That might be the best way, if you don’t know the size. Do you want to pick them out, or should I.”

She certainly is accommodating. Maybe I can trust her. “You go ahead,” I said. I followed her to a display of the frothiest looking pieces of fluff imaginable.

“Do you want something sexy, or something comfortable for everyday wear?” She smiled at me as she reached to pick up a pair of panties in an interesting color. “Oh, of course they should be sexy; who buys panties for someone else, unless they buy something sexy?”

“Make them comfortable.” I nearly fainted when I combined her last statement with my answer. What if my friends find out? I had friends from kindergarten that I still hung out with when I could.

“Do you care what the panties look like?”

I started to say no, but then blurted, “They have to be pink -- and silk — pink, silk panties.”

In the silence that followed I clearly heard traffic outside the building. . .and wished I could play in it.

“Say, are these panties for you?” she asked, and then, thankfully, she grinned. “It’s totally okay if they are. I have a cousin who is a transsexual waiting to have his -- I mean ‘her’ operation. I help him shop once in a while.”

“Yes, they’re for me, but it’s not what you think,” I stammered.

“What am I thinking?”

“That I’m a … ?”

“A transvestite? I wasn’t thinking that. I had you pegged for a transsexual the moment you walked in the door. With your face and body, you’ll make the transformation easily.” She reached out and touched me lightly on the shoulder.

“I’m not….”

“Don’t worry, I don’t care. These are pretty. Don’t you think so?”

I nodded, agreeing with her.

The panties she held had been covered with lace and were a shade of pink that I had never, ever come close to wearing. The skimpy piece of clothing she held in my face mesmerized me.

“They’re so unlike anything I’ve ever worn,” I said with wonder.

She put an arm around my shoulder and squeezed me. “I thought you would like them.”

I shrugged her arm off. “Just pick out six for me.” Damn -- I hadn’t meant to say “for me.” Why had I reminded her? As if she could have forgotten.

“You’re a size six,” she said, as she stacked them on the counter, apparently unfazed by my unwillingness to accept her hug. “I’m good at judging sizes.”

“I have to wear a pair back to work,” I whispered.

“I know,” she said, smiling broadly. “Sometimes when I buy something new, I just have to wear them right away, or I’ll die.”

I gulped. I didn’t want to get in an argument with such a nice person. Moreover, explaining I had to wear them because I couldn’t do my job properly seemed even worse than letting her think whatever she wanted.

“We have a dressing room you can use right over there. Take a pair and have at it.”

I grabbed the closest pair to me on the pile she had made on the counter.

“Nice choice,” she said. “Those are my favorite, too. In fact, I’m wearing something almost exactly like those right now.”

My face could not have been burning any more. I quickly changed and stuck my cotton briefs in the bag she had given to me, paid the bill, and prepared to leave.

“Come back any time,” she said and gave me her card. “Call ahead and I will set out some things whenever you want to start on a complete wardrobe. Let me know if you want me to set you up on a date with my friend. Her name is Shandra; you two would like each other.” She smiled and I felt a great deal better.

Maybe I can get through this ordeal.

Universal Corporation felt they needed to punish me; and I would be man enough to take it. Frank Rooden has said, “Discipline yourself, and others won’t need to.” I deserved my fate.

I reported back to Enchow, he pulled the door to his office closed, and had me show him my panties for verification. “Those will do, I guess. You can turn the bill in for reimbursement, but according IRS regulations you have to identify the line item under personal use and clearly state on your 1078 expense account sheet that the panties you bought are for your own wear in the office.”

Like that would ever happen! I would suffer the personal financial loss and keep my self-respect. No one outside of Enchow and me would ever know; except for the perverts in the home office who had forced me to wear them.

All afternoon every move I made reminded me of the silk panties I wore. They felt surprisingly comfortable, even though Karyn had picked them for sexiness. Mmmmmm, they do make me feel sexy in a strange way. I used care when I went to the bathroom; of course I had to go into a stall and sit down. They didn’t have a slit in front to use at the urinal. I made sure no one could see them, if someone looked through the crack in the door.

By four I had become almost calm. Even though my panties rustled with every step I had taken, no one had said a word. My punishment won’t be so bad. I’ll work even harder and raise my sales enough in a few weeks to get out of them. I’m highly motivated. Perhaps the home office has hit on just the right tool to get me moving.

At 4:25, I received a copy of a division-wide e-mail. The quote on the top said. “It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.” — Frank Rooden. It went on to say, “Effective today, Dennis Kasolkey will be wearing pink, silk panties. His dismal sales have proven to us all that he isn’t the man we thought he would be when we hired him. His punishment for letting us all down will continue until he brings his sales up to a level that is acceptable. In order to protect the integrity of our corporation, we have sent notice to his accounts of the steps we have taken. Rest assured we will not let his punishment sully the good name of our corporation. We don’t want his clients to accidentally see his panties and think badly of us.” The company CEO had signed it.

If I had been the guest of honor at a public beheading, the eyes around me wouldn’t have grown any bigger. Everyone seemed to have his own unique reaction. Most shook their heads in disbelief, either at me or at the corporation’s new motivational tactics.

“Is it true?” they would ask. When I nodded, their next word would be an epithet.

“Fuck, Dennis. What are you thinking of, letting them do that to you?”

“Shit, those cocksuckers have brass balls making you do that.”

“Crap, man; tell them to stick those….”

Everyone seemed to realize I had no choice and felt happier than hell it had been me and not them singled out for punishment.

The next week, the amount of overtime all the marketing people put in stunned me. The nastiness of my clients also came as quite a shock.

When I called looking for orders they would ask, “Are you wearing panties?”

“Uh huh.”

Click!

People have a low tolerance for salesmen, and I had over-challenged their level of acceptance.

My sales fell by fifteen percent while everyone else’s took a huge positive jump.

Two weeks later they devoted part of our sales meeting to a strange and seemingly out-of-place discussion of gender roles. A Frank Rooden quote came up on the screen during the presentation.

“My mother did the washing, scrubbing, cooking, mending and canning. She demonstrated the ability to work hard with great patience and without complaint.”

Enchow walked in front of the screen and allowed the words to play across his broad chest. “Our founder knew where a woman belonged. Women have a specific role, that role is to do everything that they can to support and help the man of the house.” Obviously those words had been sent to him in an inter-office memo. He never had a unique thought he could call his own.

I was deep into my own thoughts about all the sexist nonsense, when I heard him mention my name. “I’m proud of what everyone in this office is doing, except Dennis. Dennis, four of the six men who were forced to wear panties managed to bring their sales up immediately. It’s now just you and some other dumb-ass out in California who are the women of our company. Home office has told me that our entire office could get punished as a group, if you don’t get your act together.”

Everyone looked at me like I had become some sort of pariah.

I threw myself into my job and evidently so did everyone else. Production soared. New products blossomed all over the place. Efficiency in the plants doubled. Even the healthcare division showed record revenues and profits.

Two months after I first started wearing panties, word came from California that the other pantied worker had been fired when he had been caught in men’s underwear at the company summer picnic. According to the rumors that circulated faster than the air-conditioning, Universal had taken the worker’s parents’ home and had sucked their retirement funds dry. I couldn’t let that happen to my family.

That very afternoon Enchow summoned me to his office. “You’re a bit of a celebrity,” he said. “Universal Corporation is enjoying a boom, and they think it is all due to the workers being afraid of becoming another Denise Kasolkey.”

“Denise?”

“Home office changed your official file to read ‘Denise Anne Kasolkey.’ That has a nice ring to it. ‘Denise Anne’ -- it fits a pussy like you. If you want to be able to cash your paycheck, I would suggest you have your name legally changed, so your bank will accept it.”

“That’s a girl’s name. I’ll have trouble cashing the check every payday.”

“Not the way you’re going to be looking,” Enchow said, with an evil laugh. “You’ve had your opportunity to correct your ways, now the folks at home office want you to change your entire image.”

“They what?”

“Don’t act like you didn’t know this was coming,” he snarled. “You’re an A-1 fuck-up. I could fire you any time I wanted to for your lousy sales numbers. As of today, you would owe the corporation $412,630.”

He handed me a lengthy letter from home office. Across the top they had included the normal quote. “The best way to improve the team is to improve ourselves.” Frank Rooden

An exacting description followed of what they wanted me to do. I had to wear a dress or a skirt to work every day. I had to do my best to look exactly like a woman. They demanded I act and sound as close to a woman as I could. If, in the estimation of Enchow, I didn’t make enough effort, he would fire me immediately. The letter stated I would be required to dress in female clothing on my own time, as their experts had suggested it would be the only way for me to effectively stay in my new role. I had to take the next four weeks off, counting as my vacation for the next two years, to make my transition. The final sentence of the letter sounded extremely eerie. “Although no transsexual or transvestite has ever been successful in passing as a woman, you must aspire to that goal in order to keep your job.”

I had over thirty long months left until my five years were up. I packed my briefcase and left the building in a fog.

In less than five hours, I found myself in my parents’ home pouring out my tale of woe.

They read the letter again with me. Mom gasped several times and had to sit down.

I ran to the kitchen for a glass of water for her and a beer for Dad. When I got back they appeared ready to talk.

Dad looked at me with great concern. “Are you wearing panties right now?”

I nodded and blushed.

Mom got up, and then closed the drapes on her picture window.

“Dennis,” Dad said. “You must have done something really bad for Universal to demand such a thing.”

“Is it drugs?” Mom asked.

I shook my head in disbelief.

“If it’s drugs, we can find a help program for you,” Dad said. “No son of mine is going to run around trying to look like a woman. God, I can’t believe a son of mine is actually wearing panties.”

I hung my head. I had become so used to wearing them I had forgotten about them until telling the complete story to my parents.

“What kind of drugs did you take to make them have to shock you by wearing pa. . .women’s under-garments?” Mom asked.

“I’ve never taken drugs.” It hurt for them to have even asked. “It’s just that I’m not any good at sales.”

“I never understood why you went into sales,” Mom said. “You should have been in research or technology.”

“You’re an introvert,” Dad said, agreeing with Mom. “You can’t sell.”

“I know — I know. I guess it’s dresses for me.” I had given up.

“If you wear dresses,” Dad said, “don’t come around here. I couldn’t live with what the neighbors would say. I would be too ashamed to see anybody.”

“Your father is right,” Mom sighed. “How much money would it take to buy out your contract?”

“Over four hundred thousand,” I said, admitting the futility of my plight.

“Ellen,” Dad said, “get the check book. Son, as you know, I inherited nearly three hundred and fifty thousand from your grandmother. We don’t really need that money, and I can work a few more years to replace the rest in our retirement account. We can’t let Megan’s fiancé hear about this, or you’ll ruin her life, too.”

My sister would be marrying a gynecologist in two months. She had become little-Miss-Conservative since taking up with him. At one time we had been close friends, but lately she held views I couldn’t stand.

I couldn’t allow them to spend that kind of money. “No, Dad.”

“Dennis,” Dad asked, “are you deliberately trying to kill us? If you ran around in dresses, you couldn’t come around. Thugs on the street would beat you to within an inch of your life. You would never find a woman willing to marry you, and we would never have grandchildren. Let us make this whole nightmare go away.”

Plenty of arguing followed accompanied by lots of Mom’s tears, but when I left their house that evening I had a check for four hundred and five thousand dollars. I would take the rest out of my meager savings. Somehow, I would find a way to pay my parents back. Dad had been right. If I ran around looking like a man in a dress, I would be placing my life in jeopardy from street gangs.

The following day I went back into my supervisor’s office with my checkbook in hand.

“What do you want, Denise?” he asked when he saw me walk in.

“I quit.” I handed him my letter of resignation.

“You would do that to your parents?”

I nodded, and didn’t bother to explain. “Just get me the payoff number and I’ll write a check.”

“Okay, I’ll call home office.” He spent a bit of time dialing and waiting for an answer. When he told them I had resigned, I could hear loud yelling in response on the other end.

“Uh huh. Uh huh. I got it.” He wrote something on a pad and hung up. “Are you going to write a check?”

“I’m ready,” I said. “What’s the bad news.”

“$1,847,231.”

I looked up from my checkbook in a daze. “What?”

“$1,847,231.” His face turned red indicating the first embarrassment he had ever shown to me. “They’ve developed a national campaign based on you -- evidently at great expense. They want everyone to see the absolute power they have over their employees. They want to instill the fear of embarrassment. The message to the workers will be; if they aren’t productive enough, they will have to do what you have been through and what you will go through in the future. That fear is what they want to use to keep the workers busting their humps. They said their psychologists have told them only three percent of our employees do things because they see the positive potential, the rest operate out of fear.”

I didn’t say a word. In a way, I had been expecting it. “Will the company pay for everything they want me to do?”

“They did say,” he continued, “they’re willing to pay for whatever it took; should you change your mind. You will have an open-end expense account.”

I shook my head again and again in utter devastation. “Anything else?”

“They don’t want you in sales anymore. They want you to travel from division to division showing motivational films. They want all the workers to see you in person. You won’t be reporting to me anymore.”

“Be a realistic optimist.” Frank Rooden had said. At last, a silver lining; I would have a new boss.

I left the building and went directly to Bong’s. Luckily, Karyn was on duty. I remembered another quote from Frank Rooden, “Tell the truth. That way you don’t have to remember the story.”

“That’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said, after I told her everything. “I’ll never buy another product made by Universal; and I love their Gummi Bears.”

“Crazy or not, that’s where I’m at.”

“How have you felt about wearing panties?” she asked, with one eyebrow raised.

“I forgot all about them after the first few days. They seemed natural for me. If people around me hadn’t made such a big deal about it, I wouldn’t have minded at all.”

What I had answered surprised me in the depth of its truth. What should have been humiliating really didn’t matter to me. I actually found my panties quite comfortable and calming. “Do you have any dresses or things that will disguise me enough, so I don’t get killed by some homophobes?”

Karyn looked at me with wide eyes. “Why would you get killed?”

“There are two distinct genders; at least that’s how people want it. Some people react outrageously if you suggest otherwise.”

“They’re going to call you Denise, aren’t they?”

I nodded.

“Is it okay if I call you Denise? For some reason I think it would be more appropriate.”

I nodded again.

“Denise, I wait on women all day long. Some of them are built like linebackers for the Bears. Occasionally a man will come in. The words out on the street that I’m friendly to men who want to buy women’s clothing. I’ve waited on several men who make me feel masculine.”

“My Aunt Louise has more of a mustache than I do. I suppose you’re right,” I said, realizing how close-minded I had been. My knees barely supported me. My bewilderment stemmed from suddenly having been cut adrift from my family. My friends would react exactly like Mom and Dad had, and would want nothing to do with a man in a dress. “Am I being silly worrying about possible danger?”

“People are so mean to each other. I think to be on the safe side you should look as feminine as possible. You shouldn’t have any trouble looking like a woman, from what I can tell. Hmmm. . . .” She stood back and put her chin in her hand with her other hand on her hip. “As long as Universal is paying the bill, let’s have some fun. I’ll call my cousin. We’ll hire her as a consultant. Do you think Universal would pay for that?”

I nodded.

“With everything she’s been through in her transitioning, she’s the best one to help us.”

“Us?” I asked.

“Denise,” she said. “I told you before that I’m attracted to you. You didn’t call, even though I dropped all those hints. You like girls, don’t you?”

“Sure I do,” I said. “Yes, I like girls; I like girls a lot, but you said you wanted to date a girl next.”

She grinned. “It seems like Universal is solving both our problems.”

For the second time I actually could see a positive in what I had to do to keep my job.

“Do you also like men?” she asked pointedly.

“No, I’m not bi-sexual, if that’s what you mean. I think some men are more handsome than others. Sometimes when I’m in a restaurant or some place like that, I’ll think about which men are attractive and which aren’t.”

“I knowwww. I do that, too. Most women do that. I think we’re going to find out some interesting things about you, Denise.”

“What do you mean?” My mouth dropped open. I’ve never wanted to have sex with a man. I’m sure of that.

“Let’s just get you looking like a woman, so they can’t fire you, and so that you won’t be harassed on the street. We’ll worry about the rest of what happens, if it happens.” She moved in closer to me and took my hand. “Denise, I won’t let anything bad happen to you, I promise. I’m more than a little attracted to you. Do you find me attractive?”

I focused on her lips, glistening inches from mine -- and seeming perfect; red, soft, parted slightly revealing brilliant white teeth. “Uh huh. Very attractive.”

“Good,” she said with finality, “then let’s just get through all the normal nonsense and settle it; we are officially girlfriends.”

I blushed. She was either kidding me or I was extremely fortunate. Unless I had badly misjudged her, she was the kind of girl that I would be fortunate to call my girlfriend.

Karyn called her cousin, Leslie, who got really excited. She needed the money and felt like she could help me immensely. Leslie told Karyn to start me with a small wardrobe, because I would be wearing smaller sizes quite quickly, and then she told us to meet her at a place called Vaingirls. She wanted us to use the professionals at that transformation service to teach me how to be a girl.

On the way we stopped at a dress shop.

“Why don’t you step into the dressing room with me,” Karyn said. “I’ll take some measurements, and then I’ll bring you some clothes to try on.”

I looked around. Only two women who looked like they had their attention fully on shopping were in sight.

I bit my lip and agreed.

Once in the dressing room and I slipped off my shirt, shoes, and pants, and then I sat down. “This is wrong. I don’t want to do this. I can’t do this. It’s wrong.” As much as I tried, I couldn’t keep my lip from quivering. Here I was in front of a girl who liked me -- dressed in panties . . . and getting ready to sob.

“It is wrong,” Karyn said softly. “Sometimes we have to realize that might IS right. Universal has all the cards. All you can do is have a good attitude about it. If you have to be a woman, and it certainly appears that you have no choice, than you should be the best woman you can be.”

My mind focused on a Frank Rooden quote. “Never make excuses. Your friends don’t need them and your foes won’t believe them.” I wiped my eyes with the back of my hand and stood up. “Let’s get on with it. The least I can do is NOT make everyone around me miserable.”

She reached around me with a tape. “Your hips are thirty-three inches. That’s good; we won’t have to use much padding. You have a nice thin waist. It’s twenty-eight inches, but we will bring it in some with a corset to reduce it to twenty-five. Your bust is thirty-four inches; with the right help you will look great.”

“You make it sound like I already have a feminine body.” Is that a good thing?

“Your top is ectomorph, in that you have narrow shoulders and not much muscle mass. Luckily, your bottom is endomorph, which accounts for the softness of your body and rounded bottom. It also is why you have small hands and feet, plus a high waist. Fortunately, you have the delicate head of an ectomorph.”

“Ectomorph and endomorph; what the heck are you talking about?”

“Didn’t you pay attention in health class?” she asked.

“I paid attention to the pokes in the back I was getting from Bubba Kenney.” It was a wonder my back hadn’t been permanently damaged.

“I’ll bet he was a mesomorph. Did he have a lot of muscles?”

I nodded.

“Was his overall shape like a rectangle?”

“Sure was -- we called him “the refrigerator.”

“Then he was a mesomorph.”

“Is that because he was a jock and worked out?”

“It’s more likely he was that way because he was born with that body type. I had guys for friends in high school that killed themselves lifting weights and never gained any muscles.”

“So, you’re saying I was born to wear a dress.”

She shrugged.

“Figures.” I wasn’t going to go into a funk. “Then let’s get at it.”

My mind took an enormous turn at that moment. I wouldn’t fight it anymore. They might be able to use me to frighten the other male employees, but they weren’t going to humiliate me. That would be impossible, if I had the right attitude.

Karyn brought in armloads of dresses, skirts, slacks, undergarments, tops, jackets, suits, and other clothing. We appraised how they looked on me and tried to guess how they would look after I had some help with my figure. Mostly we hunted for colors and fabrics that seemed right for me. We picked four outfits to take along to Vaingirls, and then we stopped by Leslie’s.

I liked her immediately.

The three of us walked four more blocks to Vaingirls and met Liz and Joyce, extremely nice people who became absolutely incensed when they heard what Universal had mandated I do.

“Pigs,” Liz spat out.

“I’d like to get them in here for a few hours,” Joyce said with a frown.

“I appreciate your support,” I said, “but what I would like you to do is to think of me as the most ardent cross-dresser you’ve ever had for a client. Imagine you are helping me fulfill my wildest desire and it will be easier for all of us. After all it’s like Frank Rooden said, ‘It isn’t what you do, but how you do it.’”

Karyn smiled at my positive attitude.

“Honey,” Joyce said, “you’re going to be an absolute delight to work with. We get a lot of men in here who want to look like women. Every one of them reaches their goal. Unfortunately, some of them look like overly tall women, some look like women with a lot of muscles, and some look like heavy-set women. Honey, the thing is there are tall, muscular, and heavy-set women. In your case you will look like the average woman you see every day on TV. That is to say, you will be a knockout.”

“I’m not asking for miracles,” I said. “I’ll be happy if I just don’t look too ridiculous.” I felt a little ridiculous right then as I stood in front of them dressed only in my panties and shirt.

“I’m not kidding,” Joyce said. “Let’s start from the top down. You have a full head of lovely hair. It’s thick and is already at a nice length. We can do things with it so that you won’t even have to wear a wig.”

“Wigs are okay,” Leslie said. “They can be an easy alternative some days when you don’t want to spend time on your own hair. Since you have an unlimited budget, you should buy a number of top-of-the-line wigs, so you can change your hair-style and color with your moods.”

“But she doesn’t ‘have to,’ ” Joyce said with emphasis. “Her hairline is far enough down her face to wear almost any style. Her forehead is nice and sweet. She doesn’t have any of those Cro-Magnon things going on over her eyes.”

“You’ll have to shape her eyebrows,” Leslie said.

Obviously, I had become a ‘her.’

“Look at those beautiful cheekbones,” Liz gushed. “Her chin gives a perfect apple shape to her face; nice full lips — Honey, I can’t wait to do your face the first time.’

“Swallow for me,” Joyce demanded. “Great, you don’t have a visible Adam’s apple, you lucky, lucky girl. Your body is to die for. If I had your equipment, I would be starring on Broadway. Even your knees are cute.”

“Pull this on, please.” Liz handed me an undergarment that looked like the girdle pads we had worn for football, only the pads were in strange places. “Now you have hips.”

Joyce brought out a padded bra and handed it to me, “We’ll need to carefully adjust the straps. What size dress did you bring?”

I looked to Karyn.

“Denise is a size twelve.” Karyn then lifted one of the four dresses out of the garment bag we had brought, along with two-inch heels and socks that she called peds. “Her shoes are size nine, same as mine.”

“Denise,” Liz asked, “can you manage to slip on your dress and bra by yourself, or does someone have to go into the dressing room with you?”

“I can do it.” I had just tried on dozens of dresses for Karyn. After I came out of the dressing room, Liz and Joyce had me walk, stand, sit, pirouette, and generally move around the room.

“Okay, what’s the real deal?” Liz asked, clearly annoyed.

“Right,” Joyce echoed with some anger. “Is this some sort of gag?”

“This isn’t a joke,” I answered with some frustration. “Believe me, Universal has me by the balls.”

“You really think I believe you have balls?” Liz asked. “IF you do have balls -- where did you learn how to walk like that?”

“Like what?” Even Leslie was glaring at me.

“Like a woman,” Karyn said. “Have you been playing straight with me, Denise?”

I had no idea what had upset the four of them. My emotions came to the surface again. My lip started to tremble, and then I felt Joyce’s soft arm around my shoulder.

“That’s okay, Denise. It’s just that you are better at doing feminine things than most of our graduates.”

“I’ve never been in a dress before today,” I softly whispered.

“I believe you,” Karyn said, “but you should have been.”

Once again, I didn’t know if I liked what she had said. All of them suddenly smiled, which made me feel better. If my being feminine made them happier, and would make me less likely to be humiliated or harmed, I would try to be as feminine as possible.

“You even have a nice, soft voice,” Joyce said. “With just a little help with your vocabulary, tone, and gestures … oh my goodness. You will be perfect.”

Joyce brought in her associates: Beth to help with my nails and make-up, and Jess, an accomplished seamstress, to make minor alterations to help my clothing hang properly.

Leslie called a specialty store that had something they called a gaff. She also told them to set aside several other special undergarments in my size. They made an appointment for me at a beauty shop that would be happy to work with me. They said that after I was “on my way” I could go into any salon in town.

The more they did, the more I found it hard to deny that I should have been born a girl. I loved the way the clothes made me look and feel. I loved the perfume they bought for me, a flowery scent called Eternity. I loved the way Karyn looked at me. I loved the way she carefully took off my nightie to get at me during our love-making.

Within a week, I walked around the Loop with Karyn and Leslie, looking like their sister. With a small amount of dieting and some coaching from Vaingirls and Leslie, I had become one of the girls.

***

One month later, I went back to work, in a new building on the Universal Chicago campus. I would be working for a man I had never met. I went in thirty minutes early to find my desk and get my personal things situated. I wore a Prada ivory linen and silk skirt suit. The jacket featured silk bows in place of buttons. Wanting to look professional I understated both my jewelry and my make-up.

The room I had to report to was actually a small suite of two private offices with a secretarial station. There weren’t any nameplates on the desk, so I assumed that Universal would stick me at the receptionist station to further humiliate me. I had changed from my flats into my two-inch stiletto heels, and had just put my purse into my desk’s large drawer when he walked in.

Tall, with a million dollar tan and an incredible smile, he carried a large box with so much ease he must have spent a lot of time in the gym. “Hi,” he said, before I could find my voice.

I smiled, which he returned.

He rested his box on the corner of my desk. “I’m glad you got in early. I want to talk to you before Dennis gets here.”

Dennis? Who does he think I am?

“I’m not a big fan of what Universal is doing to the poor guy,” he said. “However, Universal pays the bills, so they call the shots.” He chuckled. “Let’s make sure that we make it as easy on Dennis as possible, okay?”

I nodded. Unlike the old me he exuded confidence and seemed extremely ready to take on new things.

“Would you like coffee, Mr. . . . ?” I asked.

“Coffee would be great, if you don’t mind getting it. Black, I’ll get it for us next time. By the way, it’s Haitfull. Andy Haitfull. And, your name is. . .?”

I pretended not to hear him and went to the coffee bar down the hall. When I returned I had two cups of coffee with packets of cream and sugar. “What does Dennis look like?” I asked, furthering the ruse.

“I guess we’re supposed to call him ‘Denise,’ ” he explained. “I haven’t seen him, but he’ll look like a man in a dress. I lived in San Francisco for years. I never saw a transvestite or transsexual who looked at all like a woman. They all thought they looked good enough to fool me, but none of them could. At least I’ll have you around to remind me what a real woman looks like.”

I blushed. I couldn’t stop myself from doing that, no matter how hard I tried.

“You’re not wearing a ring,” he noted.

“Neither are you,” I answered without looking again, and surprised I had noticed.

“Does that mean we can have dinner tonight?” he asked shyly.

In a way, I wanted to accept his invitation, but I knew that he would be really mad in a few minutes if I did. He might have been the most gorgeous man I had ever seen. How does anyone have enough nerve to ask out a perfect stranger, five minutes after they meet? “I’m afraid not. I’m seeing someone.”

“Maybe that’s a good thing. Even though I’d love to date someone as beautiful as you, it might get messy with all the traveling we’re going to have to do. We have to run our freak show all over the country.”

“Freak show?”

“Forget I ever said that. Please. I don’t ever want us to think of Dennis. . .Denise. . .as anything but someone who got in a bad situation. A situation I hope we can minimize.”

“Okay. . . .”

“Universal wants Denise to be seen by all three million employees.”

“Why do they want that?”

He frowned. “It’s their goal to scare the hell out of every male employee.”

“Isn’t it only the newer employees that Universal can push around?” I asked.

“They’re probably are the only ones that Universal could force to do what Dennis is doing, but nearly half of the work force has less than five years with the company. Today we’re going to take shots for a poster to go up in every break room. It will have Dennis’ employee picture from two months ago on one side and a picture we’ll take today on the other side. We’ll use the Frank Rooden quote. ‘Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.’ ”

“Won’t that embarrass Dennis?” He seems so creative. I’ll enjoy watching him work.

“That’s where you and I come in,” he said. “We have to think of ways to make it as easy on him as possible. We want him to feel good about himself. Our job is to be his best friends. Besides, I think it would be the right thing to do. Don’t you.”

“Most definitely.”

“We have to keep in mind that he’s a person, and we should respectful of his rights, even if Universal doesn’t”

“I agree.”

“Just between you and me, during his trainee testing Dennis scored ‘high feminine’ on his sexuality and gender test.”

That news didn’t shock me given how easily I had adjusted to my current life — and judging by the sexual interest I had felt just looking at Andy. “How long did you live in San Francisco?”

“Long enough. Some of those guys looked like Mack trucks in skirts. The idea that they could ever look like women is pure fantasy.”

I couldn’t resist. “What about those girls in Las Vegas? They claim they’re all males, and gosh, some are better-looking then me.”

“If they’re half as good-looking as you, you can bet that they’re not really guys and never were guys.” He winked at me. “It’s just a trick Las Vegas pulls on the suckers. Look, I know it’s common around here to gross out the women, but I try not to. However, in this case I have to be blunt. It’s like this,” he blushed a deep red, “they can’t fake breasts like yours. I can tell from a mile away. And those whiskey voices they use? Get real.”

“I don’t get it,” I said. “ “Why are men so terrified of looking like a woman. Half of the world’s population are woman, and they aren’t suffering for it, for the most part.”

He frowned. “I agree, but don’t let anyone around here hear you say that. Universal has worked hard to make woman seem inferior. I think it was all one strategy.”

“Do you think women are inferior?”

He blushed and shook his head. “I’m not the one making those decisions — and I can’t say that I approve of them.”

I nodded.

The door opened and a twenty-something, Paris Hilton wannabe walked in carrying a small box. “Is this the new Motivational Department?” she asked.

“It is,” Andy said.

“I’m Lisa. I’m from secretarial. I’m supposed to be the receptionist here.” She looked to Andy who seemed puzzled, and then she looked to me.

I stuck out my hand, as I placed myself in a position where I could look beyond Lisa to see Andy’s face. “Hi Lisa, I’m Denise and this is Andy.”

He turned white. For a moment I thought he might pass out. I had already earned my pay for the day as a motivator. I had given Andy plenty of incentive to think.

***

“You can’t let praise, or criticism, get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.” — Frank Rooden

We had traveled around the country together for three months. Every place we went, people who recognized me from my posters greeted me. Invariably at least one male employee would come up to me and say something like, “I knew the whole thing was a hoax. You’re no more a man than I am a woman.”

Even though many of the employees knew someone who knew someone who had known me as Dennis, the company’s motivational program still lost efficiency through doubt. A rumor circulated that I had been a woman dressed as a man when I went through my initial training. The men working for Universal began to think of me as Andy had thought of the Las Vegas dancers. They thought I had been a set up to give the suckers something to believe in.

In the beginning, the stares had felt like icicles prodding my skin. Over time, I grew to welcome the attention. They greeted me with true warmth they reserved for the dwindling number of women who worked for Universal. With some of the men, that warmth became a little too hot, but never so that I couldn’t fend them off.

I could have dated a new man every night, but I had no interest. Karyn and I had remained girlfriends, but our initial sexual encounters didn’t ignite a long-term romantic spark. I lived a celibate life. Lisa had shown some interest, but it seemed weird, so nothing ever happened.

Andy proved to be an absolute gentleman. Several times he simply forgot my birth gender and treated me with old-world deference. I started to enjoy standing on a female pedestal. It would be over two years until I could get down, but I didn’t count the days.

Honestly — most of my sexual fantasies slid into something steamy with Andy. I would start out dreaming about Julia Roberts, and then she would morph into him with his curly black hair and fantastic physique. I often had nocturnal emissions, like a teenager.

Sometimes I felt a tension between us that went beyond our working relationship, but I knew where he stood. Because I felt comfortable with Andy, I didn’t worry too much when Karyn told me that I had gotten a little too frisky in my choice of outfits. One day she called me a “tramp” because of the perfume I wore, but she did it in a nice way.

Andy did well working in a group. He seemed to be able to get along with everyone. From what he had told me, his grades in elementary school had been terrible because he had been more interested in the kids around him than the subject matter. One of the men who had been in his Universal trainee class told me Andy had been number one until the very end of their training, when he partied a little too much before the final tests. Several times the home office demanded things of me that could have been mortifying, but Andy built a consensus to make things work so I didn’t get embarrassed.

We had just gotten back from a trip through Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans when Andy called me into his office. He held his forehead in both of his hands, looking down at a memo on his desk. When he finally made eye contact, he had a sick look on his face.

“What is it, Andy? Did my mother or father die?” They hadn’t let me back into their home. I had tried several times, but Dad said it just wouldn’t work.

My sister, Megan, had called several times and we did lunch. After her initial shock at my appearance, she seemed okay with how I looked. She had said she had often thought while we were growing up that I should have been a girl. I begged off from her wedding, not wanting to ruin her day. After considerable discussion, she reluctantly agreed with me. Several months later she told me her husband had demanded that I not attend their wedding, which she apologized profusely about. She said she would make it up to me.

Andy still hadn’t responded, so I prompted him. “Is someone ill?

“No. It’s the home office.” Andy stared at the memo again, appearing to be waiting for it to either go away or change before his eyes. “They want to make sure the men understand that you’re for real.”

“Do they want to take naked pictures of me?” I’m prepared for that. If it happens it will be merely another inconsequential mortification.

“If only that was all. They want to make sure everyone in America knows that you’re a genetic man, so they’re going to create a huge publicity stunt.”

“I don’t mind, Andy. They can put my picture up on billboards. I’m long past being embarrassed by how I look.” In fact, I feel proud.

“You’re going to look different.”

“Are they going to make me wear garish make-up?” I laughed. “I don’t care. They can’t get to me. What do they want?”

He got up and looked out the window. Geese flew by. It soon would be winter. I waited for him to speak. He looked so handsome, even in his distress — which, despite my dire predicament, I thought was kind of cute.

“The quote at the top of the memo they sent says, ‘Don’t let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.’ Given what Universal wants you to do, it’s appropriate.”

He moved back from the window and stood behind me. His hands found my shoulders and gently gripped them, giving me a light massage. A jolt of electricity shot through my body, responding to his sensual touch. A thousand images of sexual acts ran through my mind; things I wanted him to do to me, and things I would love to do to him. I reached to pat his hand, and then turned to smile into his eyes. Concern lined his handsome face.

“Our healthcare research division has been working on a program for quite some time for infertile women.” He paused.

I couldn’t think of what that could possibly mean to me, so I said nothing.

He continued without his almost constant smile. “In vitro fertilization techniques have been used to induce an ectopic pregnancy in male lab animals by implanting an embryo and placenta into the abdominal cavity, just under the peritoneum. They’ve had great success and are ready to try it with humans.”

“Try what?” I asked in horror, as I fervently hoped I hadn’t guessed what the monsters in our home office had hatched.

His shoulders sank, and then he sighed. “They’re going to announce to the press tomorrow that you’ll be the first male to carry a child through nine months of pregnancy.”

“Bullshit.” My language surprised me. I rarely used any strong words.

“Their egos have gotten the best of them. The other day in a video conference, our president said Universal was the one, true company that could lead our country into a solid future, and he meant it.”

I closed my eyes and trembled. Opening them I realized I couldn’t hold back my tears.

Andy shook his head, and then went back to his desk and picked up the memo. “They’re serious. They’ve told me that they have plans in place to go after not only your parents, but also all your extended family’s assets. They said they’ll break them through court costs alone. They really don’t care. One way or the other they’re going to use you as an example.”

I had become so comfortable with the idea of Universal having complete control over me that I actually forgot it. Days went by when I thought of myself only as a woman. The awfulness of my situation came back in a rush. Following the rules set down by Universal had been comforting in its mad simplicity. I understood the discipline involved in my strange marriage to Universal, but the enormity of what they demanded caused me to feel queasy.

I sank into overwhelming sadness, feeling no desire or strength to act. It took all of my will to regain enough composure to frame a question. “Wouldn’t my body reject the embryo?”

He shook his head. “They don’t think so; remember, you’ve been on hormones now for six months.”

Universal had called me into the home office six months ago for a meeting with top management. I had been asked to confess everything I had done wrong since starting with the company. I had to read a list of my shortcomings that had been prepared by several co-workers.

Andy had refused to take part; he told them it would be counter-productive to our day-to-day efforts. He had been so sweet preparing me for the browbeating that I would take. At the end of the meeting, they had told me that because of my numerous transgressions I would have to do further penance. They placed me on regimen of injected and oral hormones.

“They plan to increase your daily dosage to a massive level, their hormonal experts have been working on this for years. Our research department believes this will prove there’s no such thing as an infertile woman. It will create huge sales for Universal.”

“But, won’t all those hormones hurt the baby?” I asked.

“I had the same question, so I went to our scientist for confirmation. They said once the implantation is successful, the pregnancy will take over and supply the body with more than enough hormones, so the hormones you take will be almost totally stopped.”

“Won’t I hemorrhage?” I cringed at the thought of my body tearing itself apart.

“They’ve developed an artificial womb to supplement the peritoneum; it will protect your internal organs. Some of your abdominal organs will have to be moved slightly to allow for full gestation, but nothing will damage you in any way. In fact, they say that you will experience some of the best health of your life during your pregnancy -- and afterward, when you’re nursing.”

“Nursing?”

“Of course. You’ll be able to make good use of your … ahhhh.”

I blushed. I wore a B-cup without any inserts. They had told me that I might even become a natural C-cup.

“It isn’t possible; how would I ever deliver the baby?” I momentarily felt safe.

He read from the memo. “The delivery will require open surgery - Cesarean section - to remove the baby and the placenta. Removal of the placenta is the real danger. Because it forms such intimate connections with surrounding vessels, massive hemorrhage is likely. Several physicians who are well-accustomed to advanced and dangerous forms of ectopic pregnancies will be on-hand to handle any complications.”

My head spun. “What will happen if I die?” I didn’t even trust my VCR yet; and they wanted me to be a technological pioneer in male pregnancy?

“Universal has drawn a contract that will absolve all of your huge debt to them in the event of your death. They’ve established a fund of $500,000 to go to your family in the event you. . . .” He seemed unable to finish.

I closed my eyes and cleared my mind of that possibility. “After everything is successful do I get to keep the baby?”

“That will be your decision.”

“Can I think about it?”

“I’m so sorry, Denise. I don’t know what there is to think about. Those assholes have you over a barrel. They’re sending a nurse over this morning to give you your new pills and your first super-injection. You’ll have to sign forms stating that you’ve voluntarily requested to be involved in the experiment, but we both know you have no choice. I’ve prepared my letter of resignation, and will deliver it today.”

I shook my head. “I’d rather you didn’t. What’s going to happen -- is going to happen. My only choice would be suicide, and I can’t leave my family to pick up all those pieces. I’m going to need people around me I know and love.”

Andy looked at me strangely.

My God, I had said “love.”

He took my hand. “I’d be honored to stand by you and do whatever I can to make this less. . . .” Tears poured from his eyes. At times, Andy seemed softer than even me.

I dissolved into a sobbing mess, as he held me. Ten minutes or more went by until I could compose myself. “I really don’t see a choice but to go into this feeling positive. Where will they get the sperm?”

“They’ve asked for volunteers from the Universal management force. All the males from Level Nine on up got an e-mail this morning.”

I smiled ruefully. “I’ll bet that made everyone’s day.”

He finally grinned. “Peterson down in accounting said we should have a full-scale Universal circle jerk.”

I shook my head. “Nice to see this is funny for some people.”

“Denise, I know this is devastating for you. I’m charged with screening the applicants and will do my level best to find a sperm donor you wouldn’t object to.”

Before I could ask about the eggs, someone knocked on his office door. Lisa came in and said a company nurse was waiting to talk to me.

After Lisa left, and then brought in the nurse, Andy told me that I would be on paid leave for the next sixteen months. Even though I would be technically on leave, I would still be required to make several visits around the country so workers could see me first hand and know I truly had been impregnated. The company would have a twenty-four hour watch on me during my pregnancy to make sure that there were no medical complications.

Medical complications? What could possibly be complicated about me having a baby?

The nurse administered my shots and gave me a huge bottle of pills with instructions to take one every four hours around the clock. She said she would be living with me during the preparation period, the pregnancy, and for a short period after the child’s birth to help me become comfortable with motherhood, if I elected not to give up the infant for adoption.

Her entire demeanor changed from all-business to that of a compassionate aunt. She reached in her bag and took out a pamphlet, which she went through with me. She had collected the pamphlet at a recent mid-wife seminar. As she read, I listened with increasing interest.

“Research has shown that a mother’s health and emotional state during pregnancy have an immediate and direct impact on her life-long relationship with her infant. In turn, the health of the mother/child relationship directly impacts the child’s quality of life, possibly throughout his lifespan. By helping the pregnant woman achieve a healthier mental and emotional state during pregnancy, we are able to improve the chances she and her child will experience a healthier relationship.”

“I’ve been in midwifery for twenty years,” she said. “I’m not totally on board with what is being done here, but my duty is clear. This isn’t about just you and me. As soon as they plant the embryo in your body, you and I have to think about a third person -- that child. If you are anxious, depressed, suicidal, or anything like that, that child will suffer; and you and I can’t allow that, now can we?”

I shook my head. My god I really am going to have a baby -- a real live person.

“Good,” she went on. “I’m supposed to have you sign these forms and send you home, but you need therapy -- today.”

“Therapy?”

“I’ve been watching you the last week. I had some advanced notice of what they planned for you. I’ve been quite envious of the outfits you wear.”

I studied the RN, who looked quite professional and nicely dressed.

She touched me on the elbow. “You like your clothes, don’t you.”

I nodded.

“It shows,” she chuckled. “People who dress as exquisitely as you do, find great comfort in shopping. I’m telling you, for the health of your child you need to find something about this pregnancy that is positive, and then start working away from that until everything in your life seems peachy-keen. You owe that to the child who will be the product of what’s happening here.”

I nodded again. I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that child has every opportunity to be happy and healthy.

“When you leave here in a few minutes I want you to go directly to a mother-to-be dress shop and spend a small fortune of Universal’s money.”

I giggled. What a lovely idea!

I signed the forms; and then she smiled as she left.

After making Andy swear again he would keep working for Universal and see me through everything, I left — and went to Bong’s.

Leslie was there, when I came in, having coffee with Karyn. I quickly told them about my upcoming blessed event.

“You lucky son-of-a-gun,” Leslie said. “I would give an arm and a leg to have that opportunity.”

“Shhhhhh,” Karyn admonished, seemingly less enthused. “How do you feel about it, Denise?”

I took a moment to marshal all my thoughts. “I’m excited. I love babies. I’ll do whatever I have to, to make sure my baby is healthy.”

Karyn, Leslie, and I shared a group hug and a few tears.

“When will they impregnate you?” Karyn asked.

I bit my lip, trying to hold back any evil thoughts from my mind. “In a few weeks.”

“In a couple of months you’re going to need maternity clothes.”

I took a sharp breath. That’s what the nurse meant by a mother-to-be dress shop!

“Don’t look so startled,” Leslie said. “You’re going to be cute.”

“But,” I moaned, “maternity clothes are so. . .maternal.”

“Not necessarily,” Leslie argued. “I know of a maternity shop not too far from here that handles the kind of sexy, frothy, girly clothing you love.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Sexy? Frothy? Girly? What on earth are you talking about?”

Both women giggled.

“You’re too much,” Leslie said. “When we go shopping I pick out five or six items and you take one or two from that sampling, right?”

I agreed.

Leslie smirked. “Don’t you think I’ve noticed that every dress you pick is the most feminine of the group?”

I pouted a bit. “I always take the one that makes me look the best.”

“And who decides what dress makes you look the best?” Karyn asked.

I suddenly had to giggle. “I do. --- Okay you guys . . . lead me to the land of pink and flowery.”

***

The day finally came. They gave me a general anesthetic, so I was unconscious when they used assisted reproductive technology to implant the embryo.

The next thing I knew my nurse friend rubbed an ice cube against my lips. “Wake up, Sugar.”

“Uhnnnn.”

“Don’t move around too much; you need to be careful of the stitches, for awhile.”

I looked down at the mound above my waist. “I didn’t know there would be so much swelling.”

“Neither did I,” she said, with disgust. “Universal had one more trick up their sleeve I didn’t know about.”

“Huh.” Although I hadn’t become totally lucid, I could tell my nurse was very unhappy.

“They want you out terrorizing their male employees as quickly as possible, so they had the doctors put in a bag that’s somewhat like a breast implant.”

I giggled. Having another breast sounded funny.

“Oh, Honey,” she said. “When those drugs wear off you aren’t going to think it’s so funny. Your stomach is protruding as if you’re in your fourth month. Unless you carry that child quite high, you’re tummy is going to show quite a bulge.”

I drifted off to a dream about the Goodyear blimp sailing over a land of pink and flowery.

***

By the third month the ultrasound clearly showed my baby. During the sonograph the doctor asked, “Would you like to see the fetus?”

I corrected him immediately. “I’d love to see ‘my baby,’ doctor -- my ‘baby.’ ”

I had started to wear mostly wrap dresses. Leslie and Karyn found several top designers who had created maternity lines. I favored rose dresses with lots of ruffles, which made all of us giggle and me very happy. Every time I felt a little depression coming on I leaned on Andy and the others around me to find ways to change my mode for the better.

***

During the fourth month my doctor allowed me to listen to my baby’s heartbeat. I had several names picked out for a boy and a girl and had sworn my pediatrician to secrecy about the gender; even though he said he could tell already.

The doctors seemed to want an endless supply of blood to test and urine to analyze.

My modes changed on a dime, especially whenever I caught a glimpse of my profile.

Andy brought me fresh flowers daily to raise my spirits; the flowers helped more than I wanted to believe. One Friday night he actually took me to a restaurant. I wore my white crinkle dress. Its halter straps and empire line partially hid my gross tummy. After the third person told me how much I glowed, I began to believe them and started to enjoy myself. Of course, I stayed away from anything unhealthy on the menu and drank only fruit juice.

Andy got an indication of my world when I had to excuse myself three times to go to the bathroom. The evil scientists had inadvertently placed my “bulge sack” so that it pushed down on my bladder. I had that “joy” earlier in my pregnancy than other women. Despite using tons of Tummy Honey Stretchmark Butter and Belli Elasticity Belly Oil, no one could convince me I wouldn’t be marked for life.

Needless to say I had become a national cover-person, and the subject of a huge ethical debate.

***

During the fifth month my nurse persuaded the doctors to remove the insert they had put in to make me show early. Instead of being suddenly less whale-like, as I had imagined — I became depressed when I realized how gigantic I had become already, even without the sack.

Joyce dropped by and gave me a Maternity Nightie. I blushed fiercely when I realized it doubled as a nursing nightie. It allowed easy access to my breasts, which had grown in direct proportion to the amounts of hormones they had pumped into me.

When I walked through the various Universal plants, laboratories, and offices, I could feel the fear rise in the men, as they thought of what could happen to them.

The doctors assured me the baby couldn’t weigh more than a pound yet, but I imagined the little tyke to be about as heavy as a bowling ball.

Leslie came to visit and dropped a book accidentally. My baby jumped, the first time I had felt him be afraid of something. I talked gently and wished I could hold him in my arms to soothe his fears. Yes — in my mind I had become quite sure my baby is a he. The doctors hadn’t tipped their hands.

My back pains had become almost unbearable. I did yoga to stretch everything, which helped a lot.

***

We celebrated the beginning of the sixth month by going shopping. I found a maternity Little Black Dress made by Picchu. Since my feet had become slightly swollen, I bought a new pair of strappy heels to go with it. We went to a restaurant down by the pier where no one knew me. I kept thinking about how my mom had talked to me years ago of her joy when she had been pregnant.

***

Around the start of my eighth month Megan became a regular guest. It felt good to have my sister around. She took a ton of pictures of me, especially in a baby doll maternity dress she gave me as a gift. Made of a poly-blend, its short length was a welcome relief in the heat. To me it seemed like the most feminine thing in the world. That dress gave me an important psychological lift, in my world of foot salts and endless books to read on child-rearing.

The doctor told me that if my baby had to be born before full term there was a good chance of survival. I shushed the doctor and told him I was sure my baby could hear. He said the baby could hear but it would be like what you hear in a swimming pool, when you’re under water.

I became anxious when my baby quit kicking so hard, but the doctors said that was normal because the baby had much less room to move around.

My nurse spent a great deal of time talking to me about what kind of parental role I wanted to play. She helped me fantasize about positive moments I would have with my child. She brought in new mothers to show me how they interacted with their children. All of that helped my mental stability.

***

On my “due” date the doctors told me the baby would weigh somewhere between six and nine pounds. For men trying to pull off a physiological miracle I would have thought they could have been slightly more accurate in their prediction.

I had long since given up on maternity dresses and gone with roomy tops over elastic banded stretch pants. I felt great relief when I took off my maternity clothes for what I thought would be the last time — even though their replacement was a hospital gown.

My doctors took me to a birth center where they would have access to other specialist, if need be. I was placed under a general anesthetic for the birth. When I came around, I had become a goshdarn, 100% mother. The doctors deemed “Aaron” healthy in every way, and beautiful, -- the most beautiful little boy I had ever seen.

Twenty-two inches and seven pounds eight ounces of pure wonderment.

My heart filled with immense love; and I thought I might die from the pride that overtook me.

I wasn’t quite as fortunate with my own health. The Universal physicians hadn’t been prepared for how intrusive the placenta would be. It had become one with my body. Removing it took a fourteen-hour operation and great skill. I lost a tremendous amount of blood and my body was left quite weak.

I had been bed-ridden for the last three weeks of my pregnancy; and I would be required to stay in the hospital for a full week after the delivery.

The doctors had timed my lactation to start on my due date. When my milk came in I learned all about engorgement pain, which really didn’t seem all that bad -- more of a heaviness. I also learned about nipple pain, but all in all, providing Aaron such perfect nourishment was worth it.

I had Aaron pressed against my right breast when a soft knock on the door was followed immediately by Mom and Dad entering the room.

“Omigosh,” Mom gushed. “He’s beautiful.”

Dad harrumphed. “Denise is a ‘she’ now, dear. Remember we’re going to make sure we say it right.”

“I didn’t mean Denise,” Mom yelped. “Of course Denise is beautiful, she always was a beautiful child. I meant our grandson. He’s beautiful.”

“He sure is,” Dad agreed, “He sure is.”

Dad came over and kissed me gently on the forehead. Tears ran down his cheeks. “We were so wrong in so many ways. Can you forgive us?”

I nodded, unable to talk

Aaron fussed, which told me he was done. I placed him on my shoulder and gently burped him before giving him to his grandmother to hold.

“Any idea who the father is?” Dad asked in his blunt way.

I shook my head. “I don’t even know whose eggs they used. This is the first time in history a child was born without either a known father OR mother.”

“You’re the mother, Denise,” Mom said, “and I mean it. You’re absolutely darling. I should have raised you as a girl. I always said you were much too pretty to be a boy.”

“It’s funny,” I said, taking in the compliments in their eyes, and then sighing. “I know its coincidence, but I keep seeing things about Aaron that remind me of myself. His nose, his skin, the color of his eyes. . . .”

Dad gave Mom a cautious look. “She said we could tell Denise, if we wanted.”

“Who,” I demanded.

“Megan,” Mom replied quietly, so as not to disturb Aaron, who had gone to sleep on her.

Dad stood tall. “Your sister donated eggs for the . . . ahhh.”

“Really?” I asked.

“Really,” Mom said. “She’s so excited about this baby and you. You can’t believe the scrapbooks she’s put together for us. Your Dad has shown them to everyone we know and quite a few others we don’t.”

Dad nodded and kissed me again on the forehead. “I love you, Denise.

“I love you, too. Both of you.”

***

When I finally left, the hospital staff was delighted the media circus had moved on. Universal had arranged for us to stay in a secluded lake home. They also had my nurse help me through the first few weeks. I had read extensively about parenting while sitting at home growing my stomach, but during that awful moment when the hospital doors closed behind me I had every self-doubt in the world. I thought it might be postpartum depression, but the doctors said I had just experienced a little normal anxiety.

I had committed to being the best parent Aaron could ever have. Within a few weeks, I had settled into a daily routine with him. Universal had given me four months extended personal paid leave to be with Aaron. They had hundreds of photographs of me when I was nine-months pregnant. They even took pictures of me nursing my son, which I imagined posted on bulletin boards throughout the company.

On Aaron’s three-month birthday, Andy came to see me at my home.

“Home office is in a jam,” he said. “They’re coming under congressional investigation. All the publicity surrounding your pregnancy has blown up in their faces. They need you to tell the press your ‘true’ story.”

Having come this far, I knew Universal would stay close to form. “What’s my ‘true’ story?”

He shook his head in disgust before going on. “They want you to say you’ve been a woman all along. They want you to somehow get people to believe ‘the man having baby’ thing was a hoax you were forced into taking part in by an unsuccessful lab team who tried to salvage their jobs.”

“Andy,” I asked, “why on earth would I say that? I’ve got a few months left, and then I’m done with Universal. I’m away from them, and I will have no financial incentive to say or do anything, since I can’t sue them.”

“They can still fire you, which they won’t because of the public uproar that would occur. They’ve decided to offer a carrot. They’re willing to pay you five million dollars and get you the finest sex reassignment surgery money can buy.”

“Sex reassignment surgery? I’ll admit I’ve been giving it a lot of thought. I like being a woman. There’s no doubt I’m a better woman than I was a man. Five million dollars would do quite a bit to establish a good life for Aaron and me. It’s hard for a single mother.”

“That brings us nicely to what I really want to ask you today.” He knelt down on one knee and opened a small box containing a diamond ring. “Denise, will you marry me?”

“Marry you?”

“I love you, Denise; and I love our son.”

“I thought so,” I said. “He has your smile and eyes and hairline, and…. Andy, I love you too, but what if I don’t have the SRS?” I was sure I wanted to make myself a complete woman, but I wanted to hear his answer.

“That’s your decision. It makes no difference to me. It’s you I want to marry.” Andy’s eyes pleaded with me.

“Aren’t you afraid they’re going to call you Andy the Pervert?”

“They can call me anything they like. You’re the only person in the world that matters to me.”

Ever since I started taking all those hormones, I had been unable to stop myself from sobbing, after my lip turned to jelly.

Andy took me into his arms.

“Yes, Andy. Yes, I would love to be your wife.”

***

“Don’t measure yourself by what you have accomplished, but by what you should have accomplished with your ability.” — Frank Rooden

A year later, a congressional hearing subpoenaed me. I was granted immunity, and then gave my testimony for two days. I cheerfully told them several times that I was content with my new life. I had rejected Universal’s offer of five million to perjure myself. Universal had eventually offered $500,000 if I would go through SRS, plus they paid for the best physicians. They thought it would put them in a better position with Congress if I became a woman. It didn’t pay off for Universal, as Congress eventually revoked the Universal America Act of 2015

Universal Corporation later got broken up into fifteen separate regional companies by anti-trust action. The top management all paid heavy fines; and many were sent to prison for fraud, extortion, coercion, and conspiracy.

Andy and I are looking to adopt a girl in the near future. My doctors have told me there is no reason I can’t breastfeed her.

I recently took a class in cross-stitching and hung my first work on the wall. It’s a poem with small blue flowers circling it.

I am not what I ought to be,
Not what I want to be,
Not what I am going to be,
But I am thankful that
I am better than I used to be.

- Frank Rooden

The End

My sincerest apologies to John Wooden; who is a national treasure. His marvelous words are sprinkled through this story. The pyramid for success is also his; it has been slightly adapted. John Wooden was a fabulous player before becoming the most successful coach in college basketball history. Wooden was named College Player of the Year in 1932. The John Wooden-coached UCLA teams scaled unprecedented heights that no future organization in any sport is likely to approach. Under the masterful guidance of Wooden, the Bruins set all-time records with four perfect 30-0 seasons, eighty-eight consecutive victories, thirty-eight straight NCAA tournament victories, twenty PAC 10 championships, and ten national championships, including seven in a row.

What John Wooden has said is useful to us all, unless we interpret it in a way that supports goals that are detrimental to us, and those around us.

I have worked in corporate America for several decades. Although I think corporations are inefficient and risk-aversive, I don’t think they are inherently bad. Nor do I think religions are inherently bad. People make mistakes. They are capable of tremendous evil and have a history of interpreting very good ideas and concepts in ways that hurt everyone involved.

Thank you to those who helped me with this story. It was written based on a concept suggested on the FM board. Because this story might deeply offend some, I will not list everyone who helped with editing other than the brave Amelia. — Angela

Notes:

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Andrea Lena DiMaggio's picture

This reminds me of an old song...

...I owe my soul to the company store...I’ll do whatever I can to make sure that child has every opportunity to be happy and healthy. Didn't they have a program like this at Enron? Fascinating and entertaining...TG by a thousand little cuts? Thank you!


She was born for all the wrong reasons but grew up for all the right ones.
Possa Dio riccamente vi benedica, tutto il mio amore, Andrea
Crying is all right in its own way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later,
and then you still have to decide what to do. ― C.S. Lewis
Love, Andrea Lena

Rewritten Stories

For the last few days I've been posting stories to FM. I intend to post fifteen to twenty stories there over the next two months to spur sales of Doppler Press stories - proceeds going to BC.

Some of the stories are new. Some are stories that I've posted in the past on BC, but not on FM, so they're new to FM. Some are stories I posted in the past on both BC and FM, but have substantially updated and revised.

When I send the story to FM, I post the updated version on BC immediately

Exitus Acta Probat is one of my favorite stories. The revision added several thousand words. I took the advice of several people who commented on BC and FM to make revisions that I believe made it a much better story.

Erin suggested I post a comment when I do a revision so readers on BC can read the update versions.

The stories posted so far -- with their versions updated here -- have been:

Exitus Acta Probat
Do What You Wanna Do
Chelsea Drugstore
And It Feels So Good

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

Parallels

1984, originally "1948", is alive, well and being exposed quite nicely in fiction.

Anyone else reading "Universal Corporation" as Haliburton?

Jess curious...

Jess

"In this universe there are many strange interesting things. I like to think I am one of those Strange interesting things. "

"In this universe there are many strange interesting things. I like to think I am one of those Strange interesting things. "

Big issues!

You tackled some major ones here, but all in all the story's great, a nice mixture of intensity and smoothness. I won't say my thoughts on the issues brought up, cuz I don't wanna be the start of some big debate, but let's just say I was not put off by the story. Great stuff, keep it coming!

Thank you Kitn

A few weeks ago I did express my opinions - quite bluntly - on some of this. It didn't go well. I do much better communicating through fiction, hopefully.

Thank you for your comments.

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

Angela Rasch (Jill M I)

different

What do they say about absolute power...
Still I would find it hard to forgive dear old mom and dad so quickly. After all one of the big reason he became a mom was to protect the rest of the family.

----------
Jenna

Another great story, Angela

I just wanted to thank you for giving of your time and energy. For writing and sharing. I enjoyed the creativity of the 'set-up' the most, and I loved having Vaingirls drop by too. I liked the way Denise focused on the goal and gave it her all.. although I think that even John Wooden would have had a bit more to say to Denise's parents!

Love,
Diane

Love,
Diane

Oh wow! I'm FAMOUS!!!!!

Hi Angela- or is it Jill?

Anyway, thanks for making me the Good Guy in the story. In fact I know some men can pass (e.g. the Vegas show "girls") but they are the lucky few. Do you perchance read the "Dilbert" strip? The way the company was relentlessly waging war on their employees' morale and loyalty leads me to expect a lot of their people would bail as soon as their five-year term of slavery was over.

Anyway, it was a very interesting story; well-defined characters and an actual plot, as well as the TG elements we come to these sites for.
; )

Andy

Wasn't going to read this story

But Angela you do write a fine tale, so I ventured in. Yes ... I'm glad I did, it was an interesting story. The quotes are good ones, but like everything, each person is capable of applying it's meaning in different ideas.

Thank you Angela

Hugs, Fran

Hugs, Fran

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