The Pretenders

The Pretenders
By Ricky
There's a magic in the summer woods, a peace and tranquility that soothes the soul and calms the mind. When mother and daughter meet father and son, romance - and just a little bit of sweet revenge - ensue.

There's a magic in the summer woods, a peace and tranquility that soothes the soul and calms the mind. Is it any wonder that the lush Catskill region of New York is such a popular place to vacation? The woods and lakes are dotted with campgrounds and resorts of every description, from unimproved trailheads for the backpacker to lush recreational palaces with gourmet dining and first rate entertainment.

Thus it was that we find young Mike and his father, Chuck, wedged into a car on their way to a summer in the woods. As the drive lengthened and the roads narrowed there was a slightly strained silence in the car. Partly it was simple exhaustion, partly it was the nervous effort of father and son to find some common ground, not an easy task for a divorced man and his 17 year old son.

Mike was a good kid and Chuck did he best to be a good father. The problem was one of semantics, the word 'good' had rather different meanings to Mike, Chuck and ex-wife Karen. Mike lived with his mother and was a good student, active in the Civics club and the band at school; things that made both his parents quiet justifiably proud. The rather conservative Karen continually complained about Mike's current appearance. The more radical Chuck, on the other hand, considered it a sign of healthy personal expression.

Chuck was always thrilled to spot his son on the six o'clock news, which wasn't all that hard with his gangly height, purple hair, gold earrings, grunge-look clothing and gaudy protest sign. It was at times like these that both Chuck and Karen realized just how hard it was to raise a child, especially when they stopped being children and developed an identity of their own.

The realization that his son was approaching adulthood had snuck up on him, he suddenly become conscious that Mike would turn 18 in a few weeks and later this fall would start college. Chuck rearranged his schedule, called in a few favors and used up the vacation days at his day job so he could take the summer off and get to know this person who was his son.

They were both a little nervous about what would happen, but they loved each other and shared the passion that had been a major cause of the divorce: an abiding love of music. Karen just couldn't cope with the uncertainty of a musician's life, the late hours and erratic income. Part of the reason the car was so full was the two guitars, banjo, mandolin, saxophone and standup bass that competed with the suitcases for space. True to form Chuck's guitar was acoustic and Mike's was electric, not that Chuck hadn't tested the capacity of the amp when the mood was right and the groove was hot. They were both looking forward to jamming together on those long, sultry summer nights.

The ride came to an end at last and Mike was off to the pool within seconds of unloading the last case from the car into the cabin. Chuck followed at a more sedate pace, lounging around the pool where both enjoyed the water and the scenery, both natural and human, for the rest of the afternoon.

There was no doubt that they were father and son, both were lean and fit without being overly muscular. Mike's 5'10 was a couple of inches over his father's height. If you could somehow ignore the hair color, the younger man was a more youthful copy of the older. Chuck kept his hair long, as befits a free spirited musician, and had lately taken to having it permed — vanity driving him to conceal the receding hairline that his naturally straight hair made all too obvious. Mike, too, had long hair, but his was spiked at the top and owed it's natural waves to his mother's genetics. Both of them were completely at home around the pool, soaking up the sun

It didn't take too long for Mike to become surrounded by a goodly number of scantily clad females, he was a good looking kid, after all. Chuck watched with the quintessential, bittersweet expression of a parent watching the mating dance of their young. He and Karen had once strutted much like this, just where did they go wrong? He just hoped that Mike did a better job than he had.

That evening, as the light began to fade, Chuck felt the muse calling and opened his guitar case. He sat in a chair in front of the cabin and noodled around a bit, letting his fingers stretch and get the feel of the instrument. He was somewhat surprised when Mike came down the path to the cabin, accompanied by one of the afternoon's water nymphs. She was slight and had long, blonde hair, possessing a waif-like quality that contrasted greatly with his violet haired, revolutionary son. Chuck was even more surprised when Mike offered the nymph a seat, brought out the bass and began to play along.

Chuck took off on an old Bluegrass tune with Mike swinging in counterpoint to his syncopated fretwork. The nymph, who was known as Eve, kept tapping her shapely toe and obviously enjoying the music. When Chuck shifted to the banjo the nymph looked a question at him and motioned to the guitar. Words were unnecessary, Chuck simply nodded and soon the three of them were churning out some fine old time grass. Trust his boy to pick a good one before he had even settled in for the night.

The took a break and Mike set up his electric axe, adjusting several small boxes until the tone was reminiscent of Wes Montgomery. The mood became more mellow and jazzy, with Eve handling the big bass with an easy grace that belied her small stature. They had become completely immersed in the music until Chuck noticed a striking woman in a colorful, flowing skirt and embroidered peasant blouse approaching their cabin. She danced fluidly to the music they were making, her body providing a visual counterpoint to the melody. Eve's mother, wisely following her ears, had located her wayward daughter. She waited in silent appreciation until they worked their way to the end of the tune.

"Trust my daughter to home in on the best musicians around. I'm sorry I left my fiddle back at the cabin, I'd love to sit in."

"The night is still young, ma'am." responded Chuck. "If this young woman gets her talent for you then I promise not to move an inch until you return. I'll even offer to continue as chaperone to these two musical miscreants until you can take over the job yourself. By the way, I'm Chuck and this is my son Mike."

"Ellie, Ellie Miller —and if you think you can keep Eve under control then you will have succeeded where all others have failed before you!"

"Mother!"

"Daughter!"

"Oh, Brother!" was Mike's contribution.

"Wow, a family spat and we've hardly even met. Nice going, gang!" Chuck deadpanned.

"Mother, get your violin and bring my flute, will you? These guys are pretty good. Let's see how they do with some classical music, shall we?

As if a session man as good as Chuck couldn't turn in a creditable performance no matter what the genre. That night set the tone for much of the vacation, father and son becoming close companions to mother and daughter. During the day the young set took advantage of the more exciting activities offered by the resort along with their many compatriots. Chuck and Ellie increasingly found themselves together as they shared many of the same interests. Chuck became fascinated with the free spirited woman who appeared to posses an inexhaustible wardrobe of long, colorful skirts and dresses. She was a splash of color and class that stood out among the casually dressed patrons of the resort. They gradually came to spend most of their time together.

Evenings were filled with music, the four of them exploring how to mix their disparate musical backgrounds into a harmonious whole. Ellie came from a classical background, as did Eve, but the younger woman also enjoyed jazz improvisation. Mike was equally at home with Punk, jazz and the Bluegrass he learned from his father. Chuck, a thoroughly seasoned session man, was the glue that bound them together. His vast experience with every conceivable musical style allowing him to build musical bridges that the others utilized to create some truly unique sounds. In only a few weeks they grew quite close both musically and personally. They celebrated Mike's 18th birthday as a family would, with cake and candles in the resort dining room.

Ellie, who played professionally in a string quartet, had to leave most weekends for gigs, but Mike and Eve hardly noticed, young love being so overpowering that the antics of their parents were of little interest. Chuck, for his part, certainly did notice, feeling thoroughly bereft when Ellie was gone. He chided himself at these times. Surely he was too old for a summer romance.

This all led to a good bit of father and son banter, both of them feeling a little awkward. They speculated endlessly on the nature of romance and femininity. One might expect Chuck would instruct his son in the ways of women from his more experienced point of view, but he had more sense than that. After all, they were in this situation because Chuck couldn't figure out how to live with Mike's mother.

---

Ellie, in her wisdom, didn't give Chuck much warning. Shortly before the 4th of July she invited him to come with her for one of her holiday performances. Chuck's heart leapt, but…

"What about the kids? Should we leave them alone for the weekend?"

"Chuckie darling, they aren't going to do anything with us gone that they haven't been doing with us here. Really, you men are so naive sometimes!"

Chuck sputtered and gawked a bit, as befits a trusting man who is unable to see the obvious.

"You really are so charming. Don't you talk to Mike about what's happening in his life?… No?… You silly man, we're going to have to work on your emotional side, get you in touch with your feelings. You really should be able to share with your son when something as important as his first time happens.

"Eve told me all about how they celebrated Mike's birthday, how sweet and tender Mike was when they made love the first time. You've managed to raise a fine and gentle son, darling. What we're going to do is give them a chance to stay together after they make love instead of having to spend the night in a lonely, solitary, bed. I hope you'll be as sweet with me tonight after the concert. I'd hate to have to tell Eve you weren't as good a lover as your son."

So OK, Chuck was a bit slow in some areas, but give the guy a break. He had dated occasionally since the divorce but, truth to tell, he really hadn't had time to come to terms with it yet. Since Mike lived mostly with his mother he hadn't really had to cope with the hormone charged teenage dating scene directly; he still clung to the image of moral rectitude a parent cherishes in their children despite evidence of their own teenage experiences.

Perhaps this is nature's way of continuing the species. If he had failed to notice the glow that suddenly emanated from Mike and Eve in the last few days, he had also failed to detect the increasingly direct signals Ellie had been sending. Ellie, being a practical woman, had given up on subtlety.

They arrived at the theater well before the performance and Ellie invited him into her dressing room. She closed the door and shamelessly stepped out of her skirt and removed her blouse.

"Nice. Very nice. Do you do always color coordinate your underwear with your skirts?" Ellie wore a bright red bra and panty set in almost the same tones as the red in her skirt.

"I know a good way for you to find out, darling. Perhaps you could investigate the subject for the next week or two and draw your own conclusion."

"Short of rifling through your lingerie drawers, there's only one way to answer my question. I don't know which would be more fun, though."

"I knew it wouldn't be too hard to get you into my drawers. Do you have a preference between bikinis and briefs?"

"I prefer female clothing to be as brief as possible, my dear."

"Pull your tongue in, dear. You'll need it later and I don't want to have to mop the floor in here."

"Mmmph mumble gurgle!"

'Wiseass. Here, help me with the bra hooks, will you?"

"Yes. Ma'am! At your service, ma'am."

Chuck was pleased he hadn't lost his touch with those devilish little hooks women insisted on using to bind their mammaries. She removed the bright red bra and replaced by one in plain white. It was quickly covered with a simple white blouse atop a long, black skirt.

"Where did all the color go?" Chuck queried. "I feel like I've suddenly landed in Kansas."

"You should talk, with your khaki shorts and bland T-shirts all the time. Want me to loan you one of my skirts, sweetie?"

"That wasn't quite what I had in mind. Remember, this is the first time I've seen you dressed for work."

"Not to mention undressed before work. Just remember what's under the skirt and dream about it while I'm playing."

"Hummm… I hadn't realized classical music could be so erotic!"

---

The concert was superb, of course, and afterward Chuck found out that classical musicians like to get together after a concert and jam just as much as any other type of musician does. He even stepped in on the bass, lending a different sense of rhythm to the proceedings. It was very late, or perhaps very early was more appropriate, when they returned to Elle's apartment. Despite their earlier banter and Chuck's vivid imagination during the performance, they were simply too tired to enjoy lovemaking right then, so they readied themselves for sleep instead.

"My, my, lover! You do know about color after all. Those are some of the sexiest PJs I've ever seen." Ellie whistled as she stroked the green silk of Chuck's nightwear. "You're sexier than I am with that hair. Sorry, but all I have is plain white cotton, I guess I'll have to go shopping so you don't outshine me tomorrow. Now turn off the light and hold me so I know just where to find you in the morning."

On a Wednesday his year, the 4th obstinately refused to occur close enough to extend the weekend. They woke sometime after noon, and crawled out of bed some long and languid time later.

"That was some performance, darling." commented Ellie. "Do they give Grammys for this sort of thing?"

"Not unless someone composes a soundtrack for it."

"I think that's the Oscars. Well, it deserves some sort of tribute. Here!" She flung the tiger striped panties she had just taken out of her bureau at him.

"What do I do with these?"

"Add them to your collection. Hang them on the wall next to your gold records."

"I'm not into collectibles and I don't have any gold records. Besides, it's platinum these days."

"I thought Mike was the one who was into Heavy Metal. You can put them on if you want, that way I'll have something interesting to see when I check your underwear. Why should you have all the fun? Close your eyes a minute so you can have a surprise later."

He complied.

"So get dressed already, I'm hungry!"

He complied again, thinking it was a good thing Ellie had wide hips.

---

Since there was no food in the refrigerator they went out to eat, sharing a booth in the back of Ellie's favorite neighborhood eatery. The owner greeted her with profuse attention, bowing low and congratulating her on last night's performance. He was only too glad to serve them a belated breakfast, his grin growing even wider as he winked in knowing approval at the newly minted lovers. Romantic music soon burst forth from the speakers to accompany their repast. It was an altogether memorable meal!

Ellie enthusiastically took Chuck by the hand and led him through the streets of the city until they reached a small apparel shop. She was once again greeted like a long lost relative whose wishes were to be considered Commands From On High. Chuck had to wonder ruefully if had chosen the wrong genre of musical endeavor. He made a very good living and had a sterling reputation in his circles, but he had never once had the proprietor of a small shop practically slavering over him.

Ellie seemed determined to model every sexy piece of nightwear the shop contained, but Chuck didn't even consider objecting. Ellie had a fine body, no doubt about it, but she understood a woman approaching her 40s, no matter how fit or well endowed, was not going to do justice to the see-through nothings most men would envision at such a showing. Instead, she modeled more conservative garments, rich in texture and cunningly cut to suggest what wasn't seen.

Chuck's eyes lit up at the sight of a soft pink satin lounging set, the top wrapped around itself and tied about her waist. Floral embroidery adorned the edges of the blouse, drawing the eye to the places a woman wanted eyes to alight when wearing such a come-hither invitation. On a whim Chuck added a pair of matching bunny slippers to the ensemble, which earned him an enthusiastic kiss. He was surprised to find a second copy in powder blue on the counter when he returned.

"Better get some blue slippers for yourself, lover. I want us to match properly tonight." She turned to the proprietor. "Cindy, this miscreant had the nerve to complain that my professional attire is too plain when he seems to own nothing more interesting than a safari suit. He refused my offer to loan him one of my skirts, so what would you suggest as an appropriately colorful outfit under the circumstances?"

"Such a shame, he would look absolutely stunning in a skirt. They're the coming thing in men's fashions, you know — several of the Italian designers are including them in their lines this fall. However, if you want color that wouldn't work; they're sticking to the boring colors men's suits traditionally come in. "Color, you say… I think might work."

She went to a rack of blouses and selected a long waisted tunic.

"Yellow will look very good on you and the wide lapels give it a nice flare, don't you think?"

Ellie admired the subtle pattern in the silky fabric, reminiscent of Japanese needlework, while Cindy bustled around in a creative fog. "I assume this is for the concert tonight?" Ellie nodded. "So you want something a bit fancy but not outrageous. Such a shame about the skirt. Well, this line runs to slim hips so it should be suitable." She rifled through a row of slacks. "Such a lovely shade of eggplant, don't you think, Ellie? You are secure enough to have your companion overshadow you at the performance? Here, try these on, dear." She handed him the clothes as if dressing up a man in her shop was an everyday occurrence.

Chuck had to admit the outfit looked pretty good on him. Not his usual style, but not bad at all. Did he get a little thrill in putting on women's clothes for the first time? Well, not really. Maybe an expert in fashion could have told you they were designed for a woman, but his outfit was nothing that would particularly stand out on the sidewalks of New York City.

They picked up some food for the next day's breakfast and Chuck spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing while Ellie practiced. The concert that night was quite a large affair, with a formal reception afterward that was a far cry from the friendly gathering of the evening before. The details might have been different but Chuck knew the form — schmooze with the power brokers, nibble at the buffet, gossip with the right people, drop a hint here or there about future opportunities, and avoid the inevitable oddballs if you could.

He watched Ellie receive the deference due the night's star, chatted with a few people curious about who he was but remained perfectly anonymous in the milling crowd. He was not miffed, he knew well this what Ellie had to do so he contented himself with people watching.

As the evening wound down he found himself seated next to Ellie at last, his hand resting comfortably in hers as they chatted with the other guests. They had just about decided to leave when a wave of disturbance approached them. Ellie had the look of a small animal searching for her den as a thoroughly formidable woman bore down on them like a force of nature

"Ellie! I had begun to despair of ever finding you again. That agent of yours is simply impossible! I have a job for you and he won't even return my phone calls, the louse!"

"How wonderful, Lyudmilla! I shall have to congratulate Albert for carrying out my instructions." There was a flinty tone in her voice Chuck had not heard before, destined to draw sparks when applied to this steel-spined woman.

"That Man!" The emphasis on his maleness was richly evident. "I explained to him that I simply must book you to open the Womyn's Conference but the creature simply wouldn't listen to me. He kept prattling on about you being on vacation and not accepting any further bookings."

"As well he should, for I am on vacation. If I hadn't agreed to this concert long ago my friend and I," she indicated Chuck with a wave, "would at this moment be relaxing in the Catskills, watching the stars roll by and making some lovely music with our children."

"Then I must appeal to you as one womyn to another, madam!

Chuck felt himself become the center of attention, an unwelcome feeling since he had quickly come to share Ellie's obvious distaste for the overbearing woman before him.

"I simply can't hold open the booking any longer and I am determined to have her as a part of the festival. You simply must make Ellie understand the importance of this conference to every womyn in the world! Surely after what you have suffered under the Patriarchy you can appreciate how you, and every other womyn, must do their part to throw off the shackles of the past!"

"Her presence, as one who has triumphantly battled the Patriarchy to become the preeminent artist in her field is essential! Her shining example and wondrous talent shall be an inspiration to every womyn on the planet. We cannot do without her!"

Chuck was struck speechless and felt himself pressed, as if by the inexorable force of a rocket blasting into the firmament, into his seat by the sheer vigor of Lyudmilla's oration. Her Russian accent becoming more pronounced as she stood before them in high rhetorical dudgeon, proclaiming her feminist sentiments with ringing condemnation.

A small part of his brain, that which was not trying to filter out the jargon, was examining the phrase "one woman to another" (he couldn't be expected to hear the spelling, could he?). He turned to Ellie and watched a wicked grin spread over her countenance as she, too, considered the implications of Lyudmilla's misidentification.

"Perhaps I have been hasty, Lyudmilla. As I did say, my ah, (a very slight and thoroughly intentional hesitation freighted the next word with meaning) friend and I have been developing a quite unique repertory with our children. The more I think of it the more I become convinced your conference would be a most meaningful venue to hold our first public performance together.

"You are aware of my professional stipend, Lyudmilla? I'm sure you realize that, as a professional womyn (Ellie knew the spelling of the word when in Lyudmilla's presence only too well!) I must maintain my professional integrity despite my personal sympathies to a cause. I will speak to Albert immediately and leave the financial arrangements in his capable hands."

---

They made it as far as the elevator with their dignity intact. As the chrome of the doors swallowed the last, pale sliver of light from the hallway they turned, faced each other and fell down laughing. That's not a rhetorical description. It started with an impish smile on Ellie's face, which was answered by a low chuckle on Chuck's part. Ellie giggled, Chuck guffawed, each driving the other on to new heights (or should it be depths?) of laughter until they collapsed on the floor of the little moving room.

This was deeply troubling to the couple who entered the car on the third floor, their guidebook had described this hotel in such glowing terms! Well, Mother had told them that the city was a Wicked Place, perhaps she was right after all. They exited quickly on the ground floor as Chuck and Ellie struggled to compose themselves. They had an impromptu tour of the basement before they were sufficiently recovered to stagger, leaning drunkenly on one another, across the lobby and into the night.

"That woman has always driven me completely out of my mind! Ellie spoke when she regained control of her diaphragm. "She means well, but she has the social skills of a tree toad and the tenacity of a leech. The nicest thing about the last few weeks, besides you, darling, was that I didn't have to cope with the likes of her and could let Albert make the excuses."

"Well, you certainly proved yourself up to the task of intimidating her. I'm sorry to say I took an instant dislike to her and I'm glad she is out of our lives so quickly. That was masterful!"

"Well, at least she's Albert's problem for now and we don't have to cope with her for the next six weeks."

"Huh?"

"Girlfriend, you heard me commit us to perform at her festival as clearly as anyone else in the room. One does not renege on a professional engagement if one intends to keep working regularly. I hoped you were aware of the 'womyn-spelled-with-a-y only' policy at such an event when you so graciously encouraged me to accept, but frankly I was so pissed off I didn't care. I, along with my lesbian lover and our two female children have a gig and by God we're going to show them just what the power of music can do!"

"Ellie! I'm a musician, not an actor, there's no way in hell that I could pull it off!"

"Think about it a minute, lover. You have your hair permed regularly (by the way, it's time for another visit, the straight part is getting a little too obvious), the only clothing you are presently wearing that wasn't made for a female is your shoes and socks, and you convinced a radical, flaming feminist of your sex by just sitting on a couch and looking like yourself. You're a natural, darling!"

"Darling woman, you didn't set this all up just to see me wearing your skirt, did you?"

"Sweetie pie, Lyudmilla is a primal force, subject only to those laws of nature she deigns to acknowledge. Even the Almighty couldn't have arranged that little scene, although I have to admit I'm going to enjoy seeing you in a skirt at her little get-together. I guess I'll just have to settle for those matching PJs and some serious sex until that happens. Sound like a plan, lover?

"How did I get into this, anyway?"

"I think it was the 'serious sex' part."

"Oh…."

---

You'll have to pardon Chuck for trying to put off the inevitable, he simply hadn't a clue as to how to tell his son that for the next six weeks they were going to become mother and daughter. He was given a short reprieve when they returned to the resort because the younger types were off on some organized adventure in the woods. It wasn't until after dinner, during the now traditional family jam session that he ran out of excuses.

"You know, I think we're sounding pretty damn good together." This brought a chorus of general agreement. "So good, in fact, Ellie has managed to book us a gig."

"Mother! You didn't!"

"I surely did, and I'm sure by now Albert has extracted enough gelt from Lyudmilla to cover our expenses for the entire summer vacation. I let her know quite explicitly that a professional woman does not give discounts for her services as a matter of principle, and we are all thoroughly professional.

"Lyudmilla? I don't believe it. How could you possibly have anything to do with that woman?" Eve was incredulous.

This was the opening Chuck had been hoping for, so he proceeded to recount yesterday's shopping expedition and last evening's meeting in glowing detail. Not that it needed much polishing to bring out the low comedy of the scene, but by the time he got to the part about being Ellie's more-than-girlfriend his son was beside himself with laughter.

"Well, what could I do? I couldn't open my mouth without spoiling the scene, and I have seldom wanted to do anything more than let that pompous woman make a complete fool of herself. Ellie, I think it would be best if you and Eve would move in with us, we have the bigger cabin and we're going to need some serious, full time help to pull this off. Eve, I don't suppose you would object too much to sharing a room with your new sister, would you?"

Chuck was inordinately pleased with that last bit, which had occurred to him in an unexpected flash of revelation as he spoke. He couldn't have stacked the deck better if he tried.

Eve put down her instrument and took Mike's hand. "Wow, I always wanted a sister with purple hair! Mom, if you let her do it then I want mine international orange. Won't that be kewel as hell, Michelle?

"I can hardly wait to see the look on Mom's face when… Uh, Mom? I hope you have a spare room for me because when my other Mom finds out I may need a place to stay."

"How's she going to find out? We're up here in the middle of nowhere and she's the most conservative, non-feminist, non-musical woman I can think of. Relax so — uh, Michelle."

"Carrie, does your ex watch the six o'clock news?"

"Religiously, but so what?"

"You don't seem to realize that Lyudmilla's 'little gathering' is a weeklong national convention? We're talking Carnegie Hall here, lover. How else do you think I could extract all that money from her so easily? I just hope Albert can get a good deal on the residuals, because there's a enormous sales potential if we do this right. Not bad for a first gig, eh?"

"Car…neg…" Words failed him. Mike had acquired an expression of mingled awe and pain.

"Well not really Carnegie Hall, but it comes awful close. You look really cute when you try to feint."

"Jeez Dad, what did you get us into?"

"Deep shit, it seems - son!"

"Carrie, a proper lady doesn't use such language, especially in the presence of young people. You know we have something special going here with the music, I've never felt quite so at home with other musicians before and I could never have imagined stretching myself into so many different forms. You two have taught me to let go of my fear and try to do things I have never done before and I have loved every single minute of it. Chuck, the way you have picked up my kind of music is phenomenal, I couldn't ask for a better accompanist — and believe me I've had plenty! I never would have believed you could play a Vivaldi concerto on mandolin and fiddle. God! I never would have dreamed I would call a violin a fiddle! So trust me on this. Please."

Father and son looked at each other. "Son, when we came up here I wanted to get to know you better, just a chance to be with you for a while and enjoy each other's company. I wasn't expecting romance, not for either of us, I wasn't going to put together another group and start doing gigs. All I can say is that all my life I have found music is the most powerful force in human emotion, that sharing music with someone is as intimate as sex in some ways." He paused to take Ellie's hand. "This is such a crazy situation I really can't advise you what to do, but if Ellie and I don't end up married I'm going to be very surprised."

"Maybe you can think of it as stage dressing, heaven knows there are enough rockers that wear dresses on stage. Maybe you're going to learn something about me I hadn't known about myself, but I think we have something special in our music and I am just perverse enough to enjoy pulling off a joke like this one. I intend to put on a dress and let Ellie teach me enough to make it believable for a few hours on stage in front of the toughest audience I could ever face.

"I'm not," he continued, "going to think any less of you if you don't want to join me because I realize you're still learning how to be a man right now. I can still remember how I felt after I met your mother and we discovered just what sex was all about. It may be too much to ask you to put that on hold and play at being a woman; that's an awful lot to ask to indulge your father in what really boils down to an elaborate joke. So it's up to you, Mike. Your choice, freely made and I'll still love you just as much no matter what. Take some time and talk with Eve, because she's a part of this and it wouldn't be right to leave her out."

"That's one mistake I made with your mother, I was so into my own career and what I needed to do to get where I wanted to go I didn't consider her feelings like I should have. By the time I figured that out it was too late for us, so let me be an old fogy and tell you not to do that to anyone you're serious about. Hell, don't ignore the feelings of any of your fiends, for that matter, and you'll be better off.

"Ellie, will you join me in a snack up at the lodge? We have a little talking to do ourselves." They arose and walked arm in arm up the path, leaving the two young lovers to themselves.

As they watched them walk off arm in arm, Mike was looking more than slightly shell shocked. "And to think just a couple of hours ago I was worried about what Dad would do when he found out I was sleeping with you. Is your mother always as crazy as this? I mean my dad has done some gonzo things before, but not like this."

"If I didn't know her style on the violin so well I would be willing to swear some alien just took over her body and or something. I mean, she's had like three dates since I was about seven years old and now they're talking about getting married? How weird can you get?

"How about forming an all girl group with me and my dad? You classical types must have a unique definition of what being normal is."

"Watch it, buster. When someone with purple hair starts to tell me about what's normal I get more than a little skeptical."

"Oh…. Aw, Eve. What are we going to do? You're the nicest girl I ever met, and I'm not saying that just because we went to bed together. I mean, playing together is just great, and getting paid to do it would be a dream come true. But if this pretending to be a girl business isn't weird then I don't know what is!"

"Tell me about it! The only thing is, you haven't met Lyudmilla yet or you'd know just how much Mom and I would like to stick it to her. I had to suffer through dozens of lectures from her when I was growing up because she is a 'Patron of the Arts' and you simply don't offend the people who supply the money and have the ear of the producers."

"If I used makeup I was catering to male lust, if I played duet with a boy I got a stern lecture on not letting him dominate my art. Lyudmilla means well but she is a pretentious man-hater without any sense of balance. Mike, you can't possibly know how good pulling this off would feel!"

"Jeez — she sounds like my Mom. She can be so totally tightassed sometimes. You really want to do this, don't you?

"Yeah, Mike, I want to do it if you can stand it."

"Well… I mean, do I have to have boobs and everything?"

"I have boobs and you like them well enough. You stare at them all the time, anyway."

"Not all the time. I close my eyes when I suck your nip-. Ow, that hurts!"

"Baby, you are going to learn what it feels like to have every man you meet stare into your cleavage and try to undress you with his eyes. That is if you ever want me to suck on that organ Lyudmilla better not know about!"

"Think we got time before they get back?"

"Weren't you listening, Sis? We're sharing a room from now on, and I intend to move in tonight. Besides, the rubbers are over in the old cabin and we're here."

"We don't need rubbers if you're going to be sucking my… Ow!"

"Liberal parents are a pretty good deal, aren't they? I told you Mom would find a way to get your father to let us sleep together. Mike, I think she likes your Dad a lot. There haven't been many men in her life and this is the first she hasn't tried to keep me from knowing she had a lover. Damn, she even smiled all goofy when your dad talked about marriage!"

"Yeah, and my dad was doing this riff about 'summer romance' and not loosing my head when I started seeing you. I should have taped it so I could play it back to him. Not that him and your mom getting together is a bad idea, but it's going to take some getting used to."

"Ain't it though? We're all going to have to get used to a lot of changes."

"Will you still love me if my boobs are bigger than yours?"

He ducked fast enough this time that he wasn't hurt.

---

Breakfast the next morning was attended by two sets of lovers: two men trying not to be inordinately proud of the women they accompanied or embarrassed the other man even knew that they had a lover. Then there were two women who kept grinning at each other. Their mating dance seemed to amuse the other guests in the lodge, but they hardly noticed.

On the walk back to the cabin Chuck put the question he had been thinking of all morning. "Well, son, are we going to go through with this concert?"

"Sure, Mom. I always wanted a sister. Can I borrow your panties like Eve does with Ellie? They both have pretty good taste, you know."

"So I've noticed. If I had any panties you would be welcome to wear them any time."

"Don't let him kid you, Michelle, Carrie loved wearing my tiger stripes the other day, didn't you lover? Had quite a tiger in his tank too, as I recall."

The younger set didn't get that obscure, ancient reference, but Carrie began to purr very loudly.

"OK, Eve." Chuck said, "We're going to do it, but just how are we going to do it? I mean, I haven't a clue as to how to start."

"The first thing we do is call your hairdresser, Carrie, and see if she can squeeze in four people tomorrow. Then I call Jeffery, who is a wizard at makeup and effects. He runs a shop that you would never believe if you haven't worked with people who consider gender no more permanent than hair color. I'm sure he'll know where to begin. When he's done, just think how pleased Cindy will be to pick out skirts for you and Michelle. All of us for that matter, we'll certainly want matching outfits for the performance. I'm thinking something ultra-feminine so Lyudmilla will have a perfect kitten when she sees us."

Carrie struggled for words, but lost. Michelle had a look that I won't even begin to describe, because I can't find the words, either.

"It's a good thing we're going to live together so we can use the rent we won't pay on the other cabin for shopping. You do like going shopping, don't you Carrie, Michelle?"

What had they gotten in to? The score was Women - 2, soon to be former men - 0.

"You'll learn." purred Eve sweetly. Mommy, I still want orange hair. Michelle and I want to do a Punk duet and I can't have boring old blonde hair for that!"

"Ellie, did you ever read those SF stories about some poor sucker who creates something that seems harmless but gets out of control until…."

---

Jeffery was hard pressed to conceal his amusement, "No corsets, no girdles, do you expect me to wave a magic wand and use pixie dust?"

"Jeffery, we will be singing." scolded Ellie. "We have to be able to breathe! Perhaps later, if we need to do a photo shoot, you can indulge yourself, but for now you must help us to look convincing on the stage."

"Such a demanding woman, why do I keep her for a friend!" He threw up his hands theatrically. "Very well, we shall start with a thin but opaque white lining so there will be no worry about missing cleavage for any of you. Or do I have to simulate cleavage as part of this charade?"

"Not at this point, Jeffry. If things work out well then we may want to hang our boobs in front of Lyudmilla's nose, but that's in the future."

"Then, gentlemen, you must undress so I may see your legs and take your measurements."

Father and son stared at each other.

"C'mon, Mom," Michelle teased. "They've seen us undressed before, haven't they? I won't say a thing about tiger stripes, either."

They began unbuttoning buttons and were soon standing there in panties.

"Nice lace there, daughter." Chuck couldn't resist the jibe.

"Yeah, Eve has good taste. So do you, Ellie. "

Ellie had the good grace to blush.

"The leg hair has to go, gentlemen, but I'm sure you can handle that with the help of your lovely ladies. Pardon me if I examine your legs. Purely professional, I assure you. Turn around, please."

They spun around for him.

"I've seen worse. Hemline just above the knee, I believe. You have rather nice knees, you know."

"You want to arouse Lyudmilla's indignation but not provoke her to a tirade on stage, if I understand you properly. Gentlemen, I assure you that you will not be the only possessors of a Y chromosome in the hall that night, for I would not miss this show for the world."

"Very well," He continued. "You will be exerting yourself on stage Michelle? Punk music is highly energetic, no?"

"You could say that." Michelle replied dryly.

"Of course. Then a substantial brassiere is called for to support the animation you will project. For you, a D cup would be called for, when I am done you will be a substantial woman and should have a substantial bosom. Eve, darling — would you like to indulge yourself and allow me to enhance your perfectly lovely and adequate breasts somewhat so there will not be too much disparity between you?"

"Jeffery, you say the most lovely things." Eve cooed. "Poor Michelle was afraid I wouldn't love her if her boobs were bigger than mine. You've just saved our love affair from an untimely end!"

"All in a day's work, my dear. Simply pay the bill promptly and I will perform miracles on demand. Which brings us to you, Carrie."

"Thank you ever so much, Jeffery."

"My pleasure. For you, my dear, a B cup will be adequate, unless you have an urge to, shall we say, enlarge your possibilities. Ellie? You are not feeling left out are you?"

"Thank you Jeffery, but I am quite satisfied with what nature provided me"

"Of course. Now ladies, while I find the appropriate bits and pieces please join your companions in their current state of dress. I want to be sure the brassieres will complement all of you equally. Please be assured I never make passes at my customers, you are quite safe with me."

"Jeffery," Ellie drawled slowly, "We both know that if you haven't made a pass at Michelle or Carrie you certainly would not make a pass at me or my daughter."

"I'm struck! I bleed from the viper's tongue!"

"You'd bleed from Dennis' fingernails if he found out you made a pass at anyone."

"You know me far too well. Disrobe, oh foul vixen. I am properly chastened!"

He left them and the two natural women removed their blouses and bras, much to the appreciation of their semi-naked companions. Jeffery returned and passed out wide banded, silky white bras liberally adorned with lace to each of them. He graciously aided the two novice women in snapping the hooks behind their backs.

"If you will notice, ladies, Eve chose to snap the hooks over her delectable belly and rotate her brassiere into place, a method that might stand you in good stead as you learn the ropes. For now, you will notice that the breast forms will fit snugly in the cups, with the straps adjusted so they do not hang loosely. A natural woman would use an underwire to support and thrust her breast forward, but I am once again afraid that will not work in your case. We will rely on the rather heavy band to keep the forms in their proper place. Eve, my dear, your right breast is lopsided, be sure to insert the enhancer to the outer side of your breast so it is pressed inward to enhance your natural beauty."

He stood back and looked over the odd group. "A turn, if you please, all of you." They complied. "Satisfactory. You may resume your own clothing, my darlings."

He collected the bras to hold until the dresses were finished and discussed the details with them until they were satisfied. The dresses would consist of multiple layers of white gauze and chiffon to soften and blur the outlines of the body, yet convey an unmistakably feminine aura. "We shall also use some very special fabric that will react magnificently to the stage lighting and clothe you in shifting rainbows of subtle color. It is a good thing that men, other than myself and Dennis, will not be allowed to view you or there could be a riot by the time I am done with you!"

By the time they escaped Jeffrey's ministering, toting a bag filled with "corrective foundation for their special needs" and their breast forms, it was well past lunch time. "Gentlemen," Eve intoned solemnly, "It is time for your last meal…as gentleman, that is. Eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we dye — Eve's hair orange!"

They entered the deli laughing and fed well for the upcoming ordeal of the men's first serious shopping trip. The sustenance would be sorely needed, the men found out. It's not easy to assemble two complete feminine wardrobes so quickly. The task was made easier by the fact that only casual clothing would be needed at the resort, but with three fashion conscious women determined to do the job right, it was a true exercise in endurance.

Cindy again greeted Ellie effusively and her smile reached incandescence when she found she had not one but two skirts to fit. Cindy appropriated the role of unindited co-conspirator, gleefully joining the Great Lyudmilla Caper, as she christened it.

As Eve put it, they were going to undergo an immersion course in femininity from now until the concert was over. No trace of their male alter egos was to be tolerated, skirts and dresses were the order of the day, week and month. The victims were spirited into the back room and commanded to undress.

"By God, Ellie! Am I going to have to show off my panties to every single shopkeeper in this city?"

"Shut up, dear. You don't hear Michelle bitching, do you? Your bitching lessons don't start until next week, so don't try to be a bitch without proper training, will you. You'd be terribly outclassed."

"She's got a point, Mom." Michelle offered. "We did agree to do this, didn't we?"

"Christ, hand me that goddamn bra don't look so self-righteous. A girl's got to have some pride, doesn't she?"

He quickly snapped the hooks and shrugged into the garment. The breast forms came out of their carrying case and settled into place.

"Slow down, Mom! Don't you know a proper woman takes forever to get dressed? If you come out of the dressing room too fast Lyudmilla will twig to the deal!"

"Your strap's twisted, Michelle, as are all the women in this crazy plot. Hey — that thing's gorgeous. This may not be so bad after all. He stepped into the long, flowing blue skirt that Cindy had just brought, then donned a soft, blue blouse with a scoop neckline that was high enough to conceal his lack of natural breasts. He admired himself in the mirror.

"I've half a mind to go back and get Jeffery to teach me how to do cleavage."

"Mom's said you had half a mind for years, Mom. Don't tell me you two agree on something?"

"We agreed you should have been left for the wolves at birth but the authorities kept bringing you back!"

"Ellie, she's trying to bitch without a license again. Can't you do something?"

"Listen to your daughter, Carrie." She covered the offending mouth with hers and cut off any further comment.

Carrie thought the ordeal was over when they left Cindy, but was sadly mistaken. Carrie had neglected shoes, makeup and other sundries.

"We're camping, for cryin' out tears, what do I need stockings for?"

"Practice dearheart — when you can wear the same pair for two days in a row without runs you can go back to socks again. You wouldn't want to be up on stage in the spotlight with a run in your stockings?"

Then there was an hour or so selecting makeup, another while trying on shoes, selecting several nightgowns and an interminable time just trying to park the car . The quartet were completely exhausted when they returned to Ellie and Eve's place with takeout. None of them could find the energy to even eat at the restaurant.

The younger set revived first, so exhausted elders watched with amusement as Eve herded her new sister toward the bathroom brandishing a bottle of Nair.

"Don't laugh too hard, lady. You're next," promised Ellie.

---

Many men have commented sarcastically about the feminine tendency to monopolize the bathroom, but the next morning it was the women who complained the loudest. When Chuck had agreed to this caper he simply didn't realize how much work it would be to carry it off. He had never considered his beard to be all that heavy, but once he tried to shave close enough to make Carrie happy he found it wasn't as easy as it appeared. Maybe a new razor would help? Every time he ran his shower puckered fingers over his chin it still felt too damn scratchy. Only the urgent pounding at the bathroom door sufficed to break his quest for the perfect shave.

Ellie took her turn and was out before sleep-muddled Michelle, self consciously clutching her nightgown, took up residence. There must be some truth to the phrase "Like father, like son" because, despite the fact that Michelle's 18 year old chin sported no more than three and a half fully formed hairs, he executed the same ritual as his father had just completed. The younger and brasher Eve, after doing a little dance outside the bathroom door for some minutes, simply let herself in and relieved herself, completely ignoring Michelle's presence.

Michelle, however, was unable to do the same, gaping at her as a look of relief spread over her countenance. Is this how women acted with each other, pissing as if there was no such thing as privacy? How in blazes could he learn to be a believable woman when there were so many utterly impossible things to know?

Breakfast was somewhat hurried as their appointments at the salon started at 10:00 AM. A beastly time, to be sure, but with so little notice they had to take what they could get. What with dressing in unfamiliar clothes and his first experience with makeup, there was little time to worry about what would happen when Chuck had to explain his current appearance to his hairdresser. The walk down the apartment hallway was the longest Carrie had ever experienced and she welcomed the relative safety of the car. It wasn't until they were crossing the parking lot to the mall that Carrie got the butterflies.

"Ellie, I just can't do this! It hasn't been too bad until now, but that's because no one would know it was me under these clothes. A silly adventure, just a lark in the middle of the Big City. But how can I walk in and have Danielle give me a perm with these boobs sticking out in front of me and wearing a skirt? She's known me for years! They all know me!"

Those of you who have had to had to face a major life change may have some sympathy for poor Chuck. The preachers tell us that God doesn't burden us with more than She knows we can handle. Drill Sergeants from the Bronze Age foreword have told recruits that to stay alive they cannot let fear overcome them when the battle is joined. In an idiom more familiar to Chuck, his first guitar teacher had told him that stage fright was perfectly normal, the only way to beat it was to get out there on stage and perform!

At this critical moment it was the wisdom of youth that saved the day.

"Jeez Mom, will you cut the whining?" Michelle looked disgusted. "Who cares if your hairdresser thinks you're bizarre? You're paying her, so what does she care if your body has bumps where it didn't have them before? You think it's bad to have everybody recognize you and know you're not like everybody else? Then try having purple hair for a little while. No matter how good I get in acting like a girl anyone who knows me will take one look at my hair and know it's me. Forget these honkers, forget the clothes, forget everything — if they know Mike they're going to see through Michelle at 50 paces, but that isn't going to stop me. It's a great joke and it means a lot to Eve and Ellie. So just do it, will you?"

The tableau in the parking lot remained frozen for a few moments, then Carrie lowered her head.

"Sorry, you'll have to forgive me. For a moment there it all got to be too much. I should have realized that I couldn't do this and not have anyone know what I'm doing. I shall confront Danielle in her den and emerge triumphant!"

They resumed their interrupted walk to the mall.

"Good morning, Danielle. Thank you so much for fitting all of us in at the last minute like this." Danielle's eyes grew wide as she recognized first the hair and then the voice. "It's a long story, but you will know all before you're done with us!

"Chuck?"

"Carrie, for the next six weeks. This is Ellie, her daughter Eve and you already know my — " He paused. "Oh hell — my son Mike, or more properly Michelle at the moment. Together we are The Pretenders, the next great All Girl Group. Watch for us on the charts and you can tell everyone you knew us when!"

"Gimme a break. There must be sixteen groups called 'The Pretenders' already. Maybe when they threw you all in the loony bin they'll give you a more original name."

"Whatever. We are placing ourselves in your capable hands so that when they turn on the spotlights the audience will see four women on the stage and never have a second thought."

"You're kidding!… No, you're not kidding, are you? Chuck, you should give a girl some warning before you drop a bomb like this!"

"Carrie."

"Sorry. So, other than it's time for another perm, what kind of look are you going for?"

"I want orange hair so I look like my sister Michelle!" Eve cut off any reply that Carrie had in mind. "I hope you can make us look like sisters. C'mon Michelle, let's look through the books and see what we want to do." They went off to the stack of books.

"And I suppose you want your hair green and hers blue so you can make like a rainbow on stage, right Carrie?"

"Not very likely!" Ellie spoke for the first time. "Danielle, despite the first impression you may have formed, I am a rather conservative classical musician, or at least I was before I met these reprobates. Could we sit down and tell you the whole story so you can help us decide on what look would best suit us?"

They sat. They talked, detailing the Great Lyudmilla Caper in all it's glory.

"I've had customers like her before. So we have a green group indulging in black humor wearing white gauze with purple and orange hair playing the blues for an audience that would gladly spill your red blood if they found out. Sure, I do stuff like this every day, no problem!" She couldn't resist adding "But it's going to take a lot of green, ladies!"

Danielle phoned for reinforcements. "Listen Shelly, I've never tried to match makeup with raspberries and grapes before, I need you right now! Please? You're going to regret missing this if you don't come down, I guarantee it!" "Lillian, look I got 80 toes and fingers, 40 of which are in desperate need of attention. Can you spare me a couple of hours even if it is your day off? You're a doll, Lil!"

The other customers in the shop were having a perfectly lovely time with the unexpected floor show. Danielle, acting like a General marshaling her forces, called a Conference of War at the lunch table in the back . Battle plans were drawn, weapons inventoried, the terrain of the battle mapped and examined closely by the combatants.

Much to the disgust of the younger set, spiked hair was rejected as contrary to the Geneva Convention. After lengthy negotiation a treaty calling for a page boy cut was signed as sealed. "Look ladies, the overall look has to be feminine enough to piss off your nemesis. Pointy hair might piss her off, but for the wrong reasons. Besides, you want to have your hair whipping around you when you're performing, don't you? Much more effective, believe me!"

"Now, for you two I think the medieval virgin look is going to be best." Carrie looked confused. "Think Tiny Tim but much cuter. Long medium curly hair that drapes over the shoulders nicely, that ought to look great with the white outfits. OK ladies, we're ready. Eve, you go with Mandy and Michelle is with Sally. Sarah, take care of Ellie and I'm going to handle Carrie myself!"

Other than some anguished whimpering from Michelle and Eve as several inches of their hair fell to the floor, the experience wasn't painful at all. As regular customers of salons, all four were used to the personal treatment and attention that was the norm, but the manicure, pedicure and makeover sessions were new to their experience. By mid-afternoon they were ready to face the world together. Arrangements were made for the day of the concert itself (a few comp tickets can work wonders) and they left with the hearty good wishes of Danielle's staff.

Carrie and Michelle didn't think twice when they entered the mall and leisurely strolled along the bustling walkway. The were distracted by one of the many kiosks and before they continued on they all had matching feathered earrings dangling from their pierced ears. They were just turning away from the counter when there was a loud thump, followed by a scream.

"Oh my God!"

They quickly turned to the source of the commotion. A woman stood frozen in place, her jaw sagging and a large package spilling over the floor at her feet. It was only the heavy beard cover on Michelle's cheeks that prevented her face from turning dead white.

"HI, Mom."

"Sweet Jesus in Heaven, what have you done to yourself, Michael? Charles? My God Charles — why are you dressed like that? How could you allow this? First the purple hair and now this… this…" she trailed off in despair.

It was Ellie who was the first to react. She approached the stricken woman heedless of the growing crowd observing the scene. "Karen, please — may I call you Karen?"

A weak nod came in response. Placing her hand on Karen's arm she continued "I'm sure this has been a terrible shock for you. Please, you need to sit down for a moment. Eve, please take Karen's bag for her. Carrie, Michelle, would you please finish our shopping while we stay with Karen? We really need to finish up before we return to the resort. We'll meet you at the car in half an hour."

Carrie knew better than to argue, so with a glance at her daughter they left to complete the non-existent shopping trip while the others made their way to the food court.

"Mom — what are we going to do?"

Carrie, speaking quietly enough to keep her voice from carrying, replied "Walk around the mall and pretend to shop, what else can we do? As for your mother, we can't do a damned thing right now, so we have to hope Ellie can do it for us. Good lord, I had hoped they wouldn't ever have to meet and now they're over there talking about why I'm walking around the mall in a dress! We're walking around in dresses."

"Did you see the way she stared at my boobs? Why did I ever let Jeffery talk me into making them so big?"

"Because they look right on your body, but that's neither here nor there." They had reached the end of the wing and were in a relatively quiet area. They found a bench and sat down. "Your mother's not going to let this go easily, you know."

"Don't I! I'm really going to have to move in with you and Ellie after this"

"Whoa, one thing at a time. I can't very well deny she's sharing my bed, can I, but we haven't spoken about what will happen after the summer is over. When your mother gets done with her we might not even be sharing a bed!"

"Not a chance! You really love her, don't you?"

"That's not so easy to answer, son. Oh hell, how come you can call me Mom so easily but I can't seem to get the word 'daughter' out of my mouth? Michelle — there I said it — I haven't felt like this about a woman since I met your mother. There is something about Ellie that fills a void I didn't know I had. I loved your mother dearly when I married her, but I was too young to know what I was doing."

"Michelle, you know what it feels like to make music with someone you cherish. There is nothing else in this world that can approach that feeling, and I'm including sex in that. Ellie tells me that real women can talk about sex and not get dirty about it, so I'm going to try to say this in that sense."

"Your mother and I had some terrific sex together, I'll never be able to forget the night you were conceived, but it wasn't enough. It was the first time for both of us, I swear I never looked at another woman while we were together, and never wanted to. We were seventeen and so damn full of hormones you could have started a pharmaceutical company with our bodies. Sex felt so good that it turned off our brains; all we wanted to do was get married and have a family. Nothing else mattered to us, but there was too much we didn't share - too much we couldn't share because we wanted very different things. Even when things were falling apart, right up to the day she left, the sex was still great.

"I don't want to criticize your mother; it's not a case of who was wrong and who was right, it's a case of two people who weren't mature enough to foresee the trouble our different needs and interests would cause. She wanted a reliable man with a 9 to 5 job, I'm a musician and I play whenever somebody pays me, which wasn't all that often back then. Then she got Born Again and I don't buy the stuff.

This 'Love Conquers All' shit is just that: shit. 'Love is Blind' is a hell of a lot more accurate, but not the way most people think. It took me twenty years to get to know what it was I wanted, and just when I thought I had it covered here comes Ellie and we're sitting here in a mall with fake boobs and dresses and stockings and I have to say I like it."

"Yeah, me too."

"Ain't this the strangest father and son talk that that anyone could imagine? So what I'm trying to say is that there's more between Ellie and me than just sex. Even if you and Eve hadn't been there, we enjoy the same things and we kept running into each other at the same activities. We read the same books and think the same way on many levels. That first night when she played with us was as memorable in its own way as the night your mother and I made you. I won't tell you I didn't have some evil thoughts about Ellie now and then, but the sex came later; after we started to know each other. We were ready by then, it was natural and it was a part of the relationship that made everything else stronger, not the core that kept things from flying apart. Does that make sense to you?"

"I think it does. Dad, I've been trying to figure out how I feel about Eve. I don't think it's like you and mom and I think you're right when you say you have to have more in common than sex. Y'know, I can't believe I'm saying this. I love you, I really do, but I've never felt like I could talk to you about things. I was really scared what you'd do if you found out I was sleeping with Eve and I really can't believe you aren't mad." Michelle knew when to keep quiet, and did so. "She's so great, like I never met anyone like her. You're right about the music, when we play together it just blows me away."

"You know, I've been in a bunch of different bands but nothing like this has ever happened. And it's not even because we like the same music, I couldn't have cared less about classical stuff, but she's got me playing it with her. And just wait 'till you hear what we've got for the concert, I can make her flute sound like nothing you've ever heard when I set up the processor right. It's going to be awesome! Anyway, she's someone special, she really is."

Michelle paused. "Mom, can I ask you a question? I mean one that might be embarrassing?"

"Now's the time to do it, and I'll try my best to answer you fairly."

"It's just that I feel like such a klutz when I try to make love with Eve. I've seen some movies with the guys and it just isn't like that with her. Am I doing something wrong? How can I tell? I don't want to screw up with her, she's too good."

Carrie gave a rueful laugh. "I'll tell you, I wish there had been someone who would have listened to me when I needed to ask those questions. You're grandpa was a fine man but he never talked to me about sex in his entire life and he made it clear he didn't want to. Mom tried but how can a woman tell a horny boy about sex?"

Carrie paused, this time her laugh was deep and heartfelt.

"Can you believe what I just said with the both of us sitting here dressed like this?"

"Yeah Mom, but I guess that makes you an authority from both sides."

"Well, maybe not an authority, but I'll tell you what I think. You have it right that real love isn't like a porno movie. Neither one of us is built like that, for one thing, and even if we were what you see on film has very little to do with making love. Tell me — in all those films did you ever once see the lady have an orgasm? I bet you've seen enough stuff squirting around to fill a couple of buckets but not one of those foot long studs made sure his partner was having a good time."

"Michelle, I'm not going to talk positions or technique with you because that's not what you need to know. You and Eve can find out just what works all by yourselves and you don't need anybody's help for that. I will tell you that I have never once had my partner come to orgasm just by being inside her, and there aren't going to be many men who can. If you take the time to learn what turns Eve on and let her show you what feels best, and you make damn sure she's satisfied before you take your turn, then you are going to be a great lover. You two haven't had time yet, it takes lots of practice — and being willing to be a klutz is a required part of the whole thing. How else are you going to find out what works?"

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. No magic to it, no hidden secret. Just kindness, patience and practice. If love is going to bloom it only does so when the ground is fertile and the conditions are just right. Don't worry too much, the human race wouldn't be here if it were all that hard to do."

Carrie looked at her watch. "I hate to stop this, but the two most wonderful women in our lives are probably wondering just what the heck we're doing. We better get back.

"Right. Thanks Mom, and thanks Dad. I love you."

"I love you too, as a son or a daughter and just as yourself. Let's go and face the music."

---

"Where have you two been?" Ellie greeted them. "I was beginning to think you couldn't handle Karen and me together and were heading for Mexico or something!"

"Si, Senioreta. Just a little madre and hija talk. Sometimes a shock is just what's needed to get the heart started again.

"That may be, but I think mine stopped for minute there!"

"I think mine may have been stopped for some time, at least when it comes to love. Thank you all for starting it again."

They didn't really care what anybody thought of four women hugging in the parking lot

"So what happened?" Michelle asked as they snapped seatbelts and settled into the car.

"I'm not really sure. I don't think I got through to her, not really. Actually, Eve seemed to connect a little better with her."

"Well, at least she talked to me. I couldn't figure out if she's more hung up on me being your girl or you being a girl, Michelle. Talk about bad luck meeting her."

"Not really luck, sis. Mom — my other Mom — comes here every Saturday. I should have realized it but I just wasn't thinking."

"Don't blame yourself, dear." Ellie comforted. These things happen. I think she will be alright when she's had some time to think.

"I hope so," Carrie mused, "but this is something Karen is going to have trouble with. I wish I knew what Jesus thought of guys in dresses, because she's going to go running to that preacher of hers and tell him all about it. I don't think there's much she can do about it. We're divorced and Michelle is now officially of age to make her own decisions. She can't get me fired because anyone in the business will laugh their fool heads off and add me to an already long list of oddballs who make me look tame. We'll worry about it after the summer is over and we have to go back to the real world. In the meantime, lets see how the resort handles a couple of new guests."

"Well, at least it's Saturday, so most of the guests who know us are leaving and the new ones can fend for themselves tomorrow."

"That just leaves a couple of dozen people on the staff, then. Breakfast tomorrow will certainly be interesting, won't it?"

---

It wasn't a flawless transition, to be sure, but they managed. The one problem that no one had foreseen was swimming. There was simply no way Carrie and Michelle could wear a swimming suit, so those hot summer days were hotter than they expected. They took to skinny dipping in the evening, after they had finished their rehearsal. Somehow the bonding that they had achieved as women together made seeing each other's naked bodies in the moonlight seem natural. Carrie could appreciate Eve's supple body in the abstract, but his emotions were with Ellie and he felt not the slightest physical attraction. Michelle confided that she, too, felt much the same about Ellie and Eve.

Throughout their self imposed period female immersion training Michelle and Carrie grew closer, becoming able to talk freely about subjects seldom approached by father and son. This was a general feeling in the group, who grew closer with each passing day. Musically, the early, freewheeling jams slowly shaped themselves into a more ordered sequence as they agreed on songs and settled arrangements, until in the week before the performance they worked exclusively on the upcoming setlist.

If you had asked Carrie or Michelle to recall what life was like before going on vacation the morning of the performance, they would have been hard put to remember a time when putting on a bra and panties was not a completely automatic action. The final fitting for the dresses had gone without a hitch. They, along with the accompanying bras, eight pairs of glittering pantyhose (just in case!) and open toed white sandals, were waiting safely with Jeffery, who was holding them for ransom until the two promised comp tickets, along with a very substantial bundle of green, were delivered.

They left early on Friday morning, Carrie and Ellie taking time to shop and open up the apartment while Eve and Michelle had their dye jobs touched up. By 4 PM the dresses were in the dressing room and the instruments on the stage. They were to be the final act so their sound check came early, no small task with the array of instruments and electronics they brought. Carrie, when she had learned the fee for their performance, was sure he had gone into the wrong line of the music business.

Much to Lyudmilla's consternation there were limited number of people capable of doing the sound at a major concert such as this, and none of the female persuasion had been free. Thus it was when Carrie walked on to the stage she came face to face with her old buddy Rufe. Since Carrie still wore virtually the same face and hair as she had worn in her existence as Chuck, it wasn't hard for the old techie to pierce the disguise.

In his customary laconic and laid back manor, typical of a good sound man who can not afford to panic in an emergency, his eyes scanned up and down Carrie's body and he drawled "Wondered why I ain't seen ya 'round too much lately. How'd you get hooked up with these classical broads?"

"It's a long story Rufe. A very long story."

"I'll bet it is. See ya been working out lately. Nice bod there."

"If you think the classical stuff is a long story, the broad part of is going to take even longer."

"Ain't got time now, old bud. Gotta get y'all tuned up and off the stage for the next group. Stop by sometime and shoot the shit. Buy you a beer, that is if a classical broad still drinks beer."

"Christ, I could use one right now!"

"Not while I'm on duty. Plug in the axe and let's get going."

---

A sense of quiet anticipation prevailed in the dressing room as Carrie performed her ritual of shave and facial conditioning, a task that was second nature at this point. They stripped and adjusted their finery with each other's help until the calm was broken with a knock on the door. Danielle & Co. had arrived and the chaos began.

Danielle once again personally attended to Carrie's makeup, the others industriously painting fingers and toes, daubing faces and styling hair in a ballet as intricate as any ever performed on stage. By the time the first act went on peace again reigned and the beauty shop crew was seated in the audience.

Waiting can be hard, but they endured it. They watched from the wings and enjoyed what they could of the performance, but there was a certain lack of attention in their manor. Act one finished, act two came and went. Intermission and then the waiting would be over. The house lights blinked, Carrie slung her mandolin around her shoulder, the swell of her breasts having long since ceased to disconcert her. Ellie plucked the violin, Michelle checked the guitar tuning one last time and Eve fidgeted because her bass was out on the stage and out of reach.

"… My Sisters, please welcome our star performers…. Our sisters, The Pretenders!"

They took the stage, the white of their dresses flaring into brilliance one by one. Ellie tapped her bow once, twice, three times and the Vivaldi' Double Violin Concerto filled the hall. The red haired priest had actually written music for mandolin in his time, but certainly not this piece. Violin and mandolin chased each other in great, looping circles as they tossed the melody back and forth. If Vivaldi hadn't planned on a violin he certainly couldn't have anticipated Eve's slapping bass line during the Allegro, her brilliant orange hair snapping in time as she practically climbed the huge instrument, wringing from it every nuance of tone it had to offer. As the final notes reverberated in the hall the four waited to see just what response they would get from their audience. They fully realized that mixing styles of music was considered professional suicide in commercial music, but the had long ago decided to make the music as they felt it should be made and let the rest of the world do with it as it would.

The audience went wild. When she could be heard once more, Ellie stepped up to the microphone.

"As our sister Lyudmilla is fond of saying, we must shake up the world in order to change it. If you came to hear me play classical music as it has always been played, you're in for a disappointment."

As she spoke Carrie picked up the gleaming steel Resophonic guitar and lovingly caressed it's body. A high, bluesy twang escaped as the bottleneck on her finger slid down the strings.

"No sisters, we're not going to do things the old way any more!"

Ba-da-da-da dum. The classic blues riff sang from the strings of the guitar in Carrie's hands.

"Sister Michelle, tell them how we're going to do things

Ba-da-da-da dum "starting…"

Ba-da-da-da dum "right…"

Ba-da-da-da dum "now."

I can wash out forty-four pairs of socks
And have them hangin out on the line
I can starch and iron two dozen shirts
Before you can count from one to nine

The Maria Muldaur classic took new life with Michelle's low and gravely voice. Her violet page boy swirled about her face as she leaned into the big bass at the end of each line with a driving, deep bass accompaniment to Carrie's guitar. When she reached the chorus the audience roared the lines back to her.

'Cause I'm a... wooo…ooo...ooo…man!
Duh bull hue ho... M A N
I'll say it again...

Somehow Michelle had found a way to transform the sweet tones of Eve's flute into the wail of a mouth harp and they stormed their way through the song. Again the audience reaction was electrifying.

"We know just what one single woman can do when she tries, don't we sisters?" Ellie rhetorically quizzed her audience.

"YES!" came the answer

Again as she spoke Carrie changed instruments

"If just one of us can do wonders, then Woodie Guthrie knew just how much more we can do if we do it together."

The stage lighting faded until only Carrie was visible. Her banjo slung low across her hips she assumed The Stance. If you've seen a bluegrass show you know what The Stance is. If you've watched a Rock and Roll show you've surely seen The Stance when the lead guitarist is about to prove he is a bona fide Guitar Wizard. Legs spread apart, hips thrust slightly forward, arms fully extended, Carrie' fingers rested on the strings and the audience waited.

The gauzy fabric of her brilliant white dress floated slightly in a stray air current. Her body remained completely still, but the hall was suddenly filled with a barrage of notes as her fingers flew over the strings. Two bars of impossibly fast notes, four bars, six bars and suddenly a spotlight sprang to life on Ellie as her fiddle wailed along. Eight more bars and Eve became visible adding a syncopated thumpa — thumpa - thumpa to the mix.

There once was a Union Maid, who never was afraid
Of the goons and the ginks and the company finks
And the deputy sheriff who made the raids

There must have been a lot of union members in the hall that night because the ladies surely didn't have to teach them the chorus. In classic bluegrass style Carrie and Ellie surrounded one microphone while Eve and Michelle, their brightly colored hair making them the focus of attention, braced the other.

Oh can't scare me I'm sticking to the union
I'm sticking to the union, I'm sticking to the union
Oh you can't scare me I'm sticking to the union
I'm sticking to the union, 'till the day I die

The energy in the hall was palpable as they stormed through one song after another. The music came from everywhere, reflecting the many influences on the group. Bach (even if he had nothing to say on the subject of feminism), Burt Bacharach, (Don't Make Me Over) and Bill Monroe ("Shake My Mother's Hand for Me" because Carrie knew her voice could only get away with some high, lonesome harmony) and The Kinks (Your didn't think they could resist doing Lola?)

Ellie again took the mike. "You might wonder why we chose to call ourselves The Pretenders. Not very original, but hasn't that been what woman have had to do throughout history? There are plenty of songs like this one, that tells the story of how a woman disguised herself and outdid all the sailors on her ship because she was so much better than them!

Come all ye maidens far and near
And listen to my ditty
It was near Gravesend there lived a maid
She was both young and pretty

When the song was over and the fair maid was revealed by her 'lily white breast', Ellie couldn't resist commenting "Sisters, I've always wondered how all those dunces on the ship never noticed her 'lily white breast' during all those months at sea. Just goes to show you how observant men are, I guess. Didn't they notice anything was odd when she had to pee?"

The audience still laughing, they launched into Grit Laskin's masterful parody in which every soul on the ship was revealed to be a woman when their "Lily White Breasts" were revealed. To prove things haven't changed all that much since the sailing days the turned to Peggy Seeger:

When I was a little girl, I wished I was a boy
Tagged along behind the crowd and wore my corduroy
Everybody said I only did it to annoy,
but I was gonna be an engineer!

Chorus:
My mamma said, "Why can't you be a lady?
Your duty is to make me the mother of a pearl
Wait until you're older dear, and maybe
you'll be glad that you're a girl."

Who would have thought a performer could be elated by the audience booing, but that's just the reaction they hoped for on this song. A performer can tell when they have an audience that is perfectly on tune with them, when the people on the stage receive as much emotional energy as they put out, and tonight was one of those times. The audience was pumped and ready when Ellie again took the mike.

"As a parent you do your best to raise your daughter right," Ellie spoke. "You teach her right from wrong, to stand up for herself and be proud of who and what she is. You want her to be confident in her own decisions and not constantly deferring to outside standards."

Calls or "Right on!" and "You tell 'em, sister!" arose

"I don't know about you, but I have always been afraid my daughter would ignore what I tried to teach her. I worried that she would get into trouble, do something really stupid, even though I know she was a good and intelligent girl."

"Awww Mom!"

"The one thing I never worried about is that she'd learn too well, that she would so take my insistence on independence to heart that she would start to play —" a dramatic pause, "Punk Music!"

"Awww Mom!"

"If you're over thirty now would be a great time to use the bathroom — if the line isn't too long." An appreciative chuckle from the all female audience. "I never heard of 'Heavens to Betsy' before." A small cheer arose from the younger members of the audience. "Well, I haven't even if you have. We've tried to give you a sampling of the different music we all grew up with, and now it's time to see how different music can get."

Sweetly deceptive, Eve's flute poured forth a pure and liquid note, followed by a soft phrase. With a grin she stepped on the switch that cut in Michelle's electronic wizardry and instantly the loud and discordant signature of Punk Rock filled the hall.

I used to be there almost every day
And when I didn't, I didn't feel so great
When we were together, I thought everything was better
I just have to pretend I just never cared about her
I HATE HER
AND I LOVE HER

Carrie screamed rhythm on the electric guitar, Michelle's sax and Eve's altered flute shrieked the melody as the two youngsters threw themselves into the lyrics,

You ask me why I'm getting so upset
You don't understand a girl who's passionate
For another girl
One day I think I love her then I think I want to kill her
You tell me to calm down, what is your fucking problem
I HATE HER
AND I LOVE HER

Ellie was surprised at how well it went over. She had been trying not to show just how much she disliked Punk in deference to her daughter, realizing how important it was to accept that the people we treasure have different likes and needs. Well, if this show didn't illustrate that then it was never going to be proven. A few more tunes and the show was over.

As they triumphantly returned to the stage for the first of three encores they were greeted by two women with roses for each of them. Eve was the first to recognize Jeffery and partner Dennis, attired in soft blue and sea green versions of their own dresses.

Her hug nearly crushed the flowers but she didn't care.

---

Saturday morning was almost a letdown. After weeks of intense preparation and closeness, it was all over. Chuck and Mike spent the morning with a nagging sense of wrongness, attired as they were in jeans and T-shirts. It took forever to pack the few things they had with them, no one had the energy to do more than stare at the cartoons on the TV.

At last the bags were packed, the refrigerator empty and the AC shut off. Ellie almost let the machine take the call that came in as they were leaving, but there's something in the female psyche that can not abide a ringing phone.

"Hello? This is she… Good morning, Albert! I didn't expect to hear from you so soon… Yes… Well… You're kidding! I'm sure that can be arranged… Thank you, Albert, you're worth every percent I pay you!"

Ellie hung up the phone.

"Carrie, Michelle — what would you say if I told you that after last night Albert has options on a six week tour and a hint or two of a record deal. Want to live the fantasy for the rest of the summer and get paid for it?"



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