Sister and the Bear

Sister and the Bear

By Ricky

Just who is this Rachel and why am I wearing her nightgown? Will all of you stop grinning and tell me!

Vicky…

The phone was ringing.

Again.

I had shut the ringer off on the phone by my bed but the one on the living room kept up that annoying bleep-bleep-bleep. Why couldn’t phones go ding-a-ling like they used to? Why didn’t the air conditioner drown out the foolish thing? I just plain didn’t care enough to pick up the receiver. That would mean rolling over in bed and I didn’t want to move.

Eventually the thing stopped nagging me but sleep won’t come. It's too bright in the bedroom, the sun must be out. Not too surprising for Phoenix. I considered looking at the clock, but why bother? There was nothing to do and I didn’t give a damn about doing it. Just let me sleep, won’t you God? I crave oblivion and sleep is my ferryman.

Damn! Why did I have to think of rivers, now I have to pee. Piss on it, it’s too much trouble. I’m old, why should anyone care if I piss on myself in bed. Old farts do it all the time, why not me? Nobody here to care, not even me. Fucking Larry isn’t here any more to piss on me so why shouldn’t I do it myself. He’s probably pissing on that bimbo he ran off with. I wonder if she likes those movies where the guy pisses on the whore before he fucks her? Larry sure did.

Christ! There goes the phone again. Go away! Just let me rot here by myself, I don’t want to talk to you. Probably some telemarketer trying to sell me something. Life insurance? That would be a joke. Who would care about my life? No kids to inherit anything, no husband, no friends, no nothing. I suppose someone would like the pot of money the lawyers got out of Larry when he dumped me, but I really don’t care. It takes too much effort to care.

Why can’t they just hook me up to a bunch of tubes so I don’t have to get up to pee? Then I could just lay here until I died. Nothing worth living for, except maybe to empty my bladder before it burst. It hurts. I wouldn’t mind dying but I didn’t want to hurt while I do it.

So I get up. I stumble to the bathroom and dribble into my panties on the way. Disgusting. Disgusting old broad who can’t hold her own piss. Never going to get another man smelling like a toilet, unless you want another one like Larry. I stand up and flush, then kick my panties somewhere near the hamper. Not too close, though, too much shit on the floor around the hamper. Who cares?

So what do I do now? I’m up. I’m not dead yet, so I guess that means I need coffee. I stare at the drip pot but the gooey crud in the bottom of the thing is too much to think about. I find a sort of clean cup, rinse it out and put it in the microwave and try to find a spoon that isn’t some color besides silver while wait. I don’t remember the last time I washed the dishes.

God, that’s awful! I stare at the cup but it doesn’t get better, so I stare at the table. What am I going to do today? TV sucks, the only VCR tapes are the stash of porn Larry forgot, I don’t have anything worth reading. If I drink enough of this godforsaken coffee I might have to piss again in an hour or so. The highlight of my day.

The light on the answering machine is blinking like a demented stoplight, that means the thing is full. Who the hell is stupid enough to want to talk to an old broad like me? Do I care enough to find out? I don’t have the energy to get up and push the button. They have remote controls for everything these days, why doesn’t the damned answering machine have one?

Eventually I have to pee again. How has it come to this? The only thing that motivates me is pissing. I find the strength to push the button on the way to the toilet and listen while I sit. Telemarketers, mostly, but Sherry keeps bugging me to call her. Maybe I should, but why would she care if I was alive or dead? All I could tell her is that life is hell and I'm just waiting to die. She’d probably quote something Grandma said to her to try and cheer me up. Who the hell wants to get cheered up?

Not me.

I'm glad the old broad isn’t around to see me this way. Back when I was a kid, when there was something to live for and I didn’t know life was a bitch, I loved visiting her. She’d stuff me and Sherry with cookies and candy and make us promise not to tell mom. As if we would. Those were the kind of secrets that were fun to keep, not like the kind that you have to keep in real life when you grow up. Too bad she isn’t around any longer, I could use a cookie or two and a good hug.

Maudlin old broad, that’s what I’ve become. Good thing I don’t have any grandkids or they’d run screaming or have my cookies analyzed for poison before they took them.

My ass hurts. I realize I'm still sitting on the pot, so I wipe myself and stand up. What the hell am I going to do? I don’t have a clue, so I just stand there for a while. I'm still standing there when the doorbell rings. Who the hell would be at the door? I didn’t want to see anyone, anyway.

The damn fool keeps ringing the bell and pounding on the door, kind of like those stupid cop shows. Could it be the cops? Can they arrest you for being an old broad with no life? Alright, already, keep your pants on, I’m coming. I throw open the door and stare at this huge guy with long hair and hairy arms who is standing there.

“You’ve got to be Vicky, you look just like your sister. Sherry asked me to stop by and see if you were OK.”

What the hell? This is too much. I just close my eyes and give up.

---

Richard…

Don’t tell anyone, but when I’m on the road I like to watch Jeopardy. There’s not that much to do in a hotel room once I’ve gotten dressed up, so I usually read or play with my computer. If I’m lucky the local cable outfit will have two or three shows in a row. I like to prop myself up on the pillow, spread out my skirt and match wits with the contestants. Give me some peanuts and a little diet soda and I’m set for the evening.

I had just put on the dress I bought this afternoon and it fit pretty well, as well as any dress will fit my 3X body. It had a angel sleeves, a calf length hem and a pattern of brown swirls on a gauzy material over an inner sheath of off white. Pretty sexy, or it would have been on someone who weighed 150 pounds less than I did. I had just popped a peanut in my mouth when the cell phone rang.

“Hello?”

“Richard, it’s Sherry. I hope I’m not bothering you.”

“No bother at all, ma’am. Just sitting here enjoying my new dress and rotting my mind with television.”

“Rachel, you already have enough dresses. Your closet’s full already.”

“There is no such thing as too many dresses, Sherry.”

“Too bad my ex didn’t think that way. Anyway. Could I ask you a big favor, Rachel?”

“One can always ask.”

“You need to get one of those cell phones with a camera so I can stick my tongue out at you when you say things like that. Anyway, I’m worried about my sister. She hasn’t answered her phone in weeks.”

“And since I’m conveniently in Phoenix for the next few days you’d like me to look in on her. No problem.”

“You’re a dear, Rachel.”

“Not Rachel any more, I’ll have to take off my dress before I go see your sister. No big deal, though”

“Then you’re a dear, Richard. She hasn’t been right since the divorce, but lately she sounds so depressed and now I can’t even get her on the phone. I’m worried.”

“What is ‘You’re making a mountain out of a molehill’?”

“Huh?”

“I’m watching Jeopardy, the phrasing gets to be automatic after two or three shows in a row.”

“You’re crazy. Let me give you her address.” I wrote it down on a one of those convenient pads you find in hotel rooms.

“Thanks Richard, and I want to see your new dress when you get home.”

“You’ve got a deal.” I hung up.

Well, so much for an evening dressed up with nowhere to go. Reluctantly I rose and shrugged off my dress. Could I get away with wearing just my bra without the forms? No, better not. It was still hot outside and I wouldn’t want to wear anything heavy enough to hide the bra lines. I left my pantyhose on, though, no one was going to notice them beneath my jeans.

I consulted the map and made my way over the 110 to Deer Valley, then wound my way through the twisty streets to find her place. Sherry must have really been worried, this was the first time she had called me while I was in the field. Not that I minded, she and Martha had become family, my daughters and grandchildren adored them. For that matter, so did I. I had never met Sherry’s sister, but I was happy to look in on her even if I had to take off my dress to do it. The sacrifices we make for family!

I found the place with only two wrong turns (not bad) and pulled into the drive. I rang the bell, but no one answered. I could hear the hum of the AC in a bedroom window so I figured she must be home but maybe couldn’t hear the bell. I kept ringing and knocked on the door just for good luck. Finally the handle turned and the door opened.

The woman standing there was undoubtedly related to Sherry, one glance was enough to tell me that. However, she looked more like Sherry’s mother than her sister. She was haggard, her stringy hair gray and knotted. A nascent pot belly protruded beneath the stained and faded blue nightgown she wore. A good deal of her left breast was exposed by an old and frayed tear in the fabric. Not that it inspired any feelings of lust in me, the poor woman looked like she was about to collapse.

“You’ve got to be Vicky, you look just like your sister. Sherry asked me to stop by and see if you were OK.”

I had never seen someone faint before, but I saw it now. Her eyes rolled up and she deflated like a someone had pulled a plug. I tied to grab her but I was too far away. What the hell, I’m used to people reacting badly based on my sheer size, but I had never made anyone faint before. I’m not even sporting a beard any more, but Sherry still calls me a bear at times. What the hell was I going to do?

Well, pick her up off the floor for one. I found a grip and raised her. She was surprisingly heavy for someone who looked so thin and wan. I set her on the couch and pulled the hem of her nightgown down. Yes, I noticed she wasn’t wearing any panties, but the way she smelled drove any lascivious thoughts from my mind. Now that I was inside the whole place had an odor of neglect about it. There were piles of stuff all over and the housekeeper had obviously been on vacation for several years.

On TV they throw cold water on you or slap your face when you faint, but I wasn’t up to anything like that. I figured she would come around when she was ready, so I pulled up a dining room chair near her and waited. Once I made it past her obvious distress I realized she was a fine figure of a woman. She was almost as tall as I was, but I had been fooled at first by her slumped posture. There was a certain beauty in her face in it’s unguarded state, even a hint of mischief. What had happened to her?

About ten minutes later she started to stir. I spoke softly, not wanting to frighten her as she revived. “Wake up, Vicky. I’m a friend of Sherry’s. You ‘re going to be all right, just take it easy.” I continued babbling softly until her eyes opened.

“Sherry?”

“I live with Sherry and Martha. My name’s Richard.”

“Richard.”

“Right. Sherry’s worried about you but I’m here now and you’re going to be all right.”

“Fat chance. I’m a fat old broad and I’m all fucked up.” She mumbled. More to herself than to me, I think.

Fat? That little pot belly looked more like the start of malnutrition than gluttony. “Have you eaten anything today, Vicky?”

“Coffee. Lousy. Instant. Just got up, y’know.”

“Vicky, it’s 7:30 at night. You just got up?”

“Yeah, so what? Nobody cares if I’m awake or asleep.”

“Sherry does, and I do. Let me get you something to eat.”

“Sherry ain’t here. Nobody’s here. I’m all alone.”

“I’m here now, Vicky, and things are going to get better.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Can you stand up yet. You won’t fall over on me again?”

“Yeah, I can do it. Just give me a minute.”

“Take your time. Vicky, I want you to take a shower before you eat.”

“Don’t work, tub’s plugged up.”

“Oh. Well, just sit here a minute while I go to the kitchen.”

“Your funeral.”

---

“My God!”, I mumbled. “I don’t believe in you, but one look at this kitchen is enough to convince me there is a Hell.” If there was a single clean dish I couldn’t find it, and lord knows each and every one was piled up on the counters. Opening the refrigerator was akin to opening the gates to Hell after it had frozen over. There was no way I was going to find anything edible here. The bathroom was just as bad. It was a damned good thing Sherry had asked me to check on her sister, she was in deep trouble.

There was only one thing to do: evacuate! Vicky was still sitting patiently in the living room. Ignoring genteel manners and propriety, I entered her bedroom. I have never pawed through a strange woman’s lingerie drawers before, but I felt justified in doing so. She had to have some clothes to wear before I took her out of this house. I had very limited pawing, however, the drawers were mostly empty. Not a single clean bra or pair of panties. One lone pair of mismatched socks, some shredded pantyhose and an ancient sanitary belt were the fruits of my labor. I hadn’t seen a sanitary belt, let alone a sanitary napkin, since I was a kid snooping through my mother’s dresser. Some people don’t throw anything out!

At least I found a pair of shorts and a clean but thoroughly disreputable tank top, along with some sneakers. I returned to the living room and placed this meager pile in her lap.

“Vicky? You need to get dressed, Vicky. Put these on while I pack you some clothes.” She just stared at them. “Please get dressed, Vicky. I left the room an hoped for the best.

How is it that at work I can get up to my elbows (and frequently beyond ) in oil and grease and crud and it didn’t bother me half as much as sorting through her dirty laundry? I love sorting through bras and panties and such, I love wearing them, but I treat them with respect and wash them regularly. It hadn’t taken me long to realize that I was dealing with a major case of clinical depression here.

I could deal with her directly, I was completely ready to get her the help she needed. Sherry was family; she had helped me recover from the devastating breakup of my marriage, and accepted and embraced my need to crossdress. Could I do any less when her sister needed help? Of course not, but what really got to me was the pile of filthy clothes in her bedroom. I guess we all have our hot buttons, don’t we. Anyway, I found a suitcase in the closet and filed it full of lingerie and things I found on her dresser. I filled another with what clothing I could find until both were full.

Why was I doing this? Without thinking about it I had decided to bring her home with me. You don’t recover from depression without support, and her family was back East. Right now the important thing was to get her out of this house and into a clean environment, even if that environment was my hotel room. I can tell you I was very thankful the only room available had twin beds, I’m not sure I could have been generous enough to share my bed with her in her present state.

I started to laugh at that thought. For the first time in my life on the road I was bringing a woman to my hotel room and the furthest thing from my mind was sex. Go figure!

I was relieved that I had penetrated her funk far enough that she did change into the clothes. I helped her with the socks and sneakers and we were ready.

“Vicky? I’m going to take you with me to Sherry’s place. We’re going to see your sister. OK?”

“Yeah, sure. It’s been a while.”

At least she was compliant. I hoped there wouldn’t be a problem when I brought her into the hotel, either from the staff or from her. Well, cross that bridge when we come to it.

“Where’s your purse, Vicky?”

“In the kitchen.”

Great. I was relieved to find it on top of the mess on the kitchen table. I chivvied her and the suitcases out the door and locked it behind us. She was silent as we rode to my hotel, and simply followed me to the room. Once there I sent her into the bath with instructions to take a long soak and enjoy herself. I put my nightgown on the hook for her and while she bathed I went to the laundry room and filled the washers with her clothes and a tremendous pile of quarters. She was still in the bathroom when I returned, so I ordered from room service, hoping she would eat something once she was clean.

That taken care of, I called Sherry. “Hi sweetheart. Is it OK if I shack up with your sister?” I couldn’t resist.

“Say what?”

“I just brought Vicky back to my hotel room and she’s staying the night.”

“Hey — I wasn’t sending you on a blind date, Richard! What’s going on?”

“Well, I’m afraid you were right to worry about her. We have some big problems…”

So I filled her in on what had happened. She was one very unhappy lady by the time I was done.”

“Sherry, I’m going to bring her back with me, she needs family in a big way right now, not to mention some professional counseling. I’ll cut short the job as much as I can, I don’t want to leave her alone any longer than necessary. If what I gather is correct, she’ll probably sleep most of the day anyway.”

“Richard?” She paused. “Why are you doing all this?”

“Because it needs to be done. Because she’s family. Because you and Martha made my life whole. Because despite what I’ve seen I think there’s a good person hiding behind the walls in your sister’s head.”

“Thank you, Richard.”

“No problem, ma'am. We’ll be home tomorrow night.”

There, that was over. Now just what the devil was I going to do next? I only had one nightgownI to sleep in, I wasn’t planning on guests. I couldn’t even resort to shorts, I had long ago given them up in favor of panties. I supposed I could make it through the night in T-shirt and shorts but, dammit, I wanted my nightgown!

---

Sherry…

I didn’t sleep last night. I was completely useless at work today, I had been worried about Vicky, but I had been certain it was just a case of nerves — my nerves. I really didn’t think there would be anything serious, but now my big sister was hurting and I didn’t know what to do.

She had been the one who always took care of me. She's 10 years older than I am, I was a surprise to my parents. Ten years is a lifetime when you’re a kid, by the time I was old enough to think about her much she was away at school, then she was married and living across the country. Really, Vicky and I were more pals than traditional sisters. With the miles between us we saw each other rarely, but I loved her dearly and she loved me.

I tried to be practical while I bit my nails. Where was she going to stay? I had a spare room, but no spare bed. Richard and Martha might be close friends, but they still paid me every month to live here and that was that. I supposed I was going to have to get used to sharing a bed again. At least this time I wouldn’t have to worry about a drunken husband.

I guess we have a lot in common after all, we both picked losers as husbands. When her marriage fell apart last year I spent a lot of time on the phone with her. I think we talked more during the divorce than we did growing up. I know she felt very isolated out there. I know from experience how life changes when you go from ‘we’ to ‘me’. “We’s” socialize in couples, and “me’s” can spell trouble if half a couple is looking for it. My social circles have changed tremendously. But this is home and I still had old friends to carry me through.

Vicky didn’t have that. When she and Larry broke up she was left on her own. The divorce was nasty, Larry didn’t much like alimony or leaving her with something to live on. Vicky was no dummy, but for a lot of years she had been pretty much Larry’s Wife as a full time occupation. I suppose I might not have coped too well if I were in her situation. My musings were cut short by the front door opening. Somehow I hadn’t expected them until after dark, but I had forgotten the time difference and the sun was still shining.

“Vicky!” My God, she looks old!

“Hiya, sis. Got room for a homeless waif?”

“I’ve always got a place for you, big sister. Welcome home.”

We stopped for a hug. “Where did you find this hairy monster you sent after me? He comes on strong but he’s really a pussycat.”

“I just put an ad in the paper, it’s amazing what you can find in the classifieds.”

“I just pays mah rent and does what I’m told, ma’am. Loyal as a dog, that’s me. Y’all tell me ‘fetch mah sister’ and I bring her home like a good puppy.”

“Well, you do look a little chewed up around the edges, Vicky.”

”You should have seen me last night. I still feel like shit but at least I don’t smell like it any more.”

“I’ll leave you ladies to get reacquainted.” Richard knows when to make himself scarce.

" What have you been doing, Vicky? How are you?"

"Just like I said — I feel like shit, I look like Hell and I just don't give a damn."

Reading that, it might look like she was being emphatic, but her tone was so flat and lifeless it scared me. The tone matched the drawn look of her face. When you don't see someone for a while, they remain fixed in your mind, unchanged from the last time you saw them. I had unconsciously kept that picture despite Richard's warning, and the reality was shocking.

I tried to draw her out, but she wasn't going to cooperate. Our conversation remained on the surface of things, she wasn't ready to let me go any deeper yet. I did most of the talking and she was content to listen until it was time for bed. It was telling that she went to the bathroom to change for bed, the Vicky of old would not have hidden her body from me. Lord knows we had seen each other naked more times than we could count.

I almost lost it when she came to bed in Richard's nightgown. Just how were we going to tell her about Rachel?

---

Martha

I awoke to the smell of something delicious, Rachel must be cooking. Saturdays when she was home always presented a problem. I had gotten in sometime about 3:00 AM, after a night out with Scott and had fallen instantly asleep. I wanted to continue sleeping, but my nose had alerted my stomach and they wanted to get up, even if the rest of me didn't. Why did she have to be such an early riser? 10 AM is still early on a Saturday, isn't it?

I finally gave in and headed for the kitchen where, to my surprise, I found Richard.

"My, but you're looking masculine this morning, Pop." I had long since gotten used to Rachel on the weekends, but today Richard was there in blue jeans, a blue flannel shirt and a bright blue chief's cap perched on his head.

"Ah! The party animal has been emerged from her den. Whilst you were out dancing and flirting I brought Sherry's sister home, so Rachel will be on vacation while there are strangers in the house. Pancakes?"

"Certainly." He flipped several on a plate and brought it to the table. "So I get to meet Sherry's sister. What's she like?"

"Depressed. Heartsick. Pale. You don't want to know her place looked like when I found her, but she's going to need a lot of help from us. You remember her husband left her last year? I don't think she recovered from that."

"Yeah, Sherry was on the phone constantly. I just kind of figured she was OK when the calls stopped.

"Yeah, so did I. Now it looks like you two have another divorce casualty to nurse through recovery, but this time I can help. I hope."

I was going to ask more, but just then Sherry and Vicky came in. One look told me Richard was right, Vicky looked worn out. As she sat listlessly at the table I hastily turned my laugh into a coughing fit. She was wearing Rachel's nightgown!

"Welcome, ladies." Richard greeted them. "Today we are serving Richard's Secret Recipe multigrain chocolate applesauce pancakes with your choice of maple or homemade white grape syrup." He was ladling a thick, dark batter on to the skillet as he spoke. I brought the coffee pot over to the table and poured for the both of them. Soon there were steaming plates of pancakes in front of the newcomers.

"With homemade applesauce." I added. "We made it ourselves last fall. You should have seen us — Sherry and I chopping apples and Rachel stirring this huge pot. She looked like the Wicked Witch of the West, all she needed was a pointy hat!

"Who's Rachel?" Vicky asked. Me and my big mouth!

"A close friend of Richard's." Replied Sherry. "You'll get to meet her sometime, I hope."

There was silence once more, but it was the silence that accompanies a good meal. Sherry cleaned her plate but Vicky barely made it through a single pancake. Did a smile cross her face when she tasted? I wasn't sure.

"Thank you, Richard." Vicky spoke at last. "They were delicious, but I'm afraid my appetite is a bit off these days. So why the blue hat?"

"A long story, sit back and I'll tell it." He came to the table with his own stack of pancakes and sat down. "I have the two most beautiful grandchildren in the world, as I'm sure Sherry and Martha will confirm, and I hold the world's record for doting grandfathers. Their slightest wish is my command. Have you ever seen Blue's Clues?"

I didn't think Vicky could look any more bewildered than she already was, but she managed it when Richard asked his question.

"That's the three year old's favorite show, and every day they solve a mystery on it. Blue is a puppy that would make Sherlock Holmes jealous, because he leaves big blue paw prints wherever there's a clue to be found. You might notice the paw print over on the kitchen cupboard there, and one on the front hall closet. Anyway, in the show Joe wanders around with Blue writing the clues in his notebook until the mystery is solved.

"What happened was a couple of weeks ago I put a paw print on my chief's hat when the kids were over and Morrina, using the logic known only to three year olds, was convinced the hat had to be blue. So I dyed it just for her. I trust I rinsed the washer sufficiently that your clothes didn't change color, Sherry?"

"No problem."

"Good. Vicky, I ought to warn you that the thundering herd will be arriving at any moment, you might want to be dressed before the invasion. If I'm remembering correctly there was a blue blouse and skirt in the clothes I washed. Not only would you look charming in them, but you would be forever in my granddaughter's good graces if you wore blue when you met her. I bet if you asked nice, Sherry would let you wear her blue earrings, too."

"Of course you can wear them, Sherry responded. "You'll find that Richard is something of an expert in women's clothes."

Darned if I didn't have a coughing fit again.

---

Richard

At first it was like living with a ghost, or maybe a zombie. I had this fantasy that if I took off Vicky's dress I'd find a little windup handle sticking out of her back. I had a toy like that when I was a kid. You wound it up and it marched stiff-legged until it hit a wall, where it just kept marching, oblivious to the fact it wasn't going anywhere. Vicky reminds me of that doll, She walks, she talks, she feeds herself, but she isn't engaged. Push her in one direction and she keeps going until you push her again.

I suspect it's rather what Martha and Sherry went through when I moved in. When my marriage broke up I was sure there was nothing left to live for, no reason to care about anything. It turned out I was wrong, my family was not broken, just reconfigured. Emily and I were no longer married, but my family was not just her, but her and the children. The marriage broke up about the same time the kids left home and I had a hard time separating the two events. I'm still working on the loss of the 'till death do we part' promise, but my family is still together. Even if Emily and I had stayed together, my children would still be on their own.

Now I have a new family. Sherry and Martha have become as close as my own daughters in many ways. Emily would say God guided me to them. I can't quite go that far, but it is indeed miraculous how the three of us have filled each other's needs and become a family. Finding Vicky was kind of finding a long lost relative. Where I come from, you help when family needs it and you don't stop to ask questions. I wasn't all too sure where Vicky belonged on the family tree, though. Martha is of an age with my own two and I think of Sherry as almost a daughter, even if I would have had to have been very precocious to have fathered Sherry. Twelve year old Baptist boys don't do such things where I came from. Maybe she could be a "Kissing Cousin".

That's a term I haven't heard in quite a long time. I never could figure it out when I was a kid, but then all my cousins were boys. It wasn't until Aunt Alice caught me and my 2nd cousin Cindy Lou smooching at a family reunion that anyone explained it to me. I was embarrassed, but Cindy Lou sure could kiss. Somehow I doubt I'm going to be doing much kissing with Vicky. Not that she doesn't look kissable enough, but in her current state it would be like kissing the dummy they use to teach you CPR.

I called in some IOUs and threatened mayhem on my boss, which resulted in me taking two weeks of my vacation on short notice. It was obvious that Vicky couldn't be left alone for a while. She slept a lot, not too surprising, but I still had plenty of time to work on her.

Just why was I so determined to play angel of mercy to this woman? I really didn't think of it that way, but I suppose that's what I was doing. Frankly, when I saw her I saw myself after my divorce. I simply couldn't let anyone else to live with that kind of pain without trying to help. That might have been enough, but from the moment I met her I was strongly drawn to her. It seems silly; she was a complete wreck when we met, but under all the pain and torment I saw something that moved me.

So I sang to her, cooked for her, took her for long walks along the river path in the park, talked to her even when she didn't talk back. She started to improve physically, regular meals and the exercise of walking saw to that; for that matter my pot belly improved along with hers. Her personality took longer to surface. It was the music that seemed to help the most. We spent most afternoons that first week in the garden, where I pulled out my trusty guitar and played for her. She wasn't ready to talk yet, but music has a power that transcends words.

I think I have some idea what it's like for a dedicated musician to play in a bar now. As an audience, she sucked; completely passive, disengaged, uninterested. I kept playing, until one afternoon I caught her tapping her toe to "Norwegian Wood". I was thrilled when she spoke at the end of the song.

"At least you didn't have to sleep in the tub that night you found me."

"I should hope not. Especially the first time I've ever brought a woman back to my motel room."

"You're kidding!"

"The absolute, unvarnished truth! I have never slept with a woman other than my wife. You can pin a gold star on my chest and tell the world I'm a good boy."

"Then where did the nightgown I woke up wearing come from?"

"So you weren't as out of it as you seemed. Would you believe I always travel with a nightgown so I can rescue damsels in distress?"

"Why would they need a nightgown if you never bring them back to your room after you rescue them?"

"I was a Boy Scout, I'm always prepared."

"Trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave clean and reverent. Not one word about being a bullshitter, so I guess you're safe. I withdraw the question. I found out long ago it wasn't too useful to ask my husband where the occasional bra or panty came from."

"Vicky! It's not like that!"

"Yeah. It never is"

Did I say I was glad she had started talking? Just goes to show you how much I know.

"Vicky, the nightgown was mine. You are the first woman who has ever worn it."

I could have saved my breath, she got up and went inside, leaving me there to worry and wait.

---

Sherry…

I need another bedroom in this house. I love my big sister, but she hogs the bed. Since she is so much older than me we never slept in the same bed when I was a kid, for which I am appropriately grateful. At least I don't have to worry about her waking up at three in the morning and getting amorous, like my drunken sot of a husband. At least I hope I don't.

She's finally showing some signs of animation. The woman who Richard brought home with him was a pale imitation of the sister I knew. Sometimes it seems like we traded in Rachel for Vicky and got the short end of the deal. No, that's not fair. I'm sure Richard is having his own problems being unable to express his feminine self like he has been free to do since the divorce. She's going to have to find out sometime, but not yet.

I suppose Richard must have felt like this, afraid to let someone he was growing close to know he was a crossdresser. Now here I am worrying what Vicky will do if she finds out. Especially since I seem to detect some interest in her on Richard's part. Not that he realizes it, he can be very good at hiding himself from himself. Is that something all crossdressers have in common?

"Hi, sis!"

"You sound cheery this evening, Vicky."

"Well, you can't keep up the gloom and doom forever, you know. I hate to admit it but all those long walks by the river that Richard takes me on have made me feel a whole lot better."

"Richard's specialty is making other people feel better. I honestly don't know what Martha and I would do without him in our lives."

"I think it goes both ways. You know Sherry, I never could believe that there was such a thing as a Platonic relationship. Even the nice guys I know still think about what it would be like to get you in bed with them."

"Well, we both married the same kind of men, didn't we sis?"

"You got that right. But Richard's different. You and Martha live with him as if none of you had ever heard of sex in your lives."

"You can say that after listening to Martha and Scott going at it last night? I'm not sure what he was doing but he sure was doing it with enthusiasm! It was almost enough to make me wish I had a man in my bed and not you, sister mine!"

"You know, I had similar thoughts myself. Too bad I'm too old to feel comfortable with being a lesbian."

"Well, if you want to stick your finger in a Dyke you're going to have to get your hair cut into a Dutch Boy."

"That's despicable! But that's just what I mean. Even when you guys make with the dirty jokes at the dinner table I can see you're just having fun and not trying to get anyone else into the sack."

"He is pretty special, isn't he? The first time I saw him he looked like a bear escaped from the forest. Who would have thought someone so big could be so gentle and kind. You've seen him playing with his grandchildren."

"They are cute, aren't they. I think the little one really likes me."

"Little kids know how to cut through the bullshit, big sister. You can be a pretty likable person when you set your mind to it."

"To think I'd live to see the day…. Too bad you didn't realize that when you were a puking little brat that mom made me take care of."

"Serves you right, you weren't far from that stage when Richard found you."

"I know. Believe me I know. Sherry, I'm never going to let myself get like that again. Promise me you'll make me get help long before I get that bad again."

"None of us will let that happen, Vicky. You're family, and that means more than just being my sister, that means Richard and Martha too."

"How can you speak for them?"

"Because we are a family. We understand each other about as well as any people can. You saw how both of them went out of their way when you needed help. Martha and I did the same for Richard when he needed it and if someone else landed on our door step tomorrow I hope you would be right there with us to help them.

"Still 'picking up strays', eh? It used to drive Gram wild when you took strangers into your house. She never could understand it."

"I'm sure she had a saying for the situation, but she was wise enough to keep from telling me. It was good practice for when you arrived."

"I know." I was suddenly enveloped in my sister's embrace and kissed soundly."

"Hey, watch it, sis, or I'm gonna start worrying about where your fingers are going."

"Just don't tell Richard."

---

Martha

"Ugh!"

"That can't be a comment on Richard's cooking." Responded Vicky. "I haven't eaten lamb in years! There must have been three pounds of garlic in it."

"Which is why we aren't bothered by the vampires any more. My God! Every time I think he can't come up with anything better than the last meal he served Pops proves me wrong! I love the food but look at this kitchen!

"He does seem to use every pot and pan in the place, doesn't he?

"Sometimes the 'She who Cooks Does Not Clean' rule could be a curse. Speaking of curses, if I keep eating like this I'm going to have to borrow one of Rachel's skirts."

"When am I going to get to meet this mysterious Rachel?" asked Vicky

"Well, she's someone who isn't very comfortable around strangers, so it may be a while." I drained a large pot full of greenish water. To forestall any more questions about Rachel I handed Vicky the pot.

"That gives us something in common." She replied. "I haven't exactly been running the social circuit since Richard kidnapped me, have I Martha?

"You do what you need to do, Vicky. Right now it's your time for healing. When your time comes to party Scott and I will take you out and treat you to a few beers."

"Maybe you ought to open a couple of them right now. It may help us get through this mess." She began scraping the dishes and handing them to me while she spoke.

"Where would you find room to fit anything more in your stomach?"

"I have a bigger stomach than you, child. I'm old enough I don't care about my figure any more."

"You aren't any older that Pops, and he's the youngest old fart on the planet. Besides, haven't you noticed how Pops drools over you when you aren't looking?

"Child, you're out of you mind! Richard isn't going to be drooling over an old woman like me. Besides he's got his friend Rachel. Hand me that platter, will you?"

"Vicky, you need to have your eyes examined. Pops hasn't so much as looked at a woman since his divorce. In his own way he was probably as depressed as you were when he moved in, but he's found his inner strength and centered himself since then."

"You're starting to sound like one of those New Age fruitcakes, Martha."

"Must you keep talking about food? That strawberry whatever-it-was was incredible!"

"I noticed you didn't turn down the ice cream on top of it. Child, the three of you and the little pills the shrink has me taking are what's bringing me back. I already did all the centering I intend to years ago when I was into gymnastics. I wouldn't dare wear the outfit I did back then any more."

"You put on one of those spandex leotards and Pop's eyes are gonna be rolling around on the floor. It's not too late to go shopping, I could take you to the place I get my dance outfits. We can do some aerobics together to work off that meal. In the living room - I want to be there when Pops tries to hide the fact you turn him on!"

"Are you out of your mind?"

"You'd rather wash dishes than shop? I'd say you were the one who's out of your mind."

"But…"

"The dishwasher's full. The rest will be here when we get back."

"But…"

Oh, hell. Sometimes words won't do. I just took her arm and dragged her with me.

---

Richard…

"Pappa!!!!"

The joyous cry split the heretofore quiet Saturday morning air asunder, announcing the arrival of a herd of small children. I know there's only two of them, but is sure felt like more. I had the pancakes ready for pouring, the coffee brewed and the table set.

"Erin, you and Morrina go upstairs and tell Aunt Sherry and Aunt Vicky and Aunt Martha that breakfast is ready." I instructed. Better a cute kid break the news it's time to get up than a grumpy old crossdresser, especially when Vicky didn't know about Rachel. They wouldn't growl so much at a cute kid.

"That's mean, Daddy!", Camille observed.

"Self preservation, my dear. Learned it from your mother when she sent you to wake me up." Faint knocking floated down the stairway along with an insufferably perky child's voice. My housemates stumbled downstairs one at a time and joined us for breakfast.

"Finian, my son, the fair colleen will be needin' a cuppa to shake the cobwebs loose!" I observed, waving my hand at Vicky.

"Daddy, people who speak with a drawl should NOT try to do an Irish accent." Camille chided.

"Children should be seen and not heard." I have my own store of advice.

"Don't talk, Mommy. Pappa spank!"

From the mouths of babes…

"Now Morrina, you know I wouldn't spank your mother. That's not polite. Let Aunt Vicky wipe the syrup off your nose, will you."

Morrina swarmed up her lap and settled herself down. "You go Museum An' Vicky?" The kid must have read my mind, that was the whole idea, to get Vicky out with me and the kids. "See Big Bird!"

"Well Morrina, I'm not sure…"

"I take it you've never been to the Strong Museum?" I cut in before she could say no. "It's the answer to a grandparent's prayer, a whole building full of things that make kids happy. I discovered it when I was babysitting Erin when she was about 18 months old. We got there about nine in the morning and she was enthralled for the entire day. I practically had to drag her bodily away to get her to eat and she never took a nap. When the place closed at five she still hadn't had enough."

"No arguments now, you'll enjoy it — besides it's a lot easier to have someone else there when the kids want to split up. Pick one and she's yours for the day."

"Please An' Vicky!" my secret weapon cried.

"OK, darling, I'll come."

Success!

---

Vicky…

I tried to be depressed, I really did. I wanted to be depressed. I wanted to lay in bed all day and ignore the world. I wanted to hate my pig-of-an-ex-husband, along with the rest of the world. If I had realized just how my life was going to change when Richard appeared at my door I would have slammed it in his face and gone back to bed. The only problem with being depressed is you just don't give a damn about the future, so you end up in places you never expected. Like in a kid's museum with a three year old whirlwind dragging you along behind her.

Naturally we didn't make it past the carousel by the front door without going for a ride. Just why a sweet, little three year old girl would demand to ride in the whirling teacup instead of on a nice, sedate, up-and-down horse is beyond comprehension, but I was happy to let her spin while my stomach stayed in it's proper place.

Once we got into the museum proper, Morrina wanted to visit Big Bird while Erin headed for the play tables to draw and color her newest work of art, so we split up. Richard helped Erin color while I gamely tried to play checkers by Morrina's rather eccentric rules) on the Sesame Street playground. I didn't know you could jump a queen in checkers. Fortunately she lost interest before I lost patience and off we went. We counted with the Count, played a video game (the little darling uses a computer better than I do!), then stopped for a while to shop at the grocery store (5 items in the cart and put them back when you're done!) before finding the Victorian Parlor.

I lost all possibility of being depressed when I saw Richard and Erin seated at a child size table (his knees were practically in his nose) partaking of tea. Despite her incipient tomboyhood, Erin appears to have the firm conviction that you must dress properly when you have tea in the Victorian Parlor. She had obviously delved into the big trunk and found a dress and a suitable floppy hat. Typical kid's behavior, but what nearly made me double over with laughter was Richard. On his head was a ludicrously small bonnet. A child's dress was draped from his neck to his ample stomach and three skirts were tied around his waist. In his hand was a teacup about an inch in diameter and before him was a full sized muffin. The muffins looked real, but I assumed they were plastic like the food in the grocery store.

We were promptly invited to tea, I was already wearing a skirt so I did not have to change but Morrina happily found another dress in the trunk.

"Richard, you look divine. I didn't know they had such creative fashion designers in the Victorian period..

"My attire is the artistic result of this fine young woman to my right. One must dress properly for Tea, you know. I rely on her fashion sense for all my dresses."

"Oh? Then did she pick out the nightgown?"

"That was a present from her mother."

"I shouldn't have asked… Yes dear, I would like more tea." She held her cup out to Erin.

"I helped mommy pick out Grandma Rachel's nightgown, Aunt Vicky. It was a Christmas present!"

Wait a minute. Had the tea party migrated from the Victorian Parlor to Wonderland? I could see Alice and her mushrooms out the parlor window, but this was ridiculous!.

"Richard, isn't your ex's name Emily? Just what is this Rachel person to you, anyway?"

"A rather close friend you've yet to meet. Emily, I think Aunt Vicky needs some more tea."

"Pretty dam.. uh darn close if you're running around the country with her nightgown! Thank you, dear, I think my cup is full."

"Closer than you would guess. I'll certainly introduce you when the time is right."

"Well, if I'm wearing her nightgown I think that would be nice."

"That's silly!" piped up Morinna. "You know Grandma Rachel!"

"Ladies!", Richard exclaimed, "I think it's time to go dancing!"

He was greeted with a chorus of glad cries and in no time the Victorian garb had been removed in favor of 20th century kid grunge. Just why did I get the feeling I had been manipulated?

---

The dancing turned out to be high tech dancing. Our small charges burst upon the dance floor and pushed one of several large buttons, filling the area with disco. There must have been a camera somewhere, because as they danced energetically, their images appeared on a large screen. Computer rendering made them fantastic, ever changing swirls of color as their bodies gyrated to the music.

"Pretty neat, huh?" Richard commented.

"The fancy display or the dancers?"

"Both. You may have noticed I'm a gadget freak — this is a great way to mix electronics and art."

"Well, they're certainly having fun. Where do they get the energy? I'm ready for a nap and they're boogying to disco, for heaven's sake!"

He reached over and pushed a different button, in a few seconds the music switched to a waltz.

"Pappa!" came the stereophonic wail. "That's too slow! Yuck!"

"On the contrary, it's just right for me and Aunt Vicky. Care to join me for a turn around the floor?"

I was swept up in his arms and, as corny as it sounds, time stopped.

I knew I was very stiff in Richard's arms and had to fight a vague feeling of unease. Thinking back about it, I realize it was the first time a man had touched me since I split with Larry. I had never wanted to touch another man for the rest of my life.

By then I had no doubt he appreciated me as a woman, even if I was unable to appreciate myself. When four people are sharing a single bathroom it's only a matter of time until you see or are seen less than completely covered. That had happened a few weeks back when I was feeling sorry for myself and lay in bed all day. Just before supper my bladder was ready to burst and I didn't have time to make myself decent, I just ran for the toilet.

I had made it to the head of the stairway when Richard came around the bend in the stairs and there was no way he could miss the fact my boobs were hanging out of my untied robe. (Thank heaven I was wearing panties!) We stared at each other for a fraction of a second; I had just enough time to notice the flush begin to creep up his face before I bolted for the bathroom, there to take care of a flush of my own. Neither of us had ever mentioned the incident.

In all the months I had been living in the same house as Richard he had always behaved as a perfect gentleman. I had spent hours in his bedroom listening to him make music, we had walked together for mile upon mile along the river. We had grown quite intimate with words. I had told him things I couldn't even share with Sherry and he spoken about his own divorce. When we had made it past the pain there was room to share other aspects of our lives, the small, intimate details one would share with a lover. Perhaps my body language had posted a "No Trespassing" sign, maybe it was his innate Southern manners, but never once had he physically touched me — at least as a man touches a woman.

Yet here I was waltzing to Strauss while his grandchildren complained about our musical taste. Watching our images repeat our every move on the screen something inside me let go and I relaxed into his arms and lay my head against his shoulder as we waltzed. I haven't danced in so many years I couldn't count them. I wasn't sure I even remembered how, but it came back without thought. For a few moments we were together as one despite the people who surrounded us. His hand pressed gently into the small of my back, our hands clasped and our feet swayed and life was beautiful.

That is until the music shifted from Strauss to Techno in mid beat. One of the little darlings had pressed another button and the mood was broken. Well, not completely; I surprised myself, and probably Richard, by keeping his hand in mine as we sat on the bench and watched the kids dance.

It was like a dam had burst, I couldn't get enough of touching Richard and he obviously enjoyed touching me.
The rest of the day we strolled (or ran — we were taking care of the kids!) hand in hand, stood side by side with our arms around each other's waists as we watched them play. We couldn't talk much as we were surrounded by hundreds of other children and their parents and we annoyed our charges because we wouldn't split up and let them go off. separately. Adults can be hard hearted, can't they?

We were standing arm in arm by the sandbox (actually it was filled with small plastic pellets — much easier to clean up than sand) watching the kids play when their parents came. Finian has truly expressive eyebrows, with one of them raised above his impish grin it was a clear he approved of our sudden closeness.

"Well now, which of ye was it that finally realized ye were in love?" His brogue was as broad as his smile. "We've been speculatin' how long it would take to pass through that great thick skull of yours, Richard me lad! Did she have to use a hammer to drive it through or did your southern charm melt the lassie's shell? Don't answer me now — I won't be the one to be giving ye a reason for your first fight"

Was it that obvious? I hadn't noticed. Had Richard? I didn't care and neither did he.

The PA system was urging us to leave as the museum was closing in a few minutes, so we said goodbye to the kids and made use of the nearby restrooms before leaving. We emerged simultaneously and, in the deserted back of the museum fell into each other's arms and kissed passionately. I had never thought I would experience desire again, but as our lips met and our tongues entwined I was once again excited to be in the arms of a man. My hands idly stroked his back as we kissed, until I distractedly found myself playing with a small lump over his backbone.

I felt him stiffen in my arms as my fingers traced this small bulge under his sweatshirt.

"What's the matter, Richard?"

"We'd better go before someone throws us out." He grasped my hands firmly.

"Not until you kiss me again. Once isn't enough!"

He did.

---

Richard…

I have got to be out of my everlovin' mind. Why in sweet heaven did I wear a bra today? Yeah, it's been months since I could dress up with Vicky living here. Yeah, I am just about to go crazy with the need, but why did I have to wear a bra under my sweatshirt today, of all days? Dammit, a guy should not realize he's in love when he's wearing a bra.

Did she figure it out? When she started playing with the clasp of my bra I just about lost it. I mean, one second I'm kissing the sweetest woman I've known in a long time and she's kissing back and the next second she's about to find out I'm wearing a bra. My heart can't take that kind of stuff - and I'm not talking Cupid, I'm talking cardiology! I'm gonna need a pacemaker if I don't tell her.

I have to wonder why I haven't told her about Rachel. I've told her just about everything else there is to know about me short of what Emily and I did together in bed. We've been kind of skittish around the subject of sex, I guess. She's still hurting from that slob Larry and — well, talking about sex doesn't come easy to me. Damn Baptists still got a hold on me even if I haven't been to church in years.

As we walked out of the museum, hand in hand, my brain was spinning. I was sixteen again, scared silly of girls and ecstatic that one of these untouchable creatures would deign to hold my hand. I suddenly realized I had walled off my growing attraction to Vicky over the past months, telling myself she wasn't ready for romance. Yeah — that kiss pretty well proved I had been lying to myself, just like I did when I was sixteen and stupid. "Selfless Hero Quenches Desire for Good of Woman" would not headline my memoirs if I ever got around to writing them. More like "Damn Fool Hides From Himself Again".

"Hey Richard! You still in there?"

I realized my hand was empty. We were in the coatroom and Vicky was standing there holding my coat. I didn't remember anything between THE KISS and right then.

"Richard. I don't want to go home right now."

Neither do I. Are you hungry? The India House is right down the street. Lovely décor and food to die for."

"How large are the tablecloths?"

"Huh?"

"I intend to play footsie with you during dinner and I just wondered if anyone would notice."

Boy was I glad I had decided to wear socks instead of pantyhose!

---

Vicky…

Dinner was lovely, you could trust Richard to know where the best food was to be found. We didn't say much during dinner, I think the both of us were a little overwhelmed by what had just happened and it's hard to hold a serious conversation with your mouth full.

I was starting to realize I had been in love with Richard for some time, but it was the love you have for a brother. As I had begun to feel better I realized just how much he and Sherry had done for me, but I wasn't sure just what I should do. That is until we kissed. Like the ancient alchemists, we had transmuted platonic love into the gold of erotic love. I had to wonder just what those antiquated graybeards would have done if their spells and potions had actually worked. Would they have known what to do next? I certainly didn't! While I was deciding I kept my promise to play footsie with Richard. How he got those clunky shoes off his feet I'll never know, but he managed it.

"How would you like to see another of Rochester's prettier spots?" Richard broke into my reverie. "I happen to know there will be a concert starting just about the time we get there."

"Delightful!"

We drove the few blocks until I saw a sign proudly announcing the High Falls District. When Richard took his guitar out of the trunk I realized why he was so sure when the concert would start. We walked between some beautiful, old buildings out onto a pedestrian bridge over the Genesee River until we could see the waterfall. We settled on a park bench and I watched the water while Richard tuned his guitar and began to fill the warm evening air with notes as liquid as the water coursing over the falls before us.

We were not alone, other people were enjoying the evening and would stop for a while to listen, then move on. As it was getting dark a bearded man with a huge backpack and an feathered alpine hat approached. He stopped for a little while, then shrugged out of his backpack and pulled out a tin whistle. Settling on his well stuffed pack he caught Richard's eye and was rewarded with a smile and an unmistakable invitation. The light faded and the music went on. I was amazed at how well they played together, how could two people who had never met do that? As they skirmished to the end of a particularly lively tune the young man spoke. "That's a lovely guitar, very sweet. I've never seen a back like that with the scalloping and the inlay is remarkable."

"Made by Bernie Lehmann right here in Rochester. The man is a genius. I'm Richard and this is Vicky." He introduced us.

"Mike Laughlin, musician, dreamer, wanderer, and modern day Nomad at your service. He swept the hat from his head in the manner of an old time troubadour.

"Nomad?" I inquired. "No camels, no flock of sheep, no burnoose?"

"Nope, just me, my truck and what fits in it. Been on the road for twenty six years, three months and four days. Used to be I could tell you how many hours but I gave that up some time back."

"Twenty six years?" Don't you ever go home?"

"No home to go to. I tried to settle down but it just didn't work. Few weeks and I get this itch I can't scratch. No matter how nice a place is, I just have to keep moving so's I can see the next place. Been a long time since I hit the Northeast, so I'm spending the summer up here. Got to see Maine while the weather is good. I may have the wanderlust, but I wander in the south during the winter. Never was too fond of cold weather camping." His grin was visible by the spotlights on the falls.

"So what do you do in the cities?"

"The big cities have hostels. Smaller places I find a park or a bridge, which is why I'm carrying the pack tonight. Looks to be plenty of places to settle down for the night nearby without attracting attention. If I'm flush I might rent a campsite and take a shower. Used to be I'd pick up a girl or two and stay with them but that seems a little too cynical for me these days.

"Out west you can live off the land in a lot of places," he continued, "if you're not too worried about 'No Trespassing' signs. I pick up some temp work now and then to pay for gas and insurance, but mostly I do flea markets and such. You can always find something one person hates that another person will pay money for."

"Somehow," Richard drawled, "I get the feeling you've stood around a subway or two with that whistle in your mouth an your hat on the floor."

"Might have happened a time or two. Not so easy these days with all the competition. Besides, flea markets pay better - crazy collectors will open their wallets and pour cash all over you if you know the market. Did pretty good at one outside Buffalo last weekend so I'm sitting pretty right now."

"But isn't it lonely, just wandering around all the time? " I asked.

"You pay a price for everything, Vicky. I learned long ago that I have a need to wander, and that need is stronger than anything else in my life. I tried to settle down once and it cost both me and a fine woman more grief than either of us deserved. I held on for two years with her, but it was no good. Love wasn't enough, and we truly loved each other. By the end we were both wrecks. She needed me home an I couldn't do it, so we split. Still see each other once in a while when I'm passing through; she has a good man and three kids who consider me their Crazy Uncle Mike."

"How sad." I replied.

"Not sad, Vicky." Richard replied. "Bittersweet maybe, but the right decision for the situation. There are some things that can't be reconciled despite the best intentions of both people involved. Better to realize it before it tears you both apart."

"Amen to that, brother!" our wanderer exclaimed. "Living a lie wears at you and grinds you down. It robs your life of joy, and why would anyone want to live that way? Sure I get lonely sometimes, but who doesn't? I have friends all over the country, just because I only see them once every few years doesn't harm the friendship. Every so often someone comes along and we hook up for a month or year and travel together. New folks come on, old friends settle down and I get one more place to stop for a week or two that I didn’t have before."

"I guess." I couldn't imagine living like that, but obviously Mike the Wanderer enjoyed it.

"Who knows? In twenty years you could be at the wheel of a Granny Wagon yourself, spending your retirement cruising the country in a camper. You'd be amazed at how many women do that, 'specially the widows. Campgrounds are full of 'em!"

"I guess I'm safe then. I don't have children so I can't be a Granny, I don't have a job to retire from and no husband to leave me widowed."

"We'll see about that." muttered Richard.

"What did you say, dear?" Oh my! Did I really call him 'dear'?

"We'll talk about it later." He replied.

"Well folks, I ought to be off and settling in for the night. A true pleasure to play with you, my friend. May you and Vicky have a long and happy life together!"

He shouldered his pack and strode across the bridge. During the conversation Richard had put his guitar down and placed his arm around my shoulders. The warmth of his body next to mine was welcome as the evening cooled and I gladly snuggled into his embrace.

"Richard?" I asked, "How is it that only a few hours after we kissed for the first time a total stranger knows we are going to spend the rest of our lives together?"

"Are we?"

"I vote yes. Do we need a tie breaker? I just realized I love you, you know."

"I never thought I'd be able to say this after Emily and I broke up, but I love you too, Vicky."

"Well, when the Handsome Prince kisses the Sleeping Damsel they're supposed to live happily ever after, aren't they? Being depressed isn't exactly sleeping, but you brought me out from where I had buried myself. Can we live happily ever after, even knowing I could get sick again? "

"Do you need to ask? Remember how I met you? That's a part of you that I know exists, but it doesn't matter to me because I know the whole of you. "

"Thank you, Richard."

"Don't thank me yet. I'm going to switch metaphors on you, darling. What happens when the Fair Princess kisses the Ugly Frog and he keeps his warts even after he changes?"

"Maybe he should try a good concealer or some zit cream."

"That just hides the warts from view but they're still there. You need to know about my warts, Vicky."

"So tell me. I'm listening."

We had gotten very serious. I couldn't imagine what he could tell me that would make me change my mind, but I was suddenly very nervous.

"Vicky, I want to get this right, so please just listen. I'm very afraid of hurting you and I don't want to. Remember talking about the nightgown you wore the day we met?"

I nodded, but didn't say anything.

"I let you keep a very wrong impression, knowing it would hurt you, because I didn't want you to know that nightgown belonged to me, not a woman who I had taken into my bed. Until you put it on it had never been worn by a woman. I had to go out and buy some men's pajamas when you came to stay with us because I didn't own any. I don't own any men's underwear and the only reason I wear socks is because they show between my shoes and my pants. I'm a crossdresser, Vicky; I love to wear women's clothes despite how foolish I look. It's a thing I can control but I can't stop, it's part of me and I hope I haven't just destroyed what we were starting to find together, but you have to know."

I think my jaw dropped, but there was so much going on in my mind when he finished speaking I really don't remember too clearly. Uppermost was "His nightgown!" I got so pissed off at him and it was HIS nightgown? He wasn't like Larry, kicking women out of his life half dressed to hide them from me.

For the second time that day things magically fell into place. In a revelation as blinding as that first kiss I realized who Rachel had to be, why there were earrings in both of Richard's ears, why Sherry practically doubled over with laughter the first time she saw me in Rachel's — no, Richard's — nightgown. I knew why there were pictures missing here and there around the house. (Holes in the dust!) I knew why Richard had stiffened when I played with the lump under his sweatshirt. I knew what the lump had to be. Most of all, those three-way intimate looks between my housemates that left me out made perfect sense now.

I must have been thinking longer than I realized, for Richard took both my arms into his hands and spoke urgently.

"This is just like what Mike was talking about. I need to wear women's clothes as badly as Mike needs to keep moving. It's part of my soul, Vicky. Could you stand to see me wearing a dress? Can you love me knowing I'm a bit nuts?"

"Rachel, you should try depression sometime and then tell me if you wearing women's clothes is all that bad." I paused. "That's really what you've been hiding from me all this time?"

Now it was his turn to look bewildered. "Not exactly hiding…" he trailed off.

"Yeah hiding! The three of you have been hiding something since I moved in. Just 'cause I was an old broad who was so fucked up I almost killed myself, you didn't want to tell me you were a little kinky? Christ! I told you what Larry was into, didn't I?"

"Vicky, the only thing I could ever do is cherish you, never humiliate you. You will always be free to make your own decisions, I will never force you to do something you dislike just to please me. We may not always agree, there may be times we do things separately, but when we are together what we do will be by mutual consent and love. You have to know about Rachel, but if you are not comfortable with her you won't have to see her. I'll do my best not to force my crossdressing on you if you're not ready."

"I've been waiting a long time to meet Rachel, and I firmly intend to make her acquaintance."

I was suddenly overwhelmed in his embrace. The warmth was wonderful in the cool evening air and I put my arms around his great body as far as I could. Our lips met passionately. His fingers kneaded my back as I gently stroked his, oblivious to being prominently on display in a public place.

It simply didn't matter. After a long and delicious time I realized just what my fingers had been tracing under his sweatshirt. I insinuated one of my hands under the loose fabric and made my way slowly up his back until I felt the clasp on the bra he was wearing. My conversation with Sherry came flooding back to me and I started to giggle.

"I told you I was a crossdresser, so what's so funny about me wearing a bra, love."

"Sherry told me the other day I had to get a Page Boy cut before I stuck my finger in a Dyke. Does that count with you?"

---

Sherry…

I looked up from my book when Vicky came in to our bedroom.

"My, my, sister dear. You look like the cat who ate the canary. I'm surprised you cleaned up the feathers so well."

She stepped out of her skirt and flung her blouse onto a pile in the corner of the bedroom as she spoke. "I want you to know, dear little sister, that you will now have your bed to yourself." There went her bra and panties. She wiggled into the nightgown she had arrived in, then bent down to kiss my cheek.

"I still love you, but I'm moving in with Rachel." She announced. "As Mr. Twain once said, 'Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do.'.

She was gone in a swirl of her nightgown' hem before I could say anything.

---

Richard…

There was a quiet knock at my door.

"Come on in, I'm decent."

"You may be the most decent man I've ever met, Richard." Vicky spoke quietly. I've come to return your nightgown."

She skinned it over her head and it landed on the bedcovers.

"Slide over, darling. Sherry tells me I'm a bed hog. You can give me your opinion in the morning.



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