The Magic Number

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The Magic Number

By Ricky

Some people think their Magic Number will win the lottery. Harry knew that his magic number was 59 1/2, the age when Harry retired and Hallie became real.

Everyone has had the experience standing line at the convenience store, usually holding seven items because there wasn't a lousy basket to put them in, waiting for some jerk to decide on his magic numbers in the lottery. These idiots are convinced they will hit that one number and their lives will suddenly change and they will start over with everything they ever wanted. You see the same ones every week because the magic number still eludes them.
Today Harry hit his magic number but he wasn't going to be punching it into any card at the convenience store. For that matter, he wasn't going to be punching any cards for the rest of his life, because his Magic Number was 59 1/2.
Retirement. The word has a sweet sound to it, especially when you have a whopping six months before you before you officially become an Old Fart. So what if it was one of the lousy old jokes Harry's old man told over and over when he was younger, it had just enough truth to it to make Harry smile as he went through the motions on his last day at the plant.
Harry had been preparing for this day for some time now, the last few hours had seemed to run at half speed. The papers were signed and the guys had said their goodbyes during the party at lunch. One last job, three more parts to turn and then it was over. For the umpteenth time Harry reached to pull his hair out of his face and cursed himself for dropping his last hair tie in the oil at the bottom of the lathe. He didn't want to get any oil in his hair, not today of all days, so he stopped and gave his head a shake. Across the floor he could see Sven frown. The foreman had been giving Harry grief for the last couple of years as his hair grew longer, but other than bitch there wasn't much he could do about it. After 3:30 today he wouldn't even be able to do that. At that time Harry was History.
He smiled at that thought. If only they knew how appropriate it was.
The bell rang just as he was taking the last part off the lathe. So what, he could donate another 5 minutes to the Company. He unchucked the part and put it in the rack, swept out the filings in the tray and blew down the lathe. A good workman, he swept up around the machine, carefully hung his apron on the peg and put the broom and dustpan back in the rack. At exactly 3:41, just long enough to make the company pay him for the unauthorized overtime, he punched out. What were they going to do, fire him?
Harry whistled as he walked to the car with a new spring in his step. He grinned as he pushed the button and the top swung up and back over his new convertible. The sleek, red beauty was part of the preparations for retirement - no condo in Florida for Harry. Financially he was looking pretty good, his investments had done well over the years. He had his goals, and not just the financial ones, clearly in mind and had been arranging his affairs for the transition. The two-seater was his retirement present to himself, or rather the first of a series of retirement presents. He had just one hour and fifteen minutes until the next one was scheduled.
Harry pulled smoothly onto the expressway and accelerated to 5 MPH over the speed limit, no need to get some cop excited and make him late today. The wind blew his hair back and thoughts of old movies with the heroine cruising down the highway came to his mind. Of course the heroine didn't have any grey in her hair, but who cared?
He slid into his driveway and left the top down. He stripped off his oil soaked work clothes as he headed for the bathroom. This was something that Harry wasn't going to miss, the need to shower the oil and gunk off his body as soon as he got home from work. He liked his job as a machinist, there was a certain pleasure in seeing raw stock become something gleaming and complex under his hands, but that was over now. At least as far as metal and plastic and hardware was concerned; he was about to begin the greatest job of craftsmanship he had attempted, but it wasn't going to involve a machine shop.
He tied his hair into a topknot to keep it dry and showered, lathering profusely and scrubbing out the oil. He was tempted to linger, but the time was passing and he had an appointment to keep. Scrubbed and buffed, he threw on a T-shirt and jeans and slipped his feet into a pair of sandals. On the way out he picked up his trail of clothes and chucked them in the garbage pail at the side of the house. No need for them any more! Besides, his wife, Linda, would not appreciate the mess when she got home.
Twenty minutes to go. What the heck? He ran the top back over the convertible and set out on foot. A few minutes of mild exercise later he opened the door of Fantasy Hair Designs and went in as the small bell announced his entrance. Before he could say anything a shrill, piercing wail assaulted his ears.
"Nooooo....oooo....oooo!"
The two year old in the chair seemed to have a problem. Well, strictly speaking anyone with ears had a problem, but if the child resumed when she had managed to inhale again they all might need the services of an audiologist to assess the damage to their eardrums. Threshold of pain is a remarkably descriptive phrase.
Harry knelt before the urchin and spoke soothingly. "Hi there cutie. Can I sing along with you or are you doing a solo?"
So what if the kid wouldn't get the joke, Harry's voice was soothing and calm, notably melodious for a man of his size. Whether it was his soothing voice or the shock of seeing a large, overweight, aging hippie appear before her the child stopped her vocalizations.
"Nobody's going to hurt you, pumpkin. The nice lady is just going to fix up your hair so it looks pretty, just like she's going to do with mine. You just watch. I'm going to sit down in this chair next to you and let the nice lady over there fix my hair. Besides, I happen to know she has a big box of suckers in her cabinet and I bet you could ask her for one when your hair is looking pretty. I like the orange ones best, you know."
Harry smiled and sat down while a pair of huge brown eyes followed his every move. "Whenever you're ready for me, Lucy. I'm just going to keep my little friend company until it's my turn."
The normal buzz of a hair salon slowly returned. Other than having to turn the little girl's chair so she could see Harry while the stylist plied her trade, things seemed normal. Well, as normal as having a large man sitting in the midst of what is assumed to be a woman's domain. The little girl was just climbing out of her chair when Harry felt warm hands upon his shoulders.
"So you're going to do it, are you Harry?"
"Harry retired as of 3:30 PM this afternoon. The name's Hallie. And yes, I'm going to do it - or rather you're going to do it to me."
"I'm not that kind of girl, Harry!"
"Hallie. Get your mind out of the gutter and become one with my hair. I'm tired of this straight stuff, I want sexy waves cascading down my back."
"And I want a million bucks, tax free. I'll curl your hair but I still think your only chance is to pull this off with your body is to wear a helmet with horns sticking out of it and sing opera."
"I got a brass bra on sale at Lane Bryant and I've never had a problem with being horny. I am putty in your hands, mold me to your will, fair damsel."
"Jeez! I'm gonna puke in the hair sink if you keep that shit up! Well, you did bring down the decibel level in the place, maybe that's an omen that you'll make a good grandmother. On your head be it, Hallie."
"Where else would I put my hair? Can I have a sucker if I behave myself?"
"I think I'm the sucker here. Come on back and let me wash your hair. If this works I want to take pictures."
"If this works I'll be singing opera on Oprah and the entire world will see your handiwork. If it doesn't then I find a wig and you get to beg my forgiveness."
"Is that any way to speak to someone who will be waving sharp objects around your ears in a few minutes?"
"Bloody right!"
"Wrong answer, Hallie. Let's get your hair washed."

***

The walk back seemed much shorter. Completely relaxed after several hours of personal attention by the staff of Fantasy Hair Designs, Harry was eager to turn his fantasy into reality. The soft curls in his hair felt very different to him. His hair still fell well past his unfortunately large shoulders, but not quite so far any more. The curls kept it somewhat off his neck, just enough to feel different. Every few steps he shook his head just to feel his new hair.
Then there were his hands. He'd have to start using moisturizing lotion now that he wasn't soaking in machine oil all day long. The good part was that now he could let his nails grow without worrying about the dirt that got under them at work. While he had waited for the magic potion to work on his hair Hallie had gotten her first manicure.
"That's an odd thought." reflected Hallie. Well, it was going to take some time to get used to the pronouns.
In any case, Hallie now had blue nails that would complement the night's outfit. Much as she wished she could have gotten those artificial nails at the shop she would never be able to let hers grow too far and still play her guitar. As she approached his house a thought came to her. This was Harry's last walk - sounded like a good title for a book. If this worked out he'd use it for her memoirs. If it didn't work out she'd probably end up on the talk shows or in the loony bin; either way she wouldn't need to write a book. One way or another she'd get her 15 minutes of fame.

Her excitement grew as she climbed the stairs in her home. Harry removed his clothes for the last time, this time hanging them neatly on the hooks behind the bedroom door, and stood before the full length mirror. The image that met his eyes was hardly what he hoped for, but having seen it for more than half a century it didn't surprise him. 6'1", a pot belly protruding from the front, wide shoulders and a curiously bare chest. Well, he was going to live out a fantasy - he'd just have to fantasize a bit harder than most people.
His face was smooth and hairless like his chest. His retirement planning had included a couple of years of electrolysis. It was months since he had shaved, although the razor still saw regular use on his legs. Face a little too long, chin a little too square, chins a little too many, but the newly dyed lustrous brown hair cascading in waves over the shoulders showed no sign of its former gray. Besides, the curls hid the slightly receding hairline completely.
Opening the lingerie drawer of her dresser, Hallie had a fleeting regret that there were no male underwear left to throw ceremoniously in the trash to mark this rite of passage. They had been disposed of years ago and the drawer filled with panties in a rainbow of colors. Throwing out Harry's wallet and putting the bits of paper and plastic (now reading an anonymous H. Willis) that one must carry to get around in today's society into a purse would have to suffice. The new wallet settled in beside her hairbrush and makeup kit. Hallie was going to appreciate never having to have a pocket full of change again.
No need to agonize over which pair of panties to put on this time, however. Hallie removed the bag with Lane Bryant emblazoned on it and removed the bra and panty set that would mark Hallie's new life in an outwardly new gender. The fabric was white and printed with green, long stemmed yellow roses. The band was embroidered with the legend 'cacique', as was the waistband of the panties. A good brand and one that fit Hallie's large frame very well, but why did someone think that the ancient title for South American royalty had anything to do with lingerie? Advertising? It wasn't as if anyone was going to be able to read it other than Linda, and she had bought it for him and knew who made it.
Tonight was a night to celebrate, so Hallie would gladly put up with the annoying side of rearranging her gender tonight. One good thing about being overweight, Hallie had plenty of 'breast tissue' to play with. In fact, Hallie could almost fill a B cup, but a 46B was a molehill compared to the mountain of her stomach. A few carefully placed strips of wide surgical tape soon gathered her natural endowment (right - talk about fantasy!) into a more feminine position and the bra with its pretty yellow flowers settled into it's rightful place.
Next came the new breast forms. They were almost new, another part of the retirement plan. They had arrived a couple of weeks ago but Hallie wasn't about to let them sit in a drawer until her magic number came up. They felt almost alive in her hands. The latest technology, silicone with a remarkably realistic feel and shape. There was a slight feeling of coolness as Hallie dropped the first one into place in her bra, but it disappeared before it's mate was inserted. In seconds they had molded themselves to her flesh and Hallie displayed enough cleavage to wear the low cut blouse she had in mind for the evening. Not that she was going to tape herself up like a mummy on a regular basis, but tonight was special!
Spring was turning to summer, the day was warm and the night promised to be mild on this weekend before Memorial day. Nice of the weather to cooperate, mused Hallie. For the first day of her public life as a woman she reverted to her youth. As a teenager Harry had been jealous of the loose, beautiful clothing girls of his age wore. Long skirts and bright blouses, especially when they covered breasts unencumbered by a bra, had always seemed the height of fashion to Harry. The world had turned many times since then, and neohippy was back in fashion. If you looked hard enough the styles she favored were even available in size 3X.
With Hallie's long arms most off-the-rack blouses ended not too much below her elbows, so she had become an accomplished seamstress over the years. Harry had spent the last month or so at the sewing machine or plying an embroidery needle. The white fabric had been converted fairly rapidly into matching peasant blouses for Hallie and Linda, but the painstaking embroidery covering them had been a work of love, not to mention hours and hours of stitching. The finished blouse showed just a bit of her carefully wrought cleavage when Hallie slid it over her head and freed her wavy hair from the neckline. The white fabric was just thin enough that the pattern on her bra could be seen if you looked carefully.
The thought gave Hallie an illicit thrill - not many men would look closely enough at the boobs on a woman her size to see the pattern, but yet... Maybe a tenor who was looking for his Brunhilda to wax Nordic with passion. Not that it would do the hypothetical tenor much good - Hallie was as solid a lesbian as Harry was a heterosexual.
Feeling somewhat like a knight of old girding himself with armor, Hallie stepped into her Veronica. How ironic that all her ample padding was in her belly, not on her non-existent hips and ass. What the hell, women have been doing the oddest things in the name of beauty since some ancient scribe started recording the process. Hallie was just the latest in a long line of humans who padded and filled out her natural form to satisfy the demands of fashion.
Next came the ankle length, full skirt in warm blues and greens that set off the embroidery in her blouse nicely. That hadn't taken anywhere near as long as the blouse, even if it felt like she'd never come to the end as she stitched the yards of skirt hem. No leg showing tonight, but with her varicose veins and the odd scar or two she didn't intend to be showing off her legs too much. A pair of blue sandals completed the outfit. Hallie had a moment of mild regret that she wouldn't be wearing pantyhose on her first day in her new life, but they just didn't go with the outfit. Neither did the makeup, (who ever heard of a hippie wearing makeup?) but in Hallie's case a little extra illusion was necessary. With the ease of long practice Hallie added a touch of foundation and shading to de-emphasize her long face and added subtle emphasis to her eyes.
At long last she was able to shape her eyebrows into a more conventionally feminine shape. No more worry about what people would think, Hallie was here to stay and what they thought was their problem from now on. No more boss or authority to please, no more need to hide this part of herself from the world. Too bad the fundamentalist buggers had already claimed 'born again'; the phrase said it all tonight.
In many ways becoming Hallie full time was like being reborn. Harry had been a crossdresser since he first swiped his mother's bra from the bathroom hamper at the age of thirteen. For just a moment she cast her mind back to her teenage years, back when she was swiping bras from her mother and hoping she wouldn't notice. She still remembered the electric thrill when she put on a bra for the first time, how the shoulder straps tugged when he moved and the tightness of the band around his chest. Harry was already too big to fit into his mother's clothes by the time he discovered how much he wanted to wear them, but he did it anyway until he just plain couldn't fit into them without bursting the seams.
While he knew from the first that a man wearing women's clothing was not going to be accepted (he could just imagine what would happen if he wore a bra in gym class!) somehow he didn't really care what other people thought. Perhaps this came from the same part of his brain that drove him to make music, a curious strength of ego that allowed him to get up in front of other people and take the chance they wouldn't like him.
He had volunteered to play female parts in college and community theater, but with his large body and all too male features they were necessarily comic send-ups. Communal living through college had kept Hallie from appearing very often, but she had slowly become more distinct in Harry's mind.
Like many crossdressers, Harry thought that marriage would release his desire, but like all of his sisters before him it didn't take long to find out this was a forlorn hope. In fact, while his first wife was in the hospital with their first child, the urge overcame him and he spent those two days in skirts. Soon afterward he realized that Hallie wasn't going to go away, so he did what he thought was right and told his wife. She wasn't thrilled, to say the least. Coping with a new baby is stressful and Harry's timing was downright lousy, but they managed to cope. Over time they had worked out rules they could both live with, but it hadn't saved the marriage.
These days putting on a bra simply felt right; nothing unusual, just plain normal. Hallie was just installing a pair of outrageous earrings - three enormous hoops with a large blue stone hanging inside them - when she heard the door open below. Linda's voice floated up the stairs.
"I hope you aren't going to tell me you aren't dressed yet. That bit of feminine nonsense went out with the fifties."
"I am a woman of the sixties, darling, and I am ready as of this moment. The question is: is the world ready for me?"
Linda stood framed in their bedroom door as Hallie rose and swirled around to show off her long skirt. By the look on Hallie's face it was clear she was flying as high as any dope smoking swinger of her youth, though not a toke had passed her lips.
"Hot damn! If there were 40% less of you I would worry you would go off with the band after the concert and leave me all alone.
"Good thing I'm not into Girl Groups or I just might be tempted."
"Darling, I hate to point this out but there's enough of you to make a Girl Group."
"Not unless I can master Tuvan Throat Singing. That's a bit too much for someone still learning how to be a contralto."
"Well, at least the voice isn't too bad. By the way, you look pretty good." she said as she began removing her work clothes to reveal the twin to Hallie's bra and panty set.
"Thanks."
"I mean it. I like the hair, it works with your face."
"Lucy did a great job, especially considering what she had to work with."
"None of this false modesty crap, lover." She shrugged into her own version of the peasant blouse that Hallie wore. "You made your choice so don't get cold feet now. You may be big but you have good taste and if you present yourself with confidence you can work miracles." She stepped into her blue skirt.
"I just hope they'll listen to the music and not stare at me."
"If your feet are cold then take off the sandals. But then we wouldn't match.
"Not enough time. We have to go or we'll be late."
"I can hardly wait to see the expressions in the audience when you hit the stage. Ready for your coming out, Hallie?"
"As ready as I'll ever be. Let's go!"

***

Hallie swung the little red car into a space near the old Grange Hall where the concerts were held and pressed the little radio control that raised the top and locked the doors. Pressing another button the trunk popped open. Settling her purse over her shoulder she lifted an oddly shaped case from the trunk, then handed Linda her guitar. The instruments just about filled the trunk of the little car to bursting.
"Good thing you didn't take up the bass." observed Linda. We'd have to take both cars.
Entering the grange hall they found the usual pre-concert confusion at it's height. The volunteers were setting up the chairs and moving tables while the sound man was stringing a web of cables across the stage and through the hall. Their presence went unnoticed in the confusion as they walked toward the stage until Joe, the crazy man who ran the concert series, spotted Linda. He gave her a wave and went back to whatever he was doing.
So much for causing a distraction. No one had even noticed Hallie's presence. As they entered the relative calm of the Green Room Hallie noticeably relaxed. No matter how much planning she had done for her retirement, her debut was still making her a little nervous. Well, in a few minutes just about everybody she knew would know that Harry had retired and Hallie was on the job. She and Linda were the opening act tonight - opening not just the show but a new chapter in her life.
Hallie soothed her nerves by tuning her autoharp, a job that really did require concentration. The 36 strings took a lot of tuning. As Hallie was bent over her instrument the door opened and Jasper entered - all six and a half feet of him. The main act, a tall Canadian folksinger with hair to his waist, made Hallie feel almost like a normal sized woman. Too bad they weren't going to be on stage together.
Introductions had just about been completed when Joe came in the room.
"Where the hell's Harry? We have sound check in five minutes."
Typical Joe. He hadn't earned the sobriquet "Folk Bastard" without cause.
"Harry's retired, Joe. Meet my new partner, Hallie."
"What the fuck. You can't do this to me! An hour before the show and you tell me you're changing your act! Are you crazy?"
Hallie rose and extended her hand. "I think you'll still like our act, Joe. Not much has changed except the costuming."
It took a few seconds for Joe to realize who Hallie was, at which point he lost his mind, or at least his temper. Nothing he said bears repeating, even if you could have made any sense out of it.
Jasper watched this little scene with an ironic smile on his lips. Promoters were a quirky lot, even odder than musicians, and he had dealt with Joe before. He knew his famous temperament and disregarded it. Between Hallie's appearance, which he was far too well-mannered to have remarked upon, and the promoter's virtually incoherent diatribe he realized just what must be happening. This was going to be a fun show!
"If you have a problem with guys that have long hair why'd you hire me, Joe?" Jasper injected into a lull in the diatribe.
"Long hair! I got no problem with long hair. I got a problem with guys that got boobs!" I got a problem with guys that wear dresses! You can't do this to me!"
"Poor baby." Linda patted the distraught promoter on the back. "I know Hallie takes some getting used to but she's really a very nice person. Now that Harry is retired, Hallie doesn't have to hide any more so she's here to stay. I wouldn't have married her otherwise."
If it weren't that most of Joe's blood had already migrated to his face he probably would have turned purple. As it was the rest of his body lightened a shade, but who knows where that blood went.
"Goddammit - that asshole Bush won! You can't marry another girl, even if she's a guy! You're fired! You're fucking fired! You can't do this to me!"
"You can't fire me, I'm retired. It's not like you're paying us anything for this gig, anyway. We'll just sit in the front row and watch the show then."
"Me too," added the highly amused Jasper. "My contract says I have an opening act. If you want to break the contract then I'll just join these two in the front row and see who plays tonight."
"You can't do this to me!" Joe wailed.
"If we're going to do a sound check we need to get started." observed Jasper. "I have a few guitars with me, you know."
"Sound check!" You don't need no sound check in a rubber room! You can't play guitar with a straitjacket and that's what you're going to be wearing!"
"As long as I get to wear a matching skirt it won't bother me." quipped Hallie.
"Yeah," commented jasper, "I like the outfits. Maybe I ought to get me one. This overwrought gentleman here is paying me a percentage and the bigger the audience the more I take home.
"You can't do this to me!" The complaint faded as the door closed behind the defeated promoter.
"I haven't had so much fun in years!" roared Jasper. "Did you two plan this just to get Joe excited? If so it surely worked."
"No, it wasn't for Joe - it was for me." Replied Hallie. "I have to admit that watching Joe does add a little spice to the whole affair, though. It's like Linda said, now that I'm retired I just don't want to hide this side of me any more. Hallie is here to stay."
"Well, it must really be important to you. You do realize that you aren't going to win any beauty contests, don't you?"
"Hey - I'll have you know I was runner up for The Ugliest Woman on Earth last Halloween. I'm going for the gold next fall."
"I love it!" exclaimed Jasper. "Send me a picture if you win - there's got to be a song in this somewhere."
"You got it. Better get out there and do the sound check or Joe is going to go postal."

***

If you have ever been backstage waiting for the show to start you would notice something. While they are waiting most performers are just normal people, the kind you would meet at Starbucks or McDonalds (depending on your taste) and don't seem very remarkable. Some are nervous, some are at ease, some chat with the crew and others keep silent. Unless they're wearing obvious stage makeup or costuming they just don't stand out.
Then the time comes and something magical happens. That ordinary person walks on stage and is transformed. Often it's like throwing a switch, a new personality suddenly beams forth from the shy person who was waiting in the wings. There is a kind of energy that communicates with the audience, an eagerness that tells you this is going to be fun!
Think of the opening of "Good Morning, Viet Nam", where Robin Williams meanders deadpan through the army base, barely interacting, until the mike goes live. Suddenly he becomes a raving, maniacal disk jockey. That's the kind of transformation that occurred when Hallie hit the stage. In that instant Hallie became real, she glowed in a way that illuminated the audience. With her wife next to her she felt the absolute rightness of her decision, the doubts fell away and she was contented as she had never been before.
She nestled her autoharp to her breasts and struck a chord, then she and her wife made music together. From the start Hallie could see the questioning looks in the audience. They were pretty well known in the local music scene and there had been no advance publicity that Linda would be singing with a new partner. Linda was singing lead, and it wasn't until Hallie joined on the chorus that realization swept across the audience.
Harry had always had a rather high singing voice, especially for someone so large. Her light tenor nicely complimented Linda' alto in range and tone as they intertwined their voices. There was no mistaking the harmonies that were their trademark when Hallie started to sing. There was sporadic laughter as the audience realized who Hallie was, but it died quickly. After all they were here to hear the music, even if crazy Harry was wearing a dress.
In fact, only one person walked out. That was Andy, the token Conservative in the crowd. How anyone as stodgy as Andy had learned to appreciate folk music was an open question; most people had learned to avoid politics when he was around.
The twenty minutes of the opening set flew by and before they knew it the time was up. Joe almost restrained the glare as they passed in the wings. They quietly slid into some empty seats in the back row as Joe was extolling Jasper's virtues. Jasper's long, blonde hair streamed behind him as he strode on the stage. Picking up one of the many guitars on the stage the cocked his head as he strummed it and decided it was in tune.
"I haven't sung this one in a long time, but I want to dedicate it to Joe and Hallie tonight. It's from Peter Alsop in California. "

Oh as soon as you're born grownups check where you pee
And then they decide just how you're going to be
Girls pink and quiet boys noisy and blue
It seems like a dumb way to choose what you'll do
Its only a wee-wee so what's the big deal
Its only a wee-wee so what's all the fuss
Its only a wee-wee and everyone's got one
They're better things to discuss

It's hard to sing when you're laughing, and the audience surely was laughing. It was going to be a good night.

***

Light.
There was a light in her eyes and Hallie didn't like it. She burrowed beneath the pillow and tried to ignore it. It hadn't been more than a few hours since she had gotten into bed. The party after the show had been great fun, even trying to explain to an six year old why she was dressed like a girl. The six year old was very curious and completely uninhibited, as befits the kind of children her friends would raise, but trying to put transsexualism and crossdressing into terms even a precocious six year old could understand had been a challenge. She must have done it, because the kid had stuck by her side until he fell asleep, happily asking her to sing to him.
Floating halfway between sleep and consciousness, Hallie mused on aging. Forty years ago she would have been wide awake by now even if she had been partying until two in the morning. Back then she would have had a few drinks (quite a few, actually) and be coping with a hangover, but that wouldn't have kept her in bed. Not unless there was someone else in bed with him to keep him occupied, that is. Playing his music in the Rock scene just naturally led to booze and groupies, but around the time his first marriage broke up that scene had lost it's charm.
The booze and the groupies were part of why the marriage didn't make it. Not that he found himself in bed with some bimbo on a regular basis, but it happened often enough that the trust that should be part of a marriage was lost. Add the crossdressing to the mix and the marriage was doomed. Their kids, thankfully nearly grown, figured it out long before either of them could admit it to each other, so they separated and then divorced.
That was a period Harry didn't like to think about much. Living alone, Hallie became more real to Harry. As soon as he had washed the crud of his workday from his body Hallie dressed herself and stayed until morning. The only problem was it was lonely! For most of a year he never even picked up his guitar, stayed home on Saturday nights in blouse and skirts, living like a hermit and drinking by himself. He didn't drink to bury the guilt, either from crossdressing or from screwing up his marriage, but because it was just how his crowd did things. Booze was a fact of life, everybody drank and he did too.
Ironically, it was his son that not only broke him out of this shell, but introduced him to Linda. Wes had followed in his father's musical footsteps and was pretty good on the guitar. Unlike his dad, Wes had picked up the acoustic side of things and his garage band played bluegrass, not rock. Harry wasn't going to miss his son's first paid gig, so he showed up at the little coffeehouse and found a table.
It was indeed a coffeehouse, no alcohol served and that practically blew Harry's mind. No booze? How can you make music without booze? It wasn't natural! While he was getting over his shock, Wes came over and introduced him to the others in the band. The place was starting to get crowded when the mandolin picker's mother arrived. The mother was a more mature version of the willowy girl with the mandolin and Harry offered her a place at his table. It wasn't so much that he was being gallant, but at just that moment his ex walked in and he certainly didn't want to share the table with her all night!
To Harry's surprise he actually enjoyed the music and the company. The mandolin picker's mom was a tall, good looking woman with supple, long fingers and nails that instantly identified her as a fellow guitarist. She wore just a touch of makeup that brought a glow to her face while seeming very natural. Harry silently wished he could carry off that look but it was, sadly, beyond him.
It didn't hurt that she had a nice set of knockers, but her hair was shorter than Harry liked. Back then Harry was pretty much into knockers, mostly on his own body but he enjoyed checking out the real thing on a good looking woman. She had a sense of fashion evident even if she was wearing blue jeans and a vaguely western type of blouse. Hallie was jealous of her earrings, which hung and swung freely from her earlobes. Linda had a comfortable, easy way about her and they make polite conversation until the band started playing.
The kids weren't going to be picking up any big recording contract and touring the globe, but they were pretty good. The mandolin picker had some great chops, and when she and Wes jammed together it was tasty stuff. By the time the band got to the encore Harry was clapping along enthusiastically with the rest of the crowd. Linda leaned over and whispered in his ear "Harry, I don't know if you want to know this, but your bra strap is showing."
That brought Harry's mind to a complete halt. He looked down and his bra strap was indeed peeking out below his short sleeved shirt. He had worn it because it was heavy enough to conceal the outline of his bra in the low lighting of the coffeehouse, but his enthusiasm in applauding the band had betrayed him. Very self consciously he reached in and pulled up the strap, glancing around in hopes no one else noticed. Since everyone was cheering the band he thought he had gotten away with it, except for this Linda person.
To his immense relief she didn't mention it again, just looked at him with a curiosity that invited him to explain but didn't demand it. Harry declined the invitation, he was certainly not ready to share that part of his life with some stranger.
The problem was, she didn't remain a stranger long. Naturally there was a party after the gig to celebrate and there was no way he could pass on it, much as he wanted to run for cover at having been found out. Naturally, it was in Linda's home. No booze there either, and not just because the kids were under age.
No booze, maybe, but plenty of music. The place was crowded and there were quite a few musicians there. The whole scene was new to Harry the Rocker, but the feel was familiar. Not having to plug in make it a lot easier to pass a guitar around and everyone seemed to know all the songs except Harry. When Wes shoved his guitar in Harry's hands he had a sudden attack of stage fright, the first time in years. Hell, he didn't know any of the music these people were playing, what was he going to do? He hadn't so much as tuned his guitar since the divorce!
His mind whirling he bought some time by tuning the strings, then in desperation he dragged an old Crosby, Stills and Nash number from somewhere deep in his brain. It was as close to their kind of music as he could come, fer cryin' out loud. It wasn't until his fingers had gotten halfway through the intro that he realized he was about to sing "Teach Your Children" to his son. Jeez - talk about corny!
But it wasn't corny, they all sang along on the chorus - they knew the song even if it was written before any of those kids were born. What really surprised him was the sweet alto voice that wound an effortless harmony around him on the verses. You just didn't get harmony like that playing Rock and Roll! He couldn't see who was singing because the voice came from somewhere behind him, but it sure sounded sweet.
The voice belonged to Linda, of course. When the song was over she stood behind him and whispered in his ear "Hey, big guy, want to make beautiful music together?" Lack of practice had erased the calluses on his fingertips and they were aching by the time he finished. Linda took his hand in hers and stroked it, then gradually worked her way up his arm until she was rubbing his shoulders and Harry had all he could do not to kick his leg and start howling like a dog. Her strong hands followed the lines of his bra straps down his back until she started playing with the clasp, letting him know she damn well knew he was wearing a bra and that it interested her.
That embarrassed him a little, but not as much as the thought of putting the moves on her while his son and her daughter were watching. For that matter, her putting the moves on him while their kids were watching was disconcerting. When the guitar reached her hands and she started to play Harry had a powerful urge to learn the songs these people all seemed to know, he dearly wanted to sing with this lady who so casually accepted his undergarments.
Over the next few months Harry found himself seeing a great deal of her, first at their kids' gigs and then by themselves as the relationship deepened. It didn't take long for Linda to become a fixture in Harry's apartment and there was no hiding the bra on his body or the clothes in his closet the night she came into his bed.
To Harry's immense pleasure, Hallie became a part of the relationship almost from the start. While they both knew that Hallie was never going to win any beauty prizes, it didn't seem to bother Linda one bit. It took a while, but gradually Harry lost interest in the booze. That wasn't quite as easy as it sounds but, since Linda was a teetotaler, Harry felt very out of place with a drink in his hand while Linda sipped an ice tea. He stopped hanging out in bars, since Linda's company was much preferable to booze buddies, and spent more and more time in the acoustic music scene his son had introduced him to. Linda taught him all the old favorites and he reworked some of his old rock repertoire on his brand new acoustic guitar. Wes and Linda's daughter went their separate ways eventually, but he continued to grow closer to Linda. When he discovered the autoharp, Harry was in heaven and within a couple of years Harry and Linda were a fixture on the local music scene.
The folkie crowd wasn't too much into booze, which helps even if you're twenty years on the wagon. With good friends and good music you don't have to drink to enjoy yourself. You can just be yourself and everything is OK.
That she was now Hallie had caused a bit of a buzz, but last night her friends, (except for Andy The Conservative, the one who walked out when he recognized Harry) were cool with it and their questions were friendly and polite, if a little confused. She just told them the truth and illustrated it with her songs. Gender became the impromptu theme of the singing at the party and there was lots of laughter and good vibes.

It was no use trying to get back to sleep, she was awake. Sliding out of bed quietly so as not to awake Linda, she put her feet into a pair of pink bunny slippers (ridiculous, but who cared?) and sat before the computer in the spare room. This pretty much happened every Saturday morning, Linda needed a couple of hours more sleep than she did, so she checked her e-mail, threw her two cents in on the Crossdresser's Forum and just killed time. Once Linda awoke she'd go back to bed for a while and they would work up an appetite together while satisfying another kind of appetite altogether.
A perfectly normal Saturday morning, but this time she was restless. This time she was going to get dressed in Hallie's clothes, knowing she would not have to take them off until bedtime. Pretty lame when sex and getting dressed compete with each other, but that's the way it was this morning. She was deep into writing a new song when a pounding on the wall between her and her bedroom broke her concentration. She hit the save button and went back to bed.

***

They rose and got dressed together, but it seemed strange. Not that they hadn't done it before, but for twenty years of marriage they had assumed their public gender roles along with their clothing. Today, and for the rest of their lives, they both assumed the feminine gender but it still seemed a bit odd.
They both started out the same, in their skin, then donned bra and panties. They both shook and shimmied to fit their breasts into the cups while laughing at this little dance. Hallie couldn't help but notice her brassiere was about twice as large as the wisp of cloth that was so sexy on Linda or that her panties could be used as a sail on a small wind powered ship without anyone being the wiser. Ah femininity!
As they were both approaching old fogyhood they both favored brightly printed cotton panties that allowed air circulation at the cost of sexy fabric; neither of them wore bikinis anymore.
Then the differences started to manifest. Hallie raised her arms and shrugged into a camisole, Linda slipped into a T-shirt. Hallie snapped up her garter belt and rolled on stockings, Linda put on socks. Hallie somewhat self consciously selected a pale pink blouse and lightweight skirt with a flower embroidered on it, another product of her needlework. Linda put on her jeans. Hallie choose a pair of matching modest heels and dangly, pink heart earrings, Linda put her feet into sneakers and put a pair of simple studs into her ears. A quick brush of her short hair, no makeup to apply, and Linda was ready to potter around the house. Hallie, who was bound for an investment club meeting, had to spend some time at the makeup table.
"You are one crazy bugger, Hallie!" Linda laughed as they sat down to breakfast. Saturday morning and you're actually happy to be wearing stockings and makeup. I love you dearly but I don't think I'm ever going to understand why you think skirts and stockings are such fun.
"Does it make any difference that we spent the last of the morning denying my newly adopted gender role? It's afternoon now."
"You know what I mean!"
"Just stuck in some infantile fantasy, yearning for June Cleaver to mother me, I guess."
"Reality is gonna hit pretty hard when you have to see your mom, you know."
"One day at a time, as the sage said. I don't understand it either, love, but I do like it. That leaves you to be the libber in the family. It's your job to abandon the trappings of femininity that masculine designers have decreed for women and opt for practicality. Growing up as a guy I get to flout convention just by dressing in a skirt on a Saturday. See - it all works out just fine."
Get the picture? While Hallie had not undressed any women on the street lately to verify it, it seemed Linda was not that unusual in her choice of apparel. Specifically excluding the worlds of high fashion and suit-and-tie corporate business, (those types live a fantasy beyond the dreams of any crossdresser), it sometimes seemed the only people who still wear slips and garters and corsets are crossdressers and porn stars.
"Just a fashionable matron about to attend a casual meeting. I hope you're not lynched when you arrive. Last night was fun, but you do realize that the folkie crowd is, shall we say, a bit more tolerant than the investment club?"
Struggling to keep breakfast crumbs off her bosom Hallie found she had to agree and it started her thinking. When he had married for the first time, a lot of people still expected his wife to dress much as Hallie was now dressed, even on a weekend, not to mention keeping her hair long and putting on makeup before appearing in public. Could it be that women's perception of what is feminine had changed over the last 40 years while Hallie's masculine perceptions had stayed fixed?
Perhaps it was a result of women's liberation. Many woman, or at least those Hallie included in her circle of friends, had learned to trust her own judgment, not some external notion of fashion. Or was it that this frilly, lacy, impractical version of femininity had been reserved for special occasions? Even the most ardent, jean wearing women of her acquaintance had been known to dress to the nines when the occasion demanded it.
When the occasion demanded it. But then, for Hallie just being able to appear as a woman in public was a special occasion. Maybe in a few months it would change, lord knows that as Harry she mostly stuck to jeans and T-shirt when just hanging around the house, but she was comfortable dressed as she was even if it was a Saturday.
Perhaps society had grown far less formal since her youth, it was only natural that casual dress would follow suit. Tough on a crossdresser, who wanted to get as far away from male fashion as possible. Hallie knew that wearing skirts would make her stand out, but then anyone of her height and girth was going to stand out even if they were draped in a sheet. The time had come to live her dream and that was what she was going to do.
Earth to Hallie! You still in there?" Linda was grinning as she broke Hallie's reverie.
"Just musing on fashion, love."
"Well, muse a little faster or you're going to be late. I almost wish I were going with you to see the reaction, but not even that would make me sit through hours of nattering about stocks and bonds. I'll let you make the money, I'm better at spending it."
"You think becoming Hallie was cheap? It's a good thing those investments are doing well.."
"Yeah, you do take up more closet space than I do these days. When you figure the cost of clothes by the yard of storage space it does add up to a remarkable sum. Good thing you're a remarkable woman."
"And I can just hear the remarks now. I've been practicing my #17 smile, frosty disdain, for those cads who would question my femininity."
"Gosh, most people would question your sanity. Out! Your public awaits."

***

Hallie smiled and wished her neighbor Sam a good day as she got into her car. Poor Sam looked very confused as his image faded in the rearview mirror. The die was cast now, when Sam figured out who she was it would be all over the neighborhood in minutes. Sam was a better gossip than any old woman ever created, really she should join Hallie in skirts to maintain the image of little old women dishing out the dirt on the front porch. If she knew Sam, the poor man would be torn between righteous indignation at Hallie's flaunting of convention and outright glee at having something this juicy to broadcast.
As Hallie pulled out of the driveway, Linda stood at the front door and watched poor Sam try to figure out what was going on. Well, Sam wasn't the only one who was questioning Harry's sanity or appearance; Linda had a few doubts herself, but she had managed to push them into the back of her brain while they were planning Harry's retirement. Now the Rubicon had been crossed, Linda was in need of a map or a native guide to figure out just where they were going.
Linda had lived with Hallie (on a part time basis, to be sure) for as long as she had been serious about Harry. As a long time mystery reader, her first reaction to the news was to laugh and think of Nero Wolfe in drag. In the Wolfe books, old Nero's weight was often calculated in fractions of a ton. Harry wasn't in Nero Wolfe's class, but he did consume an appreciable fraction of a ton - 0.1395 if you want to be precise - but 1/8 ton is close enough.
The first time she had seen Hallie, Linda (who had seen the pictures) was able to steel herself from laughter, but with an undeniably masculine face, big belly and no hips Hallie was quite a sight. At least she wasn't into spandex or mini-skirts. In fact, Hallie's wardrobe was precisely what a middle-aged woman of reasonable taste would have acquired. Far from Linda teaching Hallie how to dress and do makeup, Hallie and Linda exchanged their ideas on an equal basis. Other than a good natured battle over closet space, they lived quite compatibly.
But Hallie had lived only within the walls of their home or far away from home at conventions or other gatherings of strangers. Neither Linda or Hallie had any great urge to go public when Hallie would be such a conspicuous figure. The two of them already lived rather public lives with their music, unless they were going to switch to Punk or something, Hallie didn't really fit the lifestyle they wanted to live.
But things change with the years, the kids were grown and both sets of parents lived out of town. As confirmed skeptics there was no church to cope with, and they had gradually dropped out of things like the Rotary or the Friends of Whatever as their performing expanded. Other than the investment club. there was no longer any organized group (at least that mattered) to be scandalized by Hallie. The neighbors were the usual strangers connected only by proximity, let them think what they will.
So, as the urge to be Hallie grew within Harry, Linda listened and sympathized. She didn't exactly encourage, but she wasn't overly afraid of it either. Her main concern was what Harry would have to go through if he made the choice. There are always plenty of people ready to tell a guy what an idiot he is for far less reason than wearing women's clothes. Their good friends would mostly understand, but there was going to be a lot of flak from the casual acquaintances and strangers. Hallie would need a thick skin.
So the plan evolved slowly as Harry's retirement approached. With both of them working good paying jobs with good pensions, they had a nice little nest egg and enough to retire on comfortably, at least if they were sensible about it. About three years ago Harry had asked her seriously if she could be comfortable if he became Hallie full time. He really wanted a straight answer, too. Harry was that kind of man, someone who knew that lovers and partners need to be in agreement on such basic issues. He would have abandoned the plan if she wasn't willing to support him and she knew that, while he would regret not having tried, it would never have soured their relationship.
In the end, she agreed. It was clear that Hallie had been growing within Harry for many years. They had lived peacefully together inside one skull, but sometimes the compromising got to be a chore. It wasn't that Harry would disintegrate from longing or need to spend time with a shrink if Hallie continued her part time status, but Linda saw that he truly wanted to see what living as Hallie would be like.
So why not? The conventional answers would fill several pages; ridicule, loss of status, employment problems, friends abandoning ship, parents freaking out. Lots of conventional problems, to be sure. However, Harry and Linda were hardly the conventional types. It takes a pretty big ego to get up on a stage and sing; ignoring the critics was a skill they had both mastered. Both of them had enthusiastically adopted the hippie lifestyle in their youth - Do Your Own Thing was an article of faith, not just a slogan. Despite ardently embracing the Free Love in the years before they met, they were hopelessly monogamous nowadays; it wasn't as if Hallie was going to change that.
What really turned the tide was that bit of Loki that lived in Linda's brain. Loki was the god of mischief, and Linda simply appreciated mischief for it's own sake. What better way to poke the world in the eye than living with Hallie while the rest of the world tried to cope?
Yup, it all sounded so logical and simple while they were planning it. So why was she so worried about what was happening to Hallie while she waited at home? Her reverie was interrupted by a knock on the door. Their neighbor Sam was on the porch with a look reminiscent of a lost sheep on his face.
"Afternoon, Sam."
"Uh..."
Poor Sam. She knew that when Hallie was born there were going to be awkward moments, and sure enough one was on her doorstep, looking like that lost sheep with his curly hair and confused expression. At least it wasn't Glenda from the other side of the house. She screamed at her kids all day long and was intolerant of anything she didn't approve of. Hallie was sure to be on her list.
"Come in, Sam. I take it you just met Hallie" Linda almost expected a long, melancholic "Baaaa" to emerge from her neighbor's plaintive face. Before he could speak she opened the door and took him by the hand.
"Sit down and I'll bring us some iced tea and cookies." She pushed him toward the dining room table and filled two glasses. "I know Hallie must come as a bit of a shock, Sam, but once Harry retired he decided to stop the masquerade and let Hallie out of the closet. I take it you haven't met any crossdressers before, have you Sam?"
"Of course not!" Well, at least he finally managed so say something!
"Well, at least none that you know about, anyway. They all aren't like Hallie, a lot of them you would never guess were men under their dresses"
"That's crazy. Why would Harry want to wear a dress?"
"You'll have to ask Hallie, I sure don't understand it. She'll be home in a couple of hours and I'll have her come over and talk to you if you want." She knew that was mean but really, it was an awful lot of fun.
"Linda! He's your husband! How could you let him run around like that? It's not right!"
"You ever tried to keep your wife from wearing what she wants, Sam? I don't think I would want to be around if you told Marge she couldn't wear pants out of the house."
"Linda! You know what I mean."
"Of course I do, Sam. Crossdressers call it 'The Fashion argument'. Marge isn't trying to look like a man when she wears pants, but Hallie is trying her best to look like a woman even if she was born as a man. I suppose that does make a difference."
"You suppose! Linda, of course it does. I don't see how you can be so calm about your husband running around in women's clothes."
"Why not? I do it all the time."
"Linda!"
"Sam!"
"Would you be serious?"
"I don't know, I haven't had much practice. How can you be serious when your husband is a crossdresser? If you don't laugh you'll go crazy."
"I'm not so sure you haven't."
"Well, if I have, I haven't noticed. Really Sam, Hallie is the same person you've lived next to for all these years, just the packaging has changed. You don't have to slap a big red 'New and Improved!' sticker on Hallie's forehead to see how much better she feels about herself, but believe me it's true. Harry has been crossdressing since he was about eight years old. That's a long time to hide an important part of yourself from the world. Now that we don't have to worry about anybody losing their job or such we decided that it was time to be honest about Hallie's feelings."
"Honest? Harry's being honest by pretending to be a woman? Linda, that's ridiculous. Besides, Harry looks like a man in a dress. He's too ugly to be a woman!"
"Watch it, Bub. You're stepping into a minefield there. We feminists get a tad grouchy when men decide who we are just by how we look. Hallie may be an ugly woman but she's my ugly woman and it's no business of yours if she's Miss America or Tugboat Betty."
"I don't believe I'm having this conversation. You don't look like the Mad Hatter - there must be something in the tea."
"Did you think to check and see if the cookies said 'Eat Me'? Never can tell what was baked into those cookies."
"Half baked is more like it."
"Nope. Whole Hog, just like Hallie. No turning back any more, she's here to stay."
"Jesus, you're going to bring down the property values. How can I sell a house sitting next to a couple of fruitcakes?"
"You're going a bit overboard, aren't you Sam? You aren't seriously thinking of selling your house just 'cause you neighbor is a bit different. At least you don't have to listen to Glenda screaming at her kids all day."
"Like hell I don't! That woman could get a second job as a foghorn. She..."
Why didn't she think of this earlier. Get Sam carping about the other neighbors and Hallie would fade into the background pretty quick.

***

Confusing poor Sam kept Hallie smiling most of the way to Charlie's place but, truth be told, she was getting nervous about the meeting of the investment club. While most of them were friends of long standing, they tended to be rather conservative. Harry's freewheeling hippie attitudes (Who ever pictured a hippie trading General Electric Stock?) had marked him as a black sheep, but he consistently ranked at the top when return on investment was calculated. Harry was convinced it was his willingness to take a calculated risk that accounted for his success. Well, becoming Hallie could be considered another form of risk taking. One that had already paid great returns even if it hadn't yet been 24 hours since the change.
Hallie pulled the little sportster to the curb and shut it off. With a quick check of her makeup and a brush through her hair, she emerged, tucking her portfolio under her arm and slinging her purse over her shoulder. The click of her modest high heels on the sidewalk gave her an added boost as she approached the door and pressed the bell. Charlie appeared at the door with a blank look on his face.
"Afternoon, Charlie. Remember I told you that things were going to change when I retired? Well, you can call me Hallie these days, I retired Harry along with the job and he won't be coming back."
Charlie's blank look of non-recognition morphed into a deer in the headlights look of total confusion. Not too surprising, most people aren't expecting an old friend to change genders without warning. Hallie and Linda had decided the best course was to simply make the change and let the rest of the world catch up to them. The old adage 'It's easier to get forgiveness than permission' seemed to be good advice here. Besides, Hallie was perverse enough to enjoy the reaction to her new look.
"Huh?" Charlie wasn't too much for lightning comprehension, although his slowly acquired, thorough and in depth knowledge of any subject was truly amazing.
"Who is it, Charlie?" Charlie's wife Tara's voice floated through the screen door.
"Umm... Ah..." stammered Charlie.
"Charlie?" Hallie could hear footsteps approaching. "Who's at the door?"
"Good day, Tara. I'm afraid I've rather confused Charlie."
"Harry?!"
"Hallie these days. Harry's retired."
"You're kidding!"
"Tara, would I have gone to all the trouble to look like this if I wasn't serious?"
"Harry, you'd spend a week eating birdseed if you thought it would let you fly. I long ago gave up trying to understand you."
"It's Hallie now, Tara, and I don't understand myself so why should you?"
A new set of footsteps marked Phil's arrival on the porch. "G'day all. We going to have the meeting here on the porch or are you going to open the door? Who don't you understand, Tara?
"Turn around, uh, Hallie and let Phil find out, will you?
"Delighted. Hi Phil, the name's Hallie. Harry retired and I'm taking his place."
Suffice it to say that calling the meeting to order held an entirely new meaning that afternoon, since Harry's retirement precipitated utter chaos. Reactions varied from Gerald's unrelenting pickle face to Sallie's unfeigned interest and graciousness. The atmosphere was somewhat strained at the start and it was indeed hard to concentrate as each member of the investment club talked of their research and recommendations. Hallie's mind warred between the euphoria of simply being Hallie with the people she knew and her discomfort in having caused such a ruckus.
True to human nature, by the end of the session the bizarre had become banal and Hallie was starting to find her place in the group. The outward change hadn't affected Hallie's research skills, so when her turn came to speak of just where high tech stocks were going the group listened, tentatively at first, then peppered her with intelligent questions. Even the occasional sniping had acquired a more jovial character as time went on.
As the business session broke up and the members of the investment club made their way to the refreshments the inevitable question arose.
"But why are you doing this, Harry?"
Hallie had been expecting the question. From the time she and Linda had come to the decision that retirement would be the time to stop hiding Hallie she had rehearsed the little speech she was going to have to give innumerable times until she had given it to everyone she knew. Those long ago theater days in college came to her aid, not only in perfecting Hallie but in explaining her.
"Well Charlie, I've come to the conclusion that hiding half of myself from the world is just plain too much trouble. I know it's a shock to spring it on you guys all at once, but Linda and I couldn't think of any better way. It's not like I could start wearing half male and half female clothes and work my way up to it over a few months, you know. After all, wearing one high heel and one combat boot would leave me lopsided."
"More like unbalanced!" shot back someone.
"Now the questions you're too polite to ask, and I thank you for that. I know I'm in contention for 'Ugliest Woman on the Face of the Earth' and I don't care. I'm not gay. I spent some serious money to get rid of the beard and I don't have to shave any more. My equipment is intact and will stay that way but I'm going to live the rest of my life as a woman. My kids have known about Hallie since they were old enough to understand and Linda and her kids knew it when we got married.
"But the big question is why. The answer is 'Damned if I know'. I've dressed up like this for more than forty years and it's just something I have to do to stay sane. When I retired I decided that life was too short to play pretend any longer and here I am. And by the way, thanks to all of you for not throwing me out or going ballistic when you saw me. I appreciate that, even if some of you don't appreciate me right now."
By the time her speech was over all the other conversations had stopped and everyone was listening.
"What about your grandkids, Har... Hallie?"
"I'll spot anyone in this room that a eight year old is going to be more flexible than any of the old fogies in my life. If you haven't run me out on a rail I doubt little Jenny is going to run screaming, not unless I'm chasing her and playing the Boogie Woman."
"Harry," Gerald's pickle face showed his antipathy as clearly as his refusal to use Hallie's new name, "I have to say I am highly uncomfortable with you parading around looking like this. I am aware you have not come to know the Lord, but you are placing your soul in jeopardy by your actions."
"Gerald, I'm sorry if I've offended you, but I'm not going to be changing my mind. Any crossdresser is all too aware of the passage in Deuteronomy that you're thinking of but, even if I took the Bible seriously it would take all day to cite the commentaries on the mistranslations of that poor benighted chapter. Even the title is a mistranslation. Even if we could agree on a proper translation we could spend the rest of the week arguing on the interpretation. Just what is a male or female piece of clothing? According to conservative wisdom Tara here is as much in violation of the law for wearing pants as I am for wearing a skirt.
"But I'm not going to quibble, Gerald. I'm deliberately and consciously dressing as a woman and I intend to do so until they put me in a box. In fact, my will tells the executor I damn well should be wearing a skirt when they lower me into the ground. We're going to have to continue to disagree about this one. I just hope we can keep on being friends. It's not like we haven't disagreed about religion before and I think we still like each other."
"It's not a matter of likening, Harry, it's God's Word. I suppose this isn't any worse than some of the heresy you've spouted before, even if you were just trying to get my goat. We're still friends, but you'll pardon me if I don't invite you to my home and let my children see you like this."
"Fair enough, Gerald. When the meeting ends up at your place I'll find something else to do that afternoon."
"My God!" threw in Charlie, who had been listening to the exchange. "A civilized argument about sex and religion! Who would have thought it could happen?"
"Sex, Charlie?" Who was talking about sex?" Hallie asked innocently.
"You aren't standing there looking like a woman, then?"
"I suppose that depends on how charitable you want to be. I'm glad someone thinks I look like a woman, Charlie, but that's gender, not sex."
"Say what?"
"Charlie, Charlie, Charlie! You of all people should know to do your research before jumping to a conclusion..." and with that Hallie delivered the first of many mini-lectures about sex, gender and crossdressing in the coming weeks. She was fated to become very good at delivering that particular lecture. When she had finished there was a moment of awkward silence in the room.
"What I want to know," Faith broke the silence, "Is where you got that skirt. I just love the embroidery. I haven't seen anything like it before."
Hallie smiled at the question. Faith was a rather large woman herself and had often commented on how hard it was to find good looking clothes in larger sizes.
"I made it myself I love doing embroidery."
"Amazing. How long have I known you, Hallie? Must be fifteen years or so and I never knew you had such talents."
"I really wasn't about to advertise what I did in my spare time."
"Such a shame, I would love a skirt like that. Now that you're retired and have time on your hands I might have to commission something from you."
"Hey, I just learned to sew because I couldn't find clothes that fit."
"I think you pulled an "A" in your lessons, Hallie.

***

Hallie pulled the little red sportster into the driveway feeling rather pleased with herself after her first encounter with the 'civilian' world. In her mind her musical friends didn't count as civilians any more than her crossdressing sisters - they tended to be very open minded. She had barely pushed the little button on her keychain to lock the car door when her ears were assaulted.
"Kiefer! Get your ass back here and do what I told you! Don't you give me that look, young man or I'll get out the belt!"
Ah yes, Glenda was in full high dudgeon, practicing the same child rearing skills on her grandchildren that put their father in the jug. The woman just couldn't figure out that screaming all day didn't produce polite children. The supreme irony of the situation was that she made her living as a teacher's aid. Maybe the strain of being polite to kids all day was why she let it all rip when she got home.
Hallie almost made it to her porch when the front door of Glenda's place slammed and Kiefer took off down the street with a look that would melt steel if it paused too long in one place. At 13 it was only a matter of time before the kid did something unfortunate, not that Hallie could blame him under the circumstances.
"Kiefer! You get back here this minute!" Glenda screamed as she followed him down the sidewalk. Not a chance in hell that the overweight but beautifully dressed woman could catch up with the lithe teenager. She came puffing to a halt in front of Sam's place, silent for once in her life. Out of breath, probably. She turned around and caught sight of Hallie and the look on her face was priceless. Hallie was certainly glad she was still out of breath because otherwise she would have announced her presence in a voice that would have turned out the entire neighborhood.
"Good afternoon, Glenda." By god, it was hard to keep her tone neutral!
"Just what the...devil do you think you're doing... parading around the neighborhood like that! Glenda wasn't going to let mere breathlessness keep her from expressing her opinion. She must have been really upset because, as a fundamentalist Christian, she prided herself on never using 'profane language'. For her 'devil' was pretty strong stuff.
"I didn't know anyone had scheduled a parade today. Am I missing anything?"
"Harry, you're wearing a skirt!"
"Why, so I am!" Hallie glanced down at herself in apparent wonder. At least she hadn't homed in on the boobs. "I'm pleased you noticed."
The sarcasm was lost on Glenda.
"It ain't natural, Harry It ain't right"
"Actually, it would be better if you called me Hallie from now on, it might make things easier now that I'll be living my life as a woman from now on." Let her chew on that one for a while.
"Call you..." she sputtered, outraged. "I'm going to call the cops! You can't walk around like that! This is a decent neighborhood!"
"Now Glenda, calm down. I don't think you really want another visit from the police. If they have to make a couple of more trips they're going to set up a substation at your house to save them all the traveling."
A bit of an exaggeration, but the cops were called to quiet her down and make sure the kids were all right fairly often.
"You pervert! You stay away from my kids or I will call the cops!
With that she stormed back to her house, leaving Hallie standing in her driveway.
"Quite a temper, eh?" came a voice behind Hallie.
" 'Bout as strong as her voice, Marge."
"Yeah, the neighborhood's going to Hell with the screamers and crossdressers and such. You are one weird puppy, Hallie."
"It took you this long to figure it out, Marge?"
"Well, sometimes I'm kinda slow. I will say that living next to you is going to make life interesting for the next little while. You can bet your ass that old Mrs. Randall is watching us out her front window and getting ready to burn up the telephone wires spreading the news. She's almost as bad as Sam."
"Yeah. I was lamenting that we don't have a dog so I could just walk him around the neighborhood and let everyone figure out who I am now. Between the two of them it's better than taking an ad in the paper."
"Hallie, I hate to break the news, but you're the most unattractive broad I have ever laid eyes on. They wouldn't print you picture in the paper for fear of breaking the presses - or at least having half their subscribers cancel."
"And I love you too, Marge. You're taking this pretty well."
"Well, Sam talked to Linda and then gave me an earful. So I held a little gabfest with her and she filled me in. I haven't a clue why any man would want to dress up like a woman but if that's your thing then have fun. Nice outfit, by the way. Haven't seen a woman in a skirt in ages. You're going to stand out for that, you know."
"Like I don't have any other remarkable attributes to get people looking at me when even a fanatic feminist calls me an ugly woman? Piddling in comparison."
"Just be glad I'm too refined to bring up the subject of piddling. At least Linda won't have to worry about having the toilet seat left up any more."
"I am not a barbarian - or is that barbarianess? You people have a great idea in gender neutral language."
"You people? Watch it or I'll put that barb into your end, buster."
"To think that anyone of my acquaintance should be so unladylike. Would your husband approve?"
"I'm not asking - as long as you don't ask Linda."
"What are you asking Linda about?" Sam had joined the party.
"Just a little girl talk with Hallie, dear. You wouldn't understand."
"I suspect you're right. Don't tell me you understand why our neighbor has gone loony?
"Loony? Just because he's finally realized that women are the superior sex and wants to be on the winning side? I wouldn't call that loony."
"You wouldn't, would you? Damn good thing you're good in bed or I wouldn't keep you around." He ducked and retreated inside, shaking his head."
"Men!" exclaimed Hallie. It seemed the only appropriate thing to say.
"You should know. Don't just stand there in the flowerbed, come up on the porch and talk a while. That is if you don't mind telling me all about why you're doing this.
So Hallie got to hone her skills with another mini-lecture.

And so it went. Those first few weeks of retirement were both blissful and stressful. Never one to hide in the house and watch the boob tube, Hallie simply continued on her normal activities in her new identity. She was amazed at the number of people who didn't recognize her as the transformed Harry. Of all the things she had girded herself for in making the transition, being unrecognized as Harry-in-a-dress was not one of them. Naturally the word spread pretty fast, especially when the entertainment section in the paper did an article on the newest folk duo in town.
Mostly the reaction was neutral or bemused, she seldom encountered outright hostility. After a while you get used to people staring at you as you walk through the stores or down the street, In a month or so Hallie could deliver her mini-lecture in her sleep, but she had started to run out of people to deliver it to. In fact, dressing as Hallie became so automatic that it wasn't so special any more. The first day she left the house without putting on a pair of earrings showed just how normal it had become. Other than a glare from Glenda, nobody really cared any more. Strange how the unusual becomes the commonplace with time.
In fact, Hallie was getting a bit bored. By the time fall was painting reds and oranges on the leaves Hallie was almost regretting her retirement. Sure, their music kept them busy but as one sage had said, "There are no career moves in Folk Music." It was fun a few evenings a month but Hallie wasn't about to start touring and try to make a living that way. One morning while they were eating breakfast, Linda, who had continued working, had the solution.
"So get a job, you lazy bum. Volunteer somewhere. The world can always use another do-gooder charity lady."
"Sure, I'll waltz right into the Salvation Army and ask them to let me ring a bell next to a kettle."
"Wouldn't work. They'll think you're trying to sneak off with the kettle with that belly of yours."
"Too bad I had my beard removed, I could have made a great Santa."
"Hallie, Santa doesn't have boobs. They put the padding in different places."
"You're limiting my career choices, woman.
"Now if this was one of those silly stories you like to read you'd get a job at some boutique selling bras to unsuspecting women. Think you can pull that one off?"
"More likely to have them pull me off in a squad car. Even Victoria couldn't keep a secret like that."
"I hate to break it to you, Hallie, but your secret was never a secret."
"Yeah, just ask Glenda."
"I don't have time for that right now, unlike some people I have to get to work. That woman never shuts up." As if to emphasize her remarks Glenda's voice came screeching through the open window, demanding that the kids hurry up or they would miss the bus.
"At least I wouldn't have to listen to her all day if I was working somewhere."
"So put on your thinking cap and do something about it." Linda challenged as she went out the door.

***

The last thing Hallie had expected in retirement was being one of those sad people who puttered around the house with nothing to do, driving their spouse crazy. With her music and other interests she just hadn't worried about it. A regular job was pretty much out. Her friends understood, or at least tolerated her decision to switch gender, but there weren't many employers who were going to hire her no matter how good her qualifications were.
Any job would be for the joy of it, not for the money, which limited the possibilities even further. Even the standard crossdresser's fantasy of working in a place like Victoria's Secret didn't appeal to her; overpriced fashion for snobs wasn't her style.
The ringing of the phone interrupted her contemplation.
"Hi there Mommy-Man. How crazy are you?"
"I married your mother, does that answer your question?"
"No - that tells me how crazy she is. I'm plumbing the depths of your insanity at the moment."
"The doctors tell me they'll take the straightjacket off in a couple of weeks if I behave myself. Right now all I do is sit here and plot my revenge on the world. They'll regret taking me for granted once I get out of here."
"Well, since you're just sitting there, how about doing a favor for someone?"
"Hmmm... I think it may be time for an Aversion Therapy session. I have an aversion to sudden favors for strangers."
Hallie, I'm desperate. I opened my big mouth and said I'd make costumes for the school play. I have a week to the rehearsals and I only have two of them done."
"Lilly, are you out of your mind?"
"Hey - you're the one trying to get out of the straightjacket. If you can talk your way out of the sanitarium could you help me make some costumes?
"Could you define 'some'?"
"Uh, twenty two."
"Before or after the two you've finished?"
"Before."
"Well, that's some consolation. At least they don't have classes of thirty-five any more. I think I'll send in a donation to my local teacher's union."
"Then you'll do it!?"
"Yes, I'll do it. Sometimes I wonder how you inherited my gene for overcommitment when all I did is marry your mother. I'll be there as soon as the nice nurses unbuckle me so I can put my face on."

"Why is it that when the Sweet Young Maiden marries the Handsome Prince nobody mentions the phalanx of seamstresses who have to work overtime to make all those ball gowns? Class discrimination, that's what it is!"
"Quit crabbing, Hallie. At least you got to choose to be a woman, the rest of us don't get that kind of option. You have a sewing machine, the fair maidens of old had to do it all by hand. How many mothers these days could make a costume for their little princess? Femininity isn't what it used to be, you know."
"And I'm living proof. With any luck one of the boys will have to substitute for a lady in waiting and his life will be changed forever."
"Only in those weird stories you write. That pile of cloth is all too real and we need to get going. You pin and I'll cut."
"Good idea, I never could keep the crayons inside the lines in those stupid coloring books."
"Surprise, surprise. Flouting convention even as a child, eh?"
"And proud of it! Think we can get away with cutting four layers of fabric on these things?"
"Hallie, if you can get away with your retirement I figure you can get away with anything. Go ahead, the fabric is thin enough."
"Lucky my skin is thicker than the fabric."
"You taking much grief about being Hallie, Mamma-Man?"
"Yeah, you could say that. Nothing I can't handle, but it does get annoying when people stop and stare at you when you're walking down the aisle in the supermarket. I can sympathize with my cousins a lot more than I used to."
"They're the tall ones, right?"
"Right. Both of them 6'3" like their parents. I remember going shopping with Martha once when we were just out of high school and people would literally stop and stare at her just because she was so tall. I thought it was funny then but now that I'm on the receiving end it does get old. I guess I can't complain too much, I haven't had anyone chase after me screaming 'Kill the gay bastard!' or anything like that."
"I'm not sure I would want to get anyone your size upset with me. You sure as hell gave me a turn that night I met you, I thought you were an escaped gorilla until Wes told me you were his dad."
"Funny thing about that. I'm so big that hardly anyone ever gave me any grief as a man, but now that I dress like a woman there are a few that figure it's their god-given right to harass me. Seems those yahoos think any woman is fair game, even if she could squash them like bugs."
"It ought to be entertaining to watch the reactions to you the night of the performance."
"Won't it just! I've learned to keep a safe distance from most children these days. Too many fools who figure crossdressers must be perverts, but I wouldn't miss Jenny's first public performance for anything."
"Well, at least most of the mothers will know you by the time we're done fitting their little darlings."
"Just what do you mean by 'we'?"
"You didn't think I was going to do it all alone, did you?"
"I don't suppose I was thinking at all when I was coerced into this."
"I would have thought you would be the last one on earth to resort to the stereotype of the 'brainless woman'!"
Before she could reply there came a tattoo of small feet and a bundle of energy named Jenny burst into the sewing room.
"Gramma Hallie! Yeah!"
Jenny launched herself into Hallie's lap and the sewing session was adjourned for the afternoon.

***

Although she wasn't about to admit it to Lilly, Hallie thoroughly enjoyed the hours she spent at the sewing machine making costumes. There is something soothing about watching the fabric slide smoothly under the pressure foot as the needle bobed up and down. Her mind went back to the days long before when she had learned to sew.
It had been near Christmas and Harry had been out of work for several months. No matter how good you may be at your trade, there always comes a time when industry is going downhill and even the best workers can't find work. You get used to periods of unemployment in the Skilled Trades, but that doesn't help much when Christmas is coming and you haven't any money for a gift.
Harry was getting desperate when he had an idea. It was one of those things that makes you wonder why it took so long to think of such a simple thing. His first wife was a dedicated seamstress and her sewing room was packed to the rafters with fabric and the more arcane tools of the trade. Harry had never really paid attention to it other than to enjoy the fruits of his wife's labor.
In a blinding flash Harry realized that a sewing machine was, after all, a machine. He was a machinist. So why hadn't he ever thought of using a sewing machine before? The operation was perfectly obvious: Push the pedal and feed the fabric. Crank the knob to change stitch type, flip the lever to go backward. Piece of cake for someone used to running a four axis mill. Then there were the patterns - blueprints, pure and simple. He read the instructions, looked up a few words he didn't understand in the dictionary or one of the countless sewing books on his wife's bookshelf and decided he could sew.
His first attempt was a simple woolen skirt. It wasn't as easy to keep the seam straight as it looked, but after working with some scrap material he soon got the hang of it. He didn't even have to stitch the bottom hem because the pattern said to unravel an inch or so of the fabric for a fringed hem. That took longer than cutting and sewing the whole thing, but when he was done he had a good looking green plaid skirt for his wife's present. It was so easy he made one of his own as well and was inordinately proud of himself.
He could hardly wait for Christmas and when the morning finally came he handed her the box with great anticipation. She opened it and made the appropriate happy noises until he told her he had made it himself. What happened then was completely unexpected.
She started to cry.
Not tears of joy, but sobs of deep anguish. Harry was utterly unable to figure out what to do. When she let him touch her again he just held her and waited. In those early days of the marriage learning to wait until she was ready still came hard, but it was a lesson Harry would learn well over the years. Eventually the truth came out.
Back then he hadn't realized how much his first wife defined herself by what other people thought of her. It was a concept quite foreign to Harry, who was as inner directed as a man could be. In his wife's mind the one thing that she could do well that Harry could not was to sew; now Harry had mastered the art in a few days without any help from her. The skirt was lovely, but her ego was in tatters.
Poor Harry tried his best to convince her that she was better at sewing than he was and it didn't matter if he could sew or not but it didn't help. Logic worked for Harry but not for his wife. The holidays that year were very tentative, and not just because he was out of work. Eventually she got over her hurt and they even put in a new sewing machine for Harry so they could work together, but there was always a little wall between them from then on.
The seam she was working on ran out and Hallie returned to the present. There was just enough time to catch a quick shower before she had to be at the school to help with the fitting.

***

In keeping with the theme of the play, Hallie climbed into her knightly armor for the visit to the school. No cleavage this time, she could dispense with the tape, but she swathed herself in padding and girdle until she zigged where real women zigged. If she was going to be on display she was going to present herself as best she could. In keeping with the Royal theme she chose a long, full skirt and a silk blouse with puffy shoulders. Eat you heart out, Queen Lizzie.
Hallie was a little bit nervous as she hefted the box of costumes from the trunk of the red sportster and headed toward the front doors of the school. Please don't let anyone get excited about a crossdresser at a school, she prayed to a god she really didn't believe in. She dodged past the crowds of children swarming around the string of great yellow busses and followed the signs to the office.
"Hello, I'm Jenny Greer's grandmother. I'm here to help with the costume fitting in Mrs. Davidson's class."
"Oh yes, your daughter warned us you'd be coming." said the woman behind the desk.
Was the woman staring at her too hard? Would she raise a scene?
"I guess some warning is due when I show up at a school. I hope it won't cause any trouble."
"Nonsense. I'm a regular at the coffeehouse and love you and Linda. If anyone gives you grief tell 'em the Dragon Lady in the office will set them straight!"
"Well I'll be damned... Oops - guess I shouldn't say things like that in here."
"Not that the little darlings wouldn't understand, but we have to keep up the fiction. 'Tact' is a hard concept to teach a youngster. By the way, I love the blouse. You have a wonderful sense of fashion, Hallie."
"And you didn't even finish the sentence with 'for a guy in a dress'. You have quite a bit of tact yourself."
"You learn in this place. Check out the sign on the wall over there. The school teaches us to respect the choices of others, even if they are not the ones we would choose for ourselves. 'Course you have to force that idea into the kids with a high pressure hose until it dribbles out their ears and hope it takes, but that's the ideal, anyway. Mrs. Davidson's class is about halfway down the hall on the left."
The mob in the halls was thinning out by the time she left the office, but there were plenty of stares from the children as she passed, not to mention much elbowing and giggling. High pressure hose, indeed. Sometimes educators came up with some pretty screwy ideas. Hallie's mom had been a teacher, but she was cynical enough to produce some pretty biting comments on the system she coped with.
She entered the classroom and sent down her box, to find Linda already there. In a matter of seconds the chatter in the room stopped as they all stared at Hallie. She was tempted to look down add see if someone had painted a bull's eye on the bodice of her blouse but resisted the urge.
"Grandma! Piped Jenny's voice and Hallie was enveloped in an enthusiastic knee hug.
"This is my grandma Hallie, she helped my mom make the costumes!" Jenny enthused. "Can I see mine, grandma?"
Hallie suppressed a small shudder of relief.
"You must be Mrs. Davidson. I'm Hallie, I'm Jenny's step-grandmother if you haven't guessed." She took a costume from the box and handed it to Jenny.
"That's quite a high step, isn't it?" the teacher replied, but the twinkle in her eye took the sting out of it. "Jimmy - wait until it's your turn and keep you hands out of the box!"
Mrs. Davidson came over to the box of costumes and took one out. "These are absolutely lovely, Hallie. You made them all?"
"Don't hog all the credit, mommy-ma... Mom," Linda laughed. "This was a joint project."
"These anyway. I did the princesses and Linda did the princes. Quite a royal procession you have planned."
"We do it every year, but this year your costumes are going to make it very special. Thank you so much for all your help!"
"What's the plan, Mrs. Davidson?" Hallie asked.
There was a plan, but like most things in an elementary school classroom it skated perilously close to bedlam. Linda had taken the princesses to another room were they were eagerly trying on their costumes but a problem soon developed with the princes.
"I'm not going to wear no stupid dress. Girls wear dresses, not boys!" Nothing like a truculent eight year old to stop things in their tracks.
"So Robin Hood wore a business suit?" Hallie asked the boy, whose lip was still quivering in indignation.
"Nah - everybody knows Robin Hood was a guy. He robbed the rich to give to the poor and had a sword!" The boy's arm whipped through the air in illustration.
"Well, he certainly did rob from the rich and give to the poor," all eyes were on Hallie now, "but what did he wear while doing it? Mrs. Davidson - would you have a book about Robin Hood in the classroom?"
"I think we do. Robert, would you get the book from the shelf for us?" she asked the indignant youth.
He marched over to the shelf and found the book, then brought it back to Hallie. She opened it and displayed a picture of Robin Hood in tunic and tights.
"Men in the time of Robin Hood wore what we now call tights on formal occasions. Men don't do that any more (did Mrs. Davidson have to pick that time to have a sneezing fit?) but when your play takes place men wouldn't have been caught dead at a formal occasion if they weren't properly dressed in a tunic and tights. That's the proper name for what looks like the dress Robin Hood is wearing in the picture."
"Ewww...!!!" He still wasn't convinced.
"Darth Vader wore a dress, you know."
"He did not! He's a real bad guy!"
"Sure he did - remember how he walked along the hallway in the spaceship with the bottom of his skirt brushing the floor while he walked down the spaceship and breathed? Heh-heh... Heh...heh." Hallie's Darth Vader imitation was good enough to get the class laughing.
"Well..." He was weakening.
"So tell me he wasn't wearing a dress. You've seen African men in traditional clothes, haven't you. Didn't you have a group of dancers here not too long ago."
"Yeah!" came in chorus.
"Well, some African men wear clothes we would call a dress and no one thinks it's funny."
"But I don't want to wear a dress!" The kid was going to be a tough sell.
"Then don't. I suppose we could make you something with pants." There was the start of a smile but Hallie continued "but then you would be the only one who looked different." Was she really using that argument? Peer pressure, had she no shame?
It took a little while but the boy finally consented to trying on the costume. Once the ice was broken the little darlings were daring each other to put on dresses and stockings. Hallie straightened up after helping settle the tunic on one of her charges and saw her friend Faith standing there.
"Hi Faith. I hardly expected to find you here! I didn't think the Investment club members existed outside of our meetings."
"What did you think we did with ourselves, checked into cold storage for the weekdays? You're a bit of a surprise, too. That's my son over there. I didn't know he was in the same class as your granddaughter."
"Small world, isn't it. They dragoon you into herding royalty, too?"
"That they did. How did you get involved?"
"Linda and I made the costumes."
"You're kidding?"
"Nope, just one of my many feminine skills."
That one broke Faith up into helpless laughter. When she recovered she continued "I suppose you made that darling outfit you're wearing, too."
"Yup, just something I threw together."
"Changing your gender didn't have any effect on you're being a smart-aleck."
"I should certainly hope not. I've had too many years of practice to throw away all that expertise."
"Speaking of expertise, do you accept commissions? I would love to have a copy of that outfit you're wearing in blue."
"I don't know, I've never done anything for anyone outside the family."
"Well you should. Could you have it done in time for the play?"
"I suppose. You really mean you want me to make you an outfit?"
"Certainly, why else would I have asked?
"I guess it just seems strange. I never thought about making clothes for other people."
"So what do you call all those dresses on the princesses?"
"That's different. I volunteered."
"So this time you get paid, and when I spread the word I'll expect a commission on your sales."
"Give me a break!"
"OK, I'll only charge you 10% of gross and make it up on volume. I need to broaden my portfolio and this ought to be a surefire investment."
Eventually the class was in costume and took their places on the stage in the gymnasium. Once there, Mrs. Davidson discovered the scripts were still in the classroom and sent an eager volunteer back to get them. The royal assemblage was starting to get restless so Hallie dredged up a song about King Arthur and the Knights of the Knights of the Round Table that was suitable for children and started singing. The children were soon quiet as Hallie sang of King Arthur's great deeds and by the time the messenger returned with the scripts she was treated to spontaneous applause from the class.
The rehearsal went as such things go, merging slowly from pandemonium to some vague kind of order. Finally a bell ring and it was time for the late bus so the Royal Assemblage disrobed and went home while the adults folded and stored the costumes.
"Hallie?"
"Yes, Sarah? Now that the children were gone Mrs. Davidson acquired a first name.
"Would you be willing to sing that song at the performance? You have a lovely voice and it would make a nice way to start the show."
"I'm flattered, Sarah, but let me be blunt. You do realize I was born a man and there will be people who might be upset about me at a school performance. I usually sing with my wife and we would be happy to perform, but I don't want to do anything to cause trouble."
"I'll be blunt, too. Do you realize that you were the subject of our diversity lesson last week? Don't you think it was a bit unusual that none of the children read you and took it a license to act up?"
"Yeah. I was nervous as a cat coming here today, but everyone has treated me with dignity and even friendliness."
"We try our best to develop that attitude here. In some ways you are a perfect test case for what we teach. So yes, you and Linda would be most welcome to perform. We can't pay you with our budget, but you probably realize that."
"I'm a folk musician, nobody ever expects to pay us."
"Just like us teachers. We do it for the love of the children, not for money!"
"Ain't it the truth! "

***

As Hallie entered the gymnasium her billowing skirts swayed around her, ahead she could see Linda's doing the same. They were dressed in scaled up versions of the princesses costumes, Hallie in blue and Linda in pink, let the audience make what they would of that. Hallie had borrowed a large lute for the occasion and as she gave it one final tuning she spotted six women wearing dresses she had made in a frenzy of sewing in the last two weeks. She had over a dozen orders waiting and Faith was counting her percentage as she found still more customers. And to think she has been getting bored just a few weeks before.
They sang of King Arthur and the children performed perfectly (my little Johnny didn't forget his line, he was simply improvising!). The audience loved it (was there any doubt?) and Mrs. Davidson insisted Hallie and Linda join them for an encore with the children. Hallie noticed a few people examining her closely after the performance, but she was clearly accepted along with all the other proud parents and grandparents. Hallie realized that her retirement had acquired a magic of it's own that night, age 59 ½ truly was a magic number.



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